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Weekly Word

Entries in Mission (7)

Tuesday
Jun272017

Go and Sin No More

John 8:3-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on June 25, 2017.

Today, as I preach this sermon, the 43rd Annual Gay Pride Parade will begin in Seattle, WA.  Over the course of the last 43 years homosexuality has taken center stage as our society wrestles over how we should move forward.  What will be the laws that we will live by and by which individuals will be punished?  Of course churches and Christians are a part of this society and should speak the truth in love.  But even with this goal, we do not always agree.  Some have responded with acceptance to the degree that they have declared their approval for homosexuality, ordaining gay ministers and performing same-sex weddings.  Others have responded with rejection to the point of advocating the re-establishment of capital punishment for any such acts.

It is important to recognize that in the middle of this culture war individuals get chewed up and spit out, whether they are gay or a conservative Christian.  Christianity Today ran an article recently from a woman named Bekah Mason.  She is a Christian who has struggled with same-sex attraction throughout her life and tells her story.  She was raised in a very legalistic environment where even the idea that you would be attracted to the same sex was an “abomination” to God.  There was no room to talk about it and so she grew up holding it in and hiding it.  Later, when she entered college, she encountered a Christian group that was progressive.  This group told her that there was nothing wrong with homosexuality.  In fact, it was a gift from God.  She should completely embrace it and follow her “true self.”  This was too enticing not to embrace.  Thus she explored her true self and same sex relationships.  Over the course of time she realized that the progressive mentality was not the answer she had hoped.  She states, “Both legalistic condemnation and progressive license left me floundering.”  In one group she was rejected as an abomination before God and couldn’t even discuss it, and in the other she was encouraged to follow her “true self” rather than Jesus.  She could not resolve following self with the Gospel message.  Over time she came to embrace the gospel.  Though she was inclined to a sinful expression of sexuality, God loved her enough to help her lay it down and follow Jesus.  It didn’t matter whether her feelings ever changed.  If she needed to remain celibate then that was fine.  She was no longer under the tyranny of hiding her feelings, nor that of redefining sin.

Though the woman in this passage is not a homosexual, she too has a problem with sexual sin.  We find in it a reminder that it is not our job to sacrifice individuals in order to make a difference in society.  It is our job to be a redemptive influence in the lives of those whom we cross paths.

Love the Individual more than the Society

Do you love humans or humanity more?  I believe it was Dennis Prager who said that people who loved humanity more than humans scared him because they were capable of great evil towards the individual in the name of the group.  If we were to create an artificial intelligence (AI) how would it be different if we programmed it to work for the good of humanity rather than for the good of each person?  This mental exercise will help you to see that in order to save the system or the larger group, people are often sacrificed.  Individuals are crushed under the machinery of good for the many.  Now it is different if a person volunteers to lay down their life for the sake of others.  When our military men and women volunteer to put their lives in jeopardy in order to protect our society, it is a good thing.  But when people are forced into armies and sent to die for the sake of the empire or society of whatever size, then it is an evil. 

This is part of what we are seeing in this passage.  Only here it is not conscription into an army.  Rather a woman who has broken the law is used as an expendable tool in order to stop Jesus.  The religious leaders do not see an individual woman who has embraced sin and is lost.  They do not see someone in need of saving and help.  She doesn’t matter to them, but stopping Jesus does matter, at all costs.  He is going to mess up their society, and their position within it.  Thus the woman is merely a useful tool and this tactic is used to this day, whether in politics, business, or even in churches.  I’m reminded of Baronelle Stutzman, the florist from the Tri-Cities area of Washington State.  She would not do the floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.  She had sold flowers to the gay individual for years.  But felt that going to the wedding venue and setting up the flowers would be too much of helping a person to sin.  Initially the man had no problem and went his way.  The two parted on friendly terms even though they disagreed.  It is when others get involved who could care less about keeping an amicable relationship that things turn to the bad.  All they see is a tool of leverage to reinterpret old laws and force social change upon others through new ones.  This was a golden opportunity to change society and send a message to all Christian business owners.  It is clear in the John 8 passage that Jesus refused to operate on that level.  If society was to be saved it would not be at the expense of a woman who was a sinner.  In fact, the heart of God displayed in Christ is very different from the heart of mankind.  Jesus would lay down his life for us rather than sacrificing any sinners.  The question for us as Christians is this, “Are we following the Pharisees' model or are we following the model of Jesus?”  We must learn to lay ourselves down in order to reach the lost and help them to reconcile to God the Father.

