Beware the Gift

Personal Matters

The first thing that came up on ABC news radio this morning (8/6/15) was the decision of Hillsong to cancel their invitation to controversial US pastor Mark Driscoll to speak at their upcoming conference.

Until his dismissal last year Driscoll had seen Mars Hill Seattle grow from a lounge room meeting to a 10,000 plus megachurch. Since his leaving the church has effectively dissolved. There are some similarities with the case of Australia’s first televangelist Clark Taylor, whose ministry grew perhaps the largest church in the nation in the 70’s.

He was forced to resign because of repeated infidelities.

Whilst Taylor has been restored he comes to mind because I have recently been counselling someone whose family was devastated by his ministry. Both Taylor and Driscoll are extraordinarily gifted men of God.

My thinking about the influence of giftedness actually began a few days prior to the ABC clip when I encountered several men confused about their relationship with the church because of the powerful influences of gifted leaders on their lives.

I can personally remember occasions where I was drawn to men of great gifting, the results were always disastrous. “Beware the Gift” calls us to look through the minister of the gifts to the sole ministry of Christ to the glory of God the Father.

Idols

The most obvious sin in following gifts rather than Jesus as Giver is idolatry. Humans obsessively “exchange the glory of the immortal God for images representing mortal man” (Rom 1:23). This is a chronic problem. When I went to the website outlining Clark Taylor’s current ministry there was a bio which jumped over the years of his disgrace and placed him under the heading, “My Hero”.

This is dangerous behaviour which may be illustrated with an example.

Whenever I do marriage preparation one of the first things I look for in a passion-filled young couple is infatuation. Infatuation not only glazes our physical eyes but also dulls our inner eyes to the faults in another person. Samson’s sexualised blindness to Delilah’s true ambitions is a biblical case in point (Judges 16). The lure of blind attachment to another person actually operates on multiple levels.

It may simply be that we believe that their gifts can impart to us something we need for a fuller life e.g. health and wealth.

More profoundly however the sort of “soul attachment” that breeds a deep dependency on another mortal being is an attempt to absorb from them a quality we don’t believe is in us. This may become a sort of “cannibal compulsion” whose end result breeds cultic attitudes towards “anointed” visionary leaders (Leanne Payne).

The root sin underlying idolatry is unbelief concerning the worth we have in the eyes of the Father.

Our worth before God is unlimited because his lives Son in us (Gal 1:16; Col 1:27). Even the glorious angels “long to look” at our salvation in Christ (1 Pet 1:12). What then blinds us to “the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints” so that we are swayed to follow other mortals (Eph 1:18)? We fail to understand Christ crucified!

The Cross Brings Clarity

Jesus’ closest earthly companions failed to grasp that only through suffering could his (and their) identity be fully revealed. When the Lord said, ““If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” the disciples were dumbfounded. (Matt16:24). When Jesus declared, ““the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected …and be killed”” Peter rebuke him (Mark 8:31-3 2).

Such resistance to following a suffering Messiah flows from a natural mind which can only see suffering as a painful sign of lost glory (Rom 3:23; 8:7). The transformation of the disciples thinking about suffering awaited the resurrection. In his risen splendour Jesus testified to his apostles; ““Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”” (Luke 24:26).

Whilst those who followed Jesus as a power Messiah all fell away because of the blinding effects of guilt, the vision of the crucified-and-risen Christ who suffered for us convinces our doubting hearts that God truly loves us and counts us to be of inestimable worth (John 2:23-25; Rom 5:6-8). Only when Christ is publicly portrayed as crucified do we transparently see God’s loving heart valuing us in our lost and broken condition (Mark 15:34; Gal 3:1).

The marginalisation of the cross in the Church is the spiritual root of the following of gifts today.

Transparent Disciples

Jesus made remarkable comments about the inability of “Christians” to discern his presence, or absence, in their lives. “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you;” (Matt 7:22-23).

These miracle workers and exorcists knew the power of the name of Jesus but lacking inner transparency could not discern the Lord was never in them.

So inwardly dull were the apostles they were unable to recognise the presence of a demonised Judas in their midst (John 6:70). Responding to Christ’s declaration of a betrayer amongst them they spoke in unison; ““is it I Lord”” (Matt 26:22). Such a gross lack of personal and interpersonal transparency amongst Jesus’ team before the cross can be traced back to their avoidance of the call to suffer for his sake.

Jesus promised a blessing of joy for those persecuted for his kingdom, a promise that later came true when Peter and John were beaten for their testimony and “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name.” (Matt 5:10-12; Acts 5:41).

Suffering for the Lord brings a compelling sense of worthiness that expels the idolatrous need to seek something special from following others. Our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church have a clear head start over us in these matters.

