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Sunday sermon 13 November 2016 – Body life

Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:14-27; Galatians 6:1-3; Matthew 18:16-17

MESSAGE                                                                 

Last week we looked at reconciliation – and the implication for living for one another. And we saw that if someone had something against us, we should fix it before we bring our gift to the altar – our worship to God.

I imagine that most skirmishes can be resolved. Differences of opinion mainly. Or perhaps we may speak a careless word against someone – and we hurt them or offend them, perhaps unwillingly. Sometimes we get offended and it’s all just a misunderstanding. I can’t tell you how many times people get upset if you ignore them in the street when your mind is on something else. Or even at church here on Sunday.

Our falling out with each other over insignificant things is silly sinful behaviour really. Like the little children who have a scrap perhaps –  we should be able to say sorry and forgive.

Wilful sin is another thing I suspect – when we are deliberately mean or destructive.

But silly differences or big conflicts – reconciliation and peacemaking belong together. The rift between people and God is a big thing – so too the peace of God achieved by Jesus. The cross is a big thing too – which explains all those ways of trying to explain it we looked at last week – propitiation (atonement), justification, redemption and reconciliation – all try to capture the breadth impact of Jesus’ death on the cross that brings peace and a new community.

Flowing out of that peacemaking is our one-another life. Remember some of them from last week? For those who weren’t here, here they are again. Here are the bible references this time too.

  • Bear with one another in love – Ephesians 4:2
  • Be kind and compassionate to one another – Ephesians 4:32
  • Be devoted to one another – Romans 12:10
  • Honour one another above yourselves – Romans 12:10
  • Accept one another – Romans 15:7
  • Agree with one another – 1 Corinthians 1:10
  • Encourage one another – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
  • Spur one another one towards love and good deeds – Heb 10:24
  • Do not slander one another – James 4:11
  • Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling – 1 Peter 4:9
  • Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another – 1 Peter 5:5
  • Submit to one another (specifically in marriage) – Ephesians 5:21
  • Live in harmony with one another – 1 Peter 3:8
  • And of course –
  • confess you sins to one another -James 5:16
  • Teach and admonish one another – Colossians 3:16

There are more damaging things though that need attention than our silly misunderstandings. I mentioned last week that we should be cautious about trying to reconcile when a relationship is toxic or a person is abusive. Some sin is endemic and evil is dangerous. Some things require mediation or proper restorative processes.

Jesus seems to speak in a more serious tone about sin in the church. Only Matthew 16 and 18 talk about the church at all – at least coming from Jesus’ mouth. In chapter 18 he says this:

Mat 18:15  “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. Mat 18:16  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.’ Mat 18:17  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

This has got to be more than a misunderstanding or silly scrap. It’s certainly not the same as last week where we looked at leaving your gift on the altar and going to sort something out. It seems to assume that you can resolve the thing quickly and come back to your gift waiting at the altar.

The implication here in Matthew 18 is that the person does not acknowledge the problem – and probably denies that they are at fault at all. That it will be difficult. A longer process.

Perhaps you can help me here. What kinds of things do you think require this kind of action? Talk among yourselves for two minutes…

DISCUSSION 

I am sure you came up with some interesting scenarios.

The pattern given is a typical Jewish one of the day –  a three stage process especially requiring two witnesses.

So you approach the person first. If they don’t respond, you take someone else or two people along. And when that doesn’t work – you tell the whole church. If that fails – separate from them completely. Treat them like nobodies. Hopefully they will come to their senses when they are on the outside – and have to start again figuring out what it means to be a Christ follower and a part of his body – from scratch.

We don’t follow that process much it seems. Sometimes our first step is to tell someone else (gossiping without confronting the person involved at all). Then we sulk. Perhaps become bitter. And finally we ourselves stay away from church in our state of anger or resentment and blame. That’s not quite the same as the pattern Jesus gives!

What kind of things are so damaging that they need a process to get someone to accept responsibility? They are probably horrible things.

You can see how horrible they are potentially if you take that list of one another obligations in the New Testament and change the words from positive to negative. Look what we come up with:

  • Bear with one another – don’t put up with each other – be obnoxious towards one another
  • Be kind and compassionate to one another – be ugly and indifferent towards one another
  • Be devoted to one another – be unfaithful to one another
  • Honour one another above yourselves – insult one another and make sure your view dominates
  • Accept one another – reject or simply ignore one another
  • Agree with one another – have ongoing disputes with one another
  • Encourage one another – discourage, dishearten and offend one another
  • Spur one another one towards love and good deeds – put people off and tell them to be unkind and selfish, promoting evil
  • Do not slander one another – insult and dismiss one another as you spread stories and rumours about each other without checking on the truth
  • Offer hospitality to one another – throw one another out of your homes and don’t make people feel welcome, or shun them
  • Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another – be brash – arrogant – rude
  • Submit to one another (specifically in marriage) – beat each other into submission and bully one another
  • Live in harmony with one another – start a riot in church like a pub brawl over the slightest difference

That would be interesting behaviour in church. It certainly goes against the new commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us – and all the others about love and service.