All of this begs the question, “Can a society be saved, and if so, in what way?”  When an individual is saved it can be in one of two ways.  Jesus saves this woman from dying that day.  However she would eventually die of old age.  The more important “saving” is that of her soul.  We don’t know what becomes of this woman’s life despite the speculation that has occurred throughout history.  But, Jesus is clearly concerned about her soul.  She is a sinner who is lost.  If she died that day then she would be without hope.  Salvation for her is the possibility of having eternal life.  Now when we look at a society, it can never be eternally saved.  Our founding fathers stated in many different ways that the constitution and laws they established would not be enough.  Each generation would have to engage the fight for freedom for themselves.  Societies can only be “saved” for a temporary time.  History bears this out.  Should people who can be saved eternally be sacrificed for the sake of a society, which can only be saved temporarily?  I think the answer is obvious.  No society will survive the Second Coming of Christ, or the White Throne Judgment.  So why would we sacrifice people to save them?  Society is important, but it is of secondary concern.  Individuals should always be our primary concern.  A Society that sacrifices individuals for its own sake is poor indeed.  If such a society is worthy then individuals will voluntarily lay down their lives in order to save it (whether they are judging rightly or wrongly).

Though the religious leaders are correct in their understanding of the Law of Moses and its punishment, they do not understand the heart of the God who gave it.  This woman was caught in the act of adultery.  There is no question about her guilt and the punishment.  But Jesus does not respond to them on that level.  He knows that they are correct in her guilt and the matter of the Law.  Yet, Jesus clarifies the problem by issuing the challenge for them to declare publically that they are without sin.  He who is without sin among you, should throw the first stone.  Of course, none of them are willing to make such a public statement.  Clearly only a sinless being can truly hold a sinner accountable for their sin.  One of the mistakes of modern thinking is that we think judging sin is bad.  No, sin itself is bad.  But it is bad form for a sinful person to carry out judgment on another sinful person.  Jesus takes time to remind them and us just who is the Judge of sinners and just when punishment should be given.  In Romans 2:16 Paul states, “God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel.”  You see the Pharisees had unwittingly brought the woman before the only one who could carry out punishment upon her.  Now, don’t be deceived, there is a day of judgment and the Lord Jesus will preside over that judgment.  However, it was not that day yet.  They have prematurely brought her before the heavenly court in order for punishment to be carried out.  Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men to die once, but after this the judgment.”  Notice judgment before God follows death.  Yes, we do have to have some laws within this society of sinners so that we can live our lives.  But the punishment of sin is to be left to God once a person has died. 

When our focus is on condemning people and punishing them, we elevate the law over the top of the Grace of God.  Yes, God gave the law.  But He is not willing that any should perish.  He would even go to the extent of becoming a man himself and dying in our place in order to save us.  Or, as John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, that whosoever would believe on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  This includes those who sin sexually.  As long as a person is a living breathing soul, they can still change.  It doesn’t matter how long this woman has been a slave to her sin of adultery.  She can change and Jesus knows that.  He is more concerned about her continuing to have a chance to change than he is about perfecting society by getting rid of her.  Notice his words to her at the end, “Go and sin no more.”  What she does with those words is an eternal decision that she will have a chance to make as long as she is alive.  For the rest of her life she would remember that strange man who saved her life physically and wonder if He could actually save her life spiritually.

Now this leads to my last point.  Jesus defends her physical life, without defending her morality.  He does not give some speech filled with moral pablum such as, “This woman has done nothing wrong.  Come into the First Century!”  He merely challenges their right to carry out such a punishment.  Christians should not advocate or give aid to the mentality that homosexuals should all be killed or jailed.  But we should neither give our aid to promote it.  Jesus is not promoting her adultery.  Rather, he is promoting her salvation.  He did it so that she would have a chance at redemption, whether that was immediately seized upon or later.  She would never be able to forget the man from Nazareth who saved her life and then told her to sin no more.  I would say that we clearly see Jesus defending her from her external attackers.  But, we may miss him coming to her defense against her internal attackers.  The inner life of our flesh and its sinful desires continually assail our mind and will.  This inner assault is even more insidious than that of the religious leaders.  When you tell someone that their sin is okay, you are refusing to help them against that inner onslaught.  You have actually left them to their worst enemy.  We cannot save people by protecting them to just keep on sinning.

So how can we maintain a faithful conviction regarding sin and also show love toward those who do not?  I guess my point is that we do so by keeping our focus on the soul of each individual we meet.  It is not my job to stop the Gay Pride Parade in Seattle next year.  But it is my job to care about the soul of each homosexual that I come in contact with, each and every day.  The gospel is that freedom which God gives to us, freedom from the self life and tyranny of our flesh.  We can embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior and know that regardless of our sins, He will accept us as we repent and follow Him.

