David Marvin gives the final sermon from the 1 Corinthians series, recalling the four commands Paul gives to the people of Corinth in his farewell letter. These commands are both challenging and encouraging for believers in society today.
Standing Firm In A Fallen World | 1 Corinthians 16
The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts | 1 Corinthians 14
A Church Marked by Love | 1 Corinthians 13
How To Build A Church | 1 Corinthians 12
God's Design for Men and Women | 1 Corinthians 11:1-16
Repentance, Allegiance & Deference for the Glory of God | 1 Corinthians 10
Giving, Sharing, and Living for the Gospel | 1 Corinthians 9
Christians and Controversial Topics | 1 Corinthians 8
Being Single | 1 Corinthians 7:7-40
Fighting For Your Marriage | 1 Corinthians 7:1-16
Sex and Glorifying God | 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Conflict: An Inevitable Opportunity | 1 Corinthians 6:1-11
Church Discipline: Sin, Grace, and Shepherding | 1 Corinthians 5
The Resurrection Is the Remedy to Our Hypocrisy | 1 Corinthians 15
The Purpose, Plot Twists, and Power of Christ | 1 Corinthians 4
Being a Healthy Church | 1 Corinthians 3:1-23
The Miracle of Spiritual Maturity | 1 Corinthians 2:1-16
The Miracle of Salvation | 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Priority, Preference, and Power | 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Called, Gifted, and Kept by Jesus | 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
In the closing remarks of Paul’s letter, he gives four commands to the people of Corinth to live their lives according to the Lord. While taking these commands to heart and putting them to practice, we can also rest confidently knowing His dominion reigns over this world.
Good morning, Watermark family. My name is David Marvin. I direct The Porch here on Tuesday nights. I'm so excited to get to wrap up this letter of 1 Corinthians. Last week, we covered chapter 14. If you are playing along at home, you would think this week would be chapter 15, but we're actually going to do chapter 16, because at Easter we covered chapter 15, specifically TA. If you missed that message, I would highly encourage you to go hear that. It's a great message, and it'll give you context for where we're going to go today as we wrap up this letter.
I'm going to read the final chapter of Corinthians, and as I do, we're going to focus on two verses, but here's what you need to know. It was a letter written by Paul, delivered by Timothy to the church in Corinth. Just like any letter that someone in your life would write to you… If they're closing out the letter, there are going to be some specific ways they address their personal plans or just life.
Like, if your mom were to write you a letter and say, "Hey, this has all been great, and hopefully we'll come see you soon. The winter is here. Give Sheila my best." That's kind of what Paul is going to do in this final chapter, and then there are some really powerful and applicable truths I want to hone in on that are as relevant to us as they were to the church in Corinth.
So, this is chapter 16, starting in verse 1. "Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come." He says, basically, "I'm going to collect an offering. That's what we're doing."
"And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me. I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go." This is what I mean. He's saying, "I'm going to come see you guys. Maybe I'll stay for the winter. Christmas in Corinth. That sounds great."
"For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.
Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity. Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love." Then Paul refers to a few more members of the church in Corinth.
"Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer [for the gospel]. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence…" Basically, some people who came from the church to visit Paul.
"…for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people. The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brothers [and sisters] send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy [handshake]. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen."
Let me ask you a question to start. I said I want to focus on two particular verses, but to set up and recap some of the book… Anyone know who the most successful recording artist of all time is? There are going to be a lot of different opinions or maybe ideas about who that is. Let me give a hint by way of one of their songs. Here's one of them you may recognize.
If you don't recognize that one, maybe you will recognize this one.
It, of course, is Elvis Presley. If you're under 25, you may actually not know who that is. I didn't realize this. Elvis Presley is by far the most successful recording artist of all time. You would have thought T. Swift is up there or Drake or even Michael Jackson. In terms of the single artist most successful of all time, it is Elvis. Elvis sold over a billion records. He still has the top records for most Top 40 hits. He had 53 Top 40 albums. He was so iconic and culturally relevant.
He also appeared in 31 films. One of his films was watched by more people than the number of people who watched the first man land on the moon. It was said that he transformed society. The 60s launched from him. One composer from the day said Elvis changed everything…music, language, clothes. It was a whole new social revolution. If you were alive during that time, you maybe remember the impact that some of us who weren't around didn't know this figure had, this person who was so culturally iconic.
