Avoiding Division (Part 2) – 1 Corinthians 1:13-17

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Division in churches is nothing new… but where does it stem from, and how do we avoid it?

There’s so much to be learned from the Corinthian church, which was struggling greatly, but thankfully wasn’t at the point where trenches had been dug!

Learn from what the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to say to the church on it’s road to internal war!

Avoiding Division

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Experienced division within a church? Painful as it is, it’s not inevitable, and it can be cured or avoided if we’d only get hold of the teaching the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to give to the Corinthian church.
They were well on the road to division… but we can be thankful for them – since Paul’s correction of their problem becomes a great lesson for us!

Direction setting for a church: One star to steer by

We kicked off this series by warning that if you don’t fix your eyes on two key truths when you’re setting the direction for a church, you might just be heading for shipwreck! The first of these two ‘stars to steer by’ is the subject of our post today:

lost at sea with stars2

God’s Chosen Purpose for the Local Church

At the heart of this series is the question, “Why does the church exist?” To put it another way, “Why did God create the institution of the church?” As a local church pastor, I have to ask, “Why does GraceLife London exist?”

The answer we get from a careful look at what the Bible has to say leaves us with a threefold purpose: (1) to glorify God, (2) to build each other up as believers and (3) to love the lost with the gospel. We’ll be taking a look at these one at a time… so here goes with number one:

1. To Glorify God – WORSHIP

If you ask the question “Why?” enough times about almost anything, ultimately you will get to the same answer, “In order to glorify God!” That’s why we exist! That’s what God said about Israel “whom (God said) I created for my glory” (Isa 43:7).

Paul says the same thing to the Colossians (Col 1:16) when he says that all things were created by Jesus and for Jesus! That’s also one of the reasons the creatures in heaven fall down and worship God saying “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev 4:11).

Clearly then, the church exists for the specific purpose of glorifying God. That’s why God chose and predestined children for himself – in order to bring about “the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph 1:6). But if this is the big idea, then it’s something of a tragedy when ‘doing church’ get’s dominated by other things!

How would church be different if…

What would church be like, if we keep central the idea that we’ve been saved in order that his glorious grace might be praised. An idea like that can certainly change what we understand we’re supposed to be doing with our time together as a body! When the church gathers together, one of our main aims must obviously be to worship God together and praise his glorious grace now!

But then that begs a crucial question – just what is real worship?

Everyone is part of the worship team

Worship is an attitude of heart. Our friend John MacArthur has given a good simple definition: “Worship is honor and adoration directed to God.” That can and should be done anywhere. That’s what Jesus told to the woman at the well: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24

Worship in church needs to be heartfelt worship or it misses the mark

The take-home point from this is clear: worship can be anywhere because worship is an attitude of heart, but for our purposes it’s also clear that anything we call “worship” when we get together as a church needs to be exactly this kind of heart worship – done in spirit and in truth – otherwise we should give it another name!

Radically, the Bible teaches us to do everything we do to the glory of God – even mundane things like eating and drinking: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) It doesn’t take a theological degree to work out then that everything we do when we get together as a church should be worship – not just the musical parts! The great the question is – how can we do that? How can we direct everything we do so that it is an act of worship to God – so it’s all done for His glory?

How to do it all for God’s glory

The answer is easier than you might think, but doing it might be harder than you think. Ultimately we’re only going to be doing everything as an act of worship – all to the glory of God – when it is all about God and not about us! That would mean that whether we’re alone, or when we meet together, we’ll do everything we do to try to please Him! That’s what Paul told the Ephesians: “and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord,” (Eph 5:10). He said the same thing about his own attitude in 2 Cor 5:9 when he said “we make it our aim to please him.”

So what does it look like to be doing everything to please God and not to please yourself?Let’s look first at what that would look like in our music. I’m going to say that we need to be churches that practice sacrificial singing!

Start with Sacrificial Singing

Singing has always been a central part of worship. How about this from the Psalms: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” (Ps 100:1-2).

Although no musical instruments get a mention in the New Testament, it is clear from many places in the Old Testament that a great variety of musical instruments were used in worship that was pleasing to God. Worship has always been (and still should be) a time of amazing gladness with singing and music celebrating our wonderful God and Saviour! (By the way, it’s obviously not the case that musical instruments in themselves are somehow ‘worldly’ or that God is automatically displeased by worship accompanied by instruments. More on that in another post!)

So why sacrificial worship? How can you have a happy sacrifice? One very instructive passage in thinking about worship is Hebrews 13:15-16 “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” How much of our time is supposed to be spent offering up to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name? The answer is quite profound in that word continually… and a few songs on Sunday just don’t do that word justice!

(We’ll take a look at the whole issue of music in worship in much more detail in a future post… it’s rich and controversial enough to need a thorough treatment on its own!)

For now, let’s concentrate on the other aspects of worship during the time we meet together as a church. Clearly there should be much that is said and done during a meeting of the church that becomes just such a ‘sacrifice of praise.’

Sit back, relax, and worship??

By contrast to a self centred, consumer approach to worship, when David was given an unusual opportunity to do something to worship God, his attitude as a man after God’s own heart is quite instructive. He simply would not sacrifice offerings to the LORD that cost him nothing (2 Sam 24:24). He wanted his sacrifice to cost him something, and if you add to this reality the fact that we are supposed to present even our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1-2), what you end up with as a picture of Sunday worship is quite the opposite of the consumer approach! The very fact that we are supposed to present to God a “sacrifice” of praise leaves no doubt that we are supposed to be wholehearted and sacrificial in our approach to every aspect of worship.