Yet we do not have to wait for open harassment before we can sense our worth in Christ and be freed from following the gifts of men. Whoever surrenders sickness, personal conflict, monetary need, psychological pressure or any other source of pain to Jesus for the glory of God will soon experience their agonies as enveloped in the “fellowship of sufferings” (Phil 3:10). Such people sense the glory of God in them and are moved by the Spirit to follow Christ alone.

Conclusion

Jesus always wants to spare us from the useless pains bred of idolatry and bring us into genuine spiritual maturity. Consistent Christ-centredness is maturity (Col 1:28).

I fear however for the spiritual condition of the mainstream Church today. Scripture warns us that Satan’s ultimate deception will come “with all power and false signs and wonders,” (2 Thess 2:9).

With many Christians crying out in prayer for mighty works apart from seeking a deeper revelation of Christ crucified the stage is set for a great falling away from the true Messiah; just as Jesus predicted (Matt 24:24).

Such things do not have to be! If we are wise we will ask the Lord to reveal to our own hearts any places where we have been following the gift rather than the Giver. Once freed from distractions and disillusionments we will become those wise persons who turn others towards Christ alone, not as some sort of “hero” but as the man whose present power came only by the weakness of the cross (Dan 12:3; 2 Cor 13:4; Heb 5:7-10).

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Rev 2:7 etc.)

The Fellowship of the Wounded

by Dr. John Yates

Personal Matters

Someone approached me recently saying; “The Lord said to me; ‘Speak to John, he’s a ‘wounded spirit’ too.’” This humble testimony was the foundation of our conversation and what I believe will prove to be a deepening fellowship in Christ.

The reason is simple, those who carry wounds without malice are trustworthy before God and man (1 Corinthians 7:25). A few days later when praying with two young men images of broken ground kept appearing to my mind. I recalled Hosea’s call to repentance, “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord,that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.(Hosea 10:12). Then the Parable of the Sower came to mind; better named The Parable of the Soils.

There are 4 types of soil, the trodden path which yields no fruit, the rocky ground whose fruit withers away under persecution, the thorn laden soil whose fruit is choked by worldliness and the good soil which produces 30, 60 and a 100 fold (Mark 4:1-9, Mark 4:13-20).

It is the good soil which is most deeply broken and which alone receives the seed of God’s Word in depth. This teaching is about how brokenness and wounding are the key to fruitfulness in our lives and secure character Christian fellowship.

All Mixed Up

In practice today most Christian congregations and individual lives are characterised by a chaotic mixture of the 4 types of earth in The Parable of the Soils. Some dimensions of the life of these churches/individuals are highly productive, other parts are fruitless, compromised and worldly.

This terrible mixture leads to massive confusion in terms of Christian relationships, particularly in terms of leadership. There is no guarantee that the personal character of a highly gifted and effective prophet, evangelist or apostle is trustworthy. One particular scripture illuminates this unsafe situation in today’s Church.

I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death(Philippians 3:8, 10). Paul is a completely trustworthy minister of Christ because unlike our generation he has never sought power without sufferings. The wounding of which the he frequently speaks is at the core of his C.V.[1]E.g. Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 4:8-12; 2 Corinthians 6:3-11; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28; Ephesians 3:13; Colossians 1:24; 2 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 2:9. Genuine mutual trust flows from insight into the woundings another believer has endured for the sake of Christ. Power follows fellowship and not the other way around! This order is a share in Jesus’ own life.

The Wounded Healer

Christ walked in two states of life, humiliation and exaltation and the former is the foundation of the latter. It is because Jesus “emptied himself…and became obedient to death- even death on a cross” that the Father “highly exalted him”, seating him “at the right hand of power” (Matthew 26:63; Philippians 2:7-9). This pattern of power through brokenness and strength through wounding permeates all of Jesus’ life (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9).

Here is one example.

Before Jesus could do any mighty work he needed to be taken into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. When he is famished Satan tempts, ““If you are the Son of God command these stones to become loaves of bread.””  Christ refuses to eat loaves in the wilderness choosing rather to intensify his deprivations in obedience to God (Matthew 4:1-4). Such submission concentrated the powerful presence of the Father within him, so when the time came to exercise power over bread Jesus effortlessly fed the 5,000 (John 14:30).

Woundings intensify through the course of Christ’s life; abandoned by the crowds, betrayed by a friend, deserted by closest associates. The brokenness he willingly bears for us penetrates deeper and deeper to the point of death (Isaiah 53:5). The greatest wounding of all is not inflicted by men, but by God, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34 cf.; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Total wounding releases total power.

Raised from the dead, the Lord appears to those who refused to share in his sufferings and identifies himself in a very specific way. “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.”” (Luke 24:39-40).

A body of glory which also shows the wounds of death endured for us is absolutely trustworthy.

This is exactly how the mature image of Christ must come to us in the Church today.

