For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
I Corinthians 9:19-27
Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen
There are people who are always positive. They always see the full glass, they always look for the rainbow in the clouds, they always find the upside to whatever situation they are in – these are people we have a cliché for – they look at the world through rose colored glasses: everything they see has a tinge of beauty to it and they can’t help but believe that the best things are the things worth noticing. The lenses they “wear” color everything in a certain way and no matter what is going on, they see everything with that overlay of something better.
In I Corinthians, Paul is advising a different sort of lens. He advises the church in Corinth on some specific issues he has heard they have: divisions in the church, sexual immorality, legalism, chaos in worship, and doubt about the resurrection. In Acts chapter 18, Luke tells us that Paul founded the church in Corinth and then after several years, moved on to Ephesus. Other preachers and teachers have come to Corinth since, and some have reported back to Paul that the church is having problems.
So he writes them this letter.
In it he addresses each of the problems, one at a time and he offers the same solution, but in a different way: Live out the gospel. Look at the life you live through a gospel lens and live it in these circumstances.
Divisions in the church at Corinth are because fan clubs are forming around the various teachers that have been in Corinth: Paul, Apollos, and Peter. And these fan clubs have become like a rivalry not unlike the Cubs and White Sox – if you follow one and are a fan, you can’t follow the other and be a fan. Also the people who follow the one you don’t are jerks and/or losers and/or not super smart…
So Paul tells them that it makes no sense for followers of JESUS to become divided this way. He says it is ok to like the way one or another taught, but in all cases two things should happen: Jesus is the center of every community of believers and leaders and teachers have to emulate Jesus by being servants. Paul says look at this in light of the Gospel, the Good News is that we can admire certain personalities of various leaders, but we always return to the Christ who saved us as the One Person whose importance and example are critical to our lives and faith.
Next Paul addresses some very serious sex stuff that’s happening in the church. Using the argument that we are all free in Christ, many are having affairs and sleeping around. The reality, Paul says, is that God has given us rules around sexual integrity because a sexual relationship always carries with it responsibilities and the potential for heart ache and ruin. Having sex with anyone and everyone is not the model God has set out, because God cares about how we feel and live and our relationships with each other. Yes, we are free in Christ, but we are not free to do things that hurt us and other people. What you do with your body matters, not because God has made rules to keep you from having sexual fun, but because sexual fun is designed to be between married people to avoid the many risks of anguish and hurt and sorrow that come from having sex outside of marriage, in whatever form that takes. Jesus died to free you from the broken relationship between you and God, not to encourage broken relationships between you and every one else.
Paul addresses legalism, which in Corinth takes the form of whether or not to eat food sacrificed to idols. Paul says that everything you do has to be about turning people to Jesus, so if it hurts someone else to do something, stop it. If it doesn’t and your conscience is clear, go ahead. In our modern times, one of the ways the Church of the Nazarene things about this is in connection with drinking alcohol. When the Church of the Nazarene was first started it was in the days before prohibition, and there were a lot of people who had serious and significant problems with alcohol. So the Church of the Nazarene took the position that in pointing people to Christ, they could be free from the desire and need to drink, and that in solidarity, even those Christians who didn’t have problems with alcohol could come alongside their brothers and sisters who did and love them better by keeping themselves free of the stuff. To this day, that is the primary reason why the Church of the Nazarene’s members commit to being alcohol free – not because alcoholic beverages are bad in and of themselves, but because the consequences of drinking continue to wreak havoc in people’s lives. That is living your life in light of the Gospel – pointing people to Jesus by not doing what could be a problem to someone else, even though it is not a problem to you.
It is much of what Paul means in our key passage today: as Christians, we do whatever we must to draw people to Jesus – we live differently, we forget about what matters to us and worry about what matters to Christ, because we want others to live and love and exist in the freedom, joy, peace and love that we have. If we have an abundant life because of the power of the Gospel, we should want to share that with others and show them what it means. And if, to do that, we need to come alongside them in the places where they are, then Paul says that is what we have to do.
Paul’s whole point in this letter is to point out to the Corinthian church that they need to build one another up and seek to draw others to the Jesus they know and love. They need to love and encourage and strengthen one another. All in all, Paul says, it comes down to the command that Jesus reiterated over and over: love God, love your neighbor.
It is in the Luke passage we read today, the story of the Good Samaritan, that Jesus tells of someone who put aside every difference they had with someone who was not like them and cared for what they were and what they needed. This, Paul says, everywhere in this letter to the Corinthians, is how every Christ-follower must live and in doing so, the church and the Gospel will be victorious over the sin and death that are ever present in every situation in the world around us. This, Paul reminds the Corinthians and each of us, is why Christ died – so that we might be different, so that we might love bigger and better, so that we might shine the light of the Gospel, the GOOD NEWS about who Christ is and what it looks like to follow him to those who are stuck in division, in sexual immorality, in legalistic sorrow: Jesus died but he was resurrected so we would have victory. And when we live life through that lens, everything is different and better and beautiful.
As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.
God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.
God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.