Hard Questions For A Soft Church - Part 4 - Hope 103.2

Hard Questions For A Soft Church – Part 4

By Simon ManchesterSunday 13 Mar 2016Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes


What we are doing on these 4 Sundays in this particular month is that we are following the 4 chapters in 1 Corinthians 11, 12, 13 & 14 where the Apostle Paul is actually correcting a local church that has become too absorbed with itself.  And this is a good exercise for us to face and we’ve been reminded Sunday by Sunday that actually we’ve been placed in the world primarily as a display of the goodness of God, the grace of God and the glory of God and in a secondary sense we get the benefit, blessing, fellowship and strengthening together.

Now we don’t need to be taught to be self absorbed and self orientated – it’s natural to us.  Somebody has said the word “sin” has a BIG ‘I’ in the middle because we are so easily centred on ourselves.  And when we see a little child being extremely self centred we do hope and maybe pray that God would bring into that child a new Copernicus revolution and they will begin to see themselves not as the centre of the universe.

We see a teenager acutely self-conscious, we sort of give thanks that the teenager is going to “God willing” come out of that phase and be able to think outside themselves.  When we see somebody who is over 60 who is utterly self absorbed, they can’t even listen to what anybody else is saying because they are just so keen to say what they want to say, there is a sense of frustration isn’t there and we wish that somebody would come along and rebuke that person and give that person a good friendly kick so that they would just think and re-think.

Now the Corinthian Church is sadly turned in on itself – it’s not a dead church – it’s a very lively church but the proof of the selfishness in Corinth is that if the Corinthians have got a choice between a gift from God which is the gift of speaking in tongues which is self edifying and the gift of speaking in prophesy which is blessing others, the Corinthians are absolutely interested in the speaking in tongues and what will be in it for them.

In other words, the people of God in Corinth who have been placed in Corinth to display the love of God are displaying the normal selfish love of the world.  Instead of being a light in a dark world, they have become kind of a mirror of a dark world.  And the Apostle Paul is carefully teaching them from Chapter 12 that actually the church is the body of Christ and that the gifts that they have received, whatever they are, are for the good of the whole body, for the good of the whole church.

That’s why I have been encouraging you when you come and I need to say this to myself on a regular basis, especially if you drive into the car park and you are feeling frustrated or feeling as though the family is driving you crazy or the church is the last place you want to be or you yourself are exhausted and you want to just go home and have a good sleep you drive in and you say “Lord, you’ve called me to be a servant of the people, please help me to do it because I am not coming to a concert (it’s a terrible concert) I am coming to a body where I am a ‘hand’ or a ‘foot’ or an ‘eye’ or an ‘ear’ so help me to play my part”.

And what should drive us says Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 is the love of God – that’s what should be driving us.  And the mark of the Spirit at work in us is not that we are necessarily thrilled but that we cross the room or we cross the road in order to show love in action.

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Now chapter 14 which is the last of our series is 40 verses and I am just going to try and speed through it quite quickly.  We are going to follow the 2 trajectories in the chapter, one is what you would call a selfish trajectory and one is a kind of a serving trajectory and we are going to watch and see how the Apostle Paul follows these two.

He says in verse 1 “Follow the way of love” – literally pursue it or hunt it – pursue love.  And I want to follow the chapter quickly this morning – I’ve actually got 5 points but they are quick points – if you want to write something on the back of your green and white sheet – there are five points.

The first is that there are two types of gifts – well I feel as though I’ve already said this in verses 1-5 there are two types of gifts.  There is the gift which is pleasing to self and there is the gift which is helpful to others.  And these verses in 1-5 are as close as we ever get to a definition of what it is to speak in tongues or what it is to prophesy.  They are both mysterious gifts to us in the 21st Century because it’s very hard to work out really what this speaking in tongues was and what this prophesying was.

But we get some definition in these early verses.  For example in verse 2 to speak in tongues means that you speak directly to God in some kind of praying or some kind of praising.  Verse 2 is incomprehensible to people who are listening and verse 4 it edifies self.  So it seems to be a language as I say of prayer or praise that nobody understands unless there is according to Paul, the gift of an interpreter.

To speak as a prophet, to speak prophesy in the 1st Century meant that you directed your message to people (verse 3) – it makes sense (verse 3) – it edifies the church (verse 4) and therefore there are many who would say – well this is still a living ministry to be able to speak prophetically in a way which builds up or edifies as Paul says ‘strengthens, encourages or comforts’ (verse 3).

But at the end of the chapter we will see that this prophesying, this speaking in a word in season needs to be carefully assessed or weighed or considered by the church.

