Sunday, August 30, 2015

United we Stand, Story of the Book # 9

United we stand

What a mess!  It should have been a model church; after all it had all the earmarks of becoming the greatest church in the denomination.  Its founding pastor was the most prolific church planter in the denomination; the next man was by far the best preacher that could be offered and tossed in for good measure was one of the original founders of the denomination. 

One who had stood closer to the original flame that started the group than any other.  It had everything that could be offered to it, it had been planted in a major metropolis that was the capital city of the state.   Time, money and talent had been invested in seeing it become everything that it could possibly be.  This church was destined for greatness.

But then it came tumbling down like a house of cards.  They began to have problems with the spiritual gifts and tongues in particular seemed to tear the church apart.  Sexual immorality had reared its ugly head within the congregation, as well as incest, adultery, marriage problems and just a hint of heresy over the resurrection.  Members were taking each other to court, and their fellowship times were becoming excuses for gluttony and even drunkenness.

And then if that wasn’t enough the entire church split along party lines giving loyalty to either the guy that planted the church, or to the fellow who was such a great preacher or the denominational official.  What a mess. 

Surely not a Wesleyan church, it must have been you know one of those churches.

Well you’re right and you’re wrong.  I mean it wasn’t a Wesleyan church but then again it wasn’t one of those churches either. 

The church planter was Paul, the preacher was Apollos, and the official of the denomination why that was one of Jesus’ closest friends, Simon Peter.  The church of course was the Corinthian church and its problems are well chronicled in both 1 and 2 Corinthians the letters that Paul wrote addressing those problems.

Here we are week 9 in our “Story of the Book” series.  Since the first of July we have been taking a whirlwind tour through the bible.  Last Sunday we were in the book of Acts and looked at the Birth of the Church, and finished with Bill Hybel’s words “The local church is the hope of the world.” And the promise of Jesus when he said “And the gates of hell will not prevail against the church.”

And now we have arrived at the Pauline Epistles, or the Letters of Paul.  This section is exactly what it is called, Letters written by Paul to various churches and individuals.  It includes Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon. 

These letter were written by Paul between 50 and 57 AD.  These probably aren’t the only letters that Paul wrote but they are the ones chosen by God to be preserved for the church.    

Most of the letters were written to churches and often related to problems that the church was having in regards to specific situations.  And letters are the most personal of correspondence, even now, maybe especially now, if you receive a letter you are getting something special.

And we think that privacy is a major concern today and we are always warning people that what they write will be around forever it wasn’t much difference when our country was first born.  Our first Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald testified to the power of the letter when he said “Never write a letter if you can help it, and never destroy one!”

And Paul was a prolific letter writer, it is because Paul left us so many letters that we feel we know him so well.  

It was Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe who wrote, “Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.”

But there is a problem with reading a letter, letters are dialogues, they are part of a fluid conversation.  And when we read a letter it is often like hearing only one side of the conversation.

In the case of the scripture that we are looking at today Paul starts by bringing us up to speed on the other side of the conversation.

You see in this case Paul  is writing to a church that is torn from within and  Paul sums up the major problem of this division in 1 Corinthians 1:12  Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter.”

And then he responds to the problem in the next verse by asking is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?  And the answer is “of course not”. 

What a dumb question, but it is rhetorical.  Dr. Victor Hamilton who was a professor at Asbury theological seminary and he illustrated by telling the story of being in the Toronto international airport and it was wall to wall people. 

Dr. Hamilton had just finished reading the paper he had purchased and had no place to put it so he sat on it.  A gentleman walked over and asked Dr. Hamilton “excuse me sir, are you reading that paper?”  Hamilton looked at the man and said “yes I am” then he stood up turned the page and sat back down again. 

A rhetorical question is a question that you really don’t expect an answer to.  Like “how dumb do you think I am?”  Don’t really want anyone to answer that do you?

And so even though Paul doesn’t expect his readers to answer his rhetorical question he answers it himself in 1 Corinthians 3:4-6  When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” (or “Denn)” aren’t you acting just like people of the world?  After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? (Who is Denn) We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us.  I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.

And so Paul Begins With the present reality:  The Corinthian Church was a Church Divided.  And we all know what Jesus said about division remember Matthew 12:25  Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart.

I’m sure that he would have added every church divided against itself will be ruined.  Some thoughts on disunity:

Proverbs 6:16-19  There are six things the LORD hates— no, seven things he detests:  haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent,  a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong,  a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family.

