To Love and to Rescue

Studies in First Corinthians

by Bob Burridge ©2019
Lesson 50: 1 Corinthians 16:15-24 (ESV)

To Love and to Rescue

Rescue Operations have given us
some amazing moments
in human history.

One of the earliest was Abraham’s heroic rescue of Lot in Genesis 14.
Lot was Abraham’s nephew. He was a very self-centered man. Some time after he moved to the pagan and immoral city of Sodom he was among the victims in the wars of the kings in that region.

A report came to Abraham that Lot, his family, and all they owned had been captured. Wasting no time Abraham organized an army and armed them for a rescue mission. He quickly prepared and armed 318 of his best trained servants to mount a surprise attack. That small and inexperienced army would have to face four powerful armies, ones that had just defeated five strong armies in the regional war. So Abraham moved quickly before the enemy could possibly expect an attack. He divided his small army into separate units to attack simultaneously during the dark of night. They soundly defeated the enemy and rescued Lot, his family and their possessions.

I remember the amazing rescue at Entebbe in 1976. Air France flight 139 was taken over by Arab hijackers and forced to land in Entebbe, Uganda. The PLO demanded the release of 53 convicted terrorists being held in Israel, France, Germany, Switzerland and Kenya. If they weren’t released by July 1st they would blow up the plane and kill all 245 passengers.

Diplomacy wasn’t getting anywhere. To make their racial hatred clear the terrorists released the hostages who weren’t Jews. They still held 105 Israeli and Jewish men, women, and children. We learned through the released hostages that Dictator Idi Amin of Uganda was supporting the hijackers. Considering all the circumstances, rescue seem completely impossible.

Israel started working on a rescue plan anyway. To gain more time for the military to put together plans for a rapid air assault, the Israeli Parliament said they were willing to negotiate more. They convinced the hijackers to wait until July 4th. Israeli got a copy of the plans for the Entebbe air terminal and built a model of the whole air field there. A detailed rescue plan was rehearsed day and night with amazing detail and precision. Five C-130 Hercules planes were readied to carry the invasion force, several vehicles, and supplies. Two 707s were fitted out as a flying hospital and communications centers.

They flew a long path through stormy weather over Africa to arrive at Entebbe at 11:01pm on July 3rd. As the first plane rolled down the landing strip it’s rear ramp dropped open and a fancy Mercedes drove out! They made it look like someone important was coming to negotiate. Meanwhile paratroopers jumped off the moving plane setting up beacons to mark the runway in case the tower shut off the landing lights before all the attack planes could land.

The confusion bought them time. It wasn’t what the Arab guards expected. As they got close, the Arab guards were taken out by the men hiding in the Mercedes. The first assault team scrambled rapidly into the terminal. A second assault team took out the off-duty airport guards. Within 3 minutes the assault was completed. Troops secured the entire perimeter of the air port. Heavy duty pumps were unloaded from the C-130s to re-fuel from the tanks at the air field. Within 7 minutes the hostages were evacuated to the planes. The entire assault team, their vehicles and equipment were airborne again by 12:40am July 4th. There were a few casualties, but if they hadn’t come, probably all would have died.

Here in the states on July 4th, 1976 we were celebrating the bi-centennial of our own nations independence. It was impressive news to hear about how this brave rescue took place.

Now here’s the amazing connection: We are part of the greatest Rescue Operation ever. When the human race fell in Eden all were taken captive by sin and evil. Every human descended from Adam is born in a bondage far worse than any dictator, captor, or hijackers could even imagine. We’re each born in total spiritual blindness, unable to comprehend our situation. In our natural state of bondage, the death we’re threatened with is eternal suffering by God’s judgment.

In God’s plan to rescue some held in hostage, Jesus took on the looming judgment of his people on the cross. In that plan, God sends us into this hostile world to be his rescue team. We who are redeemed by grace alone have this mission. It’s our duty and privilege to invade bravely into enemy territory to rescue the perishing.

