11.3.18 – Always Serving – Peter Cheyne

I have been embarrassed that we are in Lent – we are approaching Easter – and I have been talking about the church as a body, and about spiritual gifts – which are important but it would be terrible if we didn’t give proper attention to the suffering and victory of Jesus. And Lent is a time to prepare. We shouldn’t just arrive at Easter and think that we can worship appropriately if we haven’t taken some time to prepare.

So, I thought today we might talk about both.

READ John 13:1-17

I am guessing that you think this is going to be a sermon about washing feet, following the example of Jesus. After all, that is what Jesus said: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet.” And you are right, in a way. We are to imitate Jesus but I want us to see how Jesus served using a variety of gifts here.

When I say that, something inside of me says, “This is inappropriate. This is an incredibly sombre and holy time and we talk about Jesus using spiritual gifts which seem exciting and fun.

But you know what? I think that internal check indicates that I have a wrong idea about spiritual gifts. Wrongly, I have an impression that spiritual gifts are like party tricks. You know, wouldn’t it be great to go around healing people? Wouldn’t it be fantastic performing miracles and prophesying? Even that unmentionable word “evangelism” would be fun if it was all done in the power of the Holy Spirit and masses of people were converted. But party tricks during the Last Supper? No, it just wasn’t that sort of occasion. Party tricks while Jesus was on trial or being killed? No, it is offensive to think like that.

So, where am I wrong? The spiritual gifts God gives us are not party tricks; they are ways to serve. That is really important for us to understand. Spiritual gifts are not party tricks; they are ways of serving. Jesus kept on serving and ministering to others throughout, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is about serving in the power of God. The fact that Jesus kept on serving, despite facing death, is just incredible. And what He said about washing feet actually is very relevant: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet. Now that I have modelled serving, using the gifts God has given me, you also should serve using the gifts God has given you.”

But was Jesus really using spiritual gifts during this time? On the screen is the list of spiritual gifts that we put together last week. Can you see any there that Jesus exercised in the few verses we read?

  • 1 – knowledge, faith
  • 2 – hospitality???
  • 4-5 – serving
  • 7 – prophecy
  • 8 – wisdom
  • 10 – teaching
  • 11 – discernment
  • 17 – exhortation/encouragement

Might we also say that Jesus exercised the gift of leadership? Pastor (shepherding)?

Let’s read a few more verses. READ John 13:18-20.

Again, there is prophecy there – not just in the sense of knowing what would happen. Jesus said, ‘I am telling you now before it happens.” But it is prophetic in the broader sense of speaking God’s words. As we mentioned last week, Jesus said that He never said anything that came from Himself. He spoke only words that came from His Father. Everything He said was prophetic, including these words. There are some really profound things that He said here.

We also see the pastor’s, or the shepherd’s, heart in the words, “I am telling you this so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” This is the pastor investing in His flock, preparing them. They are going to experience all sorts of grief and doubt and fear and a sense of failure and so many other emotions, but Jesus spent this whole evening – and of course there is lots more that we haven’t read – He spent this whole evening preparing them: ministering to them, teaching, them, serving them. This is the Shepherd caring for the sheep.

We might also see Jesus the evangelist in this verse. His expressed desire is that they believe in Him. Again, His death is going to raise all sorts of questions about who Jesus really was and whether He was still worth believing in and following. But, if they could look back and say, “This happened exactly the way Jesus said it would” that would strengthen their faith – help them to know that Jesus really is the Messiah. Jesus the evangelist is giving them reasons to believe.

Maybe one other gift we see here – actually two other gifts – are in the last five words we read: “the one who sent me”. Jesus was sent, by God, into our world. The literal meaning of an apostle is someone who is sent. And coming from heaven to earth is the ultimate cross-cultural mission.

Maybe I am stretching things a bit further than you are comfortable with. My real point is that, in 20 verses, we can see Jesus ministering in quite a list of ways that match up with the spiritual gifts. Clearly there is nothing party trick’ish about this. It is not showy or contrived. It is just the natural way Jesus operated – always working, empowered by the Holy Spirit, for the good of others – for the common good.

We could keep reading. Chapters 13 through to 17 all describe Jesus’ ministry to the disciples powerfully. We would see lots more teaching, comforting, encouraging, pastoring… Think of the words at the beginning of chapter 14: “Do not let your hearts be troubles. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

People have been quoting those words, at funerals, in particular, for twenty centuries. They are words of hope and comfort. Heaven is real; there is a place reserved for you in God’s house. Trust Him.

And there is a whole lot of teaching about the Holy Spirit. Jesus was leaving but He would return – in the person of the Holy Spirit. They would not be left alone like orphans. The Holy Spirit would be their advocate, their comforter, their teacher, the very presence of God with them. The Great Shepherd was preparing His sheep for their whole future.

His pastoral heart is visible when He explains His motivations for ministering to them this way.

  • 13:19 – I am telling you these things so that you will believe. Likewise, in 14:29.
  • 15:11 – I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
  • 17:13 – I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.
  • 16:1 – All this I have told you so that you will not fall away.
  • 16:33 – ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’

Do you hear Jesus’ heart in those things?

  • I want you to believe.
  • I want you to have complete joy.
  • I want you to not fall away. You are going to face opposition and danger and temptations and doubts. I am preparing you because I want you to be able to stand.
  • I want you to have peace. There will be trouble but, remember, I am greater; I am victor; I have overcome the world.

Isn’t Jesus the most amazing pastor? Those are the motivations Jesus explicitly stated but we could add others that are very obvious. All of the teaching about the Holy Spirit. I want you to know the constant presence of God, enabling you and helping you in so many ways.

I want you to have hope.

John 16:20-21     Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

The whole of chapter 17 is a prayer for them – and for us. Jesus no doubt exercising His gift of intercession. (So, there’s another gift.)

What if we added material from the other gospels? What if we carried on and studied the deep, deep prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane where, incidentally, Jesus performed a miraculous healing, putting back on the chopped off ear of the High priest’s servant? (There’s another gift.) What if we looked at how Jesus conducted Himself throughout His trial and the Crucifixion itself? We would see on-going, Holy Spirit-led, supernatural faithfulness and serving.

In the passages about spiritual gifts there are a number of verses explaining the purpose of the gifts. We might look at this more fully again in the future but very briefly now, there are three purposes. The most general statement is in 1 Corinthians 12:7: The Holy Spirit gives these gifts “for the common good”. They are not just for us as individuals. They are for the good of everyone.

  1. They are not just for us as individuals but we can benefit from their use.

1 Corinthians 14:2 says that those who speak in tongues, speak to God. Tongues are a way to pray. And v.4 says that those who speak in tongues edify themselves. There is some personal value. The individual grows and is built up.

But 1 Corinthians is very clear that those gifts that serve others are far more valuable. Personal growth, sure, fine, but the far bigger purpose is to serve others. We might say that Jesus’ pray in the Garden of Gethsemane was for His own comfort and He needed that time with His Father to come to the point of submission and faith. No problem with that but it is also apparent that Jesus spent a lot more time focusing on the disciples and preparing them.

