Living the others can be difficult. My first experience living with another person was in college. As a freshman, I was preselected a roommate and had no idea who he would be. I was going to share a fifteen foot by fifteen foot room with a stranger. It turned out my roommate was a dairy cow farmer from Ohio and a camping ministries major. I remember after a whitewater rafting class he got a bad sunburn. He bathed himself in vinegar and smelled like a pickle for a week. Although we were very different and butted heads on occasion our living arrangement worked out.
Sometimes living and serving with others doesn’t work out so easily. Sometimes it is work. Hard work. If you are doing life with members of a church or are serving on a team with other Christians you know just how hard it can be.
At the end of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes five rapid-fire imperatives and one promise to those who are living and serving together in the church. The five imperatives have one singular focus on bringing unity to the Corinthian church. Take note of how intentionally intrusive they are. Paul knows firsthand that ministry relationships are full of passion and opportunities for disunity are apparent. Unless you are a hermit, being intentionally intrusive with others is important, especially if you are living and serving with others.
“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11)
There is no surprise that the first imperative is “rejoice”. Why? Paul longed for the Corinthians to be a cause for his own rejoicing (cf. 1:24; 2:3). He loved the church deeply. He knew there would be rejoicing in the church if all members listened to him, trusted his apostleship and walked in repentance. Paul had every reason to despise the Corinthians and to give up on them. So “rejoice” is an imperative full of faith and expectation that the Corinthians were on the verge of joyous unity. He was nowhere near giving up on them. They brought him that much joy!
How can you rejoice in the Lord giving you a church? How are your church members a cause for your own rejoicing?
The second imperative, “Aim for restoration,” has the sense of putting back into place or mending or repairing. Living and serving with others is a group assignment and the more you are with each other the great the probability there will be friction and fraction. Paul lays the responsibility directly on the church—“Get it together”—work at restoring your unity in Christ (cf. 13:9; Ephesians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:10). Paul echoes this when writing another church, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1b-3)
Are there any relationships within your church that need mending or repair? What are the most prominent heart idols that you anticipate may get in the way of you allowing others from being intentionally intrusive into your life (i.e. fear of man, lover of pleasure, pride, wanting control, comparing yourself to others, failing to believe the best in another, etc.)? Are you working towards restoration rather than destruction? Explain.
The third imperative is to “comfort one another” or listen with tenderness (cf. 1:3-11). Paul was aware of the depth of the hurt among both those who were in the right and in the wrong. He himself needed comfort as his relationship with the Corinthian church was frayed.The situation then and now in Corinth demanded mutual tenderness and comfort. Comfort is the currency of unity and harmony. To comfort another means you spend your time and energies to reassure, relieve and repose another who is hurt or struggling.
Who is someone in your church who needs the tenderness of Christ right now? How will you comfort them? If you were to be struggling with allowing someone to be intentionally intrusive into your life, what would be the manifestations of your struggle (i.e. not returning phone calls, short answers, no eye contact, easily irritable, blame shifting, etc.)?
The next imperative is to “agree with one another” or “be of one mind” or “live in harmony” (cf. 1:10). Every church needs this admonition, but no church needed it more than Corinth. The elitist, Corinthianized super-apostles had issues with everything Paul stood for. Harmony is sounds working together on different notes that make a pleasing sound. Paul did not ask the church to agree on everything, but they were called to agree with one another on the the main things like his role as an apostle and message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Are there secondary issues that are causing disunity among you and another church member (i.e. decision making style, not being understood, not liking what someone else is doing, etc.)? Have these secondary things become an idol in your heart? How can focusing on the main thing or the essentials help build harmony between you and others?
Lastly, the imperative to “live in peace” flows out of such harmony, since being out of tune is not a peaceable sound; rather it’s discord. Peace doesn’t come passively. Nevertheless, living in peace requires intention and determination (cf. Mark 9:50; 33-37; 42-48).
How are you pursuing peace with church members? Would others describe you as a peacemaker? How can you actively live in peace?
Now, if you step back and look at the whole, all five imperatives call the Corinthians to continuous action day in and day out. If the Corinthians heed them and walk in them they are given a resplendent promise: “and the God of love and peace will be with you” (v. 11b). God promises to give his children his love and peace as they actively do his work together.
What is it like to not experience the love and peace of God? How can the love and peace of God be with you when others do not seem to be at peace with you? In what ways are you being blessed by God’s love and peace with your church members?
Unity by living and serving with others in a team/church does not come easily. We must work at every facet at all times. Restoration is work, comfort is work, harmony is work, peace is work, and even rejoicing requires work. Paul called for continuous, specific focus for the church—and everything depends upon their response.
