Some of you spend Christmas day surrounded by your families. Possibly you have a large family—ten or twelve are at home on that day, with a grandchild or two. I will tell you what your greatest joy is on that day: it is to see the happiness of your children and to mark how they enjoy what you provide for them. They are only little children, some of them, creeping about on the floor, but they please you because they are so pleased themselves. The crow of a little child delights your heart, for it gives us joy to behold joy in those we love.
Suppose your sons and daughters all come marching in on Christmas day in a very gloomy state of mind—cold, loveless, joyless. Suppose they do not enjoy anything, but grumble at you and at one another. You would be quite sad and wish the day to be soon over and never come again for the next seven years. Thus, in an illustration, we see that our heavenly Father delights in the delight of His children and is glad to see them grateful and happy, and acting as children should do toward such a Parent.
– Charles Spurgeon
I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning. God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. – Ephesians 3:9-11
This past Sunday during our time in the word, I made the comment that as parents we must be careful to reflect Gospel principles to our children, rather than the prevailing ideals of our culture. Worldly principles convey the message that a person must earn their merit; prove their worthiness to be accepted. The Gospel, in response, clearly communicates that God has displayed His love for His children through Jesus; and that by grace through faith we are accepted; we are made worthy – not because of our actions but because of His mercy. You and I do not earn our position before God; Christ earned it on our behalf. And so the message that we need to hear from our Heavenly Father (and the message that our children need to receive from us) is that while from time to time He may be displeased with our actions, He is never displeased with us. His pleasure with us is based on Christ in us, and therefore it does not ebb and flow. So we need to ‘gospel’ our children in this same way.
A subsequent conversation that I had with someone in our fellowship reminded me of what a foreign idea this is to all of us – myself included. It is difficult to wrap our mind around it, while at the same time difficult to live out. How do we gospel our children? And by extension, how do gospel each other? And – should I even use the word gospel as a verb? Well, while I am not entirely sure about that one, here is why I use it as a verb: I believe the bible very clearly instructs the people who make up the Church, to relate to one another by gospel principles. As Christian families, the very core of how we operate should be based on God’s word to us. And even more importantly, as the family of God we must listen and obey when Christ teaches us how to live with each other. And we have to know going in, this will require a molding of our will and our preferences. We may have to move away from our upbringing or even reject our sense of how things should be done. Because as we have already covered, gospel principles typically find themselves in direct opposition to worldly principles. And all of us have spent our lives being inundated by the values of the surrounding culture.
What do Gospel principles look like? Well they are found throughout the word, specifically in many of the NT letters to the churches. They are too numerous to mention all of them here and too deep to dive into with any great depth. But let’s remind ourselves of a few: We should value other people in the body more than even ourselves (Phil 2:3); We should submit to on another (Eph 5:21) and speak the word to one another, teaching and even admonishing (Col 3:16). Toward one another we are commanded to be patient, gentle, kind and compassionate (Col 3:12 – really take time to think through those words, so that the meaning is not lost). We should not insist on our own way (1 Cor 13:4), we should be devoted to each other and go out of our way to honor our brothers and sisters (Romans 12:10 – honor means to ‘treat as valuable’). We are to make allowance for each other’s faults and if we get offended – quickly forgive (Col 3:13). Even when personalities collide – we are to accept each other (Romans 15:7) and go out of our way to not quarrel over disputable matters (Romans 14:1). We are not to criticize each other (James 4:11), we should listen well (James 1:19), we should not gossip at any moment (2 Cor 12:20), but rather encourage and build each other up (1 Thess 5:11).
I could go on (you all know I could) but you get the idea. Last question: What is our motivation to gospel one another? Paul gives us the answer in Ephesians: because God is building something among us – in the church – that is counter-cultural; an institution unlike any other that displays HIS wisdom, not the worlds. If we live together and relate to each other as the world does, then we do not display Christ but rather we display our culture. That is not our calling. So I urge us church, consider these words. Discuss these principles in your Gospel Communities. Consider – how do we live by Gospel principles in our families and our faith family. And strive for it – for the glory of Christ.
I appeal to you brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement – 1 Cor 1:10
If you have ever read through the letters of Paul to the church in Corinth, then you know that the congregation there had many issues. From the opening of his first letter, it appears that one of those issues involved ‘divisions‘ (a word that means schisms) among the people. Unfortunately, most of us know by experience that divisions in churches are common and can happen on any number of issues or personality struggles. But I want us to consider how Paul responded to this problem: He was grieved and literally implored or begged the people to resolve those divisions. Going even further, Paul pointed them in the desirable destination: That they would agree with one another and be united in the same mind and same judgments. At first glance, this call from Paul seems almost too ideal. Perhaps, we are tempted to think, Paul means that these people should learn to find things that they could agree on, so as to minimize those things they were divided over. After all, that is a common cry of our culture today – perhaps it was back then: Find common ground. But a deeper dive into this passage would lead us to a different conclusion. (Credit Dr. John Piper here for some excellent work I have read of his on this passage of scripture).