It’s 1 Corinthians 12 that reinforces the damage this kind of sin causes. Paul compares our life together in Christ – in the body of the church – to the human body. 1Co 12:14  Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.

He then goes on at length to talk about all the parts being important and unique.

He says from verse 24:  But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 1Co 12:25  so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  1Co 12:26  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.  1Co 12:27  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

The human body is a great comparison of the joy when it works and the pain when it doesn’t. We all to some extent know when our bodies are in pain. It’s just as bad when our bodies don’t work properly – when parts stop communicating with other parts. It’s not pretty.

It’s not pretty either when the church (or a human family) suffers or can’t communicate between its members – or when one part grows too big like a tumour.

Paul’s plan for the church is a union that means no solo flying. The key verse is this one:

1Co 12:26  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. And he reminds the Corinthians who had become specialists in doing things without love (and very selfishly): 1 Co 12:27  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

He then proceeds to talk about different people gifts in the body – and that we’re not all gifted in the same way. But we all matter.

He ends chapter 12 with this: 1Co 12:31  But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. 1 Corinthians 13 in all its beauty follows. In Chapter 13 – love matters most. We read it the other day – remember? Substituting “We are” for the word “love is”.

The reading from Galatians today is also a healthy warning from Paul in all of this. Listen again: Gal 6:1  Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Gal 6:2  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Gal 6:3  If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

So what is to be done? Most of us are not really horrible are we? So what’s the most common sickness in the body? It’s probably what I would call “independent member disorder”. It’s a bit like a foot that wants to walk off in its own direction.

It really helps when we are moving in the same direction. With the mind of Christ in control – with Jesus as the head. And with all the members coordinated in the effort to listen to the Head.

Being a healthy church does require the parts to function well together.

  • Are you a healthy part of Jesus’ body? A source of goodness, life and nutrition?
  • Are you using the gifts he gave you?
  • You matter!

And we really can only share our burdens, sorrows and joys, when the nervous system works and we are connected well enough to feel each other’s emotions and issues.

This all needs time and effort and communication. Let’s keep doing this. At least start today by learning someone’s name you don’t know! Oh and joining a home group where this can happen And, altogether now, “let’s stay for tea and be friendly”.

It’s a small start!    Amen.

Sunday Sermon 1 November 2015 – As Each Part Does Its Work

Readings:  1Co 12:1-27; 1 Php 1:1-11; Mat 5:21-26; Eph 4:15-16

 

Message

Eph 4:15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Eph 4:16  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

It’s been a hectic couple of months. When you make a commitment to something – like a major event, a 50th party, a wedding, a conference – there’s no telling how things will work. The risks are the same as a simpler event.

The most risky events are like concerts (we had a great one on Sunday night). There’s the great story of the award given by a choir to the pianist for her faithfulness through the year at every practice – this was the last one before the Christmas concert. The old dear was still a great pianist – but sometimes not with it at all. “Thanks so much” she said. “It was a great idea to give this to me tonight – I can’t make the concert after all! Something’s come up!”.

She might be one of those people with the headstone on her grave: “great life, but missed the point”. One has to end well – endure to the end! (Matthew 24:13 may apply in the broader sense.)

Have you missed the point of church life?

It was still very noticeable to me – despite the wonderful attendance of people over the Jubilee weekend (there were lots of options) – that some people were just not to be seen. Of course leaving the country is probably a valid reason. 🙂 And it was a long weekend.

Of course the same can be said of today. One colleague said to me this week that he will be very pleased when the World Cup is over. Maybe people will get back to church!

The good news is that the work goes on!

Paul – writing to the Ephesians in a seminal passage – a key descriptor of the Christian church which we looked at last week when considering how we grow to maturity as we move forward on our faith journey – how we grow to be like Christ and into Christ – writes this:

Eph 4:15  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Eph 4:16  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Pardon me if I am losing the plot here – but those last 6 words seem rather succinct. Clear. Unconfused. Simple.

As each part does its work. You can almost count those words on one hand (you could if you were Jim Carey in the movie “Bruce Almighty!) As each part does its work!

The analogy of a human body – the extended metaphor Paul uses – appears in 1 Corinthians 12 as well as we heard today.

He hints of our participation in other ways of course. There are other analogies, metaphors or concepts used. Like the beginning of his letter to the Philippians:

Php 1:3  I thank my God every time I remember you. Php 1:4  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy Php 1:5  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, Php 1:6  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Our partnership in the gospel.

It’s also an involving kind of idea.

Even “silent” partners put their money into the business, if I recall. They do something.

Paul rejoices because of the participation of the Philippians in the gospel – its teaching and proclamation through the world – and in their own lives – because this can never be a clinical kind of critique of everyone else who we believe needs to be changed by Jesus – when in fact it begins with us. (The classical line heard at church after a powerful sermon – “I wish Mrs Jones was here today – she really needed to hear that!”)

