gifts

The End Of All Things (1 Peter 4:7-11)

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Jesus is Coming. Look busy! 

It’s an uncomfortable phrase, because it feels disrespectful even as it seems like that might be how a lot of people think. But I think it raises a  question worth considering. If we thought Jesus was coming back really soon, would it change how we live?

I remember when my sister and I were old enough to be left at home, we would at times have to scramble when Mom and Dad were coming home. We lived at the end of a ½ mile lane in an old farmhouse for a while, and we would CRANK up our music when they were gone – until we saw them coming up the lane. Things changed in a hurry. When we were even older and they would be gone a couple days, it was clean up time about an hour before they got home.

Mom and Dad were returning, and we wanted to be sure we got the house in order in time.

1 Peter 4:7-11 The Voice (VOICE): "We are coming to the end (telos – completion) of all things…"

We hear a lot about End Times today, but biblically the “end of all things” is the completion of God’s plan for history. The end began with the arrival of Jesus. “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in man ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son”(Hebrews 1:1-2) at "the end of the ages" (Hebrews 9:26).  James said that "the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5:8); John wrote, in 1 John 2:18, "It is the last hour." We are certainly always closer, but Christians have been anticipating His inevitable return since He left.

For 2,000 years, we have lived in the age in which the end is near. So what should we be doing in light of this?

 “So be serious and stable, and keep your wits about you in order to be ready to pray with perseverance.” 

We shouldn't have to scramble to clean our spiritual house like my sister and I did our physical house; we shouldn’t be afraid of our Savior’s return, wondering what we need to turn off or hide something; we shouldn’t be panicked about how we are going to survive whatever is coming.

Instead, we are to exercise self-control and exhibit the peace of the Spirit as we purposefully pray. We should be calm and collected, knowing that God is in control.

The Bible warns that we will face trials or persecution in the last days, and the last 2,000 years have proven that to be true. The United States will inevitably move in that direction if the history of world cultures has anything to offer our understanding of the times in which we live. I think we would do well to pay attention to Peter here, as I’ve noticed how easily we panic when the going gets tough for us as Christians.

There is no doubt that the United States is trending away from affirmation of religious belief and in some sectors is even becoming increasingly hostile. But even in a worst case scenario where anti-Christian bigotry eventually moves toward real persecution, what should our response be?

Should we be scared and angry, or should we glorify God by revealing His power in us by our calm engagement, peace-filled presence, and our ongoing, persevering attitude of prayer, which involves surrendering our fears to God and trusting in His sovereignty? Panic is not a good look for people of faith.

Now, Paul had no problem maxing out his rights as a Roman citizen, so I don’t have a problem with Christians around the world maxing out their political rights for their freedom and safety. But no matter what, in every situation, followers of Jesus should be “serious, and keep our wits about us, and pray more perseverance,” not panic, despair, and yell more loudly.

But, even more importantly:

Most of all,love each other steadily and unselfishly, because love makes up for many faults. Show hospitality to each other without complaint. 10 Use whatever gift you’ve received for the good of one another so that you can show yourselves to be good stewards of God’s gifts of grace in all its varieties. 11 If you’re called upon to talk, speak as though God put the words in your mouth; if you’re called upon to serve others, serve as though you had the strength of God behind you. In these ways, God may be glorified in all you do through Jesus, to whom belongs glory and power, now and forever. Amen.

It seems to me that “prepping” has increasingly been made a priority, as if it's the most urgent need facing us if the world falls apart economically or if we are ever forced underground. It is not. [1]There is prudence in preparation – I’m not belittling those who prepare - but it is not the most important thing. If Peter were to host a seminar on How To Prepare For End Times, it wouldn’t involve a lot of practical things we hear like converting cash to gold or buying food that will last. It would be this: Learn how to pray, love, help each other, and use your gifts for the glory of God!”

