By Simon ManchesterSunday 21 Feb 2016Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
Would you hold open 1 Corinthians 11 and I’ll tell you what we are planning to do. We are going to spend 4 Sundays asking some hard questions for a soft church.
Yesterday at the Working Bee I patted a bloke on the back and I realised that he was pretty well all muscle and sinew where when you pat me on the back, it increasingly is feeling like quite a soft pillow. And people do get soft and churches get soft. Churches get compromised, comfortable, sleepy, spiritually unfit and soft. And I have put away the little series from Ecclesiastes which we were going to look at in May – we may do that in the next month – and we are going to focus on ourselves. Not to be selfish but to take a good look at ourselves. As the Bible does in a number of places, not least 1 Corinthians 11-14 – and these are the 4 chapters that we are going to look at for the 4 Sundays in May (God willing) where the Apostle Paul speaks to the gathering, the gathered church.
And I want to look at the chapters using quite broad strokes and some reasonable application for us. I’m not expecting that these talks will go further than this building. This is an opportunity for us to think a little bit about ourselves in the light of God’s Word.
Well you’ll see if you look at chapter 11 verse 2 that Paul says “I praise you because there is something that is going well” and in verse 17 he says “I have no praise for you because there is obviously something that is not going well”. This is good, this is not so good – this is a good check point for us.
Before we get the main point to 1 Corinthians 11, I want to give to you a very large idea which has impressed itself upon me in the last weeks or so and I hope that this will impress itself upon you. It is a bit of a mind shift when it comes to thinking about church. It is a little bit of a revolution or turning point, at least I hope it will be, and that is simply this – that the church is in the world to display the glory of God. That is the primary reason that the church is in the world to display the glory of God.
So Paul says in Ephesians 3 that when the cosmos looks at the gathered church whether it is 3 people or whether is it 300 people, the cosmos will say ‘what a great God is God’. ‘He saves the unworthy, he sticks with the unworthy, he blesses the unworthy and he takes them all the way through to his presence’. And therefore the church, you see, is not here for me, our local minister, the church does not exist that I will say to you:
‘Look I am running a little bit of a club, we are having a little bit of a show on Sunday morning at 10.00am, would you possibly come if you can?’
And the church is not here for you to say: ‘Is the diary completely clear, well what do you think, will we go?’
The church exists as a display of the glory of God in the world.
Now I was trying to think about how to illustrate this to get it into my head because we are so used to thinking that it’s for us. And so I was thinking can you imagine the Police Superintendent saying to hundreds and hundreds of officers around New Year’s Eve: ‘we need a very strong presence down at The Rocks. I want you to get there because there is a very significant need for a display of the Police’.
And so the Police get into their vans and cars and they head off to The Rocks and they are not saying to themselves: ‘I hope this will be fun’. They are saying there is a need for presence of Police.
And when the Ambulance Superintendent says: ‘we need a very large number of ambulance officers at this outdoor concert on this weekend’, the ambulance officers drive off thinking well we don’t know what’s coming but we need to be there.
And when the Fire Chief says to his men: ‘we need to be in the Blue Mountains as there are some extremely hot days coming and we are going to need lots of fire trucks, we are going to need lots of people up in the mountains’. They head up not necessarily knowing what’s coming but they know that there is a need for their presence.
So this is not a game that we are playing – it’s not a movie night that is being organised or a movie day – it’s a gathering of God’s people for the display primarily of his glory. And we may get lots of funny ideas in our heads about why we get together and of course there are secondary blessings, many, many secondary blessing but we need to realise that we are here for very big stakes – very big stakes. The glory of God – the impact to the wider world and our own growth as followers.
So I want to think about 1 Corinthians 11 under two headings briefly today. The first (verses 1-16) we are going to call Different Functions and the second half (verses 17-34) which Cam read for us, we are going to call Equal Fellowship.
First point Different Functions – the broad strokes in verses 1-16, we haven’t read these verses, the first broad stroke is that God is a structural genius. If you look at verse 3 of chapter 11 it says “I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God”.
Let me translate this for you:
- Christ submits to the Father without losing any dignity, without becoming inferior
- The man (any man) submits to Christ without losing dignity
- The woman submits to man without losing dignity.
