Introduction: A World Torn Apart.
We have been traveling through I Corinthians for some time, and it can be easy to forget the larger narrative of the book. Therefore, let’s take a moment and remember the story. We learn from I Corinthians 1 & 3 this was a church full of division. It was a community consumed with charismatic leaders. There were not only consumed with these leaders, but they were also divided over extreme beliefs based loosely on these leaders teachings. Their radical beliefs were affecting the way they treated each other legally, socially, in their marriages, their dating lives, their eating habits, how they understood each other’s roles and gifts, and even their worship services. Clearly anyone who attended this church would say, “what is so different about these people? They are just like us. They are all divided—torn apart. This is not a unified community.”
We have just come out of a time in the rhythms of our country that tears us apart. Every four years we see warring parties proclaiming they know what America needs for human flourishing. If unbelievers came into our midst would they notice a difference here at Refuge, or would they say, “you look and sound just like us?”
As we move toward the end of I Corinthian Paul has been painting a picture of what a community looks like in light of the resurrection. Last week he showed us what that looked like in our finances and friendships. This week Paul will show us...
Theme: The loving grace of God fuels a resurrected community.
As we examine this passage this week I think it would be wise to not systematically look at it, but consider various themes sprinkled throughout. The first of those is...
1. The Description of a Resurrected Community.
Paul describes for us what it looks like for the resurrection to unify a community. In I Cor 16.12-24 Paul uses the term “brother” three times (I Cor 16.12, 15 & 20). All the scholars agree this term “brother” is a way of saying “family.” Paul considers these people his family, and he wants them to consider each other that way. This is a new community, with a new bloodline, brought together by the precious blood of Christ. Consider what Paul tells us in II Corinthians 5:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come—II Corinthians 5.16-17.
For the Christian our devotion, our loved ones, our allegiances have changed. This has VERY practical implications for us. For instance, John Piper listening to Warren Webster at the 1967 Urbana Missions Conference heard someone ask Warren, “If you are missionary in Pakistan, what would you do if you daughter wanted to marry a Pakistani?” Webster responded, “Better a Pakistani Christian than a rich white American banker.” This is a resurrected view of race, marriage, family, or whatever else you want to add in there.
While the church is a localized community it is has a common bond that reaches beyond race, color, social status, economics, personalities, or whatever worldly lens through which we want to look at people. The church is a deeper community. We are not to look at people through a shallow lens. We are called to have in depth relationships. We are “brothers and sisters.” Therefore, Paul is describing the comings and goings of his family. He is talking about the graces of other believers at the end of his letter—the Corinthians knew some of them and others they did not. The early church Paul helped form sent emissaries to other parts of the world to care for other churches, share resources, and etc. Paul talks about Apollos, Stephanas, Fortunatus, Achaicus, the family of Aquilla and Prisca, and himself. While the Corinthians were a local church they were also called to be a global church. They were a church called to care for the believers in their area, but also those across the globe. As a resurrected community this should be describing us as well.
2. The Characteristics of a Resurrected Community.
So, we have seen the description of a resurrected community, what are the characteristics of a resurrected community? Paul gives us two major characteristics of a resurrected community: (1) Maturity and (2) Love.
As a resurrected community, the church is supposed to be a community maturing in the Gospel—READ I Cor 16.13. We are called to help each other “stand firm in the faith.” This phrase shows us what tool God has given us in this task is sound doctrine. The reason the Corinthian Christians were becoming so divided was false doctrine. This is not just the call of the elders or pastors, but all Christians. Listen to what Paul says in Galatians 1:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.—Galatians 1.8
We have seen many times in church history leaders who have led sheep astray because the sheep chose to just follow. Jesus, Paul and many other NT writers warn us of wolves hiding in sheep’s clothing. In order to fight them off we must leave elementary doctrines and move onto to maturity (Heb 6.1). This is why Paul says, “act like men, be strong.” This is not some worldly definition of masculinity, but Paul driving us toward spiritual maturity in Christ. The phrase should be read in light of I Cor 13—READ I Cor 13.11. Are we ready to put away childish things?
When we think about this maturity we must remember the fruit of Gospel maturity is LOVE—READ I Cor 13.14. I believe the way Paul wants us to express our love is through the phrase, “Be watchful.” This is a certain type of love. It is eschatological in nature. Meaning, when we truly love each other we want to help each other keep the end in sight. We are to encourage each to leave behind fleeting pleasures. The author of Hebrews puts it this way:
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.—Hebrews 11.24-26
We help each other look forward to our great reward in Christ. Friends, this is true love. If we truly love each other, then we consistently seek creative ways to help each other treasure Jesus more.
3. The Unifying Power of a Resurrected Community.
This brings us to the end of our themes. If God’s desire is we are to become a maturing and loving community, then what is the key to unlocking that maturity. I believe it is found in I Cor 16.23-24 [READ]. The grace of God is the ground, or root, of a resurrected community. The grace of Jesus Christ changes the way we think about maturity and love.
The majority of people in this world live as a work-based community. In these communities they calculate who they will share their love with by “fairness.” They will give their love to those they deem worthy of it. They give you their love until you perform your way out. While people in our world can be very “fair” this does not mean they are gracious.
But as Christians this is not the way we were brought into the love of God. This is not how we were brought into the family of God. We did not perform our way into His love. No, someone did that for us. We were brought into the family of God by the loving grace of God, which was purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. This is grace in its purest form. God chose to love the unworthy. God chose to show honor to those who were dishonorable. Now, God desires the church to be a loving community fueled by the grace of God.
Let me demonstrate how this grace would fuel how we work through biblical “submission.” The Bible calls us to submit ourselves to authorities God has placed over us. Submission is easy when those authorities perform in ways that make us happy—when we deem them worthy or qualified. But what do we do when those authorities are dishonorable or unworthy? As Christians we can submit ourselves to unworthy and dishonorable employers, husbands, governments, or any other authority because the love and grace of Christ rules our hearts. We see our Savior who submitted His life into God’s hands, which meant He had to submit His life into the hands dishonorable unworthy worldly oppressors. Why was He able to do that? He knew nothing could ultimately separate Him from the love of God. I will close with this encouraging word from Paul in Romans 8:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.—Romans 8.38-39