This love "covers a multitude of sins" – not our sins, but the sins of others. Love forgives seventy times seventy. It is not constantly critical or constantly requiring perfection of the other. God’s agape love flowing throughus toothers covers a multitude of sins.  The Bible does not mess around on this point:

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and every one who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

Then we see that love is expressed in hospitality, not just for those we know, but those we don’t. [2]It’s not padding our social resume, or hanging out with cool people, and it’s not surrounding ourselves constantly with close friends.  The Greek word combines philos ("friendly love") with xenos ("a stranger").  Really, this is the ability to be hospitable to strangers[3]- and let me tell you, some of us are strange J

Hospitality is a legitimate and important ministry. We can get caught up in thinking of ministry as something that happens when we are in charge of something, or oversees, or when we are involved in an official ministry. But going out for lunch with someone you don’t know, or helping someone with food, money, time or lodging when they are in need is an opportunity for deep ministry.

Finally, we SERVE EACH OTHER FAITHFULLY (v. 10-11) with the gifts God has given us.

There are a variety of gifts given by the same Holy Spirit to each different believer, just as He wills (1 Cor. 12:11). They exist for the good of the church and the reputation of God. You aren’t given your gift for you;you have been given a gift for us to"serve one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."[i] Here is a list of gifts present in the New Testament church:

  • Prophecy(boldly proclaiming God’s mind and purpose) 1 Corinthians 12, 14; Micah 3:8
  • Serving(a wide variety of ministries that “make the dust fly”)- 1 Peter 4; 1 Corinthians 12:5
  • Teaching- (explaining God’s truth)Romans 12; 1 Cor. 12; Ephesians 4
  • Working- (bringing energy to a project)1 Corinthians 12:6
  • Exhortation(motivational skills; encouragement)- Romans 12
  • Giving(joyful, sacrificial generosity)Romans 12
  • Mercy(compassion)- Romans 12
  • Intercession(prayer) Romans 8:26, 27
  • Wisdom(knowledge rightly applied to situations)James 1:5; Numbers 27
  • Words of Wisdom (giving insightful, practical knowledge)- 1 Corinthians 12
  • Words of Knowledge(giving insight into doctrine/spiritual truth)- 1 Corinthians 12
  • Faith(unwavering commitment)- 1 Corinthians 12
  • Healing(miraculous interventions for sickness)1 Corinthians 12
  • Miracles- (supernatural acts)1 Corinthians 12
  • Discerning spirits (insight into the “spirit” of a situation)- 1 Corinthians 12
  • Tongues(gifted in human or heavenly languages)- 1 Corinthians 12, 14
  • Interpretation of Tongues - (translating those languages)1 Cor. 12, 14
  • Apostle(founders of the church)- 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4
  • Leadership(church planters and church sustainers)- Romans 12
  • Pastor(“shepherds” who guide and lead)- Ephesians 4
  • Evangelist/Missionary(boldness in sharing the gospel)Acts 1:8; 5:32; 26:22; 1 John 5:6; Ephesians 4
  • Helps(helping/serving the poor and downtrodden) 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Timothy 3:8-13; Romans 16:1-4; 12
  • Administration(the ability to give oversight)1 Corinthians 12; 1 Samuel 11 and 16
  • Celibacy(living in abstinent sexual purity) 1 Corinthians 7:7
  • Marriage(committing to a covenant with integrity) 1 Corinthians 7:7
  • Hospitality(openness and friendliness) 1 Peter 4:9-10
  • Craftsmanship(building, construction)Exodus 31:3; 35:30-35
  • The Arts(music, poetry, prose, painting...) - Exodus 31:2-6; Exodus 35:25-26; Psalm 150:3-5 Luke 1:1-3
  • Voluntary Poverty (forgoing wealth without envy or jealousy)1 Corinthians 13:1-3
  • Business Sense (reward from hard work and investment) Ecclesiastes 3,5
  • Courage(as seen in Gideon) Judges 6
  • Strength(as seen in Samson) Judges 13
  • Architectural Engineering (planning; constructing; building)1 Chronicles 28

Whatever your gift, it is significant. The body of Christ needs you. You are to use your gift not to glorify yourself or other people, but to glorify -God. If you want to be ready for the end times, learn how to use your gifts toward the service of one another in the harmony of the Spirit of God.