  1. The gifts are intended to build up the church.

That is both bringing unbelievers to faith – 1 Corinthians 14:28-29 talks about sinners being brought to conviction when they experience God through these gifts – and growing believers. Various passages talk about encouraging, strengthening, comforting, equipping God’s people, the church growing up as each part does its work.

That is what we see in Jesus right through this time before His death – building up the church, encouraging, strengthening, comforting.

  1. The gifts are given so as to bring God glory.

1 Peter 4:11        [use your gifts] with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

Jesus is our model. Spiritual gifts are not party tricks. They are not even, primarily for our own benefit although there are benefits. What Jesus models is a constant use of God-given ability to build up the church – both bringing people into the church and strengthening and maturing the church – always wanting to bring glory to God. Jesus was always serving – even in the face of death.

Jesus, we want to be like You. We want to minister to other like that. We want to bring glory to God.

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4.3.18 – What Are These Spiritual Gifts? – Peter Cheyne

The Bible portrays the church as a body. There are many lessons that can be drawn from that image but two words that crop up a lot are “one” and “many”. There is one body made up of many parts. We have focused to some degree on the one – the unity of the body – but let’s turn to the many.

What are the many parts that the Bible refers to? The body passages talk about the diversity of spiritual gifts and, therefore, the diversity of ministries within the church. Different kinds of gifts… different kinds of service… different kinds of working (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

I am sure you will remember too that these passages say that God has given to every Christian some gift, or gifts. Every one of us, assuming we have come to faith in Jesus, has at least one of these gifts. Do you know what yours are?

Today we are not going to identify our individual gifts but simply list the gifts the Bible talks about. Having said that, of course, it might be that as we talk about them, it becomes obvious to you that God has given you a certain gift. Or you might realise that someone else obviously has some gift.

The main passages that list spiritual gifts are Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12 although there are others. Let’s read them and identify the gifts as they occur. When you hear a gift mentioned, repeat it. So, if the reading mentions prophecy”, call out “prophecy” and Zheng will press the right key on the computer and hopefully that gift will come up on the screen.

READ Romans 12:3-8

Prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, mercy

READ 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 27-31

Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation of tongues

Apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, helping, administration, tongues, interpretation

What about other passages? We have looked at Ephesians 4:11-12 recently. It talks about gifts that Jesus gives to the church but then lists five roles rather than gifts. In other words, it talks about the people and their ministries rather than the gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Three of those are listed as gifts in other passages and we can assume that God enables people for those roles with the relevant gifts. So we can almost certainly add evangelists and pastors.

READ 1 Peter 4:9-11

Is hospitality a gift? Hmm, it is not clear. It doesn’t say so; it is just that it is in the verse before Peter talks about using our gifts. Really he talks in somewhat general terms – of speaking and serving, so there are perhaps a number of gifts that fall under each of those headings – speaking gifts and serving gifts.

1 Corinthians 13 is obviously in the same context as 1 Corinthians 12. There Paul repeats a number of the gifts already mentioned but he adds two: voluntary poverty so as to give to the poor, and martyrdom (giving my body to be burned).

In Ephesians 3:8-9 Paul talks about his having been given the grace gift of preaching the gospel to Gentiles. That could refer to the gift of evangelism or it is specifically about cross-cultural evangelism – in other words, mission work.

1 Corinthians 7:7-8 suggests that celibacy is a spiritual gift. Jesus may also have said that celibacy is a gift, in Matthew 19.

Exodus 31:1-5     Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 ‘See I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills – 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.

So, Holy Spirit-enabled craftsmanship. What about physical strength? Samson had supernatural strength. It clearly wasn’t natural because, without the Holy Spirit, he was weak.

What about music? I am not aware of any biblical text that specifically talks about music being a spiritual gift or a result of a person being Holy Spirit empowered. But there are a lot of skilled musicians in the Bible: David, the musicians in the Temple etc. It is certainly possible that many of them were Holy Spirit enabled. We will come back to that in a minute.

What about intercession (prayer)? Again, I am not aware of any verse that says it is a spiritual gift but there are certain people in scripture who are exceptional pray-ers, e.g. Epaphras (Col 4:12).

How many gifts are there? It is interesting that there is no definitive list. There are various incomplete lists and a lot of overlap between them. It seems that the lists just give examples and different lists list different examples. Prophecy and teaching are mentioned more often than others. Is that significant? Maybe they are gifts that are particularly valuable in the sense of helping people hear God.

1 Cor 14:1           Follow the way of love and eagerly desire the spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.

Prophecy is given some priority. Why? We will come back to that too.

The nature of the lists suggests that there is not a specific number. We have listed 29 and there could well be more. Or maybe some aren’t. So what qualifies as a spiritual gift? Let’s consider music as an example.

A spiritual gift is any God-given ability through which God wants to work supernaturally and repeatedly. Many people are highly skilled musicians. They have a natural ability with music. Even our natural abilities are God-given, of course. And music can be powerful in stirring people’s emotions. But is God at work? If the musician is not a Christian, or is even an atheist, could you say that this was a God-given gift through which God was working supernaturally? It is certainly God-given but we probably wouldn’t say God was working through it. Now, of course, God can use anything. He can use the musical talent of an atheist but that is likely to be an exception not something that He repeatedly does through this individual.

On the other hand, you could have someone who is less technically proficient but whom God uses powerfully. When this person makes music, somehow, God uses that music to speak or to minister into people’s lives. It is not just the person’s skill; it is not just the power of the music; it is God.

An example might be David’s playing when King Saul was demon-possessed. Somehow David’s music calmed Saul. You could say that music can do that but Saul’s problem was spiritual and you do not solve spiritual problems with natural solutions. It wasn’t just the music. It was God working supernaturally through a gift that He had given David.

Likewise, many people are hospitable and it can have a huge influence. But there are some people whose hospitality God seems to use in powerful ways. When you leave the house of a naturally hospitable person you really appreciate that person for the way they made you feel welcome and important and honoured. But when you leave the house of a person with that spiritual gift, you know that God has done something special in your life through that person.

What do these gifts mean in practice? What is the gift of prophecy, for example?

The common perception is probably that you are a prophet if you can predict the future but prophecy is much more than that. Anyone who has a gift for knowing what God is saying and who speaks God’s words into a situation is exercising the gift of prophecy. Sometimes God might reveal something about the future but that is just one aspect of the gift. So, for example, someone might stand up in a meeting and say something and there is the sense that God just spoke to that meeting. The people there were alerted to what God wanted to say into their situation.

A biblical example might be when Nathan spoke to King David using the story of a poor man who had been ripped off by a wealthy man. David was angered by that injustice and then Nathan said, “You are that man. You have done that to one of your poor subjects: taken his wife and had him killed.” When he said “You are that man” David was convicted knowing that God had spoken directly to Him.