“Passion for the church involves diving into the community of the local church. It means ‘doing life’ with other Christians by pursuing relationships that extend beyond the church building and official church functions… ‘Fellowship is a uniquely Christian relational experience,’ writes pastor John Loftness. ‘Fellowship is participating together in the life and truth made possible by the Holy Spirit through our union with Christ. Fellowship is sharing something in common at the deepest possible level of human relationships – our experience of God Himself.’ Fellowship means belonging to each other” (Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church pg. 75).
Paul was so concerned about restoration and unity in Corinth that he became especially directive about demonstrating affection. First, he called them “brothers.” (v.11) Paul’s relationship to the church is not professional. The familial language assumes that Christians are family in meaningful spiritual relationship. Second, to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (v. 12) was a cultural expression of affection among family members. It is difficult to embrace another person with whom you have discord. Third, Paul shares a “Hello” from his companions in Ephesus, “All the saints greet you” (v. 13). The unity he desires to renew in Corinth is universal. Christian unity is true for the whole Body of Christ. Finally, in Paul’s final benediction he says, “The [amazing] grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the [extravagant] love of God and the [intimate] fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (v.14) The example of the Trinity is also a picture of unity. The promise was for everyone—the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was Corinth’s hope. And today it is ours too!
Who is a person in your life whom you welcome to be intentionally intrusive who you know will love you in Christ, show you grace and provide intimate fellowship? How will you be more intentional involved in the fellowship of your church? How does the grace, love and fellowship of God encourage you to share the same with others?
What is at the center of your of your life? Your center is what is your main thing, your top priority, and the thing you most passionate about. It is what defines you. Your center is clearly seen in what do you talk about or what is on your mind the most. Commonly it is a relationship, passion, career or cause. Have you seen your center change over the years?
What is the one thing God says must be our center? In 1 Corinthians 15:3 Paul says that our first importance is the cross of Christ—the gospel. The cross is like a hub with spokes to a wheel. It affects everything you do—your passions, career, causes and relationships. It wasn’t until I came to know Christ and begin a relationship with the God of the universe that I realized my relationships with my parents, friends, and authorities could be different.
For those who do not know God the cross is silly and stupid. “The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:18] People hate the work of Christ because it runs so contradictory to the way people think and live. The cross is foolish because people do not make the connection from what Christ did on the cross to how it impacts their life. The cross is crucial to all our relationships. If you say you have a relationship with God, the proof of it is how you view your relationships. How does the cross impact my relationships: with my parents, friends, authorities, or dating partners?
1. The cross is the means to change my motives within relationships [2 Corinthians 5:14-15]. Jesus went to the cross not because he thought it was going to be fun or a vacation to the beach. It was hard, painful, and torturous. He could have backed down, but He didn’t. He was motivated by love and joyful obedience, even when people mocked Him and beat Him and bullied Him.
First, my relationships must be motivated by Christ’s love. This is often difficult because we are motivated by getting things from people. We are consumers. We view our relationships as people owing us attention, love, and respect [note Pharisees: John 12:43; Luke 7:47]. We say to our parents, “You owe me a nice room with privacy. You owe me new clothes for school and respect for my possessions.” We think our authorities and friends should treat us fairly and respectably. If you think people owe you it will frustrate you because you often do not get what you want.
My esteem does not come from self or others, but comes from Christ. I have Christ-esteem [v.15]. The question is not what do people owe me, but what do I owe them? “Owe no one anything, except love each other.” [Romans 13:3] “Walk in love as Christ loved you.” [Ephesians 5:2] “The love of Christ controls us.” [v.14] I owe others love because God commands me to love one another [Colossians 3:12-17]. If I am a genuine follower of Christ I am able to love others because He has loved me [1 John 3:7-21]. The cross is proof of His love [1 John 3:16]. The cross shows just how horrendous my sin is, but how immense is God’s love. The cross puts me on equal terms with everyone else. I am no better, and no worse.
Second, my relationships must be motivated by joyful obedience. I am willing to submit to others authority in my life because I see it has benefitted me to submit to God’s authority. God protects and provides. No longer do I need to live in the frustration of being a man pleaser, but in the joyfulness of becoming a God pleaser. My motivation as a follower of Christ is not what other people think about me, but is God pleased with me [2 Corinthians 5:9].
2. The cross is the means of dealing with conflict in relationships [2 Corinthians 5:16-19]. The cross challenges my attitude towards those I have something against [v.17; cf. Titus 3:1-11; Colossians 3:8-15]. Often when I have something against another person I want to control the situation by letting them feel my pain or know my hurt. However, God says that vengeance is not yours and when we take wrath into our hands we make a mess of the situation [Romans 12:19]. Only God can be God. So how does God desire us to deal with conflicts?
