holy

Aliens And Exiles (Part 2)

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YOU CAN WATCH THE FACEBOOK LIVE STREAM HERE “Beloved, remember you don’t belong in this world. You are resident aliens living in exile, so resist those desires of the flesh that battle against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

Last week, I rolled out the idea that there are at least three things we should do as a result of being aliens and strangers. 

  • CULTIVATE IT – SO WE ARE ALWAYS AWARE WE ARE ‘SET APART’
  • OWN IT – TO AVOID COMPROMISING OUR LIFE AND OUR ALLEGIANCE
  • USE IT - TO MOTIVATE US TOWARD LOVING ENGAGEMENT

 We talked last week about cultivating it: being aware of how the values and standards of the world are not the values and standards of our true home. I want to talk this week about why it is important that we own it, and how we can use it for our good and God’s glory.

OWN IT – TO AVOID COMPROMISING OUR LIFE AND OUR WITNESS

What I mean by this is that we walk into that strangeness rather than try to avoid it. If we don’t keep it in front of us as a very present reality, I think there are two potential dangers.

First, we will begin to compromise the Christian integrity of our lives. We become comfortable in a world that is not our home, and eventually we will live by the standards of the world. If it doesn’t feel strange and uncomfortable, why would we avoid it?

  1. We hear message after message about how money and things are our RIGHT and they will lead to the good life, and how dare anyone do anything to take what's ours – and if that feels comfortable, it will become comfortable, and we will begin to live in that world - a world that is remarkably at odds with every biblical principle[1] about how to use and view wealth and things.[2]
  2. We hear over and over that we should follow our heart or be true to ourselves, when biblically speaking those are both terrible ideas.[3] We are to make sure our heart follows God’s heart; we are supposed to be true to Christ. Now, as God works in us, our hearts become more reliable and our true selves become more Christ-like. But no matter where we are in our spiritual maturity, we should follow and be true to Christ, not ourselves.
  3. We are told that we are free to do anything we want and nobody should tell us what to do, but those are not biblical notions. Biblical freedom is freedom from the enslavement of sin and into the freedom to follow Jesus. God absolutely tells us what to do and who to be, and we are embedded in a community of God’s people who are supposed to speak into our lives not just to encourage us, but to reprimand us in line with God’s Word. I am guided toward what I ought to do all the time by the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the counsel of people around me who care about me. It’s life in the Kingdom of God. [4]
  4. We are told all the time what rights we have, when the Bible talks constantly about what responsibilities we have toward others because we are God’s ambassadors to people created in God’s image.
  • My culture tells me it’s my right to say virtually anything I want to say; the Bible tells me the tongue is a fire, and my words have the power of life and death, and that I dare not have bitter words come out of my mouth. [5]
  • My culture tells me privacy is a right; the Bible does not. If anything, it talks all the time about hidden things being revealed, and the importance of accountability and confession. Keelan Cook wrote: "Sin loves secrecy. It is precisely in these dark, hidden corners of our lives that sin makes its home. It lurks in the shadows of our lives, and when we discover it is there, it is all the harder to reveal those secret places to anyone, especially people in the church. Sin’s love of darkness continually pushes us away from real community. It seeks to isolate us from that vital source of growth.The church is a wellspring of life to the Christian, and as soon as we isolate ourselves from transparent, real fellowship, our spiritual self begins to shrivel. But if we submit to an open, honest life in the light of this Christian community, it will make all the difference.First, that light will reveal all of our evils and force us to confront them head on in the power of the Holy Spirit. That community will then be our helper, our fighter, our support in the battle against our own self and the grip of sin in our lives. Finally, with nothing to hide, we will come together as an actual community and taste the blessings of true fellowship.[6]
  • My culture tells me I have the right to pursue happiness; the Bible tells me I have the responsibility to pursue holiness, which may or may not lead to happiness. Some of the most holy people in history suffered intensely for their faith. They may have experienced a peace that passes understanding and even found the ability to rejoice in the midst of it, but that is a very different thing indeed from our culture’s shallow definition of happiness. [7]
  • My cultural values tell me I have the right to be in a relationship where I am independent and strong, and where my wife completes me and makes me happy. I saw a motto recently: “Fall in love with someone who doesn’t make you think love is hard.” Really? Love is always hard. It will cost you your life. The Bible tells me that I must love my wife to point of giving my life for her, because that’s what Jesus did. Love is hard. My wife and I to submit to, serve, honor and respect each other, not because its easy, or we complete each other, but because Jesus demands it. [8]

