Our title for today's message is "Called Out and Called Up." One of the things that people misunderstand about the Christian faith is how God utilizes conviction for his glory. How many of you have been convicted by God? I'm talking about when God just ate your lunch in your heart. You know, just went after you. If God isn't calling you out you will never get called up. In other words, if God never jams you up, he will never grow you up. So being jammed up by God is a good thing, where he backs you in a corner. He loves you enough to tell you about yourself.
What I like about God is God isn't somebody that enters your newsfeed online and puts you on blasts in the comment line in front of your followers. You know, God is a gracious God, he will inbox you. Then he'll make you go into your own newsfeed and rebuke yourself because you know how good he's been to you in the inbox. So don't mistake God inboxing your soul, that is God calling you, as him not loving you. He wants to call you up. That's what I love about a relationship with God. It's never wasted conviction with him. God doesn't tell his people off just to tell them off. See, some of us are so used to giving each other a piece of our mind. But God gives us a piece of himself, if you will, if not all of himself to help us to be better.
So Paul culminates 1 Corinthians in a powerful way, as he has been challenging God's people to grow up in every single area of their life. So in chapters 1-4 he gave them the foundation of their spiritual immaturity. Paul is getting up in the faces of believers and confronting them with their carnality, stinking thinking, cliques, and lack of submission to spiritual authority. Paul challenges them at the foundation of their spiritual growth. But then from chapter 5 through chapter 7, we saw that he challenges their spiritual growth, morality, and sexuality. In challenging them in their morality and their sexuality, they saw that their immaturity showed itself up in their functional practices in how they were in their moral commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. Then from chapters 8-10 he talks about them giving Jesus a bad name in the neighborhood, and he challenges them on that reality. Then from chapters 11 to 14, he talks about their commitment in maturity in relationship to how they gathered and how they made the most of those gatherings. But then in about the 15th chapter he utilizes and he retroacts how the resurrection can impact all of those things. He shows how the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, particularly the resurrection of Christ, has called them up to a resurrected life, not a buried life. So he challenges them to that reality.
Now in chapter 16, he gives them two applicational takeaways. There are many things that can be extracted from here but he gives the Corinthians, and us, some takeaways that are a continuous barometer for where we are in our walk. If you want to challenge yourself in an area of your life you look at these two areas, which really is one area split up into two. The area is love. Your level, your barometer in love, will show you where you are practically in your spiritual maturity. If you're going to be called out to be called up, you've got to recognize that you're called up to intentional generosity and called up to intentional hospitality.
(Read 1 Corinthians 16:1-4)
Called up to intentional generosity
We're not going to apologize for asking you to participate in kingdom work anymore. In other words, many of us have marked giving out of our spiritual maturity quotient, because of bad practices of churches, that now you're not generous at all, you just use it for you. People are always looking at what a church is like. I want you to turn that around. Turn it from looking at how you view the church financially and now I want you to turn it to your own heart. We're not TBN and Daystar today. You know if I was to say, "Today if you sow a seed, there's somebody out there, there's a warmth that's going to hit your back right now. Once you give a seed of $1,000 call 1-888-preach-the-word, heat's going to hit hot, there it is. There it is." See, you're used to all kinds of shenanigans.
When you look at this text there is no manipulation at all. I am not going to promise you, if you give, God's going to give you something in return. All the Lord said was if you sow sparingly you reap sparingly, if you sow bountifully you reap bountifully. You are not going to be cursed with a curse based on Malachi 3 because that's the Old Testament under the law. Christ became a curse to become a cure, so now he's casting out all of the curses of the Old Testament so you can only experience the blessings of them. So I'm not going to tell you today that your car is going to break down if you don't give, I'm not going to tell you you won't get sick and your grandmamma will die. I am not going to tell any of that because that's a lie. But I am going to tell you that you need to consider the role that generosity has in your spiritual growth.
