The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

January 31, 2021

 

SERVICE OF THE WORD

This service offers the congregation a form of worship that focuses on the proclamation of God’s Word.  Believers respond to this divine gift with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  The service begins on page 38 in the front of the hymnal.

 

M:       We worship today in the name of our Triune God— God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

C:        Amen

Confession of Sins

M:       We have come into the presence of God, who created us to love and serve Him as His dear children.  But we have disobeyed Him and deserve only His wrath and punishment.  Therefore, let us confess our sins to Him and plead for His mercy.

C:        Merciful Father in heaven, I am altogether sinful from birth.  In countless ways I have sinned against you and do not deserve to be called your child.  But trusting in Jesus, my Savior, I pray:  Have mercy on me according to your unfailing love.  Cleanse me from my sin, and take away my guilt.

M:       God, our heavenly Father has forgiven all your sins.  By the perfect life and innocent death of our Lord Jesus Christ, He has removed your guilt forever.  You are His own dear child.  May God give you strength to live according to His will.

C:        Amen.

Prayer and Praise

M:       In the peace of forgiveness, let us praise the Lord.

C:        Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.  Blessed are they who take refuge in Him.  Your Word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.  Your faithfulness continues forever.  Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.  Blessed are they who take refuge in Him.

PRAYER OF THE DAY

M:       Let us pray.

Lord, God, you know that we are surrounded by many dangers and that we often stumble and fall.  Strengthen us in body and mind, and bring us safely through all temptations; we ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C:     Amen

The Word

FIRST LESSON – Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Moses gives the promise of another Prophet who will be like Moses, yet greater.

The LORD  your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers.  You must listen to him.  For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”  The LORD said to me, “What they say is good.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.  If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.  But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”  (NIV1984)

PSALM OF THE DAY – Psalm 1

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

or stand in the way of sinners.

But his delight is in the Law of the LORD,

and on His Law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.

Whatever he does prospers.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.

            Glory be to the Father and to the Son

and to the Holy Spirit,

            as it was in the beginning,

                        is now, and will be forever.  Amen

 

SECOND LESSON – 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (Sermon Text)

Our Lord wants us to be careful in our Christian freedom so that we do not offend the weak.

Now about food sacrificed to idols:  We know that we all possess knowledge.  Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.  But the man who loves God is known by God.  So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols:  We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.  For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.  But not everyone knows this.  Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.  But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.  Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols?  So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.  When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.  Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.  (NIV1984)

VERSE OF THE DAY

Alleluia.  The Spirit of the Lord is on me; He has anointed me to preach Good News.  Alleluia. (Luke 4:18a)

CAlleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  These words are written that we may believe that Jesus is

       the Christ, the Son of God.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

GOSPEL LESSON – Mark 1:21-28

Jesus teaches with divine authority, and then He demonstrates His divine authority by driving out evil spirits.  Jesus thus reveals Himself and His glory.

 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.  The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.  Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”  “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly.  “Come out of him!”  The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.  The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this?  A new teaching—and with authority!  He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.”  News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.  (NIV1984)

 C:        Praise be to you, O Christ!

 SERMON  Knowledge Puffs Up— Love Builds Up!

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Have you ever known someone who is very intelligent— and they go out of their way to make sure everyone realizes it?  No matter what subject comes up they act as though they know more about it than you do.  If you say something, they will challenge you or try to find a way to correct you because, after all, they know more than you do.  Thankfully, I have known just a handful of people who are indeed very intelligent— but they go out of their way to make sure that everyone realizes it.

Have you ever known someone who is very intelligent— but they were also very down-to-earth, helpful, and compassionate?  They go out of their way to use what they know to help other people.  When I was at the Seminary, I had professors who were unbelievably gifted, but if I was having difficulty understanding something, they were willing to sit down with me and help me.  In all of the congregations I have served I’ve had members who were smarter than me.  The questions they asked in Bible class and the answers they gave in Bible class helped me grow in my own understanding of Scripture.

