1 Corinthians 16:1-9
|1||Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.|
|2||On the first day of every week, each one of you should 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
|3||Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them
with your gift to Jerusalem.
|4||If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.|
|5||After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you–for I will be going through Macedonia.|
|6||Perhaps I will stay with you awhile, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on
my journey, wherever I go.
|7||I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time
with you, if the Lord permits.
|8||But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost,|
|9||because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.|
Standing before a window that looked out on one of the most spectacular vistas imaginable, a man was asked what he thought of the view. He said, “Well, I see some streaks…there is a hairline crack in the glass right here. Oh, look over here, some dismembered fly wings in a bit of cobweb. Down in the corner, the word ‘shatterproof’.”
You dummy,” we’d be thinking, “here you are, standing before one of the most spectacular panoramas in the world, and you are looking at the windowpane?” And yet that can easily be you and me as Christians, if we don’t have Kingdom Vision. Our natural spiritual eyesight’s fallen. We’re basically myopic, we’re nearsighted. We tend to look at just ‘me and Jesus,’ or maybe we tend to broaden our horizon just a little bit and to look at Central Presbyterian Church. But the vista is much wider than that.
That’s why we have made Kingdom Vision one of our core values here at Central – a reminder to you and me that we need to put on the spectacles of the Holy Spirit that can enable us to see the bigger picture. The Scripture text I’ve chosen this morning only begins to correct our vision slightly, as we await and long for the Holy Spirit to do that laser surgery necessary to help us to really see the big picture. But let’s take a look at God’s word this morning. I would invite you to turn and keep your Bibles open to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 16. Let’s take a look together at verses one through nine. This is the word of God.
“Now about the collection for God’s people. Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week each one of you should 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. Then when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men that you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me. After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you. For I will be going through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay with you a while or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey wherever I go. I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work is open to me. And there are many who oppose me.”
Join me as we pray. And now Father, as my words are true to your words, may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your word may they be quickly forgotten, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As Paul writes to those early Christians in Corinth nearly 2,000 years ago, he begins the text we just read by referring to a collection that he expects those Corinthians to take up. Now relax, this is not going to be a sermon about collections and money. But one thing I do want you to notice in verses one and two of this text are a couple of assumptions that Paul makes about the church.
The first assumption is this – he assumes that those who are serious about following Jesus Christ gather every week together to worship. A second assumption that Paul makes is that those who know Jesus Christ at more than second hand, expect as a part of authentic worship to receive an offering. If you have your offering envelopes with you, if you’ll flip that thing out and look at the bottom of it you’ll see verse two of our text quoted, although the company that printed them up made a typo and it says I Corinthians 16:21.
Another assumption that Paul makes is that the Corinthians understand that any offerings that are taken up are not just for the Central Presbyterian Church of Corinth, but they are to go to a wider vista. You see, the historical context of this passage is the fact that the Jerusalem church, the mother church, is in trouble. She has filed for Chapter 11. She can barely pay the light bill. Those Christian Jews in Jerusalem back then, they never were well off to begin with, and boycotts and persecutions have accelerated and accentuated their poverty.
So Paul calls on the Corinthian church to step in and to help out. In verse one of our text we learn that he has already hit up the churches in Galatia, and that they are starting to respond faithfully. In verse five and in verse eight he says, “I am going to head over to Ephesus and Macedonia and I’m going to get them to be part of this ‘jump start Jerusalem’ campaign.” He says, “I want you Corinthians to come on board as well.” And the Corinthians are more than likely going to respond favorably.
He wants them to see, with all Christians, that they have a responsibility to make an impact on the world for the kingdom of God that goes far beyond their immediate situation. Which brings to mind some key points as to what it really means as a Christian to have a Kingdom Vision. Point number one is this, that if you are a Christian, you are connected. Look at verse one of your text. Paul says that this collection is being made for the people of God. The literal Greek there is hagios which means saints. It’s a collection for the saints. And in the New Testament you never will even one time find the word saints in the singular. It is always plural. A reminder to you and me that this ‘me and Jesus’ ‘Lone Ranger’ Christian stuff is nothing more than spiritual astigmatism. When you follow Jesus Christ, you are connected to other believers. The Christian faith is far, far bigger than just you and me.
Secondly, this collection of saints that God has gathered together in Corinth has a very important role to play in the kingdom of God. Here at 7308 York Road in Baltimore, Maryland God has gathered a collection of saints. The Central Presbyterian Church of Corinth and the Central Presbyterian Church of Baltimore are unique and valuable parts of the kingdom of God. But they are not the kingdom. The kingdom extends far beyond that.
Imagine a conversation between Paul and some of the Christians in Corinth.
Paul: “Hey, the Jerusalem church is in bad shape, I want you guys to do something.”
Corinthians: “Well what do you mean, Paul? Hey, we’re not that well off ourselves! We’re not doing that great. We’ve got our own problems and we’re barely keeping afloat. What are we, our brother’s keeper?”
Paul: “You are.”
Corinthians: “Well, okay, we’ll pray for them.”
