In February of 1836, a small rag-tag army of volunteer soldiers took refuge in ‘The Mission San Antonio de Valero’. This group of farmers, Texas settlers, frontiersmen, and restless patriots were also made up of men from nearly every state in the Union and 13 foreign countries.
Nearly all of the volunteers had signed up for a 3-month assignment. About a fifth of them were sick and worse yet, they only had one doctor, Amos Pollard and he had already exhausted his supply of medicine. A few of the volunteers ran off – but a few small groups came to join them.
Because they were such a mixed group of men, arguments frequently broke out among them. They disagreed about ‘the right approach’ to battle and life. Historians believe there were about 187 made-shift soldiers, a few women, a few Mexicans and a few slaves in the fort. They called the old abandon Mission, “The Alamo”.
Outnumbered and overwhelmed by the Mexican Army led by General Santa Anna, the men of the Alamo dug in for battle. While there were suggestions that the men ‘could abandon the Fort or surrender’, word came that Santa Anna wanted every last soldier killed to make a statement.
The Alamo was never designed to withstand the onslaught of an army, only the attack of local native tribes. In fact, it was in disrepair and was expected to be torn down.
Those inside the Alamo were expecting reinforcements and had seriously underestimated the army coming against them. General Santa Anna’s army was ‘supposedly made of mostly new recruits’, not familiar with battle. These 1,500 soldiers went on to attack the Alamo for 13 days.
The final assault took place on March 6th, when 1,000 seasoned soldiers arrived to assist Santa Anna in the battle. After repelling 2 attacks, the Texans were unable to stop the 3rd wave of soldiers. Within 4 hours, almost all the soldiers inside were killed. Only about 5 that were injured or sick surrendered and Santa Anna had them executed. A few women and slaves were spared.
While all 187 Texans died, about 600 Mexican soldiers were killed or injured, an unimaginable feat. Lost in the battle were William Barrett Travis, James Bowie and Davy Crockett. Before the final battle took place, William Barrett Travis penned, probably the most famous letter in Texas history. In it he wrote,
“To the people of Texas and all Americans in the world, fellow citizens and compatriots, I am besieged by a thousand or more of the enemy under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual bombardment and cannon fire for over 24 hours, but I have not lost a man.
“The enemy has demanded surrender at its discretion. Otherwise, the fort will be put to the sword. I have answered that demand with a cannon shot. And the flag still waves proudly over the north wall. I shall never surrender or retreat. “I call upon you, in the name of liberty and patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to my aid with all dispatch. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself ‘for as long as possible, die like a soldier who never forgets what is due his honor and that of his country’. Victory or death.”
Historians say that the men inside ‘The Alamo’ survived as long as they did ‘because they put aside their differences and stood as on fighting force’. They had ‘no idea what was coming’ but they decided to take their stand together. And even though they died, their decision and their bravery have been a rallying cry for generations.
In a way, as Paul was closing his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, he was also issuing his cry for victory over defeat. Paul could see beyond all the divisions in the church – to a place of unity, peace and strength. He writes in Chapter 13:5-9,
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.” Skipping forward, a little, he writes, “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak – but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection.”
Then in Verse 11 he writes, “Finally brothers, Farewell! (some versions say goodbye or rejoice) Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of peace be with you.”
Paul was acknowledging that the Corinthian church was divided; theologically, spiritually, and relationally. They were different people with different agendas. Yet he was longing for restoration. Jesus said in Mark 3:25, that ‘If a house is divided against itself that house cannot stand’.
So first, Paul asked each person to test themselves to see if they are in Christ Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ Jesus, they are a new creation.” We cannot do things that go against our nature, – but when we are in Christ, we can repent and change course.
It is easy to argue over who is in charge and who has the final word. Paul is explaining, if Christ is not the head, then we are not a church or a faith community.
Second, Paul is calling the church to ‘a place of truth’. God’s word provides the way forward. While His road is narrow, “the truth will set us free”, we read in John 8:32.
Third, Paul says, “Our prayer is for your perfection” and later he writes, ‘aim for perfection’. Perfect here means that they will be fully mature and harmony will be restored. In Greek, perfection refers to being one or in agreement. It also refers to being mature.
