Continuous Thanks

Take a moment to read Ephesians 1:15-23 in your Bible translation of choice, then peruse the following as an informed reader.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare my remarks.

thanks

Knowing Jesus Christ is the first step in being an object (and practitioner!) of continual thanksgiving.

Ten years ago, Robynne Boyd wrote an article for Scientific American magazine entitled “Do People Only Use 10 Percent of Their Brains?”  She attempted to refute a widely-accepted modern myth that even the smartest human beings only use 10% of their brain’s potential.

She quoted neurologist Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore who said, “It turns out though, that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time.  Let’s put it this way: the brain represents three percent of the body’s weight and uses 20 percent of the body’s energy.”

Boyd added; “Although it’s true that at any given moment all of the brain’s regions are not concurrently firing, brain researchers using imaging technology have shown that, like the body’s muscles, most [of the brain’s regions] are continually active over a 24-hour period.

She also quoted John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN as saying, “Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-people-only-use-10-percent-of-their-brains/

Don’t you feel better about yourself already?  We’re all more brainy than the “Ten Percent Myth” gave us credit for being.

While we’re in a myth-busting mood, let’s tackle another.  There’s a belief among church people that is said in a couple different ways: either “Church is as good as it gets,” or “Church will never be as good as it was.”  That’s a myth.

Look around for a moment and thank God for all He’s given us.  But don’t think for a moment that it’s as good as it can be.  Don’t think that in some “good old days” the church was just as good as it could be.

The truth is that our experience of what the Church is supposed to be like is only 10% or less of the rich grace and power God has given us.  Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and said virtually the same thing.  We’ll see how Paul praised them for what they had achieved and then pointed out how much more was available, just waiting for them to claim it by faith.

  1. Paul’s perpetual praise.

Paul began, FOR THIS REASON in verse fifteen.  For what reason?  For all the things God has done for us.  Here we review the blessings God bestowed as Paul listed them in Ephesians 1:3-14:

– The heading is this: God has blessed you with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING (3).

– The first item on the list: God chose you (4 + 11).

– The second item: God predestined you (4-6 + 11).

– Third: God redeemed you (7-8, 14).

– Fourth: God revealed His plan to you (9-11).

– The conclusion: God sealed these blessings with the Holy Spirit (11-14).

Looking back on that list, Paul was mindful of what God did for the church and through the church, (in its local & global manifestations).  Similar to the outpouring of praise in that section, in this section, Paul wrote a sentence of thanksgiving 169 words long.

He started with the words, EVER SINCE I HEARD ABOUT YOUR FAITH.  This  means Paul had received a report of their spiritual maturity and it pleased him so much, he continued to thank God for the Ephesians.  This happened frequently in Paul’s letters; seven of them begin this way.

Here in Ephesians, he cited two specific thanksgivings.  First, Paul was thankful for their FAITH IN THE LORD JESUS (15).  They demonstrated belief in the Lord and faithful acceptance of all His blessings and teachings.

He was also grateful for their LOVE FOR ALL THE SAINTS (15).  By Scripture and experience we know FAITH and LOVE become real as they are manifest in good works.  The SAINTS refers to other believers.  The Bible affirms that “Charity begins at our church home.”

This good news prompted perpetual praise in Paul and since then, he wrote, I HAVE NOT STOPPED GIVING THANKS FOR YOU (16).

  1. Paul’s perpetual prayer.

REMEMBERING YOU IN MY PRAYERS (16).  This is a summary of the things for which Paul prayed when his prayers centered on the church in Ephesus.

Prayer Request Number One = for them to know God better (17).  Knowing God better requires learning at least two things, as Paul elaborated.  First, we must know GOD OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST (God the Father).  As we learned in our study of 1:1-14, Jesus Christ is the most important person in the plan of God.  God the Father is able to provide us with salvation because God the Son was obedient, even to death on a cross (see Philippians 2:8).

Second, we must know that God deserves to be glorified (THE GLORIOUS FATHER, v. 17).  Part of the glory of God the Father is the salvation He has created for His people.  The Resurrection of Jesus is the supreme moment of God’s glory.

We come to know these things by means of the gift of the SPIRIT.  The channels for the Spirit’s work in us are WISDOM and REVELATION (see Colossians 1:9).  By WISDOM it is meant, as we frequently observe, the FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM (see Psalms 111:10).  True WISDOM comes from God and is a Spiritual Gift.

REVELATION is similar to the MYSTERY of 1:9 in the sense that God has, through the Holy Spirit, revealed His plan of salvation.  God’s chief means of revelation is the Bible.

