What’s wrong with the world? (June 7, 2020)
God is blessing you
2 Corinthians 13:11-14
Cities ablaze. People divided. Illness spreading. Hearts and minds overflowing with unrest. It’s a tragic sight. A repulsive sight! Day after day I read reports of how many died from the pandemic, where was the rioting that destroyed homes, property, and businesses, and how our views are becoming so polarized that its dangerous even to mention it.
Then I open the Bible to study for this week’s service and I read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good” (Gen 1:3-4). “And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place…’ and it was so… And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:9-10). “And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures…’. And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds…’. And God saw that it was good… And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:20-25). “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…’ So God created mankind in his own image… God blessed them… God saw all that he had made, and it was very good… Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array” (Gen 1:1-2:1).
What happened?! What have we done?! What we have lost?! Paradise is lost. Harmony in disarray. No longer born in God’s image. All that was good is tainted with evil.
It’s what Paul was dealing with in the Corinthian congregation as well. The church, which was meant to be the beacon of hope, the fortress of peace, the shining light of love… was anything but. Shortly after founding the Corinthian congregation, Paul received troubling reports of problems and abuses. In the church! Among people who called each other brothers and sisters! Division over allegiance to church leaders, judgmentalism, incest and immorality, abuses of the Lord’s Supper, even denial of the resurrection of the dead! It was in regard to all this that Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, but it largely seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
When Timothy followed that letter with a visit, his negative report to Paul triggered a “painful visit” to Corinth. After arriving back in Asia, Paul received yet another unsettling report of events and attitudes in the congregation. Paul sent another letter, a “severe letter”, as it was called – which, unfortunately, was lost to history. Finally, after all of this, hearts began to change. The “severe letter” was well received and followed with repentance – for most of them. All this is the lead up to Paul writing 2nd Corinthians. Still stern where needing to be with those who remain unrepentant – even warning them that he will come and deal sharply with the unrepentant in their midst – but yet, overflowing with love for them and encouragement to forgive the repentant and be reunited with them. Given all that context of sinfulness, stubbornness to amend, and finally repentance and forgiveness, how meaningful are his closing words, “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace” (2 Cor 13:11). How timely are these words even now! Especially in the times we are enduring. “Rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace” (2 Cor 13:11).
Where do you think we are at in this timeline of the Corinthian congregation? If our nation was Corinth, where would we be at right now? Have we ignored the first letter? Unsettling reports are flooding in faster than they can be reported. Sadly, I don’t think we are quite at the point of this second letter yet. I don’t see people striving for restoration with one another, rather I see destructive actions. I don’t hear us encouraging one another, I hear put-downs, criticisms, and derogatory remarks. I don’t see people living in peace or being like-minded. I see unrest, anger, and anxiety. And not just “out there”. I’m not just talking about those distant cities on the news… shame on them! I’m looking right into my very own heart, and I’d encourage you to do the same.
I’m looking at some very pointed words from 1 Corinthians, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers… nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10). Yes, that section goes on to say, “That is what some of you were” (1 Cor 6:11), but I think we could use a moment to pause and reflect on what was just said, because that sinful nature is still within every one of us. That part of us which will not inherit the kingdom of God is still very much alive and active. And it only takes a catalyst to launch us into a chain reaction of sin. Emotions stirred by the remarks of others. Reactions prompted by the actions of others. Our value and identity shaped and fashioned by those around us. These are condemnable actions. These are sins deserving of hell, deserving of God’s punishment. And it doesn’t take too much digging to see all that’s wrong with the world, all the disappointments you see on the news contained right here too, in my own heart. It all starts in the heart.
Now, if I’m repulsed and disgusted by what I see in the world, imaging what God must be thinking! Imagine how it must feel to have your perfect creation – all set up and perfectly ordered FOR MANKIND, all very good – to be ruined, demolished, and degraded. What is God’s reaction?! “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is with you all” (2 Cor 13:14). I know we often say it and translate it with a “may” at the beginning – “May the grace…” – like it’s wishful thinking or something. But that’s not the case. That’s not actually how it’s written. We often say it that way to use it as a blessing for someone else, but the reason we can use it as a blessing is precisely because this IS the case! There’s no question or iffyness about it. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is with you all. The love of God is with you all. The fellowship of the Holy Spirit is with you all.
I don’t know how God does it. After seeing the ugliness of sin that is in each one of us rear its ugly head, I don’t know how God could possibly respond with grace, and love, and fellowship. Well, I do know how… God spells it out in his Word. It’s the story of the Trinity in the lives of believers “grace… love… fellowship.”
It’s by “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 13:14). Grace precisely means that we didn’t do anything to deserve it. Jesus has restored you to that image of God that was lost with his perfect creation. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified” (1 Cor 6:11). That means cleansed, made holy, and excused of all sin. Jesus died for you! He rose for you! He bought and paid for you with his own blood to restore you to the perfection in which mankind was created. A proper response to this is first of all to believe it! To acknowledge God’s gift of forgiveness and believe it, cherish it, give thanks for it! Follow that with repentance and strive to amend your life to be what God desires you to be.
Grace, we don’t deserve it. But God’s love is what drove it. And should we expect anything less from a God who “created mankind in his own image” (Gen 1:27)? Should we expect anything less from our God who blessed mankind and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground… I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth” (Gen 1:28-29). God lovingly created a home for the crown of his creation. A perfect home for you. And even though we corrupted and lost that home, God’s love never changed – God does not change. He continued to care for and provide for every living thing. Even for all people, believers and unbelievers he continues to provide for and shower with his love! It’s that same unchanging love of God that drove him to send you a Savior. A Savior for the whole world. A proper response is thankfulness for the love God continues to show through his Son, our Savior, and by providing what we need every day. Therefore, we can be confident that even in times like we are in now, God will continue to help and provide.
Fellowship resulted from that grace driven by love. Reflect on that! God desires fellowship with us. God desires and does all he can to make that fellowship possible and available to all people. Despite the world being as it is, God places his name on people like you and me, “Baptizing [you] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:19). In baptism, God comes to dwell with you, to the very end of the age! In the Lord’s Supper too, when you take and eat the body of Christ and take and drink the blood of Christ “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). Even in his Word, God comes to you in fellowship. Jesus said, “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always” (Mt 28:20). Earlier, he also said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (Jn 14:23). God brings you into a very special relationship with him, fellowship with him, through his word and sacraments.
By this grace, driven by love, resulting in fellowship with him, then, God also brings us into fellowship with one other. A right relationship with God is the first step and only way to have a right relationship with one another. It is the only way we can have a glimpse of the harmony, peace, and perfection that God created in the beginning. It is the only way we can get a foretaste of heaven before we arrive there ourselves. So, make God a regular part of your life. Be in his word, often. Remember how he made you his own through baptism, often. Fellowship, commune with his body and blood in the Lord’s supper, often. “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace” (2 Cor 13:11).