Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Action Time

Coming to the end of studying a book of the Bible is a great accomplishment. Especially when studied with a group of brothers and sisters walking through it together. 

So we enter our final week in the letter of 1st Corinthians, where we will be picking it up in chapter 16 starting in verse 5. And as we come to the end of our study, let’s do one final recap of the overarching themes of this letter.

As we’ve talked about every week since chapter 1, Paul writes this letter to the Corinthian Church to bring unity to a Church in disarray. The Church was inundated with issues that were causing divisions in the Church in two main areas. 

These two main areas, were the personal relationships that the believers had with each other, and the time when the Church would come together for worship. In both of these areas, and with all the issues that went with them, the underlying problem was a focus on self. 

And so Paul gives us the best way to bring about unity, and that’s through agape love for one another. A love that looks to seek the best for others before self. It’s this agape love that Paul called the Corinthian Church to put into action when he brought up the collection for another Church far far away. By getting the Corinthians to focus on others by taking up a collection, Paul gave them physical way to put agape love into action. 

And it’s with this understanding of having agape love as our foundation to combat disunity, that we come to the final stretch of Paul’s letter. So let’s read these final verses and then see what the Holy Spirit wants to leave both the Corinthians and us today.

5 After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you—for I will be going through Macedonia. 6 Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

10 When Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. 11 No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers.

12 Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity.

13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.

15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, 16 to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. 17 I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. 18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.

19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

21 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.

22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

24 My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Paul’s final words here seem to be just a list of Paul’s itinerary and simple instructions. But if we look closely, we’ll see within the list Paul again calling the Corinthians to engage in agape love. The love is to be extended to Timothy, who is Paul’s young protege and might easily be scoffed at because he is not on Paul’s level of authority. And so Timothy’s arrival gives the Corinthians an opportunity to extend some agape love. 

Following this, Paul brings up Apollos, who at the beginning of the letter one’s one of the leaders that the Corinthians were fighting over. This gives us a little insight into how Apollos didn’t want to go to the Corinthians, with it almost seeming because he doesn’t want to fan the flames of those who elevate him over others. This now brings us full circle, and it’s almost as if Paul is giving the Corinthians insight into what their actions cause. It’s almost as if Apollos is avoiding the Corinthians, like a person avoids someone else all costs.

But’s here in verse 13, that Paul embeds three actions the Corinthians need to take, almost as if he is summarizing the chapters between the first mention of Apollos and the his final words. This first action is to stand firm in the faith. This is a common phrase Paul uses throughout his letters. It’s a call to Christians that we must persevere in our trust of God. That we must dive ever deeper into God’s Word, that we must be prepared to share the Gospel, and that we must be ready, as 1s Peter 3;15 reads, “…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…”

This leads us into the second action, which is be courageous and strong. The actual greek phrase is “Be a man”, but it’s the same it’s the same as the modern phrases, “man up” or “Cowboy up”. The implication is to be courageous and strong. And so, when we encounter hardships and trials we are to always fall back on the strength of God. We are always to rely on him as our strength, as the prophet Isaiah records God saying in Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

And finally in verse 13, Paul calls us to the action of agape love. Everything we do, every word, every deed, is to be done with and through the agape love of God. Love that fights for truth, who seeks justice, and who shares the Gospel even in adversity. This is what calls us to in Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” And what Jesus said hung the words of the prophets in Matthew 22:37-40, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

And so Paul is summarizing his whole call to unity by calling Church to take our calling form God seriously. To be firm in our faith courageous in it’s execution, and loving in the process. 

And it’s with this that Paul gives his final acknowledgments of people like the household of Stephanas and greetings to the Corinthians from people like Aquila and Priscilla.

In the final three verses, Paul first writes a warning to those who claim to love God but don’t that there is a curse on them. In other words, don’t play with being a Christian and claiming you love God, when you are in consent opposition to the work of love done by the Holy Spirit.

Paul proclaims Maranatha, which is translated as, “Come, Lord!” which is a call for the return of Jesus, and that he would come soon.