Prayer Request Number Two = Enlightenment (18).  Paul prayed enlightenment might come to the Ephesian believers through the EYES OF YOUR HEART.  If that expression sounds confusing in English, you may be glad to know it’s even more confused in original language (Greek).  Regardless of how we sort out the words, the important thing is the purpose of this enlightenment: it was needed in order to know (be assured) of three things:

Assurance Number One = THE HOPE TO WHICH HE HAS CALLED YOU.  God calls His people to a hopeful view of the future, one that puts Jesus Christ at the center of the new creation.  HOPE is a key part of our faith.  Today’s woes are reduced when we look past them to tomorrow’s blessings.  HOPE is not wishing; it is a settled conviction that everything God promises will happen.  It is an anchor for the soul according to Hebrews 6:19.

Assurance Number Two = THE RICHES OF HIS GLORIOUS INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS which is, surprisingly, about God, not us.  The words RICHES and GLORIOUS are frequently used to describe the majesty of earthly kings (like Hezekiah; 2 Chronicles 37:27.  Note this is INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS, not “for” THE SAINTS.  Frequently in the OT, the people of God are referred to as His “inheritance.”  Paul wanted the Ephesians to think of themselves in this way.  We must as well.  We are God’s prized possession.

Assurance Number Three = HIS INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER AT FOR US WHO BELIEVE.  The people of Ephesus were notorious for being involved in the occult.  This is why they would be concerned with knowing God’s power, particularly that He is more powerful than their false gods & spirits.

In fact, the two can’t be compared at all; God’s POWER is INCOMPARABLY greater than anything manifest in idols (see 2:7; 3:20).  The Greek word translated into English as INCOMPARABLY was used in a number of ancient inscriptions and documents that have been discovered in Ephesus.  Paul was using the words of the false teachers and magic-users to contradict them!

Prayer Request Number Three = to experience God’s power (19-20).  It is good thing to acknowledge God’s POWER; it’s something more to experience it personally.  God’s power IS LIKE THE WORKING OF HIS MIGHTY STRENGTH (19).

The Greek word for WORKING describes POWER being wielded; God’s power being used to benefit His people as opposed to potential power.  It describes activity and function, more than explain the source of power.

The three Greek words for POWER, might, & STRENGTH occur all together in only one other place in all of ancient literature; a Jewish text that reads more like a magical spell than a prayer.  That text commanded angels to supply victory in all their endeavors.  Paul did not endorse casting spells, prayer to angels or any nonsense like that.  He put the power of God on a higher plane.  God’s power was at its height in Jesus.  Paul wrote of two specific times in v. 20.

The first instance in which God’s power was particularly evident was at Jesus’ Resurrection: WHEN HE RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD.  The physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the first and most central doctrine in the Christian faith.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said that if there is no Resurrection, our faith is FUTILE and we are still dead in our SINS (1 Corinthians 15:17).

The second instance was at Jesus’ Ascension: WHEN…HE SEATED HIM AT HIS RIGHT HAND I/T HEAVENLY REALMS (see Acts 1:1-11).  The right hand of the king was always the place occupied by the second most powerful person in the kingdom.  Historically, this was Jesus being glorified to the ultimate degree after He humbled Himself to the ultimate degree; death on a cross.

Prayer Request Number Four = To know Jesus’ preeminent place (21-22).  God the Father revealed through Paul that God the Son is FAR ABOVE ALL RULE AND AUTHORITY, POWER AND DOMINION (21).  Paul is saying that Jesus place is superior to all His enemies combined.  Put all the earthly and demonic powers together; they still can’t compare with Jesus’ power and authority.  These terms were familiar to Paul’s Jewish readers as the Jews used them to distinguish between good and evil angels.  These terms were also familiar to Paul’s Gentile readers as they were used for spiritual powers in magical texts of the day.

Another expression of Jesus’ preeminent place is, FAR ABOVE…EVERY TITLE THAT CAN BE GIVEN NOT ONLY IN THE PRESENT AGE BUT ALSO IN THE ONE TO COME (21).  Paul is saying there are absolutely no exceptions.  There’s nothing in the physical or spiritual worlds that is not under Jesus’ authority.  People who put stock in magic (like the Ephesians) believed that if you could name something you have power over it, so the TITLE/name is important.

Continuing on this theme, Paul wrote that GOD PLACED ALL THINGS UNDER HIS FEET (22).  This promise is declared in PSS 8:6 + 110:1.  It will be fulfilled on the occasion of the Second Coming.  Paul made the same point several ways: Jesus is in charge!

