Koinonia and Cash

As we look at this text, I want to remind you of the relationship between the church and the word of God. The church is not a collection of people who happen to gather together to hear some message, and as they are moved by the words they hear, go out deciding in their hearts whether they have heard the word of God. No, the church has no say in determining the word of the Lord. Rather, God says, “Let light shine out of darkness” and light shines in our hearts, and the church is formed (1 Cor 4:6).

So it’s an awesome responsibility I have here, to crack open this text and give you the word of the Lord. It’s not my word. And far be it from me to give you some mixture – two parts clear, sweet, pure water of the word, one part sea brine. It’s almost safer just to read the text and go home!

But no. That wouldn’t be fair. We are always children in this gospel. Our hands are unsteady, and we need some help to hold the steak and cut it with the knife. Regenerate now, we once were dead in trespasses, like Lazarus in the tomb. We hear the word of God, and we come stumbling out, still tangled in the clothes of death. We will need some help remembering how to stand.

So let’s walk through it

Philippi was a large town in Macedonia, just north of Greece. Named after Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, who conquered the world in the name of Greek philosophy. It was taken over by the Romans in 168 BC.

In 42 BC, Philippi was the site of a battle between Mark Anthony and Octavian on one side, and Brutus and Cassius, who assassinated Julius Caesar, on the other side. Mark Anthony and Octavian won. Later, Octavian took the name Augustus Caesar and reestablished Philippi as a sort of military retirement town. Which is to say that their economy might have looked a bit like Hinesville.

In Acts 16:9, as Paul and Silas are setting out on Paul’s second missionary journey, and being blocked by the Holy Spirit on every side, Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man begging them to come to Macedonia. When they obeyed the vision, Philippi was the city they headed for.

If you look in Acts 16:10, this is the first time that Luke stops referring to the main action of the text in the third person (“he”, “they”), and starts using the first person, “we.” Presumably, this is when Luke joined the mission, and some have gone so far as to speculate that the Macedonian man that they saw actually was Luke.

Some other famous members of the Philippian church:

Lydia, seller of purple, who opened up her home as wide as God had opened her heart. (in Acts 16:15)

The Philippian Jailer where Paul and Silas were imprisoned, who nearly committed suicide when their chains were miraculously thrown off. (That’s Acts 16: 25-34)

Paul’s relationship with this church was characterized by:

An intense, personal feeling of connection, due to the Philippians’ ongoing personal support, or “partnership” (κοινωνέω, Philippians 4:15, 1:3).

The Philippians responded to Paul’s preaching in an out-of-the-ordinary sort of way. They loved not just the message, but also the messenger (how lovely on the mountains are the feet of him…”), and supported him in more than just financial ways. (1:5,7)

The result was an uncommonly tender feeling that Paul had toward the Philippians (v.8), which you can see in the kind of prayers for them that he reports (v. 9), and his conviction that their support was going to result in the growth of an uncommon spiritual maturity (vs. 6, 9-11).

Because of this intensely personal relationship that Paul had with the church at Philippi, Paul’s letter takes on some thing of the character of a rambling, affectionate uncle. He has a specific occasion for writing to them, but since he’s writing, he just goes ahead and drops whatever else happens to be on his mind.

The result is that the letter feels a little disjointed, and all the cracks are filled in with these little nuggets that remind you of the book of proverbs. Or, in another metaphor, the patina of his letter is cracked, and you can see underlying glory of a heart that has labored long in the spirit, shining through like the light behind a tiffany lampshade.

It’s really easy to read the letter by jumping from nugget to nugget, and pretty much ignore what little structure there is. But I want to draw your attention to the structure, because it brings out some themes you’d be likely to miss otherwise. These themes really poke out in the introduction and the closing (which are really very similar) and the middle section where Paul talks about who is being sent to comfort whom. It makes you ask the question, “What really is the meaning of partnership in the gospel?”


So the occasion for Paul’s letter to the Philippians is pretty simple: Paul is in jail. Again. He mentions it in Chapter 1, verses 12-13. The Philippians heard about it, and sent a man named Epaphroditus to bring some kind of support. You see that in 2:25 and 4:18.

There’s been a lot of paper wasted trying to determine which time this was that Paul was in jail, what town he was in, and how long he was there. Frankly, I don’t think it matters. Paul was in jail a lot. He doesn’t seem too worried about it.

At any rate, the practical reason for Paul to be writing this letter is to thank the Philippians for sending Epaphroditus with the gifts he brought. This is sort of like saying that Romans is actually a missionary fundraising letter.

Paul, you’re doing it wrong.

Somewhere in there, Epaphroditus got sick and nearly died, but he’s better now, and he’s been there some time, enough time that word has gotten back to his home church about how sick he is, and word has gotten back to E that his church is worried about him.

So the Philippians know that E was sick, and E knows that the Philippians know he was sick, but the Philippians don’t know that E got better, and E knows that the Philippians don’t know. But Paul knows, and so he writes to tell them.

And so, to the text. We are at the last section of the letter, Philippians 4:10-23, and as Paul is coming to the last “finally,” he drops back to the practical reasons for writing that he was addressing at the beginning and the middle of the text. Let’s read.

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

First Point: This passage is about money

Let’s just face it. Verse 18: “I have received full payment,” that is… cash. It was a good thing. Verse 10a: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me.” It’s even a good thing that Paul was in jail because, among other things, it gave the Philippians an excuse to give to him. Verse 10b: “You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.”

Christians have weird issues with money.

“Money is the root of all evil;” “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve both God and Money” [Matthew 6:24]. “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.” [Jas 5:1-3]

Frankly, we’re right to do so. Being fastidious about money is obedience to Jesus, who said, “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21; Luke 12:34). So long as we remember that being fastidious about money is NOT pinching it till it bleeds.

Christian care for money is more like pointing it like a laser sight for your conscience. Send your money down a certain path, and there your heart goes, like a little lost puppy, along with all your idle thoughts and your most earnest prayers.

That’s a feature, not a bug. It means that everybody who has two pennies to rub together has a fairly mechanical way of controlling our affections. Just crack open your savings account, and pull out enough money that it makes you nervous. Then throw it at something that you don’t care about, but you wish you did. Do it three times in a row. Do it every week for a year. Watch your heart grow with the investment. It’s more fun than a chia pet!

But Paul was weird about money coming in, too.

First he teaches that it’s appropriate for churches to pay the guy who gives the sermon. So 1 Timothy 5:18 – “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”

And also 1 Corinthians 9 –

“Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same?  For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned?  Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.  If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?”

I mean, the principle is pretty simple: How you work should be directly related to how you eat. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 – “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”

That’s good economics. Anybody whose livelihood is connected to his labor is naturally going to try to do a better job than somebody who just has a hobby.

At the same time, it seems that Paul usually didn’t take money from the church where he was preaching. The whole point of 1 Corinthians 9:3-18 is that Paul insists on preaching “free of charge.”

In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul talks about his concern that greed could be a pretext for preaching, and how he worked “night and day that we might not be a burden to [them].”

Apparently Paul was well aware of the motive distorting effects of cash.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. And that heart can be as easily divided as the treasure. That’s good economics too: Anyone whose livelihood is connected to his mouth is going to try to talk better.

But then, do you preach toward the money, or to the conversion of souls? How do you make sure nobody could even suggest that of you? How about refusing the cash? On the other end, refusing the money makes it clear that the Gospel is a gift.

There are other dynamics going on. Money is complicated, because sinful hearts are complicated. The two main churches that Paul talks to about money are the Corinthians and the Thessalonians, which appear to have been at two opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of wealth.

The Thessalonian church

was relatively poor. So from the Thessalonians, he refuses to take money, because he knows that they don’t have much. And one of his concerns is that there is so much poverty there, because the men there don’t know how to work.

