Let’s Get Real

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

Just before worship was to start, the pastor heard a loud argument going on outside the church.  He stuck his head out the door to see four preteen boys and a dog.

It didn’t seem like they were going to resolve it or move on any time soon, so the preacher stepped out and approached the boys.

“Hey fellows,” he said, “We’re about to start worship here and can’t have this ruckus.  What’s the problem?”

One of the boys spoke up.  “It’s like this, preacher.  We found this stray dog and caught him and made this leash.  We all want to take him home and keep him.  Just before you walked up here, we decided to hold a contest.  Whoever could tell the biggest lie would get to keep the doggie.”

“Oh no, boys,” the pastor looked shocked.  “That idea is straight from the pit of hell.  When I was your age, I never told a lie.”

The boy’s faces suddenly took on a glum aspect and one of them put the leash in the preacher’s hand.  “All right, pastor, you win.”

When a whopper is told, the reply is given, “Get real.”  By that, we express our desire to know the truth and be governed by honesty.  The most real thing in all creation is our Creator.  As we’ve been learning, in order to get real, we need to get closer to Him.

REVIEW:

Realistic Identity = Who are we?

We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).

Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

We must build on a good foundation (vs. 10-15).

NEW:

We must be faithful laborers (according to vs. 5-9, that means farmers and builders).

Paul and Apollos both served the church in Corinth,  each in their assigned roles.  Contrary to the controversy that co-opted them, both Paul and Apollos were SERVANTS (see Philippians 1:1 where Paul identified both himself and Timothy as SERVANTS).

The word for SERVANTS is diakonai, the word we translate as “deacons.”  There are several things implications from Paul’s use of this term.

One, as SERVANTS, leaders are never to idolize themselves or be idolized by their followers.  Leaders are not to cooperate with controversy by becoming the figurehead of one side.  Paul wrote this chapter to defuse that very thing in the Corinthian church.

Two, SERVANTS know their master.  In all his letters, Paul identified himself and his associates as serving God or the Gospel, but NEVER as serving churches.  This means his authority to preach and teach did not stem from the church members, but came from God Himself.

It can be confusing because when we look at the relationship between church and pastor, it looks like an employer-employee relationship.  However, that is not the whole truth.  The pastor’s authority includes and surpasses the local congregation.  For example, in Corinth, Paul did not draw a wage, but Apollos did.  Their authority was the same in both cases, as Paul makes clear.  The pastor-church relationship needs to be understood biblically first, then implemented in ways that exhibit good stewardship.

Three, SERVANT is not a demeaning term.  Servants are not doormats, scapegoats, or gophers.  All people, regardless of their roles are worthy of a basic level of respect.  Leaders are to receive an extra dose of respect according to 1 Timothy 5:17; The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

Jesus Himself took on the role of a servant (see John 17).  Paul wrote the same thing about him in Philippians 2:7.  No one is greater than Jesus.

Four, Jesus taught true leadership begins and ends with service: Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

Biblical servanthood is always voluntary; never imposed.  It is a choice we make out of the best possible motive; to serve Jesus by serving each other.  Ephesians 5:21 says plainly; Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Servanthood is not for leaders alone: how can leaders lead when followers don’t follow?  That’s why Hebrews 13:17 says, Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

In terms of roles, Paul identified three.  Paul identified himself as the “planter,” the one who started the church.  In 2 Corinthians 13:10, Paul asserted his authority to BUILD UP the Corinthian church. He identified Apollos as the “waterer,” someone who nurtured the church.  Paul identified neither himself nor Apollos as the one who grew the church, but instead, rightly credited God as the “grower.” The planter and waterer have their roles, but they deserve neither the blame nor the credit for church growth – that is solely God’s work.

Leaders in the church are CO-WORKERS.  We have differing roles but only one purpose; pointing people to Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, our job is two-fold.  We plant, which is we prepare for growth by creating opportunities for ministry and training ministers.  We water, which means we nurture followers that come into our church, helping them to mature in their faith.  God requires faithfulness, which He recognizes with fruitfulness.                 Church growth is not supposed to be our achievement, but sometimes it is.  Human will and worldly wisdom do account for numerical growth in some churches.

True church growth can’t be measured in numbers alone.  It is measured in improved character, in greater spiritual maturity, more joy, deeper prayer, and improved service, among other things.

Logically, God exercises wisdom choosing churches to receive His gifts of growth.  When we get frustrated at what we perceive as a lack of growth, we should ask ourselves, “What is my contribution to the life of the church?  Am I building up or tearing down?”

Then we should ask of our church, “What is it about our planting and watering that is not of God?  Are we prepared to receive growth or not?  Are we nurturing what we have or not?”  As we saw last Sunday in vs. 10-15, in v. 8, the laborers’ work will be REWARDED after it is judged by God.

Paul clarified the identity of the Church in two figures of speech.

One, YOU ARE GOD’S FIELD.  The Greek word for FIELD is georgion, and it refers to a cultivated field; land that has been worked for the purpose of growing things.  We are a FIELD in the sense that we try to make Jesus visible every moment we live.

