June 23, 2010 David Balzer

1 Corinthians 1:1-9: The Perfect Church

Have you heard the line, “Don’t bother looking for the perfect church. Because if you ever find it, and you JOIN it, then it wouldn’t be perfect anymore!”

There’s something about Christianity in the last 20 years or so/ that people are SWAPPING CHURCHES more often. Pew hopping. Looking for the church that suits them best.

They’re looking for the perfect church.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be in the perfect church? 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 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 seats were just right, the lighting was spot on, the heating and cooling was always perfect. And the best parking spot was always free just as you arrived for church one minute before it started.

Of course, it’s ridiculous to even imagine it. Because there’s no such thing as the perfect church. And even if it was perfect for YOU, it wouldn’t suit someone else.

What it boils down to/ is that there’s no perfect church / because every church is made up of sinful people.

Yet, the message from these verses of 1 Cor/ is that / in 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. The church is God’s perfect place for IMperfect Christians to spend their lives.

We’ve got everything God intended us to have. So, in a way, you’re ALREADY part of the perfect church.

And it’s this perspective that 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. But here at the beginning, he thanks God for what’s good at Corinth.

But before we look at CORINTH. What about OUR church? If you had to describe OUR church to someone else, how would you do it? What would YOU say about things we did WELL?

Here’s what someone has said about this church. It was in the church profile someone put together about 8 years ago when Western Blacktown were last looking for a minister. My guess is Ross probably wrote it.

“Our church strengths are generally considered as being a gospel centred church, having a welcoming and informal meeting style, a great kids’ church, and a talented music team. Some from other churches have found it to be a place of renewal. Opportunities to improve have been noted as evangelistic outreach to the neighbouring community, and networking to reach unchurched. We have been blessed with many talented preachers, teachers, musicians, and leaders who have a servant attitude.”

How does that sound? Do we STILL fit that?

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

Well, how does PAUL describe the CORINTHIAN CHURCH? Acts tells us he was there for 18 months. So he’d know them pretty well. The FIRST, and most IMPORTANT aspect is there at the start. Look at v2.

(1 Cor 1:2 NIV)  To the church OF GOD in Corinth,

Whose church are they? They’re God’s church. They’re not the church of St Andrew, or St Paul, or Our Lady of the Rosary, or Our Lady of Lourdes, or Sacred heart, or Holy Name of Mary.

Right from the start he puts them in their place. Because this group of Christians isn’t INDEPENDENT. They’re not self-governing. A republic, or a democracy. They’re GOD’S church.

And this church isn’t YOUR church either. It might be the church you come to, and it might be the church you’re part of. But it’s not YOUR church. Or mine. Or the Presbyterian denomination. 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 GOALS should be our goals. God’s WAYS OF DOING THINGS should be our ways.

Look how Paul explains it. Verse 2 again.

(1 Cor 1:2 NIV)  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. 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 that just SPECIAL people are saints. EVERY Christian is a saint, because every Christian’s been SET APART by God to be one of his children.

And set apart FOR A PURPOSE. Just like Paul was called to be an apostle. They were called to be holy. It was their purpose, their goal, their reason for living.

And it’s a theme Paul’s going to keep coming back to. 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.”

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? If we compared our weekly budget – what we spend our money on – to that of our 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.

How different are we from the local soccer club, or RSL in the way we TREAT each other? Could some who overheard our conversations tell that we were different?

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

The first point Paul makes is that the perfect church is God’s church.

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

The next point he makes is that the perfect church IS RICH IN GOD’S GIFTS.

And he makes his point by doing what he does in nearly all of his letters. He thanks God for the people he’s writing to. Verse 4. “I always thank God for you”

Now all you’ve got to do is flick 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 cliques and divisions. There was ual immorality. And people were even proud of it. They 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.

And the reason he focusses on GOD, rather than on the Corinthians / is because it’s God’s CHURCH. And he’s the one who’s responsible for it. Who gives the gifts in the first place. And who causes it to grow.

And by doing that, Paul puts the Corinthians in their place. 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’s the CAUSE of it all.

And his greatest gift is Jesus. Look at v4

(1 Cor 1:4 NIV)  I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.

It’s through Jesus’ that the Corinthians can be friends with God. And it’s only because of that/ God gives them other gifts.

Then Paul moves onto specifics. Particular things God’s given to the Corinthians. And what’s surprising is the things he chooses.

Now if it was me. And I had a whole list of things I was going to criticise them for, I’d have found something ELSE to be thankful for.

A bit like school reports. You always try to find something nice to say – 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.

“Jimmy tries hard” is a popular one. “Jenny sits up straight” “John has a nice part in his hair” “ Sonya has shiny shoes”

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.

(1 Cor 1:5 NIV)  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. Smooth and profound and slick. In fact, they were a bit like rock stars. Or Anthony Robbins – the motivational speaker. 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. A bit like the post-modern mumbo-jumbo that’s around today.

