1 Corinthians 15:1-4
Over the years I have had the task of doing my fair share of “counseling.” An old preacher friend and mentor of mine who is now with the Lord, Charles Thomas, was asked if he did counseling. He said, “Yes, I do. Be at the church this Sunday at 11am and we will have our first group session.” My friend, that is the best place to get your counseling.
So allow me do some group relationship counseling today.
· How many are married? Okay.
· How many are not married…(pause) but want to be real bad? Got ya! Sorry about that.
God created men and women to live in relationship: family, friends, marriage.
I want to suggest for your consideration that your faithfulness, effectiveness and survival in all of your relationships, and especially marriage, are directly tied to only one thing….that right, just one thing. So what does every marriage, every relationship need more than anything else?
Some should say, “Money.” All of us have experienced too much month at the end of the money. But there are people who don’t have much money that have good relationships.
Some would say, “Those in relationship need to give more time.” We are always going to “get around to it,” but haven’t yet.
Others are sure improved relationships is all bout “better communication.” No doubt about it, it is a BIG need. Men and women are so different. Men are into big headlines; women are into small, fine print. Women are big talkers. Men can survive on about five indiscernible grunts and groans. Men speak about 20 words a minute, women 140 words a minute, with gusts up to 200! God gave us one tongue and two ears.
But are any of those things—money, time, communication—the most needed thing for your marriage to survive and thrive?
My conclusions may surprised you. And after hearing it, you may conclude that it is just “preacher talk” and will be tempted to turn me off. But keep listening. Turn to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. “ For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
1. Our Priority—the Cross.
The one thing? The cross of Jesus Christ….the gospel.
Surely, we know the cross is “First” in Sequence (order)….before anything else people need the gospel. “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified,” 1 Corinthians 2:1-2.
When Paul arrived in the wicked city of Corinth, he did not survey the town to see what they liked or disliked about religion.
- He didn’t go from city to city customizing a new message for each
- He refused to allow himself to be in the “spotlight,” making sure he was
not the attraction. Paul was not a Christian celebrity.
- He made a conscious choice to not get sidetracked by current issues,
social debates or personality preferences.
It is ast the cross that sinners are forgiven. The very center of what a Christian believes and what a Christian becomes is in the cross. It is obvious that the cross is “first” in sequence.
But, the cross is to be primarily understood as “First” in Significance (important)...above anything else people need the gospel.
One truth transcends all other truth. One truth should define who we are, what we believe, how we live. The greatest and most glorious subject or all is “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” It is the center, the core, the heart of who God is and what we are to be in Christ.
Paul specialized on two things: (1) the person of Christ and (2) the passion of Christ. Paul wanted people to know who Jesus was and what He had accomplished at His first coming. Did Paul talk about other things? Absolutely, but who Jesus was and what Jesus came to do were the first thing, the most important thing he did.
You see, the message of the cross cannot be duplicated by the world.
· If a church emphasizes alleviating human suffering and poverty, there are a hundred social organizations who can do that.
· If a church becomes political and tries the solve the moral ills of their country, other men and movements will be ahead of you trying to “bring back America.”
· If a church tries to get into education or housing, there are institutions bigger and better at that job.
· But there is only one organization on the face of the earth that has the message of the cross and that is the church of the living God. We are to tell it because no one will if we don’t.
“Christ died for our sins.” This is the main thing. Nothing else—even things that are biblical and moral—are of equal or of greater importance than this… “Christ died for our sins.” God sent His Son to the cross to bear His wrath for sinners like you and me.
How about a sermon in 10 words? Ready? Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead. That’s the whole gospel right there. There is enough truth in those ten words to devote in study for a lifetime. There is enough truth in those ten words to save the whole world. Say those words to yourself. Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead. Now say them out loud: Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead. Again. Paul said to the Galatians that anything subtracts from or adds to the gospel is not the gospel at all, but “another” gospel of a different kind, Galatians 1:6-9.
