Church Discipline

Stumbling Over the Simplicity of the Gospel (Gospel of John Series)

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Please open up to John 3:1–21.

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’

Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.’”

What is a Pharisee?

If you recall, last week we covered the passage just before this one that acts as a sort of introduction to the next section of the Gospel. It’s a sort of paragraph header in the midst of the chapter division that comes through the sign miracles, meant to key us into seeing a change in perspective, but not really a change in theme or signs.

Jesus has taken the torch from His forerunner John the Baptist, has inaugurated His kingdom at the Wedding in Cana, and has cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem during the time of the Passover. While He was there, the Jews demanded a sign, but Jesus refused them – and went on to perform other signs for those around Jerusalem who weren’t demanding it of Him. It was a pretty substantial kickoff to His earthly ministry and we’ve talked a lot about it.

Last week John, the author of the gospel tells us that though a lot of people believed in Jesus, Jesus didn’t believe in them, because “he himself knew what was in man”. We covered that a lot last week, but we need to remember it as we enter into the story of Nicodemus.

Nicodemus is introduced as a “man of the Pharisees… a ruler of the Jews.” The Pharisees were known as the “separated ones”. Not that they isolated themselves from others, but that they were extremely zealous for ritual and religion and considered themselves better than everyone else. They followed the Mosaic Law to a ridiculous degree, even adding 613 of their own laws and regulations on top of it to make it even more stringent.

For example, God had written into the 10 Commandments that no one was supposed to break the Sabbath, right? Work 6 days, and then set aside the seventh day for rest and worship. The Pharisees heard this and came up with 39 extra rules so that no one would accidentally break the Sabbath – and Jesus broke them all the time. In John 5:10 Jesus heals a lame man and tells him to pick up his bed and walk home. The Pharisees were upset because they had made a law saying no one was allowed to carry anything on the Sabbath. In John 9:16 Jesus heals a blind man by mixing dirt and spit. This broke the Pharisaical law about not making mixtures. In Luke 13 Jesus heals a disabled woman who was bent-over for eighteen years. The Pharisees were angry because he had broken the law about not straightening a deformed person’s body – and maybe even the one where they weren’t allowed to untie knots.[1] And these rules got weird. For example, they were allowed to eat an egg that had been laid on the Sabbath – but only if they killed the chicken who laid it the next day for violating the Sabbath.[2]

At the time, there were about 6000 Pharisees around. They were mostly middle-class people and had a great influence on the common people because the Pharisees not only made up these crazy laws but enforced them. If they saw you tie your shoe or even grab a bit of grain to eat as a snack, they would get you publically embarrassed, punished, and maybe even kicked out of your synagogue.

But Nicodemus wasn’t just a regular Pharisee, he was a “ruler of the Jews”. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, their 71 members “Supreme Court”. Rome had given them civil and criminal jurisdiction over people. They weren’t allowed to use capital punishment (as we learn from Jesus’ trial and crucifixion) but they were the most powerful group in the whole of Judaism.

You can begin to see why this man came to Jesus after dark. Jesus had been causing trouble in the Temple and defied the Sanhedrin, but had also shown Himself to be a powerful miracle worker and teacher. Nicodemus was curious but cautious. His whole life, and likely going back generations, he had known only the strictness of religion as the way to please God – and here stands a powerful Rabbi, teaching things that seem contradictory to everything he holds dear – but is also able to do amazing miracles. How could this be?

There are a lot of people like Nicodemus today. People who think they have it all figured out, who have worldly power and influence, who have (what they believe to be) a rock-solid understanding of reality, of spirituality, of how life works. Whether its atheism, deism, spiritualism, some other religion, or a version of Christianity that they grew up with or have created in their own head, their brain-cement is set. If you ask them the answer to “life, the universe, and everything” they’ll give you some kind of answer. It may be nihilism or some version of karma. It might be self-actualization or pseudo-spirituality. It might be traditionalism or moralism or humanism. Whatever it is, they’ve got it all figured out – right up until they hear about Jesus.

Many people here today either suffer from or have recovered from this. You have your own version of God. You have your own version of Jesus. You have your own version of how life, and work, and church works. You have your own rules about how marriage and family works. You may use the same words as people around you, but they have wildly different meanings.

Example: Submission

For example, if I said the word “submission”, it would conjure up a certain picture in your mind. What does it mean to be a submissive Christian? Who are Christians supposed to submit to? James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves to God.” Everyone is on board with that. But what about Ephesians 5:21 which says we should be “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Does your definition of “submission” extend to submitting to the people around you today? What about the next verse in Ephesians 5:22 which says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Wives, does your submission to God, submission to Jesus, extend to humble submission to your husbands? Husbands, do you understand how to respond to that submission, by, as verse 25 says “lov[ing] your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”?

And further, Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:13-14 says Christians are to,

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…”.

Does your submission to God extend to all the laws of the land and those who have been elected to government or positions of authority above you? Ephesians 6:5-8 tells us to submit to our employer and work for them as we would work for Jesus. Does your submission to God include humble submission to your boss?

And further, Hebrews 13:17 tells the church 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.”

Does your submission to God include humble submission to the church leadership and eldership?

Pretty much everyone here today says they believe the Bible and want to do what God says – but most people here also have a different interpretation of who God is, what God wants, what God said, and how far they are willing to go in that obedience.

Pretty much everyone here would say they agree that “submission” to God’s will is important to them. If I asked for a show of hands as to who is willing to submit their lives to God’s will and God’s word, I would see a lot of hands.

Here’s the thing: The Pharisee would have raised his hand. And every single person in our church, every single person in Jerusalem, would have said that there was no one better at submitting to God than Nicodemus – everyone except Jesus. Why? Because regardless of how confident he was, how popular he was, how much affirmation he received from other people, how deep his traditions went, and how powerful his influence was, his understanding of God’s will and priorities was totally out of whack. And his understanding of “submission” was radically different than God’s.

He prayed loudly in the streets, tithed with trumpets, and lorded his power over people to force them to be like him. But God wanted him to pray in his closets, give secretly, “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly” with Him. (Matt 6; Mic 6:6-8) The Pharisees weren’t humbly submitting to God and holding up a high standard for God’s people to follow. They were proudly, arrogantly, willfully, though perhaps unwittingly, destroying their religion and driving a wedge between God and His people.

Consider Jesus’ woes in Matthew 23. One said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15) Everyone they converted to their version of the faith wasn’t closer to God – they were closer to Hell. Jesus spent a lot of His ministry untying the knots the Pharisees had wrapped the people in.

Jesus Knows Nicodemus

The Pharisees had hundreds and hundreds of laws that were designed to please God and make them “separate” and better and holier than everyone else, and all kinds of people were patting Nicodemus on the back for how knowledgeable and spiritual he was. And all these laws did was “separate” Him from God. And I’m convinced that He felt it. I think that’s why he walked up to Jesus that night. Jesus had a connection to God that Nicodemus longed for, but had never been able to achieve through a lifetime of Pharisaism. It reminds me a lot of the story of Martin Luther.

As Nicodemus walks up to Jesus, Jesus knows exactly what’s on his heart. Jesus knows why Nicodemus came. He knows his past, his preconceptions, his confusion, and his greatest need. Remember, Jesus “[knows what is] in man” (2:25)

Nicodemus opens with “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (3:2) I don’t know who the “we” is but it could be either him invoking his position as a member of the Sanhedrin, or that he was perhaps sent by a few curious Pharisees to see what was so special about Jesus. He’s respectful, even acknowledging him as a Rabbi, a teacher, who is clearly connected to God. That’s what brought him out that night. How could Jesus, the one who overturned tables in the temple and drove out the money-changers, who defied the Sanhedrin and then scorned them with His words, teach and perform miracles with such obvious spiritual power. No one in the Jewish ruling class had this kind of power, and none of them taught with such conviction and authority. What made Jesus different? What gave Him this connection?

Jesus cuts to the chase. Nicodemus wants access to this kind of power, conviction, authority, and relationship with God. Jesus answers His question. You want to know what it takes? “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” (3:3)

Have you ever sat in a conversation with two people who obviously knew way, way more than you about something, or who had spent a lot of time together, and the longer they talked, the more jargon they used, the more they finished each other’s sentences, the more shorthand and half-stories they mounted up, the less you understood – but you knew that they were 100% understanding one another?  That’s sort of what was happening here. They were using rabbinical shorthand.

Jesus cut to the chase and answered the question that Nicodemus hadn’t even asked yet. “Nicodemus, I know what you want – and you need to know that it requires a complete spiritual transformation, a total regeneration that can only come by the power of God. You need to reject everything you think you know about religion and God and the path to salvation – all of the outward things you think are right, all the hypocritical rules, all the grasping at power – everything you have been thinking up until this point needs to be dumped out and you need to realize that the change you are seeking, the power you are seeking, the connection to God you are seeking, the salvation from the wrath of God that you fear deep in your heart, only comes if you are “born again” (or “born from above”). It is only produced by God doing something inside of you – not by anything you can do yourself.”

