Body of Christ

Spiritual Gifts, The Body of Christ, and The Weakest Members

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47 - Spiritual Gifts

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Christmas is coming and I’m very excited already. I went to the Christmas store at the Carleton Place nursery and officially got myself in the mood. There was free mulled cider, cookies, Christmas music playing in the background… I love the colours and lights and trees and everything. I’m a huge fan of Christmas and though I’m practicing some self-control by not putting up my tree yet, I’ve already busted out a shuffle of my Christmas Music Playlist and have sung along to such wonderful hymns as “Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer” and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”.

And while I love all the colours of Christmas I’m just like anyone else and know that a big part of the season is the exchanging of gifts. I’ve already sent out my list to some key family members, ordered some for people online, and have been talking with grandma about what the kids want.

I was thinking back as to the best Christmas gift I ever received. And while I’ve gotten a lot of cool gifts there was one that stuck out in my mind as the best one. It was 1989, I was 11 years old, and desperately wanted the hottest new item of the season – the one that none of my friends had and which would complete my life so I would never need anything again. I didn’t grow up in a family with a lot of money and this thing would cost a lot. I was cool about it though. I didn’t beg or remind my parents over and over. I just sort of left out a picture of it on the counter, circled it in the Sears catalog and kept turning to that page and leaving it open, and just, like, casually bringing it up naturally in conversation.  Nothing annoying.

I absolutely didn’t think I was going to get it – at all. But on Christmas morning, on grandma’s couch, I couldn’t believe when I opened up the box that it was there… a Nintendo GameBoy complete with Super Mario Land and Tetris! The greatest thing I’d ever seen in my life. It was a huge moment and I barely contained myself.

I loved that thing for a long time, got every accessory, and played it constantly – until the Sega Game Gear came out two years later. The Sega Game Gear had something that the GameBoy didn’t – a colour screen. And I was hooked, but I knew that my parents would never get me another game system, especially since the one I had was still great. So what to do?

[This is a painful, regretful memory actually. I get a little misty just talking about it.]

The Game Gear came out in October of 1991 and was $150. The GameBoy, brand new was $100, but I had all the accessories.

So 13 year old me, by myself, without my parent’s knowledge, went down to the only pawn shop in town and sold it to the guy. It was insane. Somehow, between his talking and my idiotic mind, I ended up giving him my GameBoy, all the games, and all the accessories and walking out with something like $40 or $50. I still remember standing outside the store, with the money in my hand, wondering what happened, and wondering where I was going to get the extra $100. I never did. [Ugh, that hurts to share.]

Spiritual Gifts

I’m sure you’ve gotten some pretty memorable Christmas gifts, right? Maybe even ones that you, hopefully, still have and cherish to this day? Well, today we are going to open up to 1 Corinthians 12 and read about something that God gives all believers, which the Bible calls “Spiritual Gifts”. So please open up to 1 Corinthians 12 and we’re going to read it together.

As you open I want you to marvel at our giving, generous God. God gives us life and this amazing world to live in – and then we sin and mess it up. And then God gives us His Law to guide us and teach us how to live the best way together – and then we sin and mess ourselves up. And then God sends prophets and teachers and leaders to guide us back to Him – and we don’t listen to them, even going so far as to reject and murder them. And then, even while we were yet dead in our sins, having made ourselves His enemies, God sends His Son to show us how to live, teach us the truth, inaugurate His kingdom, and then take the death and punishment we deserve, having God the Father’s wrath poured out on Himself, exchanging Himself sinners. And then He rose again to conquer death and offers us the free gift of salvation, justification, sanctification, for all who would believe – not for all who would do amazing works, or follow the rules, or perform religious acts – but simply by faith in Jesus as the Risen Saviour.

But the gifts don’t end there. Once we accept Jesus as Lord the gifts keep on coming, and the greatest gift that Christians receive is the presence of the Holy Spirit living in us. Just as God’s presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle with Moses, or the Temple in Jerusalem, so now the Spirit of God dwells in everyone who believes(1 Cor 9:19). When His disciples wondered why Jesus would be dying and then leaving them to take His place in Heaven, He said, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) Jesus said that it is better to have the Holy Spirit inside us than Jesus walking beside us! And He does some amazing things for us.