Now the Apostle Paul tells us that he had both gifts (verse 19) and therefore he’s not prejudicial, he’s not jealous, he’s not sour grapes for the Apostle Paul.  He simply wants the Corinthians to value the ministry that blesses another person more than the ministry that blesses self.  I think it’s very hard for us to appreciate this dilemma of tongues and speaking prophesy in this particular church but it may be that we need to think again and again and again about what is my personal preference and what will bless the church.

  • when it comes to music
  • when it comes to the language we use
  • when it comes to the Liturgy
  • when it comes to the way we do things
  • when it comes to the money

How do we actually think about what blesses other people?  And therefore this first point is there are two types of gifts – self orientated – other people orientated.

The second point this morning is there are two types of communication as we had read for us in verses 6-19.  There is good communication and there is bad communication.  I think we can deal with these verses very quickly.

If you look at verse 6 Paul says ‘what’s the point of communicating in a way that makes no sense’ and obviously if you were in church and somebody stood up and started to speak in tongues, it would make no sense to you.  And the Apostle is basically saying I’m not going to serve you if I mystify you or confuse you.

And the local church always needs to think about how it communicates.  Of course in the past the Latin Mass was one example of horrendous carelessness as the normal people sat in the seats and somebody up the front conducted a Mass in Latin which virtually nobody could follow and I think you’ve heard me say that in the past when the priest had his back to the congregation and was doing magical things with the bread and wine, or thought he was doing magical things with the bread and the wine and using the Latin – “Hoc est enim meus Corpum – This is My Body” – the people in the pews could only hear the muttering and that’s where the phrase “Hocus Pocus” came from because it just seemed to be complete nonsense.

But on the other end of the spectrum I presume you are in a service which was a very strong Pentecostal Service and everybody was up and speaking in tongues, you could feel like a complete stranger and that nothing was really making sense.

But there is also in our own church preaching that is confusing which takes a perfectly sensible passage and makes it obscure or that over-intellectualises it and “preaches for the giraffes and not for the sheep” as Spurgeon said once.

And then there is preaching of course that just reduces everything to two bullet points and dilutes what is there in the text.

Now Paul uses 3 illustrations:

  • he says music that means nothing – there is a tune being played that means nothing to us
  • or a trumpet (verse 8) in battle which plays some notes and nobody knows whether that means to get up and attack or run for your lives
  • or (verse 10) you are in a foreign country and somebody speaks to you or you are in two different language groups and you just can’t possibly understand each other –

that’s what it is like in a church where the language is confusing.

And the shock of verse 19 – the climax of this is that Paul says “I would rather say 5 plain words” JESUS IS LORD AND SAVIOUR.  He says I would rather say that than 10,000 words in an ecstasy.

Now friends surely part of this appeal from the Apostle Paul as he talks about being plain and clear and not confusing is not just that we say things that we understand but we also think about saying things that anyone understands.  There is such a gulf today between Christianity and non Christianity – in fact it’s never been so wide and we need to think all the time – do we make sense?

And I’ve got huge blind spots now that I am getting old – I just can’t think anymore whether we are crossing any bridges to help people to communicate and understand.  We need to think and we need to pray and be willing and flexible for this.

Gavin gave me an article through the week about the different types of churches in the world today – the traditional churches that are kind of looking backwards and the contemporary churches which are trying not terribly successfully to connect and then you’ve got what are called ‘missional churches’ which are actually crossing over thresholds and making some good connection and here is a quote which really sobered me from the paper which says:

The youngest generations of our cities possess media shaped images of church and Christianity”.

That’s where they are picking up their Christianity from a screen so that even the Contemporary Churches may make no sense to those generations and there is nothing you can do to make church attractive to these people.  We will struggle to argue for our faith with such people because their questions are totally different.

So it is a different day but it is not an impossible day if you’ve got a church that’s willing to communicate as carefully and as carefully as it can – that’s the second – 2 types of communication.

The third (verses 20-25) are two types of influence.  The church can have a hardening effect on people or a softening effect.  It can have a judging effect or it can have a liberating effect on people and in these very tricky verses (20-25) Paul quotes from the Old Testament.  He quote a little verse from Isaiah 28 where the enemy nation was coming in to attack God’s people and Paul says as the enemy nation came into attack God’s people, the people of God heard these strange languages, the strange voice of a foreign nation.

And the Apostle Paul captures this verse from the Old Testament and he says ‘do you realize that if you meet in church and you run your meeting so that the language is confusing as if it’s foreign, you’ll be having a judging effect on the people who are present because it actually hardens them, it turns them off, it irritates them, it separates them from what could be helpful.

But, says the Apostle Paul, if you are speaking (let’s say what he calls prophesy which is clear and strengthens and encourages and comforts) then a person who comes into the church may hear, be convicted and convinced and says Paul ‘fall down before you and say God is among you’.