Two, YOU ARE GOD’S BUILDING.  In Ephesians 2:20-22 and 1 Peter 2:5, the people of God being a BUILDING that is constructed of living stones like a physical building is constructed with individual bricks and stones.  We are also God’s BUILDING in the sense of our being the result of His work building up His Church, causing it to grow, as in v. 6.  Finally, we are God’s building in the sense of being His TEMPLE, as affirmed in vs. 16-17.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

According to the USDA, the harvest is pretty much over here in SD.  The rich black soil of planted fields in the spring has given way to the green, growing fields of summer and the brown harvested fields of fall.  Unless global warming becomes perfectly obvious, the ground will rest and be covered in white. The seasons in the life of a church are measured in years, sometimes generations, and follow similar cycles of growing and going fallow.  Following this agricultural

symbolism, Paul taught that it is our job to prepare for growth and care for growth, but we cannot make church growth happen on our own; it is a gift from God. It is preparing our church as a farmer prepares the soil in the spring, then planting the seed.

How do we do that?  If we desire God to grow our church, we have to prepare by becoming the kind of people He can trust with new lives.  Specifically, this means:

– Getting rid of all sin, especially sins of the tongue.  God will not build where the people will tear down.

– Encouraging right living by means of Scripture, prayer, and spiritual maturity.  God will grow His best fruits where the soil is fertile with His Spirit and His words.

– Building community through worship, fellowship, and Christian education.  God will not sow His seeds among weeds.

– Creating relationships outside our walls by pairing acts of service with words of witness. God will not grow fruit in a walled garden.  He wants His fruits to bless all the people.

Let’s get real.  Let’s prepare this field by praying for wisdom to see ourselves candidly and know the truth.  Listen to no one else.  Repent of the problem parts, explore and expand the solution parts.

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The Real Deal

(Please read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 in your go-to Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

We’ve been talking about real life the last couple Sundays and we will continue to look at topic today as we delve one more time into 1 Corinthians 3.  But last Sunday something happened in Texas that made life seem unreal.  You all realize that I am referring to the horrible massacre at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.

The savagery of the attack has shattered our illusions of safety.  In an almost superstitious way we believed that a cross on the building and worship inside the building made us bullet-proof.  We have been forcefully reminded that our safety is in God alone.   No measure of false confidence, no amount of earthly material, is going to make us feel safe.  Again, our safety is in God alone.

To illustrate this fact, I learned that in Prince William County – the place where FBC, Sutherland Springs is located – the police had scheduled a “Worship Watch” event aimed at training faith leaders on how to create a safer house of worship.  It was scheduled to take place November 21st.
We can and should take steps to protect our house of worship and the precious people who gather inside.  We can no longer assume that people will respect sacred places or that any place is safe because it is too small to attraction attention.

While we do this, real life must continue.  We must continue to build our faith in Christ.  Love manifest in spiritual growth must remain our priority.  True security comes from knowing we are in God’s hands and from being united in that assurance.

REVIEW:

Realistic Identity = Who are we?

   1. We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

   2. We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).

Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

NEW:

  1. We must build on a good foundation (vs. 10-15).

In verse ten, Paul identifies himself as a foundation-builder.  Here he is writing about starting the church in Corinth.  He spent 18 months there, getting the church going.

Though he identifies himself as a WISE BUILDER, Paul is not boasting.  From the start, he acknowledges that his ministry has depended on the GRACE of God.  When he added, SOMEONE ELSE IS BUILDING UPON IT, Paul acknowledged he founded the church in Corinth, but had since turned its leadership over to others.  Whether leaders or followers, everyone who attempts to build up the church must do so carefully, not selfishly or aimlessly, but in deliberately Christ-like fashion.

In verse eleven, Paul identifies Jesus as the only foundation-builder.  Here he is writing about our faith as a whole, the world-wide Church of which Jesus is the Founder and Head.  The FOUNDATION of all the churches was laid by Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5).

Anything built on that foundation must be done in the character and spirit of the Founder, following His teaching.  After all, good builders follow the blueprints.  If anything contrary to the foundation is attempted, it will not stand.  Paul delivers this warning because a false foundation is worse than no foundation at all.

In verses twelve through fifteen Paul illustrates Judgment Day (see 1 Thessalonians 5:4; Hebrews 10:25) as the time when what every person has built on the foundation will be tested by fire. The quality of each person’s building materials will be tested.

– GOLD, SILVER, and COSTLY STONES are not typical building materials.  The temple that existed in Paul’s time was adorned with precious metals and stones and it may be that he wants the reader to envision the temple.  We assume Paul meant to contrast valuable and enduring materials with the cheap and temporary stuff.  Perhaps the point was something like, “We’ve all seen ornate, beautiful buildings that have stood for generations.  We’ve also seen simple huts that last for a few seasons.  Where would you like to live?”

– WOOD, HAY, and STRAW were more widely used at that time.  I suppose someone could make a quick shelter with this stuff, but a real home would have to be made of more durable material.

– There’s no mention of stone or brick, the most common material for permanent structures.  There’s another thing missing too; Paul does not guarantee any of the six materials he mentions will automatically survive the fire.  My guess is this means that we shouldn’t be fooled by outward appearances.  Like buildings, people and churches can have impressive facades but inwardly are firetraps, doomed to destruction.

The means of testing will be by FIRE (see 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8; 2:8; Daniel 7:9+; Malachi 4:1), presuming that everything we’ve built in life that is NOT of the Lord will be destroyed.  What is of the LORD, built with His help, will SURVIVE.  (See 1 Peter 1:7; fire improves faith.)

In the Bible, FIRE is a symbol of purification and destruction.  Either could be implied here.  But FIRE is also a symbol of God’s presence (the pillar of fire that lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt).  In this case, all of the above can be appropriate.

