Monday, June 17, 2013

Let everything you do be done in love

Well, today we’re ending the series on 1 Corinthians. My text for today is 1 Corinthians 16. I believe the passage is printed in your worship folders, and it’s also on the screens, so please read along with me as I read aloud.
Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.

Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of our lord stands forever.

Let’s pray.
Father in heaven, I pray that you would open our hearts and our minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, so that we can hear, learn, digest, and obey your word today and everyday. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
The text today could present a bit of a challenge. It’s a conclusion to Paul’s letter, so it contains a lot of, seemingly random instructions. The first time I read it, I thought that each section could stand on its own. Each section could have its’ own sermon.

But the second time I read the passage, a theme became apparent. In this passage, Paul the apostle, the author, doesn't introduce any new doctrine. He’s not saying anything new in chapter 16. A number of commentaries I referenced made the point about how mundane this chapter is. After all the soaring language in chapter 15, chapter 16 is a bit anticlimactic. One commentary said that in this chapter Paul gets chatty. I don’t think our passage is anticlimactic at all. Actually, I think Paul’s topic and tone make a pretty important point. The message of the Bible isn’t just heady and intellectual. It’s not all big stories and grand narratives. The message of the Bible really does have important implications for the mundane details of our lives—how and why we take collections in worship; how we relate to other fellow church members—all of that matters. And the gospel of Jesus Christ on the cross breaks into your story in the most ordinary details: that person you’re tempted to gossip about; that person you don't feel like you can forgive or respect or obey or honor or whatever it is.

But that aside, Paul doesn't really say anything new here. He spends his time applying principles he already set down in earlier chapters. He uses the chapter to apply what he already taught.

So of course this chapter is a great cap to the series we’ve been in. Try to remember with me. Early on, Paul talks about divisions in the church—some people were claiming Paul, others Apollos—in chapter 16, Paul says I want to spend the winter with you, and I also told Apollos to stop by. Also receive Timothy and follow men like Stephanas. Why?—because they’re all servants of the same gospel.

Earlier in the book, Paul confronts a number of breaches of fellowship in the Corinthian church, namely sexual sin, extreme selfishness, even classism in their practice of the Lord’s Supper. Here in chapter 16 Paul sends specific greetings to individuals in the church of Corinth, encouraging church members to greet one another as the apostle says, “with a holy kiss.” I think for us today, a holy handshake might do. But he says greet one another with affection. This cannot be done without healing these divisions Paul wrote about.

Paul reflects on the doctrine of love in chapter 13—we’re about to spend the summer looking closely at that passage. But as we look at chapter 16 today, it becomes clear that love is the key to our passage. In other words, the doctrine underlying chapter 16 is that Jesus Christ loved us with his life. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

How do we know love is the key? Look with me at the exhortation in verses 13 and 14. One, Be watchful. Two, Stand firm. Three, Act like men. Four, be strong. In all things—let everything you do be done in love.

Now look with me at the final greeting in verses 22 through 24. If anyone has no love for the lord, let him be accursed. My love be with you all. Love shows up again and again in this chapter like a refrain in a song.

And what motivates the church to take a collection for another church half a world away? Love. What motivates Paul to make travel plans to visit Corinth? Love for the church there. What would motivate this church to receive Timothy or subject themselves to Stephanas? Love.

So in that sense, this chapter also serves as a fitting transition to our next series. Because love really is the gospel-thread that runs through our passage today.

So today, what I want us to see is First, love is motivated by the gospel. Second, love is demonstrated in community. And third, love is vindicated in the resurrection. Love is motivated by the gospel. Love is demonstrated in community. And love is vindicated in the resurrection.

Love is motivated by the gospel

So first, love is motivated by the gospel. If you have your Bible, flip over one page to chapter 15, verse 1. We’re turning to chapter 15 because it serves as the immediate context to our reading today. If you think of First Corinthians as a piece of music, Paul rises to a crescendo in chapter 15. Paul begins to build as he reminds the church of the good news he already preached to them. It's the very reason they exist as a church. Paul reminds them that he among several others were eye witnesses to key moments in the ministry of Jesus—his death, burial, and resurrection.