So Paul sets an example for them in labor by… refusing to take pay for his work, which is hard to perceive as real labor. He then gets a day job (presumably tent making, which is what it says Paul does in Acts 18:3), so that the men there can actually see that hard work really does pay.

In fact, it pays so well that Paul is able to provide care for the people he’s preaching to. Later, Paul is still exhorting them in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 to work with their hands, as he had taught them.


on the other hand, was relatively wealthy. So wealthy, that Paul is concerned that they will think that their wealth had something to do with Paul’s preaching to them. So he refuses to let the Corinthians pay him.

BUT. Now that he’s not in Macedonia anymore, he will accept funds from the Thessalonians and the Philippians to support his work in Corinth. So in 2 Corinthians 11:7-9, Paul says,

“Did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way.”

Then, once Paul leaves the Corinthians, he challenges them to give to the Jerusalem famine relief fund. 2 Corinthians 8:1-6,

“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace.”

Ok. Back to the Philippians.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. And the key is where the heart is. So when the Philippians hear that Paul is in need, their hearts are moved, and so their wallets are also. Paul tells them he’s rejoicing because, looking at their actions, he can see the condition of their hearts. As soon as they had a chance to show their affection for Paul, they jumped at it.

Now, let’s look at our hearts.

How are you doing with money? You know I don’t mean how much do you have saved up. I don’t care about your retirement account. Are you ready to give? Are you giving regularly at church? Do you tithe, or go beyond a tithe? Are you on the lookout for folks who need some extra support? Do you have a slot in your budget to save up for when you hear about somebody in need?

I only have the vaguest idea about the relative wealth of everybody in this room, but I shouldn’t need to tell you that how poor you are is really irrelevant. Paul used the generosity of the relatively poor Macedonians to spur the Corinthians on to greater giving.

At the same time, I want to commend you not to be silly about the tithe. Tithing is a kind of middle class standard, for people whose income generally matches their needs. If you’re homeless, or have a hard time buying groceries every week, you’re the person that the Old Testament tithe was intended to support. Look at Deuteronomy 14:28-29. If you just won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse, I want to recommend to you giving significantly above the tithe. Because you can.

But where I want to challenge you is to be intentional in your giving. Save up money to give every week. Add a little cushion in your budget for surprise giving opportunities.

I think everyone here knows that I joined the Army because my wife and I ate too much college. When Valerie wanted to stay home and raise the kids, I had to significantly increase my income so we could stay afloat. And ever since then, no matter how rich our income might be, we’ve been broke.

The borrower is slave to the lender, and until that debt is paid down significantly, it appears that I am U.S. Army property. But a few months ago, I got promoted, and for the first time in years, we actually had some money left over at the end of every month, even after accelerated payment on school loans.

So we are now actively looking for ministries to support beyond our weekly tithe to the church. We’ve been busy, so the progress is slow, but it feels good to think that not all of our most interesting giving is going to happen in the reading of our wills.

Remember, giving is a reflection of your heart, and it’s one of the primary ways to glorify God. Verse 18: “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

Second Point: This passage is not about money

Yeah, I did that. But look: Paul keeps emphasizing that it’s not about the money. Verse 11: “Not that I am speaking of being in need.” Verse 17: “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” Money is the little needle on the compass of your heart. But it’s also a stand in for something much more vital.

Look at vs. 14-15: “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.”

Let’s key in on this word, “partnership.”

My first experience with home groups was the church my family joined when I was in middle school. They called them “K-groups,” and the “K” was short for κοινωνία, or fellowship. And now you probably know everything you need to know about me.

But this concept of fellowship or partnership is kind of important in the New Testament. It means a whole lot more than hanging out. It’s closer to something like a business partnership, but more like family. Basically κοινωνία is the connectedness that makes church like church, and not just another club.

We have partnership with each other in the gospel; we have partnership with our leaders, in the gospel, and how much more those we send out from us for the sake of the gospel!

So, looking back at Paul’s strange mission financing scheme.

It looks like Paul’s intent was just to take no money, especially since the region of Macedonia was pretty poor. But the Philippians wouldn’t have it. So in Acts 16:15, Lydia is converted, “And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us.” She didn’t just give him a room to stay in. She made him family. And from then on, whatever venture Paul and Silas entered into, as far as the Philippians were concerned, that was THEIR mission.

In 2 Samuel 30, while David was out, a group of Amalekites raided his fortress at Ziklag and took everyone’s family and possessions. When the men went to pursue, half of them were too exhausted and opted to stay back with the baggage. After they defeated the Amalekites with only half their forces and got everything back, the scripture says that,

“Then all the wicked and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David said, ‘Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart.’ But David said, “You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the Lord has given us. He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us.  Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.”

As far as the Philippians were concerned, they were the men who stayed back with the baggage, but it was still their mission. Paul goes to Thesolonica; the Philippians are partnering in the mission to Thesolonica. Paul goes to Corinth: Macedonia is on a mission to Corinth. So Paul says in Philippians 4:15, “You Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.”

Money here is only a stand-in for relationships

Paul’s intent is that money itself should be irrelevant. Having cash isn’t the issue. Connection is the issue. Just take a second to look at these relational terms he keeps sprinkling through this passage: concern in v. 10, need and content in v. 11, kind in v. 14, fruit and credit in v 17, a fragrant offering in v. 18.

There’s a richness here that goes beyond what you might call missionism.

I want to define some terms here so you can understand what I’m trying to say. There’s been a kind of movement in the church lately that says we need to be “radical” and “missional.” And there are a lot of good things those words can mean, but there are also some bad things.

The wrong way to go about being “radical” or “on mission” is to narrow the outlets of your life until everything you do, eat, sleep and breathe, can be defined as directly relating to some effort at pushing Jesus. In this sense, being on mission is closely related to a corporation’s effort to stay “on brand,” or a political team’s effort to stay “on message.”

I’m calling that “missionism.” If I was going to be vulgar, I’d call it “missionalism” or better, “radical missionalism.” Radical, purpose-driven missionicalism.

That’s not what Paul’s pushing.

And I know the people who gave us those buzzwords were good Christian men, trying to promote the gospel and wedge sleepy half-Christians out of their well-padded American pew-shaped easy chairs.

But I think this passage points to a richer, more relational solution: κοινωνία. Partnership. Well-integrated, connected lives lived for Jesus. Seeking, not the gift, but the fruit that increases to the church’s credit.

The problem with missionism (living life 100% for a clearly defined mission) is that it has a ditch on both sides. Either you don’t accomplish the mission, which leads to discouragement, or worse, you actually accomplish your mission, and what do good Christians do next?

One day the last saint will be saved. Jesus Christ will return, and the heavens will be rolled back like a scroll. Is that when we finally start just living like Christians? Don’t be silly! How we will be then is how we need to model our lives now.

As best we are able, we should ever endeavor to live now in such a way that, when He restores all things, there will be no fundamental change to our lifestyle.

Does that mean that we shouldn’t think about missions?

Of course not. The Church has a mission. “How are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” But what I am saying is that the Church will outlast its mission, and that we have a certain character that God is building in us that is even more fundamental than the mission we’ve been given.

So everything should be characterized by compassionate co-partnership. That’s what Christian life means.

We are not a corporation, with a mission and an objective, ever willing to trim the fat in order to get there faster. Read your scripture – the fat of the sacrifice is what was given to the Lord. So also with the fat of our lives – “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

I mean that we offer up not the hard-driven productive parts of our lives, but the excess – the overflow; the cheerful, Christmasy bits.

The Gospel isn’t a political machine, that has to endeavor to stay on message. It’s a cosmos; an ecosystem; a cheerful, happy way of life; full of grace, because Christ has set us free.

A few quick mini-points at the end, and I’m done.

Look at verse 19: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” That kind of sounds back like it’s all about money again, doesn’t it?

I’m hearing the number 10, and there is somebody reading this letter who God is calling to give $10,000, and if you will just step out in faith and do that, then God will open up the floodgates over your needs, according to his riches in glory!