In our sermon text for today the apostle Paul reminds us that purely by the grace of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit we possess the most valuable knowledge of all!  We have the knowledge that enables us to understand how sinners like us are saved for all of eternity!  Our challenge however, the challenge that Paul highlights here in our text, centers on how we use that knowledge.  With that in mind let’s study this text from the perspective Paul gives to us:  Knowledge Puffs Up— Love Builds Up!

The opening words of our text, “Now about food sacrificed to idols,” remind us that Paul is still addressing the list of questions that God’s people in Corinth had asked him to answer.  (See 1 Corinthians 7:1) We now need to try and put ourselves in the sandals of the Christians living in Corinth at this time.  The city of Corinth was home to the temple of Aphrodite— with its more than 1,000 sacred prostitutes.  Along with the temple of Aphrodite there were at least twelve other temples dedicated to a variety of gods and a variety of religions.  The daily sacrifices that people brought to all these temples created a problem for some of the Christians in Corinth— many of whom may have worshiped at one or more of these temples before they were brought to faith in Jesus as their Savior.  The problem was this:  not all of the meat that was sacrificed to these idols was burned up on these pagan altars.  One part was offered on the altar.  Another part was used for a cultic meal.  The rest was given to the priests.  What the priests did not use was taken to the temple’s public meat market.  The question God’s people needed Paul to answer centered on two things.  First, could they as Christians continue to purchase meat from one of these markets knowing that the proceeds would go to the temple— or would that make them participants in pagan worship?  Second, could they accept an invitation from a family member or a friend to join them in one of these cultic meals— or would that be compromising their faith in Christ?

Paul immediately gets to the heart of the matter when he writes, “Now about food sacrificed to idols:  We know that we all possess knowledge.  Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.”

Many of the Corinthians were all too confident of their own knowledge as Christians— especially as it pertained to things such as eating the meat that was sacrificed to idols.  That’s why Paul says, “We know that we all possess knowledge.”  In other words, some of the Christians in Corinth were saying, “We know that we know”— and that was the problem.  The Corinthians’ “knowledge” had become the focus of their attention.  They considered their “knowledge” to be both the beginning and the end of matters such as this.  Their “knowledge,” however, was not turned outward in love, but rather it was turned inward in pride and conceit.

That’s why Paul says to them, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”  Knowledge turned in on itself only makes the “knower” puffed up like a balloon— big and important in their own eyes, arrogant and proud in the eyes of others.  Knowledge is good, but knowledge as an end unto itself serves no good purpose.  Love must be added to knowledge so that the knowledge may be used correctly.  In other words, love puts knowledge to its proper use— namely, to serve and help others.  The Christian who is truly knowledgeable will recognize that even better than knowing something is being known by God.  Knowing that we are “known by God” leads us to love Him.  (Pointing to the cross)  As John tells us in his first epistle, “This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins…We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:10, 19).  Thus the heart of the matter is the love of God— the love that He has poured out on us in Christ, the love which overflows in both our love for Him (Pointing to the cross) and in our love for our neighbors.

With that foundation of love firmly set Paul now answers the question about food sacrificed to idols.  His answer embraces three truths.  The first truth is found in these words, “So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols:  We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.  For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”

As we already mentioned, there were many temples in the city of Corinth, temples that were dedicated to various “gods” and various religions.  But, since these temples were dedicated to “gods” that did not exist, all the meat that was sacrificed to these non-existent “gods” was being sacrifice to nothing but the figment of someone’s imagination!  So if the meat that was in the marketplace was sacrificed to something that did not even exist, there was no reason for God’s people to feel bad about buying that meat.  Since they know who the true God is and since they know what the true God was willing to do to save them from their sins,  they could buy the meat and give thanks to Him!  (Pointing to the cross)

The second truth is found in these words, “But not everyone knows this.  Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.  But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.”

It’s obvious from these words that there were members of this congregation who were “new” to the Christian faith.  They had just recently been brought out of the darkness of idolatry and were now striving to walk in the light of salvation through faith in Christ.  Old habits, however, and old convictions can be difficult to leave in the past.  Anything that smacked of idolatry made them feel very uncomfortable.  For them eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol made their weak conscience feel “defiled.”

