21 Nov 2021

God the Junk Artist [1Corinthians 1:26-31]


The church is God's masterpiece (Eph 2:10). He is like that genius artist or sculptor that takes worthless materials and turns them into a great work of beauty. There is nothing praise-worthy in the materials per se, and so the beauty of that artwork can only be attributed to God's glory. In 1st Corinthians, we read of how God generally chooses the foolish, the weak, the despised of the world to form His church. And in His power and wisdom, He turns them all around into a people full of beauty and glory. So now, as the church, we must learn to boast in the Lord. This is the best antidote to the poison of human pride, and the scourge of church division. May we have a renewed vision of the supremacy of God in His gospel for His glory.


Sermon Transcript

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Well, today, we will continue our journey through the book of 1st Corinthians, and we are looking at chapter 1, verses 26 to 31. It's going to be a short, sharp sermon, I hope, and I hope that this will be a blessing to you.

Let me ask you a question for a start - Do you have junk lying around at home? You know, little pieces of nothings, it might be a paperclip, it might be a Lego brick, it might be some loose button, some wires, some scraps of paper lying around? Do you have them at home?

Well, for most of us, they are so insignificant and seemingly worthless that we will not think twice about throwing them into the dustbin. But these pieces of junk, when placed in the right hands can really turn out to be beautiful pieces of art. This is what people call, Junk Art.

For example, this pile of seemingly nothing, worthless stuff is like useless. But actually, it is very masterfully and art-fully put in such a way that the silhouette it casts is a beautiful masterpiece. This is junk art, taking seemingly useless, meaningless thing to bring beauty out of it.

How about this re-creation of a famous painting by the Dutch painter Vermeer called, "The Girl With A Pearl Earring". This re-creation is by a lady named Jane Perkins. And it is fantastic because she's not painting it again, but she's kind of working on some three dimensional materials. So she took some things from charity shops, all the stuff you see here, it's taken from charity shops, from flea markets and from recycling centers.

And they are seemingly worthless things! If you look a bit closely, they are jigsaw puzzle pieces, buttons, loose buttons and Lego bricks. And she takes all that and she recreates that famous painting.

Or maybe this piece of junk art might also astound you, a very realistic looking portrait of Marilyn Monroe. It's called, "Marilyn". It's by Tom Denninger, and again he uses very scrap materials like wires, wire mesh, necklace, a baby doll somewhere, up there. And he puts it all together to present this very, very beautiful; realistic piece of work.

You know something about junk art is that you can never give glory to any component or ingredient that you use for that work of art. You cannot say, "Oh, it's such a beautiful wire!" You cannot say, "Oh, it's such a beautiful telephone line!" You can't say these things are beautiful, but when they are all put together masterfully by the artists, then this becomes beautiful ... beautiful.

In other words, you cannot give glory to any component there, but you can only give all glory and honor to the artist. Now, Junk Art reminds me of how God works in our lives. The Bible says that, we are His masterpiece, we are His work of art. God is like that genius sculptor, artist, who uses very base, very seemingly insignificant material and He fashions these materials into something beautiful. And all glory can only go to God, not to that base ingredient He started off with.

So this morning, as I look at 1st Corinthians, chapter 1 and verses 26 to 31, I ... I think about God being the Junk Artist. Now, I hope you understand this is in no way a derogatory or insulting term to call God, because I'm not saying, God is like an artist who is junk, but I'm saying that, God is the One who is the Specialist at using junk like my life, to turn it into something beautiful, unto His praise and glory alone.

Why is this passage about junk artists, or about junk being turned into something beautiful? And why did Paul write something like this in 1st Corinthians 1? What is the context? What are the details? Well, that's what I would hope you'll spend time to consider together with me.

In this passage, I see three things.

[1] Look At Your Beginnings
Number one, I see Paul telling the Corinthians - look at your beginnings.

Again, it's almost like a parallel to think about how we all are like that loose button, that paperclip, that wire, that is quite useless, worthless until God comes into our lives. But Paul here is therefore saying, to the Corinthian church, look at your beginnings.