Let’s love people more than we love America, or whatever society of which you are a part.

Go and Sin No More audio

Wednesday
Jun142017

Living in the Spirit

Various passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on June 11, 2017.

Over the last several weeks we have looked at some Old Testament passages that promised the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and at the actual event on the Day of Pentecost when it began.  Today we will look at the next step.  What does it mean to live your life in the Spirit of God?  Get ready to thumb through the Bible because we will look at 4 different passages to get an overview of what it means to live in the Spirit.

Recognize His Presence

John 14:15-18.  As Jesus meets with His disciples, he points out a sequence that He desires.  They will obey his commandments because they love him, and he will send the Holy Spirit so that they will not be left alone.   Though it seems simple, we need to start at recognizing that Jesus always keeps his word.  If you have put your faith in Jesus then the Holy Spirit is present in your life.  In fact, in 1 Corinthians 3:16 we see the Apostle Paul reminding the Corinthian Christians of this truth.  “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”   It seems impossible that someone could become a follower of Jesus and not understand this essential truth.  However, more than likely the problem is not knowledge, but recognition.  It is the plan of Jesus that each of his followers have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them and filling their life.

To live a Christian life without relying on and listening to the Holy Spirit cannot last long.  It is more than forgetting that you have chains in your car when you are unable to get over a snowy pass in the winter.  The Holy Spirit is not some inanimate and impersonal tool that we can forget about.  Rather, it is like forgetting that the One who created snow is not only in your vehicle, but can also teach you how to drive in the snow properly.  He will even take over the controls if He has to do so in order to keep you safe.  So life in the Spirit begins by recognizing that Jesus has been faithful and the Holy Spirit dwells in me.  Though the Spirit dwells in us, He wants to fill our life.  For this to happen, there are some things to which we should pay attention.

We have to lose the idea that we can “go it alone,” or that we have to go it alone.  Jesus has a purpose in giving us the Holy Spirit.  The word in verse 16 that is translated “Helper” in the NKJV comes from the sense of one who comes alongside another.  Thus the help can take on many different forms: comforter, director, instructor, corrector, and defender.  If Jesus though his disciples needed the Holy Spirit, how can we think that we will fare any better?  Jesus didn’t just give us the Holy Spirit.  He also gave his disciples one another when he commanded, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  So clearly Jesus does not want us to do this all by ourselves.

So what tempts us to go it alone?  We are tempted to leave the Spirit behind because He often leads in a way that our flesh does not like.  The constant pull of our flesh away from the Spirit, and the constant pull of the world upon our flesh, makes it easy to say you are a Christian, but not rely upon the Holy Spirit.  We are also tempted to leave other believers behind because they are too much like us, not perfect yet.  Thus it seems to difficult to work out problems between one another.  Love challenges us on every front and we can walk out on that task.  Just as Eve was tempted by the things her flesh wanted, so we are tempted by things that our flesh want.  We must learn to say, “No,” to our flesh and “Yes,” to Jesus.

So recognizing that He is there should then turn to praying for His help every day.  The Holy Spirit will help you in many ways without you even asking.  However, there are some things that God, in His sovereignty, will not do unless we ask.  Recognizing His presence and purpose enables us to notice His help more often when we haven’t asked for it.  This is encouraging.  Also, praying for His help in both general and specific ways will open the door for Him to do more things in our life than if we didn’t pray.  So start your day with recognition of His help already, and with a heart of gratefulness ask for His help for today.  I am not saying to become some kind of greedy kid who wants everything.  But, rather to be a grateful child who is coming to a loving Father.  Holy Spirit, help me to face the difficult situation facing me.