As we said last week – the biblical serenity prayer is this (for those who missed out):

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know it’s me.

Paul writes:

I always pray with joy Php 1:5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, Php 1:6  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

There’s work being done – work to be done.

After that brilliant passage – in the next chapter about Jesus’ humility (the “if any…” passage –  If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose, (Phil 2:1-2) – Paul also says:

Php 2:12  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, Php 2:13  for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Fear and trembling? It sounds serious. It is!

If there was an alternative title to this sermon it could be something like “paralysis in the pew”.

Or alternatively, turning to 1 Corinthians 12,

“Body Life – the part you were called to be”.

Verse 27 says clearly:

1Co 12:27  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

The context of the passage is the “spirituals” – literally the pneumatikoi

Here’s the verse at the beginning of chapter 12:

12:1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. (Literally agnostic – without knowledge). Verse 3 continues:

1Co 12:3  Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (Note: Of course they said that back then knowing it meant Caesar was not Lord and inviting trouble! For us it should be – society is NOT Lord. Money is NOT Lord. And the list goes on!)

1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.

1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.

1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

What is clear then is this:

1. BODY LIFE IS SPIRIT-LED LIFE

There is something quite unique in the organism of the church (see last week’s sermon for the distinction between organism and organisation).

It is a Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered body. Last Sunday we talked about Peter’s declaration of faith as the foundation – revealed by the Father in heaven to him. (“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!)

Here Paul tells us that the 3rd person of the Trinity is part of this too. You can’t have one without the other two! (It reminds me of the Frank Sinatra song “love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage – you can’t have one without the other!)

And so, says Paul: ‘no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. ‘

He continues with this pattern of the Trinity spelt out in another way.

1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  (Holy Spirit)

1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. (Jesus)

1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (The Father)

1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

It’s all God-works. Not ours. And its not for us. Verse 7 says – it’s for the common good. (Perhaps there’s nothing new about Bentham’s philosophy of what’s best for all – called Utilitarianism). Of course Paul would not have said that “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” For Paul right and wrong is set by God.

But in the church people are there to serve for the common good – to build up the church – for the glory of God.

Body life is Spirit-led life. He goes on later in verse 12 and 13: 1Co 12:12  The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 1Co 12:13  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (Because this is the source of our life!)

Body life is Spirit-led life.

2. BODY LIFE IS GIFTED LIFE

1Co 12:8  To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 1Co 12:9  to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 1Co 12:10  to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 1Co 12:11  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

He doesn’t want us to be agnostics-s – ignoramuses (ignorami?) about spirituals – spiritual gifts.

The lists vary between here and Ephesians 4, Romans 12.

Body life is gifted life. The great thing is that the gifts empower us to be a blessing to others. They are not for us but for the wider body of the Church. And this is not like a wedding where the bride makes a list and the guests select from the bride’s choices.

The bride of Christ does not choose. The Spirit chooses. The key phrase is “just as he determines” (in verse 11).

Lucky for us we can still desire spiritual gifts. More about that in two weeks’ time as we look at 1 Corinthians 14.

3. BODY LIFE HAS BODY PROBLEMS AND BODY SOLUTIONS

When you read the rest of the passage the analogy between the church as the Body of Christ and the human body has all kinds of implications.

1Co 12:14  Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 1Co 12:15  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 1Co 12:16  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 1Co 12:17  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? (Note: this means that “body sins” include one part of the body saying “I am most important” and therefore I am the whole and not a part of the body!)

1Co 12:18  But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 1Co 12:19  If they were all one part, where would the body be? 1Co 12:20  As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 1Co 12:21  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  (Note: A “body sin” here is when someone says “I don’t need you” to another in the body).

1Co 12:22  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 1Co 12:23  and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 1Co 12:24  while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 1Co 12:25  so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

The passage reaches a climax here:

1Co 12:26  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

1Co 12:27  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

If one part thinks it’s the only one that matters – well you get the message. It’s out of sync. It’s like a cancerous cell – a limb that grows way past is proper position and size. My mother would have said “don’t get too big for your boots!).

And of course if you are more important – then others become redundant or irrelevant.

“I don’t need you” is a very unhelpful thing to say in a family – and especially in the family of the church which is in fact a living organism.

Of course sometimes when there is sickness and healing is needed, the bad stuff has to be lanced like a boil – or cut off to stop the spread of gangrene.

  • The partnership in the gospel
  • The completing of the good work that God has begun (which He completes if we cooperate
  • The working out our salvation with fear and trembling (for it is God who works in us…)

All happens in this organism. You can’t just be a passive observer! It happens in body life – in Christian Community.

As we look at our Mission in this community today when we have our congregational meeting after the service – the first choice we have is to decide to be part of what God is doing in this part of his body – the Church.

Or not. Brother Mike spoke about the covenant at Shechem a few weeks ago. “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24).

How about you? In or out?

“As each part does its work.”

Amen.