Clear leadership directives
Paul says that generosity must have clear leadership directives. So there is direction to giving, that leadership should lead, that they shouldn't be afraid to. Paul is matter of fact and very clear in his commitment to call the church to biblical giving and a commitment to giving. He says that this is the norm in all the churches. This is not some special dispensation for one church. But this is the disposition that Paul has even when he had to ask for money from the church for his kingdom mission.
Second, generosity should be done regularly. Paul says, "On the first day of every week." I like that. That means that every week you should be figuring out a way to be generous financially. This points to a commitment to being a regular giver, not a seasonal giver. I know of one church, when you became member, part of the membership process is you have to give them your household income and then the pastor tells you how much you're going to give. Now, I don't know where that is in the Bible, but all I know is that you should be giving. Giving shouldn't be contrived and manipulated. The reason why people manipulate people is they don't trust God with people.
Giving regularly means you need to be looking at strategically how to give. It should be a part of the flow of your life. Like the same way you pay your rent or mortgage—on time, hopefully. The same way you pay your cell phone bill—on time.
Third, generosity should be done universally. Look what Paul says, "Each of you." That means it's a commitment of everybody in the church. There is a commitment that if you're a believer you're thinking through generosity. Every single one of us should be thinking through generosity. There should be a regular commitment to giving that's a part of the matrix. It's good for your soul. That's why the Bible says, "It's more blessing to give than to receive." So it should be universal. So even the poor, if you're on public assistance, God calls you to give. Even if you're from the block to the board room, everybody that's a believer is committed to giving.
Clarity of purpose
Fourth, there must always be clarity on where the money is going. Paul says "collection for the saints." Don't ever give money to a ministry that you don't know where exactly the money is going. Notice that Paul tells them exactly where the money was going. Everywhere in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, whenever there was giving there was always a clarity of where the money went. Even when you look to the spontaneous giving in the book of Acts you see that it was given for a particular purpose. Even when you look at the giving of the money to the temple when Moses was called by God to go to the people of God and ask for resources, this much gold, this much cedar, this much silver, this much bronze. God showed them exactly where it was going because God always wants us to see where we're sowing so that we can rejoice in the harvest of what God does where we sow it. That's very, very important.
That's why as we plant these churches, some of you need to go visit these church plants. Some of you on a Sunday need to go to Epiphany Camden and see where your money went. Pastor Doug and them are right across from the projects engaging hundreds of people on a weekly basis. Some of you at some point need to go up to Restoration Church. Go on up there and put some money in the basket and spend some time watching where the resources are going and look what type of meeting place they're meeting in. When Epiphany Brooklyn opens up, go up there. When we plant in L.A., save up your money because it's going to cost some money to go across the country like that. It's going to be an offering just to get you there. Go there and look at what Pastor Tommy is doing and find out how God is using them there. Sit and look at where resources are going, because when you see where resources is going, it changes your heart towards giving, because you no longer look at the money, you look at what God is doing. So it changes even how you look at your resources.
Why am I saying all of this? Because it's very, very important to watch people. I love the fact that you trust us when we have the business meeting, and so little of you guys come, but I want everybody to come one time. We want you to come sit down and look at where the money is going that you're giving, because it changes your generosity when you see what God is up to. It excites you about the commitment to the gospel. When you see people getting saved, baptized, and changed, it changes your disposition when you clearly where money is going.
Fifth, generosity must be done systematically. Paul says, "Each of you should put something aside and store it up." That means you need to give prayerfully and have clarity on the amount. Sometimes the Holy Ghost is telling you to give more than you wanted to give. Not all the time, but every now and then he will prick you. You'll think, God, are you sure? Just give, be obedient. If married, consult your spouse. Don't run around the church and say later, "Honey, the Lord told me to give the whole paycheck." Well, you've got to talk about that with your spouse. I'm saying all of this to say we've got to have a commitment so that we can give systematically.
Next is proportionately. That means based on your economic bracket. Don't watch someone else give and try to give like them. You give as the Lord has proportioned you based on your economic bracket.