In John 16 Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will be our Helper, helping us with evangelism, convicting the world of sin, showing us how to be righteous, warning us of spiritual dangers. He helps our minds to see the difference between good and evil, lies and truth, light and darkness. It says that He helps us understand the Bible. It’s not just priests and preachers and scholars that can interpret the Bible, because every believer who is dependent on the Spirit will be taught by Him. In John 14 the Holy Spirit is called the Counsellor who comes alongside us to encourage us, guide us, inspire our good works, and never leave us (Jn 14:16). He binds Christians together with God and each other, causing us to love Him and one another (1 Cor 12:13). He teaches us who Jesus is and helps us to worship and glorify Him (John 15:26, 16:14; 1 Corinthians 12:3).

It is the Holy Spirit that causes us to produce Godly fruit. When we are convicted that we do not love enough, that we are at war within ourselves, that we are too angry, or out of control, Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” [1]

That is a LOT of gifts from God to Christians. And yet, how often are we like me at age 13, taking these awesome gifts and disregarding them, ignoring them, or just callously throwing them away in favour of something else the world has to offer – that just ends up not working out anyway.

1 Corinthians 12

Let’s read though 1 Corinthians 12 together and see what we can learn. We’re going to do a quick study of it because there’s a lot there, and then at the end of this message I’m going to point you at a good resource where you can really dig deeper into it.

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

First, I want you to notice that Paul wants to make sure that believers are not “uninformed” about Spiritual Gifts – which means it behooves us to put some time into public and private study regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the discovery and use of our spiritual gifts.

There’s a few ways to do this. One is private study of course. Taking it upon yourself to read and study scripture and some good books on this topic. Second is to go to RightNow Media and watch something called “Your Divine Design” by Chip Ingram. I watched a couple of them and they are a great overview. And third, I’m actually going to be working with the leadership team to put together a 36-week leadership training course for the church where one of the things we cover is how to discover and use our Spiritual Gifts.

The second thing I want you to notice here is the contrast of influences we see here. Before you were saved you were “led astray” or “influenced” toward useless, pagan, idolatrous things. He talks about “mute idols”, pointing back to what we talked about during our discussion of eating meat offered to idols, right? That the actual statues of the gods were just mute, stone carvings. But even though the statues were mute, the followers were not. These cultic religions were full of wild displays and all kinds of ecstatic speech where they would claim to have special words from the gods or the afterlife.

Paul acknowledges that this happens and gives the warning again that there are only two teams: Team Jesus and Team Satan, and sometimes they look similar. Both have great influence over their followers. Satan often makes false copies, or imitations, of what God does in order to confuse and tempt people away from the true faith.

But Paul gets down to brass tacks and says, “These pagan idol worshippers are absolutely being influenced by the spiritual realm and have some kind of ‘gift’ from the demons, but they are forgeries of what God gives. How can you know the difference? Because when the Holy Spirit gives a gift to someone it always points them and everyone else to Jesus. All the other influences, the false gifts, the demonic powers, all point people away from Jesus. That’s the litmus test.”

We’ll see that later in the chapter, but that’s an important place to start. We see a lot of gifted people, some with some incredible sorts of power, even spiritual power. How do we tell if it’s from God or from Satan?

The same way we tell whether we have a good compass or not. A good compass always points North. A bad compass wobbles around and points all sorts of other directs. The Holy Spirit always points to directly to Jesus as Saviour, Lord and the focus of our worship. The other powers won’t. They will wobble around and point everywhere else except Jesus. This tells us something important about why we are given these gifts, right? We are given them to point people to Jesus! Not to lift ourselves up, not to build our popularity, not to keep to ourselves, not even to draw people to our church, but to bring glory and praise to Jesus and accomplish the works He has given us to do!

What are the Gifts?

So, the natural next question is “Ok, so what are the gifts?” That’s what Paul covers next. Start in verse 4:

“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.”

