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The Man In The Arena

May 12, 2019, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Keng Wan Ling (1 Corinthians 1:1-9) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1 Corinthians
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service

Tags: 1 Corinthians

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Keng Wan Ling: Deacon Keng was theologically trained in TTC, and currently serves as the worship ministry chairperson.
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Title: The Man in the Arena
Date: 12 May 2018
Preacher: Deacon Keng Wan Ling

I don’t like being corrected. When someone criticises me, or offers suggestions, part of me just wants to talk back . I know, I mean, I KNOW that feedback is good and will help me improve, but that’s in my mind only. My gut reacts before my mind, and there I am, fully armed and super defensive.
 It’s said that feedback is a gift, but it’s not one that’s always welcomed!
Today we start the sermon series on 1 Corinthians; we are reading someone’s mail, eavesdropping into a long scolding. Paul the Apostle (as he identifies himself) addresses a series of issues including idol worship, sexual immorality, and, for good measure, emphasises doctrines such as spiritual gifts, and resurrection of the dead. I would NOT like to receive such a latter 
Much has been said about the city of Corinth as a hotbed of sin and vice. It’s a city with 2 ports, a centre of commerce and transient populations, many of whom are far from home. It housed the temple of Aphrodite, (with one thousand priestesses who were professional prostitutes), and has been termed the place where, “ Wealth and dire poverty, beauty and wretchedness, culture and squalor rubbed elbows…” [1] Gordon Fee likewise describes the city as “at once the New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas of the ancient world.” [2]
However, I am going to start by suggesting that we can learn from the Corinth church. [3] Surprise! Yes, this church that caused Paul so much heartache.
In this sermon, we’ll look at:
(a) How they got to where they are now (Engaging with the World)
(b) How they need to get out of where they are (Engaging with God)
(c) Paul’s role in it (Giving of feedback)

Engaging with the World
Given the bad reputation of the city (the reputation was so bad that the term “to corinthianize” means hedonistic behavior), it might be surprising that Paul selected it as one of his main bases.
One possible reason is, as a prosperous, liberal port city, they were open to him as the leader of a brand new religion[4] . Paul could openly preach to Jews and Gentiles alike (unlike some other places where he was beaten and thrown into jail, or run out of town).
In Corith, he had unusual success. The converts were not just the usual hard workers, street converts who were pagans, but included Jewish patrons, wealthy figures and their entire households. They brought their their old ideas and lifestyles with them. Given this huge diversity, is it any wonder they could not gel? Is it any wonder there were disagreements and clashes? This is then not just their problem, but it is the church’s problem.
But it wasn’t all bad, really- we know that when Paul departed, he left behind him a thriving church, throbbing with vitality and full of gifts and services[5] At that point, the local house churches had maybe 35-50 worshippers (with a total of 200 Christians, in a city with the population of ….. ).
3 years later, when Paul writes this letter to them, it’s grown- in size and in problems (haha!) In those 3 years, the Corinth church was evangelizing and bringing in new people.
 Problems, in this case, are a sign of life, not death.
They are like growing pains, as the church and the Christians mature and gel together. The slides show a chart, tracking the progress of how teams form. I guess you would say that the Corinthian Church was still at the “storming” stage!
The problems which would emerge would be those of life, not of decline.”[1] So I agree with the commentary that says: the problems of the Corinthian church is because they’re doing something RIGHT![6]
Application: We often speak of outreach and missions. I”d consider Corinth one of the Paul’s successes, yet it’s riddled with problems of discipleship. One commentator counts 15 problems mentioned in 1 Corinthians![7] . 15!!!I think we need to be realistic about what successful outreach might mean, and be ready for the challenges that arise.
Engaging with God
So… what is Paul’s advice and feedback to this church caught in a war of culture? I leave my fellow preachers in future sermons to furnish the details.
However, based on verses 1-9, I have some reflections (WHAT he said, and HOW he said it). These might be helpful as we journey through this sermon series, and also to our own lives:
(a) Paul greeted them, then gave thanks for them
(b) He encouraged them
(c) While fully aware of who and what they are like now, he also sees them as God does, sanctified and holy, the church as it’s meant to be
(a) First, Paul’s greeting and thanksgiving- they look dull, don’t they? Verse 1-3 is where Paul says a nice long-winded greeting, and v4-9 has what seems like some generic mother-hood statements about how Paul loves them, and how God is faithful.
BUT… it’s not for nothing that Paul is considered quite brilliant[8] , at least in writing. If you read between the lines, just like paper cuts, he’s already correcting them (and you didn’t even notice right??)
Some examples:
(i) Verse 5: He’s responding to those taking issue with his preaching, and those who professed to have “special knowledge” (influenced by the gnostics?)
(ii) Verse 2: He’s making a pointed reference to how they are all united,
(iii) Verse 1: He’s talking about those who take issue with his apostolic authority.
So actually verses 1-9 is the trailer, the executive summary, if you only know where to look.
(C) As the one giving feedback, it’s too easy to only see all the flaws in front of you. Behaviours, attitudes, character- so many problems, and we have all the suggestions and solutions that we want to share. But Paul always sees the Corinth church for what they could be, in God’s eyes, already sanctified and holy, because of what Christ has done.
• When Paul gives thanks, it’s because of what Christ has done for them.
• When Paul encourages, he says, You Can Do It! Because God is faithful!
 It all points back to Jesus Christ.
So, my fellow sanctified and holy brothers and sisters, fellow Jubilee members, what have we learnt today?
• We’ve learnt that the Corinth church had drawn very diverse people to Christ. This caused the current problems, but it isn’t all bad!
• We’ve learnt that Paul’s way of giving feedback was to encourage and guide his church, towards what he knew God meant them to be, and using the resources that God had prepared. He guided them towards Jesus Christ.
In summary, we need to engage with the world around us, and to engage with God.
Engaging with the world might not only mean evangelistic trips and projects. It means taking notice of the people and things around us in everyday life. Showing concern and care. Making friends who are NOT like you. Going out of our way to notice needs and to contribute.
Engaging with God doesn’t just mean coming to church, or even being active in ministries. For me, it means taking God seriously. It means not relegating our faith to being a spectator sport. It means daring to wrestle with God, like Jacob wrestled with Him, in prayer for difficult things.