We should also pray for a Spirit Baptism or Infilling.  As I said earlier, the presence of the Holy Spirit is a given when you are a believer in Jesus.  However, being filled with the Spirit is something that we need to seek for everyday.  These two words, baptism and filling, refer to two different metaphors.  Baptism refers to the picture of water and being completely immersed or dipped into the Spirit.  I am not just standing next to the water or ankle deep in it.  I am wholly surrounded by the Spirit.  There is no part of my life that is not impacted by the help of the Holy Spirit.  The second word “filling” refers to the metaphor of a house.  The human body is a house of sorts for the human spirit within that uses it to interact with the material world.  At salvation the Holy Spirit enters our “house” and lives with us.  However, there is a big difference between the Holy Spirit being in the house and filling the whole house.  The Holy Spirit wants to fill and influence every part of our life.  The truth is that this is not intended to be a onetime thing.  Our daily experience is that there are times that we are more open to the help of the Spirit than others.  Through prayer we are wrestling with our flesh and making room for the Holy Spirit to fill us.  Now some people historically have testified to a big, powerful experience.  Others have testified to a slow, growing influence in their life that began at salvation.  Regardless of how it looks, the focus should never be on what it looks like.  The focus is on the Holy Spirit actively working through us day by day.  Moses parted the Red Sea, but David didn’t.  David slew the giant Goliath, but Jeremiah didn’t.  So let go of what you think or others have told you it must look like and simply pray each day for the Spirit of God to come into every part of your life and fill you with Himself.  As you cooperate with the Holy Spirit, your life will present a unique and special witness of the power of God to the world around you.

Live Life for the Spirit’s Purpose

Romans 8:1-2; 5-10.  When I preached this on Sunday, I had this as my third point.  However, I now think it is more natural to be presented second.  Now that we know the Spirit is present and are daily inviting Him to fill our life, we must focus our life on the purpose of God.  In Romans 8 we see that there is a struggle within us between living for our own fleshly purposes and living for God’s spiritual purposes.  Jesus has a particular purpose that He wants us to accomplish by the help of the Holy Spirit.  So we should learn to focus upon it.  Now there will be some purposes that are specific to you and God will reveal them to you as you pray for the Spirit’s help.  However there are several purposes that He has for us all and they are a good foundation for our life in the Spirit.

This passage is pointing out that one of the purposes of the Spirit is to help us to be free from and have power over our flesh and sin.  Too many Christians think that Jesus has forgiven their sins, so it doesn’t matter how they live.  Whatever I do, it is okay because Jesus has covered it all.  But, this is just wrong-headed.  We need to learn to say, “No,” to sin.  Yes, we have been set free from the death that sin brings us, but Jesus also wants us to be free from its present tyranny in our life.  This is a spiritual battle, but it is not only unseen.  There is an outward and visible freedom that comes into the life of the person who has the Spirit of God helping them against sin.  The addict can become free from their addictions by the help of the Spirit of God, and the sinner can walk away from the sin that so easily ensnares him, by the help of the Spirit.  This is a battle that takes place over the course of our life and as the Holy Spirit directs us.  Now this passage not only points out the purpose of being free from the desires of our flesh, but also that our motivation must never give in to the flesh.  Our desire must be to walk in harmony with the Holy Spirit’s purpose and with the Holy Spirit’s help.  This is a daily battle of facing our flesh and its desires, and also listening to the Spirit instead.

Now let’s look at another passage in Galatians 5:19-26.  Here we see that another purpose of the Holy Spirit is to manifest evidence that He is inside of you.  If we do not follow the Spirit then our flesh leads us into being manipulated by the devil.  Paul makes it clear that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the works of the flesh.  He gives an extensive list, but not exhaustive.  The reality of the Holy Spirit within us works to make an inner difference.  But this inner difference will also have a surface expression within our life.  In the past, people have made the mistake of being to judgmental about what those exact changes should be.  But, they have also made the mistake of being to tolerant of things that should not continue in the life of someone following the Spirit.  It would be a tragedy if we had a single rose in the garden of our heart surrounded by weeds galore.  In this case we can use the old gardener joke, “the Garden of Weedin’.”  Our life is partly about weeding out those desires of the flesh and the things they have produced in our outer life.  Over time the fruit of the Spirit not only becomes visible, but also grows.  Just as the works of the flesh are obvious, so are the fruit of the Spirit.  I won’t go through the list, but I want to use several of them to recognize the difficulty of the day we live in.

You notice that Paul ends the list by saying, “against such there is no law.”  In other words, it is universal that you do not see laws in any society that say, “You must not love.”  That said, there are commands and laws that say, “You must not call that thing love.”  Thus societies have a tendency to redefine what they think is love, peace, kindness, etc…  Christians are to love, not as society dictates, but as the Spirit of God dictates.  So the world will tell a parent that they should not teach a child to worship Jesus only.  Rather, the child should be shown all the options and helped to make their own choice.  As nice as this may sound to some, it is a recipe for disaster and no true act of love.  So the parent who loves their child enough to teach them the truth about Jesus and this world, is seen as a child abuser and that is socially frowned upon.  Similarly, it is love that tells someone that God’s Word says their life of sin jeopardizes their future.  Yet, the world today increasingly calls this intolerance, and bigoted hate speech.  So the Christian has a tension of listening to the Spirit of God and producing fruit in their life that the world around them doesn’t always like.