Wounded Ground

1 Peter 2:24 is an important healing text, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” The context is the beatings endured by Christians servants unjustly treated by their masters, beatings which left real wounds (1 Peter 2:18-20). The power of these wounds to inflict rejection power is healed by faith in the one who endured unjust brutality for us (1 Peter 2:21-23).

We have all been beaten, rejected and wounded in our spirits by the family of God. It is our scars which open up the way of power through the wisdom of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:24).

An old mentor taught me to trust the people God brought into my life, but he never taught me how to recognise them. The mode of recognition is both simple and profound– these people they will look like Jesus, wounded but with a presence of his glory.

The more wounds such folk carry, without resentment, the more trustworthy they will prove to be. They are men and women the power of whose natural life has been broken by the discipline of the Father, they seek nothing from you, only to bless you in the difficult way of the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ (Philippians 3:10). The multiplication of these sorts of relationships across the body of Christ is the prelude to a powerful manifestation of God’s kingdom.

Conclusion

The world of the cross is a strange one, the world of nails, whips, scars, wounds and blood does not look promising and powerful. But wounding carried in forgiving love is the foundation for the release of manifest resurrection power. When the individuals who comprise the wounded ground of the Church come together in holy fellowship God can trust such a humbled body with the power of his resurrected Word so 30, 60 and a 100 fold fruit will come.

It will be just like Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.(Mark 10:29-30).

A soil of consistent brokenness is the order of the day, personally and as the Church of God.

References

1 E.g. Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 4:8-12; 2 Corinthians 6:3-11; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28; Ephesians 3:13; Colossians 1:24; 2 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 2:9.

The Presence of Christ

by Dr. John Yates

1 Cor 11:17-34

Introduction

The average Australian Christian faces several enormous obstacles to do with internalising the testimony of Jesus that this passage brings to us today. If you have never been a spiritual father/mother nor had a true spiritual father/mother in your life the strength of Paul’s admonitions to his beloved Corinthian children (1 Cor 4:14-15; 2 Cor 2:4; 2 Cor 11:11; 2 Cor 12:15) will be incomprehensible. Unless you have been taught the uncompromising disciplines of God you will necessarily deny that the apostle’s warnings are relevant to yourself or to your church. Such denial is not only predictable but a sure sign that we share the culture of self-sufficiency that threatened the welfare of the church in Corinth. Most of the Church in our country, like the Corinthian Christians, welcomes the presence of Jesus at the communion meal only as Saviour but not as Judge. Such spiritual insensitivity carries drastic consequences, consequences we can only appreciate if we enter into something of the social and religious background of our passage.

Converts from both Judaism and Graeco-Roman religions were used to celebrating sacred meals in the presence of the G/god they worshipped and all believed that in such acts of worship the power of the deity was present in their midst. It was this presence of divine life that constituted the identity of the community. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12 ESV).  In biblical thinking the bond between the heavenly Jesus and his Body (the Church) on earth is so intimate that any abuse of the Body (the Church) is an abuse of Christ himself. Or, to change the analogy slightly, if someone insults my wife, they insult me (cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17).

Section 1. Despising the Church

v17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. v18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, v19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. v20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. v21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. v22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.” (11:17-23)

Paul gets straight to the point; unless the Corinthians get their act together they would be better off not coming together as a church!  Things were that bad. Then the apostle states a spiritual truth that flies in the face of all popular movements for Christian unity, “for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” (1 Cor 11:19 ESV).  Through his many struggles with false teachers/brothers inside the Church this teacher of righteousness knew that conflicts must arise on account of the truth of the gospel (2 Cor 11:13, 26; Gal 1:4). There must be factions so that the genuine believers can be recognised. But recognised by whom? Given the emphasis of the passage as a whole falls on the judgement of God, recognition of who is genuine is something done by God, and in this chapter the difference between genuine and false Christianity is solely on the basis of how professing believers behave!

To understand the scandalous behaviour in Corinth we must remember that the Lord’s Supper was a real meal.[1]Cf. the “love feasts” mentioned in Jude 12. Like the Last Supper on which it was based and the Passover before that, people met in ordinary homes to celebrate God’s saving love with their brothers and sisters in the Lord. (Sadly most of the Church has dispensed with this very integral dimension of eating with the Lord as head of a real family table.)  In Corinth the church had divided along sociological grounds, the rich were getting to the church gathering early and gluttonising with complete disregard for the poorer members of the fellowship. Paul vehemently charges the well-to-do with despising the church of God and humiliating those who have nothing. Perhaps the words of Proverbs were ringing in his ears; “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honours him.” (Prov 14:31).[2]James writes scathingly to his hearers about “showing partiality” and giving preferential treatment to the rich whilst dishonouring the poor [James 2:1-13]. Discrimination on the basis of privilege, power on position can be very pervasive in both culture and Church.