What if I have sinned against someone? What if I have blow it and messed up a relationship? As a new creation in Christ I seek reconciliation and forgiveness for your sin. What if they do not accept my forgiveness? You cannot control their response. You have done your part. Trust God to minister to them [v.18-19]. What if it is physically impossible to ask for their forgiveness because of death or distance? If death take your unforgiveness to God, but if not write a letter or call the person you have something against.
What if someone sinned against me? If someone has wronged you and you are struggling with thoughts of bitterness or rage seek their forgiveness for your sinful attitude. You can, “Forgive as Christ forgave you.” [Ephesians 4:32] because “Love covers a multitude of sins.” [1 Peter 4:8] Love is powerful.
What about those who don’t seem to deserve my love? Have you heard it said, “Hurt me once shame on you, hurt me twice shame on me”? The Bible says, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men.” [1 Thessalonians 5:15] What does it say about you if God can forgive sins eternally, but you cannot forgive someone? The proper response is to confront in love pointing them to the cross. In the cross, there is no one undeserving of God’s love.
Some people are fire starter while others are fire extinguisher. Who are you? An attitude of humility, gentleness, and understanding can diffuse many arguments, tensions and disagreements. “If any man is caught in any sin, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” [Galatians 6:1ff] “Let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” [1 Peter 3:8-9]
3. The cross is the means to restore broken relationships [2 Corinthians 5:20-21]. The cross makes our relationship right with God and gives us the ability to reconcile our earthly relationships because we are ambassadors of reconciliation [v.20]. The cross attacks the issues that hurt relationships. The cross attacks and defeats sin. The cross does not tear down a relationship with God it builds up. Teenagers are champs at knocking others down with their teasing and tearing words. This has no place in the life of a Christian, “Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” [Romans 14:19]
How has the cross impacted your relationships with God and others? The proof of your relationship with Heavenly Father is seen and heard in your earthly relationships.
Quick Q&A on Cross-Centered Communication in my Relationships:
Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like at home with my parents? What if my parents are on my case? What if we do not get along What if they have does something to you that scarred you really deep? Begin with the road towards reconciliation and obey joyfully as to the Lord [Ephesians 6:1-3]. As you honor your parents you are really honoring God.
Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like at school with my teachers or at work with my boss? Trust God who appoints all your authorities [Ephesians 6:1-9; Titus 3:1ff] Even if some are unfair or unreasonable God has placed them into their positions of authority. Remember your boss is ultimately God. The way you work can be a shining light for God’s glory.
Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like with my friends? If you see your friends sinning be willing to confront their sin [cf. Matthew 18:15-17]. This is what good friends do—they hold one another accountable. A loving friend does not sympathize with sin; rather they help their friends overcome sin. Also, humbly accept confrontation for your sin too.
Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like in my future marriage or dating relationships? [More on this the next few weeks] Check out: 1 Peter 3:1-7, Ephesians 5:22ff, and 1 Corinthians 7.
Part 3 of 3 Why Worship Matters
We are imitators [1 Cor. 11:1]. From the time we are little kids we mimic what our parents say and do, much to their cringing. We reflect [Gen. 1:26, image bearers]. It is a matter of what or who you imitate and reflect. G.K. Beale says in his book, “What you revere you resemble for your ruin or restoration.” You either become like the idols or like God, you either reflect or imitate the Creator or something in creation. We are at worship war every day [Psalm 135:14-18].
Idolatry blurs the line between the Creator and creation, damaging creation [me] and diminishing God’s glory. Isaiah both reveres and reflects God to the nation of Israel amidst the nations idolatry. Idolatry = whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, other than God [What is your security?]. Idolatry is wasted worship.
I remember in college I really wanted to have a new Volkswagen Jetta. It was the hottest car for college students to have. I took one out for a test drive and was enamored. The sound system was pumping and the accelerator had some get up and go. I needed to have one. Need is a very strong word. Three years ago a family member was selling their Jetta and it was in my price range. I bought it. As I drove away I though I was hot stuff. In a matter of months the luster wore off, maintenance became an issue and a new model of the Jetta rolled off the line. Isn’t that how idols works? Idols cover as needs, but when you have it, they wear out quickly.
In Isaiah 6 God gives both a command with consequence concerning what we worship:
Within God’s command He gives 3 imperatives—do not perceive, do not understand, render hearts insensitive. He says to tell the people that they will be like the idols they love: dumb, deaf and blind.”
God is judging a nation for centuries of sinful rebellion and Isaiah is chosen to deliver the bad news. His generation was the last straw. God had enough. God is slow to anger, but His patience does run out. Like Hebrew 6:1-3, God’s grace and justice are in the balance. He is gracious [slow to anger] and just [character demands consequences for sinfulness]. Isaiah would see the fulfillment of His people being destroyed. His family, childhood friends, men who sat in the cubical next to him at work would all feel the wrath of God. Can you see the tears well up in Isaiah’s eyes? What if these were your neighbors, kin or co-workers?