Well, no. I just don’t think so. Look back at vs. 12-13: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” These verses are just too close together for Paul to mean them in diametrically opposite ways. I have to believe that God was going to supply all their needs anyway, whether or not they sent Epaphroditus to Paul.

Furthermore, I have to believe that God’s method of supplying all their needs may or may not have involved overwhelming financial resources. It’s much more impressive when God supplies all your needs when you’re flat broke. In fact, supplying all your need when you’re rich may involve making you flat broke, if’n, in God’s wisdom, He determines you need to be broke.

If you look at v. 18, it has to fit together. “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied…And my God will supply every need of yours.”

In other words, as evidenced by the partnership between Paul and the Philippian church, just as sure as God was to supply all of Paul’s needs, so also God will be sure to supply all of their needs, and likely using the same sort of mechanism – the compassionate care of the extended Church.

So. “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

A Beautiful Mess: Membership

Good morning!  And welcome to Church.  If you are visiting with us today, welcome!  We are so very glad you are here. As you can see, we are currently in a time of awkwardness together before the Lord.  We have no musician to lead us in singing, and our lead teaching pastor is currently drilling with the Air Force.  I’m not really sure what the name of our church is.  Nevertheless, “[we] know whom [we] have believed, and [we are] convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to [us].” (2 Tim 1:12).  “Those who were not His people, He has called ‘my people’… and in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” (Rom. 9:25-26).  So, we are here, because we are convinced that we are called to be here, and if we are called, then He will be faithful to complete His work in us.  God is not intimidated by awkwardness, and so we are resolved not to be intimidated either.  So I say to you again, “Welcome to Church!”

We’ve been working our way through First Corinthians for the better part of a year now, and we have been calling this series of sermons, “A Beautiful Mess.”  The church at Corinth was located at a major hub of commerce and culture.  They had a lot of people moving in and out with a lot of different backgrounds, a lot of different approaches to life.  In the middle of this, God had seen fit to open the eyes of some to the way of Jesus Christ, and they became a church.  But they didn’t have a long and cultured background in being a church, so they had a lot of areas where they were proceeding without any understanding.  There was a lot of crazy stuff happening at Corinth, and yet Paul didn’t hesitate to call them “the Church of God at Corinth… sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.  They were a mess, but they were a beautiful mess, not lacking in any gift.

And we have been finding, as we work our way through the text, that we also are a beautiful mess.  Really, it’s been uncanny how many times we’ve come to a passage and found ourselves within a few weeks dealing with some really similar issue.  We’ve come up to where Paul begins working through how the Corinthians deal with spiritual gifts, and I have to say, I’m kind of excited, and kind of nervous.  I fully expect the Holy Sprit to begin encouraging us in the area of spiritual gifts and experiences, which is really kind of cool.  At the same time, I’m not sure how much more of this kind of learning by experience I can take…. Nevertheless, God is merciful.

Let me just kind of bracket the next few passages for you.  Chapters 12-14 are all about spiritual gifts, and what Paul does is he layers teaching about supernatural stuff with teaching about heart attitude.  And that’s a really good idea.  Spiritual gifts are powerful stuff.  It is by means of the Spirit that people’s hearts are raised from the dead; it is by the Spirit that people demonstrate that God is at work among them; and it is the Spirit speaking through us us who is able to reach around all the normal defenses people set up to protect themselves from the Gospel.  But it’s in the realm of spiritual gifts that the power of the Holy Spirit it channeled through human hearts who are not yet fully sanctified.  As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:32, “The spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets.”

  • So in Chapter 12, verses 1-11, Paul introduces spiritual gifts
  • Then in verses 12-27, he talks about membership, and what it means to be a unified body
  • In verses 28-31, he talks about a hierarchy of gifts – some gifts are more valuable than others.
  • Chapter 13 is the famous love chapter.
  • Then in Chapter 14, verses 1-25, Paul compares tongues and prophecy
  • And finally, chapter 14, verses 26-39, he discusses church order.

So there’s a lot here.  And the original plan was that David (our pastor) was going to break open 12:1-11 last week, and then this week I would go over membership in the body.  But then, some stuff came up…. and we didn’t do the next passage in line last week.  God is gracious and He orders all things.  We talked about it, and decided that, because of this layering thing that Paul is doing, it would be okay for me to continue with verses 12-27.  When David comes back, he’ll just jump around a little to get us back on track, and it should all still make sense.

So, now that we’re at the end of that really long introduction, and I have laid everything open before you, let’s read the passage and pray.

Read: 1 Corinthians12:12-27

Pray: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.”  Lord, make us babes before you.  Let us count ourselves ignorant before your Word.  May your Holy Spirit work in us to set aside everything we think we understand about these things, that we may submit to the teaching of your Apostles.  Let us not think of ourselves more highly than we ought.  At the same time, make this congregation wise to submit to your word and no other.  Don’t let them fall for quick and witty words, or sophisticated reasoning.  Make them spiritual Missourians, who have to be shown everything before they can acknowledge it.  Your name is holy, and you have raised your word above your name (Ps 138:2). May my words be clear; may everything I say be in obedience to You.  Amen.


This passage is about membership.   Just take a second to scan through this text and see how many times Paul uses the word “member” or “membership.”  I count about 8.  Paul seems to think that membership and talking about body parts will help us work together through our differences.  But what is membership?  Well, I have four points:

  1. Membership is real
  2. Membership is local
  3. Membership is undeniable
  4. Membership is life

So.  First point: Membership is real.

There’s a big range in what it can mean to be a part of a group of people, and our understanding of we are in that spectrum can have a huge effect on what it means to be the church:  Are we supposed to be a group of friends who just happen to show up at the same place at a given time on a Sunday, who like talking about Jesus?  Or are we a formal organization, with established rules, officers, and requirements for joining and leaving? Is membership in a local church just something that somebody thought up because they just liked being a nosy busybody, or is there a reason for it that is actually based in the Bible? Is it a warm fuzzy feeling about the group, a general sense of being attached?  Or is it something more concrete?

  1. Membership is real because the church is real
    Church is more than just the word we use for getting together and talking about Jesus.  There has been a lot of words written about what the word church means.  I don’t want to dig into all of that now, but I do want to point you to one of the few places in the New Testament where the Greek word “ecclesia” doesn’t refer to the church of Jesus Christ.  In Acts 19, the Ephesian silversmiths were upset that the idol business was failing because of the preaching of the Gospel.  So they had a rally where everyone was shouting “great is Artemis of the Ephesians, and they very nearly had a riot.  The town clerk quiets them down and he says this in Acts 19:38-39“If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another.  But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly.”  That word assembly there is “ecclesia” the same word that we translate “church.”  For the Ephesians, the ecclesia was the regular town forum.

    Now, in the spirit of honesty, Luke also calls the mob an ecclesia.  So we need to decide if Jesus wants his church to be more like a city council or more like a riotous mob.  And for that I would go to Mathew 18, where Jesus says, “If he refuses to listen, let them tell it to the church.”  Presumably the church is supposed to deliberate before removing someone from membership: “Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”  We don’t gather together a mob to excommunicate someone, we gather a council, and each of us is supposed to be a member of that council.