Deuteronomy 18:18 provides a pretty good definition of prophecy.

Deut 18:18          I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.

I will put my words in His mouth and he will speak them. Jesus is the ultimate example of this. He once said that He had not spoken anything from Himself but the Father who had sent Him had commanded Him what to say (Jn 12:49). Everything He said was prophetic – it came from God.

That possibly explains why the Bible says to eagerly desire the spiritual gifts especially the gift of prophecy. Imagine if everything we said was what God wanted said in the situation; everything we said was from God and we were just passing it on. Imagine the conversations! Wouldn’t that be a fantastic gift – to be God’s spokesperson. God says “eagerly desire the spiritual gifts especially that gift of speaking God’s words.”

Are there others on the screen that are a bit of a mystery?

Wisdom: the ability to make good decisions. The gift of wisdom would be the ability to say just the right thing that enables someone else to make a good decision. It might be saying the right thing to a person who is struggling – something that enables them to see with new clarity or to have the courage to act. It might be coming up with the solution when a groups is struggling to make a decision.

Knowledge: could refer to the person who is fantastic at handling information that God uses. Or it could refer to the supernatural ability to know something that could not have been known naturally. Jesus used that gift, for example, when He said to the woman at the well, “You are right in saying you have no husband. You have had five husbands and the man you are with now is not your husband.”

She went back to her town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” She had just experienced something supernatural. She had encountered God. It was clear. How otherwise could this man know these things about her? That is what led her to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. That is the power of the spiritual gifts.

I remember hearing a story once about a man travelling on a plane who looked at another passenger and saw the word “adultery” written across his forehead. He asked him if they could talk privately. He told him what God had revealed and the man repented and was saved.

That is the power of spiritual gifts. God works through us and when God works, things happen. If we work in the natural, that has no power but if we work in the supernatural, it is God who is working.

Are there other gifts up there that are not obvious?

God gives these gifts to every Christian. If you are a Christian, do not say that you don’t have any gift because God says you do. He wants you to work in the supernatural. He gives different gifts to different people but together we form the body of Christ. Are you keen to use your gifts? Do you want God to work through you? Do you know what your gifts are? We will keep working on this.

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25.2.18 – The Terrible Consequences Of Not Recognising The Body – Peter Cheyne

Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Wow! That is not a gentle Jesus meek and mild passage is it. Paul does not mince his words. He condemns the Corinthians for what they are doing. He says he cannot praise them. Their meetings do more harm than good. There is a bit of cutting sarcasm. What they were doing could not be called the Lord’s Supper. And he talked about them being under God’s judgement.

Does God really make people sick and cause them to die because they are not observing the Lord’s Supper properly?

Here it is in black and white! There is a lot of talk these days about how a loving God would never judge anybody. But that is not what the Bible says – by any means. The god those people are talking about is a different god because the God of the Bible certainly does judge things that are wrong. That is one of the many great things about Him. He is a God of justice and righteousness. What is wrong is wrong and God will deal with that. Some people prefer to invent a god they like but it is important that we get to know the God of the Bible. Very clearly, the teaching here is that God does judge and He judges in real ways (sickness and death) and because of real-life things such as the way people took Communion.

So, what on earth could be so serious as to warrant this reaction from God – and this negative reaction from Paul? It centres around the body of Christ which we are considering at the moment.

1 Cor 11:29         For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgement on themselves.

Without discerning the body of Christ. That is the problem. And again in v.34 it is apparent that it was the way they were eating that was resulting in judgement.

1 Cor 11:34         Anyone who is hungry should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgement.

Eating and drinking without discerning the body of Christ. What does that mean? What were the Corinthians doing wrong?

The body of Christ could, of course, refer to the literal, physical body of Christ, crucified on the Cross. Or, it could refer to the church. Which is Paul meaning here? I suspect Paul is being deliberately ambiguous – that he intends it to have two meanings, both of which are true.

Without a doubt Paul is referring to the actual body of Christ. Vv.23-26 contain the words that are used in almost every Communion service: For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

You proclaim the Lord’s death. The bread and the wine represent the Lord’s broken body and shed blood. Clearly, that is talking about the crucifixion. It is not talking about the church. It is very obviously talking about Jesus’ body on the Cross. Then Paul links that with the sin in the Corinthian church, in the very next verse.

1 Cor 11:27         So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

In other words, the Lord’s Supper is sacred and not to be treated lightly. The bread and the wine are hugely significant because they represent the body and blood of Jesus. What could be more sacred than His sacrifice and His suffering on the Cross. We should never receive the bread and the wine casually or, as Paul puts it “eat the bread and drink the cup in an unworthy manner”. If people think that they can come to Communion and it is all just a bit of a laugh, or even something that doesn’t require much thought, then they are dishonouring what is sacred. The Cross speaks of the righteousness of the holy God in judging sin. He is not to be taken lightly. But it also speaks of the love of God Who gave His Son to take that penalty so that we might be forgiven. That profound love of God that was willing to suffer more than we can even imagine, is not to be sniffed at. The right response, when we think of the Cross is to fall on our faces in wonder and awe, and repentance, and praise and gratitude. Anyone who can saunter past the Cross chatting about the weather or the cricket, shows disdain for the sacrificed body of Jesus.

Obviously people who have no idea of its meaning will not honour the Cross, but the Corinthians claimed to have faith in Jesus. What excuse would they have for treating Jesus’ death unworthily?

“Discerning the body of Christ” would then mean that people were eating Communion without recognising the sacrifice – without seeing in it the cost of the Cross – without remembering the horror that Jesus endured – the terrible scourging, the nailing to the Cross, the suffering of hanging from those nails and the ultimate death – without remembering that Jesus took in His body, our sins and died for them. If the Lord’s Supper does not take us back to the Cross where we see the broken body of Jesus and the shed blood, and we remember that He died for us, then we have not discerned the body of Christ. We have seen it only a strange meal or a religious ritual but we have not recognised again the true horror of what the bread and wine represent. If we haven’t discerned the body of Christ in all of this, then we have taken Communion unworthily. Jesus had said, “When you do this, remember me.” They were not remembering Him. And this passage warns that there are consequences of that.

That is why Paul says (v.28) that everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup. We need to take time to remember what this is all about and we need to look at ourselves and be sure that we know what we are doing and we are sincere in what we do.

Generations of Presbyterians before us had services on Saturday night in order to prepare for the Lord’s Supper in Sunday morning. They wanted to be sure that they were in the right place to take Communion and, if they needed to repent of sin in their lives before receiving Communion, then they took time to examine themselves and to repent. And, if they didn’t feel they were in the right place, then they would not take Communion. It was too holy to take lightly.

No doubt it is possible to take that too far. Some people might never feel they were “good enough” when, in fact, Communion is for those who have failed and who seek forgiveness. They shouldn’t stay away from Communion. They should come to Communion. Communion is where they can receive that forgiveness. But it is true that it is absolutely necessary that we take it seriously and we examine ourselves.