The person’s eternal reward is determined by what survives the flames.  Paul indicated two possible outcomes:

– NOTHING SURVIVES = The person is SAVED (they will go to heaven) but will receive no further REWARD; he will SUFFER LOSS, the loss of heavenly rewards.  Picture here the person whose home is destroyed by fire and they escape only with the clothes on their back.  The person is glad to be alive but wishes the result was different.

– SOMETHING SURVIVES = The person is SAVED and receives additional rewards while in heaven.

The word REWARD can also be translated as “wages.” Paul wrote extensively in chapter nine of this letter that he had a right to receive material and financial support from the Corinthians when he worked among them.  As an act of grace, he did not press this right, but worked outside the church to provide for his own needs.

This testing is obviously done only on believers; the unbelieving and unrepentant have no foundation in Christ and will not have any place in heaven; they are not SAVED.

PREVIEW:

   2. We must be faithful builders (vs. 5-9).

You don’t have to be a great carpenter to realize that either a poor foundation or use of inferior building materials will shorten the useful life of a structure, maybe make it unsafe.  A skilled carpenter can easily spot these kinds of defects.

When we were house-hunting in Illinois, we leaned heavily on the advice of a professional carpenter in our congregation.  I called Jack a “Forensic Carpenter” because he could look at a house and tell you not only the quality of materials and workmanship, but also the order in which the work had been done.  He could compile a history of the structure on the basis of his inspections.  We ended up with a nice home and Jack was one to thank for that.

Similarly, all Christians are to be builders.  Our daily living – if we live for Christ – will develop our building skills in relation to building up our church, our relationships, and our selves.  Our objective is to become, like Paul, an EXPERT BUILDER where things of faith are concerned.

The means of building each other up are found in being positive, being biblical, and being loving to one another.  We must be creative and sensitive in the ways we reach out to one another because our ultimate objective is to point out Jesus.

Let me offer an example as we conclude.  Think of someone in your life who needs to be built up.  Either buy or craft a Thanksgiving card that points to Jesus.  On the card, write all the things you can think of that make you thank God for that person.  Write a prayer for their well-being.  Mail it or deliver it in person.

Reality Sets In

Please read 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 21-23 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

The Internet search company Google is probably the world’s biggest data collector.  No surprise there.  It may surprise you to hear they have spent millions of dollars measuring their own employees, attempting to learn how to compile “the perfect team.”

They assumed building good teams required combining the best people, but it wasn’t that simple.  In 2012 Google started Project Aristotle.  Abeer Dubey, a manager in Google’s People Analytics division “We looked at 180 teams from all over the company. We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.’’

The study concluded that in good teams, members show sensitivity, listening to one another.   This lead to a concept called “psychological safety;” a belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.  That feeling of safety allows all members to contribute to the conversation knowing that their ideas and emotions will be respected.  Putting together a successful team has less to do with who is on the team, more with how the members interact.

(Adapted from https://www.scoro.com/blog/teamwork-stories-importance-of-teamwork/ on 11/3/17.)

Once again, this is a case of science affirming what was already revealed to the writers of Scripture.  We see affirmation of the fact that being a church requires an agreement to love one another.

Love forbears, forgives, and forgets.  Love welcomes the practice of trial and error as a means of discovering God’s will and is never guilty of putting someone on trial for making an error.

In Christian families and churches we are called to create the kind of safe environment that Google’s data revealed as the most productive type of environment.  Psychological Safety will exist among people who emphasize grace and gentleness.  People who follow Jesus and who want their church to grow begin with love, which is manifest in purpose tempered by positivity, success achieved by means of interpersonal support.

REVIEW:

Realistic Identity = Who are we?

a. We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

NEW:

b. We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).

First, godliness involves knowing who you are.  According to this passage, you are GOD’S TEMPLE (16) and YOU TOGETHER ARE THAT TEMPLE (17).  The Gk word for TEMPLE (naos) refers specifically to the building itself; the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, not the whole temple campus.  This gives the analogy a depth of meaning.

Here in 1 Corinthians 3, believers joined together in a church form GOD’S TEMPLE.  (See Ephesians 2:21-22 and 1 Peter 2:5.)  Later, in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul’s emphasis seems a bit more centered on individual believers as God’s dwelling-place:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Individual believers being “little temples” (God’s “mobile homes,”) going about the world is a thought that follows Jesus’ description of Himself.  He said His earthly body was a TEMPLE (JHN 2:19-21).

Whether together or apart, believers are God’s dwelling-place.  That fact alone makes us responsible to behave like a believer everywhere we go.

How do we know we’re His temple?  We know it is true because God the Father has given God the Spirit to us.  This is what Paul meant when he wrote: GOD’S SPIRIT DWELLS IN YOUR MIDST.  In 2 Corinthians 1:22 & 5:5, Paul wrote that the Holy Spirit is our GUARANTEE that all God’s promises are true; they will be kept.

Part of God’s guarantee is His promise to protect us.  GOD’S TEMPLE is SACRED as indicated by His promise to avenge us against all who DESTROY us.  The word SACRED means “holy” and “set apart.”  It is a state of moral/spiritual purity and a state of separation from sin and worldliness, as we saw last week.  DESTROY also means “to defile or corrupt,” so it doesn’t only mean persecution in the form of acts of physical violence.  It includes spiritual corruption.  This warning is not limited to persons outside the church.  People inside the fellow-ship who are divisive or in any way impede the ministry of the church are in trouble.