Jesus is preeminent because GOD…APPOINTED HIM TO BE THE HEAD OVER EVERYTHING (22).  In Paul’s day, this word HEAD meant “origin;” the HEAD produced the body.  As it does in our own time, HEAD also referred to the leader or ruler of a group.  In both uses of the term, Jesus is the HEAD of His BODY, the Church: our origin & our leader.

Prayer Request Number Five = To know the Church’s place in relationship with Jesus Christ (22-23).  The four-fold description of Jesus’ preeminent place in vs. 21-22 has an expressed purpose: FOR THE CHURCH. (This is a measure of God’s grace; we who deserve it the least benefit the most.)

Paul developed this relationship in his two-fold description of the Church.

First, the BODY to Christ’s HEAD.  Paul used this metaphor in four of his letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, and Ephesians).  The diversity of the parts (individual believers) is joined together in service to the one HEAD.

Second, Jesus is THE FULLNESS OF HIM WHO FILLS EVERYTHING IN EVERY WAY (23) and the Church is supposed to be THE FULLNESS of Christ.  When people see us, they’re supposed to see Jesus in the FULLNESS of who He is!

Knowing Jesus Christ is the first step in being an object (and practitioner!) of continual thanksgiving.

Wouldn’t it feel great to have someone address you with the praise and thanksgiving the Apostle Paul expressed in this letter?  Let’s summarize and review Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus so we can use it to pray for each other.

#1 = Pray we will become more aware of the power God makes available to us.  This will not happen only or chiefly in Bible study, but is something we learn and appreciate by personal experience.  Until we embrace change and take risks to attempt things only God can do, we will not see His power; we will only be certain about our limitations.  This is why so many church folk get weary and depressed, losing confidence in the future of the Church.

#2 – Pray we will stand in His strength alone.  The culture is becoming more hostile to Christianity.  Elements of our culture are trying to squeeze everyone into their mold, preaching the new orthodoxy of “political correctness.”  They more we resist that squeezing, the more we will need God’s power to stay faithful.

#3 – Pray we will partner with God and with each other to remain in Christ.  Jesus is the fixed point of all creation.  We identify with Him and hold that His resurrection is the source from which all life worth living flows.  Our hope is not founded on our own cleverness or repeating the apparent success of past generations.  Instead, our hope is in Jesus Christ.  We look ahead to see Him waiting for us at the finish line of history.

These truths are the most real thing in all the world.  God forgive us when we live our daily lives as if they don’t matter or aren’t real at all.  By prayer and practice, they become a greater part of how we live.

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

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Seven Modern Maladies and Their Solutions (1 of 7)

Those of you over 50 years old…

 

professor

need no introduction to this guy.  Chances are you can recount the episode from which this picture was taken.

For the rest of you, this is a picture of “the Professor” character from the TV show “Gilligan’s Island,” which premiered on CBS on September 26, 1964.  Actor Russell Johnson portrayed Professor Roy Hinkley all three seasons the show aired and in subsequent sequels.  He originally did not want the part (in what may have been a prideful moment, he was hoping for a show of his own) and admitted to having difficulty memorizing the lines with a lot of scientific words in them.

Several years ago I received an email that identified the characters on Gilligan’s Island with the seven deadly sins, just for fun.  The Professor was chosen to represent the sin of PRIDE because he was a “know-it-all.”

Pride is a sin because it makes an idol of self.

  1. The vicious vice of pride. (1 Cor. 8:1-3)

How can I identify a sinful degree of pride in myself?  It is a matter of trust: do I trust God or self?  Pride is putting trust in myself or any other worldly thing.         It is a matter of love: do I love God first?  Love of self is appropriate if we love God and others first.  It is a matter of grace: do I try to earn favor?  This can be subtle, but I believe that I can be worthy to enter heaven by being a good person, that is a form of pride.

Why is pride deadly?  It is deadly because it can blind us to our need for God.  If we don’t acknowledge our personal problem with sin and our need for Jesus Christ as Savior, we are dead in our sins and unsaved.  Self-reliance can be a good thing except in spirituality.  In spiritual matters we must rely on God.

The context of this verse is a “hot button” issue in the early church; whether or not it was appropriate to eat the meat of animals that had been slain as a sacrifice to an idol.  Paul’s teaching on this issue reveals how pride can replace true spirituality.  In his answer, Paul was inspired to make three points.

First, WE ALL HAVE KNOWLEDGE.  That was Paul’s way of saying, “Everyone in the church has an opinion on this subject.”   The question was, whose opinion was right?

Paul’s answer might be summarized as, “The person who relies on God’s wisdom than human knowledge.”  The spiritually mature view is to not be legalistic because legalism is a religious form of pride.  It puts human knowledge above spiritual revelation, and law above grace.