And Paul says this is of first importance. Why is this of first importance? Let’s think about where our passage fits in the history of salvation—think creation, fall, redemption, new creation. Remember, Paul is writing to a New Testament Church. The death and resurrection of Jesus has already happened. That’s the event that bought redemption for the people of God. No longer is salvation preached through types and shadows—no more sacrifices and feasts that foreshadow Christ. Salvation has been communicated to the church here through Jesus himself! They have the gospel. They (and we) have the revelation of God’s self-sacrificial love for them in Jesus, God the Son.

The most important thing to notice here is that the kind of love we’re called to do in chapter 16 is the kind of love that motivated Jesus. He loved us so much he went to the cross. The only one who ever lived in perfect harmony with the Father, who never sinned, who always did the Father’s will—he took the sentence that was intended for us. He stood in our place. He switches our guilt for his righteousness.

So what does that mean for us then? As we’ll talk about in a moment, the fact of the gospel gives you a foundation to stand on. What I mean is, in the gospel, when we believe and trust in what Jesus has done for us, God doesn't just forgive us (although he does that). He doesn't just wipe away our record of sin (although he does that, too). But he also gives you his record of perfect obedience.

Think about your baptism for a moment. When you were baptized, you were washed with water, and in that washing a promise was made to you, in front of the congregation, in front of the larger community, but also in the view of the principalities and powers. God says this one belongs to me. He says that through faith, you will receive salvation. Remember what the Father said about Jesus at his baptism? He said, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” When you trust in God’s promise to you in the Gospel, he says that about you too. This is my beloved son, my beloved daughter in whom I am well pleased.

With that as a foundation and with Christ as an example, love—the hard kind of self-sacrificial love the spirit calls us to in chapter 16 is possible. Love is motivated by the gospel.

Love is demonstrated in community

The second point then is that Love is Displayed or Demonstrated in community. Love is demonstrated in community. What does that mean and where does that come from in the text? That comes from the fact that most of chapter 16 is a collection of final greetings and instructions, that at first glance don't seem to fit together. But they do fit together. They’re all instructions that have to do with people relating to one another. And they’re tied together with “Let everything you do be done in love.”

Let’s look at verse 13. These are Paul’s moral exhortations for the church in Corinth.

The first thing he says is be watchful. Be alert. Keep your eyes open. The love in community the Holy Spirit calls us to will take active engagement from us. This reminds us of Jesus’ exhortation to us to watch for his second coming. We need to be active in looking for ways to love one another, and helping one another be watchful. We need to be mindful of the 60 thousand cars passing by on South Florida Avenue, considering ways to love them, by encouraging them to be watchful.

Second, Paul writes stand firm in the faith. Remember the gospel we talked about. Plant your feet in that gospel. Stand firm in that. That is solid ground. If you’ve ever flown in an airplane and experienced turbulence in the air, you know how good it feels to stand on solid ground when you land. The gospel is sure. It’s concrete. It’s solid.

Third, Paul writes act like men. Paul is calling Corinthian Christians to take responsibility and to grow up—act like responsible adults. Lay aside this immaturity they've shown in how they divide over personalities, how they use the Lord’s supper as a chance to flaunt wealth or divide into cliques or to gorge themselves like children on Halloween candy. Paul is calling them to grow up. He’s calling us to grow up.

Fourth, Paul says be strong. This is a strength we cannot work up on our own! In order to be strong like this we need to rely on the Holy Spirit’s help.

But Paul brings all of these exhortations into sharp clear focus when he says “Let everything you do be done in love.” What this means is that the strength, the manliness we're being called to is not aggression or self-assertion, but it's the kind of strength that leans in to love even when it gets really hard.

And it will get difficult. We can see just a handful of examples here in our text. The first is in Paul's instructions about how to gather a collection for the churches in Jerusalem. We know that the city of Jerusalem at this point in history was generally impoverished, and the Christians there particularly were facing suspicion and persecution. And Paul understands it as a duty of the gentile Christians in Corinth to support the church in Jerusalem, full of largely Jewish Christians, the very people from whom they were evangelized.

