How do we live together well? 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

2 Corinthians 13.11-13

How do we live together well?

After all we are all quite different. We have our own agendas and priorities, we invest our identities in different things – our families, countries, jobs, wealth, number of followers on Instagram. We have our own fears, likes and dislikes – whether that is films or music or what we find attractive and desirable. We live in different ways, eat different foods, have different expectations of what is good behaviour. We see things in different ways and we think in different ways.

And then we have the issue of our petty little egos and pride, of politics and power play, of trying to get my own way even if it means I trample over others

The Corinthian church struggled to live well together.

There were factions, there were bitter disputes about which group was the most spiritual, there were divisions between factions. There even appear to be the embryos of denominational splits – parties which grouped around an individual. There was snobbery, in groups and out groups. When they came together for shared lunches, the rich didn’t actually share. They brought their hampers from GUM and ate them in one part of the church while others – who had nothing – were left with the soup and the cheese.

And there were some pretty horrific moral outrages. They had a wrong view of the body. There was the view that what you did with your body didn’t matter. And as a result there was a great deal of sexual license. One man was sleeping with his father’s wife, and some in the church were saying – look at how open and inclusive we are. And yet the wider community beyond the church was scandalised.

And Paul writes to them, and as he concludes his letter, he urges them to sort themselves out.

‘Put things in order’ (v11).

Do something about that man because if you don’t, when I come, I will have to use the authority that God has given to me to cut him off from the church. Don’t you realise that this sort of thing is insidious? It is like ground elder. It starts in one place and if you do not get it out, it creeps everywhere. It divides people and it shames the church.

And he confronts the divisions and he writes, ‘agree with one another, live in peace’.

But as any parent or teacher knows, telling fighting children to be nice to each other, and to agree with each other, is not going to get you very far. You need something more.

And so Paul says: Listen to me, to my teaching, and look at God. Look at the God who is with you, and the God who is changing you.

The God who is with you: 
‘Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you’ (v11)

The story is told of the church in South Africa in the days of Apartheid. A black man came to the church and asked to be allowed in. They refused him. For three successive weeks he asked to come. And each time they said ‘No, this church is for white people only. Go away’. So he went away and prayed: ‘God’, he says, ‘For three weeks I’ve tried to get into that church, and they won’t let me in’. To which God replied, ‘What are you complaining about? I’ve tried for 10 years and they still won’t let me in’.

There is a warning here in verse 11. When we shut our ears to the word of God and when we close our hearts to other people – then we are in serious danger of pushing the God of love and peace out.

But Paul also prays for the Corinthian Christians, that God will change them:

‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you’ (v13)

1. He prays that they will know the grace of the Lord Jesus.

There was a common belief, in the 1940s, that eating grapes could heal a rare cancer. Today that is not considered good science – although it is true that grapes are good for your health. However, the story is told of the woman in wartime Belgium whose son had this cancer. Her doctor told her that if her son did not eat grapes, then he would die. But there were no grapes to be found. The only grapes were in the private vineyard of the King of Belgium.

You can imagine her desperation. She sold what she could, counted up her money and went to the king and asked him if he would sell her some grapes. He said, ‘No. I will not sell them to you. They are far too precious and valuable and you would never be able to afford them’. But then he continued, ‘I will however give them to you. You can take them – but you must take them as a gift or not at all’.

That is grace.

God’s riches – his love, forgiveness, our adoption as sons and daughters of God, our freedom from condemnation, from the power of sin and death, the presence of God with us and in us, the hope of heaven and of all things – God’s riches given to us as a free gift.

We cannot earn them, we do not merit them.

We receive them as a gift, or not at all.

Grace is both a beautiful thing and a terrifying thing.

If I receive something by grace, then it means that I recognise that I deserve nothing, I am owed nothing, that everything that I have is gift.

a) That is true for life itself:

And all that we have is a gift of grace.

What did you do to merit life, to merit being born?

What did you do to merit or deserve what you have?