That is a lot of different gifts, and it’s not even all of them because he lists more in verse 28, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” And there’s even more listed in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4.

Now, this study can go deep because each one of these gifts requires some study, right? What does it mean to have the gift of prophecy or miracles or discernment or tongues? What does it mean to have the gift of helping or administrating? And is this even the full list? For example, in the Old Testament Joseph and Daniel are given a gift from the Spirit of God to interpret dreams (Gen 41; Dan 1) and Bezalel is given a spiritual gift to help him make works of art (Exo 31). What about those?

Well, I’m not going to explain every gift because we can study privately, but let’s pull out a few things and see some important points are here.

A Variety of Gifts

First, from 4, notice that there is a “variety” of gifts. One of the problems in the Corinthian church that seems to carry forward today is that people were belittling some of the gifts and only desiring the ones that put on a good show – like tongues. They wanted their church to look like the pagan temples where people were flipping out and speaking in crazy languages, and Paul knew that this sort of thing was not of God.

They didn’t want what the gifts God had given them, but wanted what they had before. They didn’t accept the gift that the Holy Spirit gave them, but complained and wanted something more flashy, more exciting, more interesting.

The Babylon Bee is one of my favourite websites because it gives satirical articles about different things going on in the church and culture. One recent one was entitled, “Unlucky Charismatic Gets Boring Gift Of Hospitality” and part of it said,

“’A man with the ‘really cool’ gift of prophecy reportedly moved throughout the room at Wade’s church and read each member’s aura to determine which spiritual gift the Holy Spirit had granted. Wade grew more and more excited as he approached, but was devastated as he learned he just had the “super lame” gift of hospitality.

‘Ugh, hospitality, are you serious?’ Wade said as the church prophet announced he had detected the Christian virtue as Wade’s supernaturally bestowed talent. ‘I was really pulling for something cool like tongues or healing.’

‘Heck, I’d even take teaching at this point. This sucks,’ a downcast Wade added. At publishing time, Wade had consoled himself by focusing on the fact that he hadn’t gotten something even worse, like giving.”

That’s a perfect example of what was happening then and what happens now. Christians who haven’t learned about the Spiritual Gifts get a little understanding of what they are and then immediately want whatever one gives them the most strokes. They want evangelism so they can be the next Billy Graham, or Teacher or Pastor because they think then they can be a super Christian that everyone looks up to, or healings or miracles or tongues so that everyone can see the power coming out of them.

Do you see the problem there? They are really only concerned about their own glory. And what was the difference between spiritual gifts from Satan and ones from the Holy Spirit? That they point to Jesus. This was the danger that the church was falling into, and that some churches fall into today. The Satanic work of stealing God’s glory.

Look at verses 12-26. This is what they were doing to each other in the church as they disparaged their own gifts and belittled others:

“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.

The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

This is where we get where we call Christians the “Body of Christ”. The Apostle Paul equates the parts of a church to be like the parts of a human body. Sure, there are some upfront parts that everyone sees – eyes, muscles, skin – but there are a lot more parts that people don’t see that are just as important – like our heart, liver, and pancreas.

No part of the body should tell another part of the body they are more or less important. That would be crazy! In the same way, no part of the church should call their own, or any other Christians gift unimportant! This brings division to the body.

We do this all the time in the church. Say someone is an “encourager” or a “helper”. That’s their gift. They love sending notes and cheering people up. Or they love to show up and help do the chores in the church. What do we do with them? “Oh, you’re friendly! You should be in charge of all the greeters! Oh, you’re a good helper, you should be a Deacon!” Hold on! Do they have the gift of leadership? Do they have the gift of administration?  Nope. Which is why when they end up being “promoted” they are miserable at it, which makes them miserable, and everyone else miserable. But what happened? We took them out of their gifting and put them somewhere they weren’t meant to be! We took a hand and tried to make it into a mouth. We took a heart and tried to turn it into a pancreas.  And it didn’t work.

