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Talk to the Annual Stated Meeting

April 2016

Jonathan de Groot: I Cor 6:13-14 Many today are searching for the perfect church. You’ve probably heard it said that if you’re looking for the perfect church… And you think you find it…Make sure you don’t join it…Because you’ll only spoil it. There is no one perfect local church on this earth. In the New Testament, the Corinthian Church is one of the very worst. This becomes clear when we read through 1 and 2 Corinthians and see what was going on. Paul visited Corinth during his second missionary journey. He planted a church there and stayed for a year and a half. 1 Corinthians is the first of two letters we have by Paul to the Corinthians. Apparently, he wrote four, but we have two which show that the very worst of Corinthian society was found in the church. So Paul wrote to a bunch of Christians behaving badly. In 1 Corinthians we see… • A church opposed to the apostle Paul. • A church full of pride and arrogance. • A church full of divisions. • A church seduced by the world. • A church full of sexual immorality. • A church where its members took one another to court. • A church where they got drunk at communion. • A church where some didn’t even believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ. • A church that misunderstood and misused the gifts of the Spirit. • Paul even said about their gatherings… “your meetings do more harm than good” (1 Cor. 11:17). So tonight, I’d like to look briefly at Paul’s parting words to the Corinthians in his first letter. Just before he signs off, he gives a number of commands that in some way sum up the message of the whole letter. If you blink, you miss them, but they’re dynamite. Because if the Corinthians obeyed what Paul commanded their church would be in a far healthier condition. So what Paul says has profound implications for any church. He says in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” Here are five commands based on all the teaching and correction he had already given them. 1. Be watchful The Corinthians had not been watchful. They were not alert to the dangers that were threatening their congregation. They did not guard against what was wrecking their fellowship. They had allowed all kinds of wrong thinking and wrong behaviour to exist within the church. They put up with all kinds of nonsense as if it was normal. They were quite happy to ignore all the issues that were damaging their church. Instead of correcting the wrong beliefs and muddled thinking, they were prepared to accept it. Instead of stopping the bad behaviour and disciplining the offending members, they were content to live with it all. But the Church of the Lord Jesus must always be watchful. Jesus himself, tells us to be watchful (Mark 13:32-37). So if we are not watchful, we are disobeying Jesus. It is our duty, not just as a leader, but as a member, to be watchful. If we love the Lord Jesus and his church we will be on our guard against all that would damage our local church or our national church. 2. Stand firm in the faith Because the Corinthians had neglected their duty to be watchful they had not been standing firm in the faith. They had drifted. It is because they were not standing firm in the faith that within their fellowship there were wrong beliefs that needed correction and wrong behaviour that needed challenging. Because they were not standing firm in the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified they were not following through on the implications of the gospel for themselves as individuals or as a church. They were wishy-washy and weak. Perhaps they didn’t think they needed to stand firm in the faith because they had all these spiritual gifts and so they just assumed that they were super spiritual Christians. But for them, or for any church, a failure to stand firm in the faith marks the beginning of the end. It starts the slippery slope from accommodating false teaching, to accepting false teaching, to eventually adopting false teaching. This sadly happens to individuals, to congregations and to denominations. Those who sell out when it comes to the faith that has been handed down by the apostles cut themselves off from the worldwide church of the Lord Jesus Christ and have no future. We must obey God by standing firm in the faith. 3. Act like men The Corinthian Christians were not acting like men because they were thinking and behaving like children. They argued with one another and they were jealous of one another. And they had stopped loving one another. They were immature, behaving like they were in the nursery school instead of Christ’s church. Paul’s message to them had been, ‘grow up’. They needed to mature and stop their petty divisions. They needed to be brave and courageous. Both men and women had to get a grip and take responsibility for themselves and for the state of their church. They had to get off their seats and do something. Action, more than super spirituality was what they needed. It’s the same today… We need to be people of action if we belong to Christ’s church. 4. Be Strong The Corinthians were not strong. They liked to think they were strong because of their spiritual gifts and they show they put on. But in reality, they were weak. They were not strong enough to sort out the problems in their church. They were not strong enough to heal divisions, or rebuke sexual immorality, or stop lawsuits between believers, or even celebrate the Lord’s supper in a God-honouring way that showed their love for one another. Nobody seemed to be strong enough to stand up against what was wrong. Paul needed to command them to be strong because they were weak and spineless. We need to be strong, don’t we? Yet out of fear we become afraid to confront what is wrong and are tempted to just accept it instead. It makes life much easier that way. But it is worrying and even dangerous when we care more about possible offence or conflict in the church than we do about the glory and honour of God. But we need to be strong and not sloppy, slushy or sentimental. Real love in Christ’s church is strong and takes action. That’s why Paul says… 5. Let all that you do be done in love So…Be watchful, Stand firm in the faith, Act like men, Be strong. This is our Christian responsibility. We are commanded to do all this. But also… Let all that you do be done in love. What a great way to round off a series of commands. And what a great way to finish off a letter. The church in Corinth needed to be reminded to do everything in love. They weren’t doing this. That’s why Paul had to write at length about this most excellent way. They needed to love one another because Christ had loved them and gave up his life for them. So how could they be so proud and selfish and neglectful and weak and so unloving towards one another? Do you hear what he’s saying to a messed up church full of Christians behaving badly? Put simply, he’s saying that truth and love must go together and must result in action. So what we believe really matters. And how we treat one another really matters. Truth and love are not mutually exclusive qualities that can be separated. Because we will always be open to the unfair accusation of ‘not showing enough love’ on the one hand. Or for seeming to ‘compromise the truth’ on the other. But Paul doesn’t think there needs to be a dichotomy when it comes to this. Some do struggle to keep them together, but together they must be. It is not only possible to stand firm in the truth in a loving way, it is absolutely essential. We need to be even more firm in what we believe and even more loving towards people. So we should never compromise on God’s truth. We must be watchful and we must stand firm in the faith and we must be strong. So we should not fail God, misrepresent him, or fail to speak up for his truth. We must be people of action. But nor should we fail people, because of a lack of love for them since we believe the gracious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is what we all need. So, for the sake of Sandyford Henderson Memorial Church, and for the sake of the Kingdom of God we must be watchful by standing firm in the faith, by showing courage when we need to and by being strong as we follow Jesus Christ and do it all in a loving way. Christianity is not a spectator sport. Being a Christian means activity and not passivity. Being a member of a church means being a participator and not a consumer. By God’s grace we must together be people with courageous compassion and compassionate courage. Being a church means we must… Be watchful, We must stand firm in the faith, We must act like men, We must be strong, We must let all that we do be done in love. If we’re not doing these things we are not being the church

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