Wednesday 13 July 2011

Do everything in love (1 Corinthians 16:12-24)


Reading today’s passage is like watching the movie credits. The movie has ended; people are getting up. Everyone is going home. No one stays back for the movie credits. Well, maybe if it’s a Jackie Chan movie and there are those cool shots of Jackie doing crazy stunts that went wrong. Even so, you are not looking at the credits; not at those names scrolling up in the background. Who wants to read a list of names that goes on and on?

Today’s passage is like that. Who would read this? It is just a list of names that goes on and on.

But the credits remind us that a lot work happens behind the scenes. This week, our brother Sid is getting married. And he can tell you: The work that goes on behind the scenes; it is hard work. It is important work: Months of planning, lots of preparation and lots of good friends that go into making that one wedding day possible.

Today Paul wants to draw our attention to the people who make church possible. You don’t always notice them. But there are lots of them. And they work tirelessly, faithfully in the background. Paul introduces us to three of these ministries today. (1) There is the academic (verse 12); (2) the band of brothers (verses 17-18); and (3) an encouraging couple (verse 19). Three ministries that help make church possible; that help make mission effective; that help make worship worthwhile.

The all-star academic

Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity.
1 Corinthians 16:12

What is wrong this guy? Just reading verse 12: Apollos sounds like someone who doesn’t want to come to church. Paul wants him to come, his friends keep sending him messages on Facebook, but he doesn’t keeps giving excuses. Actually, that’s not the whole story. For the real story on Apollos, we need to turn to the book of Acts. Because there we see a different Apollos. There we see Apollos, the all-star academic.

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue.
Acts 18:24-25

Here is a guy who graduated from the top bible college with top marks in Hebrew and Old Testament Theology. This guy was smart! “He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.” But more than that, this guy had guts! Verse 25 says that Apollos preached in the synagogue. Today, that would be equivalent to going to a mosque, on a Friday afternoon after the prayers, in the middle of Baghdad; opening up your bible and going, “Let me tell you about Jesus.”

Apollos was looking for trouble. He was fearless. In the synagogue he was taking on theologians, rabbis and scholars. And he was arguing from their scriptures – from their Old Testament – to prove that Jesus really was the Christ.

Now if Apollos is this maverick; he is this hot shot evangelist... so why does verse 12 imply that he wasn’t really all that fearless. In fact, verse 12 literally says Apollos did not want to go to Corinth “at all” (“pantos”). He resolutely refused to step foot into Corinth.

This is all the more surprising considering Corinth was pretty much like Cambridge two thousand years ago. It a city was full of thinkers, debaters and philosophers. In Corinth, a guy Apollos would be respected. In Corinth, a guy like Apollos would be revered for his intelligence, his wit and his boldness.

Paul wanted him to go. And we know from Chapter 1, the church wanted him to go. In fact, there is every indication that the church wanted someone like Apollos to be their pastor. But Apollos said No.

The perfect pastor

Let me put it another way: Many of you know we are looking for a pastor to serve at the Chinese Church. People want a pastor who can preach. People want a pastor who is good with kids; who has a degree; who has experience.

Now imagine we found the perfect pastor – someone smart, loving, experienced, humble. Imagine he was the perfect guy – the Cantonese congregation loves him; the Mandarin congregation respects him; the English congregation thinks this guy is cool!

Imagine this perfect candidate wrote back saying, “No. I don’t want to be your pastor. I don’t want to be anywhere near your church.” If that happened, some of us would say, “How rude!” Yong soi!” And that may very well be the case. But at some point, some of us may ask, “What is wrong with us? What is the reason why this perfect pastor doesn’t want to serve in our church?”

Apollos was the perfect pastor for the CCCC  – the Corinthian City Christian Church. And the reason why he refused to serve there was because of their pride.

You see, the Corinthian Church is possibly the most gifted and the most spiritual church in all of the New Testament. But it is also the most sinful. Again and again, Paul deals with horrible situations in this gifted yet proud church. They were proud because of their gifts. They were sinful yet boastful about their sins. They were rich and looked down on the poor.

And this church in Corinth wanted a pastor like Apollos - not that there is anything wrong with wanting a good pastor, or even a gifted pastor – but they wanted a pastor like Apollos because they were saying of themselves, “We are smart, we are gifted; so we deserve a pastor who is as smart and as gifted as us.”

What kind of pastor are we looking for here in the Chinese Church? The bible is warning us to check our motives. Because what we want from our leaders; what we demand from our pastors – sometimes says more about us, than about our leaders.

The bible tells us what God requires of his servants. They must be faithful. They must love Jesus. They must preach this book. If you are curious, the two passages that spell this out are 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. There is nothing in there about university degrees or charismatic personalities. The bible is clear that elders and pastors (the two are one and the same) are to be faithful men, leading faithful lives, preaching the bible faithfully.

The thing we need to see about Apollos is that he wasn’t just smart. He was faithful. We see this in Acts where it says that Apollos “taught about Jesus accurately”. What does accurately mean? It means everything he said about Jesus 100% correct. That’s accurate. He scored 100% in his Theology paper.