What is also interesting about Elvis is he was also, sadly, kind of a train wreck. He had really interesting relational problems with his wife, where after she gave birth to their daughter, he refused to sleep with her. He had different affairs. Despite being such a culturally influential, iconic figure, he had some real issues. Eventually, he developed an addiction to prescription pills and had prescriptions in the thousands, and as you may or may not know, tragically, died alone at the age of 42. This person who was so incredibly influential and iconic, people knew he was also a train wreck, tragically.
Now, what does that have to do with the church in Corinth? Well, in a very similar way, the church in Corinth was in perhaps one of the most culturally influential, iconic locations of the day, and they also were kind of a train wreck. Paul is writing this letter to help them know what it looks like to be God's people and address the issues that were existing, despite them being culturally influential and existing in the city of Corinth, which was tremendously iconic…how they could be God's people and not be a train wreck.
Why do I say Corinth was such an iconic city? It was the third biggest city in the Roman Empire behind Rome and Alexandria. It was also, arguably, the wealthiest city in the Roman Empire. This is kind of historical, but it paints a picture of what was happening in that day. They were a port city that had a port on either side. It was an isthmus (basically, this land strip where Corinth was located) where they would have ships that would bring merchandise in, and then they would have ships on the other side that would bring merchandise out. It allowed people to gain tremendous wealth.
Most of society at that time had pretty fixed income or fixed access to resources and wealth. If you were born rich, that generally stayed the same. If you were born poor, there wasn't a ladder to climb…except in Corinth. They would come through and charge tolls on these people. But it wasn't just a wealthy city. It was also a place that was known for its sexual perverseness. It was home to the temple of Aphrodite, who was the goddess of sex, love, and beauty, and that was serviced by 1,000 prostitutes.
So, when Paul is addressing these people, and he's talking about temples and sexuality… When he brings up prostitutes in chapter 6, he's addressing people who had gone to the temple of Aphrodite, which was by far the largest prostitution temple in the Roman world. It was so synonymous with sexuality that Plato would write that to call a girl a Corinthian was slang for calling her a prostitute.
In other words, if you wanted to throw a dig or throw shade at somebody, and you didn't like a girl someone was dating, you would say, "Man, bro, she's like a Corinthian." That was how you would say she was someone who didn't have morals. We see Paul attempting to address this train wreck all throughout the letter.
It's a church Paul loved. Next to Ephesus, he spent more time in Corinth than any other place. He writes more to the church in Corinth, between the two letters we have and the two we don't, than any other church in the New Testament. His heart was, "Man, I want you to know, despite being in this world-famous city, iconic location, culturally influential town, how you can be God's people and face all of the temptations you're facing."
He writes and gives instructions, specifically in chapter 16, that had they done them, had they followed these two verses we're going to look at, would have prevented so much of the train wreck that has been covered the last 15 chapters. What do I mean by that? In chapter 3, he covers how there are divisions inside of the church. In chapter 5, he brings up that there is sexual incest taking place inside of the church in Corinth, where a man is sleeping with his father's wife.
I mean, stuff that Paul even says the pagan world is like… I'm talking Jerry Springer, next level "That's crazy," and that's what's happening. Men were sleeping with prostitutes, but not with their wives (chapter 6). Church members were suing each other in pagan courts. People were getting drunk on Communion, which is comical in our day, because how many of those little cups would that take? He's going, "What are y'all doing?"
He writes and says, "You're fighting over spiritual gifts and preferring one another." Then in chapter 15, "You're denying the resurrection." So, Paul lays out, "Hey, these are the principles that, if you will live by them, will protect you and allow you to be God's people." They're the same principles that are relevant to us, both as a church in general and personally in our own lives.
So, I want to walk through verses 13 and 14 and talk about standing firm in a fallen world. Let me read those verses again. I'm going to read them for each of the four points as we go through this for the next 25 minutes. "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love."
They were seeing sexual sin as many still see it today. "It's not that big of a deal. It's just a prostitute. Sex is just physical. Pornography is not that big of a deal." They were basing their behaviors on a denial of the resurrection. They were having infighting. Paul is saying, "Hey, you need to make sure you are on guard."
To us he would say the same thing. "You are to watch your heart and your habits, because there's an enemy called sinful nature that comes from within you, and there is an enemy outside of you called Satan who is looking to destroy everything about your life." If Paul was sitting across the table from you, he would say, "You need to be on guard. There is an enemy who wants to destroy your family. He wants to destroy your marriage. He wants you to live this entire life and focus it on the American dream and forfeit experiencing your purpose in Christ."