Steven Cole recounts a story that I think offers a picture that captures the purpose of this passage well.

“In 1959, the Queen of England visited Chicago. Elaborate preparations were made for her visit. The waterfront was readied for docking her yacht. Litter baskets were painted. A red carpet was rolled out. Many hotels were alerted. But when they contacted the Drake, the manager explained, “We are making no plans for the Queen; our rooms are always ready for royalty.”

I like that goal.

“We are making no new plans for the arrival of the King; His house is always ready for Him.”

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[1]See this article from Focus On The Family, “A Biblical View Of Survivalists And Preppers.” https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-q-and-a/faith/a-biblical-view-of-survivalists-and-preppers

[2]When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (Luke 14:12-14).

[3]"without complaint".  Paul wrote, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world . . ." (Phil. 2:14-15).

[i]These are all gifts to help you serve the church and the world.

 

Don’t Neglect Your Gift (1 Timothy 4:12 – 4:16)

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 “Don’t let anyone belittle you because you are young. Instead, show the faithful, young and old, an example of how to live: set the standard for how to talk, act, love, and be faithful and pure. Until I get there, make sure to devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching. 

 Don’t neglect the gift that was given to you through the prophecy spoken when the company of the elders laid their hands on you. Cultivate all these practices; live by them so that all will see how you are advancing and growing. Take care of yourself, concentrate on your teaching, and stick with these things. If you do, then you will be effective in bringing salvation to yourself and all who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:12-4:16)

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There's a great scene at the beginning of The Equalizer where a young lady named Teri asks Robert (The Equalizer) what happens in "The Old Man and the Sea." Robert tells her that the old man catches the fish. She asks, "Why didn't he just let the fish go?" Robert replies, "Old man's gotta be the old man. Fish has got to be the fish. Gotta be who you are in this world, no matter what." In the context of the movie, it's not a statement of fatalistic resignation. It's also not parroting some silly version of, "You are perfect just the way you are!" Robert was pointing out that we are all made for a purpose, with a role to play. We gotta’ find that purpose and live it. It's an acknowledgment that we are made for some things and not others. You see the importance of this principle in Scripture numerous times, but I am going to point out my favorite one: Gideon (Judges 6:11-14): 

“Now in Ophrah, a messenger from God sat under an oak tree that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. Gideon, the son of Joash, was beating out wheat in the winepress so that the Midianites could not see what he was doing. The  messenger appeared to Gideon and said, “The Eternal One is with you, mighty warrior.”  Gideon replied, “Sir, if He is with us, then why has all this misfortune come on us? Where are all the miracles that our ancestors told us about? They said, “Didn’t the Eternal deliver us out of Egypt?” But now He has left us. He has made us servants of the Midianites.” The messenger of God replied, “Go out with your strength and rescue Israel from the oppression of Midian. Do you understand that I am the one sending you?”

Gideon was not made to farm; he was made to fight. I wonder just how discouraged he must have been as day after day slipped away in what probably felt like an unfulfilled, wasted life. Gideon had forgotten who he was – who God made Him to be. The angel brings a message of purpose and power: Gideon was to “go out with his strength”  because “I am the one sending you.” God will send Gideon to a place where Gideon’s strengths make him not only effective but important. 

 So how can we find our strengths (given to us by God) and go where God intends for us to go? How can we be sure we are not neglecting the many kinds of gifts that God has given us? How can we find a life that is meaningful and purposeful? For the purpose of this discussion, I am going to branch out from the very specific meaning Paul has in this verse (spiritual gifts) in order to talk more broadly about the many ways God gifts and/or empowers us to represent Christ, the gospel, and the Kingdom. 