Now which is the greater effect on the visitor and undoubtedly the Apostle Paul is saying the second?

Now the church meets primarily for the believers.  We mustn’t fall into the trap of the seeker services that are always dumming everything down for the sake of one visitor.  We meet for the believers, we meet to feed the believers but it seems to me that it’s perfectly possible for things to be said which are satisfying for believers and yet make sense to unbelievers.  It’s quite a big challenge but ideally the regular visitor who has been a Christian for a long time will feed on the meat of the Word and even the visitor will understand at least something of what’s being said.

So there are two types of gifts, says Paul:

  • There is the ‘for me’ type gift and there is ‘for others’ type gift
  • There are two types of communication – there is confusing and there is clear.

There are two types of influence – judging kind of influence and a blessing kind of influence.

Now from verse 26, there are two types of gathering.  Basically you get the chaotic gathering which seems to be the Corinthian church where everything was just bizarre mess or you get the thoughtful, helpful gather.  I’m not saying traditional but I am just saying one is chaos and the other is helpful.

And you would think that there is no need to warn the church today against bringing paganism in to the church but on Friday I received a letter from a friend called Dr William Phillip who is a Minister in the Church of Scotland.  He’s a very faithful man and he spoke at our CMS Summer School some years ago in Katoomba.

He tells me in the letter that in the General Assembly not too long ago which is the Assembly of all the Ministers in the Church of Scotland, the majority are seeking to facilitate same sex relationships in the church and among the clergy but one faithful brother in the General Assembly, moved a motion that the Church of Scotland churches should conduct services that are exclusively Christian.  You wouldn’t have thought that was too big an ask, would you?  Could we please have Christian services in our buildings?

And they moved this way because there was one church in the Church of Scotland that was introducing Hindu services with Hindu gods and Hindu sacrifices.

The motion was roundly defeated.  The Church of Scotland has therefore insisted that anything can go on in a building that is set aside for the meeting of believers who follow Jesus.

And William Phillip and his congregation are now one more church standing for the truth and in danger of being thrown out of their building and their congregation and you might pray for him and the few who are trying to stand for the Bible and for the truth of Christ.  You would think it would be a straight forward thing within the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland but it’s no longer the case.

Now in the Corinthian situation from 14:26 they are gathering, and it looks as though there are queues of people wanting to speak in tongues and there are queues of people wanting to speak prophetically.  And the Apostle Paul basically says you should control yourself, you must not think that because you are speaking in tongues, you are out of control or because you are speaking prophetically you are out of control.

And if you look at verse 27 he says, two or three speak in tongues and only if there is an interpreter.  Now I honestly wonder how many churches around the world are taking seriously what the Apostle Paul is saying – two or three, where it’s going to be explained.

And then in verse 29 – two or three prophets can speak – and you must not pretend that you are unstoppable and that you have to finish what you are saying.  Because he says (verse 32) “the spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets”.  ‘God is not a God of disorder but of peace”.

Now the verses that follow (verses 34-35) are very unpopular verses if Paul is saying that women are not allowed to speak in church.  But we know from chapter 11 that a man or a woman may speak and may bring a valuable word to the church.

What Paul is teaching in verses 34-35 is that when the prophesies have been spoken (and remember that this is pre-Bible in hand) the church needs to weigh the message.  Somebody comes up and says ‘I think this is what we should do’ ‘I think this is what we should do in the light of God’s Word’.  Now says the Apostle Paul – man of the church who are the Elders of the church should step up and take responsibility and weigh the prophesies and assess them and consider them so that the church goes in a good course and they don’t abdicate and give up their responsibility.

Now the last of my five points before I just close with a word of application is in (verses 36-40) there is One Lord.  I want you see what Paul says in verse 37:

“If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.  If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored”.

 Isn’t that a brilliant way to finish?  See what the Apostle Paul says – I’m speaking the words that Christ has given me, you do not weigh up an Apostle, you do not sit in church and say ‘I like this bit of Paul but I don’t like this bit of Paul’.  You heed what Paul says because he brings the word of the Lord Jesus to us.

And if you are spiritual you love the Word of God.  And if you don’t love the Word of God you endanger your soul and the Corinthians are in this terrible situation of thinking that the Spirit is somehow going to lead them into new exciting paths which will liberate them and be much more exciting and the Apostle Paul says – don’t you realise that the Spirit is going to lead you into Biblical paths and when you go into Biblical paths (believe it or not) that’s where you will find your liberty and that’s where you will find all the treasures.  Because in the end, you see, the Spirit uses the Word as his sword – He’s the Spirit of Truth.

