Monday, February 15, 2010

Sermon Series : Loving and serving the Church of Christ for all its worth

TEXT: 1   Corinthians  1 : 4- 9
TITLE:  “ Thank God for the Church !“
DATE  PREACHED :    14/02/2010 

Last week   we considered   Paul ‘s introduction  ( 1:1-3 ) to this  letter. Paul was the human founder of this church ( Acts 18) – but  in verses 2&3 we  noted that  the  Greater  Founder is  the Triune  God  .  The church at Corinth is  “ the church of God “ , sanctified … and called to be saints by the Holy Spirit ( for  that is His work) , and it is the church that  is “ in Christ Jesus “ . The grace and peace that this church enjoys is a work that  comes from the  Father and the Son (1:3) .
The one fact  that most people  have at their fingertips  concerning the Corinthian church is that  she was in a mess -  a church full of problems, division and heresy.  
And yet  she  was in this sense no different  from any modern church. The church  which is a fellowship of saints  ( by virtue of the calling and justification of God  in Christ)  is also  a  fellowship of sinners. We do well to remember  this – even as we think of those churches that appear to have  great reputations .  Remember that they too have  feet of clay  . They too are constituted of imperfect   elders and members . Sadly , dissatisfied church members will often naively  assume  that another church in the area will somehow be better than the one they now attend . This restlessness causes the common habit of church hopping .
Today I wish to consider  verses  4- 9 with you  as we consider  Paul’s  profound  thankfulness for this  messy  church.  My  prayerful aim  for this sermon is that  we may see and learn the preciousness of the church   and so  learn to give thanks for her , and  see her  thus as Christ sees her.

We take note of  3 Aspects of Paul’s Thanksgiving for the Church
1. Give thanks to God  for the church  : “ I give  thanks to my  God  always for you…” (1:4a)
2. Give thanks   for  God’s grace gifts  given to the church   (1 Cor 1:4b-7)
3. Give thanks  for God’s sustaining  faithfulness   to the church (1: 8-9)

1. Give thanks  to God for the church
Lets face it . If the first 9 verses were cut out of this letter , it would be difficult for us  to  arrive at an optimistic view of the church !  But what do we see here  in the first place ? The letter starts  with a high  doctrine of the church  and with thanksgiving  to God for the church !
We need  to let this primary truth sink in. Paul looks at the Corinthian church as she is in Christ , before he looks at anything  else that is true of the church .   Please note that  his thankfulness  is not for anything that the Corinthians have achieved by their own efforts, but for what the grace of God  has achieved in them  ( see particularly  1:26-31!)  The grace of God  in these imperfect  people  is what  supremely produces  his thankful heart !
And this is particularly instructive  when we consider  as to how we should view the church.   Most  of us  would want to  examine the warts  and  lament the woeful deficiencies  of the church. Most people  have no vision  of what God has already done in Christ in the church, because  they lack perspective.
But that aside ,  you do not need to wait to see evidence  of God’s grace. You must learn to implicitly  trust God with the church!  God  will to complete the work that He began in the church  (Phil 1:6) ,  unless of course  the church  has become an apostate  church  and has drifted from the gospel, and is therefore in danger of loosing its lampstand (Rev 2:5).  But if this has not happened we have no reason  to become pessimistic  about the church.  It is for lack of this vision  that  church members are  perishing . We go either through  the motions  of being the church with no real  expectation  of significant growth into maturity, or otherwise we descend  into a hopeless works based , activity centered approach  to the ministry.   For many  of us, church is merely an event we attend  or an organization we belong to . We do not see it as a calling that shapes our entire life.  
The apostle Paul  looked at the church through Jesus’ eyes – and he gave thanks.
Don’t look  at the church with human eyes ! Yes , the church  can be  so disfigured by your and my sin , but God is at work and  He  is pulling  us  out of the muck and the mire  by His justifying  and  sanctifying  grace, restoring   His image in us   through  Jesus  our Lord –  our  Creator and Re-creator .
So stop  and  give thanks for the church , for she is God’s handiwork .