It has been recognized by saints down through the ages that at the end of the day, I must be emptied of me and filled with Jesus.   Not in a way that erases my personality, but rather in a way that removes the works of my fleshly desires.  In order to fill something it must first be emptied.  Or, for those scientifically inclined people among us, when you fill a cup with a liquid, it will displace whatever is in it (including air).  Thus, to receive the wisdom of Christ, we must let go of the wisdom of ourselves, and the wisdom of this world.  To receive the life of Christ, I must first let go of the life I have created without Him.  This emptying and being filled is a daily part of life in the Spirit.  He will not conk you over the head and drag you somewhere.  He is not in our life as a tyrannical dictator, but rather, as a helper who cares about us.  In fact, He loves us.  As John the Baptizer once said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.  May God fill us with this attitude.

Live Life by the Way of the Spirit

Ephesians 6:10-18.  Now that we have a direction or the “what” of where we are headed, let’s talk about the “how.”  The Holy Spirit is not just taking us to a destination, but He travels in a particular way, that is the Way of the Lord.  We need to do life God’s Way as opposed to our way.  In Ephesians 6 Paul speaks about the spiritual warfare that is going on around us and how we need to be ready to participate in it.  If we are going to become more like Jesus then we are going to have to do so with recognition of the influence of the spirit realm.  Our battle is not against people, but those spiritual beings that are blinding and manipulating them.  Yes, the world is a bad place because people have trouble refraining from things that bring sorrow, pain, and suffering.  In this sense it is our fault.  However, we cannot ignore that the Bible makes it clear that these things are made worse by the work of these evil spirits.  They and their deceptions are the real problems.  So how do you fight against spiritual beings?  Of course you do so spiritually.

Paul speaks of putting on the Armor of God, which is: Truth, Righteousness, the Gospel of Peace, Faith, Salvation, the Word of God, and prayers.  We won’t extensively go through each of these.  But Paul takes the time to connect each of these spiritual things to a part of the equipment of a solder.  Thus he is emphasizing the importance of each one of these.  If we look at Truth, we should recognize that it is not only important to live based upon the Truth of God, but also to be a truthful person.  Similarly, we live based upon the righteousness of Christ, but also try to be a person who lives out that righteousness as well.  We are both prepared by the Gospel of Peace and prepared for helping others with it.  We also notice the protection that a soldier has for his brain, is spiritual in nature for the Christian.  In other words, the enemy often attacks our mind, through faith and trusting God’s salvation, we are able to resist and extinguish these attacks.  He ends with the offensive part of this list: that is the Sword of the Spirit (The Word of God) and prayer.  With the word of God we are able to recognize the work of our enemy and neutralize it.  In prayer we intercede with Heaven to overrule the work of these spirit-beings and take time to make sure that we are daily equipped with all that God has given us.

So Christian, take time to stop today and recognize that Jesus has made the Spirit of God available to you  in order to accomplish His purposes in the way that pleases the Father.  May God help us to start each day in prayer, inviting Him to fill us with God’s purposes and in His ways.  This is living by the Spirit.

Living in the Spirit audio

Friday
Mar032017

Growing Spiritually

Ephesians 4:11-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 19, 2017.

We have been talking about the purpose that Jesus has for His Church.  It begins with connecting to Him and to His people.  The next purpose comes from the fact that this connection is not intended to be static.  In John 15, when Jesus used the analogy of a vine, he emphasizes that the Father wants each branch to be fruitful.  Thus this second purpose is for God’s people to grow spiritually.  Now this is not just an individual self-help exercise.  Rather, God is working in us in order to help us to grow spiritually as an individual and as a group. 

In our society we see the problem of immaturity everywhere.  It causes problems in our jobs, relationships, homes, politics at every level, and yes, even in our churches.  God’s answer to the reality of immaturity is not that we quit and go down the street, or go home.  Instead, God’s answer is for His people to turn to Him and receive from Him what we need in order to mature.

Now God has some very specific things that He has done in order to help this purpose along.  The first is that He connects us to a group of believers.  The dynamic of learning to love each other fuels this purpose of God.  In Ephesians 4:11-16, the relationship we have with the body of Christ is explained in regards to this purpose of spiritual growth.

