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The Jesus Influencer

Sermon #270 St. Martin’s #28 (Riverway) 6/12/22

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

Philippians 3:1-15


My six-month-old daughter has already created a troubling habit. Terrifying, in fact. She has learned, in her very few months on this earth, how to scroll on an iPhone.

Megan and I try to be mindful of how much we’re on it around her, but you still have to occasionally take calls or send an email. It’s where I read the newspaper and watch sports highlights. And so, even before walking or rolling over on her back, she knows how to use a smartphone.

I’m conflicted about technology in general. There are plenty of pros to it, but what is the cost? And nothing is more of a conundrum to me than social media.

It can connect us with people we’d otherwise not talk to on a regular basis, but it may also suck us in for an hour at a time without realizing it. We may meet people from all around the globe, but at the same time we are inundated with content that may or may not be good or helpful, let alone reliable.

And nothing is more baffling to me than social media influencers; these people who are paid to promote different products. Some of these influencers have so many followers that they are considered micro-celebrities. I can’t decide if that is a compliment or not. You’re kind of famous, just not Beyoncé famous.

And there is someone to blame for all this. One man who single-handily created the Instagram influencer, micro-celebrity culture we’re now in. And his name is Johannes Gutenberg.

Gutenberg’s Innovation

Back in 1428, Johannes began experimenting with printing, and he worked on perfecting metal type that could be used instead of carving complete wood blocks.

They had used movable type in Asia for a few centuries, but it has Johannes who created a casting system with metal alloys that revolutionized the industry and made production much easier. In 1455 he completed the first book ever printed in Europe with this new innovation, and it is known as the Gutenberg Bible.

In doing this, he revolutionized how people were able to communicate with one another. Before Gutenberg, there were only a few voices that were heard, especially by a wide audience. He made it easier and faster for information to spread, and within a short amount of time, more people were not only reading but having their own thoughts printed for a large audience of readers.

Communication was streamlined, and the world hasn’t been the same since.

We now live in an age where everyone can be heard—at least everyone who has internet connection. You don’t even need to find a publisher anymore, you don’t even need paper and ink; places like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are the platforms of choice to spread ideas.

There are no barriers to having one’s voice heard, but now the issue is finding the followers who will listen. There is a cacophony of voices, and you have to find a way to stand out from everyone else—you have to be more entertaining, more trendy, or more controversial than the others around you.

It’s not all bad news. We now hear a more diverse set of voices—you don’t have to be born into a noble household or be a priest to read and write—people from rural villages or from impoverished countries have an equal platform.

But I think Gutenberg is still (at least partially) to blame for social media influencers. The question today is not if there is enough content out there to keep us busy, but who and what do we give our time to? What are we willing to get “sucked into” on social media for hours on end?

So many voices with so many opinions…and so little time.

Paul and Apollos

The Apostle Paul has been called many things, and in 21st century terms we’d call him an influencer. Paul had a gift for language. Even just glancing at his letters we cannot deny that he used his words to shape people’s thoughts and actions. In ancient Roman terms, instead of saying he was an influencer, he would be known as an orator.

Rhetoric, which simply means the art of persuasive speaking, was a foundational part of any young Roman boy’s education. Paul was Jewish but he was also a Roman citizen. He grew up in a culture that valued public speakers who would not only engage one’s mind, but one’s heart. They would travel to different cities and amaze large crowds with their gift of speech.

If you were an orator, you likely weren’t a micro-celebrity, instead you were a bonafide superstar…you were Beyoncé famous.

In our passage from 1 Corinthians 3 this morning, the Corinthian church had begun to divide into different groups. Different preachers of the gospel had come into town, and they were beginning to pick their favorite one, and suggesting that one was better than another.

Some had printed, “I’m with Paul” t-shirts. Others had custom ordered their, “Apollos for Life” koozies. And all of this fed into the Corinthian church’s greatest weakness: their desire for spiritual superiority among one another.

They were giving into their elitist tendencies, and it had led to “jealousy and quarreling” in the church. The Corinthians had gotten so caught up on how eloquent these preachers were, or how flashy their attire was, that they had forgotten the main point.

The point was not how good of an orator Paul, or Apollos or Peter was—it was all about the One they were preaching about. In their haste to show their allegiance to one of these preachers, and prove that they were better than the others, the Corinthians had forgotten about Jesus.

Last week Suse talked about living a cross-shaped life; a life that seems foolish to this world but is, in fact, a life devoted to a humble trust in God and his care for us.

Two chapters later, Paul is essentially saying the same thing here. “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (3:11).

Paul and Apollos may preach a little differently. Apollos may actually be the better public speaker and Paul the better writer, but the foundation is the same: it is always and forever about Jesus and the news of his death and resurrection. Some plant, others water, but it is God who has the power to make it grow.

The Challenge

The title of this sermon series is, “Everyday Challenges,” and there is a question that this passage forces us to ask: Who are we listening to? Who are we giving our time and attention? And do we know that we are being shaped by all these voices, whether we realize it or not?

What’s scary is that the marketing companies that pay for all of these influencers on social media actually learned what to do from the great orators of ancient Rome.

Rhetoric shapes people’s thoughts and actions through eloquence and tapping into a person’s desires (whether those are logical or not). It appeals to someone’s heart rather than their head.

Marketers have used this approach, along with what psychologists have termed the “conformity effect,” to make us the consumers they want us to be; to buy simply so that we don’t miss out. It is as brilliant as it is terrifying.

There are so many voices out there today, so many opinions that shape us in very subtle ways. Whether on podcasts or cable news, let alone social media. And some of those voices lead us to more division, or a sense of superiority, or greater individuality, which then creates in us, Christ’s Body, a wound that must be treated immediately, an aggressive disease that must be cured.

And even the Church fails people when we go after voices that are not the One true voice of Crucified and Risen Jesus; when we become “worldly” in Paul’s terms and seek the eloquence of this world rather than the eloquence of God.

And so, I’ll close with one of Paul’s other letters. It is the prayer that he prayed over the Philippian church, and it speaks directly to this idea to choosing God’s eloquence and truth over the world’s. No matter how persuasive the latter may be. And it is my heartfelt prayer for you today.

“The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:7-9).

1 Corinthians 3:1-15. Rhetoric and eloquence from On Consumer Culture Identity: The Church and the Rhetoric of Delight Mark Clavier. Photo by Ana Flávia on Unsplash.

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