Grace, Love, Fellowship, and Us: A Horizon Sermon

Corinth was a very old city. Her origins went back to 2000 years before Christ. In the days of Abraham, people were making Corinth their home.

She was a fantastically located city on a Greek isthmus. Corinth enjoyed all the beauty of being a coastal town. In addition, she enjoyed the huge rocky mountain that provided her shelter and safety in times of storm or war.

Corinth was an affluent metropolis. She became a financial hub due to her location on a major trade route between the east and west. Additionally, because ship captains and merchants recognized the danger of sailing south around Cape Malea, they often deemed it safer, quicker, and less expensive to move their ships across the 4.5 mile stretch of land by means of skids. This brought the world and great wealth to her doorstep.

Over time, Corinth became known as a world-class city. She enjoyed her own notable history. Then, every two years they hosted the Isthmian Games, which were only second to the Olympics in Athens. And as her sovereignty passed from Alexander to Caesar, she found herself a jewel in both the Greek and Roman empires.

For all her virtue, she had an equal quantity of vice. She became known as a hedonistically carnal city as she was regularly visited and occupied by tourists, soldiers, sailors, and merchants and those seeking to make their visit special. Corinth became a city of vice. What happened in Corinth stayed in Corinth, and her commitment to religion helped her not. She became famous for her Temple of Aphrodite perched atop her mountain. From there, every night, 1000 temple prostitutes descended upon the city-center to assist people “in worship.” Over the years, to “Corinthianize” became synonymous with engaging in lusty inhibition.

However, Corinth was a targeted city; she was targeted by the Trinity to enjoy God’s grace, love, and fellowship. So, at the appointed time, the Holy Spirit sent Paul, Silas, Timothy, Aquila, and Priscilla her way, and they evangelized, made disciples, baptized, taught, pastored, counseled, gathered for worship, enjoyed the sacraments, developed leaders, and built a church. For 18 months, it was a very fruitful season of ministry.

But then, the same Holy Spirit that led Paul to Corinth, called him to go elsewhere. It must have been tough for Paul, the apostle, patriarch, pastor, and church planter to leave his beloved brothers and sisters at Corinth and head elsewhere.

Paul’s feet may have travelled from Corinth, but not his heart. Therefore, while on the road, he maintained communication with his friends. However, it did not take too long for his soul to be deeply troubled. The saints in Corinth — who had received God’s grace, love, and fellowship — where being deeply troubled by the world, the flesh, and the devil. They struggled with:

  • Self-promoting leaders
  • Congregational factions
  • Verbal slander
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Inter-church lawsuits
  • Sullied testimonies
  • Weak, wrong, legalistic, and judgmental brothers
  • Correct, careless, and apathetic brothers flaunting their liberties
  • Selfing and harmful worshipers
  • Arrogantly gifted ministers
  • “Super Apostles” wowing with words, spouting heresy, causing division
  • Apathetic or foolish Elders failing to confront and protect

Paul was gone, and so too was the enjoyment and expression of God’s grace, love, and fellowship.

Therefore, Paul loved and led. He addressed the situation through four letters and one painful visit.* And in his fourth letter (2 Corinthians) he was forced to defend his calling, his ministry, his character, his Gospel, and the sheep of Christ he had been called to serve. Therefore, as an elder, he manned up. He confronted, scolded, and warned. One commentator described it as a “menacing onslaught.” Yes, in love and grace, Paul took the gloves off; he dropped the hammer he laid the lumber; he called out his friends and foes. It was a loving but hard letter.

But today, I want to focus on Paul’s final words, and in doing so, I wish for us to see what God has to say to sinful saints not properly enjoying and expressing the grace, love, and fellowship of God. Here are Paul’s final words; here is the Word of God:

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. [2 Corinthians 13:11–14]      

I. God reminds us of our position.

Paul calls his readers his “brothers.” Despite their sin, they are not addressed as antichrists or apostates. They are not targeted as enemies who need to be taken out. The title of “friends” or “neighbors” seems not to be sufficient. Paul does not even address them as his children, as if he is their lofty and exalted patriarch who has reached some plateau of holiness. No, Paul addresses his sinful and saintly readers as “brothers.” They are family. They are equals with him under the leadership of their Heavenly Father, and Paul sees himself as chiefest of sinful siblings writing to others, seeking to take them with him back to Jesus, the Gospel, and his wisdom.

Friends, we are to be reminded of our position. We are sinful saints, but we are “brothers.” This means we are all children of the Father with obligations towards our spiritual siblings. Consequently, none of us ought to place ourselves on a pedestal; neither should we place others there. We must all be humble as we encourage and counsel one another to engage in consistent, joyful repentance. Let’s not think too highly of ourselves. Let’s not think to lowly of ourselves. All of us — the “best” and the “worst” of us — are beloved “brothers” and “sisters” in the household of faith. That’s who we are.