Second, love is better than knowledge.  Paul wrote that KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP – that is – it creates a pride.  “Know-it-all” people and legalists have a toxic effect on relationships.  LOVE is better because it BUILDS UP other people.  People who have the love of the Lord have a positive effect on relationships.

KNOWLEDGE asks questions like…

What are my rights?

There are no exceptions – no need to pay attention to context – so, what does the law say?

How can I be vigilant to correct wrong-doing in others?

How do I need to exert my will?

LOVE asks questions like…

What is my responsibility?

What has God revealed to me?

What can I do to show God’s grace and promote spiritual maturity?

How can I help others to do God’s will?

Third, humility is best defined as accurate self-knowledge.  This may sound shocking: self-reliance is the greatest enemy of faith because it encourages inaccurate self-knowledge.

People who are intellectually self-reliant are proud of their big brains.  They tend to reject faith, tradition and Scripture because they’ve “figured it all out” and “know better.”

People who are materially self-reliant seek security from money in the bank or are materialistic in more subtle ways.

People who are physically self-reliant tend to emphasize experience and value excitement.  They refute absolute truth and morality as it might limit on their freedom.

People who are spiritually self-reliant have made up their own faith; they see no problem with placing their hope in something that has no more authority than wishful thinking.

Humility is needed and none of these self-reliant people are humble because they fundamentally misperceive themselves.   Accurate self-knowledge comes only in relationship with God.  For example, every day we rely on a mirror to accurately view our appearance.  In a similar but more important way, we need someone to reflect our true self back to us.

Apart from God, all we have are other people to be mirrors for us.  There are at least two problems with depending on people to serve as our “character mirrors.”

No one else really knows us.  They can’t know read minds and they have not lived all our life with us.  God knows us better than we know ourselves and He has been with us all our lives.

The perspective of others is always heavily influenced by their own thoughts and experiences; they are incapable of being a truly accurate reflection.  God IS the truth.  He alone can truly reflect us.

So how do we access God’s perspective?  Primarily, we gain God’s perspective through prayer, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit.   Secondarily, we can gain God’s perspective through other believers who are spiritually maturing and speak through the Holy Spirit.

  1. The vital virtue of humility. (Romans 12:3)

The context of this passage: in Romans 12, Paul reminded the church members that they were not separate bodies, but one.  The individual believers, like organs in a body, must all function and function together for the health of the whole.

How am I to practice humility?  Paul listed three specific requirements.

First, I must stand in God’s grace, not in my works.  In the phrase, FOR BY THE GRACE GIVEN ME Paul identified the authority behind his words (God) and the source of his words (also God).

GRACE is God’s favor on undeserving people.  Pride is a sin because it attempts to do away with GRACE, to make it unnecessary by redefining sin out of existence or at least making it unimportant.

Humility is a virtue because it admits to our complete dependence on God.  You can’t have humility without GRACE.

Second, I must not think too highly of myself; no more than I OUGHT to.  Humility is NOT making yourself a doormat.  It has very little to do with passivity.  Humility is knowing who you really are, as God has given you perspective to know yourself accurately.

Accurate self-knowledge will never lead to pride.  It is never self-centered.  Accurate self-knowledge is awareness of your strengths and weaknesses and a desire to live within them.  Accurate self-knowledge does not deny ambition, but it tempers it.  It is based on truth and is the most realistic view of self.

I must think of myself as God does.  Because of GRACE, I see myself as a child of God.  Thereby I can…

Third, exercise SOBER JUDGMENT.  I can see good and evil in the world and react accordingly.  I understand life IN THE MEASURE OF FAITH.

Notice FAITH too is God’s gift.  FAITH is not something we make up to suit ourselves or to fit in with the crowd.  FAITH is received.  It must be sought and discovered.  It is passed on and received.

Humility is vital because pride can blind us to our need for God. Pride replaces God with self.  Pride leaves us dead in sin because if we don’t acknowledge our sin & our need for the Savior then we will never have faith.

Those of you under 50 years old…

selfie

know what this woman is doing.

For the rest of you, this gal is taking a “selfie” and she’s using a “selfie stick” and her smart phone to do it.  She will post the self-portrait on a website called Instagram, where people typically draw attention to themselves.

A friend gave me a copy of this cartoon that identifies the seven deadly sins with websites, updating this list for modern times.   Instagram is a photo and video-sharing website and app that began way back in 2010 and is owned by Facebook.  As of September, 2017, Instagram had 800 million registered users and over 40 billion photos and videos have been uploaded to it.  Instagram is criticized both for its censorship and its lack of censorship, proving again you can’t make everyone happy.