We’re sent to do this together as his army, the assembled family of God. We’re on this rescue mission together. Our Lord gave us his book that tells us the details of our mission. It lays out the strategy, and tells the message we carry into places where it’s not welcome. It’s filled with words of encouragement and promise. It tells us about dangers we need to avoid. Our Savior has planned it all out well, considered every contingency. There are no surprises for him. He calls us to be his soldiers of mercy.

In Corinth, some of the believers were becoming distracted from the mission. There were temptations to believe and to do the wrong things, to forget the details of the rescue plan.

As this letter to the Corinthians closes,

the Apostle points the believers
to some good examples
for them to follow.

1 Corinthians 16:15-18
15. 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–
16. be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer.
17. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence,
18. for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such men.

Stephanas and his family were very special to the Corinthians. In 1:16 Paul reminds them that he was the one who baptized them. They had become dedicated believers, serving others very faithfully.

Faithful Christians who devote themselves to rescuing the lost, and encouraging believers are valuable examples for us all to follow. They deserve our respect. They show us how God’s Kingdom work should be done. In them we see what it looks like. In military rescue operations experienced soldiers are used to teach the less experienced. Evidently, Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus were able to fill Paul in on news of things at Corinth. The church herself was too far away and unable to fill him in on the details.

Next, Paul delivers some
very personal greetings:

1 Corinthians 16:19-21
19. The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house,
send you hearty greetings in the Lord.
20. All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
21. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.

It’s always nice to hear greetings from old friends who are also believers in Christ.

The “kiss” he’s talking about isn’t a romantic kiss. It was usually on the hand, cheek, or forehead. It would compare today with a good hand-shake, fist-bump, or a friendly hug. It was the common brotherly greeting as it still is in some cultures.

The important thing here is for Christians to overcome insecurities with one another’s love, and openly express the concern and care they have for one another in Christ. We greet one another differently in different times and cultures, but we always should show the warmest brotherly concern for those in our spiritual family.

As we go out on our rescue mission into hostile territory we need to be strengthened. We go forward with others who stand with us, a Band of Brothers. Our mutual concern for one another is an important part of God’s strategic plan. Just as soldiers in the field need to know the others are battling with them, we need to show our commitment to one another, and to the mission we’re on together.

Paul adds the salutation in his own handwriting. We know from his comments in other letters that Paul had helpers to do his writing. They didn’t decide what to write. They just did the actual pen and ink work for him. In Romans 16:22 Paul actually names Tertius as his amanuensis, his secretary.

But to add a personal touch, and to affirm that the letter was authentic, Paul usually wrote a few lines himself at the end of each letter. In 2 Thessalonians 3:17 Paul explained that he always did this.

In summarizing Paul adds this amazing statement!

1 Corinthians 16:22
22. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!

It’s hard to fix things without knowing what the broken thing should be like when it’s not broken. So here Paul tells us why justice comes down so hard on the troublemakers at Corinth. The root of the problem is a lack of love for the Lord of all things. In their fallen condition these who are causing the problems in Corinth have more love for their self-glory and pleasures, than for living in ways that honor the true Creator. Their love is for a false Savior, not the one who’s actually revealed in Scripture. Without that God-implanted love there’s a confused understanding about what’s right and true.

No matter how gifted a person might be, if he’s not motivated by this true love for Jesus Christ, there’s nothing truly good about it.

Where hearts are unredeemed, that love isn’t there, and condemnation is justly deserved. Paul is saying that they ought to get what we all deserve. The Greek word translated as “accursed” is “anathema” (ἀνάθεμα). It means to call down a deserved penalty or judgment. In this case it’s the curse of eternal, irrevocable punishment because of sin.

As Paul, the Corinthians, and all of us, go about our rescue work, these who know nothing about God’s love will be working against us. Most of these false teachers will get angry when they hear our message. They’ll lash out hatefully to silence the gospel if they could. They try to keep God and the Bible out of public life. They want morality condemned as an intrusion of religion into our culture. They demand that we tolerate everything the Bible condemns,
but they refuse to tolerate anything the Bible promotes. They bring false teachings into the church, reject God’s ways, and try to transform the church itself into something unrecognizable by God’s standards.