This is a structural piece of genius on God’s part. Now it will seem insane to a non Christian because a non Christian thinks if you submit you lose but we have learned having submitted to Christ that paradoxically we gain when we submit to Him. We come under his care and his control and his blessing and paradoxically we are liberated as we submit to Him. So submission is not a dirty word for the real believer. It seems that the Corinthian church were having trouble showing or demonstrating as they gathered that there was structural genius.
And so my second broad stroke is that the symbol of structure in Corinth was head covering. In Corinth the symbol of structure was head covering – look at verses 4-5. “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head and every woman who prays or prophesies with her uncovered dishonours her head”.
Now just as the burqa is symbolic within the Islamic community and just as a uniform can be symbolic of a person’s particular job or occupation and just as a little red and yellow cap at the beach indicates a lifesaver’s position, so in Corinth covering the head symbolised a position of glad submission in the fellowship – a glad acceptance of the role that God has given.
So the Christian men were meant to be exercising some loving leadership, the Christian women were meant to be exercising a loving response. So the men were not to cover their heads (verse 4) and the women were to cover their heads (verse 5). That was the sign of agreement and that was the symbol of agreement in the Corinthian church.
There is a funny little reference in verse 10 to Angels where he says “And because of the angels” and I think this is a reminder that the whole church is not just a private institution but is having a cosmic impact.
The third broad stroke is that we need each other (verses 11-12). “Woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman” the Apostle says. The man was created first but women give birth to men. So the creation event sets the order in place that God has put into his world that men just don’t get to appear in the world without women. And you can see that in this argument sometimes the word “head” is being used as a piece of anatomy and sometimes the word “head” is being used as a position of authority.
Please notice in verse 4 that the prophesy (this is not Old Testament prophesy because OT prophesy was normally written down and included in the Scriptures), this New Testament prophesy seems to be a more timely or spontaneous pronouncement made by a man or woman which could come with great significance and clarity and need to be weighed or evaluated as we will see in chapter 14. But both men and women were capable of making a significant pronouncement in the fellowship of Corinth.
Now friends what do we make of this? I’ve just given you 3 broad strokes:
- God is a structural genius
- The symbol of structure in Corinth was head covering
- We need each other
What do we do with this? It will seem non-sense to non Christians as much of Christianity does.
Somebody in the UK has written a book helping non Christians understand Christianity and the Book is called “My Mate’s Gone Mad”. It’s a great title I think – my mate’s gone mad. He’s become a Christian – he’s given his life away to think he’ll receive it. He’s submitted to Jesus as if he’ll find freedom – my mate’s gone mad. And some people will look at this and think, well this is crazy.
But 1 Corinthians 11 is going to sift us and see whether we are those who are humbled before the Word of God knowing that he is very wise and are humbled before him knowing that he is very authoritative.
Paul Barnett says in his little commentary – this section of 1 Corinthians 11 is going to be a good test case to work out where we are.
Now at one level as we seek to think about how to apply this to St Thomas and especially here at 10 o’clock, I want to remind you that we are doing in our gatherings at St Thomas is trying in a way to put some of this into practice. We are trying as we gather to reflect the structural genius of God. We are not trying to fight his wisdom. We expect it to bless us and honour him and that’s why we do ask able men to publicly lead and teach here at St Thomas. And we do this to help us to grow as a church Family (with capital F).
We also expect God’s structural genius to go home with you so that your family (with a small f) seeks to take seriously the structural genius of God – men lovingly leading, women lovingly responding. And in cases like me, men who are here this morning and you feel yourself utterly unworthy to be a leader in the home, I want to remind you – don’t start to be a leader in the home when you are a spiritual hero, start to be a leader in the home when you know that you have a great Saviour. It’s he that makes us sufficient – it’s not we.
And we also try to visibly demonstrate this structural genius in the small groups of St Thomas and so we ask a man to take some ultimate responsibility for the way the group is organised and the way the discussion concludes.
Now at a more pointed level, here is a section of Scripture which is asking us to show how do we demonstrate that we live under Christ? And here at St Thomas as we meet, a big part of that I think is going to mean that we no longer ask as the weekends come around, what do I like doing, what do I feel like? We are not going to be asking – what do we want? We are going to start to ask the question – what honours God?
