Hard questions for a Soft Church - Part 2 - Hope 103.2

Hard questions for a Soft Church – Part 2

By Simon ManchesterSunday 28 Feb 2016Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes


If you could keep that passage open everybody – 1 Corinthians Chapter 12 – we are in a short series and the series is called “Hard Questions for a Soft Church”.  Is it a fair thing to have a series like this – hard questions for a soft church? Well I think it is.  Although most of us on Sundays come together with quite a lot of burdens on our minds and needing help from God himself, what we sometimes need is perspective.  And sometimes the perspective comes when we are reminded of how great and good God is.  And that has a tremendous impact on putting things in perspectives.  Sometimes we need to see what real suffering is like.

This came home to me recently (and because I am a Pastor and I occasionally get caught up in some of the concerns of being a Pastor) but I read of a Pastor in Switzerland with the name of “Hubmire”.  In the 16th Century he was arrested for preaching the gospel and he was burned alive at the stake.  His wife stood at his side through the whole ordeal and they took her and they tied a large stone around her neck and they threw her into the river.  They became one of many martyr couples for the Gospel and I read that and I thought to myself – ‘I haven’t begun to experience great and terrible suffering’.

Now I don’t say that because the things that we are concerned about and the things that we are burdened with are not real but sometimes they are helped by a new perspective.  And we are turning in these Sundays of May to look at chapters in 1 Corinthians which will give us a new perspective on ourselves.

Last week we looked at chapter 11 which asked the question How do we show that we are new people?”  It’s quite easy to say that we are new but how do we show that we are new?

And I pointed out that there is a quite a revolution in the New Testament in thinking about the local church that we must stop thinking of the local church as something which exists for us although it may have that secondary value.  And we must primarily think of the local church as existing to display the goodness and the kindness of God.

So He has put the church into the world to display his genius, his ability to save and stick and finally convey us from this world to the next.  Well down the list is what’s in it for me.

And so I suggested last week that as we think about being new people, claiming to be new people, we can show this by first of all showing that we are under authority and therefore we will be asking the question more often “what does He ask than what do I feel like?”  That will show that we are under the authority of Christ.

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And the other way that we might show we are new is because we will look at the other believers and we will think what will help their faith rather than what will help me.  And this will be a demonstration according to 1 Corinthians that we are new people.

Now today the second question I want to ask is what is the proof that you belong?”  It’s a good question because how do we work out whether we are real and new.

I was reading in the Newspaper once that a German woman in her 80’s found that her pension payments had stopped coming.  And when she rang to enquire she was told that according to the records she had died back in January and so they said you need to bring in a Life Certificate to prove that you are alive!!  I personally would have thought that just turning up would have been fairly good proof myself but she had to come in with a Life Certificate.

And it was a terrible ordeal really and the Company was forced eventually to apologize but I do think it’s not a bad idea that we introduce into the local church, especially St Thomas, the need for certain people to produce a Life Certificate to me to prove that they really are alive spiritually.  What would prove that they are alive spiritually?

The New Testament gives us a series of proofs.  It says when a person comes to real faith in the Lord Jesus they have a new interest in his Word.  They have a new interest in his people.  They have a new interest in his standards and these are things which bring a revolutionary change.  What do we do when somebody says “I am a Christian, I am new” – no interest in the Word, no interest in the people, no interest in the standards.  Very difficult, isn’t it for us to work that one out.

Well if you’ll turn to 1 Corinthians 12 we are going to look at this under 3 brief headings this morning:

  • The Spirit’s Leading
  • The Spirit’s Gifting and
  • The Spirit’s Joining.

First of all The Spirit’s Leading – Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 verse 1 “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.  You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols”.

Now the background to this is that the Corinthian Church have so many of them come to believe in Christ, the Holy Spirit has brought new life, they are full of excitement and there are lots of gifts that are suddenly being poured on the Church, not at least the gift which is called “speaking in tongues” which is causing quite a problem for the Corinthians.

And the Corinthians are more interested or many of them are more interested in the excitement and rush and the thrill than they are in anything else.  So the question they are asking (it’s a good consumer question) is “how do I get a happy time?” – Forget about Doctrine, forget about dry talks, and forget about serving other people – how do I get a rush and a thrill?