Another instruction Paul gives is how the church in Corinth should receive Timothy when he visits. Put him at ease among you. Paul also informs them that he has instructed Apollos to visit them. Paul also informs them that he wishes if he can to spend the winter with them. This instruction directly confronts the way the people were acting in chapter 1—I follow Paul, I follow Apollos. Paul knows that the gospel he preaches and that Timothy preaches and that Apollos preaches is the same gospel. And Paul calls the church to receive Timothy. Why? Because, as Paul says in verse 10, “he's doing the work of the lord as I am.”

One last instruction. Paul talks about the household of Stephanas. Stephanas was one of the first converts in Achaia, a neighboring region to Corinth. Paul mentions that Stephanas and his household devoted themselves to the service of the saints. In this way he also mentions men named Fortunatus and Achaicus. They were servants. They weren’t lofty men, but they were humble. They were people who simply believed the gospel and rolled up their sleeves to minister to the saints including Paul himself. And Paul says follow these kinds of people submit yourselves to these kinds of people.

This is what love looks like. So what does this mean for us?

One thing is, we've all taken vows here at CCPC to support the church in her worship and work to the best of our ability. That definitely means contributing as we're able from our income or time or talents to the church. And I know you're doing that. It also means that the church considers how to use the tithes and offerings to support the work of the kingdom, both here in Lakeland and all over the world. And I know we're doing that. But the love that Paul calls us to is an alert and active love.

And so the calling for us here today, is to ask ourselves how were doing. And the truth is only you can answer that. I know that you've been giving a lot. But we always have opportunities to support the work of the church around the world. How can we support the work of a fledgling church in Nicaragua? How can we support the work of a very small, but growing Christian movement in Bosnia? How can we support Jeremy? How can we support Ben Turner? How can we help the team from our church going to Nicaragua this summer, or the team from our church going too Bosnia in the fall?

Financially God calls us to love by identifying with those who have less than what they need by giving from the overflow of what he has given to us. And when we do this we are growing more like Christ, who identified with us as Romans says, while we were still sinners.

Another thing: god has given our church a gift in our elders. They are ordinary men, who believe the gospel and who roll up their sleeves every day to serve and encourage the saints. It's our call to honor them. It's also our call to look for more men like them. Paul says be subject to men like these. Not just to these men. These men and men like them. Men who are watchful, who stand firm in the faith, who are responsible, and who rely on the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Now this applies to us too, not just as Christians, but as citizens. How are we to think of our calling as Lakelanders? As Americans? We have plenty of opportunities here to reach out by identifying with people who may feel marginalized by various stereotypes: Muslims, for example, or immigrants. We have the opportunity to identify with populations who don’t have English as a first language. Instead of admonishing, we can teach. Instead of separating from people we find threatening, we can do the hard work of accepting and making friends and creating an environment that is welcoming to people different from us. Remember that we were all far off from Christ—dead in our sins until he reached out to us. In our scripture the Holy Spirit urges us not to isolate ourselves from our community but to identify with Christ in choosing to love even though it’s difficult.

There are all sorts of relationships that define us at CCPC. We’re all members of families: sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers. For those of you who are married, think of the type of love God is calling you to. Maybe you feel like there’s something about your husband or your wife you find hard to love, hard to respect. Once again, we remember that we must have been so much harder for God to love than we are for each other. The love god calls you to in your marriage is a love that says, this relationship is going to take work. It's a love that looks for new ways to encourage. New ways to forgive. New ways to serve.

Other relationships define us. Employer and employee. Long-time friends and relative newcomers. How do you relate to the people in your workplace? How do you relate to your in-laws? How do you welcome new members into your circle, whether it’s social or professional or here at church? Let us be reminded of God’s call to love when we are confronted with how difficult it can be. Look for ways to avoid gossip. Ways to outdo one another in showing honor. Ways to bear with one another in love.

Paul is calling us to develop a discipline of loving. Moving beyond whether it’s difficult or not. That’s almost beside the point. When it does get difficult, when it is difficult let it be a reminder that this is something central to God’s character. Loving like that is Christ-like.