So, if we aren’t careful, we can compromise our personal integrity as followers of Jesus.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc9gfNW5otE[/embed]

"With love in your eyes, you confront the lies, the double standards, and the party ties, My one affiliation is with your name; to share your kingdom and to share your shame." - Rez Band, "Alienated"

 

Second, we can begin to compromise the purity of our allegiance to Christ. I have to talk politics here. Stick with me. I don’t really want to talk about this, but I think as your pastor I have to. This won’t be about President Trump or Hillary. This is about the reality of living as strangers no matter who you voted for.

Here’s what our political parties have in common: they are parties of Empire, even if there are Christians in them, and that ought to make us uneasy. We ought to feel like strangers at some point. Not always, of course. It's not like they can’t or don’t align themselves with biblical stances that feel a bit like home to us.

But the parties are not church denominations; as has been said often in the past year, we don’t elect pastors at any level. If nothing feels strange and foreign to you in your party or your candidate, you aren’t looking closely enough. We have to be honest about this, or we run the danger of giving a whole-hearted allegiance to something or someone that does not deserve it.

No party has a platform on the economy, immigration, education, social services, the military, patriotism, health care, free speech, gun control or the conflict in the Middle East that should make Christians completely comfortable.

Our political parties are not the church, even if Christians are a part of them. They use fundamental principles and ideals that are not formed or informed by Christianity. At best, it is a mix of Christian values brought by Christian politicians and non-Christian values brought by those who are not. It ought to feel strange to some degree and to varying degrees (depending no what a party stands for in different areas).[9]

There is only one place I can without reservation give my allegiance; only one man in whom I can without reservation put my trust.; only one person who is above any criticism I have to offer. That is Jesus Christ.

If I am not known as a man whose first allegiance is to Jesus and the principles and values of His Kingdom, I am failing to be the ambassador God has called me to be. We must own our strangeness, or we will compromise our personal integrity and our public witness.

 USE IT: TO MOTIVATE US TOWARD LOVING ENGAGEMENT

So what do we do as aliens and strangers? Peter is clear: "Live honorably among the outsiders so that, even when some may be inclined to call you criminals, when they see your good works, they might give glory to God when He returns in judgment."

So this awareness is not meant to make us disengage; if anything, it should motivate us to live as faithful ambassadors in a world in desperate need of the gospel. Here was the direction the prophets gave to the Jews in Babylonian exile:

“Build houses—make homes for your families... Plant gardens, and eat the food you grow there. Marry and have children; find wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, so that they can have children. During these years of captivity, let your families grow and not die out. Pursue the peace and welfare of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to Me, the Eternal, for Babylon because if it has peace, you will live in peace.” (Jeremiah 29:5-11)

That’s a very specific order for the Israelites, so let’s consider how this command has played out over church history in other situation. In the early church, Christians were very good at redeeming things within their cultures, moving in and bringing with them the peace of God.

Modern Christianity has done this as well.

  • Christmas, Easter and Halloween and Earth Day have a mixed history, but the church has always found ways to take cultural celebrations and direct them toward God.
  • We move into entertainment, entering into popular music and popular forms of storytelling and using that vehicle for the glory of God.
  • We enter into the flow of art and fashion and make things that reflect biblical values.
  • We are politicians (we have the freedom to support legislation the reflects Kingdom principles in our country); we are businessmen, students, teachers, lawyers, laborers…
  • We use the platforms we have to be a faithful presence. To go back to the abortion issue, I can post videos of ultrasounds (I did last week, in fact). The Senate might not protect a 20-week-old unborn child, but I can show a video of a 20-week-old unborn child. I can make my FB wall feel like home, at least for a little bit.
  • We can get involved in our communities. I can support Pregnancy Care Center and Single MOMMs ministry to help make it easier for a mother to decide to keep her baby. I can volunteer with Goodwill Inn or Safe Harbor or Thomas Judd to be involved in helping those in need. I can support ministries that show love to the world because they help to implement one of the most important values of home.