Does worship feel like an effort? Good!

If these principles were applied to our worship in song, what would it look and feel like? The answer is that it would look and feel like an effort on our part – not that we are being entertained, but that we are participating sacrificially in the worship of God! We need to come to take part – not to just to observe and be served. More than that even – a relaxed, happy-go-lucky, casual approach to worship doesn’t make sense in the light of this truth!

Sacrificial reading?

If we take a moment to apply that same principle to our praying, reading, timekeeping, serving, giving, listening and so on, and we’ve got the idea! Worship is not about us… but we should definitely be involved with all our might!

Up next… it’s not about numbers, but building up individual believers 🙂

Sodom as a mission field

Lot flees from SodomHave you ever heard a sermon about Lot pitching his tent towards Sodom? Maybe, like me, you’ve heard people read quite a lot into that story. “Before long he was living in Sodom,” they say, “and look what happened to him and his family…”

A few questions have always niggled me about this approach. “Bad company corrupts good character” (1Cor 15:53) obviously still applies, but a logical application from this kind of message would also be to avoid living in immoral cities, since it might rub off on you, not to speak of the influence on your children. The problem with all this? It’s just not at all the instruction given to New Testament believers.

Location location location
(you need to know where you are)

Instead of telling them to escape to the hills, when Paul writes to the Corinthians, virtually the first thing he does is tell them about the amazing place that they are in, and call on them to live out their location!

Amazing place??? Corinth? Hang on – let me explain… Sure enough Corinth was a hell-hole. What can be seen on the screen today was out on the streets in Corinth. To make the link with Lot, they lived in a kind of 1st Century Sodom… but Paul wasn’t going to spend his time talking to them about that location!

What mattered to Paul was not so much where they lived, but the position that God had put them in, in Christ. They had been sanctified in Christ Jesus!

NowSanctified” – is a passive verb in the Greek, in the perfect tense. A literal translation could read, “having been sanctified” which raises a question or two if you think about it!

Corinthians? Sanctified?

You don’t have to read far in 1 Corinthians to realise that these Christians had not been made thoroughly holy… so what does this mean that they had been sanctifiedActually, this word is speaking more about their position than their practical level of holiness.

Just as in the Old Testament, pots and pans could be set aside to be used only for the Lord… so believers when they are saved, are set aside, moved into a new collection of people, a new category – holy to the Lord – dedicated to his own purpose and use. More than that, Christians have also been cleansed from their sin once-and-for-all, made holy in the Lord’s eyes by Christ’s sacrifice: “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” (Heb 10:10).

Don’t get out – work out instead

Now all that remained was for them also realise that they were called to live out their position in Christ… they had been called to be saints.

The good news is, that if you are in Christ, you might be living in Sodom, but in God’s eyes, you have been set apart to be holy for Him. You are now in Christ Jesus – washed clean by His blood, and made part of His body. That also means that God now has a special purpose for you. His purpose is that, as part of a church, you are called to live a holy life… and as you do so, to shine light into that terribly dark place.

It’s a scary thought to go back in time and think about what would have happened if Christians had fled Corinth, and Rome once they were converted. In those early days, as soon as the church was established, Paul seemed to rely on the saints in these bustling, immoral, worldly centres of the world to evangelise their area. He didn’t tell them all to flee the city, but to flee the sin in their own lives, and live in a way that would shine the light of the gospel throughout the regions they had such an influence on.

Life in Sodom can be scary for saints… but don’t run, you’re needed.

Can you smile in a storm?

A vicious wind swept down from the mountains onto the lake. Moments before, the water had been calm, but now plain sailing had suddenly become plain terrifying, as the wind whipped-up enormous waves.

The little fishing boat, open on the top to allow their trade, suddenly became a trap, for those fishermen. The great waves were breaking into the boat and filling it with water.

They all knew what was coming next. As seasoned boatmen, they’d long feared this sloshing water, knowing that at any moment it could suddenly destabilise the boat, and flip them into a watery grave.

And yet there was one person on the boat fast asleep. They woke him up with a rebuke, “Lord, don’t you care that were perishing?”

And there was Jesus, waking up the middle of a storm. What would you expect his response to be? “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, I had no idea! Are you perishing? If only I had been awake. I would never have let you get into this mess!” But is that what he said?  No!

Mark his first words,

“Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Matthew 8:26

After that, he got up and stilled the storm with a word.

If you add together the three accounts in Matthew Mark and Luke, you realize that he also questioned his disciples after rebuking the wind and waves: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” If that wasn’t enough, he questioned them a third time, “Where is your faith?”

Does Jesus expect us to trust in him, completely, in the middle of a terrifying storm? Actually, James tells us that when we’re suddenly surrounded by trials, we’re to consider it… to count it all joy! Now that takes faith!

With or without faith, storms come. With faith however, you can smile at them.
That’s worth having.

Into the fray

Starting something is usually easier than seeing it through, and for that reason, among others, I’ve held back the longest time, from starting a blog. After all, I’ve told myself, I’ve got plenty going on! Being a husband and a father, a pastor and a church-planter doesn’t exactly leave someone with gobs of time. That said, I can’t hold off for ever, and I’ve realised that like so many others, I’ve got stuff I need to communicate, and – well – this is the easiest way… so here goes.