Peter would say in 1 Peter 5:8, "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." The Bible teaches over and over there is an enemy who hates you. He hates anything godly and anything good in your life. He hates your marriage. He wants you to continue to hold bitterness against the family member who really hurt you. He wants you to be covered in anxiety about how your kids are doing. He wants you to live in isolation and not open up with your Community Group.
He wants your marriage to fall apart. He wants you to think, "It's not that big of a deal. It's just a few drinks. It's just a click on a website." He wants to do anything and everything he can to erode anything good in your life. He wants you to get pregnant and convince yourself abortion is the solution. He wants you to not pray for, care for, or pursue your kids or your spouse. He wants you to be so busy you really can't be a part of a community or a part of a local church.
Sometimes it's not even that. He just wants to distract you from experiencing God's plan for your life. In Ephesians, chapter 6, Paul would say he has schemes. It's the same word for tricks. He is seeking to take you out. The question is…How in each of our lives? My guess is if you were sitting there and asked yourself, "If I were Satan, how would I take myself out…?" Do you know how and in which ways you should be watchful?
If he were going to take out your marriage, how would he do it? Through some interactions and maybe an emotional relationship at work that has drifted beyond what's appropriate that could lead to a place where your marriage is not where your wife or husband wants it to be. Would it be through your commitment to providing for your family being so great and taking up so much time that your presence with your family, which is the most important thing you can give them, you're no longer doing?
I don't know what it is for you. I know that in my own life, I need to know, and I need to have community around me know, "Here are the ways Satan will tempt or could be tempting me and could discourage me and make me discontent, and I'm tempted to feed it." Paul would say, "Be watchful," the thing they were not doing.
The word for Satan comes from a root word of adversary, and it means to hide and ambush. He is seeking to ambush you and me. As Christians, we live in a tension where greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is now at work in those who believe to bring about God's will in our lives.
So, despite the fact that there is an enemy that is seeking to devour, we know and say the victory ultimately is Christ's, and we can rest in that, but Paul said to the church in Corinth, and would say to us, "You still need to be on guard. There's an enemy seeking to take you out. He has been defeated by Christ on the cross and has a fatal blow and will once and finally be dealt with eventually, but in this day, he is still seeking to take as many out as he can."
I have a friend who pastors a church in Austin, and a member of their congregation went on a safari, hunting for lions. While they were in Africa, he had a guide, and they were basically going and tracking to hunt a lion. Eventually, they found one. The guide directed him to take the shot. He took the shot, and it hit the lion, but it wasn't an immediate kill. It didn't knock him over. It hit the lion, and then he took off.
They begin to track him. They had the tracks, and now they have a trail of blood. So, they're following the trail, and they're following the tracks. Eventually, it was like the tracks ran out. Where could he have gone? So, they continue looking around and trying to find him. Then all of a sudden, they're walking, and the guide grabs his hand and says, "Give me the gun." They turn around, and the lion is behind them. The guide was not taking any chances on this Austin, Texas, homeboy making the final shot. He takes the gun and shoots the lion that was charging at them.
Despite the fact that the lion had been dealt a fatal blow and despite the fact that they thought they were the hunters, they were being hunted. The same is true for you and me. There is an enemy who's seeking to do anything and everything he can to destroy what is good in your life, to erode the relationship you have with your kids, to keep you from being a light at your work. So Paul says, "Be watchful." "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love."
In other words, it's like this. Every summer, we do a family staycation. We stay at the Hilton Anatole, which is a hotel here in town. At the Hilton Anatole, they have an outdoor water park. It's not the largest thing ever, but it exists, and it's great. When you're 5, it's the greatest thing in the world. So, we go there every summer.
My son, who's 6, and my daughter, who's 4, in particular, love the lazy river. We'll just get on that, and they want to go around and around and around, to the point where, as a parent, you're like, "Okay. I am getting dizzy. We have gone 75 times around the lazy river. Let's go do something else." But they just love it, because they pick their feet up, and it just directs them.
Paul is saying if you're not intentional to make sure "I'm going to not compromise in these ways. I am deciding beforehand I'm not going to do that…" If you just pick your feet up and don't make the decision to stand firm, like a lazy river will push you along, the culture around you will push you along in how you think, how you make decisions, how you make purchases, where you live, and what success is.
He's saying you have to make the decision, "I am going to define what success is. I'm going to decide how I'm going to live my life from the Word of God. I am making the decision I will not compromise. I'm not going to compromise when it comes to that work trip and that happy hour or going to different locations just because it'll help the business grow or being in environments where things that God died for on the cross are being celebrated.
