“Despite their self-perception as wise, mature, and sophisticated, Paul makes it clear to the Corinthians that they still have much growing to do. Their tendency towards quarrelling and jealousy is a sign of their immaturity. There is no place for such behavior in the body of Christ. When we allow ourselves to be divided by boasting, factions, or allegiance to specific leaders or teachers, it demonstrates that we have not fully understood the core principles of the gospel. When we view other churches as competition rather than as fellow laborers, we risk dividing the body of Christ and facing God’s judgement and punishment in our own lives.”
2000 years ago, God in the ultimate act of love he ultimate act of love, became a human and lived among us. Born to an unwed peasant mother and raised by her carpenter husband, Jesus lived a perfect life, teaching about the kingdom of God and proclaiming his own divinity. Despite his innocence, he was arrested and sentenced to death by crucifixion at the hands of the religious and political leaders of the time. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. Three days after his burial, he rose again, victorious over sin and death. Now, he sits at the right hand of God, ruling over all things in heaven and preparing to return to earth one day to renew and restore the world and bring judgement upon all people. This may sound unbelievable, but it is the truth, and it is the only message that holds the power to save us from our sins.
The problems of division, factions, and idolizing church leaders are not unique to our time. From the earliest days of Christianity, believers have struggled with maintaining unity and avoiding the temptation to put leaders on pedestals. In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul seeks to address these issues by reminding them that the church belongs solely to Jesus. It is through Jesus’ death and resurrection that we are saved, it’s his name we are baptized into, and it is only through his power that the church can thrive and move forward.
The world is an unsteady place. Our lives can be turned upside down in a moment. One event, one phone call, one diagnosis can shake us or shatter us. Sometimes God allows this shaking to reveal to us our own fragility and the fragility of the things we have built our lives upon. There are a few things we need to know when we are feeling shaken. First, while God may shake us God himself is is never shaken. Second, when God shakes the world, he does so with a plan and purpose in mind. Third, God’s shaking is ultimately done with the purpose of restoration and justice, God is working out a plan of redemption through Jesus that is our sure foundation.
We will be walking through John 11 & 12 and the story of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus and his resurrection. Looking at the various ways they said yes to Jesus and challenging us to make the coming year a time when we will live to say yes to whatever Jesus is saying.
We often go searching for joy and settle for happiness instead. Happiness is a product of the present, it’s a result of my current circumstances. Joy however is rooted in both the past and the future. In order to find lasting joy and not just momentary happiness we have to root ourselves in the faithfulness of God in the past and the certainty of what he has promised to us in the future. We can find joy by reminding ourselves that just as God was faithful in fulfilling his promise to provide a rescuer and redeemer he will also be faithful in fulfilling his promise to one day come again to renew and restore all that sin has broken.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote: “To live without hope is to cease to live.” As human beings we need hope, and yet so often what we end up placing our hope in disappoints us and lets us down. In a world filled with politicians, products, and people that don’t live up to the promises they make to us. In a time where the hope of perpetual progress seems to have been dashed; where can we find the hope we need? In Romans 15:1-13 Paul shows us how the hope we’ve been searching for is ultimately found in Christ. In him we can find a hope that will never fail, never disappoint, a can transform our lives and overflow out of us to bring transformation to the world around us.
As Paul says a tearful goodbye to the elders of the church in Ephesus we see two things about his ministry and calling. First, we see that wherever God placed Paul for however long He placed him there Paul was fully present and invested. His life, lived out daily, gave testimony to the message he proclaimed. The second thing we see is that Paul didn’t hesitate to go when God had a new assignment for him, even when that assignment was likely to lead to his suffering and even his death. For most of us it’s easy to become slaves of either the future or slaves to our comfort. We’re either too busy thinking about what God might have for us later that we don’t invest where He has placed us now or we get so comfortable with where we are now that we aren’t obedient to Him when He calls us someplace new. We need to be a people who are fully invested in the mission of God wherever He has placed us now and fully ready to obey the call of God wherever it may take us in the future.
It’s one thing to confess that salvation comes through Christ alone, but it’s another to truly believe it and live it out. With Gentiles now being included into what had previously been a Jewish-only church the idea that Jesus alone saves began to be put to the test. What about circumcision? What about the Jewish dietary laws? Doesn’t being a Christian also require one to follow the law of Moses? Even today it can be a struggle for us to believe that Jesus alone is enough to save. Can you be saved and not baptized? Doesn’t being a Christian also require giving to the church? Serving in the Church? Reading your Bible? While all of those are good things, maybe even obvious fruit of someone who has truly been saved, what the council of Jerusalem proclaimed and what God makes clear in scripture, is that salvation = Jesus + nothing.
If you were a member of the early Christian community the last person in the world you would have expected to become a key individual in God’s plan to grow and expand His church would have been Saul of Tarsus. In Acts 8:3 Luke describes Saul as “ravaging the church” going from house to house dragging off men and women who were Christians and sending them to prison, yet by the time we come to Acts 9:20 that same Saul is “proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues saying, “He is the Son of God.” The story of Saul is a reminder that God works in unexpected ways through unexpected people and is proof that no matter their past, no one is beyond the transforming power of God’s grace.