Tonight we are going to be doing something a little special, something we haven’t done since I’ve been the pastor here, and that is to have an evening communion service. It’s interesting how this happened. Some people came to me and said that they felt like they wanted to “change up communion”.
If you know me you’ll know this immediately raised my hackles and made me wonder what was about to go down. I’m all for new worship music, trying things in church, experimenting with new ministries and seeing what happens, but I’m definitely going to have some issues with messing with the sacraments. They’re a big deal.
My first thought was an unfair one to them. I thought, “Oh great, these people want to make the Lord’s Supper cool by doing weird stuff with it.” And I’ve heard some weird things. I know of churches where those leading communion didn’t say anything, but just played a couple songs off YouTube hoping people would get the gist. I know of churches that refuse to serve gluten-free bread because it’s not as holy as bread made with wheat. I know of churches that make women wear doilies on their head or they won’t be served. I even lived next to one church that encouraged people to bring their pets to church so they could have communion too. I’ve heard all kinds of ways to fancy up Communion. Things like doing it at McDonald’s with hamburgers and coke or even serving it with French onion dip or whip cream.
Thankfully that’s not what they meant. The idea, they explained after I calmed down a bit, was that instead of having it as a short tack-on to the end of a worship service, to meet together at a special time so we can concentrate on what we are doing. Instead of little, tiny pieces of bread, serve an actual loaf and let people have something to chew on. Instead of teeny, Barbie-sized cups of juice, use dealcoholized wine in a bigger cup. The mission wasn’t about making it “cool”, but to make it more authentic, more prayerful, to take better care of how we do it, and to have a greater experience with it than is possible in the 10 minutes we spend at the end of a service.
That was something I could get behind and was more than happy to help plan. So that’s what we’re doing tonight. In my original plan, I intended on giving a short sermon explaining what communion was all about, but it occurred to me that speaking for too long might distract from what we are trying to do there, so I figured I’d give it a bit larger of a treatment this morning in preparation for tonight.
The Lord’s Supper and Signs of the Covenant
So with that in mind, please open up to Matthew 26:26-28, which tells us of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
This is the Thursday evening before Good Friday, mere hours before Jesus will go to Gethsemane, Judas will betray Him, Peter will deny Him, the disciples will abandon him, and Jesus will be arrested by the wicked Sanhedrin, falsely accused, brought to an illegal trial, and then sentenced to death. It says,
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Part of what you need to know about the Lord’s Supper is that Jesus didn’t invent it out of whole cloth. Jesus took an old ceremony and imbued it with new meaning. This was the festival of the Passover which had been instituted in the Law of Moses and celebrated for hundreds and hundreds of years so the Israelites would remember the miracle that occurred when they were slaves in Egypt; the plagues, the miracles, and especially the final miracle when God sent the angel of death to kill the first-born sons of Egypt, who could only be spared when a spotless lamb was killed and it’s blood spread on their doors.
Jesus took that powerful symbol, which all Jews knew intimately, and effectively said, “I’m the true Passover lamb. Sin and death hover over everyone, but I will be your spotless lamb who covers and protects you from the consequences of your sins. I will give up my body for yours and allow it to be broken for you. I will spill my blood so you can live.”
Jesus was creating a powerful object lesson. The broken bread and poured wine symbolized His death on the cross. But the cup had a double meaning. During the celebration of the Passover, four cups were traditionally drunk. This was probably the third of the four cups which would be passed around so all could drink out of the same cup. And before passing it, Jesus said, “…this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (vs 28) That was very specific language and there’s a lot going on there.
Covenants are simply agreements between two parties, like a contract. And throughout the Bible, God often forms covenants with His people and then seals them with a sign. He established a covenant with Noah not to flood the earth and sealed it with the sign of the rainbow. He made a covenant with Abraham and the sign was circumcision. When God rescued his people from Egypt and gave them the Law, He made a covenant with them at Sinai. It said,
“Then he [Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.’” (Ex 24:7–8)
In the same way, Jesus took the Passover wine and amplified its meaning. As He was promising to be their Passover Lamb and save them from sins, He made a promise, a covenant with them and all who would believe, written in His spilled blood, symbolized and remembered every time we pour the wine, and then drink it, making it a part of us – and as we share the cup, share the wine, we become part of each other. The blood of Jesus, the covenant that saves us, is the banner we all come under during the Lord’s Supper. It’s a great levelling field and a powerful, important, and serious symbol – and that’s why we don’t mess with it.
Why can’t we use burgers and coke? Why can’t animals take it? Why do we give warnings before we do it? Why is it for believers? Why do we take it so seriously? Because it’s a very serious thing that Jesus told us to do, symbolizing the very essence of our faith.
When The Lord’s Supper Isn’t the Lord’s Supper
Now, please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 11:17-32. This is the passage I usually read when we have Communion, but I don’t read the entirety of it, usually due to time constraints, but I would like to today. This is another passage speaking to the serious nature of the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, and how important it is that we get it right. Now, when I say “get it right” I don’t necessarily mean “do the ritual properly”, which you will see as we read. If you recall, the Corinthian church was kind of a mess and had gotten a lot of things wrong, and the Apostle Paul was writing this letter to correct them. It says:
“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”
There are three things I want to point out in this passage to help guide what we are going to do this evening.
First, I want you to notice verse 20 which says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” What does that mean? This church was doing the same thing we have done each month for many years and will do again tonight. They were meeting together for worship and fellowship and then taking time to break bread and share the cup of the covenant together. So how could it not be the Lord’s Supper? The answer isn’t that they were doing the ritual wrong, but that their hearts weren’t right before God as they were eating and drinking. The offence was that instead of having the Lord’s Supper in the way Jesus intended, they were simply going through the religious motions (something many so called “Christian churches” are guilty of institutionalizing today, by the way.) What was the evidence that God didn’t accept their Lord’s Supper? Because of how they were treating one another. Sure, they had the elements before them, they were eating the bread and drinking from the cup, saying the words, and singing the songs – but the church was divided.
Paul says there were “factions” and “divisions” among them. They had separated themselves by class, race, economic status, gender, lifestyle, even by favourite apostle and beliefs. People were treating each other carelessly, with disrespect, forgetting each other’s needs, not caring for the poor and needy and oppressed among them, but instead were using those situations as a way to gain advantage over one another. They weren’t in “communion”, united under the banner of Jesus, and it showed in how they sinned against one another in so many ways. They weren’t caring for one another or forgiving one another, or doing most of the “one anothers” in the Bible. That meant they weren’t listening to the Holy Spirit, which meant they were still in unrepentant sin, which meant their hearts weren’t right with God, which meant they weren’t worthy or ready to take the Lord’s Supper, the very sign God gave us to demonstrate humility, sacrifice, forgiveness and unity.
I think that’s something our church needs to be very careful not to skip over. I know we are a friendly church, but I also know that there are a lot of hard feelings among the people here, offenses given and taken and not dealt with, old rivalries and unforgiveness, even bitterness here in our church. Don’t assume that this verse isn’t talking about us. Examine yourself. Why?
Because of how seriously God takes this offence? Look at verses 29–30,
“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”
To “discern the body” has a two-fold meaning. First it means to understand what Jesus did for us on the cross, and second, that they are in right relationship with the Body of Christ, or other Christians. In other words, the Lord’s Supper is reserved for humble, believing, repentant, forgiven Christians. It is for people who understand what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:23–24 when He said,
“… if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
And in Matthew 6:15 where He said,
“…if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
God doesn’t want our worship until we’ve show sacrificial love to others, especially those who make it difficult.
How serious does He take this? Not only will He reject our worship, He actually brought sickness and death to the church to demonstrate His displeasure. Would God do that? Certainly. Consider what happened to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 when they lied about their tithing and God struck them dead. Consider God allowing the city of Jerusalem to be razed to the ground, sending His people into Babylonian captivity, far from their Promised Land for 70 years. Yes, God takes our faith, His church, and the sacraments very seriously and will sometimes allow His discipline to show in serious ways. We talked about that a little bit a few weeks ago.
Why is It God Not Blessing Us?
This all reminds me of Isaiah 58 where the nation of Israel wonders why so many things are going wrong with them. Turn there, but keep your thumb in 1 Corinthians. God says to the prophet in verse 1,
“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.”
The next verse is dripping with sarcasm:
“Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.”
Every day they come before God, perform religious rituals, read some bible, say some prayers, tell God how great they are and how much blessing they deserve, and wonder why everything around them is falling apart. In verse 3 the people say,
“Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”
What’s going on here, God? We’re coming to church, singing the songs, studying your word, saying the prayers, doing the ministry stuff, going to meetings, eating the bread, drinking the wine, even fasting? Why are we not seeing victories, answers to prayer, miracles? And the answer comes from God,
“Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure…”
Stop there. That’s the problem. They’re not fasting or worshipping God. All they have in mind is their own pleasure. Back to verse 3:
“Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?”
God is saying, “Do you think I just want you to go through some religious motions and then treat everyone around you badly? Do you think you can come before me and ask for things when I know that you are utterly indifferent towards those who I’ve told you to take care of!”
People sometimes ask, “Why isn’t God answering my prayers?” One answer is found here, and is echoed in the New Testament book of James 4:2-3,
“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
God was rejecting Israel’s worship, their religious activity, their prayers, and bringing harsh discipline to them because their hearts were not in the right place. How did that show? By the fact that they weren’t repenting from their sin, and were, in fact committing sins against one another, even against the weakest among them. That’s exactly what was happening in Corinth, and I fear, it may be happening here too.
The point is that what Paul is saying here, when he says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.”, is that though they were going through the motions of Communion, performing the ritual of the Lord’s Supper, their private lives and how they treated each other showed that their hearts were far from God, and a far cry from the kind of sacrificial love that Jesus was trying to teach them through this sacred meal.
A Reminder of The Cost
Flip back to 1 Corinthians. The second thing Paul tells them in verses 23-26 was to remind them of the cost of their salvation, found in the elements – the very body and blood of Jesus. The reason we celebrate communion is to remember the Life, Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus – to remember the cost of our sins and how terrible it was when we were enslaved by them. And then, to remember that our sins, no matter how terrible, are forgiven because of the goodness of God sending His own Son and the love of Jesus demonstrated on the cross. And then, to take that love and grace and share it with one another in His name, exemplified by eating and drinking His Body and Blood together!
Communion is a powerful time, but it becomes meaningless, even dangerous, when we do it with our hearts in the wrong place.
That’s why the third thing I want to point out is what we are supposed to be doing before the Lord’s Supper – and that is to examine ourselves; to do an inventory of our head, heart, and soul, to examine our actions, thoughts, and motives. Look again at verses 27-29,
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
We are commanded to invite God to open us up the way Psalm 139:23-24 says,
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
To open the Word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to do soul surgery on us. As it says in Hebrews 4:12–13,
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
That is actually what we are going to spend the majority of our evening doing tonight. In order to obey Jesus in this way, we will be reading scriptures, privately confessing our sins to God, publically confessing our sins to each other, accepting forgiveness, and then having the Lord’s Supper together. My invitation to you is to take time to prepare for it today. To read scripture, get right with God, prepare yourself to confess to your brothers and sisters, and to accept Jesus again as your only hope of salvation, the only one who can cleanse you from sin.
Welcome to the 60th sermon in of our study of the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians! We started this series in April of 2016 and we’ve covered a lot of ground over the past couple years, but after long last, we’ve reached the final section where Paul is wrapping up the letter with his final greetings and instructions. Let’s open up there and read 1 Corinthians 16:5-24.
“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. 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. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.
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. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 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 send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
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.”
This is one of those sections of the Bible that, on the surface seems like a weird one to study. What sort of life-changing message can we get from some 2000-year-old travel plans, a list of weird Greek names, and a signature? This seems like one of those sections that we should skim through and move past to get onto meatier stuff. After all, we’re only one page-flip away from 2nd Corinthians which is chock full of memorable and life-changing verses.
But, as Christians, we believe that when 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable …” it means that even sections like this one – and other boring ones like genealogies and number lists – are also somehow “profitable” to our souls. This isn’t addendum, but is, in fact, the Word of God meant to teach us about something.
So, as we read it we must open ourselves to what God wants to say, pray about it, do a little study, read a couple of commentaries, and then a whole lot of things start to spring forward.