Finally, you must make sure that the money is accountable. Look what Paul says, "And when I arrive I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem." So basically he is saying "What I want to make sure we do is when the money gets counted we're going to make a letter, those who you authorize must be signatured on that letter as the ones who carried it, plus the amount from the last count." So that when they go to Jerusalem and give the money, they open a letter. You know like on crazy TV shows, gangsters, they open it up and make sure that it's not just a $100 on the top and one's in the middle. So they count it, to make sure that there is accountability in the way giving is done.
When God calls us out he calls us up. He's calling the Corinthians to generosity. Remember that God is the most generous Being on earth. When you were unsaved he let you breathe his air. He let you harvest his food. He let you bask in his sunlight. And he did that without you knowing him as Savior. So he's generous. To let somebody live in your house and act a fool and you still let them live there and eat your food. Earth is the house of God, the universe as a matter of fact is his footstool. So in other words God is the most generous, you're never going to beat him at what he does, and our generosity should reflect him because of what he did for us through Christ, which he gave the best of heaven not the least of heaven. He didn't give the archangel Michael, it wouldn't have worked. He had to give his Son.
Called up to intentional hospitality
Remember these are barometers for spiritual maturity for where you are in your walk with Jesus Christ. So he talked about generosity, now he's going to talk about hospitality. The word hospitality isn't in this passage; the practice of it is. So hospitality literally means a friend of strangers. In other words, you're a welcoming person, not an unwelcoming person. Have you ever been around somebody and you know they don't want you around? You walked in a room and there's someone in the room that feels like they're saying get out. That's not a hospitable person.
(Read 1 Corinthians 16:5-12)
Make room in our lives for others
Paul is talking about people who have a welcoming philosophy in how their Christianity blesses others. He says, "I will visit you after passing through Macedonia." I like that. Paul told them he was going to come visit. He goes on to say, "Perhaps I will stay with you for a while … " Interesting, he says perhaps. Paul is literally saying, "Maybe you'll be hospitable." Because you have to understand they didn't care for Paul too much. If you remember throughout the book, they didn't come for Paul that much. But it's interesting that he is willing to test their spiritual maturity by coming into houses where he knows he isn't liked. Look what he says, and listen to the affection in his voice, " … or even spend the winter … " That's a long time. That's like three, four months. Can you imagine being three, four months somewhere with somebody who doesn't like you? If you don't like me I can get out right now, I've got my own place. But Paul said he wants to spend some time there.
Paul goes on to say, "I don't want to see you now in passing." Paul doesn't want to go through this area real quick, he wants to spend time with them. Do you know how much maturity that takes? To want to be around somebody that you know hates your innards. Paul says, "I want to spend some time if the Lord permits." That means he's praying that God would open up the door for him to spend time with people that don't like him. It's rough. It's crazy. This is real Christianity. This isn't for the faint of heart, where you want to be around everybody that makes you feel good. But he's around there to serve them. Look what he says, "I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for effective work has been opened to me and there are many adversaries."
Hospitality in the midst of chaos
Paul is talking about the Christians who are going through a lot of persecution, and he's giving them an inferential example. He's saying, "They're going through persecution, there are many adversaries there, but a wide door has been opened for ministry." He is going to spend time with Christians who are going through a lot and they are willing to be hospitable in the midst of their hard times. In other words, the hard times in your life aren't soulless seasons. These Christians are going through persecution, they may have to say, "Come around the back, pull the car back in the alley, turn the lights off on the front of the car, before you come through the alley they may see you and then we're going to have a window open, come in." That type of situation. Paul is willing to lovingly commit to effective ministry with that wide door being open, that they would do that in the midst of chaos.
Hospitality frees leaders to serve the flock Now watch what Paul does here. All this is hospitality, spiritual growth stuff. This is grown woman, grown man stuff here in the Spirit. Verse 10 says, "When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease." 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. It's bad that Paul has to tell them that. He has to tell Christians to treat a Christian missionary with hospitality. In other words, mature churches should already know and are committed to doing that type of stuff as a part of the regimen of their Christian life.