My point is not that users of Instagram are raging egomaniacs.  Instead, I merely offer Instagram is a symbol of pride because it is a place where people show themselves to the world.  However, the self they’re showing is possibly more flattering than accurate.

Pride is a sin because it makes an idol of self.

Our message is simple: avoid the vice of pride while practicing the virtue of humility.  We prize independence and in politics and finances, that is a good thing.  But in every other respect, dependence on God and interdependence among believers is the ideal.  It is an ideal achieved by humility, not pride.

Last Supper, Last Words (5 of 5)

upper-room

(Please pick up your favorite Bible and read John 17:20-26.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.)

A man had been shipwrecked on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, spending the last twenty years utterly alone.  When a ship finally discovered him, his rescuers were impressed with the three buildings he’d built & asked him about them.

“Well,” the man replied, “this is my house and that building over there is my church.  It is a wonderful church and – to be honest – I hate to leave it.”

“And what is that third building yonder?” a rescuer asked.

“Oh, that is the church I used to go to,” the man replied.

(Via “The Joyful Noiseletter.”)

Why is that joke funny?  Is it because it’s a little too close to the truth?

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe He was sent by the Father. (17:20-21)

He said, “MAY THEY ALSO BE IN US” that is, “May my followers be in fellowship with God.”  We need to go back to chapter fifteen to Jesus’ image of the VINE & BRANCHES to understand the object of Jesus’ prayer.  There He taught every separate branch must remain in connection to the vine in order to survive and BEAR FRUIT (words and deeds useful to glorifying God and building the Kingdom of God).  There Jesus used the word ABIDE to describe the closeness of our relationship with God.  As we observed in our study of 13:15, 21, 23, Jesus identified LOVE of God as obedience.

An objective of abiding and one kind of fruit-bearing is making disciples; as Jesus said, “SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE.”  An outcome of have a relationship with God is having a witness to His reality.  This news is too good to keep to ourselves.  Our fellowship with God isn’t just for our own salvation but also so that God may use our words and deeds to help others be saved.

In these verses Jesus clarified what the WORLD is to believe; “THAT YOU SENT ME.”  Jesus’ power and authority flowed from the Father, enabling Him to accomplish His mission in the world. Similarly, we receive power and authority through the Holy Spirit to do the work the Father has set before us.

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe that complete unity is possible. (17:21-23)

The ultimate standard for unity is found in God’s nature, specifically, in the Trinity. In verse twenty-one Jesus prayed “THAT ALL OF THEM MAY BE ONE, FATHER, JUST AS YOU ARE IN ME AND I AM IN YOU.”  When you consider what Jesus is praying for, it is staggering: He asked the Father that His followers would have a depth of unity JUST LIKE the unity in the Trinity!  We struggle so much to barely communicate, to get along and be civil, this kind of unity is hard to believe.

I will let you in on a secret; all God’s moral standards are beyond our capacity to achieve on our own.  If we could do it on our own, why would we ever turn to God?  God sets impossibly high standards because they’re right, because they’re best for us, and to deepen our relationship with Him.

This works when we succeed in doing right, because it is through the Holy Spirit He has made us able to succeed.  This also works when we fail to do right, because we can ask God and others to forgive us and move on.

In verse twenty-two Jesus again requests unity for His Church; “I HAVE GIVEN THEM THE GLORY THAT YOU GAVE ME, THAT THEY MAY BE ONE AS WE ARE ONE.”  The word GLORY refers to the visible manifestation of God’s presence.  Jesus has given us all we need from God the Father to be in divine unity with Him and with each other.  This verse reaffirms we are to be in unity JUST AS God the Father, Son, and Spirit are one.

In verse twenty-three Jesus expanded on our unity in 2 ways.  First, He prayed, “I IN THEM AND YOU IN ME.”  The Trinitarian depth of unity isn’t something we achieve; it is God’s gracious gift.  Second, He prayed, “MAY THEY BE BROUGHT INTO COMPLETE UNITY.”  The unity God gives is COMPLETE.  God’s standard for relationships is COMPLETE UNITY, no exceptions or conditions.

The outcome of unity is TO LET THE WORLD KNOW two things.  One, that Jesus was sent into the world by God the Father.  Two, [YOU] HAVE LOVED THEM EVEN AS YOU HAVE LOVED ME. This is the message Jesus wants you and I to take to the world.  One way we demonstrate the truthfulness of this message is loving and living in unity.  How can the world take the message seriously if the messengers don’t live as though they believe it?