I'm not going to compromise when it comes to being honest with my clients. I'm making the decision I'm not going to compromise and allow life to get so busy I can't be connected and plugged into a local church." Maybe you're a teacher. It's making the decision, "I'm not going to compromise when it comes to what I'm going to teach my children if it contradicts my faith. I'm not going to compromise when it comes to embracing what the culture says about what marriage is, about gender."
Maybe this is as relevant to this room as any of them: "I'm not going to compromise when it comes to, in the name of providing for my family, not being present with my family." Let me say this. I've been working with young adults for 13 years. In that time, I've had a lot of conversations and had a lot of chances to hear about young adults; in particular, often the challenges they face growing up.
In all of those conversations, I have never once heard the person complain over "You know what my biggest struggles are? When I was growing up, my dad never took me to the Bahamas. I didn't get a Range Rover when I turned 16. I didn't live in the nicest area of town. He was always home and always at my sporting events, and he was always caring for me and my family." I've never heard it, but I have heard story after story after story of people who said, "Man, my dad… We had everything you would want except him."
It's making the decision, "I'm not going to sacrifice my family on the altar of providing for my family." Paul is saying, "Stand firm in a world that is going to seek to push you." How do we know where to stand firm? The Bible says it's by knowing and applying God's Word that we stand firm in the culture. Psalm 1 says, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked." In verse 2: "His delight is in the law of the Lord. He meditates on God's word day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season. Its leaf does not wither."
He says it's like a tree that's by a stream of water, which means its roots go deep into that water, and they're strong, so when life and challenges come or when culture and the world around you is pushing up against you, it is going to stand firm. That man who meditates, knows, studies, and applies God's Word is able to stand firm.
In 2019, I had gotten home… It was the summer of 2019. I'd taken some of our Porch leaders and volunteers on a retreat, and we were gone for the weekend. I came home and basically told my wife, "You've been with the kids all weekend. You go do whatever you want to do. I've got the kids." Husband of the year. Here we go.
So, I take the kids. She goes out shopping or whatever. About 45 minutes later, a storm hits that, if you were around that summer, you would have remembered. Hail was going everywhere, wind… It was like we were in a tornado, it felt like. About eight minutes later, very quickly, it was over. I went outside to see if there was any damage or anything, and here's one of the pictures from our front yard. Trees were on the ground.
I walk out and look down the street, and I see it's not just our house. This was all over the local area. This storm had come through, and tree after tree after tree had fallen. I called my wife and was like, "Where are you? Are you okay?" She was like, "What are you talking about?" She had been in Old Navy's changing room and missed the entire thing. Classic. Always in the changing room.
I bring that up to say when you think about all of those different trees… The ones that stood standing had one thing the trees that fell didn't. The roots were able to hold. The Scripture says the way you and I stand firm, as men and women of God and as a church in general, is by having roots that are able to hold because they're anchored deeply in the Word of God that informs how we think about life in general. Paul says, "Stand firm in the faith." "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love."
But Paul is saying in particular to these men, "Hey, you need to act like men. Be strong. Let everything you do be done in love." Your translation may have "Be courageous." Paul is saying, "Hey, use your strength in order to serve and sacrifice." Our culture has kind of a weird perspective and flawed perspective on masculinity, where it's either a man is somebody who's so macho and just "Hear me roar" and "This is my bench press" and "I'll crush stuff on my head" and "No emotion ever" and "Don't cry" and "Art is for sissies," all of which is a flawed perspective.
In fact, it's not even biblical. King David was very artistic and cried more tears in one place that he said, "I ran out of tears to cry." So, if you buy that perspective on what it means to be a man, you're picking a fight with King David. And let me just say, if I have to choose between whoever you are and King David, I'm taking David every time. In 1 Samuel 17, it says he killed a lion with his bare hands. I don't care how much CrossFit you do. You are not taking on King David.
So, it's flawed to think it's macho, but it's also flawed because now, even more prevalent probably, is this "Gender doesn't exist, and men and women are the same," which is also not biblical. In our culture that encourages women to act like men or men to act like women… The Bible encourages men to act like Jesus and to be strong and use their strength not to advance themselves, but to serve and sacrifice courageously for the benefit of others.
