When Paul walked into Corinth in 51, he wasn’t someone you would notice…except for the fact that he had been badly beaten just a month or so ago so he was probably looking rougher than usual…maybe limping.
Maybe some fresh scars where the whip had gone around his back and injured his already rough looking face.
And he wasn’t an impressive figure even when not recovering from a beating.
But when he came to town he wasn’t trying to impress people with himself…he was pointing people to Jesus.
This was all so counter-cultural for Corinth in the mid-first century…or Wichita in the early twenty-first century.
They were impressed with the same kind of things that we are…things are different now, but things are not that different.
They didn’t have smart phones and quick access to the idolatrous imagery of the internet.
But they had the same kind of idol making hearts that we do…they were impressed with all the wrong things, just like we tend to be.
Compare Paul’s life…a life of travel, famous writing, adventure, ship wrecks, beatings…a life that is hard to get your mind around in its variety and scope.
With Ernest Hemingway.
Hemingway was, unlike Paul, a dashing figure…but like Paul he lived a life full of adventure and famous writing.
But unlike Paul, his life was guided by his own desires and urges…his own need for adrenaline and money and pleasure.
Hemingway fought in world war I, was a journalist in the second world war.
-He almost died in plane crashes In Africa…two in two consecutive days
-He was a world class adventurer…married 4 times, drank a lot…died by his own hand at age 61.
His books are considered classics, winning the Nobel prize in 1954.
Paul, far from dashing…lived for an entirely different purpose…and died at the hands of the Roman government for his faith in Christ.
Hemingway…took his own life, because his life no longer brought him the physical pleasure that he had become addicted to.
Paul’s life was taken from him because he lived for the eternal kingdom and would not bow his heart to the earthly king.
Paul’s books, like Hemingway are considered classics, but he won no prize for them…yet, they have out sold Hemingway…by a lot.
And he was not writing he wrote for an earthly prize.
And more importantly…his books have pointed people to God, to eternal life.
The Corinthians would have been impressed with Hemingway…they were not so much with Paul.
But, Paul didn’t live to be impressive.
He proclaimed, Christ crucified and risen…and the power of the good news of Jesus to change lives.
For Hemingway boredom was the great enemy…he ran from it his entire life until in the end it caught him and defeated him.
For Paul the enemy was death and it had been defeated by Christ…he ran towards Christ not from death.
I don’t say this to judge Hemingway or to exalt Paul.
Paul would have none of either of that.
Paul would have been happy to point Hemingway to Jesus, not himself
*I was having lunch with a friend this past week and he asked me about when I first realized the power of the gospel to change lives.
It was when I was 19…I saw the power first in my own life…it was like the world was black and grey in June and full color in August…that’s not an exaggeration.
Then when I was 20…I saw the man, who at that time was the meanest, most profane person I knew…come to Christ and become a changed person.
As we spoke of these things at lunch…my heart became full and encouraged.
Here is, in his own words…how Paul engaged the Corinthians, who were looking for a Hemingway…and instead got this embarrassingly unimpressive man as their Spiritual Father.
“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”
I have said much of the immaturity of the church at Corinth.
Indeed, they were often childish…but they were children of God…they had been born again.
Paul loved them very much…like a Father, frustrated with his own children…loves them deeply none the less.
Today, we come to the final chapter in what we call 1 Corinthians.
He has finished his teaching portion…now he gives some logistics, some final instructions and encouragement, and then signs off…like a good dad does, by sending his love.
The entire letter has been a work of love…whether he was literally defining love in chapter 13…or delivering a scolding for their childish antics…it was all pure love.
Today as we wrap up this letter, I want to set up our time beginning next week in what we call 2 Corinthians…by discussing some of what happened between this letter and the next.
Paul indeed did come to Corinth in weakness and trembling.
He had been beaten, imprisoned, chased by riots…he was not staying in nice hotels, not traveling by plane or train.
His physical body…and his mind and heart…were no doubt tired…but he was full of hope in Christ and this hope gave him energy to continue.
He arrived in a city that had no idea of who God was or what he valued.
Most people in most (not all) cultures today, have at least a sketchy idea of what a Christian way of life might look like…but they didn’t have the slightest idea in Corinth…Paul was starting from scratch. (N.T. Wright)
And to Paul’s great joy…they received the message and were changed.
He had stayed with them for a year and half…teaching, training, and modeling the Christ-centered life.
When he left them…he was no doubt hopeful and encouraged.