So we see several things here in this case study. Paul says that hospitality frees leaders to serve the flock. He also says see that you put them at ease. Finally, he says to let no one despise Timothy or ridicule him. Paul ends this section by saying, "Help him on his way in peace, support his ministry."
Paul goes on to say, in verse 12, "So concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit with you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come to you now." That's interesting. Apollos straight up told Paul, "No, I'm going to roll down to Ephesus, see the Corinthians later." I'm just reading what the text says. Apollos said he will come when he has opportunity. But you know, they loved Apollos because he was the preacher's preacher.
(Read 1 Corinthians 16:13-24)
Love + hospitality = maturity
Paul then encourages the Corinthians. He says in verse 13, "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men. Be strong, let all that you be done, done in love." What is he saying here? Be spiritual adults. He's not saying be manly, even though that can apply to men. He's saying to the church, be like what's in 1 Corinthians 13 where it says, "When I was a child I spoke as a child, did as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things." So he's talking about them committing themselves to transitioning to spiritual adulthood. So that means that no matter what season of life you're in, whether you are a Millennial, Boomer, Buster, Shaker, Civil Rights Generation, Hippy Generation, Hip-hop Generation, Black Bujjaje generation, Multi-ethnic generation—wherever you are culturally and economically, all of us are called to have a comprehensive robust commitment to spiritual maturity. That means that you've got to hear hard words from God that helps the healing and development of your soul in him in very powerful ways.
Now he gives a case study of hospitality—Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus. So let's break these three down. Stephanas, Paul says, and his household were the first converts. The word here "first" could be translated first fruits. Now first fruits here points back to Jesus Christ and how Jesus Christ was the first fruits of us. Meaning that Jesus' resurrection represents God harvesting everybody who believes in him. Because when you look at the first fruits of a harvest you look at the quality of the fruit that comes up that lets you know how much the quality of the other fruit that comes after it is going to be.
So what is Paul saying about Stephanas? He says Stephanas and his whole household trusted Jesus Christ as Savior. When they trusted Jesus Christ as Savior they've grown from spiritual empathy to spiritual maturity. In Achaia they were the first fruits of what God was going to do in that place. Now in accompanying the work of God, their fruitfulness in what God was doing in their life was so amazing that it affected their city. In other words, when God changed your life he wanted you to be a first fruit of something that's beyond where you are. So what Paul is helping us to recognize and understand, from a hospitality standpoint and from a love standpoint, is that God has saved you for more than just you. He's saved you to be a harvest. So therefore when you get harvested you're supposed to become a harvester.
Paul goes on to say, "They have devoted themselves to the service of the saints." They're not selfish Christians. He says, "Be subject to such as these." Then Paul says, "Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus, they have made up for your absence." What does that mean? It literally means that they filled in the gaps. Fill in the gaps means this: That they didn't come to the church to look for its faults. They came in with a glass half full philosophy versus a glass half empty. Instead of complaining about the deficiencies of the church they plugged themselves in to spackle the mess-ups. I don't know if you've ever seen a wall that gets spackled. But when you pictures down that you hung on a wall a bunch of holes are leftover. What you have to do before you paint is you have to do some work. You have to get some spackle and you've got to smash it down on that area, and then go over all of the holes in the wall. What you do is when it dries you get a sander or you sand by hand and make it leveled so nothing is sticking out. Then what you do is you let it dry and then what you do is you paint over it and then you no longer see the deficiencies in it. That's what good Christians do in the church. Good Christians who are mature spackle in the brokenness of the church. So these three men, Paul says "I'm picking them up. I love these three so much, I want you to recognize that they have filled in the gaps where you guys haven't." That's what he told the Corinthians. He said, You haven't done this. So it took three men to do what a whole church was supposed to do.