So, to the men in Corinth (he would say the same to us)… This means having the strength to serve and sacrifice as a husband, for those of us who are married; to follow Ephesians, chapter 5: "I'm going to lay down my life for my wife, like Christ laid down his life for me," which is one of the most convicting verses, I think, as a husband, in the New Testament. The constant call for you and me is to die to self in order to serve; as fathers, to care and protect those we raise, our children.
For most of us, the most important thing in our lives will not be something we do or something we achieve. It will be the "someones" we raise. Paul says, "Use that strength for the sake of your family, for the sake of your marriage, for the sake of your world, and be strong and serve and sacrifice for the sake of others." As singles, it's still the same instruction. "I'm going to serve our church. I'm going to serve our city."
If you don't know how (and you're not alone) in terms of "What does it look like to be God's man?" we want to help connect the dots. One way we're uniquely going to do that… (This is a side note if you are interested.) This fall, we're going to provide an opportunity for older men and younger men to come together and walk through what God's Word says about how to be God's man. We're going to provide a chance to sit around and just talk about how we strengthen ourselves as men, not for our own benefit, but to serve and to be like Jesus.
So, we're going to provide that starting in September. If you're interested in being a part of that, either being in one of the groups or maybe helping lead one of the groups, I want you to write down this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of you all… Maybe your kids have been gone and you have been empty nesters for a while, and you still have so much younger men would benefit from hearing. "How do I be God's man?"
We're going to walk through a curriculum called BetterMan. If you're one of the ladies in the room, in addition to all of the different amazing opportunities, like Women's Bible Study and the Collective coming up next Saturday, we're also in the works of providing something else, but this, specifically, is an opportunity that's going to exist for the first time this fall. Paul is saying, "Be strong. Have the courage to serve and sacrifice."
It's fascinating how much courage is so compelling and inspiring and attractive. I say that because the most successful movie box office world hit of all time is Avengers: Endgame. Anybody seen Avengers: Endgame in here? Okay. Three of you. Awesome. I actually have not gotten to see the movie, but I was being told by somebody this week about the courageous moment at the very end where Thanos is basically trying to conquer the world, and Iron Man sacrifices and lays down his life and dies. (Clearly, I missed the plot or something. There's so much snickering going on in here.)
He sacrifices, and 2.5 billion people would go see that. There's something that's inspiring about it. But it's not just inspiring; it's a call for those of us who follow Jesus. There was a missionary in the 1800s to the island of Fiji named James Calvert. He basically was being dropped off at the island of Fiji where there were cannibals, this tribe on the island. When he got to the island, the captain of the ship tried to get him to turn back. He said to him, "You will die. If you stay here, you will die. The men with you will die. Anyone on this island will die."
After a moment, Calvert replied, "We died before we came here. We died to ambition, goals, and dreams. We died to self and everything the self desires. We died so that Christ may live in and through us, that whatever we attempt within this missionary call of God would bring him glory, and only him. We died before we came so there would be no hindrance, no barriers within ourselves to follow Christ into the areas of the world where there is a great darkness yearning for light." Paul says, "Be strong. Be courageous. Stand firm."
Paul says, "Here's what I mean. Let everything you do be done in love. Oh, by the way, here's what love is. Let everything you do be marked by patience and kindness. To be marked by love means you do not envy. You do not boast. You're not proud. It doesn't dishonor others. It's not self-seeking. If I dishonor others or I'm self-seeking, I'm not operating in love. It's not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. It doesn't delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres."
This is so at the heart of the New Testament that if you're familiar with the teachings of Jesus and Paul and the letters in general, over and over and over it hammers what Christianity introduced, this new radical ethic of love. Because of God's love for humanity, Christians are now called to love what God loves, which is people, and love one another. Jesus would say, "This will be the defining characteristic that will showcase to the world that you're my followers."
In John, chapter 13, he said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Jesus would say it's not going to be how many Bible verses you know or how much you accomplish in your job. "The world will know you are my followers by how you treat and love one another."
My son, when he was 4, played in the YMCA soccer league, which is an experience in itself. While we were there, I coached the team. We showed up for a game, and we had red jerseys. When you're playing soccer with 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds, it's kind of chaos in general, where you just kind of want to direct them in one direction, and that's your goal. But we showed up, and the other team was also in red jerseys.
As I said, 4-year-old soccer is chaotic and confusing enough, but when everyone looks the same… You're like, "That's our goal down there," but all of a sudden, it's a sea of red. It's very easy to go, "All right. When do we get the juice boxes, and is this over?" because everyone looks the same. The jersey that is to be worn for Christians is one of love, and it's to look different from the world around us. It can be especially difficult when the church is not wearing that jersey. You look like everybody else.
