And each its attendant weeds.

In conversation with somebody today, I had this pithy thought:  Jesus told us to repent of worrying, not anxiety.  Worry is the activity of going over what might be if you don’t.  Anxiety is the emotional state of being fearful about the future.  Worry is a sin; anxiety is a condition.  So we need to repent of worry and trust in Jesus, but that may not meant that the anxiety will disappear right away.  Emotional states are too much subject to conditioning for that.

Instead, you can think of anxiety as being like the withdrawal effects of caffeine, or some stronger drug.  People worry, because they are anxious, and the worry gives them minor relief from the anxiety.  But in the long term worry feeds the anxiety.  Attempt to stop worrying, and the anxiety hits stronger than ever.  And the only way out is through.  Repent of your worrying; stop feeding the anxiety.  Trust Jesus, and understand that, if you obey him about the worrying, the anxiety will eventually go away.

Of course, you may always have an anxious disposition.  Rejoice!  Some people are unnaturally blithe, and never have the benefit of anxiety to remind them to turn to Jesus.  Those people expect good things to happen to them, not because they trust Jesus, but because they tend to think the universe is bent to be their own personal servant.  Each of us must tend the garden that he’s given.

Not a fine line

Doug Wilson on the difference between a sin and a crime:

When we make something a crime without scriptural justification, and penalize it, we invert the order of God. When we make property ownership a crime, and fine people heavily for being guilty of it, we have a society as corrupt and as mendacious and as greedy as . . . well, as our own.

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!

The Smoking Flax

In pursuing his calling, Christ will not quench the smoking flax, or wick, but will blow it up till it flames.  In a smoking flax there is but a little light, and that little light is weak, since it’s unable to flame, and what is there is mixed with smoke.  The observations from this are that in God’s children, especially in their first conversion, there is but a little measure of grace, and that little grace is mixed with much corruption which, like smoke, is offensive; but that Christ will not quench this smoking flax.

Grace is Little at First

There are several ages in Christians – some are babes, some young men.  Faith may be as “a grain of mustard seed” (Matt 17:20).  There is nothing so little as grace at first, and nothing more glorious afterward.  Things of greatest perfection are longest in coming to their growth.  Man, the most perfect creature, comes to perfection by little and little; worthless things, such as mushrooms and the like – like Jonah’s gourd, soon spring up, and soon vanish.  A new creature is the most excellent creature in all the world, and therefore it grows up by degrees.  We see in  nature that a mighty oak rises from an acorn.

It is with a Christian as it was with  Christ, who sprang out of the dead stock of Jesse, out of David’s family (Isa. 53:2), when it was at the lowest, but he grew up higher than the heavens.  It is not with the trees of righteousness as it was with the trees off paradise, which were created all perfect at the first.  The seeds of all the creatures in the present goodly frame of the world were hid in the chaos, in that confused mass at the first, out of which God commanded all creatures to arise.  In the small seeds of plants lie hidden both bulk and branches, bud and fruit.  In a few principles lie hidden all comfortable conclusions of holy truth.  All these glorious frameworks of zeal and holiness in the saints had their beginning from a few sparks.

Let us not therefore be discouraged at the small beginnings of grace, but look on ourselves as selected to be “holy and without blame” (Eph. 1:4).  Let us look on our imperfect beginning only to enforce further striving to perfection, and to keep us in a low opinion of ourselves.  On the other hand, in case of discouragement, we must consider ourselves as Christ does, who looks on us as those he intends to fit for himself.  Christ values us by what we shall be, and by what we are selected unto. We call a little plant a tree, because it is growing up to be so.  “Who has despised the day of small things?” (Zech. 4:10).  Christ would not have us despise little things.

The glorious angels disdain not attendance on little ones – little in their own eyes, and little in the eyes of the world.  Grace, though little in quantity, yet is much in vigor and worth.  It is Christ that raises the worth of little and mean places and persons.  Bethlehem was the least (Mic. 5:2; Matt. 2:6), and yet not the least.  It was the least in itself, and not the least in respect that Christ was born there.  The second temple (Hag. 2:9) came short of the outward magnificence of the former; yet it was more glorious than the first because Christ came into it. The Lord of the temple came into his own temple.  The pupil of the eye is very little, yet sees a great part of the heaven at once.  A pearl, though little, yet is of much esteem.  Nothing in the world is of so good use as the least grain of grace.

Desire and Personality

James is probably the closest you will get in scripture to the kind of “digging” you find in most pop psychology. Usually Scripture finds it sufficient to list out sinful actions and sinful intent. It’s bad to do these things, and it’s bad to want to do them. There’s very little teasing out the particulars of what makes a person want one sinful habit over another. James goes a little deeper:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

That’s probably all the hint you need to work out all knotted details of a sinful psychology.

  1. You want things that you shouldn’t have.
  2. You can’t get the things you want.
  3. You use various combinations of force and guile to get what you want anyway.
  4. Your desires are diffused and multiplied, due to frustration
  5. Repeat.