But there was something else going on in the Corinthian church as well. They were divided. This is where Paul gets a little sarcastic. In v.19 He says, “Oh of course there have to be divisions don’t there. If you weren’t divided, how would we know who were the really godly ones who have God’s approval?”

Because of their division, what they were doing simply could not be called the Lord’s Supper. Jesus was saying, “Don’t attach my name to it. It is not my supper. I do not approve of what you are doing. Don’t call it “Christian”. It is not Christian.” That was because their division had led to selfishness. It seems that some of them were getting to this meal early (and it would have been a full meal together that included the bread and the wine.) Those early birds were having their own feast, and getting drunk. Others could not get there until later –perhaps the slaves who didn’t get off work until later; v.22 talks about those who had nothing – and they, who were probably in most need of food, were missing out because others had eaten it all. This is terrible. In a church, people were taking advantage of their privileged place to simply look after themselves. As a consequence, their brothers and sisters were left to go hungry.

Paul said, “Do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? Do you show contempt for the church that God has said is one body?” So, on the one hand, they were ignoring the Cross; on the other hand, they were showing contempt for the church. So, not discerning the body of Christ seems to mean both forgetting the sacrifice the bread and wine represent, and not recognising the nature of the church. V.27 links their eating and drinking with not recognising the Cross. Vv.22, 34 link their eating and drinking with not recognising the church. They were taking Communion without remembering that this was a family meal, not an opportunity to pig-out.

We have talked before about how central unity is to the body image. There are many parts but one body. We have talked about how important unity is to God. His master plan is to unite all things under Christ. But the Corinthians had forgotten that they were meant to be a body. They had forgotten the nature of the church. They thought these events were all about them. They were blind to the body of Christ.

It does perhaps shock us to read a passage about God’s judgement on people in the church but let’s remember the purpose of judgement. Look at v.32.

1 Cor 11:32         Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

The reason God judges is to turn us around before it is too late. He judges now because He doesn’t want to have to judge us later. Discipline now is designed to redeem us. A loving God does judge. Judgement is an expression of love from a God who wants us to be saved.

Both the Cross and the church are enormously important to God. Both are holy and are to be treated as holy. As we come to Communion, look at the Cross and see the body of Jesus. Remember that the bread and the wine represent the sacrifice of His body for you and your sins. Know that God wants us to be saved because He loves us. But also, as we come to Communion, look around at the people here with you and see the body of Christ. These are the people that God has united you to in the one body. You do not do this alone; you do this with your brothers and sister. We are joined together as intimately as the parts of the body are joined. You might say, “These people and I are one body. I need them and they need me. I love them and I will serve them.”

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18.2.18 – A Body Given Gifts By God – Peter Cheyne

We have been looking at the church being described as a body. Last week we focused on unity, on the fact that there is one body. The first part of our reading today is a repeat from last week and you will hear the word “one” repeated over and over again. But then, in v.7, we have a “but”. The church is one but…

READ Ephesians 4:1-16

In that passage we have a chain of purposes. God gives some people certain gifts, why? So that they can help all God’s people serve. Why are all God’s people to serve? So that the body of Christ might be built up. What is the result when the body is built up?

Let’s start with the end result and work our way backwards seeing how that end result is accomplished.

This passage finishes with a vision for the church, from v.13 onwards.

  1. Until we all reach unity in the faith
  2. And unity in the knowledge of the Son of God
  3. And we become mature. How mature? Attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

This is what God’s church can be like. This is God’s plan and why he has given spiritual gifts. Are you inspired by this vision for the church?

  1. It is united

That is worth dreaming of and working towards isn’t it? Imagine being part of a church where the people were of one heart and one mind and committed to each other in love.

People often speak as if broad diversity in the church is a positive thing. It is good to have a diversity of views – even conflicting views. This is all part of our individuality and our freedom to believe what we want. But God doesn’t think that way. Acts 4:32 says that all of the believers were one in heart and mind – same beliefs, same passions and hopes, same vision. United in achieving it.

That verse (Acts 4:32) then says, “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” That is a measure of their unity and their love for one another.

  1. United in the faith

What does “the faith” mean? It could refer to saving faith. In other words, everyone in the church has been saved. Everyone has come to saving faith in Jesus. The church is a united group of people who have been born again.

Sometimes “the faith” means the things we believe – the Christian faith. In that case, this unity would be a unity of belief. We all hold to the same things.

Or faith could refer to our trust in Jesus in everyday life. We live by faith. We act because we believe Jesus will keep His promises. If Jesus says “Go” we go. So, imagine a church where the members are all people of faith trusting Jesus and obeying Him, because we trust Him.

Let’s assume Paul intends all three of those things. This is a church of saved people who know the truth and who live adventurously and obediently each day, trusting God. Wow! What would that look like on a daily basis?

  1. United in the knowledge of Jesus

Remember that, for Jews, knowledge was not about having facts in your head. It was about experience. You know because you have experienced. Here is a church where everybody is experiencing Jesus. These Christians hear Jesus speaking – through the scripture or through the Holy Spirit or whatever. They are talking to Jesus and knowing their prayers are being heard. They are experiencing answers to those prayers. When they go through hard times, they experience the comfort and the faithfulness of Jesus. As people of faith, they are obedient and so they minister to others and they see Jesus doing things. They experience the living Jesus changing lives. They walk each day with Jesus.

  1. They become mature

What does maturity look like? It looks like Jesus. Maturity is being like Jesus. That is what it says here: we become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ; becoming just like Jesus. There are various passages that show that the goal of our growth is to be like Jesus: Christ-likeness.

This is fascinating to think about. What would a church be like if it was filled with Jesuses? Imagine what the relationships would be like if everyone imitated Jesus. Imagine the knowledge of the Bible. Imagine the wisdom and the learning in conversations. Imagine the love for the disadvantaged. Imagine the passion for reaching out with the gospel, calling people to follow Jesus. Imagine the lack of problems and the lack of any need to deal with bad behaviour. Imagine the impact on our community when people see this group of people who are just like Jesus. Imagine how the community would come to the church for help, just like they came to Jesus. Or maybe not come to the church but the church would go to the community, like Jesus did. Imagine the dedication to making disciples just like Jesus did.

It is worth thinking about what we would be like if we were like Jesus. And what would our church be like? How would we think? What sort of people would we be? What would we do each day if we were like Jesus? If you want to ponder this and imagine the church as God intends it to be, I have printed a sheet on which you can record what Jesus is like and what a church of Christ-like followers would be like. I would love to hear your thoughts. This is God’s vision for His church.

As this passage says, the result of that is individuals who know what is true and are not influenced by every latest teaching or conned by false teacher – deeply rooted, not tossed back and forth by the waves. They live the truth in love. Their actions, their interactions, their speech, everything is truth combined with love. That is Christ-like. As a result of that there is continued growth towards Christ-likeness – growing up into Him who is the head. Growing up into Christ.