The cross and the Christian gospel is so simple that a child can hear it and understand it. And it is so profound that I will be preaching more than 40 messages about it this year and not even come close to scratching the surface.
2. Our Perspective—the Cross?
Some of you are probably thinking, “Preacher, thanks for the reminder about the cross. I remember the day I heard the gospel. The ‘good news’ of the death of Jesus reached me. I trusted Christ. I received God’s gift of salvation that Jesus purchased with His own precious blood…. But, I don’t get it? What does the cross have to do with marriage, raising kids, and getting old together?”
“I occasionally ‘dust off the gospel’ to share with a lost person who really needs it, but what does the cross have to do with me now? I’m already saved. I’m forgiven. I’m bound for heaven. Don’t I need to give my attention to living for Jesus and move on from the cross?”
· “Isn’t there something more than the cross...else … new?”
· “I bowed before the cross, years ago, I received Christ, I’ve been born again, I’ve even been baptized into His death...now what? What’s next?”
It is as though people think they get the cross out of the way and then want to know, “What takes up where the cross leaves off?”
I’ve got news for you—the message of the cross never leaves off.
· Colossians 2:6 “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.”
· Galatians 2:20 “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me…who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
· Galatians 6:14 “ God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”
“When we ‘cling to the old rugged cross,’ as the familiar hymn encourages us to do, we are not doing so out of mere sentimentality. The cross is the heart of our message and the heart of our power to combat the encroachment of darkness,” Erwin Lutzer, Cries from the Cross, p. 25.
3. Our Passion—the Cross!
What could the Cross possibly do for my marriage? Charles Spurgeon advised, “Abide hard by the cross and search the mystery of His wounds.” What can we learn from the cross to the benefit of our marriages? What can the cross do that all other things can’t?
The Cross reminds us that in marriage we live with a sinner... may I introduce mine, Susan)..oh, yah, she lives with a whopper of a sinners, too...me. We have been sinners together since 1966. How many know…. marriage involves imperfect, defective, dysfunctional, hard-headed, sin-hardened, brain-damaged people? Okay, let’s use the words of the gospel—marriage involves “sinners.” “Christ died for sinners.”
Our sinfulness is a glaring fact, a daily reminder of who we are outside of Christ. And because of sin, relational conflict is inevitable. You will sin against others. Others will sin against you. Sometimes you are the victim; many times you are the perpetrator.
I wished a preacher would be so brave, so honest as to break up the party that goes on at most weddings, to honestly say, “Young lady, you think this is Mr. Right...wrong! He has a first name. Let me introduce you to Mr. Seldom Right.” And, “Young man, this little delicate, beautiful thing you are marrying today can turn into a wild beast in a moments notice!” Sounds like some of you know what I’m talking about.
I am serious, the first thing people need to understand and be ready to deal with in relationships is “you are a sinner, the person you are marrying is a sinner, and both of your families come from a long-line of sinners!”
"The subject of sin is vital knowledge, not optional. To say that our first need in life is to learn about sin may sound strange, but in the sense intended, it is profoundly true," J. I. Packer.
Dan Madsen: "The cross reveals the depth of our sin, not the height of our worth before God."
Allow me to say “out loud” what we all know in our hearts: we are sinners… wretched, wicked, willful sinners.
Every child that is raised in a Christian home needs to know it is a blessing to be raised in a Christian family and to go to a gospel-preaching Baptist church or to live a moral life, but that child need to know he is a sinner who desperately needs the substitutionary death of Christ for God’s forgiveness. Christ did not die for us because we have worth; we have worth because Christ died for us.
And because of our deep, personal sinfulness we should attempt to be as gracious as God toward our spouse, our parents, our friends.
The Cross reminds us of a Love that passes all knowledge, and tells us the way God wants people to love who are married and the way He loved on the cross. “Husbands love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it,” Ephesians 5:25. “He loved me and gave Himself for me…” Galatians 2:20.