Christians have always moved into a world that was not their home and brought the redemptive presence of Jesus with them. In showing how one particular, practical thing could be redeemed and used for the glory of God, they pointed toward the reason Jesus came: so that we could be redeemed and used for the glory of God. A faithful presence that brought about social change wasn’t the end goal; preaching salvation to a lost world is the highest calling we have. But the faithful, holy presence knocked down barriers and opened doors to the Gospel.

That’s why we don’t retreat from our culture. We embed ourselves in it. The first Christians didn’t move out of the neighborhood once they became disciples of Christ. They were just aware, in ways they weren’t before, that all around them was a broken and dying world that in some ways was terribly at odds with their new citizenship – and it broke their hearts.

There is a popular phrase in exorcisms (at least in the movies): “The Power of Christ compels you!” In this case, the love of Christ compelled them to be deeply engaged in spreading the goodness of life in the Kingdom of Heaven, not just in good deeds that will cause other to give glory to God, but using that influence to spread the heart of the gospel: the message of salvation from sins and peace with God. [10]

So our heart should be broken so that we live faithful, prayerful, engaged lives embedded where we live, and pursue the good of the city for the glory of God.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY6VAy9y_iQ[/embed]

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[1] Mark 4:19 “…but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Proverbs 23:4-5” Do not wear yourself out to get rich;  do not trust your own cleverness. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.”

Proverbs 11:28 “He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous shall flourish as the green leaf.”

Luke 8:14 “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.”

Ecclesiastes 5:10 “Whoever loves money never has enough;    whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.”

Read more at https://www.biblemoneymatters.com/bible-verses-about-money-what-does-the-bible-have-to-say-about-our-financial-lives/

 

[2] One example of how we take economic ideas for granted: did you know the concept of retirement is only about 100 years old? Yet now we order our lives around it. I’m not saying that makes it wrong; it's just a concept we take for granted that Christians for 2,000 years did not. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/10/how-retirement-was-invented/381802/

 

[3] Jeremiah 17:9  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Proverbs 3:5-7 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”

Matthew 15:19  “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

Proverbs 28:26  “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”

See also https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-follow-your-heart

 

[4] Galatians 5:1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Galatians 5:13  “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. “

1 Peter 2:16  “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”

Romans 8:1-4  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

See also https://clgonline.org/freedom-slavery-john-8/

 

[5] https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-the-tongue/

[6] http://blog.keelancook.com/2012/08/a-right-to-secrecy.html#more-736

[7] https://www.exploregod.com/happy-or-holy

[8] https://www.theknot.com/content/bible-verses-about-marriage

[9] Practical example: The Republican Party has generally stood for the pro-life values I hold, and often introduces legislation designed to protect the unborn. In that sense, they have built a platform that in this particular area has reminded me of my true home. But this past week, a Republican-controlled House, Senate, and Presidency fully funded Planned Parenthood after insisting they would divert the money to Community Health Centers. A Republican-controlled Senate failed to pass a ban on abortions after 20 weeks even though they had the numbers and the President said he would sign it. A Supreme Court that leans conservative right now keeps knocking down pro-life legal arguments, [9] so even if the Senate has passed the ban, I doubt it would have held up. Though the Republican Party’s official platform on this issue still feels much, much closer to home than any other party’s, I was reminded that I am a stranger in the strange land of Washington, DC.

[10] Look at Joseph, at Daniel and his friends. They stayed engaged, they got involved - but they lived holy lives in the midst of an unholy culture. What did Paul do? Moved even deeper into Gentile culture to spread the gospel. He studied their philosophers and entertainers; he went to their cultural centers. Then he used that to make connections with his audience to talk about Jesus (Acts 17).

