I’d like to look take a closer look at Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that we heard in our second reading today.
Paul called to be an apostle of Christ.
Paul, formerly, Saul, of Tarsus, which today is southern Turkey came from a wealthy family and was a Roman citizen. He was educated in Jerusalem by a renowned Jewish teacher by the name of Gamaliel and was a well-respected member of his community. Acts 26:5 tells us he was also a Pharisee.
Paul was infamous for hunting out and imprisoning and even killing followers of The Way, the early Christians. He was an avid follower of Jewish Law and was set on destroying anyone or any movement that didn’t follow it too. Acts 7:58 provides clear evidence of this, when he actively encourages the stoning of Stephen.
In short, he was a devoted believer in God and he saw Jesus and his followers as upstarts and trouble makers, leading people away from the righteous path of God, and they needed to be stopped.
So why did Jesus choose him. Would you choose one of your biggest enemies to promote you and your story? Can you imagine someone really hated you, didn’t believe in you, actively working against you, running your campaign of spreading the ‘good news about you’ or bringing in new business? Wouldn’t work would it, they would probably do the opposite, try to destroy you or reap havoc!
But actually, in the case of Paul, he was so infamous with his hate for Jesus and his followers, that his sudden conversion and subsequent fervent following of Christ would quickly spread throughout the nation, giving the message that, This Jesus, This Way … … there must be something more in it.
He chose Paul because he worked so hard for God and put all his efforts into his beliefs and no one compared to him. Paul was able to communicate with Kings and could speak with confidence.
As Peter was the rock of the early church, Paul would be the shepherd of the gentiles.
Paul was perfect for the job!
Paul had the skills, the knowledge and the enthusiasm to lead the Gentiles, the non-Jewish, to Christ.
His thirst for God and The Law were exactly the qualifications Jesus needed to spread the news to all the world, that Jesus was the living God … … resurrected. His conversion complete, Paul now knew his destiny.
So why did Paul visit and write to Corinth and why did he write to them twice. Where they special?
Yes Corinth was special because it was five times larger than Athens and was one of the richest ports and largest cities in ancient Greece. It was ideally located, and was a well-known commercial centre, adjacent to two thriving seaports. It also had its downsides. It was a place where prostitutes were openly used alongwith other sinful activities, but the advantages outweighed the disadvantages for Paul.
The city was young, open to change and not stuck in tradition. It was inhabited by various individuals with no particular religious followings.
A perfect and most influential place for Paul to preach the gospel of Christ and to plant a new Church.
We read that Paul always thanks God for the Church at Corinth because of the grace given to them in Christ Jesus.
As I mentioned earlier, Corinth was a place filled with sexual immorality and was full of sin.
Things were going wrong, the Church was becoming divided with differences of opinion, about who was following who. Serious problems had arisen … … …
Yet Paul always thanks God because of the grace given to them in Christ Jesus!
Don’t know about you, but there doesn’t seem to be a great deal to be celebrating here or much to be thanking God for.
Chaos and even some disbelief was occurring within Paul’s newly formed church in Corinth. Divisions and arguments were becoming so common place, that the residents of Chloe’s household felt they needed to write and ask Paul for help.
When the news reaches Paul about these divisions within the Church, he doesn’t rebuke the Corinthians, quite the opposite, he reminds them that God loves them, God is faithful and the church can place all their faithfulness in God, which in turn will secure the future of their church and make them strong.
God has blessed and enriched the Corinthians in every way through the grace of Jesus. They lack no spiritual gift and they are to eagerly wait for the return of Jesus. God will keep them strong to the end because they are called into fellowship with his Son.
This sounds like praise rather than a good telling off doesn’t it ...
So ... there are divisions within the church, arguments and not much unity and Paul thanks God!!!
Remember what Karen Kendall said last week, when the Church is divided and full of arguments, those outside the Church don’t see Jesus, they just see Church, making Christianity very unattractive.
I remember one night at the vicarage, having a very heated debate with Bruce a few years ago, where I was so fired up I don’t think he got a word in ‘edge ways’. He patiently waited for me to take a breath, then seized his chance and asked me;
‘Sarah, where is Jesus in all this’ it stopped me in my tracks for a moment, before replying I don’t know … and I continued for another 20 minutes and once again he waited patiently for a gap to speak and he repeated the same question;
‘Sarah, where is Jesus in all this’? to which I replied;
‘What’s he got to do with it’ … … … …
I remember driving home that night, thinking, he didn’t listen to a word I said. He was listening, but he was focussed on bringing my thoughts back to Jesus.
I had fallen away from Jesus, I was focussed on my own interests and had lost my way, just as the Corinthians had.
The question; Where is Jesus in all this; has served me well and will continue to serve and remind me that my life is about Jesus, about His will, not mine.
Paul urges the Corinthians to put aside their differences and to be united and in one mind with Christ.
He reminded them they are blessed with God’s Grace;
But what is Grace and did the Corinthians understand it – I doubt it.
Grace is divine favour from God, that we cannot earn nor do we deserve, but is available to each and every one of us. (Read twice).
Grace cannot be earned through good deeds, but by Faith and obedience to the Gospel.
Salvation is given to us only by grace. It is impossible for us to obtain a perfect righteousness by our own faith or our own good works. This is why God gives us salvation by grace - its a gift.
Grace and works are exact opposites. Rewards come with the practice of works, but mercy comes through receiving grace. In the Bible, salvation is always and exclusively by grace.
When you really understand this, you have truly grasped the meaning of Faith, giving you access to Grace, the two cannot be separated.
But we CAN ‘fall from Grace’ if we let our faith diminish, just like the Corinthians did. Paul is reminding them of this.
To fall away from Grace is to be severed from Jesus.
Remember, it is through our true belief and personal relationship in Jesus, through our faith, that we will unlock the secret of Grace, which will lead us to eternal life.
It sounds like the end is nigh when we here it; ‘oh he’s fallen from Grace’ … … The truth is, we fall from Grace on a regular basis, which is why we need to confess our sins and use our Faith to rekindle our relationship with Jesus, to enjoy God’s Grace.
So Paul is thanking God for continuing to believe in the Corinthians by his Grace … … (God still has Faith in them) and Paul urges them to return to their Faith because God has called them into fellowship with his son.
Even Paul, who, was not just a sinner, but an opposer of Jesus, was saved by the wonderful gift of Grace.
So God believes in us all, but do we all really believe in him? Have you gained access to Grace by your Faith, or have you fallen away?
Are we busy doing good deeds hoping to gain favour with those around us and not really focussing on Jesus?
Next time you fall out with someone, in the choir, over the flower arrangements, making the coffee or disagreeing with the Vicar, or whose turn is it to do something;
Ask yourself; Where is Jesus in all this?
Questions for discussion:
1. Do you understand the true meaning of Grace?
2. How can you make sure that you are receiving God’s Grace?
3. Do you believe Christians can ‘fall from Grace’, even though they are still attending Church?
4. What message do you think we give out when we fall out and quarrel within the Church family?