The Church is God’s Gift
Actually, the more I dug into this one the more I got out of it. It was tempting to turn this section into a mini-series of its own, but I won’t. Though I think it would be interesting, I think it’s time to be done with 1 Corinthians and move on to something else.
If I had to summarize this final section, the general message, and the application of it for us today – though there are many others – I would say it this way: church relationships can get complicated.
When we come into a personal relationship with Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we are given a lot of gifts – freedom from sin, the presence of the Holy Spirit, a new outlook on life, spiritual gifts – but one of the biggest gifts we’re given is the church itself. All through the Bible, we see that when God gets hold of someone’s heart He not only restores them to Himself, but also to His people. At the birth of the Christian church in Acts, we see the Holy Spirit empower the disciples to spread the message, but the message of salvation doesn’t lead merely to individual life changes but the creation of a new society. The Acts 2 believers didn’t just have a new, personal faith in Jesus, but devoted themselves to each other.
Jesus said to His disciples in John 13:34–35,
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
And then 1 John 3:14 says,
“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.”
“The brothers” there refers to our church family. One way we know we love Jesus is that we love our church family. And a few verses later we read the same concept started in the negative. In 1 John 4:20 it says,
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
So conversely, one way we know that someone doesn’t actually love Jesus, or isn’t really saved, or is in unrepentant sin, is that they distance themselves from or even talk negatively about other Christians.
When the church started to face greater persecution and started falling apart, which we read about in the book of Hebrews, one of the first things that started happening was that the believers started distancing themselves from each other. As the flock was disbanding out of fear and inconvenience, the author of Hebrews says in 10:23-25,
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
He says, “Don’t give up hope, don’t give up the faith, trust in God – and one way to demonstrate that faith is to take care of each other, encourage one another, and keep meeting together. And as things get worse meet together even more!
Museum vs Hospital
But this isn’t often our natural inclination, is it? We live in a radically individualistic society already, one that doesn’t want to submit themselves to any groups – whether they be marriage, schools, political groups, or churches – but when it comes to days of trouble or trials or dealing with difficult people many people’s usual habit is to back away, isn’t it?
When trouble comes to us or to those around us, one temptation that often comes is to run away. We go through a difficult time and lock ourselves in our room and refuse to come out. Men and women go from partner to partner unwilling to face tough times with them. Couples go to their own wedding with a prenuptial agreement in their back pocket outlining what happens if they decide to leave. Men abandon pregnant women because being father is too hard. We join a club for fun and leave when things don’t go our way. A friend starts to become too needy, too dramatic, too complicated, and we stop asking how they’re doing, stop taking their calls, and hide them on our Facebook feed so we don’t have to see it. Most people tend to run from what they perceive as “negativity”.
This happens with Christians too as people hop from church looking for one feeds their wants and desires, but has zero drama and costs them nothing. “Church hopping” or “church shopping” is so popular that the Christian satire blog, “The Babylon Bee” has dozens of articles making fun of it.
One was entitled, “Local Family Commutes 700 Miles To Attend Church That Meets Their Exact Specifications” Another gave “8 Steps to Finding the Right Church” and includes things like, “Make sure the worship band plays only the genre you like”, “If the preacher doesn’t have 20,000 twitter followers, you’re in the wrong place”, but it was number 7 that jumped out at me. The satirical advice was, “Pick a church where everyone pretends to be happy. If anyone breaks down sobbing or insinuates that they need prayer for some sort of malady or ill fortune, everyone will understand if you excuse yourself to check out the other church down the road. You want a place where no one will burden you with their personal struggles. You don’t need that negativity in your life!”
The reason that satire works is because there’s a hint of truth in it. People tend to run from sickness, sadness, and “negativity”, but the truth is that the church is full of it. I know that’s not a popular statement, and it’s easily misconstrued, but it’s the truth.
Remember Luke 6:27-32 when the Pharisees saw Jesus hanging out with the tax collector named Levi, the one who would later be called the Apostle Matthew? Turn there. It says,
“After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’”
To eat with these people told everyone that Jesus considered them to be important, good contacts, even friends, and that blew minds of the men who were supposedly experts in religion and God’s Law. They wouldn’t be caught dead at that table! But how does Jesus answer?
“And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’”
In other words, Jesus didn’t come to gather a bunch of hypocritical people who, as the Babylon Bee article said, “pretend to be happy”, He came to call to Himself those who admit that they are sick. And what do you call a building where a bunch of sick people gathers in order to get well by a physician? A hospital. The church is a hospital.
Some people see the church as a museum, a clean place full of precious pieces of untouchable art. Each individual person and family protected from the other behind glass/ Everyone standing with their hands in their pockets because they don’t want to negatively affect anything around them. As each person look around all they see is rules, signs, protective ropes and security systems. Each family, each person, each artwork putting on their best face, trying to project an image that looks good so more people will want to come to the museum. That’s the mission of the museum. House perfectly preserved, untouchable beauty to attract people.
And that’s how a lot of folks see the church. They think, “The only way people are going to be attracted to Jesus is if I look good, look on top of things, look financially successful, look like I’ve never been tempted, never sinned, never had a bad thought, never argued with anyone.. that I serve perfect, act perfect, that my kids are perfect, my clothes are perfect – and then God will be happy with me, happy with the church, and send more people to our museum.”
And what happens when people come into that museum? Have you ever taken a kid to the museum? What are the rules? Dress nice, hands in pockets, don’t touch anything, don’t talk too loud, and pretend like everything in it is interesting even though it’s actually boring, confusing or weird. Has any kid you’ve ever met ever wanted to go to the museum for their birthday party? (The Children’s Museum in Gatineau doesn’t count!). Why? It’s uncomfortable.
Another question: What happens if you sneeze at the museum? You apologize, you feel awkward as your indiscretion reverberates off the walls – people give you the stare to think, “Hey, don’t you know that we’re in a museum! No noise! No sickness! No nothing! Just walk around with your mouth shut and look happy!” Sometimes the way we do church sends the same message.
But Jesus didn’t come to gather pieces of art for display, he came to call the sick and heal them. The church is not a museum. It’s a hospital full of people that need care. What happens in a hospital? Chaos. People with all kinds of maladies, from broken bones to cancer to mental illness to addiction are all stumbling through the door in need, desperately trying to get help. People come in their grubbiest sick clothes because they really don’t care how they look – they just want help. They aren’t trying to look cool, they’re not hiding their pain, they’re not pretending, they know that if they want help they need to say what’s wrong.
How do you feel in a hospital, surrounded by sick people? If you’re like me you feel a few things. Sometimes, if you’re really sick, you don’t really care what’s going on. You’re so worried about your own mess or whoever you’re looking after that you don’t really care about other people. You couldn’t care less that you haven’t showered or you’re carrying around a bag of barf and a urine sample. Pride is out the window. You just want the physician to come to help you.
Sometimes, when it’s not so urgent, you band together with the other people in the waiting room, right? You share stories, you ask what’s going on, you empathize with the mother who has the colicky baby, or the poor guy that came limping in, or the old person that is having a hard time with their documentation. You’re not judging anyone, you’re not mad at anyone for being at the hospital. Your pain brought you to a place where you need help, but it surrounded you with people who also need help – and it’s natural to start to realize that some of them are worse off than you and it should compel the empathy inside you to grow.
Have you ever sat in a clinic where you are brand new and come across someone who has been going there a while? You go to chemotherapy, or physio, or some kind of medicine or treatment for the first time and you’re nervous, confused, hopeful, scared, and you wonder if anyone has ever gone through this – and then someone sits next to you and says, “Hey, are you in for the same thing as me? Yeah, I’ve had that treatment, I’ve been on that medicine a couple times. It was no fun at first, but it works. I found it easier to take if I mixed it with juice. And don’t forget to drink water because I forgot and that messed me up. Oh, and it’s going to make you sore and tired, so be prepared for that. But after a while it really does work.”
There’s no judgment, no pride, no competition, is there? No, just two people that admit they need help from the same doctor coming together to share and support.
There are a great many illustrations for salvation, but one of the best is that our sickness is sin, the diagnosis is terminal, and Jesus is the Great Physician who is not only the doctor, but the cure. The only requirement He has is that we admit that we are sick and come to Him alone for the remedy. He does not save those who do not admit that they are sick. He despises hypocrites who put on the holier-than-thou, “I’m fine”, museum act.
Which means the people Jesus calls together are going to become a hospital church full of people in various stages of sickness and treatment, right? So it makes sense to treat each other as such. I’m in need of Jesus, you’re in need of Jesus. I’m a sinner, you’re a sinner. And sometimes, just like sick people, we need to give more help, more time, more love, more patience than other times. If someone limps in the door and says, “I’m sick.” We welcome them, introduce them to the Great Physician, and then help them, right? We don’t tell them to go fix themselves before introducing them to the doctor, right? We don’t turn away or pretend we’ve never been sick! We embrace them because that’s what Jesus did for us.
What does this have to do with our passage today? I want you to take a look at the subtext of what Paul says here. Turn back to our passage in 1 Corinthians 16:
In verses 5-9 we read about Paul’s travel plans. What’s going on there? Remember, the Corinthians have just sent envoy after envoy, with question after question, because their church was in crisis after crisis, and they needed Paul to come. What does Paul say, “I want to come but I can’t right now. I will come and stay for a while, but for now I need to be in Ephesus. There are a lot of good things happening and a whole lot of problems, and I need to be here.”
That’s not what the Corinthians wanted to hear, was it? Sometimes people don’t come when we call – even the Apostle Paul to Corinth. Paul needed to stay in Ephesus? Why? Because God was working and so was Satan. The Corinthians had to be patient.
Sometimes our whole world is falling apart and the person we call on to help doesn’t come. That can cause bitterness, anger, resentment, to grow in our hearts. We get mad at God for not making that person help us, we feel foolish for asking the wrong person, or angry at the person for not coming, which tempts us to react in a sinful way.
- “I was in trouble and the pastor or deacon or small group leader didn’t come – so I’m going to gossip about them and call them names behind their back.”
- “I needed help and I reached out to my friend, but they said they couldn’t right now – so I’m going to never speak to them again.”
- “I pulled away and no one noticed soon enough – so that proves no one cares and I’ll do something to harm myself.”
It’s hard sometimes, but the truth is that the only person we can really count on to show up when we need Him is Jesus. The only one who knows what we’re going through and promises help is Jesus – but He requires that we admit that we’re sick, that we need Him, and that means prayer, reading scripture, worshipping, and waiting on Him.
But what did Paul do? He sent Timothy. That’s a good thing, right? “I’m sorry, I can’t help you right now, but I’ll send along someone that will be able to.” But look what it says about Timothy in verse 10:
“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.”
Paul was strong, powerful, authoritative, respected. Timothy was, in a word, fragile. This wasn’t a warning to protect Timothy from the bad people in Corinth – but a warning to the church themselves to be nice to poor Timothy! He was young, timid, and had been through a lot already in his young life. He was the son of a mixed marriage, his father died when he was young, and he was chosen by Paul at a very young age. Timothy became one of Pauls’ right-hand guys, but his job often meant heading to troubled places either before Paul could get there or after Paul had stirred the pot. And it had gotten to him. He was a stressed out dude that even had stomach troubles. I feel for Timothy because I’m a lot like him right now.
As you all well know, sometimes church leaders, or parents, or teachers, even though they know what they’re doing, even though they are trying to do the work of the Lord, end up becoming very fragile because of things going on in their life. They used to be stronger, but now they can’t take a lot of pressure. They fall apart more easily. They need more naps and less confrontation. They need to be treated more gently. You can almost hear Paul saying, “Timothy is a godly leader and he’s going to say some things you don’t like, but I know how mean you guys can be. So be nice to Timothy! I want him back in the same condition I sent him!”
Isn’t it interesting that the Corinthian church, which had so many troubles and needed so much strong leadership, was sent timid Timothy? And that, with a warning! Oftentimes it’s the fragile, weak leader, or weak parent or weak friend that God uses in our lives the most. They aren’t ever-present, they aren’t super-strong, and they get overwhelmed easy – but they’re exactly the right person and God uses them. Why? Because they know they need Jesus. They’re not going to try to be Jesus for you, they’re going to point you to Him. They’re going to know how you feel. They’re going to be able to sympathize with your struggles like no one else. And in their weakness, they realize how much they need the Great Physician to do the work for them. They don’t have confidence and strength in themselves, they aren’t going to tell you to buck-up and try harder – they have learned to put their faith and gain their strength from someone greater than them – and that’s what you need.