I think we discover what God made us to be by looking at three key areas: our  godly passions, our opportunities and our gifts.

GODLY PASSIONS

  • "My zeal for God and his work burns hot within me." (Psalm 69:9)
  •  "Your message burns in my heart and bones, and I cannot keep silent." (Jeremiah 20:9)

God has made us to be passionate, to care deeply about something. Not everything we long for is good - it is a fallen world - so we need to view our passions in light of Scripture. That's why it's "godly" passions and not just anything about which we feel strongly. As the Holy Spirit works in us and moves us toward a world that needs Christ's salvation and healing, our passion will begin to clarify. It could be a cause (poverty, depression, abuse, addiction, depression) a group of people (the persecuted, imprisoned, the poor, the unborn, the church, or your family) or a talent (music, athletics, sports, culinary arts).  

I love the story of Olympic sprinter Eric Liddell who, when challenged about wasting his time running, said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure.”What breaks your heart or brings you joy? What are the things you are not okay with, or the things you cannot get enough of? What are the things that, when you do them, you feel God’s pleasure?

 OPPORTUNITIES

It’s popular to say, “You can be anything you want to be.” It’s also not true. Guys, you can't be the first female president. Aspiring teachers, you are going to need a degree. If you want to take two years to focus on getting published, you will need some cash in the back. You are going to be restrained or empowered by your financial situation, family obligations, the economy, your education, the particular need of the city or church in which you live, your background of life experiences, your health or physical ability. If your passions exceed your opportunities, you are going to be frustrated!

However, it’s important to remember: God is sovereign over our circumstances. Things that look like they will bring nothing but harm can bring us something good when God is involved (read the story of Joseph to see how that works). However, we are responsible for what we do in the midst of our circumstances. Can we change them or not? How will our circumstances effect the course of our life? Instead of brooding on how our circumstances are keeping us from being who God made us to be, why not think of how we might invest in the opportunities currently around us? 

 GIFTS (6 ways to see them)

There is an interesting phrase in social work called a “strengths perspective.” The idea is that if you want to know where to go or what to do in life so that you will flourish, it’s better to focus on how to use your strengths than to get caught up in all the ways you are weak.

  • Personality: (http://www.16personalities.com/personality-types). There are many personality tests out there, but the Myers-Briggs Personality test is one of the most popular (it is used by 80% of Fortune 500 Companies). While tests like these are not entirely accurate, they are helpful in matching your personality type with people in particular vocations who tend to share your personality. (Keep in mind that you want to consider your intelligence type as well as your natural and spiritual gifts to get a well-rounded picture of who you are). 
  • Intelligence Type:  According to  Howard Gardner, intelligence is 1)The ability to create a valued product or service or solve problems or 2) the ability to gather new knowledge. There has been a strong move in recent years to be more aware of Multiple Intelligences (ways in which people learn and communicate that do not fit the standard educational model). Read more about 8 different types of intelligence at  http://www.literacynet.org/mi/intro/index.html
  • Natural Gifts: (http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx). Big Picture or details? Visionary or implementer? Talk or listen? Think or do? Quick on your feet or methodical? Organize or implement?  Language, Math, Music, Art, Sports, Relationships, Money, Farming, Technology, Building, Cleaning? We are all wired differently. It impacts how we process the world. Identifying how we are wired can go a long way in matching us up with opportunities in which we can flourish instead of be frustrated.
  • The Abilities in Our Disabilities.  There are times when the things that put hurdles in our life are the very things that provide us with unexpected strengths.  Goalkeeper Tim Howard credits his Tourette’s for his ability as a goalkeeper. He says it gives him an advantage by channeling his nervousness (though doctors think it could just be that the mental and physical discipline he has developed helps him). People who struggle with dyslexia are often better at identifying visual clues, and they tend to see the Big Picture in a given situation. In fact, 35% of entrepreneurs have dyslexia. People with Asperger’s tend to have advanced vocabularies, better pattern recognition, good focus on details, and flourish within rules and boundaries. People who stutter can face multiple hurdles, but as my son Braden has written, ”It pushed me into music – I could sing smoothly and play instruments without worry. 
It pushed me into sports – I could play and all I had to do was smile. 
It pushed me to math – I could communicate in a written language. 
It pushed me to writing – I could speak my mind without pause. I might not be able to speak like everyone else, but no one can express themselves the way I can.” 
  • Spiritual Gifts: This, I believe, is specifically what Paul had in mind when writing to Timothy. In Christianity, spiritual gifts (or charismata) are endowments given by the Holy Spirit. These are the supernatural graces which individual Christians need to fulfill the mission of the church. They are described in the New Testament, primarily in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4. Read more here about spiritual gifts and the way they are meant to be used in the church before visiting http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/files/lwcF_PDF_Discover_Your_Spiritual_Gifts.pdf
  • Affirmation: A company of elders laid hands on Timothy and either imparted or confirmed a spiritual gift in Timothy (it depends on the commentary). Either way, the principle is solid. There is something to be said for having who you are  - specifically, who God made you to be - by godly, trustworthy people around you. What do others say about you? What do you hear over and over? That, too, is a strong indicator of who God made you to be. (Check out a great way to about finding out what others have to say at https://hbr.org/2005/01/how-to-play-to-your-strengths/)

