[For the Audio of this sermon click on the following link]
We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know the true love of Christ said AMEN!
There was a really cheesey sitcom back in the early 1970s I remember as a kid. Called “Love American Style”. All the “groovy loving stuff” but everyone was made up all nice in the style of the day, if you remember Bert Convy, kind of smaltz. Sorry if I offended. Of course since we are all smiley and sweet and we just want to LOVE, well everything is just groovy. That show was on for five seasons? The Cornithian church was sort of the same thing, permissive, good ole Roman boys, just wanna have fun. This is not a shot at the stereotype southern “good ole boys”. This is the way it is. Seems every culture has that element. We’re going to be all responsible and appear all dignified, but when we get with the other guys, well hey, who’s going to know. The kind of mindset that is biting people in entertainment, government, education, business, sports, military, because they felt they were special and “boys will be boys” why are you spoiling our fun? That is both men and women.I ’ve seen it in all kinds of settings. The Roman good ole boys were, for the most part, retired Roman soldiers, Roman bureaucrats, those of the day who were retired to Corinth and given a pretty good pension. The types who took their past careers seriously but…. anything else, well not so seriously. I get the distinct feeling that they were the types who might even mess with Paul. Come on Paul, it’s just in fun. I think Paul had a sense of humor, I don’t think he was the “good ole boy” type, and well, kind of probably didn’t appreciate the lifestyle etc., that would be up to and including one of the members co-habitating with his father’s wife, let’s just say yada-yada…
So “Love Corinthian style”. The lead-up to today’s reading is in terms of being “one body”, the church is composed of every person in the church, the Body of Christ. When one part of that Body is hurting, or somehow dysfunctional it hurts the rest of the body, the rest of the Body feels pain e.g. if I stub my toe, the rest of the Body also suffers in terms of pain; if part of the Body decides to be defective, or functioning in some way counter to the body, such as one member of the body sleeping with his step-mother well the rest of the body just pooh-poohs, oh that’s not so bad, be a good boy, come back to the church. Love Corinthian style! Of all the churches mentioned in the New Testament, they all still exist today, except … You guessed it the Corinthian church, kinda have to wonder why. Maybe the Cornithian church was God’s object lesson to the whole church? When it served its purpose and probably became even more degenerate it simply collapsed from the weight of “Christian” pretense and just run of the mill sin.
It is a great object lesson in terms of what they-then and the American culture today refers to as “love”. This reading starts with Paul saying “And I will show you a more excellent way.” (1Cor 12:31b) Since we only read “B” part of verse 31, we miss the “A” part that says “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.” Preach it Paul! The higher, greater, satisfying, honorable, genuine love and trust! Praise God! Paul does what comes to us as one of the most compelling, instructive, passages of Scripture, what love is and does and what “love” is not and does not! What is often referred to as the “Love Chapter” of Scripture. Love is a hot topic today, what it is and what it’s not. Too often we have a culture that sees “love” as enabling, debauched, indulgent, permissive, not really love, but plain simple sin called love in order to make it nice. A culture that likes to pat the church on the head and say “you go take care of poor people, and the elderly and we will decide what “love” really is. It’s been the same through history, when the culture decides what “love” is, it always comes out as decadence. The Corinthian culture was all about decadence, calling it love. This seems to have spread through the Roman culture. The Roman culture was once strong, sensible, responsible, serious enough to conquer the world. Much of our law today is based on Roman law. Rome had a very capable government, a legal system that was amazing for its time. A culture, economy, strength and integrity, that wasn’t Christian, but was still admirable. All that came crashing down after hundreds of years under the weight of the decadence that we see a microcosm of in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. Frankly, very much of what we see in today’s culture. I’m not opening a debate on abortion, but right now we have people look you in the face and say it’s loving to abort a child at birth! The Roman’s had their own abortion debate, they’d leave babies exposed in the forest or hills to die. Christians would rescue those children.
The Greek word used by St Paul is avga,ph there are four words in Koine Greek that are translated into the English word for love. The word love in English is often understood to be anything for lust, covetousness, familiarity to altruism. The Greek word means altruism. Dr J Vernon McGee’s definition: “…the highest word for love in the New Testament and means ‘divine love’. It is more than love in the emotion; it is love in the will. It is love that chooses its object. It is a definition of God, for God is love.”
