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Sep 30, 2018

The Beautiful Church Body

Passage: 1 Corinthians 14

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Beautiful Church

Keywords: comfort, diversity, edification, encouragement, fellowship, worship styles & experiences

Detail:

A Beautiful Church Body

#4 in The Anatomy of a Beautiful Church series

September 30, 2018

Admission:  last week was fun…and challenging!

  • It was great to see how many of you came early or stayed longer to enjoy fellowship.
  • Food serving was a little chaotic! So we’re simplifying.
  • Space was tight in 2nd Therefore, we’re keeping tables in the 1st service and tearing them down before 2nd (sometimes).
  • Some of the environmental factors were challenging from tec to people We’re working on it.  In fact, I’ve decided to take this Sunday to help us address some of the more difficult aspects of making Sunday worship an experience where everyone has the best possible probability of truly experiencing God. 

The N.T. actually address some of the very things we’re struggling with at Mosaic.  The book of 1st Corinthians particularly addresses these issues.  For instance, while we won’t spend time really looking at how FOOD plays into fellowship (or detracts from it), food was one of the problems the Corinthian church had when they got together for their “food-a-ship” time.  They called it a “love feast” from what we can tell.  But it was essentially extended fellowship around food, somewhat like we are doing in between services. 

            1st Corinthians 11 speaks to the abuses that were happening around the Lord’s Table.  Some were bringing their “own private supper” and not sharing it with others while others who were lacking food were sitting there with growling stomachs.  The “haves” were even getting drunk they had so much and the “have nots” were being humiliated by having empty plates…or no plates at all. 

            Paul’s solution was for everyone who was hungry to eat before they came (11:34) so that when they shared the “Lord’s Table,” no one would get drunk on the wine and no one would be expecting that experience to fill their bellies rather than their souls.   APP:  This is one reason we’ve decided to scale back on the food.  We don’t want the food to be the focus; rather the fellowship and “communion” with Christ and others. 

[Exegesis of 1 Cor. 14:1-26]

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 

Paul is just coming off of the famous “Love Chapter” of 1 Cor. 13.  It’s all in the context of how we are to share our spiritual gifts with each other in the church setting. 

            Some of us read that and are thinking, “Would that the exercise of spiritual gifts were the only things that offend or bother me about coming to church!”  (BTW, let’s get in the habit of using language that reflects spiritual reality.  When we talk about “going/ coming to church”, what is it we are “going/coming” TO?  Biblically it is NEVER ‘THE BUILDING.’  It is always the PEOPLE

It is appropriate to substitute the word “gathering” for “church.”  Ekklesia literally means “called-out ones.”  In the Greek of the day it simply meant “a gathering of people.”  The N.T. writers picked it up and made it a word to mean “the gathering of God’s people.”

            Most of us are, frankly, bothered and distracted and frustrated by things far less spiritual than spiritual gifts:  personal habits of others, strange mannerisms they may have, different smells, typos in the slides, technical difficulties, squirrelly  children, distracting PDsA, someone playing on their “dumb” smart-phone, the mannerisms of the preacher, etc., etc., etc.  

            But whether it is spiritual gifts misused or bodily distractions confronting us, what IS to be our “goal” when we come together?  [Get-acquainted question today.]  May I suggest an answer that I’ll support as we continue on?

GOAL: To be a place where ALL experience the evident presence and work of God.  

One of the most powerful verbal images of Christ present in the Scriptures is what the N.T. writers referred to as “the body of Christ.”  In multiple epistles and chapters (Rm. 12, 1st Cor. 12, Eph. 4-5, Col. 1-2), the church is presented to us as the visible representation of Jesus  in the world today. 

Since that is true…and since God is the most beautiful Being that has or will ever exist, doesn’t it follow that the Body of Christ, when it accurately represents and reflects the Person of God in Jesus Christ, will be one of the most beautiful experiences people will have this side of heaven?  But so much of what we see today that passes for “church” looks far more like a reflection of our culture than of Christ.

EX:  I’ve heard there is a stratification of class and culture that happens at one of our nearby high schools—basement dwellers will be the immigrant kids (Marshallese, Sudanese, etc.), next will be the African-American and Asian, then the white kids but stratified somewhat by socio-economic class.   

Q:  What would most outsiders conclude about Jesus by looking at most churches in America today?  That Jesus likes hanging out with “his own” (race, socio-economic group, class, etc.) whomever that is…that He is an amazing entertainer…that He never offends or causes conflict…that he loves big buildings and lights and video…???

While most churches probably err on the side of attracting only a limited “kind/grouping” of people, Mosaic is managing to experience some of the growing pains of a growingly diverse “body” of people.  That comes with its own unique challenges.  In the last few weeks, we’ve experienced some of the challenges of that. 