    1. Trust the metaphor
      This whole passage is an extended metaphor describing the body of Christ as an actual body.  Now the rule of analogies is that you can only trust them so far.  At some point, we are not like a giant human body.  We all eat our own food in our own houses, for instance.  But this is the word of God, so we need to trust God and trust Paul that the analogy is valid as far as it can possibly make sense.  Let’s don’t cut short the word of God by failing to take it far as it is intended to go.
      Limbs of the body are not casually attached.  We are not bionic implants, or tools in a belt.  We are parts of a living organism. Being cut off can kill you, and surviving as a body means remaining attached in a very specific way.  Some of those connections can be informal – relationships that just come up naturally.  But some of those connections need to be formal, hierarchical.  If someone is a mouth, he will have a bigger voice than an eyebrow.  At the same time, if he wants to talk in an official way, he should wait until he has been officially recognized as a mouth.
    2. Look to your baptism.
      Look at verse 13: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” This means a couple of things.  First, baptism is a formal event that happens.  You may be a believer before you are baptized.  But baptism is the formal process that brings you into membership in the church.  Can you be casually baptized?  Only if you want to make a mockery baptism.  Can you be loosely a member of the church?  Sure, it happens all the time.  But it makes a mockery of what it means to be a church.  It undermines the seriousness of what we do here, and it pulls you out of anything we can do as a body that might have consequences.
      Second, denying your membership is denying your baptism. Baptism is your testimony of faith in Jesus Christ.  It doesn’t make you a Christian, because we are justified by faith, and you can obviously believe before you get baptized.  But if a person refused to get baptized, you wouldn’t need any more proof that they didn’t believe.  And here, baptism brings you into the body.  You can’t be in the body if you haven’t been baptized.  So work it backwards.  If you aren’t joined to the body in any real sense, how can you say that your baptism was real? This is formalized in church discipline.  What are we saying when someone is removed from membership? Aren’t we saying that we as a church remove ourselves from responsibility for that person’s walk?  We can no longer confidently affirm that they are true Christians.  We don’t know if their baptism was real.  If you’re a floater, if you can’t force yourself to join a church, you need to consider if you are saying the same thing about yourself.

So.  Membership is real.  Second, Membership is local.

  1. You can’t be a member at large
    Now there is a sense, in which there is one holy universal church, and we are members of it.  But that membership plays out locally, and what I am saying is that you can’t be a member of the universal church without being a member of a local church.  Think back to the word ecclesia.  Can you be a member at large of all assemblies everywhere?  Even the president of The United States is the president of The United States and not of Canada.  A solemn assembly consists of the people who are actually assembled.  Even the mob in Acts 19 consisted of the people who were actually mobbing, and not the people who agreed with them, but stayed at home.  You can’t be joined to all Christians everywhere if you don’t associate yourself with the Christians next door.  You can agree with them.  You can like them, but you can’t be joined.I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where this was really significant.  I don’t know if you came from this kind of background, but where I come from, people think they are more spiritual if they have a ministry.  And by “ministry,” I mean a program with a mailing list and a budget.  So I have a kind of a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to the word ministry.  How can a word that means “servant” come to indicate how super-important you are?  Don’t ever call me a minister.  Call me a servant.  If I am ever a pastor – “this is Kyle, he’s the church’s servant.”

    But here’s my point.  When everybody has a ministry, with a newsletter and a mailing list, they are usually ministering to the church at large, often at the expense of the local church.  Does the local church hold them accountable for the administrative actions of their ministry?  Is the Navigators baptized?  Now I don’t know anything about the Navigators, good or bad.  But I do know that it’s possible to skim across the surface of God’s work in the world by putting all your energy and identity into good things that don’t require you to be joined and function together in a holistic way with the other members of the body.

  2. Also, Jesus and Paul both put requirements on members that can’t be obeyed outside of a local congregation.  I’ll give you two: Church discipline and responsibility for our Teachers.
    1. Church disciplineThe baseline for church discipline, in the negative sense is, is Matthew 18:15-17.  Let’s read it really quickly.

      “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

      Now try to imagine this happening  without local church membership.  It doesn’t work!  Every phase of this process requires an understanding that this brother is recognized in some clear way as part of a group with officers and standards.  If there’s no local group, and he’s not a member of it, then none of this can work.  The best you could do is to give the guy an earful, and maybe gossip about him. In fact, without membership, all church discipline is indiscernible from gossip.

      The same thing happens in 1 Corinthians 5 with the man and his step-mother.  Paul just skips all the steps and tells the Corinthians “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” And in case they didn’t get it, he repeats himself even more strongly, “Purge the evil person from among you.”  Wow.  Purge?  Really?  But pay close attention.  Who is purging?  The church at Rome?  The church at Jerusalem?  Paul is an apostle.  Why can’t he just purge him from wherever he’s writing?  Because membership is local.  The Corinthian church has to remove this man from their membership.

    2. Responsibility for Teachers
      This is a quicker point.  In Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus tells John to write letters to seven churches.  When he gets to the church at Thyatira, he says something interesting.  Revelation 2:19,20“I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.”So what’s happening? There’s a false teacher, and Jesus is calling her Jezebel.  Who does Jesus hold responsible?  The local church, that is to say, the membership as a whole.  This means that we have a responsibility as members, not only for the lives of our fellow members, but also for the doctrine of those we allow to teach us.  Paul tells Timothy to “Watch your life and doctrine.”  Well, we’re supposed to watch both of them, too.  You can even extrapolate from here a bit and say that this means that we should require the regular teachers at our church to be members, so that they will be subject to the same discipline process as everybody else.
  3. Membership is local; be local in your membership.This counts as more of an exhortation than any kind of official doctrine. But think about this:  We live in an era where there are more Christians around than will fit under a single roof, and where driving 20 miles is what somebody does to get a quick snack.  20 miles used to be called “a day’s journey.”  But we need to be careful.

    Because membership is local, driving too far to go to church is actually making a statement about the churches you drive past in order to attend the one you like.  I have had friends who would drive across state lines, about an hour and a half drive, to attend their favorite megachurch.  Don’t do that.  If that is the church that God has called you to, I seriously recommend you move closer.  Because a drive that long says something about every other congregation you drive past, that you cannot be in fellowship with them.  If there isn’t a biblical church within an hour and a half of your house, then you are in an area that is in serious need of evangelism.  You may want to consider joining a church plant in your area.

So. (1) Membership is real. (2) Membership is local.  (3) Membership is undeniable.

  1. You DO get to decide where you go to church, and there are lots of occasions for leaving one church and joining another:
    1. Moving
    2. Being sent (like Paul and Barnabas)
    3. Differences of first importance (baptism, the trinity, qualifications for leadership…)
  2. But once you are there, you don’t get to decide.  Joining a church is a little like getting married, and a little like getting adopted.  It’s less like joining the football team.  It’s a whole lot less like joining a high school clique.The formality with which you leave and join should indicate the seriousness the organization has.  Outside of blood relations, a local church should be the most serious organization you ever join.  Scripture mandates clear, formal, spiritually charged means to join and leave a church.  Outside of those means, you’re stuck!  Look at verses 14-21.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

You can’t disembody other members, and you can’t disembody yourself. Not for any reason?  Not for any reason you’d like. God has arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  We don’t get to choose – we get to engage with what we have.

Paul focuses on diversity, so we’re going to focus on diversity.  Being different yet joined together is part of the testimony of the church.  If everybody is brown haired and blue-eyed, then nobody has any trouble figuring out why you hang together.  If we all love the Goergia Bulldogs, nobody wonders why we’re all watching the same channel on… uh… when does college football come on?  If we are all musicians, outsiders understands why we have all this music.

But what does it mean when some of us are intellectuals, and some of us know how to work with our hands; some of us like country music, and some of us like hip-hop; some of us are middle class, and some of us are broke; some of us want to sit in the sanctuary and have a 3-hour prayer meeting, and some of us want to get into the community and start helping people? Friends, the testimony of Jesus is that we all work together.  We love each other, we care for each other, we cover for each other and are careful to make up what’s lacking in each other to the point that it hurts.  That’s what church looks like.  We have our differences, and we make our opinions known, we argue with our leaders, and then we submit to the decision of the body as a whole. When a stranger walks in and sees that for a few weeks, they will say, “Surely God is among you.”  And they’ll be right, because only Jesus can do that, by making us all part of his body.