Can you imagine a church like that? Is it possible? How does that happen? Well, let’s work backwards through the chain of causes.

How is the church built up towards this goal? V.12.

The church is built up in this way when the people of God serve. It doesn’t say it here but from other passages, we can be pretty confident that we can say, “when the people of God serve using their spiritual gifts”. As God’s people minister to each other and minister to the community, using the supernatural gifts God has given, the body of Christ is built up.

God’s vision for the church depends on God’s people serving. That is reinforced at the end of this section.

Ephesians 4:16    From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up, as each part does its work.

The growth comes from God but it is also true that the body builds itself up. We cannot sit back and just wait for God to do it. The body has a responsibility to build itself up. Every ligament is important. The body is joined and held together by every supporting ligament. The body builds itself up in love as each part does its work. God’s church grows as each part does its work. In other words, you are a part of God’s plan. Just as our physical bodies are not healthy, or not fully able, if some parts close down, so it is in the church. The church is not healthy if some members are not serving. If you are not doing what God has called you, and gifted you, to do, we all suffer. The whole body is weakened.

So, let’s keep working backwards. What is required for the members to be equipped to serve? V.11

Amongst the spiritual gifts Jesus give people are these five (or four): apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. I say “five or four” because it is unclear whether the last two are two distinct gifts or one. See how it is “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers”. The last two might be bundled together. Just for simplicity sake, let’s assume that it is five.

Why does Paul lists just these five? If we look at Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Peter 4, we find a list of twenty spiritual gifts. From other passages we could add another 5. And even that is not necessarily exhaustive. The might be yet other things that are spiritual gifts. So, why these five here?

It seems that these are leadership gifts. All of the gifts are about serving in one way or another but these ones seem to be about serving as a leader. One of the reasons for saying that is that the passage explicitly says that these gifts are given “to equip His people for works of service”. We are all called to serve, using the gifts God has given us but these five gifts are designed to equip people to serve.

I’ve been using “serving” and “ministering” interchangeably because “ministering” means “serving”. The Prime Minister is literally the Number One servant. Some translations of v.12 say, “To equip His people for works of ministry.” In fact, the Greek word used here is diakonia, from which we get the word deacon – very appropriate today as we ordain Glenys as a deacon.

So, let’s assume that God sees me as a leader and has given me one of those five gifts. My responsibility is to equip you to do what God has called you to do. I am not the minister. You are the ministers. I am not responsible for doing your work but I am responsible for equipping you to do it. Maybe a parallel is that you are the team but I am the coach – or maybe a player-coach. And, if the team doesn’t perform, you know who normally gets the sack! The coach, because he/she is responsible for training the team. Don’t blame the team; blame the coach.

Fortunately, in our situation it is not me alone. Blame Rachel as well! And, in fact, the elders. Our responsibility is to equip you for ministry.

So, working backwards, what makes that possible? God equips leaders. God gives these spiritual gifts. Using me as an example what gift has God given me? (I recognise that, if I say what gift I believe I have, you might be horrified at my lack of self-awareness) However, all of my experience would suggest that my primary gift (out of these five) is teaching, with perhaps a little bit of the apostolic and a little bit of the prophetic, but very little of the pastor or the evangelist. This would be a very sick church if you relied on me for pastoral care. But that is the nature of the body. Rachel, and others of the elders, are obviously much more pastoral, than I. That is why we need all the diverse parts. The elders have all done an exercise to identify which of these gifts we have. Other people have gifts that I don’t. I have gifts they don’t have. But as each part does its work, the body is built up.

That brings us back to the “but” in v.7. The church is to be absolutely united – in every sense “one”. There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, but God has also designed diversity. God doesn’t care what race we are, what age we are, whether we are male or female, rich or poor, what social status we have. None of that means anything to God. What does matter is that we are Christians. As Christians we all stand before God on exactly the same basis: we are forgiven sinners who have been adopted as His children.

But God does care about our different ministries. We all have different callings and different gifts. That diversity is important because it requires that diversity for the church to grow and be united. All of the different parts are needed. When each part does its work, the church grows and becomes more united.

Our physical bodies grow and mature. Likewise, the body of Christ is to grow until we are united in faith, united in our knowledge of Jesus, and mature – like Jesus. That growth happens when the parts of the body are healthy and doing what they were designed to do. Every Christian has spiritual gifts that are to be used but some have particular spiritual gifts designed to equip God’s people for their ministries.

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11.2.18 – A Body United By God – Peter Cheyne

Last week we started talking about the biblical image of the church being a body. One of the main emphases in those passages is unity. Notice the emphasis on oneness in these verse we read last week:

1 Cor 12:12-13   Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we are all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were given one Spirit to drink.

Many parts form one body. That includes parts as divided from each other as Jews and gentiles, slaves and free. Jews did not even associate with Gentiles. There was hostility between them. Slaves did not mix with free people. But, in the church, Jews and Gentiles were brothers and sisters, and slaves were served by their masters. The church was an unbelievable revolution – a different sort of society radically different from the society around it.

Romans 12:4-5    4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Though we are many, we form one body and each member belongs to all of the others. The picture is of huge diversity and yet unity – unity that would leave the watching world amazed. It is a picture of the many and the one. We will be looking at the many – the diverse gifts within the body – but first we will look at the other side of the equation: the one. The many is about you but the one is about us. This scriptural emphasis on unity is clearly important to us. Think, for example, about Jesus’ prayer for unity in the church, at the Last Supper, in John 17. God puts huge stress on unity and the body analogy pictures that unity; the body has many parts but it is one body.

Let me try to show you why unity in the church is so important to God. We are going to look at Ephesians which also uses the body analogy extensively, but it also talks a lot about unity, referring in particular to the new unity, in Christ, of Jews and Gentiles.

Eph 1:8b-10        8 …With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

Verse 10 tells us God’s master plan. God’s master plan is to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

The opposite of unity is division, being scattered, separated, antagonism, warfare. Think about the history of division and separation in the Bible:

  • the broken relationships because of Adam and Eve’s sin and their being driven from the Garden of Eden;
  • one of their sons, Cain, murdering another of their sons, Abel;
  • the nations being scattered after the Tower of Babel and the ongoing tensions and warfare between different nations and different people’s;
  • Israel dividing into two kingdoms, often at war with one another
  • Etc

The world is divided. Think of the deep chasm in American politics between conservatives and liberals; the fact that Korea is divided and technically at war, and a million other examples. But God’s master plan is to bring unity under Christ. It is in Christ and in Christ alone that there can be this unity. It will not be achieved by the United Nations. It will not be achieved by people of good will. It is Christ who can unite former enemies.

Keep God’s master plan in mind. The reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles was a glowing example of this new unity.