Paul was concerned this is what was happening at Corinth.  He didn’t exaggerate the situation: they were dividing over flagrant

immorality, idolatry, relationships between WEAK and STRONG members, Spiritual Gifts, mis-practiced communion and the resurrection, just to hit the highlights.  Competitiveness and false doctrine had created separate parties in the church and anyone who pushed the success of their party over obedience to Christ was destroying the church.  God Himself opposed them.

People of faith should be encouraged to know that God will defend His own.  Justice will be served.

YOU ARE OF CHRIST AND CHRIST IS OF GOD explains how it is that ALL THINGS belong to God’s people.  This is a theological statement that reveals the fact that God the Son and God the Father are one, just as Jesus said (see John 10:30).

– It is through our faith-relationship with Jesus Christ that the unlimited resources of God the Father are made available to us.

– In His death and resurrection, Jesus redeemed us.  That is, He paid the price for our sins; He bought us out of slavery to sin.

– Through Jesus Christ – God the Son – we have access to God the Father, and that is the life-giving chain by which all this is possible.

Second, godliness involves knowing what is in store for you (21-23).  Good things are in store for those who wait upon the Lord.  Paul’s words ALL THINGS ARE YOURS (22) and ALL ARE YOURS (23) leave nothing to worry about.  Because we have God’s unlimited provision in the PRESENT and FUTURE, we can obey God’s command in Philippians 4:6 = Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Your future does not depend on any of your leaders; WHETHER PAUL OR APOLLOS OR CEPHAS.  This should be obvious; God is in charge.  Church leaders have their roles to play, but God decides whether a church will be fruitful or not (as we’ll see in v. 7).

Your future does not depend on the WORLD’s approval or support.  That’s good news because we can generally depend on the WORLD’s disapproval and, in some places, outright persecution.

Everything – LIFE and DEATH, PRESENT and FUTURE – is in God’s hands.  God is going to work in favor of His family.  He is going to work for the betterment of His children.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

Last week we observed that one of the appeals of the Christian faith is that we offer the world something real.  We hold forth words of assurance that there is more to life than what the world offers.  We can make such claims until we run out of breath, but when our actions are merely worldly, then the claim is denied.

We need to work at having a culture of safety in our church.  Competition and condemnation shut down imagination and  experimentation, which forbids the innovation we need to succeed.

Churches tend to fall into one of two extremes just because it’s easier to think in extreme terms.  The one extreme exalts innovation.  With an evolutionary point of view, the assumption is that newer is always better.

The other extreme is imitation.  People in these churches have an opposing view that older is always better.  They assume that if we better imitate the way we’ve always done things, recreating the good old days, they better off we will be.

A more biblically realistic view, but one that is more difficult to achieve, puts imitation and innovation on an equal level, understanding these are both merely tools to achieve what is our true goal: pointing people to God.

Philosophies and programs are not goals; they are means to the real goal, which is making Jesus Christ apparent in our lives, whether we are together in this building or apart from it.  Good builders know how to use a variety of tools to complete their job.  If all you have in your toolbox is a hammer, then hanging pictures is easy, but sawing wood is practically impossible.

What we see here in 1 Corinthians 3 is that God’s people use God’s methods and His tools to faithfully build more of Jesus in their own lives and in the lives of those around them.

Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

a. We must build on a good foundation (vs. 10-15).

b. We must be faithful builders (vs. 5-9).

What IS Real

Please read 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 and 18-20 in your favorite Bible.  Me, I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane on September 20 of this year; just over a month ago.  In its wake, Maria left the island of 3.4 million people without clean water and electricity.

Nine days after the hurricane, a storm of another sort arose on Twitter.  President Donald Trump responded to criticism for the federal response, twice faulting San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz.

I will not weigh in on the tweet shots fired across the ocean between these leaders.  Frankly, that would dignify an exchange that should never have taken place.  But there are two things to be learned.

First, we are reminded that even people who share the same goals can disagree.  The important thing is that the right to disagree does not endow anyone with the right to be disagreeable.  Let’s be honest: whether we are communicating in person or by any other means, respect and honesty are essential, not negotiable.  This is especially true in the church, which is supposedly populated by people who are committed to a higher standard of love and relationships.

Second – without taking sides – I like what Mayor Cruz wrote: “I have only one goal and it is saving lives, and I will do and I will say whatever needs to be said or done to be able to do that.”

Here’s what I like about that quote: she called for a restoration of perspective.  Part of what we must do to keep the number one thing number one is to push aside pettiness and personalities to pull together toward God’s perfect will.

Paul wrote this letter to a divided church.  They were feuding about several things, some of which were very petty and one of which was a dispute over personalities.  The people were dividing into camps over who their favorite preacher was – Paul or Apollos.  It concerned Paul enough that this was the first issue he tackled in this letter.  We’re going to take four Sundays to carefully study this passage and learn what God reveals to us about real church life, how we are to conduct real relationships.

  1. Realistic Identity = Who are we

a. We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

Worldliness is a sign of immaturity (1-4).  Paul referred to the recipients of this letter as INFANTS IN CHRIST.  They survived (but did not thrive) by “feeding” on spiritual MILK.  They were not ready for SOLID FOOD.

MILK is a metaphor of basic beliefs about salvation.  It is the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” When you are feeding an INFANT, MILK is the logical choice of foods; it is the introductory food.

SOLID FOOD is a metaphor of deeper biblical truths.  It is the answer to the question, “What must I do now that I am saved?”  If you are feeding someone more mature than an INFANT, you begin to switch out MILK with SOLID FOOD.