Paul: “Well, I hope you will, but I also hope you’ll pay for them.”
You see, Paul has a Kingdom Vision. When you have a Kingdom Vision you realize that there is a spirituality about money. Show me your checkbook, show me what you invest in, and I’ll tell you about your depth of spirituality. I’ll show you whether or not you have a Kingdom Vision. Paul calls upon the Corinthians to ante up. To look beyond their own immediate needs and to help bail out their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. Because their vision needs to extend beyond Corinth.
But you know what? A third point about a Kingdom Vision is that our vision needs to extend beyond just the church! Be it a local church, or a group of churches, or a Presbytery, or the Presbyterian Church USA, or even the worldwide church of Jesus Christ. Having a Kingdom Vision means we look beyond even that to the fact, the ultimate fact that Jesus Christ is enthroned as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. His domain extends over your life and mine, His sovereignty extends over every event in this world over every inch of this planet, over every molecule in the universe and on beyond that into eternity — on beyond time and space.
Jesus Christ is King. That means you can’t bottle Christ up in the church. It means Christ is not just involved in ‘spiritual stuff.’ It means he is at work everywhere, working through and in everything, weaving every event of human history toward his ultimate plan of fulfillment for his kingdom. And that means you and me, when we engage the world in ministries of evangelism and missions and social justice, are merely entering into what Christ through his Holy Spirit is already doing out there in the world.
And it means, folks, that our ultimate allegiance is not just our personal salvation, as important as that is. Our ultimate allegiance is not to Central Church, as important as the welfare of this church is. Our allegiance is not to the Presbyterian Church USA, ultimately, or even to the worldwide church of Jesus Christ. Our ultimate allegiance is to the Kingdom, and to the one who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Kingdom Vision stretches you and me beyond just our personal little comfort zones, out past the borders that Central ministers in, and begins to see this whole vast universe as the domain of Jesus Christ.
Well, what are the implications of this kingdom vision for our life together as a congregation here at Central Church? Your session, as they hammered out our core values, worked hard and long on this whole issue of Kingdom Vision, and we have come up with four key implications for our life together as believers here at Central.
The first implication is this, that as a congregation we are committed to Christian unity and to racial reconciliation. Mark Twain, who was a somewhat humorous Presbyterian, told of the time he did an experiment where he put a dog and a cat in a cage together to see if they could get along. And they did. So he added a bird, and a goat and a monkey, and after a few adjustments, they even got along. Then he put in a Baptist, a Presbyterian and a Catholic and soon there wasn’t a living thing left!
Well folks, that’s not what we are about here at Central Presbyterian Church. We are committed to the unity of the body of Christ. We see ourselves as a significant, but one small part of the body of Christ. That’s why we partner with and work with and worship with any bodies of believers that affirm the essential tenants of the Biblical Apostolic faith. The church, Central Church or any church, the organizational church is really only a temporary phenomenon. It’s only here until Kingdom come. That’s why church unity really has nothing to do with going out and establishing organizational structures. The real heart of Christian unity is coming along side of and affirming anyone and any body of believers that affirms Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and seeks to order their lives under the authority of Scripture. We’ll partner up with any of those folks.
And racial reconciliation. Why do we highlight that here at Central? Because we realize that 11:00 o’clock on Sunday mornings is pretty much still the most segregated hour in America. Because we realize that’s a sad thing. And we also realize that there are a lot of people out there who do not embrace Jesus Christ simply because they don’t see black Christians and white Christians embracing each other. And they are never going to come to Christ until we come together and have a unified witness.
That’s why we are a part of Project Justice – evangelical black and white congregations all over the metro area here in Baltimore. That’s why last Monday night, your Session stepped out and affirmed a new resolution that puts us in a greater intentionality about looking for minority staff people here at Central. We are committed to racial reconciliation.
Go back to the church in Corinth. Paul was calling those Greek Corinthians to put aside their racial prejudice. You say, I don’t see anything in the text about that. If you do your homework, you’ll see that the Greeks were very racially prejudiced, especially against the Jews. Paul is saying, “You are going to have to put that racial prejudice aside. I’m calling you to reach out to those Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and help bail them out.”
A second implication of Kingdom Vision for our life at Central is that we are committed to encouraging you to get involved in ministries outside of Central Presbyterian Church. It doesn’t have to have Central Presbyterian Church written on it to be a valid kingdom ministry. That’s why in our budget we have Young Life, and Youth for Christ, and Intervarsity, and Campus Crusade and a host of other Christ-centered, Kingdom-oriented ministries. That’s why we encourage you to hook up with Prison Fellowship, or to get involved with Love & Action AIDS Ministry. In a moment you are going to hear from Pastor Stanley Butler about Temple House and his ministry to AIDS folks in the inner city. We encourage you to be a part of that, outside the bounds of Central. In verse 6 of our text, Paul says he expects the Corinthian Church to undergird his ministry, which has nothing to do with Corinth, it’s all about outside the walls of Corinth.