Paul goes on to say about these three men, "For they have refreshed my spirit as well as yours." This reminds me of some great stories my wife and I have of when we first got married. This reminds me of when we were in seminary, and we had some people sort of adopt us. We were in a 4,000-member church and we were serving in ministry and I ended up getting on staff. We had two couples Don and Gina and Wayne and Joanne. They refreshed us. Don and Gina were young corporate people on their first corporate job, and they had a huge home, which they bought for a purpose. They bought a 5-bedroom home and they would invite like 30 of us over, and we would have sleepovers and watch TV shows and build relationships into the late night. I can remember Gina would cook lamb, leg of lamb. They didn't know that sometimes when me and my wife had hard times their house was our meal. Wayne and Joanne Mitchell adopted us. They built such relationship capital with me and my wife that they brought us in the house one time and were on one of our relational break ups. I was done with Yvette, she was done with me. We broke up like 17 times. I can remember them saying, "You all are coming over to our house today." A 50-year-old couple that would love on us and they had built such hospitality and relational capital with us. They said to us, "You all either break up for good and leave each other alone or spend some time in prayer and commit to being married." That changed our trajectory forever. There should be a lot of those stories in churches because there is a lot of opportunity for hospitality in the church.
You don't have to have a big house. You can have a dorm room. You can be renting a room. Where you are is where you can show off the glory of Christ. You don't have to wait until you get all of this stuff in place. You don't need a full household infrastructure to show love. You can be hospitable where you are. There are always gleanings to leave. It's interesting that the Levirate law, in the Old Testament, said if you had land you couldn't glean the edges. So those who didn't have land could glean the edges and you could build a relationship with them and either engage them with the truth about Yahweh or strengthen them in their journey. Everybody's got gleanings that they could leave out. My mother, they called her Mom Mason in the neighborhood, always made extra greens, always made extra chicken and dumplings, always made extra, because she used food as a relationship builder with people. When you have your funeral and the microphone is open, what are people going to say about you? What are people going to say about your commitment to Jesus Christ and how your affection for Jesus and your affection for them has impacted their journey for the Lord God?
(Read 1 Corinthians 16:19-24)
He says, "The churches of Asia send you greetings." Now you've got to understand, everybody in the known world of Christianity at this time knew how trifling the Corinthians were. So I want you to read that in light of this closing. Listen to what Paul says even in the midst of how trifling this church was, how whoremongling they were. How snooty they were. How unjust oriented they were. How hateful towards the poor they were. Look at what he says about them, "The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla, together with the church in their house"—there is another view of hospitality—"send you hearty greetings." They didn't stop talking to them. How did these churches in Asia greet the Corinthians? Paul says, "In the Lord they send you greetings." That was the only way they were going to greet them, was in the Lord. In the Lord you can greet everybody.
Then Paul says, "Now, this is what I want you to do, greet one another with a holy kiss." You know you've got to explain the Corinthians holy kiss. You know the dudes would be bringing out breath freshener. He said a holy kiss, you know, licking your lips like LL Cool J, trying to kiss somebody. That's not what he's talking about here. He's talking about a holy kiss.
Paul says, "I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand." He says, I'm not dictating it. He is literally saying "This is a long letter to write to somebody, see how much I love you. There is a reason why I write this, I love you." Then he said, he went real gangster on this verse, "If anyone has no love for the Lord let them be accursed." Paul, you just went from greeting and kissing now kapow. But he's assuming they have love. In other words he is telling the Corinthians that if what I'm saying to you doesn't cause you to move towards the Lord, you don't know him.
Paul finishes by saying, "The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you, my love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen." Pray that the church and preaching and relationships and community are supposed to expose where we are and where we are not, yet refresh and encourage us to be what God wants us to be. A church is a hospital of messy people that are under the doctor's knife constantly. Your Christian life was meant to be a consistent surgery. You never come from under the knife and God doesn't give anesthesia, but he does give comfort. My prayer is that God has encouraged and challenged your soul. I pray that in the mighty name of Jesus Christ that we will be a community committed consistently to growing up.
Eric Mason is the founder and lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA. He is also the founder and president of Thriving.