Now, remember Nicodemus isn’t dumb. The question that he asks next sounds dumb, but it’s not. It’s how rabbis talked. Nicodemus totally gets what Jesus is saying and responds with, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (3:4). It’s not that Nicodemus misunderstood what Jesus was saying, it was that Nicodemus knew exactly what Jesus was saying but had no idea how he was supposed to start his whole life over again. Jesus had just told him that everything he thought he knew about God, all the ways he’d been trying to achieve holiness and salvation, all the good works and religion, all the self-denial, were utterly futile, and now he didn’t know what to do. What he was really saying is, “How can I possibly start over now? I’m old, set in my ways, a public figure, an important member of the Sanhedrin. Doing what you say would cost me – everything. My own group would turn against me. I would be removed from my own Synagogue and kicked out of the Temple. If I believe what you say, my life is over. How can I begin again now? I’d have to start from scratch, with nothing.”

Jesus’ response is to say, “Yes. It will cost you everything. You don’t have the power to do this. No one does. It must come from above.” “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5–8)

“You don’t know how to do this anymore than you can predict where the wind will blow next. All of the things you’ve been trying to do are human efforts, fleshly works. Don’t be surprised when I tell you that if you have a spiritual problem you need a spiritual solution. You’re powerless against sin, not connecting with God, can’t get rid of your guilt, can’t teach with power, totally misunderstand what God wants. How can you be surprised that no human effort can fix this? A spiritual problem need a spiritual solution! You cannot be fit for the Kingdom of God unless you are utterly changed from the inside out.

This reminds me of another of Jesus’ woes to the Pharisees in Matthew 23. He says,

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:25–26)

The solution to your problems isn’t more work, more elbow grease, more good works, more rules – it’s submission to God’s Will, God’s Way, God’s Spirit, and allowing Him to do the work in your heart that you cannot.

When Jesus said, “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus knew Jesus was talking Ezekiel 36:25.

Turn with me to Ezekiel 36:22 and let’s read the context. Notice that it is God who does the saving, and notice especially verse 25.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

Who does the work? God. Who does the cleansing? God. Who does the saving? God. Who does the washing? God. Who removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a soft heart of flesh? God. Who gives the Spirit to convict, encourage, strengthen, and help His people obey these ever-so precious “rules” the Pharisees were so concerned about? God.

This world is ripe with self-help books and inspirational blogs and Instagram posts telling you how to fix your soul, life, marriage, family, finances, guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, depression, work, and church. And they’re 99.99% wrong.

Jesus is so clear here. The only way to be saved is not through willpower, education, politics, religion or finding your own path to God – it is submitting to Jesus and asking the Spirit of God to fix your heart. The only way to have a good marriage is to submit to God and allowing the Spirit of God to change your heart and cause you to love your spouse with the love of Jesus. The only way to be a good citizen in a land as confused as ours is by wholly submitting to the Spirit of God for hope and guidance. The only way to be blessed through your work, and have your work be a blessing to others, is if you completely turn it over to God, submit every job to Jesus as your boss, and give your employer the respect God requires of you – even if you don’t feel like it.

The only way to be a godly church, grow into a godly church, reconcile our relationships, to see the schemes of the devil for what they are and be the church that Jesus wants us to be, is not to try to arrest control from Him for ourselves, or start up a zillion ministries, or to keep one foot out the door in case something goes wrong, or ignore problems, or tighten our financial fists – but to wholly submit ourselves, our church, our plans, our ministries, to God’s Spirit and God’s Word. Salvation has never been a “reward for human works”[3]. We must realize that whatever we do in the flesh is going to be of no account, and ultimately harmful, but whatever is done by the Spirit – by prayer, by study, by humility, by submission – will produce fruit.

Conclusion

Let’s close out this section of the story by turning back to John 3:9. What’s Nicodemus’ response?

“Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’”

John MacArthur once wrote,

“People have always stumbled over the simplicity of salvation.”[4]

And I would add that people have always stumbled over the simplicity of the whole Christian life. We are forever trying to complicate things, when God keeps trying to simplify it.

We are presented with a problem – in our heart, in our relationships, in our work, or in our church – and we immediately make it complicated. We make calendars, plans, committees, appointments, lists and more lists. We run far and wide, googling our hearts out, amassing books and articles and videos and counsellors. We jump ahead with emails and phone calls and travel plans and requests for money. We take out loans and get credit cards.

Before it even crosses our mind to pray and seek God’s will, we’ve already done 40 things to help the situation – and then we hit our knees and tell God to bless what we’ve come up with.

That’s not how it works. It’s actually very simple.

Stop. Pray. Wait. Read scripture. Pray. Wait. Talk to a mature Christian. Pray. Wait. Go to church and worship and listen. Go to the prayer meeting and pray and listen. Go to small group and learn, and pray, and talk, and listen.

We’ve talked many times about “the ordinary means of grace”, about how unexciting, uncool, but how profoundly simple and effective they are. Prayer and Fasting to cleanse the soul and connect to God. Obediently attending church so you can hear the Word of God and connect to fellow believers. Being baptized and attending the baptisms of the people in your church so you can be mutually encouraged and show your commitment to Christ and one another. Take the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of what your salvation cost, how much Jesus loves you, and as a reminder to get right with those who you’ve sinned against or who have sinned against you. Meet in each other’s homes regularly for times of celebration and support, and visit the sick and needy. Meet with your spiritual elders for training and teaching and wisdom.

The Christian life isn’t complicated and so many of our spiritual problems are solved by submitting to these simple things regularly and obediently.

 

 

[1] http://thefeasts.org/blog/laws-god-made-man-made/

[2] The Gospel According to Jesus, John MacArthur, Pg 53.

[3] The Gospel According to Jesus, MacArthur, Pg 56.

[4] The Gospel According to Jesus, MacArthur, Pg 56.

It’s Not Your Church (Gospel of John Series)

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Please open to John 2:13–17 and let’s read it together. But before we do, a little context.

Remember where we are in the Gospel of John. I told you last time that the Wedding in Cana was on the third day, but commentators are actually divided about whether the days in John are meant to be taken literally as 24-hour time periods or are more like “literary organizing statements” meant to alert the reader that these stories should be read as one thematic unit.[1] I lean towards the later.

Whatever the case, in the Gospel of John, Day one has a delegation sent out to interrogate John the Baptist. Day two John declares Jesus to be “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29). On day three, a couple of John the Baptists’ disciples, John and Andrew, leave John the Baptist and spend the day with Jesus, eventually bringing Simon Peter (1:35-42). Jesus then heads to Galilee and on day five and finds Philip and Nathanael. By day seven – seven usually being a pretty significant number in the Bible – Jesus hasn’t gathered all his disciples yet, but has a core group who attend the Wedding in Cana where Jesus turns water into wine. We talked a lot about the imagery of that event a couple weeks ago.

Now, with His earthly kingdom inaugurated, the Lord, Saviour and King Jesus, with His disciples, heads into Jerusalem – the royal city, the capital city, and heads straight to the Temple, the most important place in the entire world, because it was the place where YHWH accepted worship, where sins were atoned for, where he invited all of humanity to find Him and know Him.

And in comes Prince Jesus, King Jesus, the God-man, the Son of God, the law-giver, the One who wrote the rules for how they should worship, the One who gave the plans for how it should be constructed, for what was acceptable as worship and what was not. Here comes the Son of the One to whom this temple was dedicated, in the time of the Passover, the most important Jewish festival, a reminder of God’s power to punish the wicked by bringing pestilence and death, but also how He miraculously delivered His people from that curse through “the blood of the lamb” (don’t miss that connection), and rescue his people from slavery. Jesus is the God of the Israelites, the plague bringer, the One who sent the angel of death, and also the Lamb who was slain and whose blood must be shed and wiped on the doorposts for people to be saved. Jesus was the One to whom this Temple was dedicated and who had sent prophets into the world to declare this place as the one and only place on earth where humanity could deal with their sin and get right with their Creator. And what does He see?

 “The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple, he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.” (2:13)

The Passover was a time of pilgrimage for not only the Jews but for all those who had chosen to follow God, including gentile proselytes. The Law of Moses commanded that all who come during this time of year bring their best animals to sacrifice as an atonement for their sins, a way to show how serious was, how sin leads to death, and to remind everyone how gracious God is for accepting the death of an animal, the temporary exchange of the animal’s blood, instead of requiring the death of the human being.

The temple was constructed in such a way that everyone on earth could come and worship God, bring prayers, and get right with Him. But, since God’s holiness was meant to be paramount, what you see is a series of gates and doors and chambers leading from the outside of the temple, all the way into the holy of holies.

