Partnership Without Compromise

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Paul wrote to Corinthians in one church with different worldviews. Like the Corinthians, River Park Church has the exciting opportunity to find ways to honour different needs of different groups. Our goal is not, “Let’s all get together” (worldly unity) but rather, “How do we make room for others to experience the good news of the Kingdom of God without stumbling blocks? (Godly way!). This will help us to all get together.

This morning’s sermon title is “Partnership without Compromise”. We often worry about what we have to give up in order to be partners with others. Sometimes we even try to force others to change to be partners with us. But this is worldly partnership. In a word, biblical partnership is love. Partnership is when “they” become “we”. Biblical partnership leads to unity.

Paul begins his letter by exhorting the Corinthians to be united:  (1 Cor 1:10-13)

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,  in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”  13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?

Even today, we celebrate that, with Roi, we are all baptized into Christ! As Paul’s letter continues, we realize that it’s not just a letter; it’s a reply to a letter. Have you ever thought about that? That NT Letters, like all letters, are two-way correspondence. We only have one side, but we can easily understand from that one side at least some of what was asked and said to Paul by the Corinthian Christians. Between the oral report Paul hears from Chloe’s household and the direct questions the Corinthians ask, it seems like Christians then are facing very similar issues to us today. Someone delivers the letter, also sharing an oral report, and Paul writes to respond to all of it!

He talks about sexual matters (5); lawsuits and disputes (6:1-11); then turns directly to response: “Now concerning the matters you wrote about” (7:1) Here, Paul addresses Marriage (7:2-16); Singleness (7:25-40); Food sacrificed to idols (8:1-13); Personal rights and freedoms (9:1-27); Worship & Lord’s Supper (11); Using Spiritual Gifts (12); the Resurrection of the Dead (15); and an upcoming financial collection for others (16). 

In my ministry, I have been asked directly about all of these topics—except the one we’re focusing on today. And that’s why I picked it out for us to focus on. Because food sacrificed to idols seems very foreign to most of us; but Paul here offers the same principles that he offers for all the other topics. Let’s get into it.

[READ 1 Corinthians 8:1-13]

The historical context is clear: some believers in the Corinthian church were coming out of a background where the many “idols” and “gods” of this world were very real to them. Others were coming from a monotheistic background and thought of idols and just stone and wood that cannot speak or think. Eating food sacrificed to idols was a regular part of social life; and meat leftover from sacrifices was available at a discount (day-old) price! Different Christians had different approaches to this food. Does it count as worshiping some other god when you eat it? 

So the Corinthians send a letter to Paul, asking him, “What must be done? What is required in this situation?” Paul knows that these Corinthians are proud of the fact that they’re quite smart people; so he challenges them on their way of handling this disagreement: “We know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” (8:1)

Knowledge asks, “What must be done?” and “What is required?” These are the questions that the Corinthians are asking. I could go on and on this morning and explain to you much more of the historical context in Corinth and offer you pictures and videos and diagrams. Ancient Corinth has had some significant archaeological excavation done. There’s so much we can learn! But Paul refocuses our minds today too. Knowledge (alone) puffs up. But love builds up! Love fulfills the law because love always goes beyond the law. Love is not interested in what is required; Love is only interested in giving as much as possible for the sake of the other’s flourishing. 

Let me show you a picture of love. It’s a video about four minutes long.

The words at the end say, in Albanian, “Do not judge anyone! Be gentle with people because you do not know their concerns!”

We know that “What must be done” is to discipline an irresponsible child who comes late to class. But love sees that the child has chosen something more important, and further, that his love is willing to give as much as possible for the sake of the other’s flourishing. The child’s love cares for his family member in a wheelchair and is willing to suffer pain. The child’s love moves the teacher to love as well. This is love. This is partnership. The student is still the student and the teacher is still the teacher; but they no longer see each other as the “other”. As partners, “they” have become “we”. 