But we have to actively work to not leave people out.  Jesus is the only one who can do it, but his mechanism for doing it is that we have to try.  I’m introverted; I put in too many hours at work; my idea of a good time is to read a good book, or maybe an article on economics. I only have one comfortable way of relating to people, and you’re looking at it.  But I have a biblical mandate not to abandon my brothers and sisters, to relate to the other members in the body and connect with them.  I need to be on the lookout especially for people who aren’t fitting in.  Because what I must not do is accidentally excommunicate my brother.

I also can’t excommunicate myself, neither because I’m offended, or because I don’t feel like I fit in.  This one may be harder, because the way to deal with those issues is to talk to people.  If somebody hurts you, Matthew 18, man.  Go to them.  If they don’t listen, either you write it off, or you escalate.  Maybe somebody in that process, the church lets you know that you’re in the one in the wrong. Take these things to heart!  Don’t stop off in a huff.  You have no right to leave the body.  Rejoice that the body cares for you enough to help you repent.

  1. Church discipline is not leaving the body.Ok.  Track with me here, because I just said excommunication is how you leave the body.

    Church discipline is part of what it means to be a body.  We don’t discipline people who are not part of the body.  Those people are literally none of our business.  The final step of church discipline is formally removing a person from membership.  And this means that they had to be known as a member to begin with.  If I get kicked out of the Hinesville rotary club because of my wild and wooly ways, I won’t care, because I never knew I was a member of the Hinesville Rotary Club in the first place.  And if the rotary club has any sense, they won’t care either, because they never knew who I was. We should care more about membership than a rotary club, not less.

    This means we have to be as clear as possible, otherwise church discipline won’t work.

    1. Members need to know they are members
    2. Entering and leaving the church should be public and formal
      1. How you join and how you leave will naturally come to match each other.
      2. Everyone is comfortable joining the church informally because everyone instinctively wants to be reassured that they are part of the group.  A smile and a nod and we think we have joined the church because we feel like part of the in-crowd.
      3. But how awful to be under church discipline and not even know it! You end up with people asking “Why is everyone avoiding me?” This just teaches them to hate the church, instead of loving Jesus.
    3. Even under the final expression of church discipline – excommunication – membership means something.
      1. The man removed from membership in 1 Corinthians 5 was still tied to the church.  If he had gone from Corinth to Ephesus, he wouldn’t have been able to start over again.  His removal would have gone with him until he repented or denied Christ permanently.
      2. This is why we need to be careful when accepting members from other churches, that we inquire that we are transferring a true membership with Christ, and not nullifying their membership by ignoring a church discipline issue from the former church. (Obviously doesn’t apply in the same way to top-level doctrinal differences like trinity or church government.)
  2. Church Splits.  Part of what makes a church split so painful is that somewhere there is a muddled view of membership.
    1. You have no right to divide Jesus.
    2. If people are separating without being sent, then it implies some sort of sin that isn’t being addressed biblically.
      1. Are people leaving the church that never were members?
      2. Are there members who have attained some sort of unbiblical power over process, so that Matthew 18 can’t be followed coherently?

Ok.  (1) Membership is real. (2) Membership is local.  (3) Membership is undeniable.  Last point: (4) Membership is life (So glad to get to this point!)

  1. If you are formally a member, you are a member.
    1. If you are in Jesus, baptized, formally admitted on the roles, recognized by the body as part of the body; if nothing can separate you from Christ, how can it separate you from his body?
    2. Can’t reject yourself from membership
    3. Can’t reject others from membership.
    4. Feelings don’t make you a member.
    5. Personality doesn’t make you a member.
    6. Different kinds of gifts don’t make you any more of a member.
    7. Different levels of maturity don’t make you any more of a member.
    8. Time in the church doesn’t make you more of a member.
    9. Roles, positions, elders, deacons, money, color… none of that affects your membership.
    10. You need to rest in this; you need to cash in on it.
  2. Let your membership in the Church reassure you of your membership in Jesus.  Rest in the assurance that, if you are open with the members of the body, we will help you guard your heart.  We will help you grown in Christ.  I have seen so much growth in our little home group…
  3. Let your membership give you a sense of responsibility
    1. You are responsible for the spiritual lives of your brothers and sisters.  Engage them.  Court their hearts for Jesus.  Form tight bonds with them, so that they can hear you when you feel compelled to warn them that they’re leaving the path.
    2. You are responsible for the teaching that you submit to.  Too many times I have seen people leave because they didn’t agree with their church’s teaching.  Part of why I am a congregationalist is that I believe that the congregation has a responsibility to correct or remove elders who are teaching false doctrine.  (Keep in mind that, the church as a whole has this responsibility.  If you disagree with the church as a whole, you need to consider whether you should submit to the teaching of the whole church.)
  4. Let your membership give you compassion for the other members.I mean that we should feel together in whatever the other members are feeling, good or bad. Look at vs 21-26:

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

    1. I have labored in this church for nearly two years, and it’s to my shame that I only really know what’s going on in the hearts of the people in my home group.  (G…C…M… Gospel Community on Mission.  My experience with the Army makes me allergic to acronyms.)  But I think to my credit, I know my home group really well.  I know who’s struggling with money, and I know who is tired of neighborhood gossip.  I know what Monty’s afraid of, and I know what makes Tamarra worried. Fortunately, we all know how many tools Layton will let you borrow if you tell him about a project you’re working on.  Lord grant me mercy, they know stuff about me that I don’t know, and I try not to think about it too much.But even in my home group, I have secrets about myself I haven’t told them.  I have sins I struggle with that I’m just trying to manage.  I have stuff that has happened to me that I have learned not to talk about.  And that’s just me.  Friends, I’m a pretty wide open kind of guy. So I know that even in a group this size, there are people struggling through all kinds of stuff.  Somebody may be struggling with the world’s gospel that your sexual urges should be your identity.  Somebody may be attempting to recover from abuse, and failing.  Somebody could just be plain worn out. There are a million reasons for a person to be a real member of the body, and have real reasons for not being quite sure.  Paul points out two categories: strength and honor
    2. Strength. (Let me just follow this metaphor for a minute.)It’s kind of awkward talking about this, because I am not a very physically strong man. Physical activity is just not where I naturally put my time.  Let me tell you, I can type a mean 80 words per minute.  But I’m in the Army, so we do a lot of physical training. (PT.  I hate acronyms.)  I am currently the oldest guy in my section, including people two ranks above me.  And they’re all in better shape than me.  My joke when we go to the gym to do weight lifting is that anything they can do, I can do at 80%  But even then, my legs are stronger than my arms.  So for dead lifts and squats, I can keep up. But my arms are powered by rubber bands, and they’ve all got hydraulic implants.

      My point is that some parts of the body are just stronger than others.  We don’t all get to be the thighs of the church.  (I’m not sure anyone even wants to be the thighs of the church. But that’s the next point.)  We don’t all get to be biceps.  One guy in my section at work has some kind of back injury.  So even though he’s a good deal stronger than me, he has to wear a back brace.  And this is where the scripture kicks in:  “The parts that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”  He wears a back brace and guards his lower back, because his back, weak as it is, is absolutely indispensable.  Not once has he ever said, “I’m tired of this. I’m going to call the doctor and just have them amputate!” No one ever says that.  His back suffers, so every part of his body suffers with it and he does what he needs to do to cover over it.  He needs support, so he gets support.  His shoulders show no signs of resentment.

      So who’s weaker in the church?  New believers, people who have been hurt, people who are suffering under overwhelming sinful urges, people who grew up under false teaching and haven’t worked out all their questions, the marginalized, the humble…. These people are indispensable.  These are the proof of the gospel itself, because these are the people that we have to extend ourselves in order to compensate, and provide support.  When they hurt, we need to feel it.  God gives us spiritual gifts so that we can be gentle to these people and identify them with compassion before they are even confident to identify themselves to us.