On the outside was the Court of the Gentiles, or the Court of All-Nations[2], to which Herod had added a huge, 35-acre platform and a sort of porch, called the Royal Stoa, which had many columns and a roof. The Court of All-Nations, was where the world was invited to come and pray and worship God – even those who were not full converts to Judaism. Next was the middle part which was only for the Jews, God’s chosen people. Next came the Temple area where only priests could go. Then, through another gate was the Holy Place where only a few priests could go, and finally, there was Veil separating priests from the Holy of Holies, the throne room of God, where only the High Priest could go, and that only once per year.

The whole of the temple was designed as a way for people to come and connect with God, hear His Word, see the cost of their sin, make sacrifices and prayers, and understand that not only are they separated from God by their sin – but also invited by God to get right with Him and become one of His people.

But as Jesus walks into the Courtyard of the Gentiles, the Court of All-Nations, probably under the Royal Stoa, what did he see? The nations of the world accepted, by His chosen people, praying, being taught God’s Word, connecting everyone to the only path of salvation, the One, True God? No. They had taken the Court of the Gentiles and turned it into a shopping mall. They used this area to exploit the pilgrims who needed to exchange their currency for that used at the temple and to buy their animals for sacrifice. Not only had they commodified the worship of God, but were doing it in the very place where the nations were invited to come and pray.

To contemporize this, think of it this way: We take Communion Sunday pretty serious at our church. Each month we set aside time where I talk about the importance of Communion, give time for personal reflection, give a warning about taking it with a good heart, and give an invitation for using the Lord’s Supper as a way to get right with God and renew your relationship with Him and His church. It’s a big deal.

Now, imagine that next week you bring a friend to church. This person knows nothing about Christianity but you’ve been talking to them about your faith, they’ve realized their sin, have felt the weight of their guilt, and want to be made right with God. They beg you to take them to church next week so they can have their consciences cleaned, so they can experience new life, so they can be right with their Creator.

But when you come to the door, instead of seeing the communion table laid out with dishes with little pieces of bread and tiny glasses of grape juice, you see the whole back two rows of pews exchanged for a couple ATMs and machines that make change. And when you look to the front, there’s a vending machine full of little, plastic bags of bread and wine.

You tell your friend to get out their debit card so they can get some cash, telling them that it costs $4 per transaction. But then they need to put the ATM cash in the change machine because the vending machine only takes change, and the change machine costs another $4 bucks. Then, when they go to the vending machine, the little pack of bread costs $12. You tell your friend that they need to do this because it’s the only way that you can be right with God, and if they don’t that God will still be angry with them.

Your friend isn’t allowed to sit down because each of the pews has a little door with a lock on it only allowing people who have paid for the privilege of sitting. So, you unlock your pew, sit down, and your friend stands next to you in the aisle. You tell them not to worry because if they give you a little money to contribute to the cost of the pew, they can sit down next week.

When it comes time for Offering, instead of music you see a commercial for some books for sale in the library, and another commercial for how great tasting our communion bread and juice is compared to other churches  — and how much more God loves people who use our vending machine. But when the plate is passed for offering, you learn that we don’t take Canadian currency anymore, but instead, we take Beckwith Baptist Bucks that can be bought in packs of 5s, 20s, and 100s. Your friend wants to be right with God and doesn’t know any better, so he fumbles with his wallet as the usher stands there waiting for him to get out their debit card again to buy some Beckwith Baptist Bucks. He doesn’t have a lot of money, so he opts for the $5 Buck, and gets a glare from the usher. You whisper in your friend’s ear that it’s generally understood that people who give more are more blessed by God and that anyone who is poor or sick or out of work must not be right with God. You tell them that maybe they should give a little more and that way God might be happier and then give them more money. They take out their wallet again and buy $20 more Beckwith Baptist Bucks.

How are you liking this version of the church? Do you see anything wrong with it? That’s like what Jesus walked in on that day. And, in fact, it’s what a lot of churches through the ages have looked like. This is the kind of church Martin Luther and the Reformers were fighting against – the church exchanging money for salvation. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that it was common practice in some Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic churches to charge “pew rent” to families so they could sit down during service.

What does Jesus think of this? How does Jesus react to His people putting up barriers to His free gift of salvation? How does Jesus react to people messing with His Word, His Law, and His Worship? Read from verse 14:

“And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’”

This Isn’t Your Church

Jesus takes it seriously. Jesus’ Father’s House, His House, the House of Worship given by God as the one place on earth where the world can come to Him – had been turned into a shopping mall that exploited, rather than invited, those who wanted to meet God.

I want you to consider a couple of passages before we move on here. Turn with me to Leviticus 10. At the beginning of Leviticus God tells Moses how to set up the tabernacle, who will be His priests, and how they are to conduct their worship. In Leviticus 8 God consecrates Aaron and his Sons to be priests and shows them what to do. In chapter 9 Aaron gives an offering and it is accepted by God. But then, look at chapter 10:

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’’ And Aaron held his peace.” (Leviticus 10:1–3)

At the very beginning of the Temple Worship, while everything was still new, Aaron’s sons tried to offer incense their own way, instead of how God authorized it and were instantly killed. How seriously does God take the worship in His temple? Very seriously. His way or death.

Some of you might think, “Oh, that’s Old Testament stuff. God doesn’t do that in the New Testament.” Turn to Acts 5:1–11. This event takes place right at the very birth of the Christian church. It says,

“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.”

How seriously does God take worship, offerings, lying to the church, and grieving the Holy Spirit of God? Very seriously. Ananias and Saphira abused the church through deception and threatened it right at its very beginnings, and just like Nadab and Abihu, God needed to show how serious this was. He wants “great fear” to come upon the whole church in regards to these things.

Some of you might think, “Oh, that was only during biblical times at the birth of the church. Jesus wouldn’t do that now. He’s much nicer now.”

Turn to Revelation 2:18–29:

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

If you have a red-letter Bible, it’s easier to note that these are the words of Jesus. How seriously does Jesus take the theology morality of his church? Very seriously.

Back up to Revelation 2:13-16. Jesus says,

“I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.”

How seriously does Jesus take false teaching and causing His people to stumble into? Very seriously.

You see, the temple of the Jews wasn’t their temple. Solomon’s Temple wasn’t Solomon’s. Herod’s Temple wasn’t Herod’s. And in the same way, this church is not your church. This isn’t my church. It’s Jesus’ Temple, Jesus’ Church. Jesus is the One who saves people, who calls people to it, who enables worship, who raises up and brings down leaders, who defends it, energizes it, equips it, and disciplines it.

He has set up in His Word the way he wants to be worshipped, the way the church should be organized, the attitudes of the hearts of the believers who come, and how they are supposed to treat one another and the world around them – and He takes it very seriously.

Remember what happened when the Corinthian Church started messing with the Lord’s Supper? God killed some of the people in the church. (1 Cor 11:30). Yes, He gives us a lot of freedom within those boundaries, but don’t be mistaken that we can do whatever we want here. There are things that we can do within these walls, in our meetings, in our homes, in our services, that invite the judgment and discipline of God.

We love to sing about Jesus as accepting and loving and generous and kind – which He is. He exchanged Himself for us on the cross. He bled and died for us. He gives us new birth, a new spirit, raises us from death to life, and gives us hope and peace and joy and eternal life. That’s all true. Jesus broke down all the walls of the temple by dying and rising again. No more Court of the Gentiles. No more place where only Jews can go. No more Holy Place. The veil is torn and the Holy of Holies, the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, no longer dwells in one place that only one person can see once per year, but is now in the hearts of every believer. We, as individuals, and we the church are now the Holy of Holies, the Temples of God.

But, Christians, you must also realize that God’s love and Jesus’ grace does not give us permission to do whatever we want. He’s not only our Saviour, He’s also our Lord. Jesus says that we show our love not just through singing and praying, but though “obedience” (John 14:15).

Turn with me to Hebrews 10:19-31. These are words written to Christians who had been suffering for their faith. Words written as an encouragement and a warning about how they conduct themselves as believers and as a church,

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 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.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Conclusion

My conclusion for you today is for you to consider these words and take them seriously. I want a “great fear” of God to come upon you in regard to how you relate to Him and His church.

Take time to consider what you know about the Christian life, about your own personal sins, personal holiness, your devotional life, about how believers should operate as individuals and as a group.

  • About whether you and this church is humbly obeying God in how you treat your soul, your family, your fellow believers, those on the leadership team, and the community around you.
  • Are you in a right relationship with everyone, humbly submitting to the ones God has told you to humbly submit to, and pursuing unity and peace? Check your heart for your attitude about those who are here, and those who are not. Examine yourself for whether you are acting humbly, perusing unity, giving grace, bearing with one another in love.
  • Examine your mind and heart during worship and the reading and study of God’s word. Where was your head and heart at during the songs? Focused on Jesus or somewhere else? Where was it at during the reading of scripture? What about during this sermon?
  • Examine yourself for how you are contributing to the needs of the church? Are you giving your tithes and offerings obediently, sacrificially, joyfully, and generously? Or are you holding back? Is God pleased with how you use your money and possessions or not?