I wonder if you could start to do that. What will honour God? And as you plan your timetable (and we have very, very busy timetables and things are being locked in and locked out all over the place), I hope that you’ll no longer think like a non Christian which is ‘I run my life, my time is my own’ but before we put a whole lot of things in place which could cut across the plan of God and the Word of God, before we organise things which will confuse our neighbours, our friends and our families, before we give the impression that we are free agents and that we run the show – I wonder if we might just stop and ask the question – ‘how am I going to live as one of God’s chosen people whose presence is going to display the glory of God?”
Now friends I am not the Headmaster here, you’ll be pleased to know, I am a servant. My task is to serve you but I do get lots of excuses as to why people can’t come to things and you know there are people who say to me
“I was at a party on Saturday night” or “We’ve got a big lunch on Sunday” or “I’m sorry we haven’t been there for the last 4-6 weeks but we are renovating”
Or somebody said to me not long ago, “Our week has got so busy we want to sleep in on Sundays”
Now it’s not quite up with the “dog ate my homework” but it’s getting close!! It’s getting close!! And I won’t tell you what somebody said to me as they walked in today about why their partner wasn’t here this morning but I’ll just leave that out – that was incredible.
So all I am saying to you is think again because we are people under Christ demonstrating his structural genius in the Church but also we are trying to demonstrate in a wide, wide capacity that we are brand new people. How do we show that we are new? How do we visibly show that we are new?
Now second point – Equal Fellowship (verses 17-34) – this is the passage which was read for us. And the problem here which receives no praise from the Apostle Paul is a very weird one and that is that the Corinthians were meeting at somebody’s house and they were getting a meal and then they were having the Lord’s Supper which is what they did in those days – they would go to somebody’s house, have dinner together and then they would have the Lord’s Supper – but they were stampeding the place, they were going in like people at a Boxing Day Sale! And they were getting all the food and the drink for themselves and they were getting drunk and there were people turning up a little late and getting nothing.
And the Apostle says this is nothing like fellowship and it’s nothing like the Lord’s Supper. This is indulgence, it’s not remembrance. And so Paul in these very moving verses summarizes the significance of the Lord’s Supper in these famous words which have come down into the Anglican Prayer Book –
“On the night he was betrayed, Jesus 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’.
And then he took the cup, saying ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this when you drink it, in remembrance of me’ “
Now there are some broad principles and I hope you’ll be able to absorb this, this is I think very important and very interesting.
When you come together, especially for the Communion, the Lord’s Supper, here’s the first broad principle – you should be carefully remembering Christ’s crucified body.
- BREAD – is to remember that he died
- WINE – is to remember that he died
It’s very hard to work out how the Corinthians can be so self focused at that point and forget what Jesus did for them. And then I remember myself and maybe you remember yourself and sadly I’m capable of coming to a Communion Service and being mentally and utterly self pre-occupied. So we need to be brought back, don’t we, to what is actually happening at the Communion Service. The bread and the wine are a visible sermon of what’s happening.
The bread comes to your seat, the wine comes to your seat – it’s a visible sermon that somebody (the Son of God) paid immeasurably for your salvation. So it’s a sermon.
The second broad principle is that you should be carefully recognizing Christ’s gathered body – first you should be carefully remembering Christ’s crucified body but secondly (verse 29) you should be carefully recognizing Christ’s gathered body.
I don’t know which one you are best at? Are you best at remembering Christ’s crucified body and forgetting his gathered body or are you better at remembering his gathered body and forgetting his crucified body? But there are two ways in which this word ‘body’ is being used.
One is to remember his crucified body and the other is to remember his fellowship body and Paul says in verse 29 “we are to recognize the gathered body of Christ”. So he says don’t eat in an unworthy manner, examine yourselves and recognize the body of believers.
Now this passage doesn’t mean that when you come to Communion, you’ve got to somehow beat yourself to make yourself worthy for Communion. That always seems to me to be a complete nonsense. By definition the Communion is for the unworthy so we must never disqualify ourselves by saying ‘Gee I’ve somehow got to make myself super solemn and sanctimonious and pious and impressive in order to be deserving of communion’. That is to get the whole thing wrong.