The Greek word for ‘Agree‘ means to ‘say the same thing‘. Paul is asking that the church speak on issues with agreement; one voice. But this is not just a call to say the same things and not mean them. Paul wants our very thoughts to agree, being displayed through our speech. That is why He calls the church to be united in the ‘same mind and judgement’. If, of course, our very thoughts and words agree, then it stands to reason that we will make the same judgement on every issue. So – what is the summary of this brief verse? Paul is not asking the church to ignore their divisions and find points of agreement.Paul is commanding them to replace their divisions with unity, by coming into agreement of thought and speech.
Wow. What a tall order this is! This is a far cry from how we operate in the flesh. Our typical mindset – especially in this country – is to embrace and honor individualistic ideas and accomplishments. And when it comes to joint collaborations – those who can figure out how to meld their own ideas with the ideas of others for some common good are considered great leaders or negotiators. But Paul is setting before the church a very different goal: Not to come to a place of compromise; but rather come to a place of absolute unity and agreement. And immediately we are tempted to think: How is that possible? How could we possibly expect any group of people – no matter how well meaning – to come to agreement in this day and age? What makes this plausible is that the bible does not present the world as we have grown accustom: a place of different views, truths and opinions that all have equal merit. Rather, the bible expresses that there is one truth, one opinion, one view – and one Spirit that applies those truths in the heart of the local church. The good and perfect gift of agreement and unity comes down from the ‘Father of lights’ (James 1:17) and it is realized when His people are willing to stop trying to find unity on their own strength; but instead realize that agreement can only be found as they pursue and abide in the presence of their Father, together.
Of course, this may sound great, yet still leave us with the question: How do we get there from here? I mean after all, this sounds like a long and probably difficult struggle. And the truth is, yes, it will be. But the bible does not leave us without direction. Paul talks about these divisions once again toward the end of 1 Corinthians by asking: ‘that there be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another’ (1 Cor 12:25). In other words, the opposite of division here in this text is to ‘care for one another‘. How do you find agreement in thought and speech? How does a church become united in ideas and opinions? By first, looking to the Father (together in worship, prayer and the word) to provide direction and guidance, while being willing to lay down our own opinions in favor of His. And second, by just loving each other; caring for one another. Rejoicing together, crying together, taking care of each others needs. And as we do those things, more and more we will stop looking for ‘middle ground’ and rather find ourselves standing in unity on the solid rock foundation of Jesus. Amen.
Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus… – 1 Cor 1:1
..as you wait for the revealing of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless…God is faithful… – 1 Cor 1:7-9
I am in this season where it seems I am being reminded of my character flaws every day; primarily brought to the surface by normal routine circumstances. While this is anything but an enjoyable exercise, I do know that if it is Spirit-driven, then it is ultimately for the glory of Christ, for my good and for the good of those who are in my community. With this as my background, I read through 1 Corinthians chapter 1 this week and was greatly encouraged by what I saw.
I imagine that Paul was often bewildered at the change he had experienced. One moment he was passionately working for the destruction of the Christian movement, angered at even the mention of the name Jesus. Then in an instance, everything changed: now for Paul, Christ was glorious and the growing movement of Christianity was his purpose. Not only was he changed, but he was changed into one of the great leaders of the church. How could there be any other explanation for what had happened except that God had rescued him? I also imagine that Paul was constantly tempted to fall back into his previous way of life. His heart, His passion had been changed in a moment; but he was not yet made perfect. He was bringing with him a lot of past baggage. The battle against who He was, while striving for who He wanted to be – was fought daily (Read his words in Romans 7:21-25). How could he maintain the strength and confidence to press forward? It appears that Paul reached this conclusion: if God had rescued Him to begin with, then surely it was God who would sustain Him until the end.
These are glorious truths for us, when we find ourselves in those moments where it seems we cannot get anything right; where all of our efforts and desires to ‘do good’ are burned up in a moment of weakness or stress or attack. The words from our morning devotion, the peace of an afternoon prayer or the silent determination to not make the same mistake again, are lost in a split-second reaction from our flesh. And all that is left is frustration and disappointment. So where do we go? Where is our hope in those moments of utter failure? Well, It is found in these words: ‘God is faithful’. The kingdom of God is unlike the kingdoms of earth, where your position and standing is determined by your merit; your accomplishments; your performance. No – our position in His kingdom is found in the accomplishment and performance of Jesus. Your standing is based on God’s call. Your place is held by the sustaining power of Christ, the one who loved you and the one in whom the Father is greatly pleased.
So – we try. We strive for what is right. When God reveals to us our rough edges, we allow Him to smooth them over. We repent of sin; we ask for help. We pray His word. We seek the ever present help of His Spirit. But in all of this effort we know, that ultimately we are upheld by His grace, His call, His sustaining. So in that – we can assuredly rest. Amen.