So this whole section, these four sermons that we’ve looked at and we’ve now come to the end, is the call of the Apostle in the Name of the Lord Jesus not to try and invent a Christianity which caters to us or to invent a spirituality which pleases us but to take seriously the Spirit of God who leads us to the Word of God – to the Son of God – so that we’ll surrender to Him and find in Him our freedom and our joy and our truth and our love and our purposes.

Now I want to close with just a word of application.  What I’ve tried to do in this series of sermons is to point out the 1st Century problem.  They are trying to harness Christianity to their own satisfaction and their own gratification.  It’s easy to do.

Our issue is not speaking in tongues but I think it is possible and easy for us to still see the Christian life as something which is there for our benefit.  As I said last week, it’s kind of like the church is the ‘spiritual Myers” that you just drop in to and just drop out according to felt need.  It’s that pre-Copernicus danger of thinking “I’m at the centre of the spiritual universe and everybody is revolving around and even Jesus is revolving around and they are all basically to make sure that everything goes well” – I’m putting it slightly crassly!

And because everybody is committed to themselves by nature whether they are in the pulpit or the pew – and it’s only a new nature through Christ which can change us – every Christian is going to struggle with this all the time – and I suspect that it’s possible that the plenty that we have and own in the suburbs in which we live just makes it more difficult for us because we continue to be able to do for ourselves what we want to do.

Now why is the Apostle Paul going to challenge this?  And is it a complete waste of my time to say to you ‘be wary of this’?  Is Paul just getting crabby, legalistic, does he want us to be miserable?  Surely not.  No he actually wants us to spirit-led people and to be Bible-led people so that we acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and that’s he is not our butler or our servant.

He does deserve our honour and our service and our surrender and our submission when things are easy and when things are difficult.  He deserves it.  That’s who he is.

It’s also partly to protect us from what people call ‘the hedonistic fallacy’ which is that if you pursue pleasure you’ll find it.  I want to remind you that that is a lie.  Not only will you miss pleasure if you run after it – it’s like chasing your shadow – but you will be looking for your pleasure in things that will never really provide for you.  And you will be turning away from the One who really does provide for you.

And if you are a Christian or a non Christian, it is our ongoing responsibility to keep seeking him.  The unbeliever is seeking him for salvation and the believer is to go on seeking him for worship and for joy.

Now we’ve been raised from childhood to think that happiness is the goal of our life and is our right and parents who see their children who are not happy get very stressed about this and it never occurs to them to say –  ‘well that’s the world we live in’.   How are you going to grow?  The average parent thinks somebody is not happy so I must make sure they are happy, I must fix it immediately, and I must solve everything immediately.

And when somebody grows with that kind of removing of all difficulties which God himself does not do for us, he puts difficulties in place so that we will grow and we slide into adulthood thinking that happiness is the goal of life and happiness is our due and our right, we become very, very dangerous disciples.  In fact discipleship becomes very difficult for us.

And people who live continually ***star, ****star, *****star life-styles make terrible disciples.  Because it just doesn’t occur to them that things could even be difficult.

Now the Apostle Paul doesn’t lay on us a miserable burden.  He doesn’t even lay on us a legalistic piece of law.  At the heart of his argument is the love of God.  In the centre of the chapters is 1 Corinthians 13 – that there is a love in the universe which is in God, in the heart of God.  It’s been seen historically when Jesus came into the world, turned his back completely on all his happiness and all his rights and took himself voluntarily to the cross and allowed himself to be placed on the cross with our sins on his back so that we ourselves might be forgiven, brought into fellowship with God forever – that’s the way Jesus conducted himself.

And when that love of God, that other person God honouring, other person love enters into our heart and it begins to regulate our heart and drive us, we actually find as we are driven by that love, the joy and the usefulness and the honour to him that we were made for.

And I want to ask you on the basis of these chapters (and I am asking myself as well) that we will take a minute now to deliberately pray and ask God to forgive us for what is inherent in us – this insane idea that we are kind of master and he is servant – and we are going to ask him that he would restore sanity to us so that we would see him as a great King and a great Saviour and we are his grateful servants.

Let’s do that together –

Our gracious God we thank you for these chapters.  We thank you for bringing your Word to correct our errors and our evils.  We thank you for your great love which has been seen at the cross and is poured out by your Holy Spirit into our hearts. 

We pray, our gracious God, that you would forgive us for the sanity which is in our old nature of continuing to think that we are at the centre and that you are somehow obligated to serve us and make sure that everything is wonderful.  We ask that you would forgive us for this.  We pray that you would build into our mind and heart the truth that you are a great King and a great Saviour and that we are your grateful servants.

 We pray that you would take us and help us to be good disciples.  We ask that you would use us this day to bring honour to you, love and blessing to others and that you would give us joy in our hearts of being your faithful and loving servants. We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.