No, we go to Communion because we don’t deserve anything but we are to examine ourselves because we are in a gathered body and we are to recognize the gathered body and therefore we need to share in the Lord’s Supper with gratitude and with love. The Corinthians were forgetting the crucified body of Christ and they were trampling the gathered body of Christ and God was disciplining them. And in the Corinthian context he disciplined very alarmingly with sickness and what looks death among them. I’m not suggesting that this is all transferable but is it possible that God will discipline us if we forget the crucified body of Christ and we neglect the gathered body of Christ.
Well of course Paul is not dealing with Reformation issues – he is 15 Centuries before the Reformation. He’s not trying to juggle with sort of fake priests and false altars and funny rails. I’m very thankful incidentally that the Communion comes down to the seats. It’s a little bit more like a meal when it comes to the seats. It’s quite difficult I think to go up to that rail behind me as we used to do in the old days and kneel down and remember that we are only kneeling down because we are being humble and grateful but there must be some people who go and kneel at the rail wondering if they are worshipping something on the other side of the rail?
And what is the rail doing there anyway cutting off a priestly group from a lay group? So I much prefer that we share in this Lord’s Supper together as a family in our seats and if it were possible, we might be able to do it at the end of a very big meal.
But Paul is not fighting these issues, he’s just trying to get the Corinthians to remember the solemnity and the wonder that Christ died in his crucified body and the privilege and the fellowship and the wonder of being part of a gathered body.
Well how can we apply this? I want to suggest that we should remind ourselves on a regular basis that we are very blessed. I was saying to folk at a Men’s’ Breakfast yesterday as I was giving a talk and everybody was looking extremely sleepy and I suspect the speaker was a little sleepy as well – and I said “if you’ll forgive me I said we are such a bunch of dead heads aren’t we?” We just don’t listen to anything, we don’t care about anything, we don’t believe anything, we don’t fight for anything – we are just becoming a bunch of dead heads!
Well we need to just provoke one another to remember that we are hugely privileged. That there’s going to come a day that because Jesus died, we will meet him face to face and he will say ‘welcome, take your inheritance’ and we will rejoice in a perfect place for eternity. Now that’s true and we should provoke and remind ourselves so that we don’t think that we are badly done by but remember that we are wonderfully blessed.
We also, I think, need to seek how to give out what we have received in the fellowship. And one of the ways to do that is to use the short amount of time after we gather well and maybe to use the few minutes before we gather, well.
So I don’t know what you do when this service finishes and you’ve got 15-30 minutes opportunity to lovingly care for other people but I suggest you and I need to use it well. There are going to be exceptions where people have to race away to something. Some people may come feeling extremely needy. Sometimes people come feeling very lonely, sometimes I come feeling very lonely.
It maybe that we are full of anxiety and we just hardly cope with even talking to somebody and we just really want to escape. We’ve got a lot of introverts here this morning, we’ve got some extravert’s thankfully but we’ve got a lot of introverts. I’m borderline somewhere and I’m not quite sure what that means?
We need where we can generally to cross the floor and look after one another and care for one another and ask how our walk with the Lord is going because the Corinthians were tempted to barge in but you may be tempted to just barge out. That I think is a mistake.
Well you may know what it’s like to gather with your family for a special gathering, maybe a Christmas gathering and you go with a certain amount of trepidation because there are a few stresses and tensions in the gathered family – I’m making this up now as I wouldn’t of course know what this is like in my family but it could be true in your family! And you head off for this gathering of your family and what do you do as you head off for the gathering?
You say to yourself 2 things – firstly that I must pray and ask the Lord would help us because otherwise it could go anywhere and the second thing is my presence is going to be better than my absence. So I am going to go and I am going to try to be the most patient and kind present member of the family. And I think that’s what the Apostle Paul is saying in this section – that we are hugely privileged – let’s meet and show it.
Let’s pray – Father we give you great thanks for your wonderful work in putting into the world a people of your own to display your glory, to be a blessing to the community, to strengthen one another and bring joy to our own hearts.
We would pray that you would forgive us where we as a local church are failing to do that. And we pray that you will provoke everything that will do – and we ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.