However, some of them might be among those God will change by grace when they hear the Gospel. We don’t know who they are so we continue our mission even to them. Perhaps the love of the Lord will be implanted in their hearts. Of course that love will be imperfect as it is in all of us before the resurrection, but it’s there.

Those left in their lost estate have no love for the Lord Jesus Christ. They will get what’s deserved by all of us, aside from God’s redeeming grace: God’s unending wrath. Justice will be done.

The only thing that can deliver a person from that bondage and curse is the good news of the grace of God. That’s our mission: to tell about the work of Jesus Christ to redeem the lost. When the gospel sets a person free, that true biblical kind of love is restored.

There’s no other way for the lost to be rescued. In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

Modern religion condemns those words of Jesus. They try to malign him and those who followed him. They deny what they don’t like in the Bible. This makes our rescue mission extra hard. Those who are held captive don’t want to hear the truth until Jesus who is the truth changes them.

Either Jesus Christ is loved as your Lord, or he isn’t loved. There’s no middle ground. That love will have a lot of growing to do, a lot of maturing, but if a person’s redeemed by Christ, that love is there and it will be maturing. Those who are redeemed by him have nothing to fear in the judgment day.

After that warning of anathema, Paul adds, “Our Lord, come!” The original KJV didn’t translate the Greek words. It just says, “let him be Anathema Maranatha” (“aeto anathema marana tha” – “ἤτω ἀνάθεμα. Μαρανα θα”) Anathema as we said is this curse just mentioned. But marana tha isn’t a Greek phrase. It has a Syriac and Aramaic background. In those languages it means, “Our Lord comes!” or “Come Lord!” The same expression’s used by John in Revelation 22:20 but it’s translated into Greek, “erchou kurie Iaesou” (ἔρχου, Κύριε ᾿Ιησοῦ.) “come, Lord Jesus.”

When Jesus comes again, he will come as the final judge to bring eternal blessings and cursings. He will bring judgment upon the unredeemed, those who troubled the church. He will bring comfort, freedom, and joy beyond our imagination to those redeemed by grace. The mission will be complete. All those eternally loved by God and redeemed by Christ will be set free, free indeed!

With such an important mission, how sad when God’s agents neglect their mission. We shouldn’t get distracted, or settled in to just enjoy ourselves, and forget why we’re here. The time will come when our mission will end, and at some point the entire rescue operation will be over. Until this rescue operation is over, we should faithfully carry out the orders of our mission. Our every thought, work, word, and choice should be directed toward the Glory of God, and we should prayerfully and carefully do what we can to rescue those still held captive by the enemy.

Paul ends with two wonderful and powerful blessings:

1 Corinthians 16:23-24
23. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
24. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

These two pronouncements draw it all together.
He calls down God’s grace. It’s that undeserved and infinitely compassionate mercy behind every good blessing. It’s the supernatural work that transforms and liberates lives held in bondage. Aside from grace we would all still be among the captives with no clue about what real freedom is like.

Paul promises that his own love will be with them all. Through their struggles and in their victories – they are in his heart and prayers. It’s good to know when others care so much for us. That means it’s good for us to tell other believers how much we care for them as fellow Christians.

While we wait for the last day we should get that liberating message of Christ to those still in bondage. Let them know that there’s a way to be restored to fellowship with God. Encourage them, and lead them along to safety in Christ. This is how the church of Christ ought to grow. It’s the way real growth has always taken place.

There has never been
a welcome home celebration
anything like the one
we will have in glory.

We will stand along with those who were used as part of the rescue team that delivered us. We will rejoice together in the greatest liberation ever. The unworthy, saved from the greatest enemy, will enjoy a wonderful future that has no end.

(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)

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