To be honest, I have to confess that I’ve felt fairly distracted and frustrated with my leadership from the front during the ministry of the Word time.  Whether it was someone who was ramped up on some substance demonstrating distracting laughter or the social-verbal challenges of those who may just come in off the street and not be at all familiar with our Mosaic family culture, I feel like I let the actions of a few people inhibit the worship of the many.   My apologies…and I’ll try to keep growing at getting better about how to handle it from the front.

Without minimizing real challenges, I think we could also say that this is a GREAT problem to have! It is a sign that we are moving in the right direction! It means we struggle with the very issue that the early church struggled with in their gatherings because the Gospel was reaching every class, every race and every type of person. Praise God! This is a remarkably rare and beautiful struggle for a church to have nowadays in this nation, wouldn’t you agree? 

APP:  I’ve ‘been around the block’ a few times in my 61 years of church experience.  And I’ve noticed something about what people are or are not comfortable with in churches.  There seem to be 2 general types of churches:

  1. Some churches are very demonstrable with their worship, i.e. Pentecostals, Charismatics, Holiness churches. You’ll see them jumping around, dancing, using banners and ribbons, shouting, shaking, raising hands, etc.
  2. Some are very reserved & quiet with their worship (Baptists? Presbyterians? Lutherans? Bible churches?)  You may see some hands raised but not the majority.  You may see someone kneel in worship or prayer but not often.

And, of course, there is everything in between.

            Can we agree that God likes both ends as well as the middle of the spectrum?  But not all of us do!  J  Most people have a preference…and that’s why we have different churches with different traditions and worship styles. 

MOSAIC:  we lean to more reserved and quiet but are comfortable with some more visible demonstrations like raised hands or an “Amen” from time to time.

            So what should govern what we encourage and what we try to limit?   This can be a real minefield of over-control on one hand and chaos on the other. 

Thankfully, God gives us some governing principles for that question of what we should limit and what we should allow in 1st Cor. 14.   This chapter is in the larger context of spiritual gifts as manifested in the corporate worship experience.  Vs. 2 says, “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God.” [Nothing wrong with that.  It’s just limited to the speaker for his/her impact on themselves.]   “Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 

            Paul is talking about the superiority in corporate worship of the gift of prophecy over the gift of tongues.  “Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.”

So, what are to be the determining principles/objectives when it comes to worshiping together

  • What EDIFIES/builds up others, not just ourselves. The Greek word behind this English term (oikodome) is used 4 (of the N.T. 18) times in this chapter of I Cor. 14 (vss. 3, 5, 12, 26).  It’s a construction term that in this chapter means to “construct” or “build up” someone by what you are doing.  In this case we’re talking about God’s people, the church, the public gathering of the “called-out” people of God being built up by how we exercise (or fail to exercise) our gifts particularly related to experiencing God in shared worship. 
  • What “strengthens, encourages and comforts” others. These are parallel and overlapping terms. 

Encouraging” (paraklesis) can also have the strength of “comfort,” “consolation” or even “exhortation.”  The Holy Spirit is called our “Comforter” (parakletos).  In other words, we are to be to each other in gathered worship as the Holy Spirit wants to be to us.  The Holy Spirit is not all about Himself.  He is all about Jesus Christ and the Father.  He is all about enabling and equipping us to depend on and draw from the Father and the Son. 

“Comfort” (paramuthia) is a synonym that may have the added notion of consoling someone in a place of hurt. 

Clearly God is concerned that this BE our experience together when we gather: 

  • that we be strengthened and leave stronger, not weaker.
  • That we be encouraged about our life and walk in Christ, not discouraged.
  • That we be comforted in the sorrows of life, not more wounded and in pain.

As much as I am critical about churches that are all about giving people a wonderful “feel-good” experience, I cannot deny that God intends our time together to make us feel better.  The difference is, it is to be our interaction, not “the show” that the worship band or the preacher or the videos give us, that is to make the difference between how we leave here verses how we came in here. 

Edifying, encouraging, strengthening and comforting—that is what this gathering time every week is to accomplish IN us. 

            But HOW that happens is clearly not to be by me “grabbing all the gusto” I can from other people in this experience or looking to fill my tank by making it all about ME.  Corporate worship is NOT to be about what makes ME feel like I’M getting closer to God.  Our private devotional and worship times at home are for that.  As Jesus said, our “closets” of prayer are for that. 

When we come together, WE are to be asking ourselves, “Is what I am doing right now edifying, encouraging, comforting and helpful for those around me?” 