And Paul very skilfully responds to this because he doesn’t want to squash the spiritual life of the Church but he doesn’t want them to run into greater and greater selfishness.  So in verse 1 he has some information for them which is really bomb shelling information and it will keep them from being very ignorant and the bombshell information goes like this (verse 1).

Corinthians, you HAD A RUSH when you were pagans – so you need to really think about whether a thrill and an excitement and a great happy time is what it’s all about.  The Corinthians, many of them had been converted from very serious pagan religions and the pagan religions had lots of ecstatic experiences.  And so what Paul is saying is that you don’t need Christianity for an ecstatic experience and, you don’t need Christianity for a spiritually ecstatic experience.

When they went along to the pagan temples in the past they were literally, says Paul, carried away and swept up and it was sensational.  And there are false prophets and false spirits in pagan religions and they will promise or provide plenty of experience.  But says Paul in verse 2 ‘they led you to idols’; they caused you to go in a direction where you ended up with someone or something which was fatal.

But the person under the influence of the Holy Spirit says Paul, comes to realise that Jesus is Lord. They are persuaded and they seek to live that way.  So the test, says the Apostle Paul, is not that you would have a rush but where do you end up, what’s the result?

So the test, you see, of God’s spirit at work is not that you are being carried away and transported and having some kind of ecstatic experience but have you come to the conviction that Jesus is Lord and does it show? Because it’s possible to have spiritually exciting experiences outside of Christianity.  It’s possible even in Church to manufacture an emotional experience.  You only need to have the right music and the right lightening and the right tone of voice and the right violins and the right kind-of storytelling and you can create incredible emotions.  But it may have nothing to have with Jesus at all.  Where does it lead?  That’s the question Paul is asking.

Now we don’t want to trample on experience.  We know that the Anglican Church can do with a lot more experience and we are meant to be people who genuinely rejoice in the truth and it’s always a pleasure and a blessing to look around when we are singing some of the songs that we sing and to see people singing with great joy.  We are meant to have the peace of God and we are meant to have power, or at least experience something of God’s power and we are meant also to experience something of God’s blessing – we could do with more in the Anglican Church.

You know that story of the Anglican Church gathering and somebody sadly died of a heart attack in the building and they called an Ambulance and it took half an hour to work out which of the people in the building was the person who had died!! And there is that danger in the Anglican buildings isn’t there of the Anglican Congregations?

So real, real Christianity has real experience and we value it but what the Apostle Paul is saying is do not assume that experience equals real Christianity’.  Don’t be fooled by any experience.  Don’t think that if the hairs are standing up on your neck that that equals Christianity.  The test of the Holy Spirit being at work is that he brings you to see and live Jesus is Lord.  And you’ll see the Apostle Paul has to teach them this even though the Corinthians may not be listen because they have got spiritual ADD and they are not interested in what the Apostle Paul is saying to them – that he has to say it to them because the truth will set them free.

Now many years ago I went to a Conference in Manilla and it had 4,000/5,000 people from countries all around the world and it was a great privilege to be there and I remember that on one of the mornings they decided to have two talks on the Person of the Holy Spirit.  They had the great Jim Packer give the first talk and somebody else gave the second.

Jim Packer gave an outstanding Biblical outline summary of the work of the Holy Spirit – it was very, very helpful.  But the guy after him was of a much more charismatic, Pentecostal type of leading and he got up and I remember his opening sentence he said: – “Well I always say that a guy with an experience like me has got it all over a guy with an argument like you”.  It’s just a terrible way to respond.  And he was basically saying ‘I don’t care what you’ve said, this is what I’ve experienced’.

And as I reflect on those two men, one taking us to the Scriptures which is the instrument of the Spirit and one just taking us to his own experience which was completely random, the man who has really served the church, Jim Packer, steadied the church, used the Spirit’s sword and instrument has done great good for us.

The other man caught up in his own experiences has not really helped us.

So how might we apply this to us at St Thomas and not just say this applies to someone else?  I do think in our church here it is a small problem to have the seeking of experience.  I don’t think there is a lot of that going on.  I may be mistaken but I do think that is a real problem in our church at North Sydney that we will interpret out life by our experiences.  And that’s why we need to go back, as the Apostle Paul takes us, to the Scriptures.