To be perfect does not mean we will no longer sin or make mistakes. God never commanded us to do the impossible. As the Corinthian Church turned on Paul he was disappointed, sure. Yet Paul choose to love them anyway. In a fallen world, we cannot expect that everything will always go smoothly.
As followers of Jesus, we must accept the fact that people will let us down, yet we can choose to respond in a Godly way. We can choose forgiveness, understanding, caring and hope for better days ahead. After everything that has happened to Paul and the Church at Corinth, listen to Paul’s words… At the beginning of the 2nd letter Chapter 2:4 he writes,
“For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you – but to let you know the depth of my love for you.”
And Paul ends his letter with words of unity, peace and with a blessing. Notice, he still calls the members at Corinth ‘his brothers’. He writes in chapter 4, verse 19, “May God meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
While the church at Corinth was acting hostile, immature, cliquish and dysfunctional; Paul was working to foster cooperation, clarification and continuity. Like a conductor, he was trying to get all of the musicians on the same page.
Author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”
Matt Emmons is an American Olympic rifle shooter. He has competed in the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics and won a gold, a silver, and a bronze medal. During the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Matt had the gold medal in sight. He was one shot away from claiming victory in the 2004 Olympic 50-meter three-position rifle event. He didn’t even need a bull’s-eye to win. His final shot merely needed to be on the target.
He usually shot a 8.1 or higher, more than enough for a gold medal. But in an extremely rare mistake, Matt got nervous and fired at the wrong target, they call it cross-firing. Standing in lane two, he fired at the target in lane three. While it was a great shot but at the wrong target – he still received a zero score. Instead of a medal, Emmons ended up in eighth place. It doesn’t matter how accurate you are – if you are aiming at the wrong goal.
Paul said, if you want to hit the target, aim for perfection. We do that he said by being of one mind and living in peace. Now, I want to break those two down, although they are related.
What does it mean to be of one mind? It essentially means we are in sync, that our focus comes from one source, the Father in heaven. Jesus said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.”
In 1 Corinthians 12:25 Paul writes, “There should be no division in the body. If one suffers, we all suffer, if one rejoices, we all rejoice.” It means we are linked undeniably at the heart and soul level.
Finally, Ephesians 4:4-6 reads, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
Jesus prayed for this oneness, this unity in John 17:20-21. He prayed, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray, also, for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Peace means shalom. Shalom is what Paul was writing about to the Philippians in Chapter 4, verse 7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Shalom is harmony, wholeness, tranquility and a sense of being made complete.
Diversity is good. We do not need any cookie-cutter Christians here. We don’t all like the same foods, enjoy the same music, like the same styles – or reflect the same tastes – and that is ok. We all bring our unique gifts to the table. But ‘to be in harmony with God’, to be united in mind and to be coordinated in our tasks, we have to be free from those things that bind us and instead focus on love, peace and the promises of God in Christ Jesus. If we don’t, things can get ugly fast.
Collin Raye sang ‘Not that Different’ and it reached number 3 on the charts, I think the words are very deep. Listen,
“She said, we’re much too different,
We’re from two separate worlds
and he admitted she was partly right,
but in his heart’s defense he told her
What they had in common was ‘strong enough’ to bond them for life
He said look behind your own soul, and the person that you’ll see,
just might remind you of me
I laugh, – I love, – I hope, – I try
I hurt, – I need, – I fear, – I cry
And ‘I know you’ do the same things, too
So we’re ‘really not that different’, me and you.
The truth is, we really aren’t that different. We all want joy, love, mercy, forgiveness, peace and honesty. We all want to be accepted and cared for. And all of us ‘in Christ’ have a common goal. Truth be told, we are better together.
The church should be a place to heal broken relationships. It should be a place where we are renewed, day by day. It is a place where we come to get our ‘spiritual batteries re-charged’ before we carry the message of hope back to a broken world. So let’s aim for the harmony that God promises and gives. And let’s aim to be perfect in love.
Paul began his First letter to the Corinthians with this request, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another – so that there may be no divisions among you – and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”
(1 Corinthians 1:10)
His final letter ends the same way. So let’s aim higher. Make Jesus and his word ‘first and foremost in your minds’, so that we will all be of one mind in Christ.
Your assignment is…to really see others, ‘as not all that different than yourself’. Then, as Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbors as yourself’. If we accomplish that, we will move the Kingdom of God forward in leaps and bounds.