  • Sometimes my SILENCE/RESTRAINT is needed in order for others to be edified, built up and encouraged. In the worship services in Corinth, that was apparently when they allowed for a time of sharing by the congregation (14:26).  WHEN would that most likely be in our services?   [During the preaching/teaching of the Word.]
  • Sometimes my PARTICIPATION/SPEAKING is needed to help others be edified, built up and encouraged. WHEN would that be in our services?  [Singing, praying, sharing a testimony, taking an interest in someone else through fellowship.]  In fact, my silence or lack of engagement in expressing myself in some way during those parts of our worship might actually be discouraging, disheartening, frustrating and even destructive to what God wants done with those activities. 
    • How do you feel when I call for a time of prayer and no one prays out anything?
    • How do you feel when you look around during musical worship and you can’t find anyone singing their heart out to God…or even singing? How different from times when it looks like everyone is fully engaged talking to God in song!
    • How does it feel when you sit at a table or next to someone and they don’t engage in fellowship with you? They don’t show any interest in you or your soul?  They are completely guarded, walled-off, disinterested in what is going on in your life or in sharing what is going on in theirs? 

The CHALLENGE comes in being sensitive enough to God and others to know when what you are doing is distracting from God’s work in this place OR contributing to & helping it. 

Q:  What did you bring today to this gathering to help OTHERS worship more deeply???

Now let’s move on to another section of chapter 14 which gives us some clues about further RESULTS of truly good worship should be.  We’ll pick it up in vs. 23.

23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, God is really among you!”

            O.K.  So what should be going on in the hearts of at least some of us if our shared worship experiences are accomplishing what God wants them to? 

  • We’ll be hearing messages everyone can understand and that are challenging our hearts. NOTE:  What kinds of messages did the T. prophets bring?  (Repent, turn from sin, God is going to judge, if you don’t repent there will be discipline, etc.)  This isn’t just preaching/teaching that makes people feel guilty.  It is what helps is hear God’s heart for His people, helps us turn from what grieves Him, helps us repent and be restored to the right path.

Ever felt like whomever was speaking (pastor, another believer) has been “reading your mail” that week?  Ever feel like a message was directed right at you?  That’s having “the secrets of our hearts laid bare.”  Don’t run from that; be concerned when week after week it doesn’t happen!

  • Even an unbeliever is to acknowledge from being with us in worship that “God is really among us.” We’re not to be the focus; God is!  His evident presence is what we want people to remember, right?  We had a little discussion on this issue of God’s presence in our Friday men’s group this week.  It’s not that we’re ever out of God’s presence because God is everywhere at once.  But we may be completely oblivious to his presence because of a host of things and therefore not be changed by His presence. 

I think there is also a way in which God manifests his “presence” in powerful, special, even extra-ordinary ways at times when we are worshiping Him in a God-honoring way.  I’ve genuinely felt God’s presence in unique ways at gatherings of a few dozen people and gatherings of 40,000 people. I’ve felt God’s presence in the middle of communist Moscow, Russia and in the middle of church services in America.  

But there were some common denominators in every extra-ordinary experience of God’s presence like that.  You may have had those experiences too.  What were the “common denominators”?

  • People seeking God with hunger and passion.
  • People worshiping God with song and prayers.
  • People united together in Christ.
  • People focused on God, not people.
  • People taking time and making sacrifices to be together.
  • People open to God’s convicting work about sin.

So here is the bottom line (again reinforced/stated from 1st Cor. 14):

26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

So what should be Mosaic's Sunday service MISSION? 

1.)  experience God powerfully

2.)  help as many others do the same together.

WHY this is important: so that we can all measure how effectively the changes we experiment with and implement are promoting/accomplishing those goals.

Achieving these goals is going to be a PROCESS. Some of this stuff will likely have to be learned by experimenting and probably failing somewhat from time to time in future weeks. That’s how a family works.  If you didn’t know it young people, your parents are experimenting on you the entire time they are parenting!  Sometimes they are successful and sometimes they fail.  (NOTE:  You are probably not the best judge of that until you grow up and have to become parents!)  Hopefully wisdom that comes by experience makes both parents and church leaders better leaders and parents.  But the landscape of family, culture, life, etc. is always changing.  So what worked in parenting 100 years ago probably has to be significantly adjusted in parenting today. 

So let’s give one another enough grace and space to make a few mistakes and make course corrections. 

The real challenge to this comes the more diverse we are as a “church/assembly/gathering of God’s people”.   It’s pretty easy when everyone is the same…when we’re all “middle class”… or graduates with the same degrees…or the same ethnicity and culture…or like the same things…or have identical values.  The challenge comes in that God made us different.  Furthermore, He expects those “differences” to make life together more challenging and at the same time to make us more like Jesus. 
Family Analogy/adoption experience:  [Invite Andrew to join me for this part.]

Just as parents determine the family 'rules' of social engagement and then teach their children how to express their individuality within those boundaries, we must clarify our expectations and patiently teach each other how to behave in a way that we can all focus more on God while still experiencing the uniqueness of one another. 

EX:  when we adopted Mikias & Yohannes, there was a lot of push-pull in our family (siblings-to-siblings; parents-to-kids; husband-to-wife). 