The kind of love that marriages need is not the kind of love Oprah or Dr. Phil are talking about. The kind of love couples need is the love of the cross—the sacrificial, debt-cancelling, life-giving love of Jesus. “Even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.” It wasn’t that Jesus gave His time, or gave His encouragement, or gave His example—it about the cross. He gave His life because of love. That’s the love marriages must have. The love of the cross. Love that is selfless, sacrificial, supernatural, and saving.
The Cross reminds us that in Christ we are free to both experience God’s forgiveness and express God’s forgiveness to others. “And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you,” Ephesians 4:32
When I become bitter and unforgiving toward others, I’m declaring that the sins of others are more serious than my sins against God.
The cross changes that. Through the cross I realize that no sin committed against me will never be as serious as the numerous sins I’ve committed against God. When I understand how much God as forgiven me, it’s not as difficult to forgive others.
Forgiveness does not ignore sin; instead, it finds a basis for mercy in the cross of Christ. At the cross we are forgiven of our greatest debt, and there we find hope and power to forgive others.
Cross-centered forgiveness becomes the single greatest, most powerful agent for change and hope in marriage. In light of how much God has forgiven you at the cross, it is a small things for you to forgiver others of what they do to you (Matthew 18:23-35 ).
God’s extended hands of forgiveness are nail-scared.
The Cross is also about reconciliation. The Bible says “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself” and through the cross He has “given to us the ministry and word of reconciliation,” 2 Corinthians 5:19-20. Think about it. Through the cross of His Son we are now “at one” with God. And it was God who initiated reconciliation. Consider two other Bible terms which confirm this reconciliation: adoption and access. And reconciliation at the cross is not only vertical (Godward), it is also horizontal (manward). The work of the cross not only brings us to God, it also brings us together with others in Christ, Ephesians 2:14-18.
Think of all the other blessings we receive through the cross: humility, peace, joy, grace, mercy, power. The Cross reminds me that the Power that is available to change me can change others also. If the cross is changing me, it can also change someone else. The Cross is God’s power to save those who believe—couples, children, friends, strangers.
Determine to make your marriage, your home, your friendships more “cross-centered.” If the gospel is first in sequence and first in significance then we need to immerse ourselves in the cross every day. No days off allowed.
1. Store the gospel in your heart by memorization.
2. Speak the gospel in your daily prayers….thanks.
3. Sing the gospel (at least in your hearts).
4. Share the gospel with the lost (evangelizes) and the saved (encourages).
5. Study the gospel...move on from the milk to the meat...we don’t move
away from the cross when we grow, we moving deeper into the cross.
For so many believers, the Cross is not being disowned, it has just being dismissed from the remaining the center of our lives. This is exactly what happened to some people in the New Testament—actually a whole church.
“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou has left thy first love,” Revelation 2:4.
A lot of sermon have been preached about “first love.” (1) The love of God’s Word. (2) The love of the lost (3) The love of other believers.
I am afraid we have missed the obvious. “First love” simply means “the love you had at the first.” This has to point back to the time these people were introduced to the saving message of the cross...that Jesus suffered, and bled, and died for our sins...and stands willing and ready and able to forgive us when we receive Him as our Savior and Lord. Wasn’t that your “first love”? You were captured by God’s great love for you. The love of Christ constrained you. At the point of faith, the Holy Spirit filled your heart with a love like you had never known before. What a love! “We love Him, because He first loved us,” 1 John 4:19.
But the Ephesians had gone “cold on the cross.” The Bible does not say they “lost” that love, but that they “left” it.
· I want my heart to be cross-centered.
· I want my marriage & home to be cross-centered.
· I want our church to be cross-centered.
For 20 centuries, the cross of Christ, His death, His shed blood, His crucifixion has been the very heart of true Christianity. God’s people have given their hearts, their lives, their all to share the message of the cross to the lost world. And as a result, hearts have been convicted, souls have been converted, and lives have been changed.