So many people are not attracted to the church because they look around, and they just look like everybody else. They're not wearing the jersey of love. They're wearing the jersey of the world around them. Paul says, "Let everything you do… What's unique and distinct and what should mark you as God's people is that you move and operate in love." So, Paul says, "Stand firm in the faith. Be strong, and use that strength to sacrifice for the good of others, and then be marked by the jersey of love, and you will be the people of God and be able to stand firm."
What's remarkable is that the church in the first century did these things, and we know what happened as a result of them doing so. It went from this tiny movement in the armpit of the Roman Empire, led by a Jewish peasant who had been a carpenter before, and exploded and went all over the world in a few short years. Even the persecution of the Roman Empire in places like Corinth and Jerusalem, where they attempted to stomp out this new Christian cult movement, was no match for when God's people said, "We're going to stand firm in truth. We're going to live in love and care for people." They lived out these teachings, and they saw it topple an empire.
There's a picture I look at every single day on my desk. It's a picture my wife gave to me, and I'll explain why I look at it. It reminds me that there is no end and no barrier to what God can do when his people say, "I'm going to stand firm in truth. I'm going to live in love, imperfectly, but I'm going to seek to be God's person and live according to his Word. I'm going to be watchful in my life. I'm going to be watchful with others around me, and I'm going to live accordingly. I want to use my strength to sacrifice and serve."
I look at that picture because it's a picture of something within this building. This is the Roman Colosseum. It's a wonder of the ancient world. At that time when Paul was writing, gladiatorial games took place. It held 50,000 people. It had 76 gates, just like today AT&T Stadium has different gates. You pull up your camel to the gate. There they are.
The Roman Empire had a single gate for the emperor at that time and a seat the emperor would sit in. He would go in and sit in that seat. If you're not familiar, inside of this Colosseum would take place games that would end the life of thousands and thousands of people, either fighting with one another or fighting with different animals. Then centurions would take the dead bodies and drag the blood off the ground.
Christians by the thousands would lose their lives there and in Nero's circus down the road, as they were persecuted for holding and trying to stand firm. The picture that sits on my desk is this. It's a picture of a cross that sits where the emperor once sat, declaring life or death over those participating in the games, over Christians who would be crucified outside of the city walls until they ran out of wood.
It's a picture of a cross. It's not a cross representing crucifixion, the most brutal death sentence Rome could issue. It is a cross representing the love of God for the world, the single crucifixion of the Savior of the world, who would come in and give his life and rise again from the dead, and anyone who accepts him as Lord and Savior will live forever with him in eternity.
His followers would take that message, and they would go around, despite being persecuted, and they would stand firm and hold to truth. They would go around, despite being attacked and killed and losing their lives, and they would love the people around them. They saw it explode everywhere. The reason that's so a reflection to me that there is no end to what God can do…
Imagine if we went back in a time machine to the first century, and we entered into the gates and saw the crowds of thousands, 50,000 people sitting around, and we saw someone who had just recently lost their life. They're grieving over their brother or sister who had just been killed on the floor of that arena for their Christian faith.
We pull them aside and say, "Hey, they're with Jesus now, and here's what you need to know. In just a few short years, this stadium will be empty. Where that emperor now sits, there will not be an emperor declaring life or death. There will be a cross, and it will declare God's love for the world. The empire will fall to the Christian faith your brother or sister just lost their life for." They could not have believed it, yet that's exactly what happened.
The saying of the day was "Rome is forever," and within a few short centuries, through the faithful love and firmness of faith of followers of Jesus, the empire fell. Now people travel all over the world not to come see Rome. They travel to that place to see where Paul was, where Christians gathered, because when his people hold fast to truth, stand firm in their faith, use their strength to serve, and act in love, he changes the world. Let me pray.
Father, I thank you for the ways you moved powerfully then and you're still at work powerfully now. I thank you for the church in Corinth and the reminder to broken people like me that there is good news for broken people. I pray that you would help us, as a church, to stand firm in a culture and society that has continuing hostility toward that. I pray that you would help us to be marked as we do by love and that we would serve others around us.
Father, I pray for anyone here today who doesn't know and has never received and trusted in your Son as the payment for their sin, that that would change, and I pray you would help us to be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be courageous and strong, and let everything we do be done in love. In Christ's name, amen.