Many people are trying to live their lives and even live their Christian lives on the basis of their feelings and their reason and not the Scriptures.  And that’s why there is an enormous amount of confusion and an enormous amount of roller-coaster in the Christian life because it’s being lived on the roller-coaster of reason and the roller-coaster of feelings.  So for example how does God guide us?   Well it’s not going to be by leaving us to just think and feel and randomly push forward.  God guides us very much by his Word.

Am I really a Christian?  Says somebody here this morning perhaps.  Well friend don’t just answer the question with what you think or feel.  Go back to the Scriptures.

Why am I so up and down?  Well could it be that the Scriptures are not really occupying your mind but it’s just your thoughts and your feelings which are occupying your mind.

And how do we get led by the Holy Spirit?  The primary answer is that we walk in the principles of the Scriptures under the Lordship of Christ.

So there are many people I fear in the church, in this 10 o’clock congregation whose lives are much too much led by their reason and their feelings.  And that’s what Paul warns the Corinthians of and I think he warns us as well.

Now the second point, more briefly, and the third point even more briefly, the second point is The Spirit’s Gifting.  You see in verses 4-11 that Paul has to deal with the Corinthians who are very interested in the Gift of the Spirit speaking in tongues and Paul wants to basically address these Corinthians and he very carefully and cleverly says to them (in verse 4) ‘yes, you’ve received a gift’ but (verse 5) ‘it’s a service’.  The talent that God has given you is a service, not just something for you to hold on to and run away with.  And (verse 6) he calls it ‘a work’.  And he says in verse 4 ‘it’s a gift of the Spirit’, yes that’s exciting, but it’s also a gift of the Lord (verse 5), probably the Lord Jesus.

And it’s also a gift of God (verse 6), probably God the Father.  So the gifts, the service, the work comes from the Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And so the Corinthians may be tempted to indulge in themselves and say ‘I got the gift of the Spirit’ but the Apostle Paul wants to say ‘well you’ve also received something to serve with and something to work with and it comes to you from Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So you see in verse 7 that every Believer has been given a gift or a talent and many in this building have received more than one, some have received many many gifts and talents and the purpose of these gifts or talents is (verse 7) to do good to the Christian community.

Just as if we were musicians in an orchestra, we are not soloists.

Just as if we are different paint colours in a paint box, we can’t produce a picture on our own.

Just as if we are parts of the body, we just cannot function if there is just a hand or an eye.

The group cannot properly work without each individual and each individual is not an alone or independent Christian but is a member of the whole.

Well what do we make of all these gifts in the New Testament?  Paul lists 9 of them in verses 8-10 and then there is another 8 of them in verse 28 and in Romans 12 he’s got 7 gifts and in Ephesians 4 he’s got 4 gifts and I want to suggest to you as you’ve probably heard many times before that he is not giving a definitive check list of gifts so that you will go back to the New Testament and you will say “well, which is mine?”.

But I suggest that what he is doing is that he is saying ‘there is a great variety and what you are good at and what God has gifted you to do, that’s your gift’.  And we need them all because the Church just doesn’t work with a preacher and without the rest of the gifts.  And it doesn’t work with an Administrator and no-one else.  And it doesn’t work with music and nothing else.  They all work together.

In case you are wondering whether some of these gifts in the New Testament are still around today, some of them seem to be quite unusual.  Verse 10 of chapter 12 talks about ‘miraculous powers’ – I think that many of these gifts do seem to belong to the apostolic age – we don’t seem them around so much today – but we would never want to turn around and say that God cannot do what he wants to do.

The important thing is that we should look to him for salvation and then seek to serve him and not demand or as if it were possible, pressure him to give us things that are not necessarily being given.

Now my simple application of this to us at St Thomas, because I think the whole idea of gifts has been around for decades and if you were a Christian in the 70’s or 80’s, we never stopped talking about gifts, gifts and gifts, the place went crazy.  But my simple application would be:

Firstly, do you notice how unspectacular so many of these gifts are – they are just not that spectacular.

Verse 28 ‘the ability to help to administrate’.

Over in chapter 12 of Romans says ‘the ability to serve, to encourage, to be generous, to lead and to show mercy’.

I can’t think of any real Believer in this building today who doesn’t have a handful of those gifts and therefore the great privilege of being able to serve the Lord any hour of any day.

Secondly, is to ask you what do you think you inject into the Fellowship?  I am not saying that you will do this in a dominant or spectacular way but what do you inject into the Fellowship which honours God, strengthens another and maybe even satisfies you – what has God made you good at?  How does God use you to benefit the Fellowship?