Jesus Wants His Followers to Grow

We see the metaphor of growth throughout the Bible.  It points to the changes that happen within us in order to make us more like God Himself.  In Psalm 1 we are told, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but, his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”  This is God’s vision for each of us.  He wants to make us into a fruitful tree of life to everyone around us.  Sadly we often fall into a minimal intellectual assent to the Faith.  We only accept so much of what God’s Word says and try to ignore the rest.  We can also settle for a minimal association with God’s people.  When God’s word has a minimal impact on our lives it will not result in spiritual growth.  Ask yourself, “Have I settled for having just a little bit of Jesus?  Am I trying to fit a little bit of Jesus into my life?”  The reality is that Jesus is too big to fit into your life.  You must surrender your life to the purposes of Christ, then you will begin to grow spiritually to become like him.

In verse 11 Paul points out that God has raised up certain individuals to serve in differing capacities within the Church, so that we can all grow spiritually.  The top of this list is the apostles and prophets.  It was important for the teachings of Christ and His purposes to be authoritatively recorded.  The truth is that Jesus did not right any books.  He called and authorized certain individuals with the task of passing on His teaching.  More than that, Jesus even told his disciples that he had far more to teach them, but there wasn’t enough time.  Thus He promises that the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth.  The reality is that Jesus Himself places a stamp of approval, or guarantee, on the authority and teaching of His apostles.    In this sense there are no more apostles and prophets that are establishing Scripture and the foundation of the Faith.  However, apostles were also used mightily to bring the gospel into new areas along with signs and wonders to confirm it.  This aspect still occurs from time to time as God wills.  As for prophets today, they can be used to speak into our lives by God, but not add new teaching to the Faith that was once and for all delivered unto the saints in the first century.  Paul also mentions evangelists, who typically travel from city to city preaching the gospel.  Lastly he lists pastors and teachers.  It appears that he is putting these together, perhaps as two sides of the same coin.  The term “pastor” is a shepherd term that points to the caring and nurturing they do.  “Teacher” points to the transfer of information that they perform.  Teachers teach the Word of God to His people, not because they can’t read it for themselves, but because it helps us to grow.  The purpose of all of these individuals is not to rule over God’s people, or to control His Church.  They are not given by Jesus to dominate the other believers, but rather to help us.  Some people have been hurt by the domineering tactics of some who call themselves apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  Yet, we must also recognize the danger of casting off any help in this area.  Without the guarantee of the foundational teaching of the Apostles in the first century, we are intellectually standing on quicksand.

Now in verse 12, Paul explains further why Christ gave these to the Church.  So far I have summed it up under the need for spiritual growth.  Let’s explore further.  The first purpose is for the equipping of the saints.  The King James Version says for the perfecting of the saints.  Equipping is a better translation today, because “perfecting” gives the sense of being done.    To be fully equipped is always done in order to accomplish something.  When you are done gathering all your camping equipment, you haven’t actually camped yet.  You still have to drive to your destination and set up all your equipment.  Equipping is always for a purpose.  Another example is how an Emergency Room is equipped with all manner of tools and medicines.  This is for the purpose of saving a life that is brought into the room.  Similarly God uses these verse 11 roles to equip us.  This leads to the question, “What am I being equipped for?”

Paul next lists several reasons why we are being equipped.  God wants us to be able to do “works of service.”  God has particular works of service that He has for you to do.  Some of that service is towards other believers.  You are to use your gifts out of love in order to help other believers.  However, we are also called to do works of service towards those who are not believers.  Thus I am serving God by going out and serving His people, and those who are still lost.  So what do you need in order to do these things?  First, you need to know what God has already said in His Word.  You also need encouragement and direction in learning to pray and hear from God ourselves.  Ask Jesus each day, “Lord, help me to know the works of service that you want me to do today.”

Next Paul mentions we are equipped for the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Jesus.  Part of spiritual growth is that we are unified as a group of people.  Individual growth is never complete until it enables us to grow in relationship with others.  Today, the concept of unity is held up as essential.  But notice that God is not promoting unity just for unity’s sake.  He actually says unity of the faith.  “The faith” is the teachings that God has revealed through Jesus and His apostles.  Thus, when people talk about finding common ground so that we can unify, they generally mean, “What beliefs can we drop so that we can be one?”  God is calling believers to be unified around the teaching of His apostles.  If you sacrifice the teachings of Christ and the knowledge of who He is, then you have not accomplished the purpose of God.  In fact you have actually rejected it.  You may notice that all such groups that hold up unity and love as their overarching principle, and yet do not adhere to a particular set of teachings, fall apart in the end.  Only promoting love and unity is not enough to deal with the sinful nature of mankind.  Whether it is a leader that tries to dominate the group, or the fact that a person is hurt by another’s concept of free love, we must have a truth that we are committed to that has power against the flesh and is greater than any person today.  The Word of God is the only thing that has demonstrated the power to stop the sinful desires of our flesh.