Did Isaiah know he would be preaching repentance 50 years to a rebellious people who would ignore His God-given message? Yes. He knew from the beginning he would be speaking to people who would be incapable of accepting correction. He knew God is gracious because His doctrine of God was inspired by God’s forgiveness.
Consequence [vs.11-13]: spiritual stumps
Isaiah asks a heart-filled question, “How Long?” The response is grim, “until there is complete devastation.” The children of God—His chosen people—will be like stumps. In other words, they will be an illustration of a ruined life to the world. Can you think of some so-called followers of Christ who are pictures of a ruined life?
However, in the midst of the smoke and rubble a remnant remains [cf. v.10 “return and be healed”]. God promises restoration no matter how far gone or deep under water His people have become. In the midst of chaos there is always Cosmos. God is a Restorer [Note: in Isaiah 7-9, God promises a Restorer who will come to His people]. Jesus is the Seed that will sprout from the stump and Restore His people through His work on the cross [cf. Isaiah 7:14; 11:1-2; 53].
Making it real: Imagine next Sunday you go to church to attend the worship service and imagine yourself in the throne room of God because He is present. Since He is here how could that affect how the Word penetrates or what comes from your mouth? Who is on the throne in your life? Who rules and calls the shots? How can the characteristics of God give you hope in times of weakness or temptation? What idols are gripping your heart?
Worship is part of our God-given DNA. We are wired [pre-wired] to worship! We were made for God [cf. Roman 11:36]. Worship begins and ends with God. He is the center of our existence. Worship is what God is all about. Worship matters because it matters to God.
Worship matters because God is [alive, authoritative, omnipotent, majestic, revered, holy, and glorious], God is pursuing willing worshipers [STOP, DROP, and ROLL], and what you worship you will become for your ruin or restoration.
Dropping the ball can be devastating and even handicapping to one’s life. Some never recover from dropping the ball. Some drop the ball so much that they just make a habit out of ball dropping. Others may think that they are superior to dropping a single ball. Whatever the case we drop balls. All that matters is how we respond after it has been dropped.
As you have probably noticed this is a parable. The ball can represent anything: a career, a relationship, a goal, or a sinful decision in your walk with God. Dropping the ball mean you have failed to live up to certain expectations that are associated with that ball.
There are many responses to dropping the ball. Some of the most common responses are:
The Blame Game Response. This person responds by saying, “Dumb ball! Who made this cheap ball? It’s too slippery!” It is the ball’s fault. It is always somebody or something that made them drop the ball. The devil gets an awful lot of blame. It seems like nobody is ever at fault for his or her own actions.
The Lone Ranger Response. This person will commonly respond, “Where were they? I cannot believe they were not here when I drop the ball! What kind of person are they? If they really loved me…” This person feels as if no one cares and they are left alone when there is no immediate comfort for their actions. I like to call this the Eeyore Response. Remember the donkey from Winnie the Pooh who is dismally gloomy for almost eternity and expects little from his friends.
The Analytical Response. This person seeks to logically understand why they dropped the ball. There might be many reasons for dropping the ball psychologically, physiologically, socially, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, hypothetically and so on. All the while they are bypassing the point of why they dropped the ball.
The Genetic Response. This person will say, “I drop the ball because my dad dropped the ball. All I know is what I was taught. I cannot help it, It is just the way I am. I drop balls, it is in my genes.” Since, there is a pattern of ball dropping in a family or down through history it is assumed that it is in our genetic make up.
The Cop-Out Response (or the Woe-is-Me Response). This person will label himself or herself by saying, “I am such a loser! I always drop the ball. Other people don’t drop the ball like I do. What’s wrong with me?” This person might realize that dropping the ball is their fault, but they don’t do anything about it.
The Fatalistic Response. This person pessimistically says, “Who Cares. I dropped the ball. So what? I will drop it again. I am only human” This person believes they are never going to carry the ball so they give up trying.
The Right Response. “It’s my fault. I dropped the ball. I’m going to pick it up and keep going.” Take ownership of your dropped balls. Pick it up and hold it tight. Share the load with others if you are in a relationship of dropped balls. Don’t look like the weenie kid on the play ground who cries to mommy because they dropped their ball and are too lazy or stubborn to get it back themselves.
God says in His Word that we must turn from your sins and embrace Christ. Acts 3:19 “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out,” And then in Acts 5:29, Peter and the other apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men! 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging Him on a tree. 31 God exalted Him to His own right hand as Prince and Savior that He might give repentance and forgiveness of sins.” There are great promises of restoration and forgiveness to those pick up their dropped balls.