And look at verse 12,
“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.”
Apollos was the exact opposite of Timothy. The phrase “now concerning” meant that the Corinthians asked about Apollos. I wonder if it was, “Hey Paul, if you can’t come, can you send Apollos?” Apollos was actually from Corinth and was not only an amazing preacher, but a super-popular travelling speaker, very smart, powerful in speech, and bold in his demeanor. He had actually gone on tour, defending Christianity and teaching all over the place. He was like Ravi Zacharias from last week. He was so good that some people thought that Paul was jealous of Apollos because he was so popular.
What is so interesting here, and sort of funny, is that the Apostle Paul “strongly urged” Apollos to go to Corinth and Apollos said “No! Well, maybe I’ll go if I feel like it.” I find that amazing. Timid Timothy was Paul’s shell-shocked, PTSD ridden foot soldier, sent into battle after battle – while Apollos was more like a James Bond style spy, wandering around in fancy hotels, hanging out with cool people, and doing whatever jobs came up.
Sometimes, even when you’re the Apostle Paul, people don’t do what you want. Sometimes the one you think would be right for the job says no, and you end up with someone you wouldn’t have chosen. And that leads to temptation, right? You want to resent the Apollos you wanted and dump on the Timothy you didn’t. You resent the teacher, the parent, the child that doesn’t meet your expectations. You asked God for an Apollos spouse, an Apollos friend, an Apollos partner, but you got a Timothy. Which leads to sinful comparisons: “Apollos wouldn’t have done that. Apollos wouldn’t have said it that way. Apollos would have listened to me. Apollos would clean his room. Apollos would let me use the car. Apollos would treat me the way I want to be treated. And here I am stuck with you, timid, Tummy-Ache Timothy.”
But the truth is that God didn’t want Apollos there. God wanted Timothy there. Tummy-Ache Timothy was the right person for the job. Your weak or sick parent, child, teacher, pastor, brother, sister, friend, husband, or wife – is the right one, and God can use them to do things that Apollos never could. The question is whether you trust that God knows what He’s doing.
There are, of course, more names there, but let’s close with verses 13-14,
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”
This is the end of the letter and a final summary of what he’s been saying. He addresses them like soldiers on the battlefield, or for our illustration today, nurses and fellow patients on the ward.
“Be watchful” means “stay awake” or “be on guard”. They had let all kinds of sickness and infectious and germs into their hospital church because they weren’t paying attention, weren’t on guard, weren’t doing best practices, and had fallen asleep on the job, and people were getting spiritually sicker and sicker. The command here is to wake up.
“Stand firm in the faith” means “Remember the foundation of the gospel.” They had not only let infections and germs run rampant among them, but they had lost the medicine! God the Father, Jesus the Saviour, and the Holy Spirit were always available to them but they had gotten so distracted by sin and had put their faith in so many other remedies that they had forgotten Jesus. Paul says, “You know the only treatment is pure faith in Jesus. Go back to that.”
“Act like men” means “stop being such a chicken and start doing the right things”! These caregivers had become too afraid, too distracted by sin, too overwhelmed by the enemy, to be able to help anyone. When they tried, they failed, because they were trying in their own strength – so they stopped trying. So Paul says, “Get back in there and help some people! Pray like you mean it, serve like you mean it, love like you mean it, worship like you mean it, study like you mean it!”
“Be strong”, means not in yourself obviously, but in God. This isn’t about pulling up your socks, it’s about reorienting yourself to the One from whom you get your strength. Remember one of the first things Paul said in chapter 1, “God chose the foolish, weak, and low things on purpose.” (1 Cor 1:26-31) In other words, God works most among the sick because that’s where He gets the most glory because that’s where people know they need Him most.
And if there was any doubt about where the strength comes from we see it in verse 14: “Let all you do be done in the love.” Our greatest strength isn’t in our personality, our bodies, our cleverness, or our words, it’s in our ability to love God and love others, because He first loved us.
When we become Christians we enter into a new family called the Church of Jesus Christ. When we put our faith in Jesus, God takes us out from under the condemnation we find under His Law grants us forgiveness through Jesus, and then makes us a part of His Kingdom.
All believers, everywhere are part of the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ, the Universal Church both living here and in heaven. If you are a Christian you are part of God’s family. The church expresses itself in two ways, the universal church and the local church – and Christians are meant to be a part of both, committing themselves to a local, Christian church. And as part of God’s family, one way you express your love for your Heavenly Father, is to be with His church. And I’m talking about more than just the commands we read. In scripture it says that one of the ways we know we are saved is because our heart changes towards other believers. It says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14)
Growing Christians want to be with fellow believers – backslidden and sinning Christians tend to run away from fellow believers. Those that are working on their sins tend to want to sit under good teaching and share their struggles with others. Those who are full of the unrepentant sins of unforgiveness, bitterness, pride, or greed tend to avoid other believers, avoid coming under the leadership of elders, or try to split up and start their own churches. A Christian full of hate, shame or ungodly fear will find excuses to avoid church and other believers. Growing, humble Christians do the hard, sacrificial work of seeking unity and mutual love.
I love the local church, especially this one. This is a really, really good church. There is much love, care, interest, honesty and joy here. It breaks my heart that more people aren’t part of a good, healthy church, because it is the number one way in the world that God chooses to do His will.
It’s fine to sit at home and listen to sermons or chat with people online, but miracles happen when people choose to get off the couch and spend time with their fellow believers on Sunday and during the week.
I haven’t always loved the church. I grew up in a church and didn’t know any other way, but when I was sent to my first year of post-secondary school at age 17, I didn’t bother going to church. And as a result, it wasn’t long before started suffering with loneliness, depression, anxiety, and fear. I sat alone the basement of my rented home, avoided people, didn’t make any friends, didn’t go to school, lost touch with God, and felt like garbage.
I’m convinced that if I would have gone to church, it would have been different. In fact, I know that’s true because since then I have attended church and, when facing trials and pain, I have been ministered to, held accountable, corrected, befriended, and pointed to Jesus.
This was because there were people in the church that were taking the words of Jesus seriously. Their hearts were full of love for Him and others and they were willing to step into my life and help me. They listened to the voice of God inside them and obeyed, and my life is better because of their obedience.
I want to start this morning, and this year, by reading our church membership covenant, which outlines a lot of ways that we have agreed to help each other here. This is the document that every person who is a voting member of this church has agreed to. If you’re not sure if you are a member, then you probably aren’t, because it requires baptism, meetings, and voting. It’s quite a commitment. Let me read it to you:
The Membership Covenant
Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, in the presence of God, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ.
We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this Church in knowledge, piety and godly living; to promote its spirituality in sustaining its worship, ordinances, discipline and doctrine; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the Church, its work against sin and injustice in the world, the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel throughout all nations.
We agree to promote family worship and maintain private devotions; to educate our children in the teaching and practice of our faith; and to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances. We strive to walk circumspectly in the world, to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements and exemplary in our deportment; to avoid all idle talk, backbiting and unrighteous anger; to practice temperance in all things; and to be zealous in all our efforts to advance the Kingdom of our Saviour.
We agree to strive to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
We covenant to watch over one another in brotherly love, to remember each other in prayer, to aid each other in sickness and distress, to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech, to be slow to take offence, always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the commandments of our Saviour.
Arguments Against Church Covenant
This morning I want to take a look at why it’s important that we have a membership covenant because it’s not without some controversy. There are a lot of people out there that see a church membership covenant as unbiblical. They see it as a way of saying the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God are not enough – that somehow we need a human document, a new “man-made law” to tell people how to behave. And they are right in being concerned.
A lot of abuse has occurred as a result of human documents that go beyond what scripture says. It is from these sorts of documents that we get things like abuse of power, public shunning, excommunication, and all manner of strange cultish practices that manipulate and exploit people.
In true cults you’ll see some horrible things they have to agree to like giving up your money, family and friends, and agreeing to all manner of abusive punishments. But churches aren’t immune to extreme things in their covenants. Even today in some Baptist churches you’ll read things like “no drinking, no smoking, no gambling, no dancing, no R rated movies”. You’ll see punishments for missing church, not tithing, or not following through on areas of service. And a lot of that not only smacks of legalism, but even cultism, and it is certainly unbiblical.
The letter to the Galatians is written to people who were confused about this kind of thing. Teachers had come through to the church and taught that Christians needed to follow the Law of Moses and Jewish traditions in order to be truly saved. (Gal 3:1-14)
This is something the Bible is completely against. Scripture is clear that we are saved by grace through faith, not by anything we can do. It says in 2:21, “…if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2:19-21)
In other words, the very thought that keeping some sort of human law can make you saved, or keep you saved, or get you more saved, in effect, nullifies the work of Jesus on the cross. It’s like saying, “Jesus only died for some of my sins, I have to do the rest. I need to do extra works to make up for what Jesus didn’t do. I need to be extra good because Jesus wasn’t good enough.” What a terrible, ungodly way to live that is, and the scriptures are dead-set against it. Jesus had a lot to say to the Pharisees who cared more about their rules and traditions more than the word of God. He calls it “vain worship”. (Matthew 15:7-9)
And so, rightly, some Christians really shy away from anything that even smacks of that way of thinking.
1. A Set of Standards
That being said, there is certainly a place for covenants between people in this world. The legal world uses them all the time as ways to make sure people follow through on their promises. If you buy a house or car, you’ll sign a legal document. At the bottom of your receipt from many stores you’ll find their return policy. A lot of employers, sports organizations and social clubs make contracts with “moral clauses” which dictate what kind of behaviour is expected of the employee, player, or member even when they are not at work.
One example is in the NHL’s “standard player contract”, which is set by the Players Association and cannot be modified, there is a “morality clause” that states a player must “conduct himself on and off the rink according to the highest standards of honesty, morality, fair play and sportsmanship and refrain from conduct detrimental to the best interest of the Club, the League, or professional hockey generally.”
There have been more than a few players suspended and even terminated from their teams, not because of anything they’ve done during the game, but because of things they have said or done off the ice. Perhaps one of the most famous was when Sean Avery made a rude comment about his ex-girlfriends and was then suspended and kicked off his team.
But what about a church? Just because lots of people in the world do it, doesn’t necessarily make it appropriate for Christians. Well, one reason that these companies and organizations put dress and morality codes into their contracts is because they want to emphasize the importance of making sure the public image of the group is represented by its members.
If we use Christianese terms, a church would do it to promote Christlikeness and avoid hypocrisy. There is a great importance in making sure who we say we are, who we identify with, and how we live, are all in alignment. We need to practice what we preach.
- James 1:26 says, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
- 1 John 5:2-3a says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.”
- When Jesus was talking to those Pharisees He called them “hypocrites” saying, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me…” (Matthew 15:8)
- When Jesus is teaching us how to tell a good teacher from a bad teacher, His answer is, “… you will recognize them by their fruits.”, meaning their deeds. (Matthew 7:16)
- He says later that we can know what is in a person’s heart by their words, “…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” (Matthew 12:34-35)
The Bible is clear that how we live matters a great deal. If we profess to be a Christian, but our life doesn’t change, then that likely means that we don’t really have the faith we say we do. If we say we have repented from our sin and want to follow God, but continue to look the same, sound the same, do the same things, enjoy commit the same sins and refuse to submit our lives to God, then we shouldn’t take much comfort in our faith, because it’s not real.
A good church covenant gives reminders of some of the ways the Bible tells us that our lives are supposed to change in order to line up with our new faith. It is not a list of dos and don’ts that change with culture and are meant to micromanage people’s behaviour, but a general document meant to give an outline of what a godly life looks like. When we sign a church membership covenant, we are saying that we agree to seek to live by not a bunch of man-made, but the standards of what the Bible says.
You might think, why can’t we just say, “Why can’t we all just agree to do what the Bible says?” Well, we are. The covenant is a summary of some of those things. It’s not exhaustive, but is a general outline that makes it easier for everyone to look at and understand, but leaves room for individual differences.