That’s why Paul lovingly reminded these “new” Christians, Christians whose faith was still weak, that eating food— even food that was once sacrificed to an idol— does not impact their relationship with the one true God in any way whatsoever.  The Lord Jesus emphasized this very same truth when He said to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’”  (Matthew 15:11).

The third truth that Paul emphasizes when it comes to eating food sacrificed to idols is found in the words, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols?  So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.  When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.  Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”

This truth brings us right back to Paul’s words, “Knowledge puff up, but love builds up.”  As Christians we have been given what is called “Christian Freedom.”  There are some things that the Bible clearly commands us to do and there are some things that the Bible clearly commands us not to do.  Everything in between falls under the category of adiaphora.  For the Christians in Corinth that would include eating meat offered to idols.  But, doing something just because your Christian freedom allows you to do it, does not mean that you can insist on your right to do it— no matter how your brothers or sisters in the faith might be impacted by it.  We always need to make sure that our Christian love for our fellow believers takes precedence over our Christian freedoms.

Since we do not have a clear parallel between what the Christians in Corinth were dealing with and what we deal with as Christians today, it is very difficult to find something today that would be equivalent to “eating food sacrificed to idols.”  That certainly does not mean, however, that these inspired words of our God have no application to our lives as God’s children today.  We would all do well to take Paul’s words “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” and engrave them on our heart and in our mind.  Just as we daily strive to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), so also, we want to daily ask ourselves, “How can I take the Scriptural knowledge God has so graciously given to me and in Christian love use that knowledge to help build others up?”  So if you come across a brother or sister in Christ who is new to the faith, if you come across a fellow Christian whose faith is weak remember this is someone “for whom Christ died.”  This is someone who by the grace of God has been given the exact same status you have been given — a dearly beloved, saved and redeemed child of the heavenly Father.  This is someone with whom you will spend eternity in the heavenly Father’s Home.  So, don’t be proud.  Don’t be arrogant.  Don’t be condescending.  Let your love for God and let your love for that person lead you to humbly help them grow in their faith and in their knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”  My prayer this morning is that you will not only take that truth to heart, but that with God’s help and by God’s grace you will also put that truth into practice in your life.

To God be the glory!

Amen

APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  From there He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.

 

OFFERING

During this time of uncertainty we still want to bring our thank offerings to our dear Lord and Savior.  We ask that you continue to set your offerings aside so that when we are able to come together again in God’s House we will be able to place our offerings on His altar.

PRAYER OF THE CHURCH

Dear heavenly Father, you are love and Jesus proves it.  It was your love for us fallen sinners that sent your Son to us with the message of forgiveness and even sacrificed Him on the cross for our sins.  Oh, how quickly and surely and completely the problem of man’s salvation was solved when you applied your love to it!  How quickly the problems of human relationships and of human want and suffering could be solved if only all would learn to love one another as you have loved us.  Love is infectious, Lord, and none more so than yours.  We ask, therefore, that you entwine our hearts in your saving love, causing it to take over completely in our lives.  By your love, which is ours by faith, strike off the shackles of the sin that binds us to Satan lest we be tempted to imitate his contemptible deeds.  And destroy the power of sin in our hearts and in our minds that all too often makes us unloving and unforgiving.

Lord, we are not asking for some single, great work to do, but only that you would empower us to love one another, thereby reflecting your great love for us.  Empower us to banish pride and arrogance from our hearts and teach us to speak kindly — even to those who are harsh with us.  Keep us from being blind to the needs of our fellow Christians and from refusing to help them carry their burdens.  Cause us to weep with those who weep and to speak comforting and encouraging words to those who need them.  Make us ready and willing to help build each other up in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

All of this we ask in the Name of Jesus our Lord, who taught us to pray:

C:        Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.  Amen.

M:       O Lord God, our heavenly Father, pour out the Holy Spirit on your faithful people.  Keep us strong in your grace and truth, protect and comfort us in all temptation, and bestow on us your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C:        Amen.

M:       Brothers and sisters, go in peace.  Live in harmony with one another.  Serve the Lord with gladness.

The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.  The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.

C:        Amen.