Tuesday, November 23, 2010

That Sinful Church

And he (Jesus) said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matt. 22:37–40 (ESV)

If we profess to love God as Jesus commands, we must immediately ask ourselves why we don’t obey His command to love our neighbor. The problem we find ourselves having to deal with is this: We cannot obey the first if we don’t obey the second.

My wife and I have just read through 1 Corinthians aloud, and as we read we discussed something which has bothered me for many years: I have never heard a message preached on the book which doesn’t emphasize how sinful this church was. We discussed the fact, and began to realize that the Corinthian church was no different to any church we had known over the many years, or now know, traditional or otherwise.

Do we like to have this totally negative view of the Church in Corinth, because it draws attention away from our own sinfulness? Although the actual sin of the members is sometimes quite different to those Paul comments on regarding the church at Corinth, there can be no doubt that sin is still evident, I dare say, at least to the extent it was in Corinth!

Some of the annual Assemblies, Pastor’s Conferences, and local church meetings I have observed prove the point.

The traditional church has become like the Pharisees to whom Jesus spoke, covering over what Scripture says with the blanket of tradition, inventing red herrings (straw men ?), and neglecting the weightier matters.

I confess to having preached through 1 Corinthians several times. Each time dissecting it, analyzing and being careful to remain within the bounds expected of one who is attached to a traditional evangelical confession, and, as a result, cannot exclude myself from the criticism I make.

How many of us would receive a letter and read it using the slice and dice methodology of most traditional sermon preparation? How many of us would take weeks, sometimes months, to read a letter addressed to us?

To do so would deny us any idea of the true picture the letter was intended to convey.

We are well aware that to always read and teach, from a Scriptural epistle, in the traditional manner, conveniently allows for the careful avoidance of some matters and the careful protection of others, such as “what we have always done”.

There is no doubt that 1 Corinthians is dealing with a church which fails to use a solid , Biblical disciplinary approach to known sinful behavior, but the failure of the Corinthians centers on two major facts which are spelled out in the above two commands of Jesus in Matt.22:37-40.

This church showed no evidence of love for God revealed in their attitude towards the Lord Jesus, and they showed no evidence of love for their fellow believers, including their fellow believers whose sin was being pointed out.

Having let them know he was aware of reports of their apparent disregard of sinful practices, which reveals to Paul their lack of maturity, so much so that , “…I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.”

He says this to a church which, he acknowledges, is blessed, “…. in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, ….”. It would appear that even though it appears that this church was doing some things right, is never-the-less actually no more mature than the most newly convinced believer.

Furthermore it is clear that the sinful behavior, which was evidently being ignored, extended to the attitudes shown during their love feast, which gives Paul the opportunity to turn the congregation’s attention towards the Lord Jesus Christ as he reminds them of what this love feast is all about. He reminds them of Jesus’ words at The Last Supper. The Lord’s Supper has a past, present and future aspect to it, and they need to be mindful that in coming to this meal, if anyone, “…eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.”

The whole church was partaking of this great meal, “in an unworthy manner”!

Some were obviously sinning by what they did. The rest of the church was sinning by what they did not do!

"Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

If they took seriously Paul’s charge for every individual to “examine himself “, not one person of that congregation could escape having to admit their sin because they were not “discerning the body” .

The church, as a whole, had an individualistic, selfish, self-centred attitude towards being a part of this body of people, who are part of the wider Body of Christ.

What I see Paul doing is focusing their attention back to actively proving their love for Christ, by having a Christo-centric view of their membership in the local body, because the Body to which they belong was bought with the price He paid (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; ch.15).

Their love for God and one another will then be expressed as they lovingly, carefully deal with the sin in their midst. As Paul told the Galatians, Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Today we are more likely to do things in the way Paul warns against, self-righteously pointing the finger, chest out-thrust ( so the sherriff’s badge can be seen ?), “ For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.”

Paul is well aware of this legalistic tendency. After all, he was right in the thick of it at one time.

They were obviously using the gifts of the Spirit in some way, as Paul had already acknowledged the giftedness of this church in chapter one, but they needed to be reminded that the gifting wasn’t for selfish aggrandizement or self promotion, but for the building up of each other as part of the Body of Christ.

To do this, love for one’s neighbor (one another) is second only to one’s love for Christ. Indeed, one without the other is impossible, as Paul demonstrates as he spells out, in ch. 13, what love for Christ and one another is like, and he expects that such love will be actively pursued (14:1).

As he draws his letter to a close, he brings the attention of the church back to its reason for existence, the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him alone.

With this thought to the fore he briefly touches on a few other points, then,” Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

This church isn’t any different to any other church I have experienced both in my country or the USA, sinners, saved by grace, not of works, lest anyone should boast.