A good church covenant should be general enough that every believer could sign it, regardless of their work, family, or cultural situation. Whether you are a farmer or an astronaut, have children or don’t, are a young, single man, or a widowed, senior citizen, the covenant should be something you can agree to. It tells everyone who reads it what kind of ethics we believe in. Just as our Statement of Faith tells people what we believe, our Membership Covenant tells them how we live.
So, the first thing a good church covenant does is give a brief summary of the sorts of standards that God has set for His people. The second thing it does is allow us to obey the command to hold each other accountable.
A lot of people inside and outside the church can quote Matthew 7:1, even though they don’t know it comes from there. It says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Some can even go a bit further: “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” And they stop there thinking that it says that no one is allowed to call out anyone else on their issues. We use it as a defense against anyone getting into our business and an excuse not to have to deal with anyone else’s. But we need to keep reading!
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
Is Jesus telling us to ignore each other and never make a judgement as to the rightness or wrongness a person’s choices? No. It says, “Be careful how you judge! Don’t be a hypocrite. Examine yourself so that when you go to your brother or sister who is in error you will see clearly enough to help them.”
Let me lay down a few more scriptures about the importance of judging others and holding each other accountable, just so we can understand this better:
- Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” How can we restore someone caught in sin unless we make the judgement that they are sinning? How can we rescue them if we don’t get involved? How can we each other’s burdens, if we don’t judge them to be burdonsome?
- James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” The Bible says we should share our sins with one another so we can pray for help and be healed. We can’t do that if we ignore one another six-and-a-half days a week.
Here’s some from the positive side:
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up….”
- Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
- Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Each of these are encouragements to get proactive. It’s not just about waiting for someone to mess up so we can fix them, but proactively encouraging, sharpening, and stirring each other up as we meet together regularly. “Hey, are you reading your bible? Are you praying? How’s your marriage? Are you resting? Are you working hard? Are you serving others? What are your needs? I’m learning this about myself, or God, or my family, and it has helped me; let me tell you about it.”
How about: “Hey man, you’re thinking some wrong things about God and we need to work on that.” Or “You haven’t been to church in a while, and you’re not giving or serving, and that’s not spiritual healthy – God’s Word says you need to come back.” Or “Hey, you are stealing – not doing your taxes honestly, taking cable from the neighbours, illegally copying music or movies, ripping people off – and God’s Word says you need to stop.”
The second thing a good membership covenant do is give us permission to each other accountable.
3. Church Discipline
These two things together, standards and accountability, give the church a way to engage in what we call “church discipline”.
God has given a governing structure to His church and calls some people to be leaders and elders who are meant to be examples, protectors, overseers and teachers to their fellow believers. Many churches call them “elders”, but they are also called “bishops” or “presbyters” or “pastors”. To become one means meeting a long list of biblical qualifications (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9) and taking on the very difficult task of shepherding a group of people.
In Ephesians 4:11-14 it says that God,
“…gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
In Acts 20:28-30 Paul tells the Ephesian elders,
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
In 1 Peter 5:2-3 the elders are told to
“…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
On that note of being “subject to the elders”, Hebrews 13:17 tells Christians to
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
You see, it’s a two-way street. The elders of the church are given the responsibility to live exemplary lives worthy of imitation and stick close to Jesus. With the grace God gives them they are to protect and guard the church from false teachers, false practices, and spiritual dangers, knowing that will be held to account for how they lead.
But, unlike the laws of Israel, a Christian elder has no physical influence – no police force, no military, no weapons – with which to do their job. The history of the church is replete with examples of elders who got this terribly wrong.
The only way for elders to do what God has asked of us is for those who are part of the church, who have committed themselves to worshipping, serving, giving, and caring for a local body of believers, to accept that discipline willingly. Becoming a member and agreeing to the membership covenant is a way of giving permission to the elders to do that.
It might sound harsh, but it is intended to be a wake-up call for someone whose heart is growing far from God, who is falling for dangerous temptations, is filling with bitterness, is creating a split in the congregation, or whose soul is in danger.
Signing the membership covenant allows the elders to follow the scriptures which tell us to get involved in these sorts of issues. Just so you know I’m not making this up, I want you to see it in scripture.
- Matthew 18:17 Jesus says that if you have a problem with someone and it’s not getting any better, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
- 1 Timothy 5:20 tells elders, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”
- Titus 3:10 tells elders, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him…”
And there’s more.
Of course we can’t bar the doors, tie them to a chair, or lock them up. The whole point is that we trust in God’s power, not our own. Agreeing to a membership covenant not only allows each person in the church to hold each other to account, but gives permission to the elders to do church discipline if they must.
That’s enough for one day. Let me conclude with this: At our church, one tool we use to try to help each other follow God is our membership covenant. Is it perfect? No. Is it biblical, God honouring and helpful? Yes, I believe so. And I think it’s something we should be looking at more often so we can grow closer to God and each other, and more closely follow His word.
Our church’s mission statement says that we “share the love of Jesus” two ways: “….through Biblical Teaching and loving relationships.” The second part of that is easy to understand. We have a loving relationship with Jesus and that makes us prioritize having loving relationships with others.
Agents of Truth
But sometimes it doesn’t occur to us that another way to share the love of Jesus is through “biblical teaching”. I’ve already read this passage a couple weeks ago, but I wanted to point something out that we skipped over the first time.
“ And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Now, the first time we went through this, the emphasis was on how God calls us to work together even though we are different people who do different things – together but distinct. This time I want you to notice something else. I want you to notice – and I read a great post this week explaining this better to me – that these special offices are all agents given to share biblical truth. The apostles are the authoritative, foundational witnesses to the truth. The prophets are charismatic speakers of the truth that apply it with supernaturally guided pointedness. The evangelists share the truth of the gospel in regions where the apostles have plated the church. And the pastors and teachers take the truth and use it to feed and protect the flock of God.
All these people are agents of truth. And, as I said before, they have a special job to build up the church in that truth.
Loving With Your Gifts
But now, keep reading and see how these agents of truth are supposed to be doing this:
“ Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Here we see the means and the goal of these agents of truth. Yes, they have an important job to help people get more spiritually mature, correct error, teach doctrine, combat deceit – but they are supposed to be doing it “in love”. That’s a big deal. In fact, we can go so far as to say that the primary way that they are to show love for the people of God is to tell them the truth.
Let me say that again. These people are built to be truth agents. Yes, we are all supposed to tell the truth, but these people – the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, are the guardians of the truth. It’s their special gifting and is what gets them most excited.
If you’re a musician, there’s nothing that you like better than music. You are most happy when you’re listening or playing. If you’re an artist, you are most content and passionate while creating. If God built you to be a teacher, then there’s nothing like the feeling of helping someone gain knowledge they didn’t have before. If you’re built as a helper, then you don’t get excited about being in leadership, or meetings, or talking – you are most happy when you’re helping.
In the same way, if you’re a truth agent, specially gifted by God to combat error and tell the truth, then there is nothing you’d rather be doing. This is me, so I’m going to personalize this. I’m a truth agent – I fall in the prophet, teacher section of that list. Nothing gets me more excited than exercising my gifts of being a truth agent. And it is the primary way that I show love to the people in God’s church. It’s not the only way, but it’s the primary way.
If you have the gift of exhortation, then you will show love to people – and feel most loving and loved – when you are encouraging people. If you have the gift of administration, then you will feel most like you are loving the church, and loved by the church, when you are organizing people and things toward accomplishing what God wants us to do. If you have the gift of evangelism, you love people best by telling people about the gospel. You feel like you’re loving them, you feel loved by being allowed to do it, and they feel love because you’re doing something that you care deeply about.
And conversely, if you are not able or allowed to use your spiritual gifts, you won’t feel like you’re doing things right. You won’t feel like you’re loving others properly – because you’re not doing it the way God built you. You won’t feel like you’re being loved by others – because they aren’t allowing you to express the deepest part of you.
It’s the same for an agent of truth. Our Mission Statement is crafted by a group that realizes that “loving relationships” is not the only way to show the love of Jesus, because those loving relationships need to be guided by “biblical teaching”. Truth agents – and I’m not the only one here, there are others – are given to the church to help everyone in the body of Christ exist in loving, biblical relationships.
Loving, Biblical Relationships
And that’s what we want in the Christian church. Not relationships built only on love. Not relationships built solely on truth. But relationships built on “truth in love”. Now, what does that mean? 2 Peter 1-2 helps us dig into loving, biblical relationships.
The first section, from verse 2, is all about living the Christian Life. He says,
“ May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.  His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,  by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.  For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,  and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,  and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.  Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.  For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
You can hear the passion as he writes. The letters of 1st and 2nd Peter are written to a church that is under attack from outside and from within. In 1st Peter he addresses how to deal with the persecution from outside forces and in 2nd Peter the apostle talks about dealing with the false teachers and evildoers who have come into the church.
And so he starts the letter with a reminder of their special calling as Christians, their election by Jesus Christ to salvation, and the qualities that God calls them to. He says, if we want to be effective and fruitful in the knowledge of Jesus, we need to make sure we live by the conviction and in the power of Jesus Christ.
“ Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.  I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder,  since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.  And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.”
Next, he says “I’m going to remind you of these qualities over and over because I want you to be ‘established in the truth’”. Remember, he’s an apostle, an agent of truth, and there is nothing more loving he can do than to remind them of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus, His love for them, and the standards God has called them to live by. He says, “I’m going to die – I’ll be ‘putting off of my body soon’ – so I’m not going to beat around the bush. You gotta get this right.”
An Agent, Not the Source
He starts his reminder he makes sure they understand that he’s not making this stuff up. He’s a truth agent – not the source of the truth. He’s like a police officer. Like they say, “Cops don’t make the law, they just enforce them.”
Vs 16, “ For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”  we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.  And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,  knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
See how he takes the weight of the truth off his own shoulders and places it on Jesus. “I’m not making this up, and these aren’t just things we heard. We actually saw it.” Peter was there on the mount of transfiguration when Jesus showed a portion of His glory, met with Moses and Elijah, and the voice of God came down from heaven. That was a memorable moment in Peter’s life – to say the least.
And vs 19 on builds the case even further saying that it’s not just Peter’s experience that the truth relies on, but the whole of the Old Testament scriptures that point to Jesus. He points to them and says, “God wrote it all down, gave lots of prophecies over hundreds of years, and a whole lot of them came true in the life of Jesus.” He’s saying, “Don’t just listen to me, or go by my experiences, look at the written word of God. It confirms what all of us apostles have been saying.”
Therein lies an important point about being a truth agent – for all of us. That when we are telling the truth, we had best be sure that it’s not just our truth, but God’s truth. It’s not merely our own thinking, not “cleverly devised” things from others, not merely based on our experience, but based on the perfect, unchangeable, powerful, word of God. I stay out of a lot of trouble by making sure that what I say isn’t my own ideas, but simply teaching and speaking while standing on the truth of the word of God – which is just what Peter’s doing here.
Telling You What You Want To Hear
Now turn to chapter 2 and see why this is such a big deal.
“ But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.  And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”
Herein lies the danger of false teachers – they will tell you what you want to hear, framed in the language of love, but full of half-truths and lies – and you will thank them for it. You may even feel loved by a false teacher because they present themselves as an agent of God who can remove your guilt and give you license to do what you want – all in the name of love.
Secret and Destructive
Look at what Peter says about their message. In verse 1 he says that they “secretly bring in destructive heresies”. These false teachers don’t stand up and announce themselves, but come in and act like Christians! They are sneaky and nefarious. In fact, these deceivers will be so convincing that many believers will be absolutely taken by them – and give them leadership and preaching positions. Some of them are such good liars that they’ve even convinced themselves that they’re telling the truth!
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)
The Apostle Paul had to write to the church in Galatia that there were people teaching salvation by works, not by grace, and said,
“This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” (Galatians 2:4)
In Jude 3-4 we read,
“I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Do you see the words used there? “Wolves in sheep’s clothing”, “infiltration”, “spies”, “crept in unnoticed”. These false teachers aren’t obvious, and neither are their lies. Peter writes to this church (as Paul and Jude do) and reminds them that there is a rock solid truth that all teachings should be held against – it’s called scripture. All of these false teachers can be identified because they preach against the clear teachings of scripture – but they are very crafty and very slick. It’s not going to be obvious! And, Peter says, you all need to make sure you know it back and forth because these false teachers are incredibly sneaky.