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe that a glorious future awaits the faithful. (24)

“I WANT THOSE YOU HAVE GIVEN ME TO BE WITH ME WHERE I AM” is a prayer directed at a future moment.  Go back to John 14:1-4.  What did Jesus promise His disciples?  He promised a heavenly home with lots of room!   That should create confidence.

Though it may sound incredible, Church is supposed to be a taste of heaven.  Our fellowship on Earth ought to be so characterized by UNITY that we are together experiencing what heaven will be like.

We don’t truly serve God if our main motive is something other than His glory.  We work to invest in eternal rewards and not for praise, power, or profit.  (See Matthew 7:21-23.)

“AND SEE MY GLORY, THE GLORY YOU GAVE ME BECAUSE YOU LOVED ME.”  In this verse Jesus organized his prayer chronologically.

“BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD” refers to the time before creation and before Jesus’ birth.  Jesus existed as God before He entered into human history as one of us.

“TO SEE MY GLORY” refers to Jesus’ time on earth, the Incarnation, when His glory was perceived by physical eyes.

“TO BE WITH ME WHERE I AM” refers to the time between Jesus’ going back to heaven (Ascension) and the future, where we will be united with Him in heaven.

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe their righteous Father loves them. (17:25-26)

The WORLD doesn’t know the Father but it must.  Why don’t worldly folk know the Father?  There are at least four reasons:

One, they are under the influence of the system that hates God and actively works to destroy faith.

Two, the system is under the influence of Satan, the “prince of this world.”

Three, the devil blinds unbelievers to the truth, even clouding their minds when they read the Bible (see 2 Corinthians 4:4).

Four, another reason people don’t know the Father is the failure of church folks to introduce them.

Having observed these four reasons, the fact remains that everyone exercises their free will; people actively reject God.  They are not innocent or ignorant victims.  The Bible says unbelief is an act of wickedness and that unbelievers are self-condemned.

Jesus revealed the Father to the WORLD.  In John 10:9 + 14:6, Jesus said no one can come to the Father except as He leads them. Romans 5:1+2 promises we have ACCESS to God’s saving grace, but only by means of Jesus Christ.

“THEY KNOW YOU HAVE SENT ME” is Jesus’ assertion He clearly communicated the Father: no one can make excuses.

“AND WILL CONTINUE TO MAKE YOU KNOWN.”  Jesus keeps this promise through you and me.  He makes God known through us!

LOVE is the best means by which we make God the Father known to the world.  We use words, of course, but actions speak louder than words.  The faith about which we speak must be made evident in words and deeds.

Jesus prayed for all believers and for all to believe.

The final scene in the upper room is one of prayer.  The final moments of Jesus’ freedom would also be a time of prayer.

Those facts ought to be instructive to us.  Jesus depended on prayer, we must too.

Today we’ve looked at the subject of Jesus’ final prayer with His disciples and noted two things for which Jesus prayed.  First, He prayed for all who would believe in Him and follow Him.  He turned His attention from the Eleven to future generations of believers and prayed for us.  He prayed for us to have unity & love as means of witness and blessing.

He also prayed for all people, that the world might come to know Him as Savior and Lord.  While He knew this would not be the case, Jesus nonetheless asked the Father for every living soul to be saved.

Are you living in a way that makes it clear God answered Jesus’ prayer for you with a “Yes?”  Jesus prayed that all His people would be distinguished from the WORLD by their unity and love.  These are two means by which we gain a hearing with folks outside our faith.  We earn the right to be witnesses for Jesus and supporters of our church by making these virtues so evident that they can be perceived by all people.

Love Never Fails

Take up your preferred Bible and read 1 Corinthians 12:31-14:1.  Myself, I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Love is the virtue at the center of our identity.

Now that the turkey is reduced to leftovers, we put Thanksgiving behind us and think more about Christmas.  I know we have Christmas overachievers in our church family; you already have your gifts bought, probably wrapped, and either hidden or placed carefully under your tree.  The underachievers who will wait until Dec. 24 OR LATER to shop and all the rest of us are going to be out and about the next three weeks.

One of the things we experience while out and about, especially this time of year, are strangers doing “random acts of kindness” to other strangers.  This week, Richard Hanson had a great idea to improve the custom.  His idea was to have a card prepared explaining that your act of kindness was not random at all, but was the product of a love-relationship with Jesus Christ.  Do the act, leave the card and have a “silent witness” of Jesus.

We have printed several of these cards for your use.  Let me recommend you take a few of these and when you buy lunch for the people in line behind you or pay for the purchases of the person in line ahead of you, give them one of these cards and put the face of Jesus on your kindness.