READ Ephesians 2:11-22

The Gentiles had been separated from Christ, not citizens of Israel, foreigners to the covenant, without hope and without God. They were “far away” (v.13) but in Christ Jesus they had been brought near. Jesus made the two one and destroyed the dividing wall of hostility. Do you see how God’s master plan to bring unity to all things was being worked out in real, down-to-earth ways? Jews and Gentiles were made one. Amazing! His master plan is repeated in

Eph 15b-16          His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

The two become one, reconciled in one body. This is reiterated in

Eph 3:6                This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

The word “together” is used three times in that verse. This is the body of Christ: many diverse people, including former enemies, together. All this is through the gospel. Again, it is not human effort and good will. We are sinful people. We will always find reasons to be divided. It is the gospel that unites. The gospel makes us children of one Father. Whether we are Jews or Gentiles, rich or poor, male or female, through Jesus we are children of God and brothers and sisters of one another.

Now look at 3:10-11! This is important.

Eph 3:10-11        10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God’s expectation is that the church will reveal this new unity. The wisdom of God and the purpose of God will be seen in the church. Let the whole world – even the spiritual powers – see and marvel. When they see us loving one another, they will know that we are Jesus’ disciples.

And yet, churches are famous for their splits and divisions and bickering and criticism. At the local level, people are divided from one another and churches split. It is sometimes quoted that there are 30 to 40,000 different Christian denominations, illustrating the propensity of the church to split and split and split. If you research that, you will find that it is wildly inaccurate. There are only perhaps a handful of thousands. So that is some good news. Maybe the church isn’t doing so badly. Maybe the church is modelling unity. But, even a few thousand denominations shows that the church is failing God. The very thing we are meant to model is what we are not modelling. Do we need to repent? I am not pointing the finger at this church in particular. By the same token, are we demonstrating the degree of unity that God expects in His church? If we know that this is God’s plan, how can we more and more be what God wants us to be?

Ephesians 4:3-6  3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

This unity – diverse people forming one body – is a unity of the Spirit. God unites us but we are to work very hard to maintain that unity. “Every effort”. If there is more we could have done, then we haven’t made every effort. We are to do everything we possibly can to maintain unity.

Are you following this?

  1. The world is marked by division
  2. God’s master plan is to unite all things under Christ
  3. He has done that, uniting diverse people in the church
  4. So the church is to model to the world this new unity in Christ
  5. And so we have the responsibility to do everything we can to maintain the unity God has created

Here’s a little test to help us get a sense of where we are at: four very simple, practical unity questions.

  1. In this church, how many people’s birthdays do you know?
  2. How many people in this church have you had into your home?
  3. How many people in this church have you given money to?
  4. Do you feel negatively towards anyone in this church?

Are they fair questions? I think so. Those were the practical things that happened in the Acts church and that demonstrated their togetherness and their love for one another.

How can we be that model of unity? The verse prior to the one about making every effort to maintain unity says…

Eph 4:2                Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Of course, there are many, many passages like that about relationships within the church. There is a whole collection of “one another” commands: love one another, forgive one another, be at peace with one another, encourage one another, seek good for one another, confess your sins to one another, etc. There are many because this is so important to God. But even just those four in that verse are profound, are they not? Humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love.

Much of the nastiness in some churches arises from exactly the opposite of those things: lack of humility (not being willing to serve one another), treating people harshly rather than gently, impatience (criticism of people who don’t get things quite right), rejection of people who make mistakes or don’t do things the way we want them done. Jesus demands of us to something much better than simply mirroring the pettiness we see in the world.

And the passage after that verse talks about each part of the body ministering to the other parts so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (vv.12-13). We will talk about that more on future occasions when we talk about using the gifts that God has given us. But for the moment, notice that it is through our various ministries that we reach unity. It is as we grow in our knowledge of the Son of God and as we become more Christ-like (“attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”), that we reach greater unity. That is obvious. As we become more like Jesus, we relate to each other with the compassion and patience and forgiveness of Jesus.

The unfortunate things we sometimes see in churches result from one of two things:

  1. Those people have not been born again.

This unity is in Christ. Just pulling a bunch of unsaved people together and telling them to behave well will not work. We are not capable of it.

  1. Or, those people have been born again but are still immature

You know what a mission it is teaching children to share. If toddlers want a toy that another toddler has, they feel they can go and snatch it off him. Likewise, spiritual children have not developed those Christ-like relationship skills (humility, gentleness, patience…) and we end up with fights in the church.

But God has designed the church to consist of many parts with many different gifts which are to be used to build up the body of Christ. That is what we will look at in the weeks ahead.

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4.2.18 – A Body Designed By God – Peter Cheyne

There are some people here who have studied anatomy in great detail and passed exams in it. They know the name of every bone in the body, every muscle, every organ and gland and whatever. And they know the function of each part. And they know what happens if a part isn’t working very well,

But all of us have at least some knowledge of the body. We all have one. We all know the names of at least some of the parts. Even I can probably identify my head and my elbow and a few other bits. We are all very conscious of our bodies, when we are concerned about how well they are working or concerned about how they look. Some bits we might be proud of; some bits we are embarrassed by.

A husband and wife were getting ready for bed. The wife was standing in front of a full-length mirror taking a hard look at herself.

“You know, love” she said, “I look in the mirror and I see an old woman. My face is all wrinkled, my chest sags to my waist, my rear is hanging out a mile. I’ve got fat legs and my arms are all flabby.”

She turned to her husband and said, “Tell me something positive to make me feel better about myself.”

He thought about it for a bit and then said, “Well…there’s nothing wrong with your eyesight.”

As you know, the Bible uses the body as an image of the church. There are other pictures. The church is also said to be a family, an army, a building, a flock, a bride. All of them tell us something about the nature of the church. But the one that receives the most attention is “the body of Christ”. What does that mean and what does it tell us about the church? How are we meant to function? Can we name the various parts? What part are you? Is the body healthy or sick? Today is just the introduction to a series we might call “How The Body Works” or “Ecclesiastical Anatomy”.

The body analogy is used quite a number of times. There are some longish passages about the body and other times there are just passing references. Sometimes the church is simply referred to as “the body of Christ” without any further development of that theme. It is an image that only Paul uses – none of the other biblical writers – but Paul uses it quiet often. There are various references in 1 Corinthians but chapter 12 explores it more extensively. Romans 12 also has an extended treatment and is somewhat similar to 1 Corinthians 12. Ephesians is largely about the church and uses the body language a number of times. Likewise, Colossians. It is a rich image that has a lot to say to us about how God views the church, and how God expects the church to work.

In Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about spiritual gifts. In that context, he uses the body image to explain some things about spiritual gifts.

Today, I would like to look at “A Body Designed By God”. I am going to read parts of 1 Corinthians 12. Listen for verses that say that God puts the body together in the way that He wants it to be.

READ 1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-14, 18, 24b, 27-31a

I am sure you noticed the strong emphasis that says God puts the body together; God decides which bits there will be; God distributes the various gifts.