And their best trick, and the worst part, is that these false teachers do this under the guise of LOVING PEOPLE, which is why so many Christians accept what they say. These wolves will say things like:?\
- “It’s not loving to judge others, so we don’t talk about sin.”
- “It’s not loving to exclude others, so everyone should be allowed to do everything they want to do.”
- “It’s not loving to hate, therefore any condemnation of anything is unloving.”
- “It’s not loving to make people feel uncomfortable, so we must never say anything that comes close to correction.”
And well-meaning Christians lap-it-up.
Half the Gospel
Why do Christians lap-it-up? Look back at 2 Peter 2:2 “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” Why do these false teachers gain so much popularity? Because they tell people what they want to hear, letting them follow their feelings, and then supporting their teaching by giving only half the gospel.
A false teacher will say: “God loves you, wants the best for you, and created you to be who you are, and wants you to be happy…” Which is all true… but there’s more.
Other false teachers will say, “God hates disobedience. God is righteous and perfect and cannot be in the presence of sinners, degenerates, liars and idolaters. God hates sin so stop sinning!” Which is true… but there’s more.
A truth agent stands up and says, “God is full of grace, amazingly patient, gloriously kind, and loves everyone. AND God has standards. God has commands. God has laws. God has given us directives on how to live. And we are expected to live within those boundaries. Judgment is coming on believers and non-believers alike. AND God hates sin, but He loves sinners. There’s no knot you can tie that Jesus can’t untie. But He requires you to repent from your sin and humbly come before Him before He’ll untie it for you. ”
People want the half-truths because they are easier, give us excuse to sin, and – here’s what’s weird – feel more loving. We want a God that loves us no matter what and doesn’t get involved in our business or wreck our plans. We want a God that allows us to define who He is and what He wants us to do, and then bless it and take us to heaven when we die. We want a God that will be impressed by all our good religious works, and condemn all the people who aren’t as good as we pretend to be. We want to be part of a group that never makes us feel bad, affirms everything we do, pats us on the back no matter what, and celebrates everyone equally. All of that sounds so great, and so much more loving to our disobedient, unbiblical, worldly ears.
They are Exploiters
Verse 3 tells us why they do it. “And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.”
Their motive is to fulfill their greed by taking advantage of gullible Christians. They know Christians want to believe, love, hope, help, and forgive. Most don’t want to fight or argue. They just want to get to know Jesus better, love and be loved. Which is awesome. But these people pray on ignorant Christians who don’t know the scriptures well enough to combat error. So these ignorant believers fall for these unbiblical, worldly-wise, lies, which have been fluffed up with biblical language and Christianese.
Believe it or not, there’s actually a movie coming out about this right now called “Believe Me.” Here’s the story line from the website:
“Sam (Alex Russell) stands on stage as thousands of fans go wild. Smart, charismatic, handsome, he moves them with his message, and when he calls for donations to his charity, the money pours in. Only thing is, Sam doesn’t believe a word he’s saying.
Just months earlier, Sam was a typical college senior focused on keg stands, hookups and graduation. But when a surprise tuition bill threatens his dream of law school and leaves him thousands of dollars in the hole, he’s forced to think outside the box. Convincing his three roommates they can make a killing exploiting the gullible church crowd, the guys start a sham charity and begin campaigning across the country, raising funds for a cause as fake as their message.”
Except – this isn’t just the plot of a movie. It’s real and happening all the time. False teachers, using false LOVE and unbiblical teaching to exploit Christians. They want fame, or power, or money, or something else – and gullible, foolish, deceived, Christians give them what they want.
Guardians of Truth
And so, we come back to where we start. Jesus sets up truth agents to ensure that the Bible is followed as people are trying to love one another. False teachers who sound loving lead people to hell. Agents of truth, even though their message sometimes isn’t that popular, are the ones who point people to Jesus and salvation.
And so what is our application today? For each of us, we need to remember a few things:
Let’s remember that we all have a responsibility to both truth and love. Loving someone with lies, misinformation, or simply omitting things they need to hear, isn’t loving. Love must be guided by truth, but we are all responsible to tell the truth. Certainly, there are some who are specialized in the area of studying, teaching and preaching biblical truth, but every Christian bears the responsibility of believing and speaking the whole counsel of scripture, the whole gospel, the whole truth – not just the parts we like, or the parts that make us most comfortable, in truth.
Second, let us be thankful for the truth agents that God has given to us. For the good Sunday School teachers, elders, preachers, evangelists, and prophets that God has brought into our lives over the years who take the truth seriously, and loved us enough to tell us the whole truth.
Let’s be thankful for the ones who took the challenge of 2 Timothy 4:1-5 which says, “ I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,  and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
Third, Let’s be careful that we don’t have itching ears ourselves, looking for false teaching that simply tells us what we want to hear and gives us license to sin — but be people who endure sound teaching with sober minds and love in our hearts.
“I Need a New Seven-Hundred-and-Ten”
A man walks into a car dealership. He’s not fond of being there, because he knows that some of these places are famous for ripping people off, so his plan is to not let on that he has no idea what he’s talking about. He gets into the long line and patiently waits his turn until he can get to the counter. The mechanic behind the desk looks up from the computer and asks him what he needs and he says in his most confident voice, “I need a new seven-hundred-and-ten”.
The mechanic is puzzled and asks again “What is it you need?” He replies, with even more confidence, “Oh, I just need a new seven-hundred-and-ten.” Some of the other mechanics around the shop hear this exchange and start to wonder over – some hoping to help, others wondering about this part they’ve never heard of.
The man at the computer says, “Hold on, let me gets the parts manager.” So, out comes the parts manager and says, “We’d love to get you a new one… but what exactly is a seven-hundred-ten?” By now the man was starting to feel a little frustrated, and replies, “You’re the mechanics. C’mon! You know, the little piece in the middle of the engine? I was working on my car, lost it and need a new one. It had always been there and I clearly need to replace it…”
By now all of the mechanics were huddled together wondering about this mysterious piece, when one of them had a great idea. He gave the customer a piece of paper and a pen and asked him to draw what the piece looked like. Maybe that would help them figure it out. He grabs the pen, frustrated with how a shop full of mechanics couldn’t give him a simple part, and drew a circle with a few bumps around it – it looked like a flower – and in the middle of it wrote the number 710. Each mechanic, in turn, took a look at the paper and scratched their head. They had no clue what a flower with the words 710 could possibly be.
Finally, one of the other mechanics had another idea and said, “Do you think you could point it out if we opened up one of the cars in the showroom?” “Of course I can!”, the man replied. They walked over to another car, similar to his own, which had the hood up and asked, “Is there a 710 on this car?” Immediately he pointed and said, “Of course, it’s right there!”
Beliefs Drive Our Mission
We’re talking about vision today – another word could be perspective. Our very first question that we must ask ourselves is “What do we believe?” and that outlines the most fundamental, bedrock beliefs about God, Jesus, Scripture and the Church.
Jesus is Lord of all and a member of the Holy Trinity. He came to us, born of a virgin, and it is only through Him that we can be saved. One day He will come again to judge the living and the dead. Satan is a real person and Hell is real place. The Word of God is our highest authority. Every believer has the right to deal directly with God because Jesus is their mediator. The church consists only of people who believe in Jesus as their savior and Lord. Baptism is the first significant act through which a believer proclaims their faith, and therefore baptism is for believers only. These are our non-negotiables, our bedrock beliefs.
Why A Church Needs a Mission Statement
After answering “What do we believe?”, it’s natural to ask the question, “What is God asking us to do?” On top of the bedrock of our common faith we build the framework of how that faith will be expressed in our own local context.
It’s true, and important for us to remember, that Jesus gave all Christians a mission statement in Matthew 28:18-20:
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
That is most definitely applicable to our individual lives and our church – but when we gather as a group, our question is, “What does that look like in Lanark County, in Beckwith, on the corner of Tennyson and 7th Line? If Jesus put us here, in this place, then how do we ‘go and make disciples’ where we are?” That’s what a mission statement is for. It tells us what we believe God wants from us in our local context. Mission statements aren’t only used by Christians, but by companies, charities, schools, and even individuals. It is an important way for a group of people to define our priorities, make our decisions, and set our ministry strategies.
Our Mission Statement
The mission statement we chose as a congregation is “We exist to inspire and equip our community to share the love of Jesus through Biblical teaching and loving relationships.” That’s a very complex and meaningful sentence.
When we asked ourselves, “Why does Beckwith Baptist Church exist? What’s it here for? What should we be doing? Why did God put us here? What’s His mission for us?”, that sentence is the answer we came up with. We sat together, prayed together, talked to God, read through the scriptures, and carefully crafted every word of that sentence. The whole leadership team, elected by the congregation, was in agreement that this was why God placed us here.
Then we brought it to the congregation. We printed out a bunch of copies, passed them out to everyone who we could find and said, “Ok, this is what we think God is saying. Please look at this, pray about this, and then get back to us with what you think God is saying.” Everyone had a chance to read it and comment. We took those comments back and did our best to incorporate everyone’s take on God’s plan for our church.
Then we had a vote. We sat together in a room, prayed for God’s guidance and wisdom, and then covenanted together to make this our Mission Statement. We all asked God, “Why do we exist and what do you want us to do?” and then we listened. And after listening we said, altogether, “We exist to inspire and equip our community to share the love of Jesus through Biblical teaching and loving relationships.” That was such a good thing and an important day in the life of our church.
Each one of the words in that statement was carefully chosen and is significant to us in our context, and so, as we kick off our September ministry season, I want to go through them together to remind us of what God told us last year. Today we’re going to talk about the first word — “We”.
The Priority of “We”
The first word is “We”. It’s a word which word that reflects the high priority God has placed, in scripture, on us working together.
It’s not “I… ”, or “They… ”, or “The Leadership Team…”, or “The Pastor…”, or “The Deacons…”, or “The people who have the time…”. It’s “We”. We together will do this thing that God has asked us to do. Philippians 2:1-2 says,
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
Read it this way — “If Jesus is an encouragement to you… if the love of Jesus comforts you… if the Holy Spirit is fellowshipping with you… if you know the friendship of Jesus and the comfort from Jesus during times of trial and struggle… let that flow out of you from Jesus into one another.”
Paul says that if the church does that it will “complete [his] joy”. There is no greater joy for a pastor than to see the people he is equipping for ministry actually doing it. Watching and participating in a church full of people who are “of the same mind” (agreeing on their faith and their ministries), “have the same love” (a love for Jesus and for one another that they sacrifice willingly to meeting each other’s needs), and in “full accord” (not fighting, not gossiping, not bickering, not complaining, no one feeling they are better than another, no one feeling left out, no one forgotten, united in spirit), brings great “joy” to the elders, pastors and missionaries who have been chosen by God to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph 4:12). And it makes God happy to. When a minister sees his church being “we”, he knows that God is being glorified, the Gospel is being lived out, Jesus is being honoured, and the Holy Spirit has room to move wherever He wants.
I can tell you that’s absolutely true in my case. When we are being “we”, and not “I”, it makes my heart smile. And it does that – and this is going to sound a little selfish – because it means you’re doing your job and I’m doing mine.
An Elder (Pastor) Has A Special Job
A great summary of my job description, as your pastor, is found in Ephesians 4:11-16. It says that when Jesus was designing the church, after He had ascended into heaven, He
“gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…”
These are people with specialized jobs, given to them by Jesus. We read what that is in verse 12:
“…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”
Do you see that? The leaders of the church, appointed by Jesus, have been given the important job of equipping the people in the church to do the work God has given them to do. Their job is to work to build up the people that God calls into the church. To disciple them, challenge them, help them improve their skills, support them and teach them how to listen to and obey God. And while they are doing this, they need to maintain “unity of the faith” and “knowledge of the Son of God”. In other words – step in and be peacemakers and disciplinarians when there’s a problem and ensure that Jesus is being preached and taught everywhere, all the time. That’s a big, important job.
But why? Why did Jesus appoint special leaders to that task? Shouldn’t everyone be doing that? Sort of. Yes, everyone has a responsibility to pray and learn and be peace makers, but God appointed special people to make sure it happens. Look at verse 14 to see why.