    3. Now honorable parts and dishonorable.  In our physical bodies, we all know what our “dishonorable parts” are, don’t we?  That would be the parts that we know are supposed to stay covered, the parts that we aren’t supposed to draw attention to. Without being graphic (I hope) did you ever think about why those parts are considered more dishonorable?  It has to do with them being the parts that are most involved when life gets messy.In spiritual things, life gets messy for all kinds of reasons.  Some people are just prickly and difficult to work with, highly opinionated, not willing to go with the flow. My mom used to say that she was the appendix in the body of Christ – nobody knew what she was there for, but she could stay as long as she didn’t cause any trouble.  Some people are the only believing spouse in a marriage on the rocks.  Some are widows, orphans, in foster care.  Some of us have medical conditions: diabetes, depression, down syndrome. Some of us are just flat broke all the time. Paul says these should get extra honor.

      I love the New Testament teaching on widows.  In 1 Timothy 5, Paul outlines some basic qualifications for widows – if she’s over 60, has no kids to take her in, shows her faith through charitable works – and if she meets those, basically you put the lady on staff.  In other words shower honor on her.

      We can pull that out and apply it to every group that the world says, “you are nothing.” We should naturally be giving extra honor to the dishonored. But if we perceive that it isn’t happening, we should make a point of it. Make a big deal about it.

  1. Body ministry.Friends, this is what normal life in the church should look like.  We should be actively and aggressively looking for ways to demonstrate the affection we have for one another.  Ephesians 4, another passage talking about the church as Christ’s body,  puts it this way: “but, speaking the truth in love, may [we] grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

    Look at that phrase, “Joined and knit together by what every joint supplies.”  The health of the church is made up of the connections one member to another. Elders and church officials can’t do that.  They can talk about it, but the building up of the body requires members working, as members, for the benefit of the church. Let’s pursue the Holy Spirit for the ability and know-how to do that, and let’s pursue each other as the means the Holy Spirit uses to do His work.

Let’s pray.

Lord’s Supper:

Verse 27 says, “now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”  There’s probably no more significant way that we can demonstrate that truth than by taking communion.  This bread is Christ’s body, and you are Christ’s body. We practice an open communion here, so if you are a Christian, not under discipline at this or any other church, if you can perceive the body gathered here as a part of the universal body of Christ, then surely you can perceive by the Holy Spirit, that this bread, broken on this table is Christ’s body, broken for you.  If  you are concerned about anything  that makes you unsure about partaking with us today, I would encourage you to listen to your conscience.  Grab someone here today and discuss your concerns with them.  If you need Jesus, take Jesus.  Be baptized, and then come to the table of the Lord.

It’s for the purpose of the Lord’s Supper that we are gathered.

Benediction (Jude 1:24-25):

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

Go be the church!

Speaking in Tongues

This sermon first delivered at Pigeon Cove Chapel in Rockport, Mass, on August 20, 2006

Reading: 1 Corinthians 14:1-25

You may not be aware of it, but there is one major distinction between Valerie and me. Valerie is a milk guzzler. I like milk. I’m fond of milk, but I don’t really drink a lot of it. I like to put it *in* things. A little milk in my coffee. Some milk in my cereal… But I can almost never drink the stuff straight. If I’m going to drink a glass of milk, I have to put something in it… like Ovaltine. I love Ovaltine. Valerie just likes the taste of milk. She can just pour herself a whole glass of milk and just… drink it.

I also like to think that I’m pretty good with words. Words are my tool of choice in almost any situation. But these two basic realities came into conflict a few years ago, before Valerie and I were married. It was a pretty normal situation, really. She was with me at my apartment, sitting with a glass of milk. I was heading in the general vicinity of the kitchen, so she asked me to take her glass with me. The only problem was that her glass was still mostly full. The solution was simple: She tipped her head back, and finished off the glass – the entire thing – in a single pass.

I was appalled. The thought of drinking that much milk in on sitting was nearly nauseating to me. I decided I had to do something. I had to make a stand. Continue reading “Speaking in Tongues”


This sermon first delivered at Pigeon Cove Chapel in Rockport, Mass, on July 16, 2006.

One of the dangers in allowing a new preacher to come speak at your church is that he tries to fit everything he knows into a single sermon. I heard somewhere that Billy Graham, the first time he preached, put everything he had into that one sermon. When he ran out of things to say, he stopped. It had been 15 minutes.

Well, I did a little better than that last month: I lasted about 20 minutes. I worked and worked until I put everything I could think of into a single sermon. As far as I was concerned, it was perfect. I was finished. There was nothing else to say. So when Alex mentioned to me he was putting me down for another Sunday in July, I told him that wouldn’t be necessary: I’d already covered everything. As you can see, my argument didn’t get very far.

So for about a month now I’ve been scrambling and I’ve been praying that God would give me something to say today. And as I was praying, I was reminded of what I believe should be the most important aspect of every believer’s life: worship. The Westminster Catechism begins with the question: “What is the chief end of man?” and the reply: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Worship.

Of course, worship is a pretty big topic, and it’s something I think about a lot, so the big danger today is that I might try to fit everything I know about worship in to a single sermon: just one big giant mess. The good news is we’ll get out early.

So I continued praying, asking God to give me somewhere to *start*. And so I came to Psalm 150, which Arthur just read.

 Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary!
Praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds!

I have to say, I love this psalm. It’s short; it’s sweet; it covers everything. It starts off with the basics: “Praise the Lord!” Can’t get any more simple than that. In Hebrew, it reads Hallel u Jah! Hallel means ‘praise’ and Jah is short for “Yahweh.” Like Josh is short for Joshua.

Then it tells you *where* to praise him: in his sanctuary and in his mighty heavens. That is, praise him where he is, or maybe where his presence is. Then, it tells you *why* to praise him: because of what he’s *done*. And when you’ve covered all of that, just praise him for who he *is*.

Because no matter how you think about it, Yahweh is worthy of praise. More worthy than the Red Sox; more worthy than the Italian soccer team; more worthy than priests and prophets, presidents and politicians, more worthy than pastors or parents. More worthy of praise than anything in heaven above or on earth beneath, because of who he is and what he’s done. There’s no way you could give him too much praise.

Then it moves to the cool part. It tells us *how* to praise him. Because we’re human and we like traditions and doing everything just so, God’s given us a template in this psalm, so we don’t leave anything out.

 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet.
Praise him with the harp and lyre.
Praise him with tambourine and dancing.
Praise him with the strings and flute.
Praise him with the clash of cymbals.
Praise him with resounding cymbals!

If you’ll look, you can see that the psalm actually mentions every classification of musical instruments.

    • “Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet.” There you’ve got brass.
    • “Praise him with the harp and lyre.” Now, I didn’t know exactly what the difference was. I thought the harp and the lyre were basically the same thing. Another translation I have says “praise him with the lute and harp” so apparently translators aren’t too clear on things either, especially since the lute wasn’t invented until around 500 years ago.So I looked some words up. Where the NIV says “harp,” the Hebrew word is *nebel*, which translates roughly as “skin bag,” or bladder. Well that’s exciting. How are you supposed to praise God with a bladder? Actually there are a lot of instruments that use a bladder: most prominently, the bag pipe, but also the accordion, and yes, the organ (hence the name: organ). The original organs actually had to have choirboys pumping a bellows behind it during the worship service.

      Based on this information, I think we can safely say that, in the event that we ever find it necessary to get rid of our church organ, scripturally it would be appropriate to replace it with a set of bagpipes. Or perhaps an accordion. Nevertheless, apparently when the translators looked at this word, they decided *nebel* meant a harp, since a harp looked like a deflated bag of air. I don’t know where they got that idea, but that’s what Strong’s concordance tells me.

      The second Hebrew word, where the NIV says “lyre,” is *kinnowr*, a stringed instrument that you would pluck with a plectrum, what we would call a pick. Basically it was a guitar. You might could slide a piano in under that one too. So: “Praise him with bladder instruments and plucked instruments.” Amen.