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7–8)

 Our God is gracious and forgiving, with love that endures, but He is also a consuming fire. Jesus says to we believers in Revelation 3:19, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” How do we escape Jesus’ reproof and discipline? Though zealous worship and repentance.

  • What has Jesus been telling you lately?
  • What has He told you to start doing or give up?
  • Who has He told you to get right with?
  • Who has He commanded you to submit to, but you have been refusing?
  • In what ways have you individually, and we the church, felt Jesus’ love through reproof and discipline – and in what ways must we increase our zeal and make sure we repent.

Consider these questions, especially as we are about to have communion together. This week, read God’s Word and ask Him to bring you to passages that you need to see. Meet with God’s people and ask God to speak through them. Get on your knees, on your face, and ask God to show you your sin and from what you must repent so that you will not fall into His hands and face His discipline – either now, or at the judgment seat of Christ.

 

[1] Borchert, G. L. (1996). John 1–11 (Vol. 25A, p. 145). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGy1wdGKX2k

Church Membership and Being a Good Church

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When we are saved by Jesus, He gives us a lot of gifts. One of those gifts is to become a member of His church, a family of believers spread throughout the world. 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 isn’t intended to be seen merely globally though, it’s most accurately seen and experienced locally as individual believers from the same geographic area choose to meet together to worship Jesus, fellowship with each other, learn and be discipled, and do good works to spread His love in their own neighbourhoods. Certainly, each church should be thinking about their global impact, sending and supporting missionaries and charities in countries that need help, but for most Christians, most of their impact, most of their work, most of their learning, most of their worship, most of their evangelism, is done at their home church.

The letters of the New Testament, though universally applicable, were mostly sent to individual churches: the church in the city of Corinth, in Philippi, in Rome. When Jesus gave John his great Revelation, he addressed it not to the universal church, but to seven specific, local churches. When God works, He doesn’t usually do it on a grand, global level, but instead chooses to work mostly through individuals like you and me in a local church just like ours. That’s the common, normal way God enacts His will in the world. Even the great, global impacts that we’ve seen some ministries have are part of a local church.

If you’ve read Purpose Driven Life, you’re reading a book written by a local pastor in Lake Forest, California. If you’ve listened to the band Casting Crowns, you’re listening to a youth pastor’s band from First Baptist in Daytona Beach, Florida. The Emotionally Healthy Spirituality book we’re going to do came from a ministry built over some years in a church in New York City.

Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century, became a Christian when he was driven to a Methodist Chapel during a snowstorm. A substitute preacher, with not much training, was simply reading the book of Isaiah. He came to Isaiah 45:2, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else.”, stopped reading, pointed straight at 15-year-old Charles and shouted, “That young man there looks very miserable! Look! Look, young man! Look now!”. God worked a miracle in Spurgeon’s heart, he was saved, became a preacher, and went on to plant many more churches.

It’s not just preachers and writers that have great impact, of course. God sets up preachers and teacher for training others – it is the rest of the church that gets credit for doing most of God’s work in the world. The deacons who visit the sick and serve those in need. The small groups who meet to pray and to share. The ministry leaders who care for children, teens, and seniors. The old married people who take newlyweds under their wing. The families who adopt and foster kids in tough situations. The musicians, artists, and actors who point people to God through their art. The mothers and fathers raising Godly children, and the countless others who go to work every day and serve God’s will there, working hard, having meaningful conversations, and sharing God’s love. That’s how God usually works. Though believers like you.

We talked a little about that last week when we talked about how our church helps us change our lives for the better, and in a lot of our sermons last year on the Body of Christ. The church is an important place, a vital place, for believers to be.

Keep You From Church

But not all believers want to be here. It’s the truth that growing Christians want to be with fellow believers but backslidden and sinning Christians tend to run away from other Christians. My wife was given a Bible a long time ago and I found these words inscribed in it: “This book will keep you from sin, and sin will keep you from this book.” Turns out it’s a quote from DL Moody. I could adapt that to say, “The church will help to keep you from sin, and sin will help to keep you from the church.”

People that are working on their sins, want to learn more about God, grow in righteousness and be trained for ministry flock towards the church and it’s ministries. Those who are fill of unrepentant sins, have unforgiving hearts, are prideful, selfish, or bitter, tend to avoid coming under the leadership of the elders, avoid meeting with other Christians who try to get into their business, avoid places where they might hear something they don’t like. They stay on the outskirts of the church, and are often used by Satan to start church fights and splits. If you are full of guilt and shame, because you are refusing to repent before God for your sin, then you’re not going to want to be around a bunch of people who are worshipping Jesus, saying they have been forgiven, and are trying to do good – because it makes your shame and guilt feel all the more acute. When your heart is messed up with sin it’s easier to be with sinners than Christians.

It breaks my heart that more people aren’t availing themselves of the blessing of being part of a godly, local church. There are so many lonely, confused, addicted, afraid, stressed out, falling apart people out there that are either running all over the place trying to find something to help – or have simply given up and are just trying to medicate or entertain the pain away until they die.

There are people that long for intellectual stimulation, to serve their community, a place to find their purpose, a group of people that sees the world differently than anyone else and knows something they don’t know. They long for the presence of God, the healing and forgiveness that comes from Jesus, even if they don’t know it. Sometimes they do turn to God in their desperation, but most often they refuse Him when He shows up and invites them to turn to Him in their times of distress. Sometimes they do turn to God, and start to pray or are driven to read God’s Word, hoping that something the Bible will help – not realizing, or refusing to believe, that so many of their needs can be met by not only talking to God, but being with His people and joining a good, Godly church.

And of course, there are far too many people who call themselves believers who have divorced themselves from the church. Whether because they had a bad experience or because of their own pride, they now refuse to be part of a church, choosing to stay home and watch tv preachers, listen to podcast, and chat with people online – all the while growing in bitterness and being led astray by lies because there’s no one there to correct their thinking.

It’s sad because sitting at home alone isn’t usually where miracles happen. They happen when you submit yourself humbly to Jesus and choose to live your life with the people of God.

Blessed to Be Your Pastor

I believe we are a good, Christ honouring church, and that most people here work hard to ensure that we stay that way. We’ve gone through a lot together and I can say that the furnace of affliction has refined this church and that God is preparing us for something special in 2018. You are an open church, willing to accept people that are different than you. You are a patient church, showing love when frustrations and difficulties have come. You are a humble church, being willing to do all kinds of things without requiring recognition or reimbursement. You are a generous church, giving more than expected, taking care of each other’s, showering blessings and help on people who share their needs. You are a church that does the hard things to seek unity, having extra meetings, holding people accountable, and being honest with one another even when it’s hard. You are a good church, wanting to make sure God is honoured by what is done here. You are a Biblical church, consistently showing your love for God’s Word.

I am beyond blessed to not only be your pastor, but to have me and my family be the recipients of so much of your God-given grace. That tells me that God is showing you love, working in your heart, and doing good works in you. That He is fulfilling His promise that the good work He has started in you will be carried on to completion (Phil 1:6). It tells me that you are trying to be sensitive to His Spirit. Yes, we’ve had some struggles, and I know that each of you has their own separate and very real trials – but here you are, worshipping, giving, and being attentive to God’s Word and His people. Here you are, looking forward to small groups and study groups. Here you are, serving, training, loving and caring for people. I’m blessed to be your pastor. Anyone who distances themselves from you guys is crazy, because you are being the hands and feet of Jesus.

Membership Covenant

And so, we come to that part of the year when we read our Church Membership Covenant again. This is the document that every single member of this church has agreed to. If you’re not sure if you’re a member, then you probably aren’t, because it requires baptism, meetings, and voting. It’s a big commitment here.

Last week someone said that they appreciated when I share my own struggles during the sermon and I said that I’ve learned that whenever you are working with a group and are starting a project, ministry, prayer group, small group, or whatever, that it’s really important to set the bar upfront. People will look to the leader to see how things are supposed to be. This is how hard we will work. This is the quality that’s expected. This is how we will talk and act. This is the level of openness and honesty expected. This is the level of risk we’ll be taking. I strongly believe that, so I try to set the bar high.

But it’s not me that chooses where the bar is set, I’m just following the example and commands of Jesus. It is He that sets the bar. He’s our saviour and our model. When we want to know how respectful, kind, honest, open, hard-working, risk-taking to be, we read His word, witness His example, and listen to what He says. That’s all I try to do – imperfectly for sure, but that’s what we’re all shooting for, right?