This is what love looks like. Love is motivated by the gospel, but it is demonstrated in community. God calls us to love not just people in general, but the very people we live next to.

Love is vindicated in the resurrection

The last point today is this: Love is vindicated in the resurrection. Love is vindicated in the resurrection.  In this world, No matter how hard we try, there will always be poverty we can't alleviate. No matter how hard we try, in this life sometimes crimes will go without justice. Sometimes, you will love well, you will work hard at it, and you will be kind and love your neighbor, and your efforts will be brushed aside. And that's what Paul calls to mind at the end of the passage when he cries, "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!" We’re called to lean in to this responsibility regardless of our experience or our understanding of the result.

But remember that chapter 15 is the immediate context for chapter 16, it's the foundation on which he builds the house. In the second half of chapter 15 Paul glories in the resurrection of Jesus. He says if Christ isn't raised, we have no hope. BUT Christ was raised from the dead. Just as in Adam we all die, in Christ we all shall be made alive! Jesus's resurrection was an event that exploded through history and through the universe. Every rule, every authority, every power is being brought under the authority of Jesus Christ. Everything that is broken will be made right. All sin will cease. The power of sin and the devil and the demons will be no power at all. In the resurrection, death is the final enemy, and Jesus wins. Paul writes at the end of 15, the sing of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to god who gives us the victory through our lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus is putting every broken thing in the universe back together. And at the end of chapter 16 in verse 22 Paul throws up his hands and cries "Our Lord come!"

Paul recognizes that we don't have the strength on our own, we don't have the power on our own, apart from the return of Jesus, apart from the great day of the lord, to love one another well. To love one another the way were called to here. But friends, brothers and sisters, we have the first fruits of this reality now. We live in a time where the kingdom is not yet fully here, but Christ is already on the throne. Jesus has not yet returned, but he has given us the Holy Spirit. We can begin to have a taste of this reality now—a reality of love for god and love for one another that will be made perfect on the last day.

So when you're worried your husband or your wife won’t appreciate your efforts at self-sacrificial love, don't be afraid. You will be vindicated in the resurrection. When you're worried about giving yourself entirely to the hard work of loving your neighbor, because it might damage your reputation, or your personal sense of comfort, or whatever it is that might be leading you to think, that seems a little to hard, you can remember two things. First of all, you're not alone. Christians have been thinking God's call to love has been too hard ever since Jesus taught the disciples about marriage. They replied "if that's true, it's better not to marry." you're not alone. The second thing you can remember is that it is worth it to work hard and take risks at loving your neighbor. Why? Because Jesus was raised. And you will be too.

Now if you're not a Christian, I want to say I'm very glad you're here. If you’re here and you're wondering whether all of this is really for you, I want you to know from what we've read today, that all of us, you included are sinners. That fact, whether or not you like to think of yourself that way should resonate with your experience. It's why you feel like this should be better. People should not be as violent as they are. People should love each other better. We're all sinners, and that’s why the world is broken like it is. But the fact is that Jesus has the answer to that problem. He died on the cross and was raised from the dead so that you could be forgiven and so that you and the whole world could be brought back into proper working order, worshiping God together. The thing is that if you observe our community here, you will see broken people making spotty, sometimes awkward, sometimes faulty attempts at caring about one another. But because of Christ you will see real forgiveness, you will see real hope, you will see real love. So friend, there's hope for you too. You face a choice—today you can choose—will you believe what the bible says about you that you're a sinner in need of a savior—you can choose to participate in this resurrection life, or you can say "that's not for me." if you want to know more about this, please do talk to me or to anyone today. We would be glad to talk to you.

Paul prays "come lord Jesus." That's our prayer. There is a day when Christ will return and the fellowship we have with him and with one another will be perfected. Because of the gospel, because of the resurrection, there is hope for us all. Let's pray for God's grace.

Date: 16 June 2013
: 1 Corinthians 16
: Let everything you do be done in love
: Christ Community Presbyterian Church
: 1 Corinthians

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