Finally, Paul ends with an encouragement of his own love and desire that God would bless them by his grace.

So ends our summer series into 1st Corinthians. And as we walk away from this letter, let us too take the challenge of being firm in our faith, courageous in opposition, and loving through it all. I want to challenge you this week, to take each of these are work on it. 

For being firm in your faith, I want to challenge you to pick on thing about the Bible, God, or any topi that concerns your faith that you don’t really know much about and research and become firm in it. That might be topics like, “Can I trust the Bible?”, “How do I know God exists?”, or “How do I share the Gospel in an straight forward say way?”.

For being courageous, seek God’s strength in prayer and have something like this for your prayer, “God be my strength and shield and move by your Spirit to enable me to stand strong in your truth.”

Finally, seek God to move in his love through you. In interactions that could cause you to act harshly, pray for God’s love to work in you and through you to other people. Let God’s agape love, be at the forefront of you mind this week.

Let us take the call of 1st Corinthians seriously, that the unity of the Church would be strong even in our differences. Because as Jesus spoke in his high priestly prayer of John 17:22, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Let us be one as God is one, amen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Summer Series on 1st Corinthians: Week 21, “Sharing in Pain”

  Since we’ve been back from vacation the week has been pretty exhausting. Tuesday Marika and I, with help from Mary Kay, put in the carpet in the new office space. Wednesday we drove down to Yuma to get doors and trim for the new offices. Thursday I worked in the office to catch up on two weeks of back work. Friday we went back down to Yuma to get some antibiotics for Marika and return the doors we bought on Wednesday because they were the wrong size. Then when we got back, I worked in the office again until about 8pm. Then Saturday morning I worked on getting the new office furniture set up, and after that spent several hours putting up pictures in our house. 

I was pretty exhausted with all of it. And about 3 in the afternoon yesterday I just wanted to sit and be left alone. But, then my daughter Navi wanted to plan Uno, and she is very persistent. That’s when the song, “I Just Want Talk About Me”, came to mind. I just wanted a minute to myself, but that wasn’t happening, and so I played four games with her. 

There are times when we do need to have some self time, but sometimes self time will get in the way of what needs to be done. Sometimes self time makes us miss out on the things that are important in life. 

And it’s this idea of self time or self-focus that brings us back into our study of 1st Corinthians, where we’ll be entering into the final chapter of Paul’s letter. And as we get into 1st Corinthians chapter 16, let’s bring ourselves back up to speed on what we’ve been talking about so far.

Over the course of the last twenty weeks, we have dove into Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth that was going through a time of conflict. Paul writes to them so that unity would be restored in their fellowship. In the letter, Paul focuses first on the problems that the believers were dealing with in their interpersonal relationships with each other. These were issues like, judging, quarrels over who was a better leader, business practices, and arguments over secondary issues of the faith. Paul deals with these interpersonal issues in the first ten chapters of this letter. 

In the second half of the letter, Paul addresses the issues that were causing disunity in the corporate worship time of the Church. These issues showed their head when the Church gathered for the community worship of God. Issues like Communion, head coverings, the gifts, and even the teaching of the resurrection, were all issues that Paul had to call the Church back to unity in.

And so after Paul deals with all these issues, we come to the last chapter of the letter, where Paul is going to call the Church to where their focus and ours needs be.

So let’s tackle one of these focuses today by reading together 1st Corinthians chapter 16 starting in verse 1.

1 Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.

Let’s stop there, because in these four verses, Paul challenges us to have our focus in the right place. Here we see Paul calling the Corinthian Church to take up a collection of money every week when they meet together as a corporate Church body, like we do here on Sundays. Paul is asking for a collection from several Churches to help the Christians in Jerusalem. See in the area of Judea a severe famine was spreading, and the overcrowded city of Jerusalem was being hit especially hard. 

And so in the city of Antioch a decision was made to call the other Churches of God to come together and take a special collection for the believers in Jerusalem to help them out. And so, Paul is calling the Corinthian Church to join forces with the other Churches in this endeavor. 