“…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
If “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” aren’t doing their job, there is a danger that all kinds of things will go wrong. The people may remain immature in the faith – it’s these special people’s job to make sure that the congregation grows in maturity. And without those God appointed leaders there’s a danger that cunning humans (elsewhere in scripture called “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 5:17)) will come in and deceive people. So God gave certain people the job to dedicate their whole lives to praying through, studying and teaching the scriptures, so they can be sensitive to what’s God wants and contradict error when it comes. They are the sheriffs, the guardians, the firefighters, the police, the under-shepherds who work with Jesus to keep the church strong and safe.
One Body Many Parts
It’s important to know how Jesus put His church together. The church, in scripture, is likened to a human body – one being with many parts. Not all the parts are meant to be the same, and by necessity they need to be different. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 12:14-19,
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”
People who do crafts or have a hobby where they build things, or has built their own home understand this. Jesus picks the parts He wants, designs how He wants them to look, and then joins us together in the shape He wants. He has a plan. Jesus is the head, and then He appoints certain people to be leaders and equippers, and then he appoints the people who are to be led and equipped by them to be the rest of the body. And, under Him, they work together in love to grow. We don’t get to pick which part of the body we are. And we don’t get to pick which part of the body someone else is. It is Jesus who designs and gifts people to be what He wants them to be.
Therefore, I need you, you need me, and you need the person sitting next to you and in the rows behind and in front of you. We need the people who decided not to come today. I need you to do your job and you need me to do mine, and we both need them to do theirs. I have been appointed by God and so have you. If you’re doing my job instead of yours, you’re in sin. If I’m doing your job instead of mine, I’m in sin.
We Have Different Jobs
We’ve read this before, but it’s important that we remember it, so we understand that though we are all part of the same church, serving the same community, with the same faith and the same Lord – we don’t all have the same job.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)
Now look at Romans 12:4-8,
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
Do you see the balancing act in both of these sections of scripture? We have the same Lord, same Saviour, same Spirit inside of us, same mission – but very different functions.
Listen: Some Christians are built and designed by God to be especially wise and knowledgeable people who are very discerning and want to make sure the church is listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. They sniff out wolves and keep the church from sin.
But we can’t all be that so God designs other Christians to be prophets and teachers who study and concentrate and agonize to make sure that the Word of God is properly proclaimed and fully obeyed. They are the megaphones God uses to tell people things.
Some Christians are designed by God to be passionate about mercy and love and healing people and wanting to perform miracles of God. They love to visit people, and open shelters, and get involved in all the messy stuff in the world.
And all of those Christians need the folks who designed by God to be generous and give resources and funding to their ministries. We are all supposed to be generous, but God gives some people the amazing ability to make money and equip ministries. That’s their job.
And all of those people need the people who are specially gifted by God to be exhorters and encouragers to stand around everyone else and shake their pom-poms and yell “Go Team Jesus!” and “You’re doing a great job!” and “Wow! You’re awesome at that!” “Great sermon pastor!” “Nice job on the potluck!” “This place is decorated so great!” “Loved that song today, singers!” “You’re such a great listener!” “I’m so glad you’re here!” “Keep trying, you’ll get it right eventually!” The encouragers keep the wise from getting discouraged by all the fools around them. They help the prophets to have the energy and motivation to come back week after week when it seems that no one is listening to them. They help people stuck in sin to keep trying. They make the tired servants feel appreciated. The exhorters and encouragers are just as important as the preachers and ministry leaders!
From “We” to “I”
But you know what happens? (And I know you’ve experienced this.) The prophets and teachers start to get prideful and think their job is the most important because they spend all their time in the Bible and start to look down on people who spend so much time just talking to people or just giving away their money. They look at the cheerleaders and call them shallow. They look at the healing ministry and criticize them for not doing enough bible-study.
The wisdom and knowledge people start thinking that they should be in charge of everything. So they start messing with the ministries, telling them how to help people better and the right way to perform miracles. They start telling the encouragers how they are supposed to encourage people. Their not healers, their not encouragers… but they think they know more.
Then the people in the healing and mercy ministries can’t understand why the prophets and teachers spend so much time studying. Don’t they know that God wants them out from behind their books! They accuse the teachers of not loving people and not loving God properly because they aren’t doing the ministries that they think are most important.
And so the church, instead of acting like a “We”, starts to thinking about themselves as a group of “I’s” and they break apart. One church is full of Prophets and Teachers who love to read the Bible and hear sermons – but no one does anything helpful, no one gives generously, and no one is encouraged.
And another church starts that’s full of healing and mercy people who are amazing at meeting the needs of their community, and loving the poor – but they start to do goofy things with the money because they have no Godly wisdom people, and they become heretics because they have no Godly prophets and teachers.
And all the encouragers stay home because they can’t stand watching people fight. Right?
I know we’ve only covered one word of our Mission Statement today, but it’s an important word. God built the church so that we would work as a “We”. That word has a lot of implications. We work a community. We serve as a group. We respect each other’s differences and we are thankful for how God built each one of us. We are only truly the church of Jesus Christ when we are working together. “…of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
Here’s the audio for the sermon:
You may have noticed that I changed the title of this series. Instead of being “Being People of Integrity”, I’ve simply called it “Christian Integrity”, and that’s because I believe that it’s important to distinguish the fact that we are specifically talking about the characteristics of a person and church of faith. These things don’t universally apply to everyone in the world.
Worldly Vs Christian Integrity
If “integrity” is simply taken as being honest and consistent, then there is a worldly kind of integrity. The non-Christian mechanic or plumber who doesn’t overcharge can have integrity. The school teacher who loves their students and sticks to the textbook has a form of integrity – even though they could be teaching falsehoods. The soldier who is sold out to their country and willing to die could be said to have high integrity by their superiors – even though they represent an evil nation.
Christian Integrity is a higher form of integrity. It is a supernatural thing, beyond simple honesty and consistency. Christian Integrity requires being a person who has God as their Father, Jesus as their Lord, and the Holy Spirit guiding their thoughts and deeds.
In this series, we are taking apart Psalm 15 which begins with the question, “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” What do the people who dwell with God look like? When people join the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, what are the expectations? What can they expect when Jesus rules the hearts of people?
What we see in Psalm 15 are six descriptors of a functioning, obedient, growing Christian. This is obviously not an exhaustive description, but it is a good place to start. The first was Integrity, and we said that it is the roof of the house, which is built on the foundation of our salvation through Jesus Christ.
Our Integrity is held up by the other five traits of being Truthful, Loving, Honouring, Trustworthy and Generous. We’ve already looked at being Truthful and Loving, and for the last couple weeks we’ve been in verse 4 as we’ve discussed the flip side “Honouring the Faithful”, which is “Rejecting the Vile”. This week we are looking at the second part of verse 4 where it talks about Honouring the Faithful. A Christian “despises a vile man but honours those who fear the LORD”.
Finding an Honourable Person
Remember that the word “honour” is a word that means “to be heavy or great”. It is a word that means that when you a certain person, their presence has great meaning to you, and their words have a special weight and significance to them. You honour them, respect them, treasure them, and highly esteem them. In your life and heart, they are given VIP treatment.
Most of us don’t have a lot of people like this in our lives. Especially with the advent of the internet, social media, the 24 hour news cycle, and other technologies, it’s hard to find someone who has strong Christian integrity. It’s hard to trust anyone these days. Who do we look for to find a strong marriage with statistics that say most are unhappy and over half of them ending in divorce? Who do we look to for Christian leadership when so many preachers and pastors have crashed and burned in their ministry? Who do we look to be an example to us in the godly use of money when most people are up to their eyeballs in debt? It’s really hard to find an “honourable” person these days.
Which makes it so much sweeter when you find one. When you find that teacher who has been consistently loving God, defending the faith, and strong in their convictions for the long-haul. RC Sproul is one of those men for me. He celebrated his 75th birthday this week and is still going strong. If you type the words “RC Sproul Controversy” into Google, nothing comes up! Yes, there are people who disagree with him, but all in all, he has a stellar reputation and a great Christian man and strong Gospel teacher.
Personally speaking, there are only a few people in my life who I would consider to have Christian Integrity, and they are a great blessing to me. My wife is one of them. When they speak, I listen. When I get an e-mail from them, the world stops and I read it. When they recommend a book, I read it. When they correct me, I listen and try to change my behaviour.
I hope you have someone like this in our life, because they are a great blessing! I do hope that you are able to honour these people in your life because they are a great gift from God.
Elevating Fellow Believers
But I want to be clear that Psalm 15:4 is not only talking about the kinds of believers who have earned the right to be given special treatment. RC Sproul has spent years developing his reputation, and he deserves to be listened to. This verse is talking about something a little different. God is not saying “Honour those who deserve it…” but “Honour those who are believers…” It says, “…honours those who fear the Lord.” That’s all beleivers, no matter what stage of maturity they are in. It’s talking about elevating the view of Christians in our life.
This is hard for us because we have so many of our priorities messed up. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on the Bible says that a Christian
“…values men by their virtue and piety, and not by the figure they make in the world.”
Let me give you an example of how I came face to face with this in the past week.
As you know, the Olympics are on, and of course I’m cheering for Canada, but I love watching these men and women do their best in their events and am in awe of their skill. I cheer for them as they compete and am happy for them when they win. I was honouring them.
However, this week I read something about the Olympic village that makes me remove my honour from them. It was an article entitled “Olympic Village brimming with love for Valentine’s Day” that changed my mind.
I don’t want to get into the graphic details, but it begins like this,
“… love is in the Sochi air this Valentine’s Day. What do you expect when you ram beautiful, young and fit athletes into a confined space, and allow their emotional highs and lows to be released in a fit of competition. Oh yes, the athlete’s village is a physical place —if you catch my drift.”
The rest of the article goes on to describe the unbridled lust (not love) the alcohol fuelled parties, nudity, and general lasciviousness that is part and parcel of living in the Olympic Village. It gives me a new view on these athletes. I don’t want to paint them all with the same brush, but this is being described as the norm.
This is what Matthew Henry and Psalm 15 are describing. Don’t misplace your honour. Don’t honour the dishonourable. The true value of a person is in their character, their piety, and their virtue when they are in front of people and when they are not. We should not be fooled by people who look good on the outside – but give honour to people who are in relationship with Jesus Christ and are seeking to be more godly every day.
Again, not perfect people, or only great preachers and missionaries, but the average believer who is walking in daily obedience, struggling with temptation, maybe inconsistent in their walk, but growing in God more and more as the days go by.
I would rather honour a junkie who has turned their heart over to Jesus and is in a daily spiritual battle with addiction and their old life-style, than a gold medal athlete who competes for their own glory, gives their body over to lust, and doesn’t give Jesus a second thought.
We Don’t Do This Well
God is very serious about how Christians treat one another. If there is one place, one group, on family that should know how to love one another… it’s the family of God. And yet, our track-record of getting along as believers is quite terrible.
We have sects, and divisions, and denominations. We even have a term for what happens when people in a church can’t get along and then start two separate church – we call it a church splits. I’d love to know the statistic comparing church plants (on purpose, missional, evangelistic minded, celebrations) to church splits. Even within the church we have cliques, gossip sessions, and back-room meetings. We smile at someone on Sunday, and then slander them on Monday.
The Christian church has a history of killing one another in the name of Jesus Christ! Instead of embracing new ideas, different ways of thinking, and uniquely gifted people, more often then not the Christian church freaks out, ostracises them and then attacks. Like Martin Luther who was chased down, exiled and nearly killed because he dared to challenge the church authorities to defend some of their practices. Or William Tyndale was burned at the stake because he wanted to print the bible in English.
Those are extreme examples, but lesser crimes happen all the time, in many churches around the world, in our city, and even within these walls. And God takes this very seriously.
God’s Kids Fighting
Parent’s understand why God feels this way. I often go to the park with my kids. Sometimes I play with them, other times I stand back and watch. And almost every time we go, there’s some kind of disagreement. And those problems come in three different forms.
First is when two kids I don’t know start to fight. How do I feel about that? Well, I don’t like it, but I’m not really emotionally invested in the kids, and I’m not their parent, and unless they start to really hurt each other, I don’t really get involved. It doesn’t grip my heart.
Second is when some strange kid starts a fighting with one of my kids. What happens then? Then I step in! I find out what happened, I tell my kid to apologize if it was their fault, and if it wasn’t [which it usually isn’t because my kids are awesome] then I protect my kid, maybe get the other parent involved, or tell my kid they need to be gracious and kind and let it go. If my kid gets into some kind of conflict, then I get emotionally invested and I jump in to protect my kid, teach my kid, and parent my kid.