For he says, "For consider your calling, brothers" [1 Cor 1:26] Look at the way this church is built up, look at the people who form this church, look at who God calls. Look at your calling, "Consider your calling, brothers." Look at their beginnings, because, "Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth." [1 Cor 1:26]

So he's saying, "Not many of you are the smart ones. Not many of you graduated from RI, RGS, RJC. Not many of you are powerful. You're not the influential kind. You're not the movers and shakers in society. You did not come from very established or ... or not very prestigious families. Instead, if you look around you, he's saying to the church at Corinth, "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are." [1 Cor 1:27-28]

So he's saying, "You, bunch of Corinthian church, you think that you're somebody. No! Actually God chose the foolish, the weak, the low and despised, those things that are not." And you say, "Why?" Well, God chooses in such a way that brings Him glory, you see.

There is this lady, named, Lady Huntington. She was a rich and influential lady living about 200 or so years ago. And she was a good friend to the famous preachers John Wesley and George Whitfield. And she would say that, she is going to heaven by an M. What do you mean lady Huntington, you're going to heaven by an M?

What she meant is this — she thanks God, 1st Corinthians, chapter 1:26 is saying, "Not many who are wise, not many who are powerful and not that ... not any." She is going to heaven by an M because she's a rich and influential lady, but thanks be to God, she says, it is not that none who are powerful or rich or wise will go to heaven, but not many.

So in general, the point here is - God chooses the foolish, the weak, the despised, to be part of His Kingdom. He chooses those who do not appear very spectacular, the insignificant ones. God chooses the buttons, the wires, the ... the pieces of junk that nobody looks up to. Why? Again, so that God may have all the glory.

So, is there anything to boast? Nothing! Is there anyone who can boast in the church? Really nothing! Because God delights to use very simple, foolish things to bring out His glory.

Now, before I move on, I like to, again remind you, the Bible is very clear that God is the One who chooses. We live in a day where we do not like to say that, "I do not have a choice." We ... we revel or we rejoice in democracy — one man, one vote. We want to have that privilege, and indeed now considered a right to choose.

But do you know that in the Bible, it is presented in such a way that we are to be clear, the ultimate choice lies with God. God chose! God chose! God chose! God is the God of election, He is sovereign. After all, Jesus did say this, didn't He? "No man can come to Me, except the Father draws him." No Man, no one on his own can come to Jesus, and indeed will come to Jesus, except the Father draws him.

Now, I hope you will see that the Bible is very clear that God is sovereign. He has absolute freedom and right, He is the ultimate Decider of who will be part of His Kingdom. Now, this does not mean, however, that He unjustly damns people to hell, because people are doomed and worthy to be damned, not because God did not choose them, but because we are sinners. Please get that right!

And please also understand that when God chooses, it is not to say that, we are now to be fatalistic in our approach and say, "Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be! And God cannot hold me accountable if I should be damned in hell." No! No! No! No!Whilst God chooses, the Bible is also very clear that the responsibility to believe, to repent and to believe lies with us.

And I hope the church today, do not say, "Oh, because God is the God of election, I do not need to preach any more, since whoever He chooses will be saved." Oh, no! A balanced understanding of the sovereignty of God involves a passion for evangelism and disciple-making, because we believe that as God has He elect, He uses the preaching and lives of God's people to bring that message to His elect.

And I hope that actually stirs you up to a greater fervor. I mean, that's what Jesus did, that's what apostles did, that's what the church did throughout the ages. We believe in a Sovereign God who chooses but we also rejoice and delight in the privilege to serve Him and bring the message to one and all.

But the point, I hope you will not forget, is that Paul is saying, "Why are you guys fighting and boasting amongst yourselves, as if you're somebody? Look at your beginnings! God did not choose the strong, the mighty, the noble, the wise according to worldly standards, He chooses very simple things. You are all very simple people, in general."

Yes, God does choose based on socio economic status, God does choose based on IQ, God does choose on our birth, our parentage, our heritage, but He often chooses those without these things, so that all glory is His.

[2] Look At Your Blessings
Number two, looking at your beginnings, he moves on to now — look at your blessings.

He says, "Look at where you are now! Look at your beauty! Look at the way God has blessed!" Now, when we think about blessings in modern day church and Singapore, most people think about material things, physical things, circumstantial things, isn't it?

If ... and I am in touch with churches and their social media, their posts, and oftentimes I hear about testimonies from churches, I watched their testimonies. And it's often, I wouldn't say for many churches, but maybe not all churches, but I think a good number. For many, the testimonies seem to be focused on some healing from some disease, some breakthrough in their jobs, some provision in their material finances.

Now, please don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that, healing and success in our careers or even provisions financially are bad things. They can be blessings from God and God can bless His people that way. But what I'm saying here is, if you are to ask Apostle Paul, what is real blessing to him, what is that great blessing to him, now, he won't say that healing is bad, he won't say that material provisions are bad. He's not going to say that!