And that’s why we have a church membership covenant. It’s our man-made, human way, to hold each other accountable to the bar that Jesus has set for us. He sets the bar, then we follow Him, and work together to help each other to keep following. There’s lots of reasons we have this document, Why Our Church Has a Membership Covenant, but this year I simply want to take time to read it and remind us as to what is in it, what we’ve agreed to and to remind us to hold each other accountable to it.

A good church reminds each other of what the bible says and holds each other to it in love. This is simply a summarized way to do that. Is it a perfect document? No. But we here believe that it’s helpful. Here’s what it says:

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.

Taking Responsibility

That’s quite a list, isn’t it? Hard to live up to, right? This is why we thank God for grace and give grace to one another. Just as none of us will live up to the standard of being Christlike, or be perfect as God is perfect, or perfectly follow God’s word, until we finally get rid of this mortal flesh and receive our new bodies, so none of us will live up to this bible-based set of standards. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t supposed to try.

Being a Christian means taking responsibility for our own sins, our own attitudes, our own decisions, and our own actions. We own up to them. A lack of studiousness and godly living isn’t anyone else’s fault but our own. A lack of passion in worship or discipline isn’t because life is so hard, it’s because we’re sinners. A refusal to share the gospel with others, refusal to lead our family in a godly way, refusal to use our money properly, isn’t because our work is too busy, our kids are too much trouble, and our bills are too high – it’s because we’ve made poor, selfish, choices.

A Christian admits this. First we admit it to Jesus. We pray, “Jesus, I’m a sinner. I’ve messed up so much. The effects of the sin in my heart, my own selfish, stupid choices, have rippled out of my soul and affected everyone around me. Most of all, my sin has torn me away from you. Please forgive me, help me, heal me, put me on the right path, and help me stay there.” We admit to Jesus that we are sinners, and then we ask for His help. But it doesn’t stop there.

As we talked about last week, as James 5 says, we “confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, that [we] may be healed.” We need to bring others into the loop. This membership covenant helps us do that. It helps us see how we fall short of God’s standards, and helps us to see some things we need to ask our church to help us with.

But it does something else. As Galatians 6:1-2 says, it helps us to bear one another’s burdens, “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.”

This covenant drives us to confessing our sins to Jesus. It gives us a list of ways we can grow and ask others to help us. And agreeing to it gives others permission to hold us accountable. It gives them permission to say, “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?” or “Hey man, you’re thinking some wrong things about God and we need to talk about that.” Or “You haven’t been to church in a while, you’re not giving or serving, and that’s not spiritual healthy – what’s going on?” Hey, you are stealing – not doing your taxes honestly, taking cable from the neighbours, illegally copying music or movies, ripping people off – and the God’s Word says you need to stop.”

By becoming a member of the church you are agreeing that the elders, deacons, and other members have permission to ask you hard questions and hold you accountable. This is how we keep sharpening each other (Prov 27:10). We do it as 1 Corinthians 13 says we should do it, full of love – but sometimes that love means doing the hard thing like confronting the sin. This is how we remain a good, godly, Christ-honouring, church. This is how we all grow closer to God and more like Jesus, together.

Conclusion

I’m going to try to bring the membership covenant up more this year to keep it in front of us, but  my encouragement to you is to keep this document in your bible, use it to spur yourself and others on. Read it in your small group, your family devotions, and go over it in your private study time. Use it to spur your prayer life, your conversations with other believers, and to motivate you to help others.

Confronting Sin: The Biblical Steps to Take When Helping Somone Caught in Sin

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Anosmia

Have you ever heard of “Anosmia”? It’s a fancy word describing the inability to smell and thousands of Canadians have this problem. I read a little about it this week and it’s actually a much more serious problem then one would think because our nose is something that keeps us safe. Why do we sniff leftovers or milk when it has been in the fridge for too long? Because our nose is our first line of defence to keep us from getting sick. If it smells bad, then we don’t eat it. Instead, we reject the food and throw it away. People with anosmia can’t smell when their food is bad, or if there’s a gas leak from their stove, or if their house is on fire!

Losing the ability to smell is a huge issue because it’s one way that we can spot dangers in the world and keep ourselves safe. Everyone agrees with this, right? I’m especially thinking of the bad food one. We open the fridge, spot some old guacamole and wonder if it’s any good. Guacamole always looks a little funky, so it’s hard to tell by sight. So we smell it. If it smells good, then get the chips – if not, toss it out. We don’t feel bad about tossing it out because it is dangerous and could make us sick.

Hang on to that principle and open up to Psalm 15.

“O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.”

A few years ago I preached through this psalm over a series of 9 weeks and parked on one phrase in there that needed some explanation. Most people can get behind the rest of the psalm, but usually have a problem with one part. Can you guess which one?

I’ll give you a hint. People have no problem agreeing that God’s people are supposed to do what is right and speak truth. They have no issue with saying God’s people shouldn’t slander others or do evil against their neighbours and friends. They agree that believers should fear the Lord, admit their wrongs, and use their money wisely and generously. What part do people usually have a problem with? “Despising (or rejecting) vile people”.

The concept of believers rejecting or despising someone doesn’t sit well with some people. Most popular images of Jesus argue that He was all about love, acceptance, peace, and openness – that He would never reject or “despise” anyone, and would never call anyone “vile”. This simply isn’t true. While it may be true that Jesus didn’t call anyone “vile”, He did have some other choice words for them. He called some “blind” others “fools”. He called the scribes and Pharisees “whitewashed tombs”, “serpents”, “vipers”, “hypocrites”, “unmarked graves”, “children of hell”, and “murderers” (Matthew 23, Luke 11).

Jesus is the most loving, compassionate, long-suffering, friend that sinners could ever know – but He has no qualms about calling out sinners when He sees them. The most reviled sinners found themselves drawn to Jesus, compelled by his amazing grace, where they found forgiveness and acceptance. But no such softness was found when Jesus saw unrepentant sin and hard hearts. He called it out.

In the same way, Christians are supposed to recognize sin when we see it, recognize a hard, unrepentant heart, and reject the sin along with the sinner. We need to be able to detest what is “vile” for three important reasons. First, so that we, the community, and the unrepentant believer recognizes the seriousness of sin. Second, to compel the sinner to repent. Third, to protect the church from the effects of that sin. We’ve talked about these before.

We talked in the last couple weeks about the importance of recognizing the danger of sin and not tolerating or trivializing it, but instead confronting it. Last week we talked about who we are to judge, that being only our fellow Christians – and by what standards, that being the Bible. Certainly, the Holy Spirit helps us by working within us like a Geiger counter or radar detector that makes us sense when there is sin, but we always, always make sure we check our judgements with what the Bible says.

Going back to the food example: We open the fridge and spot some cheese. It’s covered in blue mold, we press it with our finger and it’s soft and funky, and when we give it the sniff test and it smells TERRIBLE. We immediately feel sick to our stomachs and cry out, “WHO LEFT THIS DISGUISTING CHEESE IN THE FRIDGE! HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN HERE? ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL US?!? I’M THROWING IT OUT! GROSS!” All of our senses are telling us that the cheese is bad for us, but then someone comes running around the corner saying, “No! Don’t throw that out! I just paid some good money for that cheese! It’s called Stilton and it’s delicious! The stinkier the better!”

You see, just because your senses say it’s no good, doesn’t mean it actually isn’t. That’s why we check with the Bible before we make a determination. It’s our standard for faith and life.

But what if something doesn’t pass the sniff test and doesn’t line up with the Bible? Then what ought we to do? How do we balance Jesus’ commands to love our neighbour as ourselves, love our brothers and sisters, bear with their faults, while at the same time “rejecting the vile” and as our passage in 1st Corinthians 5 which we are studying says, “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor 5:13)?

We talked about Step One last week, which was to look inward and evaluate our own sin, motives, and relationship with God, so that we are humbled and prepared, but what comes next?

 Matthew 18

Turn with me to Matthew 18 and let’s explore there what needs to be done to get this right. This is a very practical model given by Jesus to help us understand how to deal with sin among His people. This isn’t the only place where we can learn about this, but I think it’s the clearest for most situations we will find ourselves in.

Step Two: One on One (Confront & Support)

 “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.” (Matthew 18:15)

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 must bring witnesses. 1 Timothy 5:19-20 says, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” This isn’t about special treatment – far from it considering the major impact it would have – it’s about giving public figures protection from 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 seen myself or heard from this person (yes, name that person so it’s not gossip) that you have been struggling with this sin.” For example, “I’ve heard that you are angry with someone, that you are harbouring unforgiveness, that you are addicted to something, that there’s something that is separating you from God. I’m here to ask you about it, tell you what God says, and I’m 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?” Confront, then support. Supporting them could be as simple as telling them how to make it right, and then they go do it and then hold them accountable by making sure they 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 regularly until they get right with it. Sometimes the issue is beyond our ability and we need to help them get into a treatment or counselling program and then talk to them about how that’s going. 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.