But then things took a turn for the worse.
Again, Paul showed up in Corinth around 51, planted the church, spent a year and a half there.
Around 53 he wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus(Turkey) to deal with problems that had arisen since he left.
Then he crossed the sea for a quick follow-on visit to Corinth.
He probably wanted to see how they responded to his letter, answer further questions…to make sure they were doing okay and to no doubt add the influence of his personal presence to his written words.
After all, he was their friend, their father…their first pastor.
But the visit did not go well…at all.
He was not welcomed, not respected and was in effect sent packing.
He had originally planned to leave Ephesus, where he was planting a church and travel to northern Greece then down to Corinth before moving on.
But later he decided to sail across the sea to Corinth then go north.
*This innocent change of plans will later be held against him by the Corinthians…accusing him of being fickle and easily changing his mind on a whim.
**Side note: It is fascinating that when trust is high there is large margin for error in relationships.
-When trust is low, that margin disappears.
We give people we trust the benefit of the doubt…we give very little benefit of any kind to people we don’t trust.
They had been influenced to distrust Paul by some “Hemingways”…dashing, eloquent, and cool…they had turned them against the “uncool” Paul.
So now they are looking for offense in Paul…even in an innocent change of plans.
When he arrived at Corinth for his visit he was dismayed to find that the church had been turned against him…he abandoned his plans to travel north from Corinth and instead went back to Ephesus by sea.
Paul was now back in Ephesus…suffering, sad, discouraged, angry from what has just happened.
It was then that he wrote what he would call a “painful letter”…we don’t have that letter just his reference to it.
He gave the letter to Titus and sent him to Corinth to deliver it…then he waited for the response.
He wasn’t just sitting around waiting to hear back…he was caught up in the midst of a huge public riot in Ephesus because the gospel was impacting the local economy…an economy based on idolatry.
So, the entire city turned up at the local stadium and were threatening a riot…they shouted for two hours…about how great their goddess was.
All this was aimed at Paul and his gospel message.
Paul, being Paul…wanted to go and address the large riotous crowd but he was warned off by the local authorities that it would not be safe.
In fact they begged him not to go…so he didn’t.
So here is Paul…run out of Corinth, by his own church…now in mortal danger back in Ephesus…there are tough times.
We will see in his Second letter to Corinth…that he would later understand that God was using all this to cause him to rely less on self and more on God.
Paul, great man that he was…was a man…and all men and women are a work in progress.
So…you are wondering how did the church respond to the “harsh letter”?
Well, we will find out in 2 Corinthians…but I won’t keep you in suspense…they responded very well.
Things turned around in their relationship with Paul (and with Jesus)…it is a good news story of relationships and perspectives restored.
So, now back to 1 Corinthians, final chapter of this letter.
Paul has finished addressing the pressing problems…and is adding his final touch before the letter is to be sealed and delivered.
Let’s take a look…but a word of encouragement as we do.
Be careful of thinking of this chapter as “Just boring logistical details…not relevant.”
What could be very helpful for us as we read this chapter is to let the “normal, day to day” nature of this chapter remind us that the Bible is God’s word given to us through real people in real circumstances.
People just like us, in circumstances very much like ours.
Paul’s life seems to be nothing but adventure…and but it mostly full of normal, often tedious days.
-Lots of walking, days and weeks on very small ships, days in prison, days working at his trade, days of telling the same story over and over.
Grey Havens have a song entitled “Magic in the Moment”
“ It’s a beautiful world, it’s such a beautiful gift. They say there’s magic in the moment
I’ve been missing it…But I got a phone in my pocket…And I’ve been choosing it.”
“Worried about the future, Worried about everything
I keep on thinking about tomorrow….But then I hear a sparrow sing,”
Be careful that you don’t read the Bible as one kind of “real” and the news feed on your phone as another kind.
I think the reason we are so worried about the future…worried about everything…(or angry about everything)…is because we are more prone to read the news feed than our Bibles.
So…the fact that there is a chapter 16 (with normal stuff, logistics) not just a poetic chapter 13 or a futuristic chapter 15…encourages me.
This is real stuff written by real people…inspired by the real God…who made the world of real people and real stuff.
16 Now about the collection for God’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 his 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.
The church in Jerusalem was suffering from the impact of several famines as well as from the fact that it was made up of largely Jewish background Christians whose income had been curtailed because of their commitment to Christ.