The third scenario is when my kids fight each other. This happens more often. My kids start to fight, one isn’t being fair or hurts another – on purpose or accidentally – and now I react a much different way. I jump in. I grab them both and pull them aside. There might be discipline involved where one has to apologize, ask forgiveness and sit on the side for a while. Sometimes, it’s serious enough that we have a long talk about it. And if it’s a big enough deal, we leave the park, talk about it in the car, and then maybe even carry though some disciplined at home.
It’s a bigger deal when it’s two of my kids! I don’t want my kids fighting! They are a family. They’re supposed to love each other and work together. I have a totally different reaction to when my kids are fighting with each other, then when strangers are involved. Why? They’re mine! I love them! They know what I’ve said about how to act. They know the standards of our home. And I hate it when my kids fight! Not just because it’s noisy… but because it shows me there is something wrong with their heart.
I think God feels the same way when His kids aren’t getting along. When two people outside the church are sinning against each other… that’s to be expected. They are sinners, who love to sin, and who don’t know God. When a non-Christian is in conflict with a Christian, God gets more involved and will protect the Christian, or might discipline the Christian.
But when two of His kids are sinning against each other, I believe, because of my reading of scripture, He takes it very seriously, and it hurts him very deeply. Why? Because it shows how far His children’s hearts are from Him!
What’s Behind Christian Conflict?
Let’s Look at what James 4:1-4 says is going on behind the scenes when Christians fight. When God looks at a family of believers who is not honouring one another, He doesn’t just see the surface issues we see like arguing over what song to sing, who should be doing what, or what color the carpet is in the sanctuary. He sees something much deeper.
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (vs 1)
In other words, when Christians argue, it’s almost never for a good, holy, righteous reason. Rarely is the fight over bad doctrine, disregard for scripture, or unholy living. It’s because one of them, or probably both, is being selfish. It’s a heart problem. Passions and desires out of control.
I want a certain style of music or type of ministry because they like it best. IO feel like I should have some kind of leadership position and not someone else. I want to be heard because I think I’m important and me opinion counts for more. I want it done my way, because I’m always right.
“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.” (vs 2)
That’s the root of most problems between believers. They aren’t arguing over core theologies or anything truly important to the kingdom. Most of these issues have nothing to do with what is on God’s heart. It’s just two people being selfish. They want something and aren’t getting it, so they fight.
Often, God’s not even involved, because they know as soon as they go to God, He’s going to show them how petty it is, and how prideful they are being, and how they need to submit to one another in love… but they don’t want to hear that.
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (Vs 3)
This selfish mindset affects our prayer life. We ask God for things that are not good for us, that are wrongly motivated, that will elevate us instead of him, that will bring shame to others or harm others who we feel deserve it. We “ask wrongly” for these things because they are not motivated by our love for God or to Honour the Faithful Christians in the church… but to spend on our passions. We want to feel good, look good, have more, gain more power or prestige. And God doesn’t answer those prayers.
“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Vs 4)
When Christians fight, argue, quarrel, gossip, slander, hurt or sin against one another, they show themselves to be people who act like the world – not children of God. Christians that fight with other Christians about non-essential issues are called “adulterous” – which means they have left their first love, God, and are now embracing a new love – themselves. In fact, when Christians fight, divide and sin against one another, they are not only acting like the world… but are, in fact, acting like the enemies of God.
It is the enemies of God who fight against Christians, who make church a difficult place to be, who gossip and slander against believers, and hurt and abuse Christians. It is the enemies of God who make Christians stressed out and miserable. That’s Satan’s job! Christians shouldn’t be doing that to each other! It is literally satanic for Christian’s to fighting against one another over non-essential issues.
Dealing with Problems Among Christians
So what do we do when problems come up? Do we burry them in the sand, sweep them under the rug, and just pretend to get along for 2 hours each week. Everyone smiling fake smiles, no one arguing or getting close to one another, no one changing anything, no one saying anything that could be a criticism for fear we learn we have an argument? No, of course not. What God wants us to work through our issues (which we talked about last week) and “honour” one another.
If something between two believers, they should treat each other with “honour”. The fact that this person is a brother or sister in Christ should have great meaning, because this person has great meaning to Jesus. Jesus gave His life for that person. Their tears and frustrations, their complaints, their encouragements should have a special weight and significance to them, because it’s possible that the Holy Spirit is speaking through them. They are worthy of respect because they are a man or woman of God. They should be treasured because God treasures them. They should be highly esteemed because they are children of the Most High God, adopted into the Creator’s family, are co-heirs with Christ, and will one day judge angels! Ask yourself, “in your life and heart do you honour other believers?”
The “One Anothers”
I want to show you what that looks like. Consider what would happen if your favourite celebrity, or a famous teacher, or someone you respect were to offend you. Your love and admiration makes it a little easier to give them grace, be patient, give them a chance, forgive them. But it doesn’t come so naturally within the average Christian relationship.
We’ve talked about this before. Do you remember the “One Another” verses. There are at least 54 “one another’s” in scripture. They are wonderful descriptors of how Christians are to honour one another, and they all flow out of what Jesus said to His disciples in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.””
How? How do we do that? How do we “love one another”? The bible spells it out in great, great detail through the “one anothers”. Most simply say “love one another”, but others are very specific. Listen to some of these:
- Romans 12:16, “Live in harmony with one another.”
- Romans 15:7, “Accept one another,”
- Romans 16:16, “Greet one another”
- 1 Corinthians 1:10, “…agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you…”,
- Galatians 5:13, “…serve one another”,
- Ephesians 4:2, “…be patient, bearing with one another in love.”,
- Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”,
- Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another.”,
- Colossians 3:16, “…teach and admonish one another …”,
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “…encourage one another…” ,
- Hebrews 10:24, “…spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”,
- James 4:11, “do not slander one another.”,
- 1 Peter 4:9, “Offer hospitality to one another”,
- 1 Peter 5:5, “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another”,
These “one anothers” are all talking about how we relate to other believers. How we live out Psalm 15, “honour those who fear the Lord.” That’s what it looks like. That’s how we are to act towards each other. This is the heart we are to have when something comes up between us, or when we are serving with one another. It’s our default position when in relationship with other Christians.
Let me pause and ask, as you look at this list, and how you have conducted yourself over the past while – have you been doing this? How have you been treating the favoured ones of God? How have you been treating God’s kids, your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Bear With One Another
Let’s read Colossians 3:12-17. I want to focus in on something that I think is important to us, and will give us a key phrase to grab onto when dealing with people in the church. Start in verse 12,
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
The Bible says, God says, that we are to “Bear with each other”. It’s the same word used in 2 Thessalonians 1:4 which talks about enduring persecution for the faith. Same word. Sometimes being part of a church is going to be difficult. When those times come, we are to “bear with each other.”
What that means is that when conflict happens, you go through it together. We don’t take off, pretend it didn’t happen, reject the person, or find a new church. It means we stick together through thick and thin, work it out even when it’s hard, figure it out even though it’s confusing, make it work even when it seems impossible, and let God take over the situation to make the impossible possible.
“…as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Do you see that? What kind of forgiveness did Jesus give you? Did He forgive some of your sins… but couldn’t get over certain things, so He still holds them against you? Did He forgive you… but then keeps bringing them up and making you feel guilty all the time? Did He forgive you… but then go behind your back and tell a bunch of people? Did He forgive you… and then never speak to you again, refusing to sit with you or acknowledge you? No! Our model for forgiving one another is the forgiveness we received through Jesus Christ!
“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.” [Other translations say, “… since as members of one body you were called in one body.”] (vs 14)
What that means is that we are supposed to think of our church in the same way we think of our body. It is strange to think of our body at war with itself. When a person’s body fights with itself, we call it an auto-immune disease. It’s an allergy, it’s cancer, it’s Chrohn’s, it’s eczema, it’s Lou Gehrig’s Disease, it’s MS. When the body starts to attack itself, something is very wrong. We don’t want some parts of our body to fight against other parts of the body. We want our body bound together in “perfect harmony”, and at “peace”.
When Dr. God looks at a group of Christians who can’t get along… it’s not a small deal… it’s a major disease in the body. Jesus wants his church to be a healthy body that works together to build up the rest of the parts, not a sick body that harms itself.
4 Practical Steps to Christian Harmony
Let’s close by looking at verses 16-17 which gives a bit more practical advice and helps us to know what we need to work on so that we can be a united body, honouring each other, living out the “one anothers”, and growing in love with the believers around us: (Start with the last part of verse 15):
“And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
If you are struggling with loving other believers, here’s how to pray and what to do.
1. “Be thankful” for them. This is the first step in changing your heart. Pray, “Thank you, God, for this person. They are different from me, but that’s ok. I don’t understand them, but you do. You built them, created them, chose them, equipped them, and are working in their heart. They irritate me, but they love you and you are working on them. They are my brother or sister who I will spend eternity with. Make me thankful for them, who you made them to be, and help me treat them with honour.”
2.Let the Bible guide you. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom…” (3:16a) Not guided by your heart. Not your own wisdom. Not your friends. If you are struggling to love someone, go to the Word. If you’ve got a problem with what another Christian is doing, check out what God has to say about it first. Use the Bible as your guideline (not your hammer, your guideline) for your attitude and behaviour. You might be surprised to find that it’s not them that needs the attitude adjustment, but you! And if the person is going against scripture, then you bring them the word of God, not your own opinion.
Kid’s do this naturally! They invoke my name as the authority. One comes to me and says “Daaaaad! So-and-so is doing this!” Then I say, “That’s ok, I asked them to do that. I’ve got something different planned for them that you don’t understand right now.” Or I say, “Thank you for telling me, you’re right, they shouldn’t be doing that. Tell them that Dad says to quit it or they’re in trouble.” It is not my kid who has the authority… I do. I’m the Dad.
3. Be Gentle and Persistent. In this passage it says we should be able to be “…singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
This tells us two things. First, a loving church is full of people who can sing and worship together. They sing the same song. People who don’t get along can’t worship God together very well. The animosity creates a barrier between us and them, and us and God. This also tells us that we need to be persistent in working through our problems, so when we are on the other side, we can be singing the same song.
If you say, “I can’t worship with that person in the room”, and you are not working towards a solution to whatever is harming the relationship, then you are not obeying God’s will to reconcile with your brother. If the presence of that person is causing you to not be able to worship God, the fault is not with them… it’s with you. Something is wrong with you. Nothing should stop you from worshipping God. And if that person is a believer, and has demonstrated themselves to be a person of faith, then you should be working through Matthew 18 so you can, if at all possible, sing the same song. We talked about how to do that last week.
Consider the words of Jesus when he said in Matthew 5:23-24,
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
God desires we be reconciled, before He desires our worship.
4. And finally, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
All of our actions should be able to be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus” Christ. When dealing with our brothers or sisters, in our minds we can think, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ… I…”
- forgive you…
- love you…
- serve you…
- ask your forgiveness…
- will put myself second to you…
- will love your family…
- will walk with you…
- will help you…
- will do it your way…
- will keep at you until you repent…
- won’t stop loving you…
You can’t say, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ… I…”
- gossip about you…
- hate you…
- will never speak to you again…
- will sin against you…
- will slander you…
- will ignore you…
- will give you a dirty look when I pass by.
That’s not Jesus.
I know this is hard for some people, but we are called to so much more. Let me end by reading Ephesians 4:1-6 which is Paul’s urgent appeal from his prison cell to a group of Christians who had some relationship issues, and needed to put Jesus back at the centre:
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Last week I presented a problem: What do we do with hypocritical people who call themselves Christians, but continue to love their sin? This week I want to look at a biblical solution.
This is all part of a series on Psalm 15 which talks about what it looks like to be a person of Christian Integrity. We can probably all easily agree that a person of integrity has the core traits that Psalm 15 describes. They are Truthful, Loving, Honouring, Trustworthy and Generous. But in verse 4, right before it talks about honouring “those who fear the Lord”, it says that a person of Christian integrity is someone “… in whose eyes a vile person is despised.”