To put it another way, Paul wrote, “You weren’t ready before and you haven’t matured enough since then.”  The problem is not the cuisine per se, but the fact that the choice of cuisine was dictated by their immaturity.  This is the situation Paul was talking about when he wrote to his associate, Timothy; For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3)

This letter is addressed to a church, but we see the same predilection toward subtle selfishness in our culture: look at the “experts” in media, the popular voices.  They advocate self-satisfaction, self-centeredness, and self-help.  But this is also manifest in the Church when people prefer sermons and Bible studies they can safely ignore, servings of short and soft and non-challenging pap.

Paul offered three signs of immaturity as examples.  This particular set often results in divisions in the church.

– JEALOUSY is competitiveness where cooperation ought to exist.

– QUARRELING is taking a simple difference of opinion to a more emotional level.  A quarrel can only happen between people who insist on “winning,” though there are no winners.

– ACTING LIKE MERE HUMANS, too willing to split into parties and/or to idolize leaders.  (Paul and Apollos served the Corinthian church together (18:1-28).  They did not encourage this party spirit in the church.  Some church folk pushed that agenda and chose up sides.

Even sincere and maturing Christians still struggle with their human nature.  The Corinthian church folk who politicized their pastors were not operating in the Holy Spirit.  Instead, they were guided by sinful and self-centered desires.  They were “Functional Atheists;” believers in word not in deed.

What the NIV translates as WORLDLY is literally “fleshly.”  It is sin, the opposite of a life that is heavenly and spiritual.  Real life is lived with God in focus, following His way.

Paul called these people his BROTHERS AND SISTERS, so his aim is not cutting them out of the church, but ordering them to grow up and not just grow old.  He wanted to talk to them about deeper matters of faith, but they were frozen at a level of immaturity; they weren’t growing.  Getting frozen at a level of immaturity is a common problem because we get lazy or resist change or prefer our secret sins.  Refusing to grow betrays that our human nature is in charge, not the Holy Spirit.

An aspect of worldliness is being wise in your own eyes, not in God’s (18-20.)  DO NOT DECEIVE YOURSELVES is a key insight into sinful nature: it is an act of self-deception before it is deceiving others.  “Wise in your own eyes” is a biblical phrase that condemns the sin of pride; in this case, pride in your big brain.

– Proverbs 26:12 = Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.

– Isaiah 5:21 = Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.

WISE BY THE STANDARDS OF THIS AGE refers to the humanistic cultural norms of our current time and place.  The paradox is that all of us have to become FOOLS in the eyes of the world in order to become WISE in God’s eyes.

Paul quoted a couple Scriptures to prove that paradox.  God knows our hearts better than we do, so even self-deception won’t fool Him at all.

– Job 5:13 (v. 19) shows that God is not fooled; He recognizes which people who claim to be wise are merely being crafty.

– Psalm 94:11 (v. 20) warns that the plots of worldly wise people end in futility.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

The immediate application is delivered in v. 21: SO THEN, NO MORE BOASTING ABOUT HUMAN LEADERS!  Paul’s pastoral concern was for the end of all divisions in that church, starting with the division over which pastor was “true leader” of the church.

Nobody comes to church spoiling for a fight.  Mostly, we come to avoid fights.  We come to get away from the world and its deep divisions, wars and violence.  It is our sincere hope that church will be the kind of place the Bible describes, a refuge from the strife caused by ungodliness.

And that is what it is until someone brings worldly (read “ungodly”) attitudes inside.  I don’t believe we are hopeless in the face of such people.  God wants unity and He wants all of us to safeguard the unity the Holy Spirit creates in our midst.

If we won’t sacrifice self on the altar, if we won’t swallow our pride and more than a few of our words to keep the peace in order to enjoy that peace, we must do it for the rest of the world.  The world outside these walls hungers for a light, an example to follow, a guide to lead them out of the sorrows and isolation that sin creates.

If we won’t do it for ourselves or the world, let’s do it for Jesus.  He surrendered His life on the cross to make the idea church a possibility.  Why should we hesitate to do what He asks of us?

Here’s how it works.  We stick up for each other and we stick together.  We make peace a priority over rights and will and all forms of self-interest.  Then watch life become more real than ever.

Coming up – parts two to four of this series of messages:

a. We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).

2. Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

a. We begin with a good foundation (10-15).

b. We can be faithful builders (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

Worth the Wait

patience

<Image retrieved from http://bookboon.com/blog/2017/02/patience-important-soft-skill/.>

Please use your favorite Bible to read Isaiah 30:18-26.  In a momentary departure from the usual, I’ve used the NRSV to prepare my remarks.

Wait for it – God will dispense perfect justice.

Today we’re going to talk about patience.  I am always grateful for the opportunity to TALK about patience but aren’t always as appreciative of the opportunity to practice it.  Patience is a virtue, but not everyone understands it in the same way, as illustrated by the following quotes on the subject of patience.

+ “At my age, patience is not a virtue… it’s a luxury.”  – Erma Bombeck, humorist

+ “You can learn many things from children… how much patience you have for instance.”- Franklin Jones, businessman & humorist

+ “Patience and diligence, like faith, can move mountains. – William Penn

+ “Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead.” – Mac McCleary

+ “I am patient with stupidity but not with those who are proud of it.” – Edith Sitwell English biographer, critic, novelist & poet

+ “Opportunity knocks but once, but misfortune has much more patience.” – Dr. Laurence J. Peter, educator & writer

+ “Patience is what you have when there are too many witnesses.” – Anonymous

+ “Genius is patience.”  – Sir Isaac Newton

+ “Patience is not the ability to wait but the ability to maintain a good attitude while waiting.”  – Anonymous

An even better understanding of patience can be found in Isaiah 30:18.  It is an unusual verse in that it explains the patience of God and commands His people to follow His example.  There are texts aplenty to be cited to support either of those propositions, but to find both in one verse is, to my knowledge unique.

