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God or The World (1 Corinthians 10.6-13)

Nineth Sunday after Trinity

“God or The World”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus     

1 Corinthians 10.6-13

14 August 2022



All three readings today focus on an either/or situation. Last Sunday’s readings warned against listening to false prophets who spoke out of their own mouths. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian congregation that Israel had enjoyed every privilege from God. 

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. [1 Cor. 10.1-5]

Israel was the chosen nation, the only people who knew the true God. Israel’s mission to the world was to make the true God known and to bring all peoples to him. “A light to lighten the Gentiles” is the way we know it from Simeon’s hymn in the temple as he held the infant Jesus, but Israel acted foolishly. She abandoned the one, the only true God for pagan idols. Israel wanted to be like everyone else, like those who did not know the true God. They engaged in horrible pagan practices. Paul lists some of those practices in our Epistle reading. They quickly became idolaters. When Adam and Eve sinned they did not become atheists, they became idolaters. Idolatry is putting someone or something in God’s place. Sometimes it’s called “mammon” or “money,” things, persons, authority, pleasure, one’s status in society. It’s a long list. 

Jesus says in concluding the parable that one cannot serve two masters. You can’t serve God and the world. Money is too narrow a translation of mammon. It’s a Hebrew word which means “that in which one trusts.” Whatever you trust in more than God is “mammon’ [ μαμωνς]. Following the world these days still involves idols, but not the carved kind that sit on a shelf. Perhaps we could use the term “secularization,” that is, life without reference to the true God. We learn Luther’s unholy three from the Small Catechism, “the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.” The term “the world” fits nicely for our consideration today.

Secular society no longer takes God into account. In fact, merely mentioning God or saying that “our prayers are with” those who have suffered some kind of disaster brings immediate scorn from the secularized world. God is the one who dare not be mentioned. He is written out of everything that goes on in this world. Fevered discussions rage over “climate change” and what, if anything, should be done about it. Mankind is said to be able to solve the problem. Millennia have passed and the climate continues changing. After the Noahic Flood God promised this very thing:

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” 

9 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. [Gen. 8.22-9.1]

I dare you to mention the fact that God’s Word—which the secular world despises, speaks of the preservation of all creation and that all of this lies under God’s control—and see the reaction you get! You will most likely be laughed at as a complete idiot. No one who believes in so-called “science” could entertain such a thought!

Our nation is now engaging in fierce political wars over abortion. Strident voices shrieking their hatred of God and his Law seem to be on the news most days. Civil government understands nothing of the eternal; it looks only to the here and now, often with solutions that are not God-pleasing. The world is at war with God. Do away with God—specifically Christianity!—and the world will be a better place, a place at peace. “Imagine” as John Lennon sang, a world without religion. He had Christianity clearly in mind. Complete secularization is the god the world follows. The rebellion is deep. The natural law has also come under hatred. People are told that men—even young boys!—can become females, and women are told they can become men. Sex is malleable, changeable. So scientists interfere with what God has made to turn it into something freakish. Moral law has long ago been thrown out on the ash heap. Now the world seeks to thrown physical law onto the same heap. There are many among whom we live who believe that they have succeeded with secularization. However, there comes no more justice, no more right and wrong, and ruthless, selfish behavior spreads. Criminals run free on our streets because it is claimed that no one should condemn their behavior.

It’s all First Commandment stuff. Last Sunday our Family Catechetical Time featured that Commandment. “You shall have no other gods” Period. None before the one true God and none alongside Him, either. The people of Israel thought they could have both. 

We heard the prophet Jeremiah chastise Israel for listening to the false prophets instead of God. God said that his people had “hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” [Jer. 2.13]. From a position of having everything from the true God Israel instead followed the world. She coveted the sins of her neighbors.

Paul writes that everything that happened to rebellious Israel was to teach us something. 

 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. [1 Cor.10.11]

We are to learn that we cannot have God and the world. Israel received God’s punishment over and over again to bring them to repentance, to reflect on what they had been pursuing, but to no avail. They considered God’s Law to be a tiresome burden. They’d rather live like those among whom they lived. They wanted the world more than the true God.

Paul was writing to the Corinthians. Corinth was a city which could best be compared to San Francisco, sea port city. Wealthy merchants and businesses were the norm. The best the world could offer. But it was a cesspool of debauchery. There were sins openly tolerated in Corinth that were too much even for many pagans [1 Cor. 5.1]. It was said of such a person, “He lives like a Corinthian.” It described a person who lived a completely dissolute, decadent life! Such a person was so totally secularized that one would not expect him to have any chance at being saved eternally, if he even entertained such thoughts! 

Earlier Paul referenced the members of that congregation:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

I’ve found it deceitful that those who support sexual perversion like to quote part of this verse, as though the Bible aims only at sexual sins, while ignoring the other sins listed, like the greedy and swindlers, or those who practice any unrighteousness. But the whole Gospel of Christ was proclaimed even to such sinful people and God the Holy Spirit worked miracles. They repented and received forgiveness for their sins. They received new life in Christ by Holy Baptism. They were washed clean!

Holy Baptism is not magic. It is not some ex opere operato, that is, “by working the work,” but only when it is done in faith. There is no spiritual benefit by simply going through the motions! To understand it that way is to run in the way of the Law. But it is never the Gospel! That was Israel’s problem. It was Corinth’s problem. And it is the problem with those today who were once baptized but then turn away from Holy Baptism to a life of unbelief.

You, too, have been washed clean in Holy Baptism! You have repented and received the life of Christ. You are to wear the righteous garment bestowed in Baptism. You are to live your Baptism. You are to return to it every day because every day you sin. God’s grace is boundless unless you desert him for the world. He feeds you with his true body and blood to forgive and strengthen you amidst all temptations. 

Every day you and I are confronted with the choice, “God or the World.” We are immersed in0 a world that does not care about the true God. We see it. We shake our heads about how bad it is, but the warning God gives through the Scriptures should constantly ring in our ears, “You cannot serve God and mammon—You cannot serve God and the world.” It is “God or the World.” And then return to the cleansing waters of your Baptism in repentance and faith. That’s what Israel lacked and the Corinthians lacked. But you have God’s Word which defends you against such impenitence as long as you live in it and keep it.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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