1 CORINTHIANS 1:1-9: THE PERFECT CHURCH

GOOD MORNING- MARK WAS DUE TO PREACH THIS MORNING BUT HE HAS COME DOWN WITH THE FLU AND HE SENDS HIS APOLOGIES.

Recently I was looking through the first verses of 1 Corinthians 1 where Paul “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” is writing to the church in Corinth. There were issues within the church and he in, the authority given by God, wanted to address the issues. This asks the question: “is there such a thing as a perfect church?”

Perhaps you have heard the statement, “Don’t bother looking for the perfect church. Because if you ever find it, and you JOIN it, then it won’t be perfect anymore!”

I am sure it would be wonderful to be in the perfect church? What do we think the perfect church would look like?

Perhaps:-

Where everyone was always kind, considerate and loving! Everyone always agreed! Where the teaching was always fantastic. Pitched at just the right level – not too complicated, not too simplistic! Where the Scriptural application was always challenging, but not TOO challenging! Where the music was exactly right – not too modern, not too old, not too fast, not too slow, not too loud, not too soft! The pews or seats were just right, the lighting was spot on, the temperature was always perfect.

The problem with a perfect church is that although it may be perfect for you, it wouldn’t suit someone else. Each one of us has different likes and dislikes and no matter how hard you try “you will never please everyone all of the time”

Each congregation within a church is made up of people from different walks of life, different ages, different cultures, different ways of doing things – God designed it that way. We are individuals who make up a body but we have a unify factor and that is the Holy Spirit. I refer back to my sermon a while ago that God doesn’t require perfection from us but excellence in all that we do.

Here at Highlands, we aim to serve God to the best of our abilities but we do not get it right. There will always be someone who is unhappy about how things are going or done or are perceived to be. We have 4 services on a Sunday alone: different age groups, different ways of “doing church” in an attempt to reach across a broad spectrum, BLAST runs on a Friday for the youth, Junior church & Tiny Tots on a Sunday. Actions teams meeting during the week.

How do you please everyone?

There have been many changes made at Highlands in the past year or so and

naturally this has made some people uncomfortable. Such as:- Mark is now bi-vocational – this means that he remains the senior minister here at Highlands but he is in the secular environment as well. Just an aside “bi-vocational ministry” has the support of both General Assembly and local Presbytery [whom we fall under as a Presbyterian denomination] as more and more ministers are moving into this form or type of ministry.

We do not like change, understandably we do not like for “things as we know them” to be altered but change does need to happen. We cannot stay the same but are to constantly seek to be Christ like as individuals and as a body. We are to make room for others: Christ commissioned us to “go and make disciples” –this means daily taking action to make an impact in someone else’s life. As Rick Warren says in Purpose Driven life: “It’s not about you”

Back to the verses in 1 Corinthians where when we look we can gain a sense each church IS perfect.

This church is perfect because THE CHURCH BELONGS TO GOD, and He’s FULLY EQUIPPED IT for the job set out before them.

We’ve got everything God intends us to have “enriched in every way”. So, if you look at it that way, you’re ALREADY part of the perfect church.

And it’s this perspective Paul has at the start of his letter. He recognises there’s so much that’s GOOD in the Corinthian church.

In lots of ways it’s a church with PLENTY of problems: divisions, worldly behavior, quarreling, immoral behavior, lawsuits among believers, idol worship to name a few of the problems the Corinth faced. But here at the beginning, Paul thanks God for what is GOOD at Corinth.

But before we look at CORINTH! What about OUR church? What’s GOOD about OUR church you can thank God for? I know the temptation is to notice the PROBLEMS. (What you think is NOT being done well). But, as you look around, where can you see God at work? Where can you see evidence of God’s grace in people, and in things we’re doing? Things to thank God for! The challenge is to change the focus- as Zimbabwean’s we are very quick to pick on the negative so we need to shift our focus and find the positive and the blessings God provides daily

1. The perfect church is God’s church (v2)

But let’s get back to the Corinthian church. How does Paul describe IT? The FIRST, and most IMPORTANT aspect is there at the start. Look at v2.