And I don't think it's Biblical to say that! But he's going to say, "The great blessing in my mind, it's not just these physical material; temporal things, but it is this, it is that, "Because of God, we are in Christ Jesus."' [1 Cor 1:30] This speaks about our union with Christ, our joining in Christ.

To Paul the real great blessing is — union with Christ! And that trumps everything, but maybe to you, you still say,"Umm, Jason, I don't quite get this. I can understand that I can rejoice, if I'm healed from my disease, from my cancer. I can understand if I'm provided a new job, when I lost my job. I can appreciate these things, but I can't quite understand what's the blessing of union with Christ? What are the tangible benefits or blessings?"

Well, Paul then goes on to say, "Who became to us wisdom from God." [1 Cor 1:30] "You know, your relationship in Christ, you're in union with Christ. Your ... your knowing Christ is a blessing because in Christ you now really understand or begin to understand, wisdom from God."

Well, recently, I think it was maybe a couple of weeks ago, I went to Night Safari for the very first time in my life. Huh, I've been a Singaporean for 40 over years, but I've never been to Night Safari! I've always heard that it is so dark, it is so small, you can't see very well and it's not a lot to see. And so I've never wanted to go especially when the ticket prices are so high.

But now that I have my two boys and I found out that there was a ... I'm not sure if still ongoing but there was a quite good promotion, I think one for one or something like that. I decided, "Okay, let's bring my family, let's go to the zoo. Let's go to the Night Safari for the very first time." And I must say to you, I'm ... I'm ... I'm not paid by them, alright, but I must say, I was really impressed with Night Safari.

It was a very, very pleasant night out for my family. But when we were there, of course, we saw the various animals on display and I saw this Three-Banded Armadillo. It's a cute little thing! They don't quite get to see the animal because you know, sometimes they are hiding, it's dark and so on. But I ... I did get to read about the Armadillo. And I was really impressed to read how the armor of the Armadillo is so hard that it can deflect gun bullets.

I was amazed! I mean, this tiny little thing has this super-well ,constructed outer shell and armor that can deflect gun bullets. By the way, when it curls up, it reminds me of a toy called, The Bakugan. So cute! But hey, you can go on and on, isn't it? You can think about an Armadillo, you can think about various kinds of animals and that's why I sometimes love to watch that, those animals being on display in Nat Geo and Discovery Channel, BBC Earth. Just fascinating to see how God has created all these kinds of animals, to adapt to environments and to survive and to thrive.

I think about the beauty of these creation. I think about the skies, the galaxies, the heavens declare the handiwork of God, the glory of God. And we can see the wisdom of God in all of creation. But even if you look at all of creation, and are amazed at the power and the wisdom of God, you have not scratched the surface, because I think scripturally, the ultimate expression of God's wisdom is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We looked at that last week. It's a message, the message that Christ, God's Son would die a cruel cross, to save men from his sins. Is considered folly! Is considered madness! Is considered crazy to the world! But it is the very wisdom of God. That God would use this message to destroy the wisdom of the wise. God will use this message to save men from his sins. God would use this message, so that we might be declared just and that God might remain just, in forgiving us of our sins.

So, when we look at Christ, we now know God more. We might now if we really sit down and think about it, be amazed at God's wisdom and worship Him for it. That's what Paul is saying, "Look at your blessings in Christ. Now, you begin to understand God. Now, you begin to know Him, in particular His wisdom."

But not only that, because of our union in Christ. Not only do we see God for who He is, but we now also receive righteousness. The word, 'righteousness' is a reference to our right standing with God. Because before we come to know Jesus, we are all enemies of God. We ... God is angry with us, but because of Christ, and what He did on the cross, because He suffered on our behalf, He took our sins and was sacrificed on our behalf. We today are declared righteous, we are declared just. We are no more enemies, but we are at the right standing with God.

You know how precious this is? Because if you do not have righteousness, if you do not have what we call justification before God, your eternal life is damnation in a place called, hell forever, because that's what the holy wrath of God deserves — that men who have rebelled against Him should be punished for his sin.

But because of Christ, you don't need to face that anymore. All the money in the world cannot buy you righteousness. All the charitable deeds you do in your life cannot buy your righteousness. Even if you spend your whole life, trying to earn your way to God, you cannot secure righteousness, but because of Christ, you are righteous.