What’s interesting to me is that you can see a lot of similarity between what James is saying here, and Buddhism. As best I understand, Buddhism teaches that the root of all evil can be summed up in desire. The goal is to come to a place where you have no desires whatsoever. If you desire nothing, then you are never disappointed.

But here’s a difference. Buddhism takes the position that all desire is bad, because all desires, being thwarted, lead to frustration (that is, pain and suffering). James, on the other hand, implies that some desires are good, and that there is a way to go about getting what you want that does not result in quarrels and fights.

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

In other words, while Buddha promises ultimate hope in not caring, James promises hope in a person. The reason your desires lead to frustration is not because you have the inconvenience of bumping up against the hard edges of an uncaring universe. It’s much better and much worse than that. There is an active personality who is jealous over you – over the image in which you are created, and if you are a Christian, over the Spirit that he has put inside you. He is actively working against you, because his jealousy has determined that your desires will not be satisfied, so long as they can be satisfied in anything else but him.

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Christ Will Not Break the Bruised Reed (Pt 3)

In pursuing his calling, Christ will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, in which more is meant than spoken, for he will not only not break or quench, but he will cherish those with whom he so deals.

Who Are the Bruised Reeds?

But how shall we know whether we are such as may expect mercy?

  1. “The bruised” here doesn’t just mean those that are brought low by crosses, but those that are brought by crosses to see their sin, which bruises most of all.  When conscience is under the guilt of sin, then every judgment brings a report of God’s anger to the soul, and all lesser troubles run into this great trouble of conscience of sin.  As all excess fluid runs to the diseased and bruised part of the body, and as every creditor falls upon the debtor once he is arrested, so when conscience is awakened, all former sins and present afflictions join together to make the bruise more painful. Now the one that is bruised will be content with nothing but mercy from the one who has bruised him.  He has wounded, and he must heal (Hos. 6:1).  The Lord who has bruised me deservedly for my sins must bind up my heart again.
  2. Again, a man truly bruised judges sin the greatest evil, and the favor of God the greatest good
  3. He would rather hear of mercy than of a kingdom.
  4. He has poor opinions of himself, and thinks that he is not worth the earth he walks on.
  5. Towards others he is not censorious, like somebody taken sick at home, but is full of sympathy and compassion to those who are under God’s hand.
  6. He thinks that those who walk in the comforts of God’s Spirit are the happiest in the world.
  7. He trembles at the Word of God (Isa. 66:2), and honors the very feet of those blessed instruments that bring peace unto him (Rom. 10:15)
  8. He is more taken up with the inward exercises of a broken heart than with formality, and is yet careful to use all sanctified means to convey comfort.

But how shall we come to this state of mind?

First we must conceive of bruising either as a state into which God brings us, or as a duty to be performed by us.  Here, both are meant.  We must join with God in bruising ourselves.  When he humbles us, let us humble ourselves, and not stand out against him, for then he will redouble his strokes.  Let us justify Christ in all his chastisements, knowing that all his dealing towards us is to cause us to return into our own hearts.  His work in bruising should lead to our work in bruising ourselves.

Let us lament our own perversity and say, “Lord, what a heart I have that needs all this, that none of this could be spared!” We must lay siege to the hardness of our own hearts, and aggravate sin all we can. We must look on Christ, who was bruised for us, look on him whom we have pierced with our sins.

But all directions will not prevail, unless God by his Spirit convinces us deeply, setting our sins before us, and driving us to a standstill. Then we will cry out for mercy.  Conviction will breed contrition, and this leads to humiliation.  Therefore desire God that he would bring a clear and a strong light into all the corners of our souls, and accompany it with a spirit of power to lay our hearts low.

A set measure of bruising of ourselves cannot be prescribed, but it must be so far as

  1. that we may prize Christ above all, and see that a Savior must be had; and
  2. that we reform that which is amiss, thought be to the cutting off of our right hand, or pullout out of our eye

There is a dangerous slighting of the work of humiliation, some using as an excuse for their lackadaisical dealing with their own hearts, that Christ will not break the bruised reed.  But they must know that every sudden terror and short grief is not that which makes us bruised reeds.  It’s not a little “bowing down our heads like a bulrush” (Isa 58:5), but a working our hearts to such grief as will make sin more odious unto us than punishment, until we offer a “holy violence” against it. Else, favoring ourselves, we make work for God to bruise us, and for sharp repentance afterwards.

It is dangerous, I confess, in some cases, with some spirits to press too much and too long this bruising, because they may die under the wound and burden before they are raised up again.  Therefore it is good in mixed assemblies to mingle comfort that every soul may have its due portion. But if we have this for a foundation truth, that there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us, there can be no danger in thorough dealing.  It is better to go bruised to heaven than sound to hell.

Therefore let us not take off ourselves too soon, nor pull out the stitches before cure is complete, but keep ourselves under this work till sin is the sourest, and Christ is the sweetest, of all things.  And when God’s hand is upon us in any way, it is good to divert our sorrow for other things to the root of all, which is sin.  Let our grief run most in that channel, in order that as sin bread grief, so grief may consume sin.