It has always been true that when people come to Christ in cultures where the prevailing worldview is not Christian…those people are prone to suffer financially.
In what was the Soviet Union…if officials in the communist party became followers of Christ and it became known they would lose their jobs and find it hard to get any job.
So this is not just true in say, countries that are mostly Muslim, where people become Christians…it’s also true in places that are largely Atheistic.
So, Paul is asking these mostly non-Jewish background believers in Corinth to collect money for their Jewish brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.
This is the local church acting globally.
Part of the money we give to River is given to local, state, national, and world missions…for the proclamation of the gospel…this includes gospel demonstration such as through disaster and famine relief.
This is one place in Scripture where that model for the church local and global originates.
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 awhile, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 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.
Here was his original plan.
To travel by land from Ephesus to Macedonia then down to Corinth.
His plans changed for some reason and as I said they would use this against him.
But notice verses 8,9.
I’m going to stay in Ephesus for a while because:
- A great door of effective work has opened to me
- There are many who oppose me
Paul said that like they are tied together…a great door of effective work AND many who oppose me.
Well, that was most often the case for Paul…and is often the case for us.
But we tend to think differently about things.
“Things are going well…God is in this…God is good!”
“Things are not going well…God what is wrong, what am I missing, what are you doing?”
Paul’s perspective…which is by the way, a good one.
“Things are really going well…lots of good ministry…and things are really challenging, lots of opposition.”
Paul didn’t seem to be confused or surprised by this…why do you think we often are?
Because we operate under a semi-Christian view of the world.
I say “semi” because we do believe God is involved in the world, engaged with the details of our lives…
But we also tend to believe that if we do all the right things…then only things we deem favorable will happen to us.
If things are not going what we would call “well” then either we or God are doing something wrong.
The fully Christian worldview is elegantly expressed by Jesus with these words:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Let’s go on…
10 If 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 refuse to accept him. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers.
That is a bit strange, what would Timothy possible have to fear?
Why does Paul feel the need to tell the church at Corinth…to not mistreat him.
It’s because Paul knew this rowdy and rough bunch at Corinth and he knew Timothy.
So he told the church at Corinth… “Hey, take care of Timothy…treat him right, respect him…don’t be your normal selves, be like Christ.”
And Timothy…step up, don’t be afraid.
Let’s see what Paul told Timothy in his letter to him.
1 Tim. 1:7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
1 Tim. 4:12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.
So to the Corinthians “You guys need to respect Timothy.”
To Timothy “Step up, be courageous, don’t be timid…be God’s man there.”
Timothy knew about Corinth…this was sort of like a combat deployment for him.
But Timothy, must, for the good of others…not give in to his own insecurity.
You and I must find our security in Christ…and from that secure place…love and lead others.
Go to verse 13,14…it’s a summary of his letter in a couple of sentences.
13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.
We will come back to those verses.
15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia (the region of Greece where Corinth was located), and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, 16 to submit to such as these 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.
Here Paul is trying to reset their church culture by celebrating the right kinds of people.
Remember the Corinthians were impressed with the “Hemmingways”
-Cool but self-serving.
What does Paul point out here as worthy of imitation and celebration?
These believers who were known for their service to others.
Culture is set by what is communicated, demonstrated, and celebrated by its leaders.
Paul has communicated service in his teaching, he has demonstrated it in his own sacrificial lifestyle…now he is holding it up as being worthy of celebration in the lives of people.
Jesus said that he did not come to be served but to serve.
What was cool in Corinth is still cool in America…the goal is to become a person who doesn’t have to serve…because success is reaching the place where others have to serve you.
But what is cool in Corinth and America…is upside down from the kingdom of God.
To serve and not be served…Jesus said, it to be great in his kingdom.
Turns out…Jesus knows what he talking about.
People who live selfish lives…live miserably.
People who live with hearts to serve…are without exception…happier people
Turns out to enjoy life as servants is how God has designed us…to try and live otherwise it to try and live outside our design parameter.
He concludes with some greetings…then he stops dictating and hand signs the letter and sends his love.
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. If anyone does not love the Lord—a curse be on him. Come, O Lord! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Finish using verses 13 and 14 to summarize Paul’s entire letter.
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love. 1 Cor. 16:13-14
Every verb in these verses is present imperative…that means he is not speaking of momentary attitudes but of ongoing states…keeping on doing these things.
- Be on your guard: (Be watchful)
This was often used of watching for the return of Christ.