What is the opposite of love? … no it’s not hate. When you think about it, hate requires some genuine passion, you have feelings for the object of your hate. They may not be edifying feelings, but it takes work to hate. I’ve always said I really don’t hate anyone, as much as the current culture would like to live in its delusion and paint someone like me as the hater. I’ve seen hate from secular-humanists and wow! It would just take too much energy and I have genuine, important things to do. Being just ugly, nasty, really evil? I can’t rise to that.
The opposite of love is “indifference”. and that is really what today’s society is about. “I really don’t care what you do, so therefore I love you????” You want to be about love, use the discernment that God gives us. Take the time to genuinely figure it out, what is really going on and what is really necessary, not just “whatever! Do whatever you like”. That’s not love, that’s indifference and that is so much more negative and destructive in the long run! Hate destroys right now. Indifference is corrosive, negative, ugly. Don’t care it’s your problem, you deal with it. Make yourself into whatever you want, and when you find how destructive it is, hey, don’t come running to me. This is what we try to protect against in the culture, immature minds telling us what they want. I saw this on the FaceBook page of a person, what is the creed of the culture: “Love me without restriction, trust me without fear, want me without demand, and accept me for who I am.” That is a rhetorically null, translates into “leave me alone unless I want something from you” that’s what today’s society is about. When do we run out of the people who will be there to pick up the pieces, who will just stop caring?
The culture reads this part of the Bible and claims: “Paul said love is the greatest of all, and this is how I define love, so therefore, it’s all about me and how I love.” No! First, you don’t understand the definition of the word Paul is actually using. Second, you don’t understand the context. Hey why go to all that trouble, the world would say, just do it my way, why do you care anyway? Ya, I do, because what you’re selling is so destructive.
Faith and hope are imperfect. Why? In the eternal resurrection, will faith and hope be necessary? No. When we are in the perfected world God has restored, there is no need to look toward anything in faith and hope, it is right there for us. What is the one thing that will remain, that is eternal? Love! We will be in the presence of love. In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Philip Melanchthon writes: “Faith and hope have to do only with God. But love has infinite offices outwardly toward humanity.” I’d say God’s pretty important, so faith and hope are important. But love is eternal, in that respect it is the greatest. But for us today, we have to not only communicate love, but the hope and promise that we have in Christ in order to realize that eternal love with Him in the eternal resurrection, that is only for those who are in Jesus.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin
 Dr J Vernon McGee “Thru the Bible Commentary series The Epistles First Corinthians” p 152
 Philip Melanchthon “Apology of the Augsburg Confession” (Ap V 105)
The measure of anyone’s ministry is not how many people are in their church, how many blog readers or Twitter followers they have, how many books they’ve written, how many conference invitations they receive, or how many famous friends flatter us. The biblical measure of ministry is how they treat “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). How does a man treat the least important, least influential, least rewarding members of his congregation? ~ David Murray
A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more. ~ John Owen
1. Declaring the Word of Christ: Comforting the Downcast
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. (2 Cor. 1:3–6. See also 2 Tim. 4:1–8; Acts 20:17ff.; 1 Cor. 1:18–30; Rom. 10:5–17; Eph. 4:8–16; Col. 1:24–29.)
2. Patience of Demeanor: Slow to Speak, Quick to Listen
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim. 2:24–25)
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19–20)
3. Piety of Life: Humility and Trust of Counsel
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:1–5)
If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:6–9. See also 1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 2:2; 1 Cor. 10:32.)
4. Having the Goal of Love: The Aim of All He Does
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim. 1:5. See also 1 John 4:7–12.)
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1–3)
5. Edifying and Leading: Directing and Building Up the Saints
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph. 4:11–16)
6. Dying to Self: Sacrificial Living, Being Poured Out for Others
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25–28)
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Tim. 2:8–10. See also 1 Tim. 4:6.)
7. Person to Person: Overseeing the Souls of the Flock
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith…. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Heb. 13:7 and 17. See also Rom. 12:13.)
8. Wisdom from the Heart: A Deep Knowledge of God’s Word, Being Taught by the Spirit of God
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13–18. See also 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:14–17.)
[for the audio of this sermon, click on the above link]
Shamah O Israel, Yahweh Aloheny, Yahweh Ahar
I greet you in the name of our king Artaxerxes ruler of all Persia, all the kingdoms of the world. I was the cupbearer of great Artaxerxes, may he live forever. The cupbearer is a very important servant of the king. You might think of it as being sort of the king’s “food-taster”, I had other responsibilities for the kings security and supervised a staff that was responsible for his security. Artaxerxes took me into his confidence and looked to me for advice.
