In 1 Corinthians 15:20 Paul writes this:
‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.’
Which means that sins can be forgiven, the devil is, and will be, finally defeated, and for those who trust in Christ for forgiveness and victory, there is that wonderful hope of heaven. Jesus has won the victory over death. Look at v51 of chapter 15:
‘Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. Then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’
That is the sure and certain hope of every true believer. It is also the background to everything Paul has to say in chapter 16. Is it the background to your thinking about life here and now?
People need to hear the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ is risen and heaven awaits for those who put their faith in him. So how does Paul say we should respond to all this?
Look at verse 58 of chapter 15:
‘Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’
So Paul says, 'stand firm. Let nothing move you.' How? Paul continues with the last part of v58:
‘Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’
We are not to drift instead we are to give 'ourselves fully to the work of the Lord.'
But we are not just to give ourselves. We are also to give our money. Which brings us to my first heading and to the first four verses of chapter 16:
THE COLLECTION FOR GOD'S PEOPLE
Chapter 16 begins with Paul answering another question from the Corinthians. Look at v1: “Now about the collection for God’s people.” They were asking for further instructions about their part in the collection for the poor in Jerusalem, especially how they were to go about it and how it was to get to Jerusalem. We know from Acts 8&11 that the Christians in Jerusalem were suffering persecution and famine. Also according to Galatians 2:9-10 Paul was eager to ‘continue to remember the poor’, including the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, as he took the gospel to the Gentiles.
So what can we learn from Paul’s concern and about Christian giving in general from his answer in v1-4?
Are we, like Paul, eager to remember the poor as we take the gospel to this city and around the world? Are we eager to remember the poor and persecuted Christians here and around the world? Are we eager to commit to praying and giving to support them and those ministering to them? Today it has never been easier for us to give to and to know what to specifically pray for those who are poor and persecuted. We can go to The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund web site, which is TEARFUND.org – and give online. Through them you can give to specific projects and to specific children. At the moment 12 million people are facing starvation in Ethiopia. Tear Fund are working with churches there such as in the northern district of Boricha. On Tear Fund’s web site you will find this report: Further north in the district of Boricha, one Christian woman Beynech Gabiso, (29), stands next to her maize crop – not due for harvesting until September – while her five extremely malnourished children move like elderly people around her. Beynech’s crops failed last year, she is sick and two of her children have malaria. “We are becoming thinner and sick. I worry because I do not have enough food for my family,” she says. “I am losing hope. I may have to bury one of my children. I may have to bury two of my children. We can only trust in God who has provided before.”
We can go to the web site of Christian Solidarity Worldwide at csw.org.uk or to the Barnabas Fund at Barnabasfund.org and give online to their work with persecuted Christians. The need is great. For, example one report on the Barnabas Fund web site recently stated that: Christian children in Balkanabad, Turkmenistan have been taken from their classrooms and interrogated by the secret police about church life and “their Christian education in their families”. The children were banned from attending church services and the older ones threatened with prison.
And in Iraq: Christian women who go out in public without a head covering have been threatened and spat upon. Christian owned shops have been burnt down and at least two shop owners have been killed. Leaders of the various Christian communities have called upon the coalition for protection but have been turned away empty handed.
We can give to our mission partners who are working with the poor, seeking to bring relief and the gospel, such as the Navajeevana Health Care Centre in Sri Lanka, the LAMB Hospital in Bangladesh, Mburi in Kenya and Armonia in Mexico. You can also give to those organisations through the giving scheme at JPC as well as to God’s work here. There’s information at the back of the church about our mission partners and about the giving scheme.
So we have the information but how are we to go about giving money? How much are we to give? Well look at v1-4 because there are 5 principles there that we as a church and as individuals are to practice whether we are giving to the work at JPC or to missionary and relief work.
First be principled and thought out. Paul says (v1), “Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.” That is why we have a 'giving scheme' at Jesmond and have no collections in our services for our own needs.
Secondly be regular. Look at v2: 'On the first day of every week each one of you should set aside a sum of money.' So we are to give regularly. And a help for regular giving today is a standing order with the bank.
Thirdly give proportionately. Paul says in v2 give 'in keeping with [your] income.' You say, 'what proportion'? The Old Testament, as we heard in our first lesson from Malachi, spoke about a tithe or giving a tenth for God's work. But you say, 'Is that for now, after Christ, when we have a new covenant?' The answer is 'Yes, but we must listen to Jesus teaching.' Jesus found religious people tithing, giving a tenth, in a precise legalistic way, yet being fundamentally disobedient to God's word. But Jesus approved their tithing while he attacked their disobedience - Matthew 23:23:
‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.’
Paul simply says here, give 'in keeping with [your] income'. He doesn't say, 'give ten percent'. Was he weakening Jesus teaching? No. It was Jesus who had taught that our righteousness must 'surpass that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law' (Matthew 5.20). Jesus commended Zacchaeus who gave not 10 percent but 50 percent. And he praised the poor widow who amazingly gave 100 percent. As we are to steward all our time for the Lord (not just one day in seven), so we are to steward all our money for the Lord (not just ten percent). And at JPC we suggest that people give half of what they give to the work here and the other half to mission.
Fourthly there should be no anxious uncertainty about Christian funding. Look at the next part of v2:
set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
If there is regular giving, rather than irregular giving, it makes it easier for those who have to administer a church's finances or a relief programme. We praise God for the provision of 3 Osborne Road but let’s continue to pray for the needs of the day to day church budget to be met for the continued growth of the ministry here.