Step Three: Bring Friends

What if that doesn’t work? Jesus says in 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 that person 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 the sin is. This also shows them that their sin isn’t a secret – that people know about it.

The people you bring isn’t meant to be a pastor or an elder, but friends. This also isn’t your posse. Get a group of Christian friends that they will listen to and invite them over, or invite yourself over. And when you are all together, the group tries again.

If you are someone being 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!

After that meeting, you go back to what we talked about with loving support.

Step Four: Call the Elders

But what if bringing the group doesn’t work? This is where we 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” or “rejected the vile”. We are still working together as a church to combat this sin, break the hold it has on our brother or sister, and the next step is to get the church leadership involved.

God takes sin very seriously and we want to show this person just how serious it is. Bring yourself and the witnesses to the pastor and the elders of the church. (If you come by yourself, and I don’t know about the problem, chances are I’m 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 Five: 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.”

“…and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

This is where the church “turns them over to Satan.” This is not a happy time, but a sad one. If this person is still unrepentant after all of this, then they are not acting like a believer, which means their soul is in jeopardy. Therefore, since they are not acting like a Christian we 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, we are told not to even associate with them. That’s what it means in 1 Corinthians 5:11 when it says “not even to eat with such a one”.

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. Here’s just a few from the New Testament:

 “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)

Now, why do we get to this step?

Reject, Protect, Restore

What most people don’t understand is that this fourth step is actually a process. We don’t just “Reject” – but we also protect and restore. Let me explain.

When a church is faced with an unrepentant Christian who is more committed to their sin than to Jesus, we are commanded by God 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 because they are a danger to themselves and others. We purposefully make the believer feel badly about themselves and their sin by giving them a taste of life as an unrepentant sinner again. They want to live like a demon so we let them experience a taste of hell. 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 or that their sin is no big deal. We therefore become complicit with their sin – just like the church in Corinth.

The second reason for rejecting them 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. When we keep them around us we are in danger of being tempted to sin with them! We protect ourselves from their bad influence and protect them from feeling like their sin is ok. Removing them from membership and refusing to meet with them socially is 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. Being rejected by their fellow believers because of their behaviour 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.

When we refuse to meet with them it also makes it so that 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, Jesus’ reputation, and even show love to the sinner by our refusing to do these sorts of things for them.

Which leads us to the third reason to reject the person, and the ultimate reason for Church discipline: this sets up the conditions by which we will be able to restore this person 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 as pawns of Satan for a while, they will see their sin and want to be restored back to Jesus.

This is ultimately what this is all about. Not kicking the person out, but doing everything we can to save them from the sin that is entangling them and restoring them back to spiritual health.

Conclusion: This is Hard but Important

I realize that this is hard! Often, the practical working out of these sorts of commands from God is hard. There are some practical questions too: 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 of the church faith in Jesus, then how do we do it? Unfortunately, there is no way to answer every question.

Some people will lean towards “we have to keep showing them love” and keep talking to them in a friendly way while remaining 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 necessarily wrong, nor do I think any of them is totally right, nor will any of us will do them perfectly. What is certain is our need for spiritual sensitivity and an abiding desire to do the will of God. I think all of this needs much prayer, study, and godly wisdom. If we are listening to the Holy Spirit, reading His word, and seeking His glory, then I believe God can use us to help those around us grow closer to Him and protect them from sin.

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.

This is tough stuff and none of us are good at it. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve done it too harshly or have avoided it or been too soft. But that doesn’t excuse us from trying to get this right. It’s too important to ignore. Sin is too dangerous.

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. If we do this full of holier-than-thou pride it will be very damaging. The loaf will be ruined with the yeast of sin. But if we pursue Godly Church Discipline out of love and a desire to see sinners restored to the fellowship and to the faith, then it is an act of worship that God will bless.

Let’s keep seeing soft, repentant hearts towards, but always be willing to do the hard things that He asks us to do. If you know a brother or sister caught in sin, then pray for them, and courageously commit that you will help them see the danger of their sin and repent from it so they can get back to church, back in prayer, back to serving God, back in worship, and back in a loving relationship with Jesus.

 

Judging Others and Confronting Sin: Where to Start

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Let’s open up to 1 Corinthians 5 and read it again. Last week we talked about the danger of sin and the importance of calling it out in our own lives and protecting each other from it by stepping in and giving warnings. We touched on the importance of, when we see a fellow Christian heading for sin, dealing with them courageously, patiently, gently, and scripturally but we didn’t really get into how to do that, which we are going to cover some of today.

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’”

Who Ought We Judge?

Let’s kick this off by covering an important question: Who are we talking about? In verse 3 we see Paul “pronouncing judgment” on someone for having unrepentant sin in their life. And in verses 9-11 we get a list of the sorts of sins that he’s judging: sexually immorality, greed, cheating, addiction, and idolatry – which is by no means meant as an exhaustive list, but is meant to be an examples of obvious, grievous, sins that everyone would be able to see.

But here’s the problem. If we want to obey scripture and pronounce judgement on sinners and have nothing to do with them, then we end up with a full time job because we are all constantly surrounded by this. Even if we just stick to this list, we can all admit that everywhere we look, even within our own families, are people who are not living by God’s standards of sexual purity, who are not using their money and possessions well, who bend and break the rules, who abuse alcohol or drugs, and who have practices in their life that show they are not fully committed to God.

I don’t think there is anyone here that cannot find something wrong with 99%-100% of the people around them, right? Do we know anyone who is perfectly blameless in the areas of sexuality, finances, obedience, and faith? No.

So then what are we to do? Who are we talking about judging then? Verse 9-10 eliminates a huge swath of the population. It says, “…not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world…I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother…”.

What that means is that our judgements are meant to be reserved for Christians only. It goes on to remind us in verse 12 that we have nothing to do with “judging outsiders”. It’s not our place and not our responsibility, but God’s (vs 13). Our responsibility is to those “inside”, meaning Christians. Our jurisdiction of judgement, the limits of who we are allowed to hold to the account of how the Bible tells us to live, is within the church. So, who ought we to judge and discipline? Fellow Christians.

Inside and Outside

The scriptures are very clear. From the beginning there are those who are outside and those who are inside. God chose the nation of Israel to be those who would be on the inside, but then set up laws saying that anyone who didn’t follow them must be cast outside.

Jesus divided people by inside and outside too. When He was asked why He spoke in parables that some people wouldn’t understand He said, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables…” (Mark 4:11). Those inside the kingdom would understand, those outside would not.

In the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-43) Jesus says that everyone seems sort of mixed up now, all growing together, like weeds growing in a field of wheat, but in the end, Jesus said, there would be a great separation of those who would be saved and brought into the barn and those who would be left outside to burn.

In the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14) Jesus says that many will be invited to be inside but not everyone will accept the invitation, and they will be left outside. And then he will declare everything is ready, but look around to make sure everyone who is there is supposed to be there – and any outsider who had gotten in would be bound up and cast outside into the darkness.

Jesus is extremely clear that not everyone is saved and that there are those on the inside and those on the outside – and though it’s sometimes hard to tell, our responsibilities are to those on the inside. God will take care of those on the outside.

Keep reading in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11:

“When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

What’s the point here? It’s that those inside the church are the fittest and most able to judge right from wrong and discipline by God’s standards. Those who are outside the church are not nearly as fit to judge disputes and spiritual matters as Christians are.

Now, are we talking about breaking the law? No. We’re not talking about murder or anything that breaks the law of the land. God has given us worldly authorities to deal with that. The scriptures here are talking about disputes between Christians and sins that are not punished by law. Adultery, pornography, homosexuality, using people for sex, pagan worship, manipulating the system, getting drunk, gluttony, being lazy, racism, hate, taking advantage of the poor or naive, are not illegal – but they are sin.

And outsiders, those outside the church, are neither fit nor able to be able to see the dangers of those sins, nor the consequences of letting them go unchallenged. Christians do see the danger and so we are compelled, by God’s Word and God’s Spirit to say and do something about them – within our own walls. Again, this is why church membership is so important, which we talked about before.

The Bible tells us that we are to judge and discipline people who call themselves Christians but are willfully unrepentant. People who claim to be Christians yet continue to indulge themselves in sin, refuse to ask forgiveness, refuse to reconcile, but keep rationalizing why they can continue to sin, are dangerous to themselves and the believers around them, and tarnish the image of God in their lives and the reputation of Jesus and His church– so we are compelled to do something.

If someone says they are a Christian, and comes to a church surrounded by Christians, but are known to be sexually immoral, greedy, a cheat, an addict, or worships other gods – they are going to be a bad influence on the people around them and create a false understanding of God’s Will and the Gospel. They are, literally, a danger to themselves and others.

And so, it is our responsibility, as their brother or sister, compelled by our love for them and for God, as their church family, to tell them they need to stop their sin and ask forgiveness from God because they are harming themselves, their loved ones, their church, and their reputation.