But in the very next verse we read:

When Priscilla and Aquila heard his, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
Acts 18:26

Where it says “adequately” – they explained to Apollos adequately – the word is actually the exact same word as before in verse 25. It is “accurately”. They explained Jesus more accurately to Apollos.

Hold on! How to get more accurate, than accurate? How do you score higher that 100%?

We get a clue at the end of verse 25, “(Apollos) knew only the baptism of John”. John’s baptism is the turning away from sin in order to repent, or turn, to God. John recognised that Jesus came to bring God’s kingdom. That meant judgement on sin was round the corner. All this was true. All this was accurate.

But all this was not complete. Jesus came to take our sin upon himself. Jesus took God’s punishment that we deserved for our sins, upon himself when he died on the cross. Apollos did not know that. He did not know about the cross. Everything he said up to this point was correct. It just wasn’t complete. Without the cross, we will not get a complete picture of who Jesus is and what he came to do. Without the cross, the bible can be read accurately, it can be taught academically, but it won’t be preached faithfully. Not without the cross.

Being academic does not mean long bible studies and big words. It just means you leave out the cross. You haven’t understood the point of God’s message. The whole point of Rock Fellowship each week, when we meet to read the bible and hear God’s word, whether it is Old Testament or New Testament; whether it is Exodus or 1 Corinthians is to answer this question: How does this help me understand why Jesus died on the cross?

The cross changed Apollos from an all-star academic to a faithful preacher of the gospel. Together with Paul, he planted the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:6). Together with Paul, he recognised the church in Corinth needed not another big personality as their pastor. They needed the gospel. They need to hear about the cross of Jesus Christ.

The band of brothers

You know the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in their work, and labours at it. I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaiacus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.
1 Corinthians 16:15-18

Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus are Heng Tai. They are the bros. When you need help, they are there. When you need a lift to Rock, they’ll pick you up in their sports cars. When you are down, they come over with pizza and watch football with you. These are the guys your count on. They are reliable, dependable and faithful.

And Paul says twice - in verses 16 and 18 – these guys deserve respect. Such men deserve recognition. Why? Because often we don’t respect them. Often they don’t get recognised. They work tirelessly in the background. They keep serving without any expectation of reward. They are the Backstreet Boys – or, as I like to call them, the Backside Boys.

They are taken for granted. And Paul says they deserve more than that.

Do you know when I wrote this sermon? 11pm last night in a pub. (Was I drunk? Yes, on a can of Coke.)

I was in the pub with WM, D, J and Sid on his night out with the guys, the week before his big wedding day. Sid was out with his Heng Tai. (What do Christian guys do on stag nights? They drink coke, eat Monster Munch snacks and talk about the sermon.) Let me ask you: When it’s your turn to get married, who is going to take you out on your guys/girl’s night out? Do you have brothers or sisters like these – with whom you can share your happiest moments in life? With whom, you can share your struggles and tough times? You might have 200 friends on Facebook (some of us have more), but who are your real friends? These guys – Stephanas, Fortunatus and Archaicus – Paul mentions just these few; these three made a big difference in his life and ministry. They were dependable friends. They were trustworthy friends. They were his brothers in Christ.

Now there is a special reason why Paul writes about these three brothers. And it isn’t because he hangs out with them every weekend to play Soul Calibre 3 on Playstation. These three brothers were responsible for the letter of 1 Corinthians.

Back in Chapter 1, Paul who is away in Ephesus, hears about the situation in the church in Corinth through these brothers. They bring him the news about the problems and conflict going on back home. And now in Chapter 16, we see that Paul has written this letter of 1 Corinthians as a response and it is the brothers who are entrusted with carrying this letter all the way back to the church. The reason for this is very clear in verse 18, “For they refreshed my spirit and yours also.” Paul is saying: these men have made an impact on my life and yours. And even though, some of you have a big problem with me; some of you have a big problem with what I am saying in this letter; these brothers – Stephanas, Fortunatus and Archaicus – are there to bridge the gap. You know them and love them. I know them and I love them.

Here is an important reason why such brothers are so valuable in the church. It isn’t just because they are the ones who set up the chairs every week. It is because they display the integrity of the gospel. Even those who are offended by what they stand for cannot deny their love and service in Jesus.

Men: Don’t try to be Jerks for Jesus. In the name of passionate service for God it is easy for us guys to get carried away. Instead of being more like Jesus, we act more like jerks. We start bossing people around. We tell people off. We act tough. But all in the name of ministry. That isn’t ministry. And these aren’t these guys.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.
1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Verse 13, where it says “be men of courage”; it literally says, “Act like men.” And many men hear verse 13 like a call to war. Yeah, I be on my guard! Yeah, I’ll stand my ground! I will be a man – courageous and strong! That’s me all right.

They don’t hear verse 14. Do everything in love. Stephanas, Fortunatus and Archaicus are men – real men, who stand up for Paul and live out the gospel. But they have “devoted themselves to the service of the saints” (Verse 15). Meaning: they live to serve others.