To the church OF GOD in Corinth,

Whose church are they? They’re GOD’S church. Right from the start Paul helps them to pull their focus off the people and back onto God. Because this group of Christians isn’t INDEPENDENT. They’re not self-governing. They’re GOD’S church.

And they’re just ONE SMALL PART of a BIGGER PICTURE. See there at the end of v2?

“(To the church of God in Corinth)… TOGETHER WITH ALL THOSE EVERYWHERE WHO CALL ON THE NAME OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST – THEIR LORD AND OURS”

There’s a bigger agenda than just one local church’ concerns. Each church is building GOD’S kingdom, not their own little empire. Which means there shouldn’t be competition between churches. There should be active cooperation. There should be rejoicing when another church or congregation is healthy and growing.

And if this is God’s church, then it means it’s not YOUR church either. It might be the church you COME to, and it might be the church you’re a MEMBER of. But it’s not YOUR church. Or mine. Or the Presbyterian denomination’s. It’s GOD’S church.

And that means He’s the only one who has the right to decide what we should DO. God’s PRIORITIES should be our priorities. God’s KINGDOM should be our chief concern. God’s PURPOSES should be OUR purposes. God’s METHODS should be OUR methods.

Maybe that is uncomfortable for you to hear but let’s look at what God’s purposes are: Verse 2 again.

(To the church of God in Corinth), TO THOSE SANCTIFIED IN CHRIST JESUS and CALLED TO BE HOLY,

To be God’s church means to be set apart for his purposes.

God’s SANCTIFIED them in Christ Jesus. In other words, He’s SET THEM APART. It’s something He’s ALREADY DONE. When they believed in Jesus, God put them to one side. They were going to be DIFFERENT. That was their calling.

It’s the same word we get SAINTS from. And HOLY! But it’s not saying just SPECIAL people are saints. EVERY Christian is a saint, because every Christian’s been SET APART by God to be his child. Believers are in a different category to the rest of the world.

And God has done that FOR A PURPOSE. Just like Paul was called to be an apostle. They, the body of believers, were called TO BE HOLY. Different. Pure. Like God. It was their purpose, their goal, their reason for living.

And it’s a theme Paul keeps coming back to in his letter. Again and again. Because in lots of ways the Corinthian church DIDN’T look much different. In fact, they blended in a little TOO well with the immorality and darkness around them.

Paul says, here at the start, “You’re called to be DIFFERENT. ACT like it. You’re supposed to be SET APART. LOOK like it. LIVE UP to your calling!”

And the question can be asked of us, too. We’ve been called to be HOLY. Different from those around us.

How different ARE we?

Is there a difference in your JOY? Your CONTENTMENT?

If you compared your weekly budget – what you spend your money on – to that of your neighbour. Would it look any different? It should!

Or your weekly time sheet – what you spend your time doing? Would it look much different from the rest of the people in your street? It should.

Or how HARD you work? And the Attitude you have as you DO it? Is it DIFFERENT? It SHOULD be!

Or how you SPEAK to people. Especially when no one knows you’re a Christian. Is there grace and acceptance and gentleness? In a way that’s DIFFERENT to those around you? Different to the usual short-tempered, self-centred, impatient, self-seeking talk?

Or what about us AS A GROUP? We’re looking to build genuine COMMUNITY? How different is OUR community from that of the local soccer club, or gardening club? If someone overheard our conversations, could they TELL we were different?

God’s called you to be holy. Set apart. Different. Because you’re God’s church.

2. The perfect church is rich in God’s gifts (4-6)

The next point Paul makes is that the perfect church IS RICH IN GOD’S GIFTS. Have a look at what Paul thanks God for in Verse 4 ‘I always thank God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus”

Now all you’ve got to do is read through the rest of the letter, and it doesn’t take you long to realise there’s a lot WRONG with this church!

It was full of divisions and disagreements. There was sexual immorality. People were suing each other. They were criticising Paul behind his back.

At their church dinners, the rich were pigging out while the poor went hungry. The church meetings were a shambles with people calling out whenever they felt like it. They loved their spiritual gifts, and were proud of the power they had.