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Don’t neglect the gift that was given to you through the prophecy spoken when the company of the elders laid their hands on you. Cultivate all these practices; live by them so that all will see how you are advancing and growing. Take care of yourself, concentrate on your teaching, and stick with these things. If you do, then you will be effective in bringing salvation to yourself and all who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:14-4:16)

"Cultivate all these practices." If you go back to verse 12, that command encompasses three things: character (how we talk, act and love with faithfulness and purity), teaching (staying true to the fundamentals of our Christian faith), and being who God made us to be (not neglecting our gift.

Why?  For the cause of the gospel. It’s not about us and our ability to look or be awesome. It’s about Christ. It’s about surrendering who we are to Christ, then focusing who we are in the service of Christ for the sake of His message of salvation, which is the only true hope of the world. 

Something Bigger Than Ourselves

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     Question: what do these four things have in common?

  • Android: ”In September 2012, there were more than 675,000 apps available for Android, and the estimated number of applications downloaded from Google Play was 25 billion.”
  • Apache: “Since April 1996 Apache has been the most popular HTTP server software in use. As of September 2012 Apache was estimated to serve 54.98% of all active websites and 58.49% of the top servers across all domains.”
  • Linux: “Linux has been ported to more computer hardware platforms than any other operating system. More than 90% of today's 500 fastest supercomputers run some variant of Linux. 60% of web-servers run Linux versus 40% that run Windows Server.”
  • Wikipedia: “23 million articles…100,000 active contributors… editions of Wikipedia in 285 languages…365 million readers worldwide… 2.7 billion monthly page views from the United States alone.”

     Answer: they were all open sourced (or group sourced). In other words, the people creating them did not directly profit from them. They did it because they wanted to contribute to something in a meaningful way. The reward was not money or fame; it was being a part of something bigger than themselves.

    Paul beats this drum over and over: Being part of a church means we belong to something bigger than ourselves . Unfortunately, the church in Corinth  was floundering in their understanding of how this looks in ordinary church life. 


"In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.  In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.  So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk... Do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter... For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. … For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment… So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together… " (1 Corinthians 11: 17-33, condensed form)

    How could the church proclaim unity while ignoring the physical needs of those who came with little or no food? Christ said, “My body is broken; my blood is spilled out.”  But at these suppers, there was no bread broken for the hungry or wine poured for the thirsty. There was no breaking and pouring of self on behalf of others. There was no self-sacrifice. There was no sense that they were a part of something bigger than their own self-indulgence.