Are you like these guys? Do you “refresh the spirits” of the people around you? Meaning: in your service, is it in love? Or do you just rub people the wrong way – all in the name of serving Jesus?

Every week, after Rock Fellowship, I get back and watch the Apprentice. It is very engaging. Some of the most talented, business-savvy individuals in competition with one another for a once-in-a-lifetime business deal with Lord Sugar. And each time I watch it, I am reminded how tempting it is to serve Jesus the way these young executives try to serve Lord Sugar. On the Apprentice, you don’t have friends. On the Apprentice, you use your friends to get ahead.

It reminds me of what Jesus said to his disciples:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:25-28

Jesus came not to be served. He came to serve us. That is how we see his greatness. God became a servant in humility and submission. The Son of Man gave his life. In the same way, those who serve Jesus – the word service (diakonia) is where we get the word, ministry – will serve their brothers and sisters in love and commitment.

And Paul says in this passage, these brothers and sisters – these servants – deserve recognition and respect.

The enterprising couple

The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings, Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets in their house.
1 Corinthians 16:19

Aquila and Priscilla are, I think, the most godliest, exemplary, mission-minded married couple in the New Testament. They are mentioned 7 times in the bible; in Acts, Romans, Ephesians, 1 Corinthians and 2 Timothy.

Who are they? They weren’t missionaries. They weren’t preachers. They were not employed by the church. Instead, they ran a business making tents. It was a very successful business because they were able to afford houses in big cities like Rome, Ephesus and Corinth. That’s like having a condo in Hong Kong, a house in London and a villa in France. If you have three houses in three big cities, you are loaded!

And here in verse 19, we see what they used these houses for. Bible study. “The church that meets in their house,” Paul says, they say Hi. In each of these homes (there may be more, but these three at least we know of in the bible) Aquila and Priscilla said to the church, “Use this house as a place of fellowship, worship and ministry.” In other words, they had Rock Fellowship there every week. Or when J comes back on holiday from seminary, M will open her house to host a barbeque. Or when Q is leaving for HK, W invites all the youth to bake cakes and has a big farewell celebration.

My point is: all this is ministry. This is mission. Opening your homes and inviting people to come into your lives.

Now what’s the big deal? Look with me back at Acts 18. Do you remember Apollos, the academic? Well it says there in verse 26 that Aquila and Priscilla heard Apollos preaching. It must have been impressive – like listening to Mark Driscoll; full of passion and energy. Loads of scripture. But it was obvious also to them, that Apollos, as impressive as he was, didn’t yet know of the cross (Acts 18:25).

So what did they do? Did they rebuke him publicly? “You think you’re such a hot shot? Well, you don’t really know the full story about Jesus do you? You only know the baptism of John!” No. They didn’t do anything of the sort. Instead, we read:

When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
Acts 18:26

They invited Apollos home. They said to him, “Come over for tea and some jammie dodgers, and we would like to tell you more about what happened to Jesus when he died and rose again.” They used their home as a place of ministry. They didn’t bring Apollos to a church to hear a sermon (in fact, they were in the synagogue already). Instead, they invited Apollos to their house and witnessed to him there. And the result? The ancient equivalent of Billy Graham. Apollos continued to be a powerful witness for Jesus. Except now he was able to preach the gospel more faithfully and powerfully. Thanks to this married couple and their commitment to the gospel, and their generosity to others.

Could you use your home to serve Jesus? It is wonderful when you invite your friends over on Sunday to join us at the Chinese Church. But how about having them over to watch Wimbledon? How about hosting a VISA course in your apartment?

Hebrews 13 reminds us as Christians: “Do not forget to entertain strangers for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:12). The point is not that angels will turn up on your doorstep one day (though the author was thinking of Abraham when he welcomed God himself without knowing it at first). The point is: You don’t know. You don’t know how God will use that simple act of love and generosity to bring about a great deal of good and blessing. You could be witnessing to the next Apollos. He might be the next John Piper. She might be the next Helen Roseveare.

Aquila and Priscilla didn’t have to leave their jobs. They didn’t have to leave home. Instead, they used their jobs and they used their homes to serve Jesus. Paul says this is what ministry looks like.

No other name

Paul is giving credit where credit is due. He isn’t alone in ministry. Together with Apollos; together with Stephanas, Fortunatus and Archaicus (Or Steffi, Tuna and Archie); and together with Aquila and Priscilla – they all serve one Lord and one God: Jesus. As far as they are concerned, Jesus is the only name that matters in the end.

If anyone does not love the Lord—a curse be on him. Come, O Lord!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.
1 Corinthians 16:22-24

It is all about Jesus. If you don’t love Jesus, then it doesn’t matter how big a success you are: You are an enemy of God and his judgement still stands against you. But if you love Jesus, you will serve him and want to see his name glorified and praised.

Help me to do everything in love.
In love for Jesus, who loved me
In love for my brothers and sisters,
the church for whom Jesus gave his life.

That in all things, Jesus will be glorified and made much of.
In His wonderful name I pray,

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