My name is Nehemiah, I am the son of Hack a liah. My family was brought here from Israel after they were conquered by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonians were then conquered by the Persians, King Cyrus, and we have been in captivity by the Persians since then. When Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel he decided to move many of the prominent people and families to Babylon and that is why we have been in captivity here for seventy years. But as Yahweh promised we are now being given the opportunity to move back to Israel and reestablish the land that Yahweh promised to Abraham almost two thousand years ago. Israel had become very evil and had drifted away from Yahweh and because of that Yahweh enabled Nebuchadnezzar to conquer Israel and exile most of the Israelites. It was through Yahweh’s power that Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel, the Babylonians were used by Yahweh as a stick to beat us and turn us back to Yahweh and away from our evil practices and evil “gods”.
While we have been captives we have been treated with respect and given much freedom. We have come back to Yahweh as a result of the captivity, and as I said, we are now going back to Israel as He promised. Yahweh has brought us back to Him and we return to Israel as His people, dedicated to Him and to His Word.
When I was in Shushan one of my brethren Ha nan i came to see me. He had just returned from Jerusalem as part of the process of Hebrews returning to Israel. Not all of us intend to return. Like me, many of us have been born here, we have never even seen Jerusalem and have been allowed by the Persians to make good lives here. Many of us have become successful in business, and have become prosperous, started families, our roots are now here. Many like myself, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego have been raised to positions of great authority and power, so for many of us it does not make sense to leave what we have gained and established here to return to Israel and to start over again.
As I was saying Hanani came to me after he returned from Jerusalem and what he told me was very troubling. He said: “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” (Neh 1: 3)
Please understand what this means, you simply cannot have a city that has no walls and gates. There are many threats, armies can simply march in and take whatever they want, our food, clothing, animals, all the things we depend on to live. There are many groups of bandits and marauders who will do the same thing. These walls protect us and our families. Our wives and children can be easily kidnapped and sold into slavery. If we expected to return to Jerusalem and successfully reestablish our lives, reestablish the society that Yahweh intends for us, we needed to have protection.
I did not know things were in such terrible condition. “…when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” I will tell you some of my prayer: “…Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love you and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that you may hear the prayer of your servant which I pray before you now, day and night, for the children of Israel your servants and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You… We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name. Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom you have redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name: and let Your servant prosper this day; I pray and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” (Neh 1: 5-11)
Since I was the King’s cup-bearer and had great influence with the king, I felt that Yahweh was guiding me to go to the king and ask him for his help. I took wine to the king, let’s face it, it’s not a bad thing to do something to loosen the king up before you ask him for his help. I had a very sad expression on my face and the king asked me why, this wasn’t what I was usually like. “I became dreadfully afraid and said to the king, ‘May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?’
The King understood completely why I was so upset and concerned. I asked him if he would give me letters so that I could travel to Israel and that the governors of the provinces, on the way, would provide for us and give us protection. The king also gave me “a letter for Asaph the keeper of the king’s forests, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, [and] for the city wall…”(Neh 2: 8) Artaxerxes also assigned some of his army officers and horsemen to go with us to Israel for protection and guidance.
When we got there it was as bad as I had been told. To make matters worse there were men in Israel, Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem the Arab who found out that we were coming and weren’t happy about our plans to rebuild the defenses of the city. These men were governors of the regions around Jerusalem and were perfectly happy with the way things were, they saw me as a threat to their rule and they did everything they could to keep us from restoring the walls and gates of Jerusalem.
After they saw that we were serious and making progress on our work they decided that they were going to do more than laugh at us, that they were going to attack us and drive us back to Persia so things could be the way they were. They saw us as a threat and decided they were going to remove the threat, us, before it became serious.
The workers were becoming tired and there was still much work to do, so much debris had to be removed so that we could start rebuilding the walls. We had to continue to work on the walls, that would be the only way we could assure that we would be safe. But in the meantime, we had to station men armed with swords, spears and armor behind the men who were doing the work. The men doing the work also had weapons near to them so that if there was an attack they would stop working and fight to defend the city. Well Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem didn’t attack us, but they tried another way. They tried to get me to come down to meet with them, they were accusing me of rebellion against Artaxerxes and were going to report to the king that I was trying to start a rebellion against him. They even paid Shemaiah to try to convince me that he had a prophecy from Yahweh that I was in danger and that he was going to protect me. He actually intended to kill me if I went with him.