Just by the way, it is probably a bit informal to talk about the “bits” of the body. A much better word for a limb or organ of the body is “member” and that should ring bells for you in connection to the church. That is a word the Bible uses and that we use both in relation to the body and to organisations.

A few years ago, Chris and I witnessed an accident in which six people were killed. Later we had to give evidence it the coroner’s court. The police had photos of the accident scene that they wouldn’t show us because they were too horrific. The phrase that they used was that the people were “dismembered and scattered”. Dismembered. Body bits were all over the place!

In 1 Corinthians 12, verse 4 to 6 say, three times, that there are different gifts, different ways of serving, different ways of working but it is the Spirit who distributes those gifts; it is the Lord who is served or who enables that serving; it is God who is at work in the members of the church as they work.

Again, by the way, notice how the three persons of the Trinity are mentioned there. People sometimes say that the Bible never talks about the Trinity. It is true that it never uses the word “Trinity”. That is a later word. But there are many places, like this one, that talk about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

In vv.7-11, the role of the Holy Spirit is mentioned six times (and implied several more). Paul hammered home the role of the Holy Spirit in all of this. V.7 talks about each person in the church receiving a manifestation of the Spirit. A manifestation is the way something is revealed or made visible. In each person in a church, there is (or should be according to God’s design) a way that the Holy Spirit is made visible for the common good. The gifts of the Spirit make the Spirit (make God) visible.

We will talk about the gifts of the Spirit another time but let’s use the first example here, in v.8, “a message of wisdom”. Let us say that you have this gift. God enables you to say wise things that you could never say if you were relying on your own ability. God gives you profoundly wise words and, because it is beyond your natural ability, people see it as coming from God. God is revealed through your use of this gift. When people realise that this wisdom comes out of your relationship with God, they might say, “Wow!”. When we use our spiritual gifts, people will be amazed at God.

V.7 says that to every Christian – to every member of the church – some manifestation of the Holy Spirit is given. Every member of the church. “Is given”. That is passive. We receive it… from whom? It is given by whom? God. It is God who gives the gift; who gives this supernatural ability; who decides what particular gift each person will have. God is in control. God designs how the body will be.

In vv.8-10, Paul lists nine spiritual gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues. After the first four he keeps on saying “given through the Spirit”, “by means of the same Spirit”, “by the same Spirit”, “by that one Spirit”. For the last five, he doesn’t. Does that mean that miracles and prophecy etc are not given by the Spirit? No! All of these are gifts of the Spirit. Having said it four time, he hopes that we will realise that it is true of all of the gifts. All of these manifestations are the work of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, just to make sure we haven’t missed the point, Paul says it again in v.11: All of these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines. This is God’s work; He distributes; He decides how He will distribute; He decides who will have what gift and how many of each are needed in any church.

But again, notice that He distributes to each one. This is about every one of us. God has chosen to place us in His church and to give us a certain gift or gifts. Every one of us has at least one spiritual gift that God expects us to use for the common good. For the good of everybody. These gifts are to be used for the good of the whole church – indeed, for the good of people beyond the church. People will be converted through our use of our spiritual gifts because that is how they encounter God. You have a role to play because God has chosen what parts He needs in the body, and He needs you to use the gifts that you have been given by Him.

Clearly, in this passage, there is an emphasis on the sovereign work of God. He is in control; He is Lord. In fact, both Colossians and Ephesians, when using this image of the church being a body, say that Jesus is the head. We will come back to that another time. The point at the moment is that God designs His church. God decides what part each of us will play and gives us gifts accordingly. Paul keeps on saying it. It must be really important that we get it.

1 Cor 12:13         we are baptised by the Spirit into the body

1 Cor 12:18         But, in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wants them to be.

1 Cor 12:24b       But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lack it.

1 Cor 12:28a       And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets…

The church is a body designed by God. Each one of us has been chosen and allocated a role and placed in the body where God wants us to be and given spiritual gifts to enable us to function for the good of the whole body.

This has a number of really important, practical implications.

  1. You are uniquely important in God’s plan.

God has chosen you and given you a particular role. Your role is different from other people’s. There are different gifts and different ways of serving. Other people can do other things but only you can be whom God has called you to be. In God’s plan, your role is crucial to the whole church.

  1. If this is how God designed His church to operate, we need to comply with His plan.

We cannot ignore God’s plan. He expects us to take this body teaching seriously. God expects us to be a body with all that that means for how we relate to one another and how we function in the role God has chosen for us. God expects us to do it.

  1. If this is God’s design, let’s rejoice in His decisions (not resent them).

You know how sometimes we don’t like our own bodies and we think that God didn’t do a very good job of designing us? Sometimes, it helps to remember that God doesn’t make mistakes. God designed us and God love us just the way we are.

The same applies to the way God has designed the church. He is infinitely wise. He knows what He is doing. His decisions are always good. We might think, “I wish I had another gift, not the one I have got. I wish I was more important in the church or I was more visible and more appreciated. Why did God decide I should be an eyelash? I’d rather be the eye. Or, why can’t I be the heart?”

We can easily look at others and be envious. But, if we know that God loves us and He knows exactly what is best for us – and also what is best for others and how we can make a real difference for others – can we trust His wisdom? Can we submit to His design and rejoice in what He has called us to do?

  1. There are practical questions for each of us to answer

Do you know what part of the body you are? Do you know what gifts you have been given, and why? Are you using your gifts? Are you being the part God has asked you to be?

We will be looking at these questions, and others, in the weeks ahead. Hopefully, we can help each other discover our gifts (if we don’t already know what they are) and help each other use those gifts. “Help each other”. That’s what being a body means. We need all of the parts. We need the gifts that we don’t have but others do.

And hopefully, as we understand more of this body analogy, God will be delighted as He sees His church operating as He always wanted it to, and other people will be blessed as we use our gifts for the common good.

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29.1.18 – How To Be Amazing, Part 2 – Peter Cheyne

Last week I reflected on the fact that so many times in the Bible we are told that the people were amazed, astounded, left open-mouthed and open-eyed, stunned. Miracles, words of amazing authority or wisdom, and people’s character, or change of character, left people amazed. Should that still be true? Should people still be amazed by us? How can we leave people flabbergasted?

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul talks about worship services, and particularly the use of spiritual gifts in worship. In v.25 he talks about unbelievers in worship falling down and worshipping God, exclaiming “God is really among you.” What caused them to do that? People were prophesying. They were speaking words that God was giving them. The unbelievers heard these God-given words and they were convicted of sin and brought under judgement. They concluded that God was present.

It is easy to think that if we have drum kits and smoke machines and strobe lighting, people will be blown away by how amazing the church is but that is not what Paul says. There is nothing wrong with those things and they help reach a certain generation. Go for it. But there is a difference between attending church and concluding that you are at a rock concert and attending church and concluding that you are in the presence of God. Christians are amazing when the presence of God is visible in our lives.