Galatians 5:19-21  When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures,  idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Now the Guptill paraphrase of that last statement is this “if any of the aforementioned applies to you then you is going to hell.”

The disunity in the Corinthian church was brought about by three men, Paul, Peter and Apollos.  But understand that wasn’t their original plan.  That wasn’t what anyone of them wanted or planned.

In Acts 18:1 Then Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.  If we were to continue to read in Acts 18 we would discover that Paul joined up with Aquila and Priscilla who were fellow tent makers, and that Crispus the ruler of the synagogue believed and all his household and that many others believed, finally we are told in Acts 18:11  So Paul stayed there for the next year and a half, teaching the word of God.

Well that explains Paul’s connection with the Corinthians but what about the other two guys?  Well Apollos is mentioned in Acts 18:25 when we are told he had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy.

And then again he is mentioned in Acts 19:1  While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions until he reached Ephesus, on the coast, where he found several believers.

So, from that we can assume that Paul founded the church and then Apollos came as the preacher. 

But what about Peter?  Where does he come into the picture?  And you might be thinking “But preacher we don’t know what Peter’s connection was to the Corinthian church.” You’re right and that is how it will remain on this side of eternity, we just don’t know. 

We don’t know when Peter was thereof why Peter was there but somewhere along the line he developed a following.

Three good men, each with only the very best motives for serving the Corinthian church and yet they became the reason for dissent. 

In a church that I served there were some folks who were constantly reminding me of how awesome one of the former pastors was.   He was a great teacher, and a great visitor and they were so lucky to have had him as a pastor. 

I love Cornerstone, but someday, hopefully not someday soon, but someday I will be gone.  And I hope that your loyalty to whoever replaces me will equal or exceed your loyalty to me and that the words “When Denn was here” will never cross your lips.  Because when that day comes, you will need to realize that your primary loyalty will be to the Cornerstone of the present not the Cornerstone of the past. 

And so Paul broaches the most pressing problem in the church, a problem that was more severe than sexual immorality, an issue more pressing then tongues, more critical than problems relating to communion, more dangerous than divorce or lawsuits. 

The very first problem that Paul addresses is the disunity that was rampant in the church.  And he approaches this problem not as the boss, not flaunting his apostolic authority, not ordering the people to unit but instead we read in 1 Corinthians 1:10  I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .

You notice that it’s not addressed to servants or subjects but brothers and sisters, and he doesn’t present himself as brother’s keeper but brother’s brother.  And he doesn’t order he appeals.

This isn’t a request for Paul, he’s not addressing the “First Pauline church of Corinth” be instead he appeals in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Because I am the pastor of Cornerstone whatever you do reflects on me, and whatever you do reflects on Cornerstone Wesleyan church, and whatever you do reflects on the Wesleyan church as a whole, and it hurts but  really it don’t matter.  But when you bring reproach on the name of Jesus Christ that matters.

Probably the greatest damage done to the Christian church throughout the ages has been done by Christians.  I will defend the church of Jesus Christ to the hilt and part of doing that is to promote unity within the local body.

Now I want to clarify right now, this message is not because there is disunity at Cornerstone.  This isn’t a reactionary message at all, you don’t need to be wondering about what you might have missed and what is happening at Cornerstone. 

But understand that there was a time in the Corinthian Church that they didn’t need this message either and then one day they did.  Perhaps if Paul had of addressed these issues in advance this might have been a different story.

1 Corinthians 1:10  I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.

And so Paul not only identifies the present reality but he also  presents them with a vision of a preferred future.  Paul says that he believed that  The Corinthian Church Could be a Church United  Now personally I prefer the how NKJV translates Paul’s words, when he says I want  “That you all speak the same things.”  And very simply it means that the church needs to be one in doctrine, or as some would say “We are singing from the same music.”

Now that doesn’t mean that you can’t come to Cornerstone if you don’t believe what we believe.  But that does mean that if you don’t agree with what we believe and you are vocal about your beliefs then you probably would be happier in another denomination.  Because although the Wesleyan church may not be the one and only true church it is the Wesleyan church and you probably won’t change it, at least not this week.

Why should we all live in harmony with one another?  Well Paul implies that that is the first part of the goal which is Let there be no divisions in the church.  The word division is the Greek word skhismah and it literally means a tear in a garment, something that is torn when it should still be in one piece.

Surely Christ was thinking of the church when he prayed in John 17:23  I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.

