2 Corinthians 13
I was listening to the General Assembly debates last week.
I may be wrong in this, as I wasn't listening all that intently, just getting snippets here and there.
But it did seem to me that what they seemed to be saying between the lines was, ’You know how we have been saying that things might not be as bad as we think they are. Well maybe they are as bad as we think they are.’
And that doesn't seem all that encouraging.
So I thought that I would try to give us a kind of encouraging message.
And this is it.
Don’t worry about it.
Don’t worry about the future of the church.
Don't worry about the age of the church members or the age of the ministers or the finances of the church.
Today is the day that we can show God’s love through our life. Concentrate on that.
Why should I say that?
Well people have always worried about the church.
And I don't think that worry really gets us anywhere.
And when I say always, I mean always.
Like the very first churches in existence...people worried about them.
We know that because the New Testament is mainly letters written to the new churches. And these letters aren’t all about how wonderful they are. They aren’t about how young everyone is, or about how successful they are, and how great their finances are, or how the church is booming in numbers.
These letters are about all the problems that they have.
And the way that you know what the church is really like, is you see what the author is asking them to do, and reverse it, because if the church was doing what the author wanted them to do, then he wouldn't need to ask them to do it.
So what was the church in Corinth like?
Well from this one chapter alone we can tell it was in a bit of a mess.
Paul is going to return to the church for the third time, he needs to return because things are falling apart, and he needs to sort it out.
So what are the problems...
Well some of them are...
Divisions within the church. One group is saying, ‘You’re not fit for leadership, or membership because of this...’
And those people are replying by saying, ‘I may be bad but I am not as bad as you because you do this...’
The reason I say this is Paul’s insistence that accusations can’t just be flung about. They must be upheld by two or three witnesses.
And that implies that
accusations are being flung about.
that sometimes these accusations are unsubstantiated.
Why would people do that?
Often when we see it happening today it has something to do with power.
Look at our political rhetoric just now.
Enemies of the Conservative Party are saying that they are uncaring. Look at the Alzheimer's Tax, look at the way they want to take free school meals away from children.
Enemies of the labour Party saying that they would just let Russia walk into Britain, that they don't care about the security of Britain, that they would ruin the economy.
Enemies of UKIP saying that they have no reason to exist anymore, that they are just racists.
Enemies of the SNP that they are obsessed with independence, that they have the ability already to change things in Scotland if they want to but haven’t used any of the powers to make a better difference.
Enemies of the Liberal Democrats aren’t saying anything because they feel they have sunk into obscurity anyway.
Is any of that stuff true?
They are all extremes of ideas that the oppositions feel they can take advantage of.
And it has nothing to do with what is ultimately good for the country. Because deep down each party feels that what is ultimately good for the country is if their party alone got into power and they had free range to do what they wanted to do.
That feeling was what was going on here in Corinth.
They had factions and these factions felt the only good church was the one where they were in charge. And for them to be in charge the other factions had to be kept in their place.
One faction wanted to be quite Jewish. The feeling was that Jesus was Jewish, so if Jesus was Jewish, then we had to be Jewish too...that meant things like circumcision.
Others felt they were a freedom party. That they were free from the laws of the past because Jesus showed us God is a God of grace. So we can eat anything we want. Even from that butcher down the road that got his meat from the Temple to Diana.
Not that the factions mattered...we have always had factions.
Every church, every era, every denomination...
Should we have music in the services?
Should children be baptised?
Should women be ministers or elders?
Who should be allowed to call the minister, the laird who is paying for the minister or the congregation?
Should non orthodox people be allowed to take communion?
Should people who are gay be allowed to be ministers?
And every one of these divisions have one thing in common, if they are not important to us then we think that the problems are kind of silly.
We look at something like, should people stand or sit during prayers in church and we think... Who cares?
We look at something like, should we allow gay marriages in church and think...This is serious; this is something that I would leave the church over.
And like the church of the past, if someone is on the other side then we accuse them of all kinds of rubbish, of not being moral, of not really being Christian, or not being Biblical in their thinking.
And Paul says to them...put YOURSELF to the test, never mind what they are doing, look at yourself...are you living a truly faithful life, a life where you love your enemies, a life where you are charitable to others, especially others in the other side of the argument?
And the corker. If you can’t attack what they are doing, attack their motives.
Paul and his team were praying for the church in Corinth to do well.
Surely that was a good thing...not to the church in Corinth. They were saying that Paul was only praying that the church in Corinth did well because he could then say to other churches, ‘Look at the Church in Corinth and how well it is doing, I set up that church. It is doing well because of all the work and prayer that I have put into it.’
We know that because Paul has to tell them that’s not what is going on.
‘We pray to God that you will do no wrong– not in order to show that WE are a success, but so that you may do what is right, even though we may seem to be failures.’
Have you ever been that person that you can do no right for doing wrong? That no matter what you say or do, it is the wrong thing?
Anyone who has ever been a spouse knows this feeling.
You buy her a box of flowers and the first thing she asks is, ‘What have you done?’
She buys you a graphic novel that you have been waiting to get and you ask her, ‘What are you after?’
Sometimes people are so suspicious of others, that it doesn't matter what they do, it isn't the right thing. That’s what was going on here in Corinth.
The whole church was a mess...
Look at the last paragraph and then reverse it to see what the church is really like.
Strive to be perfect...because you are so far away from it it is unbelievable.
Listen to my appeals...because you are so hard hearted and stubborn.
Agree with one another...because you are so divisive.
Live in peace...instead of fighting with each other.
And the God of love and peace will be with you...because she seems sorely absent so far.
I find this letter so encouraging.
Partly because I can read this and think to myself, ‘You know, no matter how bad I think we are we are nowhere near that bad. In fact our church is pretty good compared with that one.’
And partly because, no matter how bad that church was, Paul thought to himself, ‘It isn't that bad that God can’t fix it.’ because if it was that bad that God couldn't fix it, Paul wouldn't have wasted his time writing the letter.
And if that mess was fixable, then whatever problems we have, they are fixable as well.
And if that is the case then we don’t need to worry about the problems we have.
We don’t need to worry about the future of the church.
We don’t need to worry about whatever controversies are facing the church in this particular age.
Today is the day that we can show God’s love through our life.
That we can work on. That we can concentrate on.