Prophecy is a miracle. It is a supernatural God-thing. It is also, of course, an example of powerful words. But I think we can break those categories (miracles, words and character) down and see that there are all sorts of ways that we can be amazing.

What about amazing love?

John 13:34-35     34 ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

Apparently, there is a type of love that that is so extraordinary that people will conclude that those who love like this must be disciples of Jesus. There are people who are naturally very loving. But this love is different altogether. People don’t conclude that these people are loving; they conclude that they are Christians. This is a God-given type of love.

In society, you have ordinary people and they act in an ordinary way. It is unremarkable. Nobody is blown away by the normal. There are also good people who are extraordinary. And people admire them. But then there are those who love like Christ. Notice that Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. We are commanded to love like Christ. His love blew people away. He was known as the friend of sinner. He touched lepers and loved prostitutes and tax-collectors. It was mind-boggling love. And when His followers love like that – miraculously enabled by God to love like that – people are blown away and they conclude that this is a God-thing. These must be followers of Jesus.

You might have heard the quote that came out of the early church: Look how these Christians love one another. The love demonstrated by Christians astounded people. It wasn’t normal. It wasn’t even exceptional and admirable. It was astounding.

Or, think about amazing forgiveness. Sometimes we hear, for example, stories of parents who have forgiven the murderer of their daughter. Sometimes they have even befriended the murderer. I heard this week, three of the young women victims of the USA gymnastics doctor, say, in their victim impact reports, that they want to forgive him. Jennifer Rood Bedford, while not minimising the evil of what had happened or the horrific impact on her, said, “Dr. Nassar, I want you to know that I pray for you… Please know my forgiveness towards you is sincere. Especially in the light… of the forgiveness that’s been granted to me, that I should be called a child of God… There is hope that transcends all understanding… You can choose to be a better man, and to be a different person… Seek Him [Jesus] and find that.”

Is forgiveness like that normal? No. Some of the women said they would never forgive him. Is it even what good people do? No, it is bigger than that. It is a God-thing. It is staggering. I encourage you to watch the statement of Rachael Denhollander who spoke of God’s wrath and judgement on Larry Nassar’s evil but pleaded with him to seek forgiveness – and she offered him her forgiveness.

We could list a whole lot of things in the Christian life that have the potential to be amazing.

  • Love
  • Forgiveness – Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing
  • Community – which is love for one another
  • Compassion – love for those in need
  • Generosity
  • Perseverance
  • Holiness
  • Power
  • Sacrifice
  • Humility
  • Faith
  • Conversions

We could add more but let us consider those ones. They are all big themes in the Bible. They are all what we are called to as disciples of Jesus Christ. They are all true of Jesus Himself. They are all characteristics of the Kingdom of God. This is what God’s Kingdom is like. Your Kingdom come.

We are called to be like Jesus. And any anyone who is, will be amazing.

There is a story that I like to tell so you have possibly heard it before. But I tell it because it is so simple. It is about a family who invited a young woman for a meal. Afterwards, she said she had been blown away because it was the first time she had sat down for a meal without everybody arguing. There is nothing profound about inviting someone for a meal but, if we have walked with Jesus, and we have been transformed by the Holy Spirit, what is natural for us, is amazing to others. Our discipleship – our following Jesus – has the potential to amaze.

If you look at that list, is there one aspect where you would love to be amazing. I am not suggesting it is limited to one but is there one? Would you like to stand out as being amazingly compassionate, or amazingly humble or have amazing power, or…?

How can you be? Last week, when we looked at the story of the healing of the lame man in the temple, I suggested that we are meant to be amazing and that ordinary Christians can be amazing but what made Peter and John amazing?

  1. They spent time with Jesus
  2. They were filled with the Holy Spirit
  3. They imitated Jesus
  4. They trusted God enough to be obedient

When you look at that list, is there a next step that God is calling you to? To be amazing, do you need more of God? Does He need more of you?

What if you have done all of those things and God doesn’t seem to have answered? We hear that God is doing incredible things in other parts of the world but He doesn’t seem to be doing those things in New Zealand. How can we be amazing if God is quiet?

READ 1 Samuel 3

Samuel was just a boy who, we are told, did not yet know the Lord. “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions”. Samuel didn’t know God and lived in a time when God was essentially silent. He wasn’t used to God talking. And yet God spoke to him and God used him. Samuel became a mighty prophet. God spoke to him regularly and, through him, to the nation. God was in this. And God let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. Every word reached its target.

How did that happen? What can we learn from Samuel?

  1. Samuel was in the house of the Lord

Samuel could have said, “Blow this! What’s the point? God is not speaking. I’m going to go somewhere else.”  But he didn’t. He lived and slept in the house of the Lord at Shiloh. 2:21 says that the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.

It would be possible for us to be disenchanted and disappointed with God and to give up. But the lesson from Samuel is: no, stay in the presence of God. Keep praying; keep reading the scriptures; keep worshipping; keep faithfully serving, keep ministering before the Lord, like Samuel.

  1. Samuels’ spiritual ears were open

The implication is that Samuel wasn’t expecting to hear God. When it is rare you don’t expect it. Do we expect miracles? Was he eager to hear God? I don’t know. But when God spoke, Samuel heard. He didn’t recognise it or understand it but he heard it. He was sensitive to the things of God.

  1. Samuel was responsive to God

Again, he was not yet an expert. He didn’t understand what was happening. But he immediately responded.

  1. Samuel listened to the advice of his spiritual mentor

Eli wasn’t a great man of God but he was nevertheless the mentor God had given Samuel and Samuel was humble enough to listen to him and to take his advice. Do you have more mature Christians speaking into your life? Maybe there are people around who know much more about hearing the voice of God or about healing, say. Are we students of the things of God, learning from those who know?

  1. Samuel submitted himself to God

Eli gave good advice. And Samuel followed it. He asked God to speak and he submitted himself to whatever God would say. “I am your servant, and I am listening.”

If we pray for God to act, it is equally important that we have submitted ourselves to whatever God might do. We can say “Lord, speak” but we must also be willing to obey. We can say, “Lord, make me more like Jesus” but will we let God change us? We can say, “Lord, You promised that I would receive power when the Holy Spirit came on me” but are we willing to exercise the power of God?

If the answer is “yes”, we will be like Samuel.

  1. Samuel was obedient

God gave him a very severe judgement on the house of Eli, his mentor and priest! Would the young Samuel faithfully pass on what God had said? If he was going to be a prophet, this was a test of his willingness to speak God’s truth without fear of people. He passed the test.

Samuel’s example, for any time when we might be disappointed with God, is to remain faithful anyway. It takes us back to last week’s list. Keep spending time with Jesus. Don’t give up. Keep seeking the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Don’t ever think that you are wasting your time. Keep choosing to imitate Jesus. There isn’t a better way. Keep trusting God and keep being obedient to His every word.

That faithfulness, in itself, will be amazing. And who knows when God might, in response to your faithfulness, do something even more amazing through you?

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