Finally after 52 days and all sorts of conspiracies the wall was finished. It was time to give glory to Yahweh, to give thanksgiving and to celebrate. I as governor of Jerusalem had done my job to rebuild the walls and give the people returning to Jerusalem protection and a chance to rebuild our society and prosper in the land that Yahweh had promised to our father Abraham. Now our priest and scribe Ezra was called before the people to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. So he did, standing on a platform above all the people of Jerusalem and from the first hour until the sixth hour of the day, every day for seven days he read to the people. They were all attentive and remained six hours to hear God’s Laws. When Ezra began reading the people would lift up their hands and shout Amin, Amin. At the same time we celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles and we feasted for seven days. On the 24th day of that month everyone gathered together and made a public confession of sins. We all joined together and confessed our sins and asked for forgiveness and the Levites ended by standing up and said: “Stand up and bless the Lord your God Forever and ever! Blessed be Your glorious name, Which is exalted above all blessing and praise! You alone are the Lord; You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything on it, the seas and all that is in them, and you preserve them all. The host of heaven worships You… (Neh 9: 6)
Finally on the last day, led by all of the priesthood, we renewed the covenant made with God and took an oath that we would observe all the commandments of the Lord, our Lord and His ordinances and statutes. We would not marry with those who are not of Israel, we would not work on the Sabbath, that we would give our money and food to support the work of the house of our God.
Now God has sent His Son as He had promised from the beginning. We are not saved under the Law, but in the grace of Jesus. God delivered us and helped us to rebuild Jerusalem, now He has delivered all mankind through His Son Jesus. We now trust Him who died for our sins and gives us eternal life. Just as Yahweh did for us when He returned us to Jerusalem, so all of us who are in Jesus will be returned to the resurrection in the New Jerusalem.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin
Wow I wish the average person would get that. I’ve actually seen people try and undermine an activity because it wasn’t being done their way.
I spent 29 years in the Coast Guard, most of what is done is all through training and procedure. Years of experience have taught how to do things and continually reporting and evaluating has developed new ways and methods.
Great! Right? Certainly though, there will be the times when something has to be worked out. As General Stanley McChrystal responds to this question: “Can you create a flexible group without lots of debate and argument? The general’s answer: “No. In all healthy organizations, argument happens face-to-face. You debate, argue and move on.
By the way, there’s a pile of argument in the military. It just take different forms. But when the landing-craft ramp drops and hits the beach, that’s not a time to argue the plan.” (1)
Yea, and that’s what too many non-military types just don’t seem to want to understand. Even more so in terms of the fact that you are trained to be there for everyone around you, you depend on them, they depend on you, the job needs to get done and everyone needs to RTB (return to base). That seems to be a foreign concept to most civilians, that includes police, politicians, medical persons, computer salesmen, pretty much everyone. It has to be their name on it, they have to have the recognition. In the civilian world “it doesn’t matter who gets the credit, so long as the job is accomplished”, is almost thought to be stupid. Of course it matters who gets the credit, because after all in our society today, it’s all about me.
Now I have worked in corporations, very successful ones, where it was understood that we needed to get this done and we all got the job done. Those were great places to work. Too many of those places and that includes some places in civilian government I worked where it was dealing with the clueless who were sure it was all about them.
This also extends to the church. Frankly it is astounding that the one place you would think that you would find some genuine altruism, is actually way to much about me and my way. People who are sure they are oh so smarter than everyone else. I know how to parse a Greek verb and I was number one in my class in Wheatfield, South Dakota, so everyone should listen to me. Smart people who aren’t very smart. Who don’t understand teamwork and synergy because they’ve been so caught up in themselves for so long.
This is Jesus’ church, not yours. Whether you are clergy or lay people. Frankly laypeople need a serious wakeup! Just because you can sell cars, or build something does not mean you know what a church is about. Maybe we can all get together and genuinely figure it out.
Please let’s really put the silly aside, it’s not about you. It’s about Christ first, last and always. The landing-craft ramp has dropped. God put us in the world for a reason and He has given us the plan, it’s the Bible and His Church. So let’s all set aside the entertainment, the unrelated silly and really do something with Jesus’ church. It really can be great being a part of a team that can bring Jesus in the world. For way too many of you out there who can’t get past your ego, you probably wonder why you’ve never been part of a winning team. It’s cause you try to do your own thing on that beach and then wonder why you get snuffed all the time.
(1) General Stanley McChrystal to RichKarlgaard in Forbes Magazine Oct 24, 2017 p 26