Weaker Members

I want you to notice something really neat in verses 22-25,

“…the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”

This is a huge part of being in God’s Upside Down Kingdom. Who gets all the glory in worldly kingdoms? The warriors and intellects, right? People that are strong, fast, smart, clever… and everyone else is less important, right? What does the world do with “weak”, and “less honourable” parts like the mentally challenged, sick, hurting, immature, elderly. We hide them. We avoid them. We lock them away. Worse, these days we kill them.

What does this verse say? It says that the weaker parts of the body are “indispensable”. The parts with “less honour” or need to be taken care of, are bestowed greater honour. The parts that require protection we protect.

Think of your own body. There are certain parts we take really good care of, right? We wear eye protection and athletic cups because eyes are really sensitive.

What happens when you poke someone in the belly or get something in your eye? The whole body constricts. The head drops, the elbows and arms come in, the knees come up, the muscles contract, to protect damaged area. When one part of our body gets hurt, the other parts naturally protect it. That’s a picture of what’s supposed to happen in the church.

Some people in the church are designed by God to be the arms, legs, knees, elbows, and muscles. Able to take a beating and keep moving. Other members are designed to be weaker. Not less important, but weaker so they can do a special job. A knee can’t do what an eye can do, right? But when the eye gets hurt? Everything stops, right? The rest of the body surrounds it.

What is a church supposed to do with weak and hurting people? We surround them, help them, protect them, care for them, using our own gifts to serve them. Maybe the knee and the elbow can’t come up with a good plan, but the brain can, and the knee and elbow use their strength to protect. The brain can’t cry out for help, but the mouth can. We all work together.

The whole point is that there are a variety of gifts given by God on purpose. So Paul says, “There aren’t just three gifts meant to bring attention to yourself, there are a whole variety of gifts, and none of them are accidents or unimportant.”

Whatever gift you have, it wasn’t your idea. These gifts are not earned. You didn’t ask for the gift you got. They are not chosen or appointed or voted on by people. It is God alone, the Holy Spirit, who administers the gifts among His people.[2] To reject or call one better or more important than another is a great sin. God controls the gifts, not us. It is the believer’s responsibility to seek God’s guidance, read His word, pray and listen to see which gift God has given you and how God wants you to use it for His purposes!

For the Common Good

And that’s the second point, found in verse 7.

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Paul answers the questions, “Where do the gifts come from?” From the Spiritual Realm. “How can we tell which ones are from the Holy Spirit or a demon?” Because the good ones point to Jesus. “What are the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives?” He says there are a variety and gives examples. Then he answers the question, “What are they for?” They are given by God for the common good of the church.

Incidentally, that’s what Paul means in verse 31 when he says, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.” We know after some study that he doesn’t mean that some gifts are better than others, right? He just told the church to stop competing with each other and belittling some people because of their gifts. So what does this mean?

The encouragement is to desire gifts that will spread more and love for the common good, not to bring attention to ourselves. It means that instead of desiring gifts that put on a good show and make us look good, to instead earnestly pursue that which would build up the church and glorify God the most. It leads directly into what Paul is going to talk about in chapter 13, that no matter what gifts we have they need to be motivated by and done with love.

Conclusion

Let me conclude with this: Ephesians 2:10 says, Christians are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Part of those good works are simply the helpful life that all Christians are meant to lead, but it also has to do with the spiritual gifts you have been given. You and I were shaped to serve God and the church. And we won’t feel like we fit until we are working in the place we were designed to be. You will never feel more joy or satisfaction than when you work within your spiritual gifts. And conversely, as long as you are trying to do things you weren’t designed for, jealous of someone else’s gift, or belittling others, you will never feel the satisfaction that comes with serving God with His special gift to you.

So my encouragement to the Christians here is to take some time to further study this passage and discover your spiritual gift, then tell others what it is, and then allow us to help you live it out! Check out that Chip Ingram study called “Your Divine Design”, check out GotQuestions.org and read some more about it, and prepare yourself to do the leadership course we’re starting soon.

Finding and using your gift means you’ll have to say yes to some things and stop doing other things, but that means you’ll be coming more in line with how God created you to live, which is always better. It is God who builds our church, not us. His way is best, not ours. His glory is our highest purpose, not ours. Our task is to simply follow His plan to work together as an effective body.