II. God reminds us of his plan.

God is wise and loving, and he gives to us his will and way. These are his precepts, his commands, his laws, or his expectations. They are his “best practices” and they inform us in how we can rightly worship. Therefore, Paul concludes his letter in customary fashion; in staccato fashion, he delivers six short imperatives. He reviews God’s plan, and notice all of his imperatives have to do with safeguarding and improving the peace, purity, and fellowship of the church.

We are to cheer up. Despite our sin, the sin of others, and the divesting harm it causes, we are to rejoice. We are recipients of God’s Gospel. WE are objects of grace, and because of that we are to sing … even as suffer and cry.

We are to fix up. We are to focus on restoration and mending. This is the same word used of James and John as they fixed their broken nets. We are all to look about us at the family of God and work towards perfecting that which is out of alignment. How are we to do so?

We are to coach up. We are to exhort, encourage, counsel, and comfort one another. The Law instructs us. The Gospel affects and motivates us. Spiritual gifts are given for the edification of the body. Let us all encourage one another with the wisdom of God. We are all to be priests one to another.

We are to team up. On any sports team, differences in knowledge, preference, and skill are found. However, teammates put aside their “lesser” differences to focus on the “primary” goal. Paul instructs us to put aside our secondary issues. He instructs us to be harmonious in focusing on cardinal truths and ultimate goals. We are to think alike. We are to be likeminded..

We are to live in peace. We have been forgiven, and we are to forgive others. The comfort we have received, that we are to give to others. Grace has been gifted to us, and grace we give to others. And the peace of God, which is ours in Christ Jesus, that is to be enjoyed, experienced, and expressed in the household of faith. In PCA language, we are to guard the peace and purity of the church. This is how we are to live.

We are to express this with “holy kisses.” In the Gospels, one can see how people embraced one another with a ceremonial kiss. The Prodigal Son was graciously greeted by his forgiving father. We can read of Mary kissing — again and again — the feet of her Lord. Sadly, we see Judas using this sweetest of gestures to betray his best friend — Jesus Christ. In the book of Acts, when Paul was leaving the elders of Ephesus and they were sure they would not see him again, there was much weeping, much embracing, and much kissing. Then, throughout the remainder of the New Testament, in four other places, we read the command to offer forth the sacred kiss.** And from studies of the early church, it appears this took on special ceremonial importance around the Lord’s Table. Why was this so important? What did it express? The holy kiss preached affection, unity, and equality. In a world divided by sin, ethnicity, gender, and cultural caste, it was the external, sensory, religious sign given and received by men, women, Jews, Greeks, freemen, and slaves. It was the sign of fellowship; it was the sign of family.

Paul presents God’s good law. This is what the Father expects of his children. However, that being said, Paul and the Holy Spirit do not end with a call to performance. They choose to end with a declaration of promise — God’s benediction.

III. God reminds us of his promise.

The first declaration of promise is found in verse 12, “The God of love and peace will be with them.” Isn’t God omnipresent; isn’t he everywhere? Sure he is, but as his people receive and reciprocate the Father’s love to their brothers and sisters, they pain of sin will be experienced less, and the presence of God will be experienced more and more. The gathering of the household of faith will be a taste of heaven on earth. As two or three of them are gathered in such likeminded harmony, it will be as if the God of love and peace is right there in their very midst. This is God’s promise; with greater passion, let’s look to enjoy more of him and his benefits.

Then, after encouraging his readers with words from another congregation in Macedonia, Paul proclaims the following in verse 14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is one being comprised of three distinct and equal persons. And here, all three persons are interested in blessing the sinful saints of Corinth, Greenville, and anywhere else where worshiping brothers and sisters may be found.

Notice, grace, love, and fellowship have already been given to us. But notice, like the current of the sea brings more and more waves of water to the seashore, so the grace, love, and fellowship of the Trinitarian God refreshes us again and again and again. God’s blessings are past, they are present, and they are future.

Here, the Trinity gives us their unearned, undeserved, and unfathomable Gospel promise. It is God’s benediction not dependent upon anything done by us.

So, despite our depraved duplicity, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is ours today. Our sins are still noticed and abhorred. However, we are not today being treated in accordance with our sins. Instead, our sins of today have already been placed on the back of Jesus Christ. He has already been condemned and damned for them. So today, despite our Corinthianizing, we stand as those clothed in the pristine righteousness of the perfect worshiper — our Lord Jesus Christ. His record is ours. His blessings and inheritance is ours. His standing and boldness before the throne is ours, and this has nothing to do with our performance. No, this is the undeserved but declared promise of God.

And despite our lack of love towards God and our brothers, God’s love is focused on us. We are the apple of his eye. We are his bride. His affections are hot and tender. His actions are consistent with his character. Consider how awesome is the relationship between the Heavenly Father and his Holy Son — that is our reality. And this is fixed; it cannot be changed or altered by our participation, because it has nothing to do with us. This is God’s free gift to sinful saints who fall again and again.