Wow! How can we as God's people, rejoice in our healing and our ... our material blessings as if they are the ultimate things and forget the ultimate blessing of being in Christ? Oh, by all means, give thanks and praise God for healing, praise God and give thanks when He should provide for you. We must give thanks for these things, but do not forget that greater blessing of being right with God, because of Jesus.

Not only in Christ do we get to know God, not only in Christ are we justified, forgiven, reconciled, we are also sanctified. We are being sanctified. The word, 'sanctification' refers to holiness, to purity, to being more like God and less like the sinful ways of the world. And because of Christ, we now can have life change, because of Christ, our lives can turn around.

Oh, people have a hard time flushing COVID virus out of their system. But I can tell you, it's even harder to flush sin out of our lives. But there is a power that enables you to do so, there's a Person that enables you to do so and that is Christ. He lives in us by His Spirit, and He is the One that enables us to have life change. And as we look to Him, as we yield our lives over to Him, He continues to change us, purify us. And what a blessing this is! That I grow in Christ likeness. This rotten man can be so turned around, that beauty of likeness to Jesus may be manifest.

So, we have wisdom from God, we have righteousness, we have sanctification, but Paul is not done, he says, "And redemption." Now, I think, many of us would be very quick to say, "Oh, redemption seems to be a reiteration of salvation or righteousness, so, he's repeating himself." I think he's probably not, I think he's probably moving on. He's talking about how we are saved from the penalty of sin. He is talking about how we are saved from the power of sin. I think he's also going to talk about how we are saved from the pollution of sin.

That we will now one day have a body, that is totally devoid of sin. In other words, we will have a body that is absolutely glorious, and beautiful, because the word, 'redemption' is used similarly in Romans 8:23, by the same author Paul, "Not only the creation but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."

So Paul here is saying, "Whole of creation and God's people, we are longing for that day Jesus will come back, and on that day, hah, we will have glorified bodies." And we will learn about the glorified bodies more so in 1st Corinthians 15, later on. But the point is this, Paul is saying, "Because of Christ, you will have amazing blessings, you ... you know God for who He is. You are reconciled, you are being changed and one day you will be glorious, you will be absolutely sinless, beautiful. You have ... you have an incorruptible body, and that is all the blessing God has given you. Look at that potential! Look at all this beauty! You are going to be so gorgeous, beautiful, brilliant, you are going to be a masterpiece."

And so, God takes junk, insignificant, foolish, weak, despised people, and pours His blessings upon them, so that they may be a masterpiece. That is brilliant, isn't it?

[3] Look At Your Boasting
And so finally, then Paul says, "Look at your boasting. In the light of where you are, in the light of where you will become or what you will become, look at your boasting."

"God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." [1 Cor 1:28-29] Look at your boasting, be careful. You do not boast in man, that's what Paul is saying.

Why? "We are nobodies! Why do you boast about Paul and Apollos or Cephas, and therefore be divided as a church? Why? We are nobodies! God generally chooses the nobodies, so be careful not to boast in the presence of God about men. Don't boast about human achievements and powers and eloquence, but instead, as it is written in verse 31, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

So don't boast in man, boast in God. God is the One who gave this glorious Gospel message, which the world treats as folly. But this is the very message that destroys the wisdom of the wise. And look at the power of this message, it ... it totally changes your life, it brings you into union with Christ, and it allows you to see the wisdom of God, it gives you righteousness, sanctification, and one day, glorification. So, "Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord." [1 Cor 1:31] He is that junk Artist who deserves all glory, isn't it?

Now, this is a quotation or a reference of Jeremiah, chapter 9. Paul is quoting from the Old Testament, "Thus says the Lord, "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches." [Jer 9:23]

"Don't boast in these things, they're not significant, "Rather, let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth." [Jer 9:24]

So Jeremiah is saying, "Don't boast in human [dot dot dot dot dot], but boast in God that you know Him." And so Paul says, "Don't boast in Paul, don't boast in Apollos, don't boast in Cephas, don't boast in our eloquence or our reputation or our achievements, but boast in the Lord." He summarizes it this way. Why? Because of the Gospel message - so stunningly simple, and yet so stunningly unique and distinctive.

Boast in the Lord. Why? Because He's the One who takes your wretched, insignificant lives and turn it into a masterpiece. So, "Let him who boast, boast in the Lord." [1 Cor 1:31]

Well, I say, if you were to summarize what we've been learning, maybe these three verses from Ephesians, chapter 2 might do the job. "For by grace you have been saved through faith ..." [Eph 2:8] Are you saved because you're smart or clever or powerful or rich or wise or whatever? No! We are saved by grace, by God's unconditional favor.