Engaging with the World, engaging with God- all this is HARD WORK!
And if you do it properly, you are BOUND to get knocked down, to get hurt. Plus, the more you do, the more you try, the more comments and feedback you will get. Sometimes it’s enough to make you wonder why you bother at all.
I started this sermon by talking about feedback. I’d like to share a quote, known as “The Man in the Arena” related to criticism, or to the critic.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

This quote was firsts used by Theodore Roosevelt, n Paris, France on April 23, 1910, and has been cited by American presidents such as Richard Nixon, President Kennedy in speeches. It’s used by writer Brene Brown in her work on leadership and vulnerability (her work is really current, very worth reading).
Yes, everyone will have comments. But Brene Brown says – credit is to the one who tries, who stands up and does something. She does not give weight to back=seat drivers, whom she says are in the “cheap seats”, just commenting. For her, the opinions who matter are those who also put themselves on the line. People who are also in the arena. People who have walked the walk. People like the Apostle Paul, who for his faith was beaten, imprisoned, mocked and so many other things. HE is the man in the arena.
Who wants problems? Who wants to be in the arena, where you could be safely in the best seats, watching, clapping, having all the excitement without the risk and the effort? That’s why reality shows are so popular, right?
But we can’t. We need to be in the arena, engaging with the world, and with God.
Because, brothers and sisters, we follow Christ, who showed the way; Word became flesh, and made His home among us. HE is the man in the area, whose face was marred by blood and sweat and dust. So we follow his example, engaging the world, while holding tightly to what God has already provided for us.
1 Corinthains 1:7-9 (The Message translation)
7-9 Just think—you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus.
He will never give up on you. Never forget that.
So, dare to do great things for God.
Strive to do the deed.
Know great enthusiasm.
Spend yourself in this worthy cause- God’s cause.
Be the men and women in the arena.
Only then can Jubilee be the church in the arena.

[1] M. Tenney pg 288, as cited in
[2] Cited in
[3]Credit to for the idea for this
[5] As mentioned by Anthony Thiselton, in his commentary on 1Corinthians, see verses (1:4-8; 12:1–14:40).
[6] Both references from
[7] The list is here: partisanship, with the Corinthians factionalizing behind rival leaders (1:10–4:21; 16:10–18); incest (5:1–13); prostitution (6:12–21); celibacy within marriage (7:1–7); Christians married to one another asking about divorce (7:8–11, 39); Christians married to pagans
asking about divorce (7:12–16); questions surrounding marriage and remarriage (7:25–40); lawsuits (6:1–11); idolatry (8:1–11:1); concerns about women praying and prophesying in immodest ways (11:2–16); chaos in worship, with speaking in tongues and competing voices (chapter 14); inequality in the communal meal (11:17–34); denials of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and of Christians (15:1–58); the collection of a large sum of money to be sent to Jerusalem (16:1–4); and a change in Paul’s travel plans (16:5–9).
[8] See his training - (Acts 22:3 ff )

1 Corinthians 1:1–9 (Listen)

1:1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.