[1] https://www.gotquestions.org/Spirit-today.html

[2] Life Application Bible Commentary, 1&2 Corinthians, Pg 169-170

 

The Importance of “We”

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“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?

Conclusion

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.”

 

Growing at Church: Developing Christian Relationships

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Developing close friendships and meaningful relationships with other believers isn’t easy and can be quite intimidating to talk about. If it was easy, it would be happening, but unfortunately it isn’t.

Impersonal Churches

You’ve all heard, and maybe even shared, the criticism that “big churches” are impersonal. You can walk in and walk out, and though you are surrounded by hundreds of people, no one knows you. So what’s the solution? To find a small church where people will see you, are more friendly, where you will be noticed, missed, and meet people. We smaller churches are always bragging about how much better it is to be part of a small church for those reasons.

Well, that hasn’t been my experience, nor is it the experience of many others. I know lots of people who attend smaller churches and feel just as alone in them as they would in a mega-church.

There are many men who feel distant from their church, who will serve if they are asked to, and have breakfast when invited, but who don’t feel close to anyone they see each week. If they were stuck on the side of the road, in the middle of the night, and needed a pickup, they might call someone from the church – but probably not. And certainly if they were falling into temptation — stumbling out of a bar, addicted to pornography, their marriage falling apart, being abused by their boss – and they needed rescue, help, prayer, and accountability, most men in the church wouldn’t even consider talking to the other men in their church.

There are many women who come week-to-week, put on their face, act friendly, wave their hands in service, make the coffee and snacks, serve in the nursery, teach Sunday school… but they don’t feel a close affinity to the women of the church. Not really. When they share, they share superficial prayer request, usually involving the health of someone else, their kids, their grand-kids – anyone other than themselves, but certainly not the true and deep struggles of their heart. They feel compelled to serve, but they feel more like a name on a list than a member of a team, let alone a valued member of the body of Christ. When they are tempted, afraid, overwhelmed, anxious, confused… they would never think to call someone from their own church! No way! What if it got around? The trust simply isn’t there.

So these men and women come to church, their small church, week after week – unless they can find an excuse not to – and they sit, and smile, and sing, and serve, and drink the coffee, eat the cookies, talk about the latest movie, or the weather, or work, or whatever, but they go home every single week feeling no closer to their fellow believers than they did the day before, the week before, the year before.

It is a deeply, tragically ironic thing to a place built on the sacrificial love of Jesus, the overwhelming grace and forgiveness of God, empowered and protected by the Holy Spirit, where each person desires to be closer to God and has a deep longing to know and be known – and it doesn’t happen. There is a serious disconnect there. Something is deeply wrong.

Close Christian Relationships Are Biblical

What’s going wrong? We are meant to. The Holy Spirit prompts us to. Jesus invites us to. God commands us to. So, why aren’t the people of God connecting to one another as they should be?

At the very birth of the church, in Acts 2, we read this:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)

That’s what is supposed to happen among believers. What’s going on?

In Hebrews, when the church was under attack and people were leaving because of how hard it was to be identified with Jesus, Christians are told to,

“…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.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)

We are told in Galatians 6 to

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”(Galatians 6:2 ESV)

That law is found 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.”

This should be normal among Christians, so why isn’t it?

Barna: Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church

The Barna Group, probably the most famous Christian market research groups out there, completed a study a short while ago which turned into a book called “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith”. It gives six reasons, and though some of them are certainly geared to people aged 18-29, I believe many of the roots of the issues are universal and apply to anyone of any age.

I’m going to share with you the six reasons from a summary article on the Barna website, and at first, they are going to seem disconnected from what we are talking about – Developing Christian Relationships – but I believe they all point directly at it when we look deeper:

Reason 1: Churches seem overprotective.

“… much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said ‘Christians demonize everything outside of the church’…. Other perceptions in this category include ‘church ignoring the problems of the real world’ (22%) and ‘my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful’. (18%).”