By What Standard Ought We to Judge?

Now that we know who, we are brought to the standards by which we are to judge. How are we to judge them? The strict answer is: by scripture. We do not have the right to judge people by our own standards. We are bound to judge people only by what scripture says.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church telling them they needed to deal with this person in their midst, he wasn’t coming up with anything new. Every one of those sins in the list has been condemned by God since the beginning. Not only are they found condemned throughout scripture, but also universally offend the consciences of every human being. As Paul said, this man’s sins were “not tolerated even among the pagans”. (1 Cor 5)

We do not have the right to try to mold other Christians into our image, but only into the image of Christ. When someone offends us, hurts us, challenges us, or lives differently than us, we do not immediately have the right to judge and condemn them. All of our judgements must be by scripture.

You may disagree with something I’m doing, and it may even be a problem for you, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sin or problem for someone else. You may find something disgusting or offensive, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sin. You may think someone is being stupid, but being stupid is not a sin!

Let me give you an example: Sister Sally goes to the same church as Brother Barney, but she doesn’t like the way he lives one bit. She was married at an early age, he’s 39 and still single. She only listens to Christian radio, he listens to classic rock. She volunteers at the church three times per week and takes every class they offer, he plays guitar on Sundays but the rest of the week hangs out with his buddies at a pub and plays video games. She has a bachelor of social work and helps the community, he has tattoos and works part time at pool hall. She reads theology books and Christian biographies, he hasn’t read a book in 15 years.

What’s worse is that Brother Barney doesn’t even seem to care. He comes to church, hangs out, cracks jokes that Sister Sally doesn’t find funny at all, has coffee with the same few people, and then goes home. Sister Sally comes to church and is busy, busy, busy. She does 12 things before service, three during, and four after – and she’s exhausted – but Brother Barney doesn’t even notice or care. He should be doing more. He should be learning more. He’s come to this church for years now and is doing the same thing he’s been doing since he first came. He’s wasting his life. Who knows what he’s doing in that pub? And the Elders and Pastors aren’t even doing anything!

Now, Sister Sally is mad and feels like she is going to take matters into her own hands. So she corners Brother Barney one day at church and has decided to fix his life for him. After all, he’s a fellow Christian and we’re supposed to help our fellow Christians, right? Well, she’s going to help him all right!

Now, what is Sister Sally going to say? What right does she have to judge him? What sin has she seen? None. What commandment is Brother Barney breaking? None.

But will that stop her? No. She’ll tell Brother Barney that he’s not committed enough, that he’s lazy, that he’s wasting God’s gifts, that he should feel ashamed for the life he’s leading….

Whose image is Sister Sally trying to form Brother Barney into? Her own. Will he ever fit? No. Should he? No.

When we confront someone it is incredibly important that we confront them with the Word of God, not our own words. We do not have the right to tell people to live up to our own standards, only the right to point them to God’s.

Before All That

But how can we do it? We still haven’t gotten to the “how to”. Maybe there is someone in your life, or in this church, that you’ve been thinking of over the past couple weeks, that you think God might be asking you to confront in their sin. Or, on the other hand, maybe you are sitting here nervous that someone is going to do that to you!

Maybe you are wondering if there are people that you need to “purge… from among you” or “not even eat with”, but you’re not sure how to proceed. Where should you start?

Most people, if you ask them will tell you to turn to Matthew 18 which is all about the pattern of addressing church discipline. Some will turn to our passage in 1 Corinthians 5 to talk about confronting the person and then dealing with them. Others will turn to Galatians 6:1 which says that we should find them, restore them in gentleness, but be careful not to be tempted with them. Others will go to 1 Timothy 5:20 which says that anyone who persists in sin needs to be rebuked in the presence of the whole church so everyone stands in fear.

All of this is premature. The place we need to turn is Matthew 7:1-5. Before we pull out any scriptures to talk about what others are doing wrong, before we talk about how to confront them, discipline them, or help them to repent, reconcile and recover, we must start here:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 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.”

I think we’ve established by now that when Jesus says “Judge not” He’s not telling us never to judge anybody for anything. His meaning is found more fully in the next verse. He says that when we judge we ought to realize that God is watching and our attitude, graciousness, harshness, motives, and methods are going to be judged. So when we judge, before we judge, before an analytical, judgemental, critical, or disapproving word passes our lips, the very first thing we must do is look inward.

He doesn’t say, “Don’t criticize others”. He says, “Before you criticize anyone else, take a long, hard look at yourself and your own moral failures. Don’t come down from on high as a holier-than-though know-it-all – come to them humbly, realizing that you are a sinner too.

As you look inwards and realize your own failures and faults, it will be easier to give grace to the one you are trying to help. As you repent before God, laying your sins before Him, asking for them to be washed away by the blood of Jesus, it will be easier for you to invite someone else to do the same. When you look inward at your own faults, and the many struggles you have in your life, and how you keep failing over and over, it lets you be patient with them, knowing that it will be a struggle. As you receive the grace of forgiveness from God, it will help you be gracious and forgiving to them.

And, as you learn to hate your own sin, but love yourself – asking others to hate the sin within you, but love you anyway – so you will be more able to differentiate between the sin and the sinner so you can show them love while hating their sin.

When you look at the porn addict, the adulterer, the homosexual, the drunkard, the cheat, the greedy, the idolater, instead of being filled with hate or fear towards the person, you will see them as a person like you – in need of grace, help, friendship, brotherhood, help, and love.

We’ll talk about the steps we need to take to confront people next week, but we must realize that step one of addressing our fellow Christians sins has nothing to do with them, but everything to do with us and God. It starts with realizing our own sin, asking God to soften our hearts, and gaining a perspective driven not only by the truth – but by grace.

Sin: No Big Deal?

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We’ve been slowly working our way through 1st Corinthians and after a Christmas break and the January series on depression, it’s time to get back into our study by turning to 1st Corinthians 5.

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’”

Would You Rather?

People love playing the “What’s worse?” or “Would you rather?” game. There’ are websites and apps dedicated to them! Would you rather inhale a bug while riding your bike or find a hair in your food at a restaurant? What’s worse: having bird poop land on your head or stepping barefoot in dog poo? Would you rather be almost blind or almost deaf? What’s worse” running out of gas or getting a flat tire?

For good or for ill, people are comparative by nature. We love comparing things. We turn everything into competitions to see who is stronger, faster, can eat more, or anything else. We have competitions for best air guitar, extreme ironing, and ugliest dog. In Japan they have baby crying contests. In the US they have the International Cherry Pit Spitting Championship (the record on that is 28.51m or 93 ft 6.5 in, by the way. That’s the long distance across a basketball court!)

People do this with sin too. If someone is caught doing something they shouldn’t, one popular defence is to say that whatever they were doing wasn’t as bad as something they could have done or that someone else did. “Allan, did you steal a cookie from the cookie jar?” “Yes, but at least I didn’t eat all of them! Yes, but I didn’t rob a bank! Yes, but yesterday I stole two, so this is actually way better.” The idea is to minimize, or trivialize the sin by comparing it to something. We make it seem less important, less significant, than it really is, by holding it up to something we think is worse.

What it shows is a misunderstanding of the seriousness of sin. It’s not just a cookie from the cookie jar, is it? It’s theft. It breaks the 8th Commandment. It shows a lack of respect for parental authority. It shows that there is something wrong with the heart. It sets a bad example for those around and lowers the standards for everyone.

To which the detractors cry, “This is the slippery slope fallacy! Stealing a cookie doesn’t mean that they’ll be robbing banks soon! It won’t bring about the fall of western civilization! It’s just a cookie!” To which Christians, theologians, and God replies: “There is no such thing as a small sin.”

No Small Sins

When we look at sin we tend to trivialize it. When God looks at sin He sees something much more serious. Jesus demonstrated this during His Sermon on the Mount. Turn with me to Matthew 5 and see what Jesus does here.

Look at verse 21. First Jesus talks about anger, something that we don’t spend too much time thinking is that big of a deal. We assume that carrying around anger and bitterness towards people is no big deal as long as we don’t get out of control. We think that yelling at someone in the car who cut us off in traffic is no big deal. Jesus says,

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

It’s so serious that Jesus says next,

“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.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

In other words, your anger towards your brother needs to be dealt with before you even walk through the doors of the church, before you do your devos, before you say your prayers, before you tithe. If you have anger against someone, even if you think you’ve got it under control you are in spiritual danger and God is not going to accept your prayers or offering!

Move to verse 27. Next Jesus says,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30)

That’s twice that Jesus has talked about the danger of hell.

Men think, “Oh, it’s no big deal to hang that poster, play that video game, watch that show, visit that site, or check out those girls at the mall. I’m faithful in marriage, would never cheat, and it’s not like I went looking for it. It’s just there. I’m just here to buy shoes. I watch it for the plot. I play because it’s fun.”