You may claim that you have earned what you have, that you worked hard to achieve it. But who gave you the ability to do what you do, to work hard; who gave you your talents and abilities, who put you in the right place at the right time, and what did you do to deserve the so-called ‘lucky breaks’?

b) And as for our salvation:

Who calls us, who opens our eyes to see God, who opens our ears to hear his word, who gives us the desire to call on God, who keeps us in the faith?

This is no cheap grace. It cost so much.

It cost the death of the only Son of God, Jesus Christ

Grace is spelt GRACE: God’s riches at Christ’s expense

And when I realise that everything that I have and I am is a gift of grace, then I begin to realise my dependence on the gift of Christ. It means I realise that I owe everything to him.

The story is told of Nicolaus Zinzendorf, the founder of the Moravian church. One day, as a student, he was walking round a gallery, and he saw the painting of Christ hanging in agony on the cross, Ecce Homo by Domencia Feti. Underneath were the words, "This have I suffered for you; now what will you do for me?" Zinzendorf was both touched by the Holy Spirit and convicted, noting: "I have loved Him for a long time, but I have never actually done anything for Him. From now on I will do whatever He leads me to do."

And so Paul prays that the grace of Jesus Christ, the goodness of Christ, the generosity of God in Christ will be with them – will overwhelm them and fill them.

Because when that happens, there is no place for pride, no place for looking down at others, no place for judging and condemning others, no place for hanging on to what we have when we could be giving, but a recognition of our naked dependence on God.

2. He prays that they will know the love of God.

When Paul speaks of God, he speaks of ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (eg 2 Corinthians 1:3). He speaks of Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of the Father, the visible image of the invisible God.

Today is Trinity Sunday. It is the love of God which is at the heart of the Trinity. It is the love of the Father God for Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, which is their source, their unity, their purpose and their destiny. And that love reaches out, floods out, through them to us.

It is a scary place to be completely dependent on another.

But when you realise that the person we are dependent on is God and that they love us, when we realise that God delights in us, wants the absolute best for us, and that we are invited to be part of him just as he wants to be part of us for eternity - then we can trust him.

So often conflict comes because we think we need to prove ourselves, or to prove the thing in which we put our identity.
I am British and in order to prove that I am someone, I need to prove to you - and to myself - that being British is best. In those classic lyrics of Flanders and Swan in one of their songs, ‘The English, the English, the English are best, I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest’.

But seriously, when we know that we are beloved of God – why are we trying to find our identity in our nationality, or our football club, or our job, or our sexuality or whatever?

If you have received the grace of Christ, then you are a child of God, you are beloved of God – and that is the basis of our identity.

Paul writes elsewhere, ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:18).

3. He prays that they will know the fellowship of the Holy Spirit

The order is important.

We meet with Christ. We hear of the astonishing gift of God, of the good news of forgiveness, peace with God and eternal life. We look at the cross and we receive his grace.

Through Christ we come to know God as our Father, and the love of God.

And then we come to know of the presence of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us, drawing us together to be one body, one family.

It is the Holy Spirit who brings the love of God into our hearts. He begins to help us see people and things and situations as God sees them. He helps us to begin to look at others – even those we despise or fear – with a love: wanting the very best for them for eternity.

So I finish with this testimony from someone who wrote as a recovering alcoholic – who, at the same time, was becoming a Christian. Her name is Heather King. She was looking at the other people in the church she had started to attend.

“My first impulse was to think, My God, I don't want to get sober (or in the case of the church, worship) with THESE nutcases! (or boring people, or people with different politics, taste in music, food, books, or whatever). Nothing shatters our egos like worshipping with people we did not hand-pick …. The humiliation of discovering that we are thrown in with extremely unpromising people! — people who are broken, misguided, wishy-washy, out for themselves. People who are … us.

But we don't come to church to be with people who are like us in the way we want them to be. We come because we have staked our souls on the fact that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the church is the best place, the only place, to be while we all struggle to figure out what that means. We come because we'd be hard pressed to say which is the bigger of the two scandals of God: that he loves everyone else – or that he loves us.”

 


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