The third purpose for being equipped is so that we will not be a spiritual child, but instead a mature body of Christ.  This is where we see how the individual weaves with the group dynamic.  If I am individually taken in by every new heresy that pretends to be truth, then I weaken the group.  We are not able to operate as the body of Christ.  Yes, I need to believe the things Jesus and his apostles taught, and I need to live out the things they taught.  But our group has to grow in living these things together.  Together, we can minister, heal, and save far more than any one of us can do alone.  We need each other, but the lost need the Church to be operating as a mature body of Christ.

In verse 14 we are given another reason why God wants us to grow.  He does not want us to be taken in and deceived by false teaching.  Children are easily taken in and deceived.  We see this with Adam and Eve, who had a child-like innocence in regards to sinful ways.  Not all that masquerades as truth is Truth, and not all that masquerades as Jesus is Jesus.  Think about scams that happen in this world.  They are successful because they play on the immature desire to get something for nothing, or at least, the desire to get an inordinate amount of return on minimal investment.  A mature person is often protected by scams simply because they have grown up in regards to working hard for what you get.  Like a person who has already eaten and therefore is not tempted to eat dessert, the mature person can say, “No, thanks.  I am full.”  We need to be so full of the Truth of Jesus that the lies and deception don’t interest us.  We are not hungry for some new, amazing truth.  We already have the amazing truth of Jesus.

Instead of falling into deceptions, Jesus wants us to speak the truth, but in love.  This has been a problem for the Church.  Typically we have not faltered with having the truth, but we have with sharing it in love.  This too is a sign of maturity.  The mature person does not feel the necessity to control how people respond to the Gospel.  They continue to reach out to people who reject them, and sometimes even persecute them. 

Let me just close with emphasizing verses 15 and 16.  Paul points out that it is our connection to Jesus, the head, is what gives us anything to do and share, both as an individual and as a group.  When we are connected to Jesus, His Truth and spiritual Life will not only mature us, but also enable us to be that fruitful branch that has something to offer others.  May God help us to grow spiritually, by keeping our eyes upon Jesus and taking advantage of those gifts that He has given to help us.

Growing Spiritually audio

Monday
Feb132017

Connecting to the Body of Christ

1 Corinthians 12:12-27.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 12, 2017.

Here at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Everett, WA, we have summed up the mission that God has for our church in these words: Connect people to the Abundant Life found in Jesus.  Last week we talked about how the starting point is for people to connect to Jesus Christ by putting their trust or faith in his teachings and in his work.  Today, we are going to deal with the reality that those who connect to Jesus will be moved to connect to his body, The Church. 

Of course many people scoff at organizational churches and some of them are Christians.  Let’s recognize up front that this has some justification behind it.  We don’t have time to walk through all of those issues.  But it is important to recognize that the Bible reveals that Jesus is creating a group of followers that can be thought of in macro terms, The Church (at all times and all places), and in the micro (a small, local gathering of some of these believers).  We are all part of the universal, macro Church when we are spiritually born again.  But not all are convinced that micro-gatherings are necessary.  Thus they are content to “believe” in Jesus, and yet never face the issue that Jesus is wanting to connect them to other believers.  Suffice it to say, if we are connecting to Jesus then we have no choice of whether or not we are going to connect to his body because this is what his Spirit is trying to accomplish.  If you have put your faith in Jesus, he is working by His Spirit to connect you to his people in some local expression of his greater body.  Let’s look at the passage before us.

Believers all belong to the Body of Christ

In this passage Paul is explaining to the Corinthians why their worldly thinking in the area of spiritual gifts (and many other areas for that matter) was woefully lacking.  They had developed a very fractured and divisive group of believers in Corinth.  Paul explains that there is only one body, and yet many members.  Here he brings up the analogy of a human body.  Jesus, who was no longer here in the flesh, still has an earthly body, and that is His Church.  Thus each believer represents a diversity of gifts and functioning through which the Holy Spirit fits us together in order to operate as Christ’s body.  Now, Paul’s focus is on the individual members.  Even though they are very different, they are still part of one body, just as the individual parts of the body are vastly different and yet all work together for the one body.  Though he doesn’t state this here, in Ephesians 4:11-16 Paul explains that Jesus himself is the head of this body.  Just as the brain sends signals to very different aspects of the body to do very different things, it is all for the singular good of the whole body.  The Corinthians understood the diversity, but not that each part is supposed to be directed by the Spirit for the unified good of the whole.  Ephesians 4 makes it even clearer that we who are connected to Jesus by the Spirit, are also supposed to connect to his earthly body through other believers.