Fifthly there should be accountability. Look at v3:
when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem..
Paul was concerned that the donors had confidence that the money was going to where it was meant to go to and not somewhere else. How important, therefore, that money given to charities and churches is properly audited. At JPC the accounts are fully audited and published in March at the time of the AGM. Tear Fund work with church partners in the area where the aid is going so that it gets to where it should go.
Christian giving is so vital. Our giving doesn’t save us but it does help others to be reached with the good news of Jesus Christ and helped physically. Without Christian giving, there would be no Jesmond Parish Church and no mission work - no Wycliffe Bible Translators, no Navajeevana Health Care Centre, no St Philip’s Community Centre at Mburi, no Armonia, no Barnabas Fund and no Tear Fund. Surely we don’t want a lack of resources to ‘oppose’ so to speak God’s work? Well that brings us to my second heading and to v8&9 where Paul says there are opportunities to preach the gospel but also opposition.
OPPORTUNITIES AND OPPOSITION
Look at v8-9. Paul wanted to spend some time with the Corinthians, if the Lord would permit, but he says:
I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.
That is true for us today. God has opened for us at Jesmond 'a great door for effective work.' Soon up to 200 children will be hearing about the gospel at the JPC Holiday Club. Just a few weeks ago over 70 students attended JPC’s first biblical ‘Foundations’ conference run by the student team here. The Globe keeps on attracting very large crowds. Last October there were more people attending JPC than ever before – over 1000 different individuals for the first time. Last Christmas, more people than ever before came to Carols by Candlelight. 3 Osborne Road provides space for the youth work to keep growing and for more training to happen. There is the possibility of a Christian City Academy in Newcastle.
But there are many who do and will oppose these opportunities. They opposed Paul and they will oppose us. Last year the holiday club was opposed by a governor at one local school and they refused to allow us to take assemblies promoting it. This year the door was open again in that school and Ken Matthews and his team were allowed in this past week and as a result many children took away the holiday club literature. We are not to be daunted by opposition but rather we are to pray. Colossians 4:2 says:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.
So opportunities but opposition – that was Paul’s situation and it is ours. So, Paul writes, in v13 and which is my next heading:
BE ON YOUR GUARD; STAND FIRM IN THE FAITH, BE MEN OF COURAGE; BE STRONG. DO EVERYTHING IN LOVE.
Be on your guard. There is a spiritual battle going on. 1 Peter 5:8 says:
Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him standing firm in the faith.
Be men of good courage; be strong [in the Lord]. Do you know what is true of every Bible believing church that is growing around the world today? They all have leaders who are not afraid to believe God. Yes there will be opposition but God is greater – nothing is too hard for him. Do you believe God? Do you believe God in your workplace? in your neighbourhood? at school? in your Home Group? in your ministry area here at JPC? Nothing is too hard for him.
And do everything in love. Give money in love. Paul has already said in 1 Corinthians 13:3: “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Do everything in love. In this letter Paul has been speaking the truth in love to the church he planted. He continues to do so in his final greetings, which also contain a warning, which brings us to my final heading:
FINAL GREETINGS WITH A WARNING
Look at v19-24:
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 at their house. All the brothers here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. 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.
We thank God for Mwendwa and Joyce from Kenya who have just been visiting us, for their courage, their vision, their love and for the fact that they have stood firm in the faith for many years helping to build up the ministry of St Philip’s Community Centre. They brought us greetings from our brothers and sisters in Christ at Mburi and last Sunday we asked them to take our greetings back with them.
Here in v19&20 Paul sends and passes on greetings to the Corinthians to encourage them to stand firm in the faith and to love the Lord, to show them that they’re loved. To a church which has experienced division he says, ‘Greet one another with a holy kiss.’ (A kiss of peace.) Does this mean we have to greet one another with a ‘holy kiss’? No. ‘Phew!’ many of you say. Yes we should certainly be willing to greet one another as brothers and sisters in Christ but in a culturally appropriate way. So here it might be, ‘Greet one another with a holy handshake!’ Not a masonic handshake but a holy handshake! And at JPC where there are lots of people from different cultures we are to be sensitive to the fact that gestures mean different things in different cultures.
But Paul also has a warning for those at Corinth. Look again at v22:
If anyone does not love the Lord – a curse be upon him. Come O Lord!
These are strong words. He uses similar words in Galatians 1:8-9 where he warns anyone who preaches a different gospel. Paul says let him be eternally condemned. Here Paul addresses his opponents at Corinth who are refusing to obey his apostolic instructions and teaching. But instead of asking them to obey him, he puts it in the ultimate language of Christian obedience: ‘If anyone does not love the Lord.’ That covers the whole letter. For example, from chapter 1, to insist on human wisdom over against the gospel of the crucified Jesus is not to love the Lord. So with incest, other forms of sexual immorality, attendance at idol feasts and so forth. What does Jesus say in John 14:23&24? He says this:
“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching…He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.”
What does that say about the current crisis in the Church of England? What does that say about the Bishop of Oxford, Canon Jeffrey John and the Archbishop of Canterbury? Do they love Jesus? False teachers and those who defy God be warned! Paul says may they know God’s wrath – let them be eternally condemned. Judgement Day is coming.
Is there anyone here this morning who does not love the Lord? Why not repent and trust Christ and so be blessed rather than cursed and so escape judgement and hell when Jesus comes again.
To those who love the Lord, to forgiven sinners, he says:
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. Amen.