  1. The general principle: God graciously waits for our repentance; we must patiently wait for His justice (v. 18).

God waits for us to repent; He graciously gives us a lifetime of opportunities because He wants to be merciful.  Mercy tempers JUSTICE.  God is just, but He waits for people to repent and be saved. Justice delayed is not justice denied.  God’s justice will be perfect and universal and complete when it happens.  Peter also explains what seems like a delay in God completing his plan.  (See 2 Peter 2:8-9.) God’s holiness demands justice be completed, so this is a limited time offer.

This prophecy has an immediate and ultimate fulfillment.  The immediate recipients were the people of Judah.   They were to be faithful until He delivered them from Babylon.  The ultimate recipients of this promise are all those who love God and are called according to His purpose.  Judgment Day comes at the end of human history and is the day of ultimate justice.

  1. A specific example: God’s promises to His people (vs. 19-26).

This section explains and expands on the promises of vs. 15-18 by applying the principle to the situation in which the Judahites found themselves.  The people of Judah were captives in a foreign land and they would be for 70 years. It was a situation so far outside our own experience we can’t imagine how lonely and forsaken what that must’ve felt.

But – and this is the important part – God had not forsaken his people.   He made promises to them to motivate their faithful endurance.  We will examine each of them, noting the immediate and ultimate fulfillments we see.

Promise #1 = No more tears (19).  Restored to their homeland, the Jews would have no more reason to WEEP.  This promise fits perfectly with Revelation 21: 4, where God promises to wipe every tear from their eyes.

Promise #2 = God hears and answers prayer (19).  We should never use the expression “unanswered prayer.”  Verses like this assure us God hears and answers them all.  His answer may be “yes,” “no,” or “hold, please,” but those are all answers.  Seventy years is a lifetime to most of us, but even if you have to wait a lifetime, the point is that God responds at just the right time to the cries of His people.

Promise #3 = He sends ADVERSITY and AFFLICTION only for a limited time (20).  BREAD and WATER are the usual fare of prisoners of war.  Isaiah uses them as metaphors of the trials we face in life. The end of the Jews’ Babyloninan trial would be the appearance of their TEACHER (the Messiah).  This was fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming.  For us, the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is that our trials will end at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Promise #4 = He will guide you (21).  The emphasis here is not on the fact that God would be willing to guide them for that had always been the case.  The emphasis is on the degree of their repentance; they will at last listen and heed God’s guidance.  They will no longer ignore God and thereby wander off the path.

Promise #5 = He will meet your needs (23-25).  The references to RAIN, SEED, GROUND, GRAIN, CATTLE, PASTURES, OXEN, DONKEYS, SILAGE, and RUNNING WATER all sound worldly, like God is offering prosperity in return for loyalty.  It is a mistake to see these verses in such materialistic terms.  Instead, this promise has two less obvious meanings.

One, it is a promise to the Jews that they will be restored to their land.  In Judaism, the land is of central importance.  It was the Promised Land and to be out of it – even for just 70 years – was the worst sign of God’s having forsaken them.  To return to it was a sign of forgiveness.

Two, it is a promise that God would provide all they needed to survive.  Everything from SEED to GRAIN comes from God.  If we think our brains and strength are the means by which we provide for ourselves, we had better stop and remember who gave us brains and strength in the first place.

Promise #6 = In fact, God’s care will be so complete that even the DAY OF SLAUGHTER will not be a thing to be feared (25).  Referring to something like a DAY OF SLAUGHTER and the falling of TOWERS seems out of place, a downbeat in a passage packed with positivity.  Instead, its realism.  In this world there will never be a time of ONLY good news.  Everything is a mix of pleasant and unpleasant, gain and loss, good and bad.

It is a warning, based on fallen human nature:

– Do not take God for granted during the days of prosperity.

– Do not turn to idols and give them the credit for days of ease.

– Do not repeat the sins of the generations that resulted in your current exile, for you will suffer a similarly disastrous outcome.

Promise #7 = Enlightenment (26).  The repeated use of the number seven is not an accidental one; it is a significant number in the Bible, starting with the seven days of creation.  It is a divine number.  Scientifically, I’m not sure that the sun shining with seven-fold intensity would be a good thing.  However, most of us would be happy to have the sun shine seven times more often than it seems to shine.  I think the point is that – along with everything else from SEED to GRAIN – God will provide abundant sunshine to make the crops grow.  This factor is singled out because sunshine is one part of the ag process over which we exercise no control.

Promise #8 = Healing (26).  The LORD is clearly the power behind the throne of Babylon.  Though it was Babylonian soldiers that overran Jerusalem, they achieved victory only because God allowed them to do so.  Just as God allowed his people to be injured and wounded, He will be the means of their healing.  He will personally bind up the hurts of His people.

Look verse twenty-two, for here we find the application of these truths, the human half of this promise-keeping: repentance. Verser twenty-two is clear that repentance involves throwing away your idols.  THEN YOU WILL DEFILE YOUR SILVER-COVERED IDOLS AND YOUR GOLD-PLATED IMAGES.  YOU WILL SCATTER GOLD-PLATED IMAGES.  YOU WILL SCATTER THEM LIKE FILTHY RAGS; YOU WILL SAY TO THEM, “AWAY WITH YOU.”