Be Who You Are - In Christ (1 Peter 1:13-21)

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So get yourselves ready, prepare your minds to act (‘gird up your minds)’, control yourselves, and look forward in hope [on heaven] as you focus on the grace that comes when Jesus the Anointed returns and is completely revealed to you. 14 Be like obedient children as you put aside the desires you used to pursue when you didn’t know better. 

15 Since the One who called you is holy, be holy in all you do. 16 For the Scripture says, “You are to be holy, for I am holy.” 17 If you call on the Father who judges everyone without partiality according to their actions, then you should live in reverence and awe while you live out the days of your exile.

18 You know that a price was paid to redeem you from following the empty ways handed on to you by your ancestors; it was not paid with things that perish (like silver and gold), 19 but with the precious blood of the Anointed, who was like a perfect and unblemished sacrificial lamb.

 20 God determined to send Him before the world began, but He came into the world in these last days for your sake. 21 Through Him, you’ve been brought to trust in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him for the very reason that your faith and hope are in Him.

There are times in life when we have to be reminded who or what we are. 

•    When I was coaching: “You are Sabre – and you are a Christian. Remember who you are and what you represent.” •    You often hear something along the lines of,  “You are a (fill in the family name). Act like one!” I don’t even know what that means – what does a Weber do that nobody else does? – but you get the idea. •    To children: “You’re 10 now. You aren’t a baby!” •     “You are an adult; act like an adult.”  •    “You are a dad/mom. Be a parent!” 

The Bible tells us who or what we are when we commit our lives to following and serving Jesus Christ. 

•    We are children of God (John 1:12; Ephesians 1:5; 1 John 3:1-2; Romans 8:17) •    We are chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9) •    We are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) •    We are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10) •    We are branches attached to the Vine (John 15:5) •    We are citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20) •    We are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) •    We are a light and salt in the world (Matthew 5) •    We are ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) •    We are like living stones building a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5)

This is what we are when we believe Jesus is who he says he is and have committed our lives to following Him. All of this is describing what the Bible means when it tells us we are holy. 

The Hebrew is “qodesh” and means “apartness, set-apartness, separateness, sacredness.”   The Greek is “hagios,” which means set apart, reverend, sacred, and worthy of veneration.”   It carries the idea of being pure or unmixed in allegiance and life.  In Old Testament times, what was holy belonged to the gods in an absolute way.  

If you do a google image search of ‘hagios’, you will find a lot of pictures of temples. Temples were called hagios because they were different from other buildings in their purpose. They were set apart. Now look what Paul – who knew something about temples – writes to the Christians in Corinth:

"Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are."  (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

So holiness is a status conferred by God to those who have given their lives to Jesus. We are not just called to be holy; we are holy the minute we are set apart for God’s divine purpose in an absolute way. 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9vn5UvsHvM[/embed]

And yet there is also language of becoming holy in the Bible. I Peter 1:3 tells us to “become holy in all we do” and cites Leviticus.  We read in Hebrews 12:4, “Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Dr. Bob Utely says this verse in 1 Peter is best translated, “You must prove to be holy.”  You must show that you are holy. 

To use grammar terms (which everybody loves), when the Bible talks about holiness it uses verbs that are both indicative and imperative: in other words, it indicates or identifies what you are and also commands you to strive to be that thing which you already are.  It’s holiness as a standing vs. holiness as a lifestyle. We are holy because of our relationship to Jesus, but we are called to act out our holiness.  

Think of a person who goes on a diet to become more healthy. The minute they change their eating habits, their diet is different, and they are set apart from the average eater, but the longer they stick with it the healthier they become. Or a person who was not a gym member becomes a gym member. They have a new identity, but they still need to work to flourish in that identity. 

Though we have been set apart and been made holy, we have to learn how to live with integrity and consistency in our holiness. There is a process of discipleship or maturity in which we increasingly become what we are. 

There are lots of ideas about how we grow in this way, but I want to go to a classic biblical image that will give us some broad principles for growing in holiness.  Peter wrote about ‘girding up our minds’. It’s brings to mind the girding Paul talks about in Ephesians 6. Living in holiness is hard, but God equips us for that to which He calls us.