When I look at that reason what I see is simply that the church spends a lot of time talking about rules, do’s and don’ts, and not nearly enough time interacting with these people on an individual level. Instead of walking along-side these folks, building relationships with them, pointing them at Jesus, and intentionally mentoring them along a transformative, discipleship path, we set up a list of rules, some easy answers, and let them figure it out on their own. Instead of having small groups that listen to people’s hearts and meet their most basic spiritual needs, we have bible studies where people argue about semantics to avoid going deep with one another. And so the people leave because we care more for our rules and reputations than we do for them.

Reason 2: [Their] experience of Christianity is shallow.

“A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church. One-third said ‘church is boring’ (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that ‘faith is not relevant to my career or interests’ (24%) or that ‘the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough’ (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that ‘God seems missing from my experience of church’ (20%).”

Now someone might argue that this means we need to jazz up our churches, get better music, blame the preachers for not being interesting enough. I don’t believe that’s what this is saying. People will see something as boring when they don’t understand what’s going on, when it has no meaning to them, and there is no connection to their lives.

I can sit and enjoy watching curling because I used to curl and I know the game. I can enjoy watching hockey because I understand the rules. But if I don’t know a broom from a button, or why the referee keeps blowing his whistle every time the puck crosses the little red line, I’m going to lose interest quickly.

I believe it’s the same in church – it has far more to do with understanding what’s going on and seeing the meaning and value behind it than how fancy and modern the production is. And how do people learn what’s going on? How do they learn the meaning of what they are experiencing? How do they find value in the experience of church? It’s not just what happens on Sunday morning, but throughout the week.

I will worship God better on Sunday when I am comfortable and feel close to the people I’m worshiping with – even if I don’t like the style, I can love the musician, the singer, and the people in the pew, which makes it meaningful. I will listen to the sermon better, and get more out of God’s word if I know that I will have a chance to ask questions of a trusted mentor later, will be held accountable to it, and be able to practice the application with the support of my friends and fellow believers. I will volunteer to serve more, and get more out of serving others, and meet God in my serving, when I know the needs of the people around me, how I can help them, know I am valuable to them, and that they will serve me and love me back – not that they are using me because I’m willing.

Reason #3: Churches come across antagonistic to science.

“One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is ‘Christians are too confident they know all the answers’ (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that ‘churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in’ (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that ‘Christianity is anti-science’ (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have ‘been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.’”

You may think that this isn’t relationship based, but listen to what they said. These people look around at the smug Christians who think they have all the answers and don’t want to be a part of that group. This is a group that hasn’t shared their doubts. The relationships among that group are not free enough, and there is no permission, for people to share their fears, their doubts, their faith struggles, their unanswered prayers… they feel they must put up the show, have the pat-answer, and project confidence. What they are not seeing are authentic Christians who struggle with the same problems they do.

They’ve been “turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate” not because they don’t value debate… but because of the unkindness, arrogance, militant nature of how Christians are doing it! They do not see loving people who are pursuing the truth and graciously defending the scriptures, they see angry fundamentalists who are more interested in talking than listening.

This is a relational issue. We all need to have a place where we can come and feel safe enough to share our struggles, our fears, our hurts, our doubts, and know we are not going to get pat-answers, but be surrounded by people who will say “I’ve struggled with that too… here’s my story.” Or “I am struggling with that… can we work together to figure it out?”

Reason #4: Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.

“With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality [and so are many men and women who are much older than twentysomething]. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church’s expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture…. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they ‘have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.’”

What you are reading here is not as much about the changes in societal mores (which is certainly true and a cause of some of this tension) as it us the shame people feel when they are around other Christians. When they come to church and “have made mistakes” who do you think makes them “feel judged in church”? Certainly some of it is the Spirit of God working in their heart to move them towards repentance, but it’s also the eyes of everyone around them.

Why? Because they have no idea that anyone else is struggling with sexual sin too. They’ve never talked to another man about sexual temptation. They’ve never talked to another woman about their sexuality. They feel alone, and the only people talking about it, the only ones who make them feel normal are outside the church telling them that everything they do is okay as long as it is between two consensual adults. They feel in their heart that something is wrong with that, but when they look around at church, who are they going to talk to about it?