The references to the idols being plated with precious metals is meant to remind us that idols are things that look precious and important on the outside but are worthless and woody underneath.  Idols are always superficial things that have no lasting value.

Repentance involves rejection of idols.  This is not a casual attitude.  The word RAGS describes the most foul, defiled thing of which the writer could think.  Repentance involves an 1800 turn, hating and casting aside the sinful things we used to worship and adore.

Since most of us do not have silver or gold-covered statues set up on little altars at home, we have to think of “idols” in a more symbolic sense.  We need to think about the things in this life that we love but cause us to sin and worse, occupy the place in our life that God is supposed to take: first place.  Those are the things we have to cast out.

What are the gold-plated idols in your life?  Even good things like Family, friends, church, business, can all be idols.  When you pray, ask God to reveal them to you and be prepared to act on His response.

An Ethic Based on Life

A Suggested Ethical Basis for Neighborliness for All World Citizens: A Common Valuation of LIFE

Acknowledging my naivte, I hold out hope that one day people will come together around a commonly held ethic that transcends national, religious, and philosophic lines.  I get energized by ideas, but have learned repeatedly that not everyone else does.  With those caveats, I humbly submit for your consideration the first plank in a platform for citizenship and world cooperation.

 

TAKE                    USE/DENY         TOLERATE        AFFIRM           GIVE

LIFE1                     LIFE2                 LIFE3                 LIFE4                LIFE5

<———————————————————————————————————————–>

-2                           -1                         0                        +1                     +2

Evil                        Offensive          Neutral               Good              Ideal

 

1 Respect for life is truly the foundation for civilization.  However, there are always exceptional situations that prove the rule.  On an international and individual level, we observe that sometimes we have to take life in order to save more lives or defend innocent lives.  Taking life is the ultimate act of negativity.  Examples of this value are murderers, serial killers, and mass murderers.

 

2 These people devalue life with words and/or deeds that treat human beings as something less and animals even worse.    When life is something to be manipulated for personal gain, then that person is making a negative contribution to society.  Examples include bigots, criminals (pimps and pushers), sweat shop owners, and slavers.

 

3 It can be argued that not caring IS making an ethical decision and it is choosing sin.  However, here I compare the societal impact of actions and attitudes rather than evaluate them from any particular ethical system.   People in this category are indifferent and/or circumspect about their value of life, preferring privacy or isolation to engagement.  People who take a hard “scientific” view of humanity can devaluate human life to being merely equivalent to animal life.

 

4 Attitudes and actions at this level are more characterized by words than deeds.  Lots of people have positive, life-affirming beliefs, but not as many get involved in defending life from encroachments on life that happen because of greed and/or negative philosophies.  Examples of this level of affirmation of life include theologians, philosophers, and social scientists who are champions of life on paper and in their armchair, but who do not take those views into the street.  Their advocacy is limited to private or academic circles.

 

5 Those who can be said to “give life” are active advocates for life, defenders of the weak and innocent; those whose love is both public and persuasive.  They aren’t necessarily “activists,” but they act on their convictions even when such action threatens their personal comfort zones.  Parents who raise their children with life-affirming values are perhaps the best example of this valuation of life.

Outrageous Heathens

Please read Psalm 2 + Matthew 5:43-48 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Good Christians are good neighbors.  Good neighbors are good citizens.

On my most recent visit to the library, I checked out How to Create Your Own Religion.  The title was intriguing & offensive at the same time.  But as I try to listen to other perspectives to test my own and to “pan” for nuggets of truth, I took a chance.

I didn’t like the book.  At all.  I gave up after 50 pages or so.

At this point you may be thinking, “Well, what did you expect?”  I expected it to be critical of “organized religion.”  I expected it to target Christianity.  What I’d hoped that there would be a reasonable intelligence at work to make respectful discourse.

Instead it was angry, arrogant, and adolescent.  The few good points were covered over with sarcasm.  It was like a waffle covered in hot sauce.

I went to the internet and found that about a third of the people who wrote online reviews of the book agreed with me: they also put the book away without finishing it.

My reaction to this book reminded me of Psalm 2:1; “Why do the heathen rage?”  God added the part about His people having a better social presence from Matthew 5.  Now you know how we got here.  More importantly, what are we going to learn?

Today we’re going to provide biblical answers to the question, “How does a Christian live in the world? “  How we relate to the secular culture all around us is one of the key parts of being a follower of Jesus.

  1. Psalm 2 = People who reject God are distinguished by their impotent rage.

This is called a “royal psalm” because it may’ve been written by a king (it is attributed to Solomon or David).  It is also a prayer for the king as he faces off against foreign nations.

This psalm has four parts.

The first part is in verses one through three, exposing the folly of pagan kings posturing trying to rebel against God and Israel.  The key word “rage” is translated as CONSPIRE in the NIV.  Elsewhere it is translated as “impotent muttering.”

The object of their rage is the Lord’s ANOINTED.  This title originally referred to the king of Israel, later it referred to the Messiah.

The reason for their rage is that the defeated pagan nations chafed at having to pay tribute to Israel.  They wanted to throw off the rule of Israel. The phrase CHAINS and SHACKLES refers to the tack used to hold a yoke on an animal’s neck.

Why do the heathen rage?  That’s a rhetorical question.  It could just as easily be translated: “Why do they bother?”  It’s clear they can’t win.

