Monday, August 3, 2009

Sermon: Unity and the Congregation

sermon by Matt Kennedy

Ephesians 4:1-3

Monday, August 3, 2009

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We said last week that when a visible congregation meets together, something mysterious and powerful happens. We looked at texts in Matthew 18, 1 Cor 5, and Hebrews 12 that taken together point to a kind of transcendence—the gathered congregation is made present with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven and Jesus Christ is present powerfully in a way that he is not otherwise. In the preaching, sacraments, and prayers, divine power is unleashed. The body as a whole is changed. Each believer individually is changed. Believers are encouraged, convicted, corrected, and nourished by Christ himself. Non-believers are moved by God to faith, from death to life, from hell to heaven. The whole body is drawn up into Christ and made more fit to reflect his glory.

In our marriage series, if you remember, we said that one purpose of marriage is to proclaim to the world the love between Christ and his church. That proclamation which is implicit in marriage, is made explicit when a congregation meets. We in this local congregation, in this smaller gathering, make manifest and proclaim the love and obedience of the universal church, Bride of Christ, for the Husband, for the Lord. So when someone comes through these doors he should see in our life and fellowship, the qualities and characteristics of the whole Church—the universal fellowship that extends from earth to in heaven and transcends time and space—love, humility, patience, devotion, submission, awe, worship—the refracted and reflected glory of Jesus Christ in our lives and in our collective life.

But there is a second more explicit proclamation made when a believing congregation comes together. Paul names it in 1st Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” When believers talk about the Body of Christ, and we said this last week, they almost always mean the invisible, universal Body of Christ made up of all believers. But in this section of Corinthians, Paul is addressing the local congregation in Corinth, encouraging them to build the “local” body up by participating in it, using their gifts, by not fighting and dividing—why? Because “you”, the local church, “are the body of Christ.” The local congregation, then, makes manifest not only the Church universal—but in an even more mysterious way, Christ himself, his own body.

What is true for the church in Corinth is true for the Church of the Good Shepherd.

What we do together, how we live together, how we speak to one another and how we love or hate one another tells the world a story, preaches a sermon to the world about Jesus. As the Body of Christ we signify Jesus to the Word.

So, as we said last week, unity “with” a visible church is a biblical mandate for believers...and as Paul says to the Corinthians this morning and as he says in his letter to the Ephesians, the unity “of” the congregation is also a mandate. A divided Church proclaims to the world a divided Christ.1st Corinthians 1:10 “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Why? He tells us in the very first question of verse 13:

Is Christ divided?”

That's a rhetorical question with some power behind it. The Corinthian congregation, preaches Jesus to the world. The problem is that “divisions” proclaim a false Christ. The divisions, the cliques, the factions in the Corinthian church tell a lie about Jesus—divisions in the church say to the world, according to Paul that “Christ is divided”. A divided congregation preaches Christ's body still broken, his bones still in the grave, a Christ who is not risen. Divisions say, Jesus is powerless to hold his body together. So the fights we have here with our brothers and sisters, the grudges, the built up resentments, the unforgiveness, the grumbling, whispering, gossiping, the backbiting, slander—is not just destructive in the familiar way that it is in the world. These things are bad enough at school or in the office.

But here in the Church, we bear false witness about Christ. We slander Christ. Here we sully the name of Christ. Here we dishonor him in the face of the world and in presence of his angels and archangels and the company of heaven.

That's not a small thing.

That's why we're in Ephesians 4 where Paul deals with the unity of the visible church, the congregation. There are feuds and divisions here that are right now tearing at the unity of this congregation. Men, leaders, fighting over money. Brothers and sisters making harsh judgments about others in the congregation based on nothing but their own ungrounded assumptions. People going from person to person grumbling and criticizing and complaining about the behavior of others without even trying to talk face to face, just spreading bile into the body. I'll be honest, I've been tearing my hair out over the last two weeks wondering what to do about this. But the remedy hit me again this week when 2 Timothy 3 came up in the daily lectionary we use. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” This stuff is powerful. All we can do as a church is sit under God's word, sit under scripture, and let God use it to correct, rebuke convict and train us.

He's doing that right now in Ephesians 4. In verse 2, Paul describes those characteristics, those active things each of us must do and be to keep the unity of the congregation. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” There are three qualities named: humility, gentleness, and patience. Humility and gentleness are linked. Patience precedes and sets the foundation for “bearing with one another with love” That last phrase “bearing with one another in love” is the core instruction in verses 1-3. Bearing with one another in love is how you “make every effort”--it's the fuel which drives the “eagerness” to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of love.

We're dealing this morning with humility. The model for humility, and I said this last week toward so I won't re-read it, is found in Philippians 2:1-10—if you want to have it open for reference that's fine, but we talked about it extensively and laid down a pretty thorough foundation for understanding humility—today I want to look at humility from a different angle.

Humility is the opposite of pride and I think we'll get a better grasp of what humility is by thinking about its opposite. Pride is a hub sin a sin that spawns a host of other sins: jealousy, envy, slander, a critical spirit, ingratitude to name several. Pride is the impulse and desire to be first, to be adored, admired, and ultimately worshiped. It is grounded in a deep idolatrous love for the self that not only supersedes love for God but produces a desire to be God. When a proud person is not given the honor, admiration, adoration that he believe is due, his response is rage and division. Satan understood that so long as he was in fellowship with God he could never be God, so he rebelled, he divided. Adam and Eve wanted to be gods themselves so they rebelled and divided. That's the pattern. If you're a proud person you need the space to be your own little god. That's why you're always leaving things and people. Other people make it hard for little gods to fully live into their little god-selves.