A third implication for Kingdom Vision here at Central is that we are committed to sharing our strengths and our resources with the larger body of Christ. One way we do that is by being hooked up with the Assistance Center of Towson Churches. About 40 churches in this area who are pooling their people, their money, their time, and their resources to meet the needs of less privileged people in our area. Many of you are volunteers up there, and I applaud you for that.
But having a Kingdom Vision means even looking beyond that kind of thing. It means looking beyond just praying and paying for other churches and the needy. Having a Kingdom Vision means we are exploring with an inner city congregation that has approached us and asked us to explore with them the wild idea of possibly tithing people. It’s a congregation that kind of needs a jump start, and we are thinking through, “What would it mean if 20 or 30 Centralites said ‘I am committed for three years to go down and to be a part of that congregation?'” What would it mean? I am not really sure. We are just in the initial stages. It may go nowhere, I don’t know, but I know this, that having a Kingdom Vision means we begin to look at how we disburse time and people and money and resources, not in terms of how much it costs, but in terms of “How do we invest in the greater Kingdom of God?” Paul is calling the Corinthian church to share its resources.
Lastly, the fourth implication of having a Kingdom Vision for our life here at Central is that we are committed to releasing our facilities for the greater Kingdom work in this area. Two weeks ago I was at my covenant group in Florida, and I was in a small group with Kristin Huffman. Kristin is one of the associate pastors at the Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston. Kristin and I are good friends, and we go back almost 20 years. In one of our small group times, she shared that just a couple of weeks ago she got a new car. She had only had it two days when one of the other associates on the staff came to her and said, “My car is in the shop, I’ve got to run an errand, can I use your car?” She said, “Sure,” and gave him the keys. The secretary overheard the conversation and came to her later on and said, “I can’t believe you let that guy take your brand new car!” And Kristin responded, “Why not? It’s not my car, it’s God’s car.”
Well I was sitting there, and I’ve got to confess, I’m with the secretary. In my gut, I don’t want someone driving my two day old brand new car. But having a kingdom vision means that I need to look beyond what my gut tells me and I begin to look at what is best for the greater kingdom. That “new car syndrome” can affect a church that has just successfully pulled off a building campaign.
We’ve got a brand new building out there folks, and it’s beautiful. We’ve got another one coming on line in a couple of years. And you know what? I believe that God has blessed us and has enabled us to put that building up and He’s going to help us put another one up because he is putting us through a Kingdom Vision test. Are we going to take that new building, park it at the end of the parking lot, you know, diagonally across three spaces, or are we going to release our entire church plant to the greater kingdom? Well your Session has already answered that question, no matter how you answer it. We’ve released these buildings. Men’s Bible Study Fellowship. Regeneration Ministries. Alcoholics Anonymous. They are in that new building every week on a regular basis. Last weekend Chrysalis held a big youth retreat with about 60 youth in that new building. We are in conversations right now with the Cambridge Christian School about the possibilities of housing them here at Central. A children’s Christian library for the whole metropolitan area of Baltimore. It already exists. They want to relocate here on our plant. We are exploring that. Kingdom Vision means sacrifice. It puts that question right in front of our faces, “What am I willing to give up for the greater kingdom?”
Kingdom Vision means risk. Another question right in front of our faces is “How far are we willing to step out in faith trusting God? Kingdom Vision means that we find our true satisfaction and comfort and joy in the bigger picture, not the myopic stuff that we are prone to look at. Take for instance our next new member class. What if there are 25 people in there and then over the duration of that class, 15 of them become Christians. Wow, wouldn’t that be great? It happens sometimes. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? But what if those 15 new Christians say, “Wow, this has been the greatest experience of my life, we’ve started praying, and we feel God leading us to join Ascension Lutheran across the street.” How would we feel? Confession time again. I’d be “Oh no! I’ve put all this time and energy in…” But I would hope that kingdom vision would help me to move past that and to rejoice that they are in the kingdom.
Isn’t kingdom vision all about moving people toward Christ, not just toward our own little parochial corner? When all is said and done, Kingdom Vision leaves us in a very uncomfortable paradox. It leaves you and me finding our greatest fulfillment in being unfulfilled. Because no matter how successful you and I are in the Christian life, no matter how much Central Presbyterian Church prospers, we will never, ever, bring in the Kingdom of God. Only God can do that. He has promised that He will, when, and only when Christ returns. And so, we are left in this sort of dilemma that our vision always exceeds our grasp. But you know what? Our vision never exceeds the grasp of the King. So you and I are able to work and pray with confidence and hope and boldness, “Thy kingdom come.”
Join me as we pray.
Father, you are a much greater, vaster, unimaginable God than we can imagine. We thank you that you have revealed yourself to us, your very heart to us in Jesus Christ and in your written word. But Lord, give us your Holy Spirit here this morning, to be the spectacles through which we see the vast panorama of how you are working in our life and in the life of this congregation, in the life of your world wide church and beyond that, on through every inch of the universe and beyond that into eternity. Lord give us the Kingdom vision to enable us to be faithful as a congregation and to really build up your kingdom. To really advance it against that opposition that Paul talks about in the text, that you might be honored and glorified. And we ask it all in the strong, saving name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.”