    Paul called the ability to see other people and their needs and respond appropriately as discerning the Lord's body.”  When they didn’t, their selfishness was killing them. Without this “discernment of the body” – seeing a need and responding appropriately in the context of community - there is no church. In chapter 12, Paul continues the same theme, but he moves the focus from an easily observable community event to an issue we sometimes treat differently – but shouldn’t.

12 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed... 4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good... a message of wisdom... a message of knowledge... faith... gifts of healing... miraculous powers... prophecy... distinguishing between spirits... speaking in different kinds of tongues... the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free —and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you...”  But God has put the body together... 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other... 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."

    Those truly filled with the Spirit do everything in the service of something greater than themselves – the flourishing of the Kingdom of God.  It’s not about particulars experiences and individual blessings and gifts(though God clearly blesses people in individual ways). It’s about the broader Kingdom of God.

Paul wrote, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the profit of all” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Everybody is somebody in the Kingdom of God we all have something to share, and it must be properly expressed in the context of community. We all contribute. The church flourishes because it has a body. 

    And just like the Lord’s Supper, we have to “discern the body.” If we take even the good services, works, and gifts from God and bring them into church life without realizing we are part of something bigger than ourselves – that there is a community around us that will be edified in particular times and in particular ways -  church community will pay the price.  

     Paul said, “There should be no division in the body…each part should have equal concern for each other."  If true self-sacrificial living is a significant element in church life, we won’t be asking, “What can I do so people can see that I am spiritual?” We will ask, “What can I offer the Kingdom of God that is both good and beneficial to others as I enter into life in something bigger and far greater than myself?”

Letter to a Corinthianized Church

About 2,000 years ago, Corinth was a financial, religious, and cultural mecca.

  • It was a major commercial hub located on a four-and-one-half mile wide isthmus of land. Sailors wanted to avoid the danger of sailing around Malea, so they would move their ship across the isthmus on a series of log rollers. If the ship was too large, the cargo was unloaded and loaded onto another ship on the other side of the isthmus.
  • “Corinthian brass” (a mixture of gold, sliver and copper) was widely renowned. 
  • Athletic contests known as the Isthmian Games - second only to the Olympian Games - were held at the temple of Poseidon in Corinth every two years. 
  • Athena, Apollo, Poseidon, Hermes, Isis, Serapis, and Asclepius, among others, had temples to their honor in Corinth. It was common to have feasts in those temples – they were very much a center of community.
  • Aphrodite had more than 1,000 hierodouloi (female prostitutes and priestesses) in her service. The present museum in Corinth boasts a large number of clay emblems offered to Aphrodite for healing of a particulular part of the body ravaged by sexually transmitted disease. 
  • The name “Corinthian" had become synonymous with sexual immorality and drunkenness. Aelian, a Greek writer, noted that Corinthians in Greek plays were always drunk.

     Gordon Fee summarized it well: "All of this evidence together suggests that Paul’s Corinth was at once the New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas of the ancient world: Intellectually alert, materially prosperous, but morally corrupt.”
     They had money, business, athletic prowess, temple worship involving sex and free food – it was just one big party in Corinth.
   The book of I Corinthians was written to a church living in a culture similar to ours. When the Apostle Paul wrote to them, their primary problem was not persecution. They were a church in lap of luxury, full of people who had been Corinthianized from birth, but who were now trying to begin a new life in Christ.
     Why am I not surprised that, only five years after he left, the Corinthians wrote Paul a letter asking for advice.
1 Corinthians records his response.

1 Corinthians 1:1-3 

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

     Paul begins by reminding them that they have been sanctified (hagios – “called out”) and called to holiness (agios – once again “called out”). God had pulled them from darkness to light, from being like Corinth to being like Christ. They clearly weren't to leave the city or shun their neighbors, but they were different now in attitudes, priorities, passions, loves, hopes and dreams.
     It’s not easy to be the “called out” counter-cultural ones, so Paul reminds them that they are not alone: they are part of the ekklesia, the assembly, the church. They are not alone.
    Then Paul gives a blessing that we read numerous times in Scripture.