Let’s take a minute and put this calling for a collection into perspective. In the whole of this first letter to the Corinthians, Paul has been addressing a lot of issues, but at the core of everyone of these issues is a me first attitude. 

Think about it, everything from who is the best leader, to should I speak in the corporate worship time, all revolves around looking to myself first before others. In chapter 13, Paul gives a more excellent way of bringing unity to the Church, he calls us to love one another. This is based in Jesus’ own words of loving God, and loving our neighbor as ourself in Mark 12. The answer to unity is sacrifice of self. Looking to another’s needs, and looking for their betterment. Self-focus is the underlining issue from which all other issues that were causing disunity stemmed.

James in his only letter writes this, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (4:1-3).”

Unjustified conflicts arise when we desire ourselves above other people. Hear me clearly on this, there is a difference between justified and unjustified conflicts. A justified conflict is taking a loving stand on what God calls us to. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” 

When we as followers of Christ follow him, there will be conflict with those who don’t. This type of conflict is inevitable, but even in those situations, we as believers must show as much love, mercy, and grace we can. 

But the conflict we must avoid is unjustified conflict. We must avoid self-focused desire that would lead us to have conflicts with not only the world, but with our fellow believers.

And the course of action that Paul gives us as a tangible way of helping us to avoid self-focused conflicts, is addressing the needs of other believers that are far away from us. Now we might think, well they’re far away, wouldn’t it be better to help those right next to us? And yes, helping those next to us would be good as well, but when we seek to help those whom we will never see, we focus on problems we are not dealing with.

Think about it like this, if I know a person and their struggles my heart should break for them, because they’re right there in my life. They’re pain is my pain, I can watch them struggle and so better sympathize with them, and so helping them should be the easy choice. But when the pain isn’t at our door step it’s easier to push it aside. A great example of this ability to disassociate ourselves from the pain of others, happened over this summer. 

I think we all have heard about the protests and the riots in other parts of the country. Well an ESPN reporter by the name of Chris Palmer sent out two posts on Twitter about these protests and riots. The first was in support of the riots. He tweeted this, “Burn that s-word down. Burn it all down.” But not to long afterward Palmer tweeted this, “They just attacked our sister community down the street. It’s a gated community and they tried to climb the gates. They had to beat them back. Then destroyed a Starbucks and are now in front of my building. Get these animals TF (the f-word) out of my neighborhood. Go back to where you live.”

Palmer was in support of the riots until the riots affected him. And we can be the same way sometimes. When we’re affected by pain it’s easy to respond, but when the pain isn’t close, we can easily become indifferent.

And so Paul gives us a way to begin to think about others who’s pain we cannot feel, but who’ pain we can help. This is what God is calling us to today. Right now, we have fires up and down the west coast. Right now hurricanes have beaten down communities on the southern an eastern coasts. Riots have destroyed lives from coast to coast. But here in Quartzsite our summer, though slightly impacted by the virus, has been pretty much the same as any other summer. 

And so, I want to call on you Church to take up a special offering for these affected communities of believers. 

See in the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, that we are a part of, there is a branch that deals with going into communities and helping, this branch is called CAMA Services. Starting next week, we are going to take a special collection to send to CAMA Services to help these affected communities. We will take two weeks for the offering and then send it off to help. 

Are there other ways to give? Yes. This is simply one way, through which we can make sure our brothers and sisters in these areas are being helped. Paul writes to the Galatians, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (6:10).”

This is my challenge for you this week, seek God, asking him what you will give to this collection. Paul states in the above passage, “…each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income…(v. 2)”

This isn’t to out give each other, but rather seeking God to meet the needs of others who’s pain we might not feel, but we can help. In addition to seeking God in this collection, pray for those in the fires, in the hurricanes, and in the riots. 

Let us begin to be challenged, as the Corinthians were challenged, to quail the possibility of disunity in our midst, by looking to help our brothers and sister in the Lord whose pain isn’t our own. Amen.