And it seems like the Corinthians looked down on Paul because his message wasn’t wise or slick. You can see that in Ch 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.

(1 Cor 13:1-2 NIV)  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 are great gifts that 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.

Whether it’s pleasing OTHERS, or pleasing YOURSELF. Using your gifts from the wrong motivations makes you a man-pleaser rather than a God-pleaser.

And if that’s you, then listen to what Jesus says about such people. Matt 6 v 1

(Mat 6:1-4 NIV)  “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. {2} “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. {3} But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, {4} so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Man-pleasers have received their reward already. There’s nothing more coming from God. PAID IN FULL. A big red ink stamp across their forehead. PAID IN FULL.

Corinth was a great church with a lot going for it. They didn’t lack ANYTHING. But ONLY because it all came FROM GOD. And the focus wasn’t on THE PEOPLE THEMSELVES. And so Paul rightly thanks God for it.

The perfect church is rich in God’s gifts.

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

Paul’s third point is that the perfect church waits eagerly for Jesus. Look at v7.

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

The end result of all this, Paul says, is that the Corinthians didn’t lack any spiritual gift. And the POINT of their gifts was to use them as they lived for the Day when Jesus would be revealed.

Gifts aren’t just for the here and now. They’re not for our own amusement. There’s a GOAL in mind. The Corinthians thought the Christian life, and their gifts, was like a Sony Playstation game. No purpose. No goal. No real objective apart from the immediate fun of the moment.

But for Paul, the life and gifts were like an Air Force jet flight simulator. Pilots working towards a goal. An aim. Always before them. Using the simulator so that ONE DAY they’ll get behind the controls of a REAL jet fighter. Developing their skills for something BETTER. Preparing for a bigger stage.

The purpose of gifts isn’t just for NOW. Gifts are to be used as we wait eagerly for Jesus.

Perhaps the Corinthians had lost sight of the end. They were so caught up in the present. In the thrill of tongues or prophecy. Of being lost in the Spirit. That they forgot that it was all just a DEPOSIT. A FORETASTE. It wasn’t heaven YET.

The point of gifts NOW is 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. That’s how you eagerly wait for Jesus.

7. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift AS YOU EAGERLY WAIT for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

Like the parable Jesus tells about the servants. Their Master goes on a journey, and puts them in charge until he returns. That’s US. 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. So that when he returns, there’ll be a RETURN for his INVESTMENT.

Do we use our gifts with that perspective in mind? “This singing’s not bad NOW, but when Jesus comes back – WOW!”

“I feel like giving up at Youth Group, but I want these kids to be ready for Jesus.”

“I’m tired of teaching Kid’s Church. Noone seems to notice, or appreciate me. But I can’t wait for that day when Jesus says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”’.

The perfect church waits eagerly for Jesus

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

Paul’s fourth point is that the perfect church is SUSTAINED BY GOD’S FAITHFULNESS. Verse 8.

Not only does he (1) CALL US IN THE BEGINNING TO BE SET APART. But he (2) gives us gracious GIFTS. Not only does he give us GIFTS as we wait for Jesus, but he (3) SUSTAINS US so we’ll make it. Look at v8

(1 Cor 1:8 NIV)  He will KEEP YOU STRONG to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s God’s church, so he’ll keep it going. He’ll make sure his chosen people keep going. That they don’t give up. That they keep persevering.

God sends His Holy Spirit to live in us. 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. He KEEPS US STRONG.

But as well as His Spirit working INSIDE US as individuals, the Holy Spirit also uses the gifts he’s given us to KEEP EACH OTHER STRONG.

One of the ways God keeps us strong to the end, is by using OTHER PEOPLE to encourage us and teach us and correct us. Other people who use their gifts in love, and who use them eagerly waiting for Jesus.

Are you doing that? Are you using your gifts to help prepare other people strong to the end?

Well, Paul concludes this section. How can we be sure of all this? He answers our objection in v9. We can be confident because God’s FAITHFUL. He STARTED the job, so he’ll FINISH IT. Verse 9

(1 Cor 1:9 NIV)  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.

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. But let’s never make these things the BASIS for our confidence.

Right doctrine 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 he started it. It’s HIS church. 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 work toward THIS goal. I’ve mentioned it a few times. It would be a great thing to memorise. What do we want our church to be?

A vibrant, energetic, and active, loving, outward-looking, Bible-saturated, joyful, godly, generous, mutually encouraging, and prayerful body of believers, who long for heaven, and who follow Jesus courageously as individuals, families and a congregation.

One of the ways you can SHOW that, if you’re A CHRISTIAN. Is by publicly expressing your commitment to Jesus, and to this church. By becoming a MEMBER – just like Jacob and Jodie did this morning.

Declare that this is God’s perfect church FOR YOU. And that you’re going to do your bit to help it get there. And I think that will mean we can do it BETTER.

On our list of names and addresses, there are actually more people who AREN’T members/ than who ARE. I’m not sure WHY that is.

Let’s keep working for each other. Let’s keep serving in love. 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.

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