Jesus used this same phrase three times in his encouragement to live continually with the end of this present world order in mind.
Live every moment like a guard on watch…looking for the end of all things.
Living moment by moment as if there is an end…a finale to the present age.
- Stand firm in the faith
Not in your “faith” but in “The” faith or the facts or truth of the gospel.
The stability of a life lived by the facts of faith verses feelings was clearly absent from the Corinthians.
The end of this life is not the end of life…so be watchful (but hopeful)…stand firm in THE faith.
This is what Paul said in 1 Cor. 15:58…because the resurrection is real(THE FACTS OF YOUR FAITH)… “Be steadfast, immovable…always abounding (thriving) in the work of the Lord…knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
We are not to have “faith in our faith”…faith then becomes what we “feel” about things.
“I feel confident, courageous…I feel good and strong about things.”
“Then I don’t feel faith, feel confident, feel strong.”
Faith becomes the equivalent of my mood or how I feel about things.
“The Faith” is the facts of the gospel…we are to stand firm in “it”…regardless of the current status of our moods or emotions.
- Be men of courage is better translated by the ESV as “act like men”
This is not a neglect of women; Paul’s letter was clearly addressed to men and women.
So it’s not act like men as in “males” but act like “men” as in adults…grow up…everyone one of you…man and women…act like mature Christians.
This is similar to what he told the church at Ephesus.
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” Ephesians 4:14
- Be strong is really BE strengthened…or allow yourself to be strengthened.
This is not just “buck up…have grit” it is more likely in line with what he told Timothy
“Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Tim. 2:2
Paul encouraged them to find their strength in Christ…not in themselves.
Be strong is grace…is a fascinating turn of a phrase.
Grace is something given to you…God’s favor and power.
So “Go be strong in God’s strength”
- Do everything in love
After hearing…man up, grow up, be strong…many would conclude.
Be aggressive, be self-assertive, take charge.
But this is not kick down doors strength(even though there may be a time for that)…but strength and maturity that shows up in love.
So if a door does need to be kicked down…it is to serve others who need your strength…not to show off your strength.
When I was a child, into high school and beyond…I was impressed with unbridled strength.
As I grew older…and certainly now…I am completely unimpressed with unbridled strength…with aggressive, self-assortative shows of power for self and for pride.
It looks to me, now, as an older man…quite weak and foolish.
But sadly…many never come to see this display of power as the utter weakness that it is.
I don’t act as often as I should with the strength of love…but I am always drawn to it.
I’ve seen people assert their rights this past year…rights to wear a mask, rights to not wear a mask…rights to be angry about this issue or that.
Then I’ve seen people…live with the strength of conviction…but act for the good others…stand down when appropriate even if it makes them look weak.
This has become impressive to me.
Jr. Cullers…fought hand to hand combat in the Pacific…took lives to stay alive.
-Had large, rough hands
-Had the face of a man who had worked, and lived, and loved
He was strength embodied…and he was tender in ways that are hard to describe.
See Christ on the cross…with the power to speak a word and destroy the entire Roman army…instead he allows himself to be killed in naked weakness.
Paul, as we will see in his next letter…had learned to exalt in, delight in…his own weakness…because he has learned to enjoy God’s power so much.
When he says do everything “in” love…he is communicating that love is the very atmosphere of the Christian life.
Love is not just one more thing to do…it is the atmosphere of the Christian life.
and correct in love, be strong in love, encourage in love…this is the aim of maturity.
Hemingway’s life is often portrayed as this great adventure…running TOWARDS a full life…when it was in fact running FROM emptiness.
It was an emptiness he could never outrun.
He despised weakness…and it was eventually all he could see in himself.
Paul ran Towards Christ…and learned to embrace weakness…it led to a full life…a life of enduring impact.
“But to be honest, I’m more with Hemingway than Paul…most of the time.”
I find it difficult to embrace weakness.
But the fact is…we are weak.
It doesn’t take much to hurt or kill us.
-Have you seen pictures of men and women who were so strong, so beautiful…not weak, and ravaged by disease, or injury?
-It is shocking how fast health and strength and beauty can disappear.
We have this opportunity to embrace and thrive in what is eternal and powerful…now.
We can live chasing Christ not the illusions that many around us pursue.
Let’s finish with a passage from a chapter we will get to on July 18…2 Cor. 12
But he (Jesus) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
This is a great bridge from the last 16 weeks in 1 Cor. and the next 13 weeks in 2 Cor.