    • “Praise him with tambourine and dancing.” The tambourine was originally considered more of a dance accessory than a rhythm instrument, so that works
    • “Praise him with the strings and flute.” Stringed instruments and woodwinds.
    • “Praise him with the clash of cymbals; praise him with resounding cymbals!” You’ll notice percussion get mentioned twice. I think the psalmist really likes those. He’s probably a boy.

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of stories about how this or that instrument was inappropriate for worship. I had a very nice girl in college explain to me very seriously that drums were bad for your health because they might throw off the rhythm of your heart. In reality, the tendency of the church has always seemed to be to follow what the musical trend was in the rest of society (with a little lag).

But what this verse tells us is that not only is every kind of instrument *acceptable* for worship, but we’re commanded to use them. All of them. You kind of get the impression that every kind of musical *style* is appropriate as well. This is good. Not every culture is able to express itself musically the same way.

I’d have a hard time leading worship with a service composed by Johann Bach. I might have similar problems if I thought the only appropriate praise should be accompanied by screeching electric guitars. It’s been done, but I’m not quite ready to do it yet.

But the psalmist goes one step further. While he doesn’t mandate a particular kind of sound or style, he does mandate what kind of praise we’re supposed to give:

 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet.
Praise him with the harp and lyre.
Praise him with tambourine and dancing.
Praise him with the strings and flute.
Praise him with the clash of cymbals.
Praise him with resounding cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Everything that has breath. There’s a certain zeal here that doesn’t just tell you *that* you should praise him. It tells you the attitude with which you’re supposed to praise him. And that attitude is *intense*. It’s something that should be a little startling.

I don’t mean that we should only have fast-paced happy songs. Some of the things we need to praise God about are slow and serious. But you can’t properly praise God with the back half of your mind. If you’re going to do it, you need to do it with everything that you’ve got.

Then the psalm ends as it begins, summing it all up: Hallelujah! Praise the Lord.

Like I said. I love this psalm. It covers everything. But I always get stuck here and I have to ask a question. Really, what does music have to do with worship? I know what it does for me: it makes me feel the right attitude about God. But so does prayer. So does meditating on scripture.

This isn’t the only place in the Bible that talks about using music as a part of our worship. Twice in the New Testament, Paul talks about using “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” in Ephesians 5 and in Colossians 3. (And in case you’re wondering, the Greek word translated “psalms” refers specifically to instrumental music, particularly an instrument with strings that gets plucked with a kind of pick. Kind of like a guitar.)

What is it about music that God likes so much? What’s the big deal? Worship has to do with relating properly to God. In Hebrew, the word is *shachah*, and has to do with falling flat on your face. In Greek, the word is *proskuneo*, to kiss toward, like an oriental servant prostrating himself before his king. What does that mean? As Dennis Jernigan says, “Isn’t it pretty simple? He’s God, and I’m not.”

But what does that have to do with music? I mean, in the worship that Moses instituted, there’s not a single note. Just sacrifices and offerings. Those sacrifices, of course, are concerned with getting us in right relationship with him by dealing with the sin in our lives that keep us from “glorify[ing] God and enjoying him forever.” And they called that worship.

And it *was* worship. Worship is being in right relationship with God and the point of those sacrifices was to *get* in right relationship with God. Of course, *we* know that those sacrifices really pointed forward to Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice on the cross truly sets us in right relationship with God. Jesus fulfilled all those sacrificial laws, which is why, shortly after he ascended, all those sacrifices stopped. Permanently. There was nothing for them to look forward to.

Jesus fulfilled all the sacrificial requirements, and set us in permanent right relationship with him by his death on the cross. Everything that we used to call worship was just about getting up to that point. And it’s a wonderful place to be. We’re able to come boldly before the throne of grace, unlike Esther, who was afraid to come before the king, even though he was her husband. She didn’t know if she could come before him in the throne room and live, because the king’s favor, by law, was capricious. If you came to the king without being summoned, you would live or die based on his whim. But when we come before God on the basis of what Jesus Christ has done, we are guaranteed his permanent favor. But now that we’re here, what do we do?

A few years ago, I joined The Perfect Church. Maybe you’ve heard of this church. Every one of us, it seems has an idea of what life would be like if they were part of the perfect church, that is, the church where everything is going exactly the way I think church ought to go. Everyone is committed and working toward the same goal. All the right programs are in place. The church has absolutely no financial restraints of any kind, and you know God is with them because they have been in the fever pitch of revival for at least 6 years. Unfortunately, The Perfect Church is inevitably clear on the other end of the country.

Well, 10 years ago or so, I packed up my bags and moved across the country to be a member of The Perfect Church and attend their ministry school. But when I got there, I realized something: I didn’t know what to do. I’m the kind of guy who jumps in with both feet and make a difference. I like to fix things. But at The Perfect Church, nothing was broken. They had plenty of volunteers, and in terms of revival, they were about as vived as you could get. I had traveled across the country to join The Perfect Church, and now that I was there, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. It hadn’t occurred to me to think about what kind of life I would be living once I joined The Perfect Church. I still had to set about living the kind of life I was supposed to have been living all along.

The same thing happened when Jesus rose from the grave, and it happens to each one of us when we first become Christians. Up to that point, the goal has just been to get right with God. But now that we’re here, we still have to live our lives. What is that supposed to look like? Now we can finally set about doing the things that we were created to do in the first place. You know: “to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” Worship.

But what does it *look* like? Ultimately, our worship should be the sum total of our entire Christian lives: lives led by the Spirit and dedicated to reflecting His goodness in the earth. But I think that there is a special purpose for when we come together, particularly during the musical part of the service.

It turns out that there was one kind of offering in Moses’ law that Jesus didn’t *exactly* fulfill. It was called the wave offering. Normally, when there was a sacrifice, the thing that was being sacrificed was destroyed, usually by burning it. That’s why it was called a sacrifice.

But occasionally, God had a purpose for the thing being offered, and so he gave a ritual for setting that thing apart for God’s service. The classic example was the firstfruits offering.

Whenever the harvest season came along, before harvesting any other grain, the farmer was supposed to cut down one sheaf and bring it to the temple. There he would wave the sheaf in the air before the altar. The sheaf was supposed to symbolize the whole crop, and the point was to recognize God’s grace in providing the harvest and to demonstrate before the people what God had done.

Now in the church age, every sacrifice has been fulfilled by Jesus work on Calvary. There is nothing left to be done to earn God’s favor. In fact, all that’s left is the wave offering: to come before God and recognize the grace in the work that he has already done, and to come before the world and demonstrate what God has accomplished in us.

That’s what praise and worship is. We demonstrate what God has done with all the exuberance we can muster, with shouts and singing, hoping somehow to approximate the splendor of what God has done. And our hands and our voices just aren’t good enough, so we break out the instruments.

Even then, we can’t do it good enough. We’re just waving a sheaf of our lives, not the whole harvest. We haven’t even seen the fullness of the harvest of what God has done; not in our lives, and not in this church. But that’s the point.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” We *guess*, and then we try to praise him in proportion. All we know is that “All God’s promises are ‘yes, yes!” and we know the “amen” is coming. And while we wait, we praise him.

 Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary!
Praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds!
Praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet.
Praise him with the harp and lyre.
Praise him with tambourine and dancing.
Praise him with the strings and flute.
Praise him with the clash of cymbals.
Praise him with resounding cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!!


This sermon first delivered at Pigeon Cove Chapel in Rockport, Mass, on June 11, 2006

Before I begin, I’d like to mention that I’ve heard some nasty rumors about what exactly should be thrown at the newbie preacher, so I thought I’d share a little scripture on that. The only verses I know that have anything to do with throwing things are Psalms 60 and 108. It’s pretty much the same in both spots –

 With exultation I will divide up Shechem
And portion out the Valley of Succoth
Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet,
Judah my washbasin;
Upon Edom I cast my shoe;
Over Philistia I shout in triumph.

So scripturally, it’s probably okay to throw shoes. But, uh, no high heels please.