And finally, we get to enjoy the fellowship provided by the Holy Spirit. Personally, the Trinity has invited us to participate in their communion, and as a glorious consequence we get to enjoy the “mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.”***

Yes, brothers and sisters, this is God’s promise for us today. And guess what, in the future, it gets better and better. How fantastic it will be in paradise when we enjoy even more of God’s grace, love, and fellowship, without the tainting of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

And now we get to worship.

IV. God motivates us to practice.

Satan wants to influence, wound, divide, and destroy. He is passionate to harm our individual families. How he loves to see us:

  • Think too highly of ourselves
  • Put others in their place who do not worship us appropriately
  • Speaking uncharitably about and to one another
  • Abuse those who are under our leadership
  • Be apathetic towards our family members in regard to their sin
  • Be apathetic towards our family members in regard to their needs
  • Fail to admit our wrongdoing and confess our sins
  • Keep a record of wrong and fail to forgive and reconcile
  • Forget the grace, love, and fellowship we have received
  • Fail to practice it and pass it along to those in our households

In addition, Satan has his sights set on Horizon Church. Oh, how he wants to harm our church family. Consider the temptations before us right now — this week. Consider the many issues over which we can disagree, and then divide, and cause damage:

  • Regarding the Coronavirus: some are sure it is a scientific pandemic, others a political conspiracy.
  • Regarding the wearing of masks: some see masks as a sacrifice of love, others as a display of fear.
  • Regarding the decisions of elders: some believe their church leaders to be wise; others believe them to be men of folly.
  • Regarding the involvement of elders: some believe them to be too active and controlling; others find them to be too passive or uninvolved.
  • Regarding preaching styles: some say, “I am of Jim,” while others proclaim, “I prefer Joe.”
  • Regarding musical style: some believe our worship is too contemporary, too loud, too informal, too repetitive; others are sure we need to pick it up a notch for we are too traditional and mellow.
  • Regarding staff: some believe the Lord has provided richly; others are not so confident in Horizon’s ministry leaders.
  • Regarding strategy: some love the past direction of Horizon church and are interested in ministerial adjustments; others are interested in strategic overhaul.
  • Regarding budget: not all agree on how we have spent or will spend the money entrusted to our care by the Lord and his people.

And all of this — as we are influenced by the world, the flesh, and the devil — can lead to a host of sinful response. We assume we are always right. Were misjudge the motives and rationale of others. We find ourselves filled with disrespect and bitterness, and then we find ourselves expressing slander and gossip. We become more and more unable to “overlook an offense,” and we refuse to give grace, love, and fellowship that we freely received from God. Ultimately, we forget the vows we have made. We are no longer covenantally passionate about pursuing the peace and purity of the church. Satan smiles, brothers and sisters cry, and the world remains unimpressed.

But God wants what is best for us. Listen to the encouragement of King David. In Psalm 133 he writes:

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”

Listen to the heart of King Jesus. In John 17 he prays:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

And hear again the Spirit speaking through Paul:

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. [2 Corinthians 13:11–14]      

In the midst of our temptations right now, let’s be a rejoicing brotherhood. Let’s come together, focus on ourselves less, and sing louder of God’s grace, love, and fellowship with greater fervor.

In our homes and at Horizon Church, let’s look around, notice the areas of sinful dysfunction, and commit ourselves to being a restoring, comforting, and counseling brotherhood. Let’s not allow Satan to go unchecked. Let’s graciously go to work on fixing whatever is harming the peace and purity of Christ’s body.

Let’s focus on main things and be an agreeable, likeminded, and harmonious brotherhood.

In focusing less on our special interests, and in being consumed with what Christ teaches and desires, we can live in peace and enjoy and express his benefits.

Finally, let’s kiss; let’s figure out ways to symbolically, visibly, and physically display our fellowship to one another and our watching neighborhood. In our modern culture, let’s be known by our hand-shaking, fist-bumping, chest-bumping, hugging and kissing. Better than that, let’s be known for our sitting together, singing together, praying together, eating together, visiting one another, parenting each other’s children, and engaging in radical Christian hospitality.

Let’s go Horizon Church! We are those who have freely received God’s grace, love, and fellowship. We are those who are enjoying the God of love and peace in our midst. We are those who have been kissed by God. Let’s kick Satan out. Let’s confess our sins and repent with great joy. Then, let’s pucker up, kiss one another, and let the watching world be amazed at what the grace, love, and fellowship of God looks like. In reality, it is what they want. Perhaps they will know where to find it.

* Letters two and four from Paul have been recognized as inspired and canonized. In our Bibles they have become known as 1 and 2 Corinthians.

** Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14

*** Lyrics from “The Church’s One Foundation”

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