  • How to eat at meals.
  • How to treat things around the house we value.
  • How to practice hygiene
  • How to handle discipline

Let’s now move to this family, Mosaic.

  • How we would like to try handling service disruptions.
    • Let the leaders know what is distracting for you and constructively what can be done to mitigate against distractions.
    • Coach each other on how individual congregants can patiently love another brother or sister into social maturity relating to…
      • Verbal/auditory disruptions: by pulling them aside (or out of the service) for 60 seconds to communicate our expectations and tell them we are there to help them for the remainder of the service as they learn our 'family' rules and dynamics (recognizing it will likely take more than 1 Sunday morning for someone to learn these skills).  If we all know as a congregation that this is the 1st level for how we handle distractions, it will not be an uncomfortable thing when we see a 'regular church goer' engage a "distracting one" and leave the service for 60 seconds with them. 
      • Environmental distractions:
        • How to deal with someone whose hygiene bothers us? Is the best thing to swallow my pride and my urge for cleanliness and give them a hug? Maybe. Or is it O.K. for me to help them learn that there is a natural physical barrier in place when they do not shower or wash their clothes enough or care for their hair, etc.?

I don't know the answer to this one, but I think it is worth acknowledging. 

  • Interpersonal communication: someone who may not know how to have a normal-length conversation… or may totally dominate a conversation verbally without allowing for back-and-forth, give-and-take conversation.

CAUTION!!!:  James 2:1-4, 8-9

Why are we afraid to have these “hard” conversations?  FEAR of offending or hurting someone. Fear of driving them farther away from Christ and His family.  Personal uncomfortability and aversion to conflict, hard conversations, etc.  Fatigue about relational challenges? 

BUT, is it loving to not help people with things that are keeping them & others from close fellowship with other people? NO!  It’s actually rather unloving. 

AND, is it loving to react defensively to someone who is really trying to help you with something you may be a bit (or a lot) oblivious to…or lazy about…or unconcerned about…or careless about?  NO! 

            Loving others is risky.  It will take time.  It requires prayer before, during and after.  It won’t always work out like we wish it would.  It will sometimes leave them and us hurt.  It will cost.  BUT IT IS WHAT WE ARE CALLED TO DO & BE in JESUS!

NOTE:  The LEADERSHIP desires constructive feedback from the congregants as we keep taking this journey of becoming a beautiful church body. 

ANDREW:  With the family analogy, mention how important it was (when we adopted the boys) for you, the parent, to receive feedback from your biological children on how you could continually parent better. Likewise, allow/encourage everyone there to offer constructive feedback when they notice things that can be improved to allow our 'church' family to function better. [Maybe they can put comments in a box we can have on the back table as they leave the service?]

NOTE:  CONGREGANTS must be willing to accept feedback from the leadership AND even other 'siblings' (congregants).

ACKNOWLEDGE:  many of us struggle right now with 

knowing which feelings of discomfort are 'growing pains' which we must learn to accept and grow some part of our own character in...OR which pains are healthy discomforts which we should not seek to discount but instead should communicate to the leadership or one another so that we can modify the way we “do church” in some way.

???IDEA??? Discuss in small groups our individual discomforts with Mosaic gatherings in order to help determine which things are personal issues God is asking me to grow up more in Christ about AND which are legitimate social gathering growth issues we should seek to change/mitigate/make better for all involved.

EX:  I [Andrew] would love to share with a homeless person that sometimes smell is a difficult barrier for me and hear what they think about that. I'm curious if they even see it as an issue and if so, what a potential solution could be. Another way this process could be achieved would be with comment cards and then we put our phone number or email down so that we can hear from the leadership, wisdom on whether they think that is something we need to grow in or if it sounds like a healthy discomfort we should seek to actually change (just like you did with me when I began holding onto bitterness towards the boys and needed to forgive them).

I Corinthians 12:21-27 gives us real insight into HOW to do this.  Yes, it is speaking directly to spiritual gift differences.  But I think it is also speaking to things we may like and appreciate about others and things that we don’t.  Listen.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 

But how often DO we “say” that to each other by our actions or even word?  “I don’t really need you and my life would be a lot easier and more pleasant if I didn’t have to learn how to love you well in Christ!”  God is judging that kind of attitude of the heart towards anyone else in the Body of Christ.

22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment.

  • “Weaker” are “indispensable.”
  • “Less honorable” we should give “special honor.”
  • The “unpresentable” should be shown “modesty” or “special treatment.”

Is this really our goal when we come together at any time?  If it is, it will totally change our experience of coming together. 

            But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. [Mutual concern, not one-way concern.]  26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

            So what makes for a BEAUTIFUL CHURCH BODY?  When every member of that body is valued and loved enough to become more like Jesus…and when what people experience among us is truly the life of Jesus Christ lived out among imperfect, unique, sometimes even strange people who nonetheless love Jesus too.