My actual text for today is 2 Corinthians 3:7-18. I’m reading out of the English Standard Version, mostly because that happens to be the bible I’m carrying around with me right now.

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

I had the benefit a few weeks ago of sitting in on one of Valerie’s environmental health classes while they were discussing the public health concerns dealing with atomic radiation. As a precursor to the discussion, they reviewed the mechanics of how radiation works, and that was when all kinds of lights started going off for me. I don’t remember anything from the rest of the class.

Somehow, in all my years of education, I managed to get hardly any science education at all. Since I was an English major in college, my advisors assumed I couldn’t do numbers and couldn’t understand detailed theories, so they strongly “encouraged” me toward science classes for the “non-majors,” that is, science for dummies. To my great shame, I listened to them. We spent the semester determining that streams that had been turned into concrete ditches with no trees were bad for the environment. I never took a single class in chemistry, or physics, or anything else that sounded “complicated.” So I knew basically what they tell you on the news: Radiation is bad. Nuclear bombs are bad. Stay out of the sun. Don’t let any nuclear power plants blow up.

So in this class, I learned a lot of really cool things. Here’s how this works: Radioactive decay happens when large, unstable elements like Plutonium deteriorate by losing subatomic particles – electrons and neutrons – one at a time. Radiation can be used to generate energy by placing a large amount of these unstable elements together and triggering a chain reaction, which causes things to get really hot, generating steam, running turbines, etc.

Radiation becomes a health concern, however, because of the how this deterioration happens. Each subatomic particle that is lost is a nanoscopic missile hurled at an impossible rate, accompanied by a high-powered burst of energy. Nanoscopic missiles don’t have much effect on things that are composed mainly of large chunks of the same dense stuff. The wall of a nuclear plant isn’t very concerned that it might become pock-marked by millions of micron-deep bullet holes.

But a living person has every reason to be concerned, since our bodies aren’t exactly made of concrete. Every cell of our bodies is separately alive, and a micron-deep bullet hole is just the thing to really mess things up, or even kill a living cell.

And you’re probably wondering what this has to do with Moses and being transformed. Well, let me take you back to Moses. If you’ll remember, back in Exodus 20 or so, God had just delivered Israel from Pharaoh in Egypt. They’d crossed the Red Sea and come to worship at the mountain of God. So God shows up. He comes down in thunder and lightning and a dark cloud and smoke and basically scares the heebie-jeebies out of the Nation of Israel.

And all 1.2 million of them as a body came together and said, “Oh no, Moses, no you don’t. That God saved me from Pharaoh, I’m very grateful. But if you think I’m going to go up there and talk to *that*, you’re nuts! Yahweh wants to be our God, great! You go talk to him on the mountain. We’ll stay down here, where it’s safe!” And that was that. So at about chapter 24, Moses goes up on the mountain to talk to God. And a month later, he hasn’t come down. Do you know what’s happened to Moses? I don’t know what’s happened to Moses. Maybe he’s dead.

By chapter 32, they can’t handle this any longer. Obviously Moses is dead, so they go to Aaron and say, “Ok, we can’t do this any longer. It’s time to get moving. Aaron, make us a God.” So Aaron said ok, and he collected a big lump of gold and he made them a cow. I don’t know why he made them a cow, but he made them a cow. And they got together and threw a party and said, “Praise be to this cow, who brought us out of Egypt!”

So about this time, Moses starts coming down the mountain with his two stone tablets God had made for them. Now, I know this has never happened to anyone here, but I’ve heard stories about parents going out of town for a weekend and leaving their teenage kids at home. Something comes up and the parents decide to come back early and they get home and the kids are having this massive party, and they are doing all kinds of stuff they’re not supposed to do. Right here, Moses feels like those parents. He is not happy. He is really really angry.

So Moses takes this golden cow, and he grinds it down into powder. And he throws the gold dust on a giant tub of water. And he makes them drink the water. “You think this golden cow brought you up out of Egypt? You think this cow can save you? Fine! Eat the cow! Did that help?”

Now, because of this experience, Israel down through history got this one truth burned into their minds: “God is not a cow.”

Now, that sounds really funny. But, we get some funny ideas about who God is too. Some of us think that God is like some kind of marine drill sergeant who’s always yelling at you and tells you you’ll never be good enough. Others of us think that God is some kind of smothering mother, whose whole world revolves around making us happy. Maybe you think God is some kind of senile old man who will let you get away with anything. He’s the living God of heaven, who loves us, but whose zeal will never rest until we are conformed into the image of his beloved perfect son. God is not whatever it is that you’ve imagined. He’s someone real.

Israel learned that day that idol worship is terrible. It can kill you. People died that day. But the worst thing is that God has made us to worship. It’s our nature to be conformed, to be changed by the things that consume our lives. By worshiping that golden cow, what were they being changed into? Nothing at all. That cow in scripture becomes the overriding image of what idolatry is. They talk about it in Psalm 115. Verses 4-8

 Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of human hands
They have mouths, but do not speak
Eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear,
Noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
Feet, but do not walk;
And they do not make a sound in their throat
Those who make them become like them;
So do all who trust in them.

If you’ll look up at verses 2 and 3, you’ll see one of my favorite passages. What about our God?

 Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens;
He does all that he pleases.

So what about us, in the 21st century? Paul talks in 2nd Corinthians about Moses, who would put a veil over his face, so people wouldn’t be shocked at the glory shining from him, and so they wouldn’t see it as it was fading. And he says also that people who won’t turn to the Lord have put that same kind of a veil over their hearts, so that when the spirit of God comes, it won’t change them.

And that reminds me of that class of Valerie’s that I sat in on. Radiation can destroy living cells based on the amount of energy and the size of the particles that hit them. A vagrant proton volleying through the air is like a cannon shot. It can cripple, or even destroy the cells it touches. But because it is relatively huge, its impact is relatively small: it doesn’t go very far into you before all its energy is spent bursting through cell walls. But a loose electron, since it’s so much smaller, can create little worm holes all through your body, rearranging hundreds of cells.

Radiation changes people, usually not for the good. So, when we’re confronted with an energy source that comes from atomic decay, the natural and proper response is to avoid it. In the sun, we wear sunscreen. In the X-ray room of the hospital, the technician gives you a lead apron to wear. We protect ourselves, we veil ourselves, so our bodies might not be changed.

The Bible says that something similar happens when we turn to the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3, verse 17: “Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”

The natural response, because we are sinners, when we encounter the Spirit of God is just like when we encounter radiation: we want to avoid it. We want to veil ourselves so that we won’t be changed. But what we have to realize is that, while radiation generally brings death, “the Spirit brings life.”

We were made to worship, and if we turn away from God, we will turn toward something else, an idol. And to paraphrase the scripture, those idols, whatever they are, are deaf, dumb, blind and stupid. And those who worship them will become like them: deaf, dumb, blind and stupid. Eventually, dead.

So where do we go from here? Well, what I’d like you to think about is what areas of your life you are still covering with a veil. What is it that you’re scared to death to change? Because I guarantee you that behind that veil is an idol of the heart, and if you leave it there, you’ll become just like it – deaf, dumb, blind and stupid. Eventually dead. I’d even recommend that you pray about it and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal those areas to you.

As David said in Psalm 139, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I believe that if you ask him, God will do just that. Maybe that veil covers your whole life. Maybe you’ve never been willing to let God change you at all. If so, I encourage you to repent and turn to Jesus. Because in spiritual matters, the most terrible thing would be to stay the same.

But if we turn to the Lord, and remove whatever things we using to veil ourselves from him, then beholding the glory of the Lord we will be being transformed into the same image as Jesus Christ his Son, from one degree of glory to the next. That’s what God wants for us. That’s God’s design for us.

And then, one day, when Jesus Christ returns and we meet him in the air, First John 3:2 says, “What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Then every veil will be stripped away, and we will be truly transformed.