  • Grace (favor, joy, pleasure. The image of God “leaning in”).  God is for them.  God is not anxious to judge, or petty, or requiring them to self-destruct in order to worship like they had before. They did not need to merit this kind of favor.  Because He loved them, God was interested in and engaged with their lives. In the midst of a city where favor was earned and pleasure was fleeting, Paul says, "May God give you grace."
  • Peace (wholeness; unity; quiet and rest).  In the midst of where business, chaos, idol worship and temple revelry brought fragmented souls and shattered lives, Paul says, "May God give you peace."

     "Grace to you" was a standard Greek greeting; "Peace" was  the Jewish blessing of "Shalom." Though the church contained both groups, Paul didn't say, "Grace to you Gentiles, and peace to you Jews." The entire church community was to receive God’s grace and peace.
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1 Corinthians 1:4-6 
"I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus, For in Him you have been enriched in every way —with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge — God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 

     Apparently when God through His grace “leaned in,” He spoke a lot through His Word and His people. The knowledge they had gained in the five years since Paul had visited has  thoroughly confirmed what Paul said about Christ.

   
God had enriched their lives by filling them with the knowledge of Him. But knowledge was not the point:
     Because of God's grace, He has enriched them and confirmed Himself to them. For that reason, they did not lack any spiritual gift.
     That’s quite a statement. (We will see later in 1 Corinthians why Paul makes this point at the beginning. A lot of division had begun within the church as people followed one particular leader or wanted one particular gift).  Paul begins 1 Corinthians by saying, “How amazing is it that you, as a unified church, the ekklesia, have been so blessed by God (grace) that you are rich and lack nothing (peace)?”
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1 Corinthians 1: 8-9 
He will sustain you to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

     While reading and re-reading this opening in preparation for a sermon, I couldn't get rid of the nagging thought that more was being communicated here than simply a reiteration of facts. After all, the church apparently heard plenty of speeches and had gained a lot of knowledge. They knew this. Why would Paul need to remind people:

  • that there will be a day when they are blameless? 
  • that God is faithful?
  • that they are called into fellowship with Jesus Christ?
  • that they are holy and sanctified?
  • that there are others like them?
  • that they are spiritually rich?
  • that they have spiritual gifts?
  • that Jesus is returning?

Because they are people. They are just like us. In spite of being given grace and peace, they didn’t always feel God “leaning in.” They didn't always feel whole, complete, and at peace.  We are not so different today, in the modern American Corinth full of business, money, luxury, ease, and 21st century gods of sex, pleasure, and indulgence.

  • We don’t live like we are “called out,” and we're not sure we want to ignore those alluring cultural sirens.  
  • We think money = wealth.
  • We think pleasure=happiness.
  • We think sex=love.
  • We know we are not blameless, and we wonder how we ever will be.
  • We don’t feel “in fellowship” with Jesus. God seems distant, or even absent. 
  • We wonder if God will give up on us, because so many people around us have rejected us. 
  • We feel like we are alone in the world. 
  • We wonder, in the midst of overwhelming despair, if God will ever make things right. 

     In his letter to the Corinthian/American church, Paul with a hopeful yet poignant reminder: “You truly do have fellowship with Christ. In spite of your weariness, He will sustain you;  others may forsake you, but He will “lean in” with gifts of grace and peace; your sins may seem insurmountable, but one day you will know what it is like to never be worthy of blame, and you will be truly free.”
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For those of us who are tired.

For those of us who struggle to be holy in the Corinth of our time, so easily distracted and engaged by the American gods of money, sex, and entertainment.

For those of us who are covered with shame and blame.

For those of us who feel alone and unwanted.

For those of us who feel like we have nothing to offer because God has given us nothing.

For those of us who don’t feel like God is near.

For those of us who lose sight of the hopefulness of Christ’s return, because so many things are broken that it’s hard to believe that one He will make all things new.

Grace and Peace. 
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Jason Gray, “Remind Me Who I Am”