You may say – well I’m pretty ordinary you know – I wouldn’t want to pretend that I could do anything – or the Church doesn’t need me – it looks as though it’s pretty capable on its own and I am happy just to sit in a seat.

But if you look again at Chapter 12 verse 7 you will see that each Believer has been gifted by God, that the Spirit gives not only new life but he also gives gifts to every Christian to enable the Church to function.  So you don’t need me or the Parish Council or the Archbishop of Sydney to appoint you – God himself, if he brings you to Christ, gifts you and he qualifies you and you don’t need to wait for some list to appear on the back wall of the church, you can begin to serve, help, encourage, show mercy, administrate and do all sorts of things as so many of you do and I am saying this to anybody who may feel as though they are just playing a very passive role in the Church, it is possible and time to be active.

Let me give you one example of a very godly pastor who wrote a letter to a couple in the church who are burdened, longing for their daughter to come to faith in Christ.  The pastor wrote these words:

“Continue to glory in your own salvation.  Let her (that is your daughter) see that you are mainly enjoying the Lord’s goodness to you in sustaining you in the pain.  We do Christ wrong when our pursuit of others feels like we are mainly angry at how they let us down or break our rules.  They need to see in us a resting in the Gospel so that it looks better than what they have.  It is an irony to win those who are breaking our heart – we must strive to enjoy the great heart Sustainer (that is God) more than ever. 

 Save the truths like Psalm 103 – The Lord is merciful and gracious slow to anger abounding in steadfast love.  He will not always chide nor will he keep his anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities”

 And I mention that because even a letter written at an appropriate time with careful and prayerful thoughts is a great contribution to honour the Lord, strengthen another and satisfy may be yourself.

The third and the last point very briefly is The Spirit’s Joining

  • We’ve talked about the Spirit’s Leading – he leads us to Christ
  • We’ve talked about the Spirit’s Gifting – gifting every Believer

And the third The Spirit’s Joining (verses 12-31) very briefly – there are 20 verses but they summarise like this:

There is no place for inferiority in the church (verse 15) the foot in the body of Christ cannot say I am not a hand.  The ear in the body of Christ cannot say I am not an eye.  The body is severely hampered when there are no feet and no ears.

And then there is no place for superiority (verse 21) the eye cannot look down on the hand and say well we don’t need you.  The head cannot look down on the feet and say I don’t need you. The body (fellowship) is severely hampered if there are no hands or feet.

So is there anybody here who is a Christian and you think of yourself as unnecessary – that’s a mistake – it’s impossible – you are just not unnecessary.  That would be to disagree with God.  Is there anybody here this morning who thinks that anybody else is dispensable?  That’s a mistake – it’s impossible – that would be to disagree with God.

And there are so many who are serving so well at St Thomas – we are full of joy and there are a thousand, thousand things that are going on behind the scenes that we know nothing about but you are serving wonderfully behind the scenes and every single Believer has got the ability to be a good servant.  But there do just happen to be still in the church and we need to address this, lots of people sit quite loose to ministry, in fact I think this is the sort of church which somehow encourages sitting loose to ministry as if somebody could come for year and years and years and just be way too passive.

But I want to remind you that if you are part of the body of Christ:

  • You are not a prosthetic limb to be sort of unscrewed and put on a shelf
  • You are not a hat which just comes out for a certain season
  • You are not a tattoo or an earring or a piercing which is just for show

(There are not just enough good looking people here to be here for show)

But you are an eye or an ear or a hand or a foot and you’ve got a crucial role to play.

So the proof that you belong to the Lord Jesus is that you have put your faith in Jesus as Lord, who has equipped you and qualified you to serve and you are seeking to know how to do that.  And you don’t have too a high view or too low a view of yourself or anybody else but just a good balanced view.

Then he closed by saying you’ve got a role to play in the fellowship, you cannot be unwanted, that’s impossible, you cannot be safely detached, that’s impossible.  Christ has served you by dying for you and now you serve him by living for him 1 Corinthians 12.

Let’s pray – let’s bow our heads – Father we give you great thanks for our Saviour, the Lord Jesus, for bringing new life to us through his death.  We pray that you would help us to live that new life in a way which honours you, blesses others and brings joy to our own hearts. We ask it in Jesus’ Name.