Who won’t judge them? Who won’t tell them to pray about it and then walk away? Who can they trust won’t gossip about it? Who will meet with them over and over and over as they fumble and fall, never letting them go, being patient with them, helping them?

They look around, in pain, in confusion, feeling dirty – knowing God will forgive, but also knowing they will do the same thing again – and feeling defeated, and they can’t see any Christian they are close enough to tell. So they go to the world.

Reason #5: They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.

“Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said ‘churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths’ and an identical proportion felt they are ‘forced to choose between my faith and my friends.’ One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said ‘church is like a country club, only for insiders’ (22%).”

Again, this is all relational language. They are willing to look over huge diversity in order to have relationships with each other – and they come to church and find clique after clique. They gloss over differences so they can be together – and yet they have a hard time finding a mature Christian who will accept them for who they are. They see how we treat one another, how we talk about other belief systems, and they don’t hear kindness, gentleness, self-control, and love, they hear fear – and fear is not attractive to anyone.

Christians, who have been in church, raised in church, say that it’s “like a country club, only for insiders.” Do you know what I hear there? That they never felt like an insider while they were at church. They never got inside. They always felt outside. Or, they were on the inside, but when they brought someone they cared about to church, they were never really allowed in. They looked at their peer group and said “I like you guys, but you’d never fit in with the group of Christians I hang out with on Sunday.” So for a while they kept their Christian group separate from their other group, until the day they realized they felt closer and more loved by the non-Christians than the Christians.  At that moment they thought, “I’m not an insider anymore… maybe I never was…” and they turned their backs and walked towards the people who really cared about them.

 Reason #6: The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

“Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able ‘to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having ‘significant intellectual doubts about my faith’ (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith ‘does not help with depression or other emotional problems’ they experience (18%).”

Could this be any more clear? This is all about relationships within the church! These people don’t feel safe. They feel as though they are being trivialized. They feel shut out from asking hard questions. They have no connection between their knowledge of the gospel, and how that translates into being something that transforms their lives – and the reason is because they are not in close relationships to people who are modeling that for them, and there is no one around who is admitting they have the same problems. The stigma of depression and emotional pain should not be present in the body of Christ. Every one of us has a story to tell about this. Every one of us has the ability to help others bear their burdens.

Not Us.

We cannot be like this! This must not be true here. Yes, I know we are busy people, we are being entertained into oblivion, we don’t know where to start, we have no practice, our house is dirty, our schedule is full, we’ve been let down before, we are afraid of any kind of intimacy or sharing on deep levels because of scars in our past.

I know, and it takes great courage, tenacity, and a miracle of God to change that – but we serve a God who works miracles. We serve a living saviour who gives us what we need to do what we must, and that includes deepen ourselves through relationships to one another.

We cannot be the superficial group where no one grows. We cannot be the church where people are afraid to speak. Women and men of the church are encouraged and commanded to get into one another lives. Throughout scripture we are taught to pass along our faith and practice to the next generation of believers. This isn’t meant to be something that is arduous and life-sucking, but something that builds you up, opens your heart, helps you grow in faith, and know you are useful to the kingdom and the Father.

Titus 2 commands older women to mentor the younger women. 2 Timothy 2 commands men to mentor young men. We are reminded throughout scripture to be intentional about passing along our faith and life, and so just as I encouraged you last week to pursue your Christian leaders, this week I encourage you to pour your faith and life into someone else.

The main point of last week’s message was to give you a little push towards being intentional about your spiritual life and getting out of your comfort zone to ask someone to speak into your life. This week I encourage you to do something that might be much harder – to get out of your comfort zone and have the courage to speak into someone else’s life. Be a mentor, be a good Christian friend. Be the one who builds that relationship that you wish you had when you were young in the faith. Take the risk to open up your life and go deep with the younger believers around you.

And if you are a younger believer – or feel like one – God still wants you to be an encouragement and a help to others along their faith journey. Listen to the Spirit of God and speak the messages He gives you.