The second part is in verses four through six, where God Himself laughs at their “macho” attempts at intimidation.  He calls their bluff.  To us, the threats of evil people may look intimidating, but from God’s perspective they are ridiculous.

We need to live our belief, and one important aspect is that our security is in God’s power, not the king’s strength.  After all, God INSTALLED the king of Israel on his throne.  This means we must not be intimidated by anything in this world, but trust God that He is working all things out for our benefit.

The third part is in verses seven through the king repeats God’s assurance of the defeat of their enemies.  God’s DECREE is a certificate of adoption: the king is under God’s protection as a father protects his children.  The word “I” in verse six is a emphatic personal declaration in Hebrew grammar.  In English it would read something like “as for me.”

The ROD OF IRON is both a shepherd’s tool and a king’s symbol of office.  The Lord’s ANOINTED will use the ROD to DASH THEM TO PIECES.  This is a promise of effortless and total destruction of the wicked: they are powerless to resist.

In verses 10-12 we have the fourth part and it is a warning the rebels, “Get back in line and be blessed or keep rebelling and suffer God’s righteous wrath.”  To SERVE means to submit one’s own will entirely to the will of the king.  If they won’t submit because the understand this, they should at least submit out of FEAR and TREMBLING.

The phrase KISS THE SON sounds strange to us, but builds on the FEAR and TREMBLING.  We might translate it as a gruff command; “Kiss the ground.”  To save themselves, these rebels must humiliate themselves before God’s son.  Like the heathen kings of the time of the psalm’s writing, our choice is to either rebel against God, ending in our own destruction, or submit to God and be blessed to find eternal REFUGE in Him.

The point of this psalm is very simple.  God is in heaven, we are not.  To live, we need to stop our pointless rebellion.  Also, we who are God’s people have nothing to fear in the threats of ungodly folks.  We don’t need to be intimidated by any earthly power.  God is our Deliverer.  Additionally, we are not to envy the wicked nor are we to resort to their methods as Jesus has shown us a better way.

  1. Matthew 6:43-48 = Disciples are distinguished by loving the unlovable.

YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID (43) is Jesus’ way of referring to the Law and/or the culture of that time.  The Old Testament Law set a higher standard than anything else that existed anywhere else before God gave it to Moses.  The Law commanded love for one’s NEIGHBOR.  That love was to be at least as strong as self-love.

However, nowhere in the Old Testament was anyone commanded to HATE one’s ENEMY.  Jesus must have referred to common practices of the time or human nature.

BUT I TELL YOU (44) was Jesus’ statement that He was raising the standard.  Here is His new standard: He commanded love of both NEIGHBOR and ENEMY.  He made everyone a NEIGHBOR, especially persons in need.  In His command to pray for our enemies, Jesus recognized and highlighted the spiritual aspect of love.

When we meet this standard we show positive proof we are CHILDREN OF [our] FATHER IN HEAVEN (45).  In this world, God treats all equally.  His love is available to all people.  For example, the SUN shines on both EVIL and GOOD people and the RAIN falls on both RIGHTEOUS & UNRIGHTEOUS people.  It will not be this way after death, but Jesus doesn’t touch on that subject here.

As an example, He used 2 people His listeners disliked, TAX COLLECTORS and SINNERS (46-47).  This is to make the point that loving people who love you first or who love you back is no ethical challenge.  Even infamous TAX COLLECTORS are capable of that immature level of love.  Self-centered love like that will not receive a heavenly REWARD from God.

A simple greeting is not asking much at all.  It’s an easy way to show love.  But if you can’t GREET anyone outside your little circle of accomplices, you’ve shown how shallow your love really is.  If you do not love deeply as God commands you should expect no heavenly rewards.

Jesus set the HIGHEST POSSIBLE standard – look at v. 48, where it is written; BE PERFECT, AS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS PERFECT. Perfection is a divine attribute.  It is impossible for us, but NOTHING is impossible with God (Luke 18:27).

Moral perfection is given to us by God as we confess our sins and repent of them.  When God forgives, He forgets, so we are made perfect in His eyes.  Our part is to guard our perfection against sin. PERFECT means loving in word and in good works that include prayer.

Good citizens are good neighbors.

Here’s a joke: A preacher is giving a sermon based on Jesus’ command to love your enemies.  “Now,” he said, “I’ll bet that many of us feel as if we have enemies. So raise your hands if you have many enemies.”

Quite a few people raised their hands.

“See,” said the preacher, “most of us feel like we have enemies.  Now raise your hands if you have no enemies at all.”

A very, very old man raised his hand. He called out, “I have no enemies whatsoever!  I’m 98 years old, and I have no enemies.”

The preacher added, “What a wonderful Christian life you lead! And tell us all how it is that you have no enemies.”

“I’ve outlived all of them!”

<Adapted from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-james-martin-sj/how-to-love-your-enemies_b_841538.html on 10/13/17.>

God calls us to a social ethic higher than just outliving people who oppose us ; more like “out-loving” them than outliving them.

In our culture, the extreme viewpoints seem to have gained traction while the more reasonable moderate positions disappear.  One consequence is that the whole is more divided than ever.

So I want to offer a place where I believe we all ought to be able to agree.  I suggest we build unity by affirming our commitment to a basic ethical principle; that all life has value.  The table below represents the spectrum of responses a person can have in the value they place on life, especially human life.  I admit to being naive, but we must start somewhere and this is the most logical place.  For, if we can’t agree here, the rest doesn’t matter at all.