Women think, “It’s no big deal to read those stories or watch those movies and fantasize about being with someone else. It’s no big deal to think about my old boyfriends or coworkers. No big deal to just scan through a few posts on Facebook. No big deal to wonder about what it would be like to be with them. No big deal to get my motor running with a little fantasy.”

We think it’s all in our heads, secret, and that everyone does it so it’s no big deal. Does this passage make it look like God thinks it’s no big deal? Jesus isn’t adding anything to what God has already said – He’s merely explaining it properly.

And yes, this is hyperbole – or overstatement for effect – but His point is to emphasize how dangerous sin is and how important it is that we maintain control over the purity of our thought life. “Even things of great value should be given up if they are leading a person to sin.” (ESV Study Bible) Why? Because sin is super dangerous! It is ultra-destructive.

This is just like “what’s worse” or “would you rather”. What’s worse? Giving up your internet connection, not going to the mall, deleting Facebook, breaking off that friendship, changing jobs, missing that show or deleting that game – or corrupting your conscience, losing God’s blessing, and living in a state of perpetual, spiritual sickness? Would you rather have the fruits of sin or the fruits of the Spirit?

Trivializing Sin

This is the danger of minimizing sin. It’s eating away our soul like cancer, hurting our family, infecting our children, polluting our worship, corrupting our community – and we treat it like it’s no big deal.

This is what the Corinthians were doing. Paul begins with a startling statement about what is happening in the church: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.” (5:1) He was sleeping with his step-mother, perhaps even as an adulterous affair. Certainly the Old Testament condemned this, but it was so evil that not even the pagans around them had laws against it. And if you remember the sexual history of Corinth, that is really saying something.

They knew it was wrong but were unwilling to admit it or do anything about it. They knew it was a sin, but didn’t see it as a problem. What’s worse, they thought, to tell this guy to stop sinning and breaking God’s laws or to allow it to continue? They felt that telling him would have been worse.

Tolerating Sin

Look at 5:2, “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?”

The church was so accepting of sin that they were not only being tolerant of sin in their midst, but actually being arrogant about it. Where they should have seen the danger of the sin, mourning that it had taken hold of one of the families in their church, in sorrow for the disgrace it would bring to the name of Jesus, they were actually proud of it! “Look how tolerant, loving, caring, accepting we are!”

Their perspective of sin had gotten terribly out of whack. They remind me of the people Paul was talking about in Romans 1:32 where he says, “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” In that case he was talking about unbelieving, out of control, pagans – but it also described the Corinthian church. They knew it was sin, practiced it, and then went as far as to give approval to those who were doing it.

It’s Serious

What does the Bible say ought to have been done? “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” Keep in mind that this person is a self-professed Christian! How should they treat this brother? This man doesn’t know how dangerous his sin is so they should “…deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”. This means that the church should stop getting between him and the consequences of his sin. If he wants to live like a demon, then let him experience hell! Why? So his heart breaks when he sees how damaging his sin is. So long as the people around him are tolerating the sin, making excuses, and accepting it, there is no way they will repent. He needed to see the full consequences of his actions.

Sometimes we need this too. Sometimes we need God to let us see what happens when we don’t take sin seriously. Sometimes God lets the shoe fall. We hurt our marriage, families, friends, church, community, or reputation. We turn from God, live with sin, keep it secret, or have a bunch of people make excuses for you: “It’s just your personality. It’s no big deal. You deserved it. We all understand.” and we start to think we’re getting away with it – that there’s no consequences to the sin.

We’re still going to church. We’re still singing the songs, meeting with our friends, enjoying our life, going to work, living our life – and so we get used to having that sin in our lives. No one calls us on our anger or bitterness problem, so we never deal with it. No one calls us on letching over the young women, so we think no one cares. No one calls us on our foul language, addictions, or out of control spending, so we think it’s no problem.

That’s not how Christians are to love one another. That’s not how we are to address sin in the church. Christians have a higher sensitivity to sin, a better perspective of it, a higher standard for ourselves, because are all-too aware of how damaging it is. It’s not just a little anger problem, a little private lust, a little spending issue, a little language problem – it’s a cancer to your soul. It’s a wedge that can be hammered into your relationships with your family, friends and church. A Christian sees sin for how dangerous it really is.

Cancer

Paul says, “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.” (5:6)

If you are an expert on anything it comes with a blessing and a curse. On one hand you can do something amazing that few people can – on the other hand, you are cursed with the ability to see shoddy work.

If you know how to paint or decorate or design or build, then walking into most people’s houses takes real effort because all you see is mistakes. Runs here, sags there, unmatched colours, poor architecture.

If you are an expert cook or wine taster or coffee then you are blessed, but it also means that most people’s food and coffee tastes bad.

If you are an expert in journalism, history or politics then watching a movie or the news is agonizing because of all the inaccuracies and outright errors.

If you are an expert on exercise or nutrition then seeing what people put into their bodies almost bring you physical pain because of how terrible it is.

And that’s true for all of you who have special training, whatever it is. Your special knowledge gives you a different perspective on the world around you – and it’s not always good.

For a Christian, our understanding of sin makes us realize something other people don’t understand. We don’t see it as a white lie, a little vice, a necessary evil, an excusable moment – we see a virus, cancer, death.

You may have heard of a woman named Joy Milne who has a very special ability. She can smell when someone has Parkinson’s Disease, which is a very difficult disease to diagnose. She first noticed it in her husband as she sensed his smell changing and then he was diagnosed. Scientists were intrigued so they did an experiment where 12 people, six with Parkinson’s and six without, wore shirts all day and then brought them in to be bagged. Joy then smelled each shirt and was right 12 out of 12 times. The actual story goes that they thought she was wrong about one of them, but then eight months later that person was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Christians are like that. When we finally see our sin, hate our sin, repent of our sin, ask God’s forgiveness of our sin because Jesus died on the cross for our sin, we are given the presence of the Holy Spirit inside of us. And one of His gifts is to make us more sensitive to sin.

As you mature as a Christian you may notice this phenomena in your life. Someone says something, does something, or you go somewhere and there’s some radar that goes off inside of you. Red flags fly, the Geiger counter starts to click, and you know something is hinkey.

Things that didn’t bother you before now seem uncomfortable. Things you used to let go, you now want to deal with. Places that were fun are no longer fun. It’s remarkable. That’s God fixing your broken conscience. That’s the presence of Jesus in you.

As we mature that sensitivity grows, but it also goes away as we practice sinning. The more we accept sin, turn our back to it, blind ourselves to it, accept it, tolerate it, fear it, and allow it to occur, the more we “sear our conscience” (1 Tim 4:2). Our heart gets harder instead of softer, less sensitive, less able to tell right and wrong. That’s what was happening to the Corinthians. They wouldn’t call sin sin, and had lost their ability to see it. Had they lost their salvation, no? But they were still in great spiritual danger. Their church had cancer.

They let the disease of sin grow up in their midst. They allowed the little bit of leaven into their bread, and it infected the whole lump.

Asbestos

I used to work for a pulp mill and one of my jobs was to clear out a section where they had broken down a building. My job was to take everything in the pile, go through it, stick it in a truck, and drive it to where it could be better used. At one point I came across a big bunch of round circles. So I started busting them apart and putting them in garbage bags. A few days later someone came by and saw me doing it and yelled “WHOA! STOP! What are you doing?! Do you know what those are?!” The obvious answer was “no”. They were asbestos gaskets. Every gasket I broke was full of compressed asbestos which made a nice little cloud for me to breathe in.

Asbestos, for those who don’t know, is not to be breathed. The little fibres get inside your lung, get stuck, scar your tissue, and then leads to cancer and all kinds of other breathing problems.

One minute I was happily busting little circles, and the next I was sitting in the mill office filling out paperwork just in case I die of asbestosis someday.

What stopped me? Someone saw what I was doing and knew more than me. He knew those little circles were dangerous, not to be broken, not to be breathed, to be treated carefully by an expert, not by an untrained, idiot, summer student. He knew the danger and he stopped me right there.

That’s what the church is supposed to do with Christians who are sinning. That’s what we’re supposed to do with our fellow brothers and sisters. We are supposed to see the danger and deal with it – patiently, gently, truthfully, scripturally, courageously.

We’ll talk about that more about how to do that next week, but for now that’s where we are going to leave it.

So I ask you: How seriously do you take sin? The sin in your own life, in your family, and in your church? I’m not talking about the country and the world right now – I mean inside you, your closest relationships, and your church. Do you take it as seriously as God does, as Jesus does, as you should? Or do you tolerate it, make excuses for it, trivialize it, allow the cancer to grow and fester, allow your loved ones to play with the asbestos.

I’d like you to pray about that this week.

Why Our Church Has a Membership Covenant

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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.

2. Accountability

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.

Conclusion

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.