J.B. McPhail wrote, “Love is the fabric of a life well lived.” Acts of kindness are seasonally appropriate and give evidence of good character.  If you use these cards, you will add witness to service and improve both, with eternal consequences.

  1. Context: THE GREATER GIFTS, THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY,

THE WAY OF LOVE (12:31 + 14:1).

There are three expressions Paul used that provide context for this teaching, so it’s important to interpret these first.

The first is, EAGERLY DESIRE THE GREATER GIFTS.  Paul wrote about Spiritual Gifts because his original teaching had been corrupted by false teachers for their purposes.  The Gift of Tongues had been exalted as being above all the others, so Paul countered by saying there are greater Gifts than Tongues. Paul didn’t identify which Gifts are GREATER, but in chapter fourteen, he made it clear that the Gift of Prophecy is a more useful Gift than Tongues.

The second phrase is THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY.  This is Paul’s transitional statement, the way he introduces this chapter about love.  1 Corinthians 13 is a passage lifted out of its context possibly more often than any other in the Bible.

Paul wrote about Spiritual Gifts in the chapter before and after.  Ch. 13 is NOT a parenthesis, but part a chain of reasoning covering chapters 12-14.   In chapter 12 he introduced the reader to the Spiritual Gifts, listing and defining them as God’s way of growing churches.  In chapter 13 he puts them in proper perspective vis-à-vis LOVE; the Gifts are ways to express and enact love.  In chapter 14 he showed how misuse of the Gift of Tongues messed up worship in the Corinthian church.

Paul made it clear that LOVE is superior to t Gifts; it is THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY.  The Greek word for LOVE here is agape.  The word was used only once in all the secular Greek texts which survive into modern times.  This word was taken up by New Testament authors and the Church to convey the ultimate love given by God to humanity.  It is the deepest, most spiritual version of the three Greekk words for LOVE.  It is the ultimate kind of LOVE.  It is not superficial, sensual, or sentimental.

The third phrase is FOLLOW THE WAY OF LOVE is in 14:1; LOVE is a WAY of life.  We are to pursue this virtue in our daily living and ultimately, in our character.

  1. Without love, even the Spiritual Gifts are powerless (13:1-3, 8-10)

Without love, TONGUES fail to communicate (1) and will ultimately be STILLED (8).  LOVE is the difference between merely making noise and communicating in a godly way.  Without a translation, public use of the Gift of Tongues only succeeds in making noise and worse, may irritate the Body of Christ, like the clang and bang of a GONG and CYMBALS, say.  The GONG and CYMBALS were used in Old Testament worship (see 2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Chronicles 13:8; Psalms 150:5) and also idol worship; not referred to in a derogatory way. Instead, there’s just not a lot you can communicate with a GONG or CYMBALS.  We need to make words, not just noise.  One aspect of love’s superiority over Tongues is that LOVE will continue to exist after the Second Coming, while the Gift of Tongues will cease (8).

Without love, the knowledge and faith bestowed by PROPHECY amounts to NOTHING (2) and will ultimately CEASE (8).  The Gift of Prophecy can involve FORE-telling the future but it is mostly FORTH-telling; interjecting the truth where people are misunderstanding or misbehaving.

MYSTERIES and KNOWLEDGE are variations of the same Gk word.  They refer to deep knowledge of hidden and significant things.  In Paul’s time as in ours, “moving mountains” is an expression for overcoming great challenges (see Mark 11:22-23).  BUT – done without love, even great achievements are NOTHING.  After Jesus’ Second Coming, there won’t be any need for the Gift of Prophecy because all survivors will know God’s will (see JMH 31:33-34).

Without love, GIVING has no benefit (3).  The kind of sacrifice Paul describes in verse three is total, even to the point of giving up one’s life.  In modern terms we might paraphrase Paul to say, “Even if I become such a workaholic that I suffer burnout”.  This may be a reference to the fiery trials of Shadrach, Mesach, and Abenego in Daniel 3.  Notice that Paul did NOT say in verse eight that giving will cease.  Heaven will be a place of ultimate and true giving (never false or for evil, only good).

Our knowledge is, at best, partial and immature (8-12).  It requires love to make it valuable.

Our knowledge is always partial.  People who ignore this fact fall into a vice that makes people hard to live with: the arrogant assumption they know it all.  Paul identified this vice in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.  KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP means that knowledge can lead to pride.  The Bible teaches that only God is all-knowing, so put your pride in park and get real!