10 Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God. 11 Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes...Truth banded around your waist (‘girded with truth’), righteousness as your chest plate, 15 and feet protected in preparation to proclaim the good news of peace. 16 Don’t forget to raise the shield of faith above all else, so you will be able to extinguish flaming spears hurled at you from the wicked one. 17 Take also the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Paul is referencing a common sight: Roman soldiers. People knew how armor and warfare worked.

•    The belt of truth holds our outfit together. 

The Bible speaks truth.  It takes some work to properly understand everything, but it speaks truth. God inspired the writers to make sure of this. It doesn't address everything in the world, but what it does address, it address truthfully. We must be people of truth, and we must practice the honoring of truth in everything.  We are people of truth. Are we set apart by living what we are?

•    The breastplate of righteousness (right living) guards our heart. 

It does not save you; it guards you and it guards God’s reputation.  It guards your eyes, thoughts, friends, influences, and actions. We are made righteous in Christ. Are we set apart by our commitment to living what we are? 

•    The gospel of peace (with God through Jesus) is what should prepare us as we walk to the world. 

Is our goal to bring peace as we go into all the world and preach the gospel, or is our goal to win culture wars? Are we praying about how to embody the reconciling love of God? As we will see in a bit, the sword of the Bible will do its own kind of confrontation of sin, but Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17). One day, he will return as a Judge because there is plenty to condemn, but that day is not today (with apologies to Aragorn).  We are people who are at peace with God through Jesus. Do we stand out as being set apart as ambassadors for peace with God through Jesus?

•    The shield of faith quenches the fiery darts of the evil one. 

It is a wall of a shield, not a little one on the arm. When you look at the context of the word here, this is a reference to the faith that has to do with patience and endurance.  This isn’t a reference to the moment of salvation; it’s a reference to ongoing trust.

•    “Fear Not, Abraham, I am thy shield.” (Genesis 15:1) •    “The Lord is a shield to all who put their trust in him.” (Proverbs 30:5) •    “The Lord God is a sun and shield.” (Psalm 84:11) 

We are people with a shield: God himself. Do we live as shielded people in the midst of spiritual attacks because we keep our trust God, who fights for us?

•    Helmet of salvation/our Savior (the hope of salvation/our Savior)

This verse is not about the initial act of salvation, but a focus on the hope that salvation brings: a life with Christ now and fully experienced in eternity. It is the hope of victory. Jesus wins in the end, and we who are being delivered from the power of sin now will one day be freed from the very presence of sin.  I think the idea here is that our mind is guided and protected so that we never forget the reason for the hope that lies within us: Jesus came to save sinners, and He has saved me. We are people of hope; do we live with hope that we have?

•    Sword of the Spirit (the sword which the Holy Spirit furnishes, which is the Word of God)

It’s the one offensive weapon. We will have to wield it, but we are not the sword that the Holy Spirit furnishes. The Word of God does its own work.  We don’t make it our goal to cut others.  The Bible does the cutting. We just bring it to the fight boldly but carefully.  We are people who have been given the Word to fight for us; do we live as people who are confident that the Word will do its work?  

We are declared holy when God sets us aside for his divine purpose, and then we begin the journey into that holiness, a journey which will only find its end in heaven.  So what difference should this make in my life?

My life is set apart for God now.  The church is the face of holiness on earth for better or worse, and that church includes me – and you.  “What do you want me to do today, Lord?” “I have set you apart in all you do for my divine purpose. I want you to live as the child of God that you are. ”

•    When I drive my boys to school, I am a man set apart for God’s divine purposes in this moment…. •    When I get to work, I am a man set apart… •    When I hang out with my friends… •    When I discipline my kids… •    When I post something online… •    When I turn on entertainment… •    When I tell a joke… •    When I argue or go on a date with or ignore or sleep with my wife… •    When I play a family game… •    When I drive… •    When I eat… •    When I….

What difference would it make if I got up every morning with this reality in front of me? 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zP0u8kxZY0Q[/embed]

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”