There were plenty of things Paul COULD have said to begin with.

But he chose to thank GOD for them. Which he does because it’s God’s CHURCH. And he’s the one who’s RESPONSIBLE for it. Who gives the gifts in the first place: God! And who causes it to grow: God!

That’s the right perspective to have. There’s no reason to be proud of something you received AS A GIFT. It’s God who deserves to be thanked for all the Corinthians have. Because He is the CAUSE of it all.

And notice all His gifts come because of Jesus. v4 “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.”

God looks favourably on his children because of Jesus. It’s only BECAUSE we’re IN Jesus – CONNECTED to Him – that we receive God’s grace. He’s the MEANS and the CAUSE of it all.

Then Paul moves onto specifics, particular things God’s given to the Corinthians. And what’s surprising are the things he chooses to be thankful for.

A bit like school reports. You always try to begin by saying something nice – even the worst student. He may be badly behaved, or can’t string two words together. But it’s always good to find SOMETHING nice to say. For example;

“Jimmy tries hard” is a popular one. “Jenny sits up straight”

ANYTHING to sound positive. But that’s not what Paul does. He thanks God for the VERY THINGS that are causing him grief. Look at v5.

“For in him you have been enriched in every way–IN ALL YOUR SPEAKING AND IN ALL YOUR KNOWLEDGE–“

Speaking and knowledge! Corinth loved eloquent speakers. Orators:- Smooth and profound and slick. In fact, they were a bit like rock stars. Or Anthony Robbins – the motivational speaker. Or standup comedians. They’d travel around, and get paid to speak.

And then there was KNOWLEDGE. Greek philosophy reckoned knowledge was the highest form of good. Knowledge lifted you out of the everyday onto a higher plane of consciousness.

And it seems like the Corinthians looked down on Paul because his message wasn’t wise or polished. You can see that if you continue into Chapter 2. Speech and knowledge were the very things the Corinthians thought they had PLENTY OF.

And Paul AGREES. He says they’ve been ENRICHED. And yet, here’s Paul thanking God that He’s ESPECIALLY given them those gifts.

You see, it’s not the GIFTS THEMSELVES that are the problem. They CAN’T be, because they’re gifts from God. But it’s their ATTITUDE to the gifts that’s wrong.

Gifts should never be used PROUDLY, but in LOVE. Love for God, and for each other.

As soon as a gift is used in church from the wrong motive, any benefit is lost. Look at how Paul puts it in ch 13 v 1. Familiar words, and notice he’s talking about speech and knowledge.

“If I SPEAK in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. {2} If I have the gift of prophecy and CAN FATHOM ALL MYSTERIES AND ALL KNOWLEDGE, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I AM NOTHING.”

Speech and knowledge without love are nothing. But WITH love, they’re great gifts

we need to thank God for. And that’s why Paul does it.

How do YOU use the gifts God’s given you? What’s your motivation? Are you motivated by love? Or is there some other reason?

Perhaps you want to be NOTICED. Or respected. Or appreciated. Perhaps you like being the centre of attention.

Or perhaps your motivation is personal. It makes you feel good about yourself when you help or serve. Perhaps there’s a nagging doubt that somehow this ministry will make you more acceptable before God. Closer to God.

Or perhaps you’re not using your gifts AT ALL. And that’s no BETTER. It’s still coming from selfish, self-centred motives. God HAS gifted you. And you don’t think his gifts are VALUABLE enough to USE. You’ve kept them wrapped up in a cupboard.

We show our gratitude to God for his good gifts to us by USING them with humble servant-hearts.

If you read on to chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians –you will read about God’s gifts to His church.

The perfect church is RICH in God’s gifts.

3. The perfect church waits eagerly for Jesus (7)

The THIRD characteristic of the perfect church is connected to the SECOND. The perfect church waits eagerly for Jesus. Look at the connection in v7.

7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

The POINT of the gifts God gives us is to use them as we wait for Jesus’ return.