Notice that Jesus didn’t say the believers had perfect unity, he said “may” they experience perfect unity, they weren’t there yet.  The real problem with the Christian church is people, if we didn’t have people we wouldn’t have any problems.  Of course we wouldn’t have any church either, oh well. 

We may disagree on some things but let’s be careful about how that is presented to those outside the church.  Nothing will damage the reputation of the church quicker than infighting.  On the other hand listen to what David says in Psalm 133:1 How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!

Disagreements are not division, but when parties start to form over a disagreement that becomes divisive.  As long as people gather you will hear the words “I don’t think so” and “I don’t entirely agree” or “I wouldn’t do it that way”.  And I have no problem with that, and you don’t need to leave the church over it. 

People that do that often find that the same problems come up time and time again.  When I was fresh out of college a very wise old preacher’s wife (at least she seemed old then, she was probably 40) told me once, “Don’t change churches because of problems because you will find them in your next church with different faces.” 

We will never agree on everything I can virtually guarantee that.  My wife and I don’t agree on everything, my staff and I don’t agree on everything, my best friend and I have never agreed on everything.  So it is very doubtful that you and I will agree on everything. 

And sometimes I’ll be right and you’ll be wrong.  And sometimes you’ll be right and I’ll be wrong.  And sometimes we’ll both be right, and if the truth be told there will even be times that we will both be wrong.

It doesn’t matter if we disagree over whether to sing old hymns or new worship songs, whether we clap or don’t clap, raise one hand, two hands or three hands.  What translation  of the bible we use, what clothes we wear or how long or how short our hair is or even when and how Jesus is coming back.

By the way in that particular instance we need to remember that was are supposed to be on the welcoming committee not the planning committee. 

You see those things are only differences of opinion.  But when they start to cause you to think less of me then they become divisive.

Now that does not mean that we tolerate sin or heresy in the body, Paul is very adamant about that and perhaps we have fallen down on the job in that area. 

In trying to be a loving church maybe we have forgotten that the church isn’t supposed to condone sin in the body instead it called to condemn sin. 

Paul was very blunt when it came to sin that was in the church in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13  When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin.  But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.  I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.  It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.  God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.”

We shouldn’t sacrifice standards of belief or morals on the altar of unity.

And so the result of all agreeing together we are told by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10  I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.

In order for the Corinthian church to get from the Present reality: They were a divided church, to a preferred future: They could be a church united Paul tells them Unity Will Have to be Intentional   The word picture that is used here for united together actually comes from a medical word in the original language which literally meant “knit together”, and it was usually used in the sense of a broken bone mending or a scar healing. 

Maybe Doctor Luke was with Paul at the time of the writing and suggested that particular usage.  But the fact of the matter is that it does not refer to something that had always been whole but had in mind something that needed to be mended or healed.

The truth is that if there has been a split in a church body or in a personal relationship then it can be rejoined, healing can happen but it has to be intentional we need to want it to happen.  And don’t expect it to be perfect overnight. 

If you were to break your leg, even though I have no medical training I would suspect that your doctor would strongly recommend that you stay off said leg until it mended properly in the same way when a split in the church is healing don’t try bending it again the same way that broke it before.

When it comes together in perfect unity Paul says it should first of all be unity in thought in 2 Corinthians 13:11 Paul tells the church in Corinth 2 Corinthians 13:11  Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.

And in Philippians 1:27  Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing side by side, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.

As we continue to grow our main concern should not be expanding, and our main concern should not be not expanding.  Our main concern should not be what type of music we sing, or what bible we read out of from the platform, or how well the preacher preaches or doesn’t preach.  Or what colour the carpet is or whether the preacher wears jeans or a robe.   

Our main concern needs to be that there are people in our communities who are dying and going to hell.  Our main concern needs to be reaching those people with the gospel of Jesus Christ and everything else is secondary. 

This building and our programming they are nothing more or less than tools to help with the task at hand and the task at hand, needs to always be, helping to depopulate hell. 

And so Paul tells us that ours should not just be a unity of minds but as well a unity of vision and purpose.   

There may be times that you may not agree with everything we do, but do you agree with our vision and purpose?  It will only be in unity that we will be able to move ahead together to do the task that God has called us to do. 

Remember what the prophet Amos said in Amos 3:3  Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?  

Each of us, by making Cornerstone our church home have agreed to walk together, let’s do it and reach out and touch this community for God.

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