That’s what we talked about last week. How do we understand what “a vile person” is? And we came up with a simple definition that said a vile person is someone who “claims to be a believer, but has clearly rejected God’s word.” That’s the biblical understanding of “a vile person.”
This week we are going to look at what we are supposed to do with a person who does that. How do we as a church respond, and how do we as individual believers respond.
We are looking at this through the lens of 1 Corinthians 5. We already went through verses 1-6 last week, and we are picking it up in verse 7 this week.
Cut Out Infectious Sin
So what are we supposed to do with an unrepentant person, who says they are a Christian, but who won’t let go of their sin? If a church is working properly, and helping one another to honour God, grow in faith, love Jesus, serve people… and avoid sin, then what are they supposed to do with a believer who won’t stop sinning? What do we do with the person who claims to be a Christian, but clearly lacks integrity?
Paul says that the church must protect its integrity and the people of the church by removing the bad influence – what he calls “yeast”. We are to cut out the infectious sin. Read from verse 7.
“Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.”
Notice again that we are not talking about non-Christians, or believers who have stumbled and sinned one or two times. We are not talking about conducting witch-hunts and tribunals where we go door to door nit-picking everything that we don’t like and judging people who aren’t like us. And we are certainly not talking about only allowing perfect people who never sin into the church. What we are talking about dealing with are Christians who have a rebellious and unrepentant heart – one who has heard the words of God and has rejected them.
Paul tells us to separate the bad apple from the bunch. Reject them. Remove them. Don’t let it take any more effect. Remove their voice from the group and don’t listen to them. Remove them from fellowship and don’t have close associations with them as you would a believer. Cut the yeast out of the church before it infects the whole loaf. And it will. If you let a person who is committed to sin free to roam the church, they will infect others.
Let’s use gossip as an example. If not confronted and dealt with through Church Discipline, gossip will affect the whole church and damage a lot of people. We all know the damage gossip can cause.
Laziness, or busyness for that matter, are also sinister and damaging if left unchallenged. If lazy people are allowed to be lazy, and too busy people are allowed to be too busy, then people within the group will use them as an excuse for them to live the same way.
Unforgiveness can spread as well. If we do not practice forgiveness with each other, unforgivness will become the norm. Avoiding the hard work of reconciliation will become standard procedure. Then the bitter root will grow in our midst and we will have a bitter church.
The same with cheapskates. If we admire and allow people to be sinfully frugal misers and skinflints who pride themselves for being a scrooge, then will help others become to become scrooges too. We need to confront them and tell them they are sinning.
- “I don’t have to deal with that… just look at so-and-so… they’re getting away with it.”
- “It’s ok for me to do it, so-and-so does it all the time.”
- “I don’t have to do that because so-and-so doesn’t have to.”
Keeping Our Integrity
Keep reading in verse 9, but let me note that sometimes people sometimes take this scripture to mean that they have to avoid everyone outside the church too. The thinking goes like this: “If we are supposed to avoid sinners inside the walls, then how much more should we avoid everyone outside!” It’s important to know that’s not what he’s saying. This is specifically talking about judging and dealing with people within the church. Listen here:
“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’”
Do you see that this is not about avoiding the world? Just as I said before, Christianity is not a cult that tells you to leave the world and only hang around like-minded believers. No, this is about dealing with problems among believers.
And his solution requires three things. Rejecting, Protecting and Restoring.
Rejecting, Protecting, Restoring
The first response that a church makes to an unrepentant Christian who is in sin is to reject them. The believers within the church keep their integrity intact by doing what Psalm 15 says – “despising the vile person”. In other words, reject the one who has rejected God. When someone calls themselves a believer and is in flagrant, unrepentant sin – we don’t associate with them. We make the believer feel badly about themselves and their sin, by giving them a taste of life as an unrepentant sinner again. When we hang around with them and pretend nothing is wrong, ignore their sin, we are in some ways saying that we agree with their sin. We become complicit with their sin. And we are also in danger of being tempted to sin with them!
Now, we don’t arrive there all at once, and it’s not the first response, so we’re going to talk more about how we get to that point in a minute.
The second response is to protect the integrity of the church and the person who is in sin. We protect our church’s integrity by showing the world that this person doesn’t represent us, and by removing the object of temptation from within our midst. And we protect the person by isolating them from feeling like their sin is ok. As we talked about last week. Removing them from the church is a way to stop enabling and avoiding the sin. It’s harsh, but it’s a measure of protection.
What they need to see is that their behaviour is not acceptable to anyone who calls themselves a Christian, and they are not allowed to be a part of the church – but are now part of the world – it should cause them to grieve. It gives them a chance to look at their life, to realize that if they are going to claim that Jesus is the Lord of their life, but not act like it, then they are a hypocrite. You could also say that this is a way to protect them from self-delusion.
This also protects us, the church, and even that person – to some extent. When we step away, we cannot enable them to sin. Think of it this way: If a fellow believer is going out of town so they can sin, and you say that you are happy to pick them up, babysit, watch their house, or whatever – you are enabling their sin.
If they give you something to hang on to for a while, so they don’t get in trouble, you’re helping them sin. If they want to borrow some money because they have spent all of theirs on sin – no, they can’t have any, even if that means they can’t pay their rent or their bills, because you will not enable them to sin. We protect our integrity, our church’s integrity, and even show love to the sinner by refusing to be part of their sin.
The third response is to setting up the conditions by which we will be able to restore this person who is caught in sin back to the fellowship. By God’s grace, when they get a taste of life outside the will of God, outside the people of God, and live for a while in the arms of Satan, they will see their sin and want to be restored.
We’ll talk about that in a moment too.
Other Scriptures About Despising the Vile
Now, in case you think I’m prooftexting here, I want you to know that despising and rejecting the person who has rejected God is all over the scriptures.
- “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.” (Thessalonians 3:6)
- “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thessalonians 3:14)
- “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)
- “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him…” (Titus 3:10)
I realize that this is hard! Even the practical working out of this teaching is hard. Are we allowed to pick up the phone if they call? What if we see them in the grocery store? How long do we do this for? If this is all about lovingly restoring them to the fellowship, and to the faith, then how do we do it?
Unfortunately, there are no way to answer every question. Some people will lean towards “we have to keep showing them love” and talk to them in a friendly way – and still remain firm on their need for repentance. Other people will lean towards, “I need to avoid this person because they will suck me into their sin” – and will avoid them altogether. Still other people will be more confrontational and only talk to the person when they are willing to talk about repentance, reconciliation and fixing their issue. I don’t think any one of those is wrong, and each can be supported biblically. What is needed is a spiritual sensitivity and an abiding desire to do the will of God. If we are listening to the Holy Spirit, reading His word, and seeking His glory, then I believe God can use us to help.
This is something that very few churches do well, and it’s one reason why there are so many problems among groups of believers. They refuse to practice church discipline, they allow sin to fester, and they will not reject those who have rejected God. This is something we have to get right because it is commanded by God, and lets us be a healthy, Christ honouring church.
The Matthew 18 Model
So, understanding that we need God’s love, discipline and presence to get this right, let’s go to the practical model for how to do this as taught by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17. This is a scripture where Jesus teaches us how to deal with sin among His people.
This isn’t the only place where we can learn about this, but I believe it’s the clearest for most situations we will find ourselves in.
Step One: One on One (Confront & Support)
Let’s start in verse 15:
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”
When we confront sin, it is to be confronted one on one first. The only exception is when you are confronting a Pastor or Elder in the church – in that case you skip to the step two where you bring in witnesses. 1 Timothy 5:19-20 says, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”
This isn’t about special treatment – far from it considering the major impact it would have. It is about giving some protection from capricious accusations based on how people feel about them, rather than actual sins.
But when it comes to personal confrontation, it’s always one on one first. Now, some people look for the loophole here and say, “Well, if the sin isn’t directly against me, then I don’t have to deal with it.” I’m sure you’ve thought that, right? To you I reference Galatians 6:1-2:
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
In other words, another Christian’s sin is your business. The big idea here is that we are members of the family and we have the right and the responsibility to pull each other away from harm, and to take care of each other. Go to the person privately, quietly, gently, lovingly, patiently, and say, “I’ve been noticing something in your life that is sin. I heard from this person that you have been struggling with this sin. I have heard that you are angry with this person, that you are harbouring unforgiveness, that you are addicted to this, that there’s something that is separating you from God. I’m here to confront you about it, but I’m also here to help.”
See, we don’t just jump strait to handing them over to Satan. This goes two ways – confrontation and support. Confront the sin gently, and then say, “How can I help you carry your burden?” Confront, then support. Supporting them could be as simple as telling them how to make it right, and then they go do it, and you make sure they went and did it. “You took that thing and shouldn’t have. Go give it back. I’ll wait here until you have given it back.”
Or, if it’s something that could take a while, like if they struggle with lust, anger, unforgiveness, addiction, foul language, it could mean meeting with them until they get right with it. Whatever it is, we are to lovingly and gently confront sin in our brothers and sisters, support them as they try to get it right, and win them back to God because we love them – and for their own sake.
Step Two: Bring Friends
What if that doesn’t work? Verse 16,
“But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’”
If that person doesn’t listen, they blow you off, they deny it, they tell you to get lost, that it’s none of your business, that they can handle it, that you can’t judge them… you don’t get to just walk away and say, “Oh well, I tried.” Instead, you get one or two other believers who love them, and want the best for them, who have witnessed and understand the problem, and ask them to get involved. This isn’t to embarrass them or bully them, but to show them how serious this is. This also shows them that their sin isn’t a secret – people know about it.
This isn’t the pastor, or the elder – these are friends. Get some Christian friends together and invite them over, or invite yourself over. This isn’t your posse, but theirs! It’s a group of people that they will listen to. And when they are together, the group will try again.
If you are asked to be part of this group, after praying about it, I recommend that you do so. If you know about this situation, the person’s struggle, and you haven’t had the courage to confront them – but someone else has, and they invite you to come and help – go and help!
Step Three: Call the Elders
Ok, what if that doesn’t work? Get the elders and the church involved. Verse 17,
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
Even when they’ve told you to get lost, and then told some of their friends to get lost, we still don’t let it go. We still haven’t “handed them over to Satan”. We are still working together, as a church, to combat this sin, to break the hold it has on our brother or sister, and the next step is to go to the pastor or the elders.
God takes sin very seriously, and we want to show this person just how serious. Bring yourself and the witnesses to the pastor and the elders of the church. If you come by yourself, and the pastor (or elder) doesn’t know about the problem, then chances are he’s is going to ask for some witnesses anyway! Once you are together, we can come up with a plan on how to lovingly confront this person. Sometimes that means the pastor and elders take care of it themselves, other times they need to enlist your help. Be open, be humble, and be ready to help.
Step 4: Lovingly Avoid
And then comes the last step,
“…and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
This is where you “turn them over to Satan.” In other words, if this person is still unrepentant after all of this, then they are not acting like a believer, so don’t treat them like one. In fact, if they keep claiming to be a believer, and yet stay in their sin after all of this, don’t associate with them. They need to go through the process of “Reject, Protect and Restore”. We love them by showing them how serious their sin is and that they are slipping away from a right relationship with God! “Hand them over to Satan” because that’s what team they’ve decided to play for now.
We keep praying for them – all the time. We pray that their hearts would soften and they would come back. When they are before us, just like any other person in the world that is bound to Satan, we share the gospel and try to win them to Christ. We try to convince them to listen to Jesus, give up their sin, come to Christ, ask forgiveness, get right with God… but we do not allow them to believe their sin is ok.
I know this is tough. And I know we are not good at it. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve done it wrong, or too harshly, or have avoided it, or been too soft. But we have to try to get this right. If it’s not done well, under the power of God and the instruction of the Word, then the church will be in danger of being overcome by sin. The loaf will be ruined with the yeast of sin. This might sound harsh, and if done with pride, or arrogance, it can be very damaging. But if it is done out of love, and a desire to see the person restored to the fellowship and to the faith, then it is an act of love and worship.
One of my favourite preachers likes to say “hard words produce soft hearts, and soft words produce hard hearts.” We want soft hearts towards God, repentant hearts, and sometimes that requires hard words and strong actions. If this is a brother or sister, and we want them back at our church, back in prayer, back serving God, back in worship, back in a loving relationship with Jesus – then we always leave the door open for reconciliation, and we make sure we do it with firmness and love.