River Park Church’s vision—to reach out, draw in, and create mosaic community—our vision is to begin to bring an end to division through partnership: working with people from different ethnic groups, genders, generations, socio-economic groups, and abilities—until “they” become “we”. This is a huge vision that God has given us—a vision to love one another, our neighbours, and our world—and we cannot complete it focused on ourselves. We can only find a way forward when we are filled with the love and the joy that God has for us. 

God’s love and joy is greater when we welcome all kinds of people to be a part of God’s community with us! To the point of this sermon, we believe that partnership in Gospel ministry does not require compromise. Partnership does not require us to be different than we are; instead, partnership is powered by love. Love is willing to give as much as possible for the sake of the other’s flourishing. Love allows us each to hold our views even while we make space for others in our community to be different. It is love that brought Sehyun and Hyunah to have Roi baptized in Korean and to bring him up knowing his culture. We can see their love so clearly in the baptism video! It is love that motivates Pastor Harrison to suggest that I could baptize Roi and love that brought me to memorize the Korean words. It is love in our congregation that welcomes Roi and the Sung family into full membership as they are. 

A stranger might walk into our service or watch and listen later online and wonder: where does all of this love come from? What rules are these people following that makes them act this way? But there is no law: there is only the love of Jesus Christ, poured out for us. It is the love of Jesus Christ in his parents that welcomes Roi into his family; it is the love of Jesus Christ that we speak of in Professing our Faith and baptizing our infants. It is the love of Jesus Christ in all of us that guides us to do things this way today! We see the kingdom of God come when our world sees such a diverse group of people together that they exclaim, “Only God’s love could bring these people together!” Only God’s love could make them partners! Only God’s love could turn “them” into one diverse and unified family.

The first two sermons in our series looked at unity in our mission together and unity focused on adoration of Christ. Last week Harrison talked about practical love:

A practical way to welcome and to do life together with diverse believers is to learn their needs by asking, and to support them in creating room to meet their spiritual and relational needs. When you see some differences as you work together, you just need to ask them and accommodate their ways without any prejudice or assumptions.

Remember that we are the body of Christ, and each part of the body is necessary for the proper functioning of the entire body. We are interdependent.

Then, from some point, you may begin to enjoy another way of working that God provided the group. Your cultural competence, in other words, your ability to do life together with diverse others will grow. The Lord will continue to broaden your view and bless many people through you with much wisdom.

Pursuing our God-given vision works with love! Pastor Harrison and I can explain to you all the ins and outs of it—and, to be sure, some explanation is needed. We will have an opportunity to share more at the AGM coming up and also as we get later into the spring. But knowing and understanding our vision is not enough. Knowledge puffs up, the Apostle Paul says, but love builds up. When we experience moments of joy and love in God’s kingdom, like we did this morning, we begin to give up our selfishness and our fears and we begin to embrace God’s vision for his kingdom to come here. “They” become “we” and we become partners together.

When we are filled with love—and Love is willing to give as much as possible for the sake of the other’s flourishing—when we are filled with love, then we cover over one another’s weaknesses. This is what partners do. Partners cover each other’s weaknesses. Like the Corinthians who make room for one another as they view meat sacrificed to idols differently. Like the teacher, who covers his student’s lateness with a hug and a kiss on the hand. And like Christ, who meets us in our weakness and dirtiness and alienation. Paul reminds us of this work of bringing ethnic groups together:  (Eph 2:13-16)

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

Once we all were far off, but in Christ, we have been brought near! We all have been brought into God’s family as full members and it a beautiful and joyous thing to celebrate! 

Imagine this video of the student and teacher story continuing. When the student shows up late every day, the teacher will only grow in his love for the student because he will know that the student is caring for a loved one in a wheelchair. In fact, if the student shows up on time, the teacher might well be worried or disappointed! He has been changed by love. 

This is how Christ is with us. His perfect love is willing to give everything for the sake of the other’s flourishing; so that we who were far off might become one! When we choose to partner together, there is no loss, only an increase in joy! There is no compromise, only a deeper experience of God’s presence and the Holy Spirit’s work in us! In all of us! In the love of Christ, “they” become “we”. And it is marvelous in our sight!

 Let’s pray. 

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