Our knowledge is always immature.  Growing old and maturing are not the same thing.  Growing old happens automatically; the longer we survive, the more birthdays we accrue.  Maturing takes time, so it looks similar, but maturing is a process that happens by intention and application of hard work.  Spiritual maturing, the greatest of all kinds of maturity, happens only with hard work and the help of the Holy Spirit.

The more we learn, the more we have to admit there is more we CAN learn.  It takes a maturing person to admit there is still room for self-improvement and then to take up that challenge.  There is no reason to be “puffed up.”

In heaven (WHEN COMPLETENESS COMES, v. 10), our knowledge will be full and mature.  Now we see God only as He is reflected in human beings – sometimes a very poor likeness – but then we shall see Him FACE TO FACE.

(Corinthian mirrors of polished metal were famous in the ancient world – Paul refers to them here.)  In heaven we will KNOW FULLY, even as God now has perfect knowledge of each of us.

  1. The qualities of true love (13:4-8, 13).

Paul expressed the qualities of LOVE positively: LOVE IS…

– PATIENT (4) = it overlooks small offenses; resists becoming resentful; is active, not passive.

– KIND (4) = it thinks of ways to help others.

– Joyful in the TRUTH (6) = lovers are happy with honesty.

– Unfailing (8) = as God is love, love will always be needed, appropriate, and powerful.

– Maturing (11) = childish ways of thinking and speaking giving way to adult means are Paul’s way of symbolizing spiritual maturity.

– Protective (7) = it helps, doesn’t hurt unless pain is necessary for healing.

– Trusting (7) = by being trustworthy.  Loving people have discernment but start with positivity.

– Hopeful (7) = Negativity always hinders and hurts.  Hopeful people give others the benefit of the doubt.

– Persevering (7) = will not give up on people and is willing to endure adversity in order to love.

– The greatest of all virtues (13) = HOPE and FAITH are important, even essential virtues.  They will all remain for eternity, but LOVE is t GREATEST.

– You could summarize all ten of these virtues as being having a focus on someone other than self.  Those who truly love are focused on God first, others second, self last.

Paul also expressed the qualities of LOVE negatively: LOVE IS NOT…

– Envious (4) = it is not materialistic; it does not want what others have.

– Boastful (4) = it does not seek superiority over others, nor is it characterized by “one-upmanship” and an insistence on “winning” arguments.

– Proud (4) = it is not arrogantly centered on one’s achievements and qualifications to the point of feeling entitled.

– Dishonoring (5) = it is not so self-absorbed as to disregard the well-being of others, even to the violation of God’s standards.  It doesn’t withhold respect.

– Self-seeking (5) = this vice sums up this entire section.  The other eight vices explain how to recognize self-centered people.

– EASILY ANGERED (5) = it’s focus is not on one’s self manifest in a short temper and/or perceiving insults or injuries where none were intended.

– A recorder of WRONGS (5) = it does not withhold forgiveness.  When we pray, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” we may be asking for a world of hurt.  Selfish people hold grudges.

-Delighted with evil (6) = it does not derive a wicked happiness when seeing someone else “get what they deserve” or get away with wrong-doing.

Horror is not a genre I enjoy, so I rarely read or watch it.  One of the most horrifying movies I’ve ever seen has no monsters or killers or violence of any kind.  It is a film shown to us in elementary school, called “Cipher in the Snow.”  It is the short story of an ordinary school kid who walked off the school bus one morning and fell over dead.  His teacher undertook to understand what killed Cliff.

The film was based on a story by Jean Mizer, a lady who worked as a teacher and guidance counselor, published in the NEA Journal in 1964.  It was produced by Bringham Young University and has been used extensively for anti-bullying education and moral training.

Although the film does not come out and say so explicitly, it is clearly implied that Cliff died from a lack of love.  The teacher finds that Cliff’s parents divorced and he had no friends at school.  There was no one there to love him.

It scared the willies out of me, but I took the lesson to heart.  The film illustrates the disaster that is a loveless life.

Love is the virtue at the center of our identity.

Love is one of the easiest things to talk about and sing about.  Everyone wants to celebrate love and everyone wants to receive love.  It’s not so easy

to do.  It’s not always part of our nature or personality to be loving, especially not at the high standard God sets for love.

It’s much easier and more natural for us to love self first, or substitute legalism for love and then make excuses to conceal our lack of love.  Love is not optional for a follower of Jesus, it is essential, indeed, the defining aspect of our character.

Seek ways to love.  Act on opportunities that present themselves.  Love is too important to be kept waiting, so get to it.  And, there’s no better time than Christmas to go about proclaiming and enacting the love of Jesus Christ.

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.

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.

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).