You see, gifts aren’t just for NOW. They’re not for our own AMUSEMENT. There’s a GOAL in mind. An INTENTION. But for Paul, the Christian life and God’s gifts were like training on a flight simulator. Pilots preparing for the ultimate mission. That was the goal that motivated them. Helped them focus. ONE DAY they’ll get behind the controls of a REAL jet fighter.

The purpose of gifts isn’t just for NOW. Gifts are to be used as we wait eagerly for Jesus. To get people ready for that day. To encourage and evangelise and discipline and teach and rebuke and pray and disciple and train and correct. To grow people as followers of Jesus. So that they’ll be READY when He comes back. So that YOU’LL be ready – so you can give an account for YOUR gifts. That’s how you eagerly wait for Jesus.

It’s like the parable Jesus tells about the servants. Matthew 25:14. Their Master goes on a journey, and puts them in charge until he returns. That’s US. We are in charge until the Master returns. Each day is to be spent looking after the Master’s affairs. Keeping them in good order, being good stewards of the investment He’s left us with.

So that when He returns, there’ll be a RETURN for His INVESTMENT.

Do we use our gifts with that perspective in mind?

The perfect church waits eagerly for Jesus

4. The perfect church is sustained by God’s faithfulness (v8-9)

But not only THAT. God doesn’t just motivate us by the PROMISE of Jesus’ return, He’s at work SUSTAINING us so we MAKE it. Verse 8.

“He will KEEP YOU STRONG to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

God equips us at every point. At the beginning, God CALLS us to be holy. Then, along the way, He enriches us with gifts as we wait for Jesus’ return. And then He keeps us strong, so we’ll MAKE it.

How does He keep us strong? By His Spirit, He GUIDES us, and PROTECTS us, and CONVICTS us of sin. His Spirit gives us the words to say as we witness for Him. He makes our faith SURE.

But it’s not just as INDIVIDUALS. That’s a PLURAL “you” –

He keeps ALL his people strong to the end. It’s a TEAM SPORT, not an individual race. Which is where CHURCH comes in. ONE of the ways He keeps us strong us is by the ORDINARY MEANS OF OTHER CHRISTIANS. We each have a responsibility, together with God, to be helping each OTHER stay strong.

You see that emphasis in Hebrews 10:24-25.

24 And let us consider how we may SPUR ONE ANOTHER ON toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but LET US ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER-and ALL THE MORE AS YOU SEE THE DAY APPROACHING.

They’re God’s words, encouraging us to encourage others to keep strong. God is at work, through His Spirit and through the gifts of His people, to keep us all STRONG to the end.

Are you GRATEFUL to GOD for His work in your life? Are you playing your PART in the lives of OTHERS?

Well, as Paul concludes this section, how can we be sure of all this? We can be confident because God’s FAITHFUL. He STARTED the job, so He’ll FINISH IT. Verse 9

“God, who has CALLED you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is FAITHFUL”

How can Paul be so confident in the Corinthians? After all, he knows them WARTS and ALL. He must have real worries about their behaviour. The chances must be pretty

good that there’ll be a big blow-up.

But no! He’s full of confidence because he’s confident IN GOD, not the Corinthians.

And we need to make sure we’re the same. Yes, in lots of areas we’re doing well and in others NOT so well. But let’s never make these things the BASIS for our confidence.

Right doctrine won’t keep us strong to the end.

Bible-centred preaching won’t keep us strong to the end.

Home groups won’t keep us strong to the end.

Friendly, welcoming worship won’t keep us strong to the end.

Many people serving in ministry won’t keep us strong to the end.

Only GOD will keep His perfect church strong to the end. Because it’s HIS! He STARTED it. He called us into fellowship with His Son. And He’ll guarantee us to make it, blameless before Jesus on that final day.

Let’s keep gratefully working for each other. Let’s keep serving in love. Let’s keep working within His grace. Let’s keep thanking God for how He’s gifted his church. Let’s do it all eagerly waiting for OUR LORD Jesus Christ to be revealed.

God is faithful. He’ll keep us strong to the end. Let’s end with verse 9 “God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”

Let’s pray

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