Here are 5 things that pride does.

1. Pride takes offense (cain): Because the primary focus of a proud person is on himself and whether or not he's being given the deference, respect, gratitude and admiration he deserves, it's really easy to offend a proud person. If you're proud, you turn all of your conversations into reasons to talk about yourself, your feelings, your deeds, your opinions, and your looking for the same kind of focus in others. What does he or she think of me? And so when someone forgets to say thank you. Or someone else's accomplishments are recognized, if your work is unnoticed, your great sacrifices and sufferings not sympathized with, your name not mentioned--you get angry, offended. You take it personally. Because you are always thinking about you, you think everyone else is always thinking about you and so what people say and do is always in some way aimed at you.

2. Pride is envious (Saul). The proud person is sad/angry when others are recognized, promoted, admired, congratulated or praised. If you're proud, when people speak well of another person's work or performance, or character, you might play along, but in your heart your thinking of all the ways that the person being praised is inadequate, not quite as good as everyone thinks. You're thinking about ways that you are better and how blind and stupid everyone is for not noticing. You're also probably thinking about way's to make the praised person's failures more widely known—because its just not fair that he gets so much undeserved attention.

3. Proud people hate to be criticized even constructively but love playing the critic (pharisees). Now, it is true that nobody loves criticism. I don't like it one bit. But if you're proud you simply cannot handle it. You're not just defensive, you are unable to process the criticism as anything but an attack. When you're criticized, you immediately generate a thousand reasons why the critic is wrong, doesn't understand, isn't looking at the facts. Sometimes critics are wrong, especially if the critic is another proud person, but because you're proud, you can't assess honestly whether the critic is ever right.

But you're really good at spotting imperfections in other people, you've honed that skill. You have a critique in your head for every member of your family, your coworkers, friends, and you can call up that list at a moment's notice. The humble person, by contrast, can generally take criticism well and is able to discern good constructive criticism from false and destructive criticism primarily because the humble person is already aware of his own faults and is very honest with himself about them. When the humble person senses the need to confront someone in a critical way about that person's behavior, he'll always check himself first. Am I being fare, am I criticizing this person legitimately?

4. Proud people complain when things are not as they would have it. Since they are the center of their own universes, when things are not as they would have it things are not right. If you're proud you're always thinking about why you don't like your present circumstances and usually trying to figure out who to blame for it. Humble people are generally surprised at and thankful for what they have.

5. Proud people are naturally prone to tear down leaders. If you're proud, the decisions of your leaders, bosses, parents, anyone over you in any way are always flawed, their assessments always wrong, their motives always sinful. Everything would work a lot better if you were in charge and so your bosses, leaders, parents, teachers, whoever, are always less capable of doing their jobs than you. Nothing angers you more than a leader who will not listen to your wise counsel. Humble people are certainly aware of flaws in leaders and willing to call them on it but the idea of being under the authority of others is not a problem. He can appreciate good leadership because it is not a threat to him.

I believe that most of the conflicts right now in this church have their root in pride.

What do you do if you've noticed this kind of thing in your heart? First be honest with yourself and be honest with God. Repent, ask God's forgiveness. If your pride has caused a fight here in this congregation, ask forgiveness from the person affected by it, and then commit to turn yourself around. Repentance is not true repentance without that last part.

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

But how do you get rid of something like pride? I mean if you try really really hard not to be proud and you succeed, don't you just end up being proud of your accomplishment in not being proud? seems like an impossible battle to win. And it is. It is utterly impossible for me or you or any human being to gain victory over pride. Thanks be to God that we are not alone; thanks be to God that the battle is his and not ours; thanks be to God that he lives in us through his Holy Spirit and has the power to change hearts and minds and emotions.

I would say that the first thing to do after we repent is that we need to pray. “Lord, I've realized today that I have a proud heart, thank you for showing me that, please give me your grace to be humble, please shape in me the character and heart of your Son Jesus Christ, help me to love you more than me, to love others above myself”--pray that or something like that every day. And then you work. It's interesting that directly after that great hymn of Christ's humility in Philippians 2 Paul says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (12-13). Paul is not talking about “eternal” salvation—our salvation from hell. If you are a believer that salvation was accomplished on the cross of Christ and his perfect righteousness was credited to you when you believed. You have been justified. Rather, the salvation Paul points to here is our salvation from the dominion of sin. We have been saved from sin's eternal consequence already (that is called Justification) but we are daily being saved from sin's power and dominion (that's called sanctification). This is a cooperative thing. God works in you as you work. God gives you the power to do what you could otherwise not do. So you and I work to change the way we think and act and talk with regard to others and ourselves, we discipline our bodies and minds, adapt new habits of thought—and God works in us to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Some examples: Practice admiring other people and their good qualities instead of analyzing their words about you, analyze how you can say things to build other people up. Think about ways to promote and protect the reputation of those you consider rivals....more examples and close in prayer


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