"For by grace, you have been saved through faith. This is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one will boast." [Eph 2:9-10] You know why God chooses the way He chooses? Do you know why God chooses to save people this way? So that no man will boast, but all glory is His. "For we are His workmanship ..." or His masterpiece, ".... created in Christ Jesus for good works." [Eph 2:10]

So, why did Paul talk about this? Well, we come back to the context. Remember that the first problem he wanted to address in the church at Corinth, is that of schism or division. They were a people divided not because they were pressures or persecutions from the outside, but that they had the wrong value system on the inside. They were fighting, they were having contention and quarrels one with another, because human pride has slipped into their lives.

They say, "I belong to Paul, he's better!" "No! No! I belong to Apollos, he's better!" "No! No! No! Cephas is better!" "We are better! You are not like us, we are not like you." And because of this human pride, they are a divided bunch. So, Paul now has to tackle this problem of division at its root and the root cause is human pride.

Therefore, last week, Paul says, "Look at the message of the Gospel." It's a message that the world deems foolish, but it's the very message that is like an axe that fells the tall trees of human pride. And God destroys the wisdom of the wise that way. Don't worship men! Don't boast in men! Boast in God because even the folly of the Gospel humbles men.

And then, this week Paul is saying, "Don't boast in men." Because you are nobodies, but God is like that genius junk Artist that turns our nothingness into amazing works of art, unto His glory.

So why boast? Why be divided? Why boast in men and be a divided church? But let's boast in God and be a united church. The problem therefore is that of boasting, they boast too much in men. So Paul says, "Boast in the Lord."

And so, Galatians 6:14, Paul says to us, "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Let us boast in God, let us boast in God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Oh, we need today, if a church divided is to be healed, then the church divided needs to have a renewed vision of the supremacy of God in the Gospel - to see God's wisdom in the Gospel, to see God's love in the Gospel, to see how our lives have been blessed in the Gospel.

And when we see all that, when we see how great God is, that we will be cured and healed, and weaned from boasting in man and will boast in God. And in that, we will be one united people.

You know what heaven is like? Heaven is going to be a chorus of praises and boasting in God because of the Gospel. And therefore, Heaven will be a place where we are one united people.

I pray this will be true for Gospelighters, that we will not boast in men, we would rejoice in God and for many years to come, many generations to come, be one united people to spread forth the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you're here today, I want to tell you, I want to boast about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the demonstration of the wisdom of God. There is no plan in this world that can save you from your sin. Do you realize that? Because every plan, in every religion, is all about working your way to God. It's always about self-righteousness, but it is a plan doomed to failure, because God's standard according to the Bible is absolute perfection.

And if you think you can earn your way to God by your self-righteousness, by your own efforts, you're cursed, the Bible says, because you can never fulfill every requirement of God perfectly. But here is the wisdom of God, when every man laughs at Jesus Christ, when they mocked Him, when they crucified Him, that was the very plan God had from the beginning. That His Son, His perfect; sinless Son will be born, truly God, truly man, live an absolutely perfect life, He's the only One who can do that. And then give His life up to be a ransom, to be a payment for you, so that you might be saved.

So today, you don't have to be someone wise, or charitable, or religious, or good, before you can come to God. You can come to God just as you are, because for by grace, are we saved through faith. I pray you'll boast in God, I pray you'll look to Him, I pray you'll humble yourself, believe in His Son and be saved. May God bless you with this Gospel, this Good News of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Let's bow for a word of prayer together.

Father, we thank You this morning. And indeed, we do not want to boast in men, how foolish that would be! No man, no gathering of men, even with a gathering of the smartest of people in this world could ever come up with salvation's plan.

Why boast in men, when we all really are nobodies, and if there be any virtue, any beauty in us, it's all because of Christ, anyway. So I pray Your church today, as we look at this Gospel, will have a renewed vision of Your greatness and Your supremacy. That we might learn not to boast in men, not in ourselves, not in others, but to boast in You.

I pray we will therefore be a Gospel-centered people, a united people to bring You glory. Again, I pray for friends and guests who are tuning in, bless their hearts, O God, that they might see that amazing grace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that You will turn them from sin and lead them to Your Son. Call ... O God, be pleased to call these dear ones into Your Kingdom. We pray this in Jesus' Name. Amen. God bless.

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