2.  Give thanks   for  God’s grace gifts  given to the church   ( 1 Cor 1:4b-7)
The second  aspect  of Paul’s thankfulness to God  relates  to the fact not only  that God has  invested grace ( charis )  , but that He has invested  “grace gifts“ ( charismata ) in the church   :   …the grace of God  that was given you  in Christ Jesus, that in everyway you were enriched in Him in all speech and all knowledge… So that you are not  lacking in any spiritual gift
Paul reminds the church that they have been enriched (in Christ ) by the addition  of spiritual gifts  -   especially  in speech and in  knowledge. We shall see later in 1 Cor 12-14 , that this  spiritually gifted church  was abusing these gifts – primarily by the fact that they were not acting in submission to the body  and for the benefit of  the body ( the church). They  were  also allowing  certain showy gifts  ( e.g. tongues- which did not provide for clear instruction)  to take precedence over  those gifts that  were more helpful , by providing  immediate clarity ( e.g. prophesying)  for the church.  We will deal with these things when we get to those chapters ! 
But right now  Paul thanks God  that  He has given them  spiritual gifts – particularly those of   speech and knowledge !  It is absolutely essential to have these primary gifts  operating in the church.  Churches without clear  preaching, and churches   without  accurate knowledge of biblical doctrine  are indeed poor churches. And the Corinthians  have had the wonderful privilege  to have  heard the clear  word and pure doctrine  from the  mouth of the apostle Paul , as he  preached    to them  the testimony  about of Christ ( 1:6) ….” Not  in plausible words of  wisdom , but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that  their faith  might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” ( 2:6)
It was this spoken testimony  that  gave  the church  knowledge  and  which opened their  eyes   to who Christ was. They were helped by the clarity and quality of Paul’s preaching. The  Holy Spirit used  Paul  to bring  conviction, illumination and faith  in discovering Christ.
Now despite the fact,  that  this church  shows  abuses  of the spiritual gifts, Paul’s God centered  heart , his humble  heart is  grateful  that this church  has God’s gifts.  He will in due course address the problem – but  not before he has  laid  a clear foundation: Jesus Christ the Lord !
All this shows us  that  Paul lives from first principles!   And the   first principle here  is this : God is at work  in my imperfect brother or sister !  Therefore be thankful !
Let me help you to apply this in another practical way :
Many of you have broken relationships – even with other Christians . There are  things  that have created division . Such  things  happen  in this sinful world.  How should we respond  to such matters  ? Take a page  out of  Paul's great letter and make it your first principle to give thanks and praise to  God  for His gracious work in  your  estranged brother or sister  .  Paul could have begun with  severe criticism  for this malfunctioning  church , but he did not. He could have attacked  them immediately,  but he did not.
His first step was sincere and heartfelt thanksgiving and praise .
I   confess :  I take criticism much better from  people who praise me and give thanks for me than I take it from those who only criticize me. I suppose  that I would  share this  aspect with most of you. 
This first principle thinking arises  from   how  God  has treated  us  . I still remember  so many years  ago when  Romans 5:8 hit me  straight between the eyes : “ … but God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
God loved  me while I was a sinner !  The world doesn’t think like that!  But  God gave  me  His Son when  I did not deserve it.  He called  me   to be  His son   even though  I was  so unappreciative  of His Fatherhood.
God  could spend all His time pointing out  our  faults. But He does not.  
Surely we ought to be like that?
Surely  we Christians  who have been treated so graciously  by our God  should treat  others in the same way? 
Is there a better way to make the teaching about God our Savior attractive?
I ask God that I  might have  a double portion of that attitude  !   I  ask God  that  the whole church  might  have it. 
Imagine what  amazing  changes would  come into  our marriages, our families,  our friendships,  and into  our church/ our ministry and witness to others, if only we  always displayed  Gods' grace to us in the spirit of thanksgiving and praise.
No wonder  that  Paul exercised the influence  and power which he did. No wonder  that even  the hard things he had to say  later,   had  positive  effects.
Paul not only taught us in his letters to be thankful in everything and to think on those things that are noble, true, right, pure and admirable, but he did that himself.  Imitate him in that and you will see how God will bless you for it and others through you.

3. Give thanks  for God’s sustaining  faithfulness   to the church (1: 8-9)
Not only is Paul thankful for the grace of God  poured out  in this church ;
Not only is he thankful for the  rich  gifts that are enjoyed in the ministry of this church ,
…but lastly,   he is  thankful  for the knowledge of God’s  sustaining  faithfulness  to the church .
Whatever ups and downs the church may face  , Paul is sure that the God who has called them ( and us) into the fellowship of His Son , Jesus Christ our Lord, will confirm / sustain  them ( and us ) to the end  , guiltless ( unimpeachable)  . The basis of this promise  is found in v.9 : “God is faithful  , by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son , Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Please note that God’s sustaining  faithfulness (for which Paul is so very thankful) does not only  relate to our  individual lifespan , but it reaches  even to the day of our Lord Jesus Christ  (v8) –  the day of judgement  and  into eternity !  His people  will be guiltless on that day , when all the secrets of  men’s hearts will be revealed.
The practical implications of this glorious hope in terms of  our vision for the local church  should be clear .
It means that we should be unreservedly  positive and committed to the church of God  where He has placed us.
We should be  unhesitatingly  confident about  God’s desire and ability to  use the church’s  spiritual gifts  for the good of the church .  
We should be uncompromisingly  certain  of  God’s faithfulness  and sustaining power , for Jesus  has said : “ I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it .
So, as we come to the Lord’s table now  let us acknowledge  with thanksgiving the Lord of the church for which we give thanks  to God .  Notice how Paul dwells lovingly in these first 9 verses  on the name of His Saviour.
9 times in these 9 verses he makes use of  His name. Christ  is absolutely central.
Follow me then to the table – to Christ  whose body was  broken and whose blood  was shed, so that we  can give thanks for what  we see today : the church, the body  of Jesus Christ in communion with her Head . Amen !

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