Thus all those earthly divisions that divide this world and are used to gain power for certain ones, is not embraced by the Spirit of Christ.  In verse 13 Paul lists 2 of these divisions: race and economic status.  Whether Jew or Gentile, Free or Slave, those who come to Christ are members regardless of what people may say.  You are a member because Jesus says so, and because the Holy Spirit is working to connect you to it.  We who are believers need to be quick to embrace and welcome new believers.  Of course this is easier said than done.  Do you remember how the believers responded to Saul of Tarsus when he repented of persecuting Christians and became one of them?  They were afraid to associate with him at first.

In verses 15-20 Paul points out that our differences are not meant to divide us.  Now he is not talking about doctrinal differences here.  When it comes to the teaching of the Bible and our interpretations, we need to recognize that certain things have always been recognized as essentials to the faith.  You must repent of sin; that is essential.  Another essential is the deity of Jesus Christ, and His coming Day of the Restoration of all things.  I could go on.  But I hope you get the point.  Some “beliefs” are heretical.  They should never be embraced even for the sake of unity.  Why?  Remember we are to unify with other believers of the faith, not those who believe just anything.  A good statement that has been around for several centuries is this: In Essentials Unity, in Non-Essentials Liberty, and in All Things Charity.  Historically we have often divided over non-essentials and generally without much charity.  Paul on the other hand is talking about our spiritual giftedness and our natural background.  Though they may be very diverse, it is not in order to keep us segregated.  The diversity is on purpose and is meant to strengthen the body and better equip it.  So the differences are meant to strengthen our unity, not weaken it.

Notice in verse 15 that Paul gives some examples.  These first examples all involve a member excluding themselves.  In this case, Paul mentions that they may exclude themselves because they aren’t like another member (perhaps a more visible or “distinguished” member).  The Corinthians saw spiritual gifts as a sort of heavenly commendation.  They all wanted to speak in other languages because in their social context that represented the highest gift.  Of course Paul tells them that they are wrong.  In their mentality, speaking in tongues was a sign that you were extremely close to God.  The more unintelligible something was, the closer to God it must be.  Paul explains to them that this is completely backwards.  The whole reason why the Spirit of God draws believers together is so that they can encourage one another.  Thus Paul, who had nothing against speaking in tongues, counseled them to at least have their “tongues” interpreted so that it could help the other believers.  The Corinthians had it backwards.  The gifts of God (both natural and spiritual) are not given to an individual for their own good, but to enable them to help others.  We need to learn to embrace the natural differences that we have with others, and to also embrace the spiritually diverse ways that God works through us.  When you exclude yourself, the rest of the body goes without the function that God has gifted you with.  No we can’t all be an eye or the lips.  It is not about what I want, but about how God is fitting me into the body.  Don’t exclude yourself because you take away from what God has for others, and you lose out on what God wants to give you through those others.

In verse 21 the example switches.  Notice that here the parts are excluding others.  The proud members can exclude the “weaker” members.  Of course this was being interpreted by worldly thinking and not the mind of Christ.  All new Christians are “weak” in the faith because their faith hasn’t weathered the storms of doubts, fears, and persecution that older Christians have.  Thus those who are strong should not exclude the weak, but quite the opposite.  Your strength is not for you, it is for the sake of the weak.  Help them and strengthen them.  Pride has the tendency to exclude others, whereas shame has the tendency to exclude self.  But in Christ, both pride and shame are supposed to be dealt with at the cross.  The cross speaks to our pride and says, “Only Jesus is worthy of our boasting.”  The cross speaks to our shame and says, “This is how greatly and by whom you are loved!”  Thus the proud come away humbled and the shameful come away healed.  On one hand none of us are anything, and yet, on the other hand, we are everything to God.  This great tension is meant to take vastly different people and help them to be welded into a unit called the body of Christ.  However, it is only possible if we are listening to the Spirit and being led by Him.

Do not look to leadership or being a pastor as something great.  These are not the greatest positions within the Church.  These are actually positions of servitude.  True leaders who are lead by the Holy Spirit will realize that He is asking them to lay down their lives in order to serve the rest.  Why are they being served?  They are served so that they can do the work of sharing Jesus with the world around them.  There won’t be any pastors in the eternal state.  We will all stand side by side as the adult children of God and enjoy His presence forever.

Connecting to the Body audio