Most of us have probably been for an X ray, I usually avoid placing my title in forms; the one time I put Dr in front of my name the radiologist came out of his office to personally discuss with me the results. I assume he assumed that I was someone like himself. I remember attending conferences and being encouraged to sit up the front with other pastors; I hate these sorts of experiences, because they fly in the face of the impartiality of Christ (Luke 14:7-11). And for the inquiring minds, I never sit near the front without a very good functional reason. (My wife might say I suffer discriminate in favour of the underdog, but that would still prove my point.)

It is rare to find a Christian church or organisation that has mastered the problem of favouring the powerful; thankfully there are some exceptions. Some of you might know Eagles City Mission, a church for the homeless in Perth. I love to hear Basil talk about members of the “family” and how when they meet together week by week how they all share the same (good) food.

Someone might however think, “But there are no poor people at our church.” If this is true you have a very serious problem. There is something foundationally astray if the Church lacks the sort of people who thronged about Jesus. One of the strong points of a very intellectual congregation where I pastored in the western suburbs was the significant number of very broken people who also attended folk with mental illnesses, refugees, pensioners and the like (unfortunately no Indigenous people). As this passage will make clear the poor and needy are a gift of Christ to the Church. Paul now embarks on some positive teaching about the Lord’s Supper as a solution to the Corinthian problem of elitism and division.

Section 2. The Lord’s Supper

 “v24 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.v25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.v26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.11:24-26

A pivotal phrase in this section is, “Do this in remembrance of me.”[3]The word translated “remembrance” does not mean mere intellectual recall or memory. The presence of Jesus in the Supper is not created by the power of our recollection of his saving death for … Continue reading In the Old Testament when God “remembers” he acts e.g. when “God remembered Noah” he blew away the flood waters (Gen 8:1), when he “remembered” Rachel he gave her a child (Gen 30:12); when he “remembered” his covenant with the patriarchs he delivered Israel from Egypt (Ex 2:24).[4]The Greek word used in 1 Cor 11:24-25, anamnesis, is used in the Greek Old Testament for the Hebrew zikkaron employed in the passages that follow. When the psalmist says, “He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful.” (Ps 111:4 ESV) he means that through a sacred action the present situation of the people is put in touch with the historical saving acts of God (cf. Ps 114). This is a strange way of thinking for cultures who conceptualise time as empty linear space.

When God instructs Moses to teach the Israelites to recite through the ages, “v6 And the Egyptians treated us harshly [and humiliated us and laid on us hard labour.] v7 Then we cried to the LORD, [the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.] v8 And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. v9 [And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.]” (Deut 26:6-9 ESV), each generation was to understand itself immediately connected to with God’s delivering presence at the time of the exodus.[5]Cf. Moses’ address to the congregation in Deuteronomy 1; although the generation that have come out of Egypt had all perished, he speaks to those assembled as though they were all participants in … Continue reading So when Jewish people celebrate Passover today they believe they are in touch with the same power of God which delivered their ancestors from Pharaoh. As followers of Jesus we believe that all the Passover represented has been consummated in his death and resurrection.

When Jesus commanded his disciples, “do this in remembrance of me”, he was declaring that as we share in his Supper we are immediately connected by his saving presence to his death on the cross and the power of his resurrection.

There is an old African-American spiritual that grasps this sort of reality: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?….Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?…. Were you there when they pierced him in the side?….Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?….Were you there when He rose up from the dead?”

In the eternal mind heart and purposes of God each of us was there! The presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper fuses together what we think of as past and present; it reactualises Jesus’ great sacrifice and puts us immediately in touch with its immeasurable grace.[6]The Holy Spirit has a key role in this encounter; space prevents a discussion however. The reality of this connection with the power of Jesus death and life has enormous consequences.

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”   To eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper is to preach Christ in his personal presence. By the taking of the elements of bread and wine by faith we proclaim to each other that Jesus is “with us” until he returns (cf. Matt 1:23; 28:20). The practice of Holy Communion is not a take it or leave it affair, but a command of Christ given for our strengthening in a hostile world until he comes again.

The expectation of the imminent return of Christ was kept alive in the early church by the intensity of his presence. The Bible ends with these words, “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20 ESV), because it was written in a spiritual atmosphere where Jesus was already felt to be so near.  Is the presence of Christ so tangible to us is that we feel he could return at any time; do you live brothers and sisters as if the time is short?[7]As you would have heard from 1 Corinthians 7 a few weeks ago, “This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had … Continue reading What Paul has to say next reveals just how serious it is to respect the Lord’s habitation in our midst.

Section 3. The Discipline of the Lord

v27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. v28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. v29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. v30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. v31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. v32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.11:27-32

There has been much discussion about what it means to eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner”.[8]Paul never encourages Christians to think of themselves as “worthy” of grace [cf. 1 Cor 15:9].

Our best hint at Paul’s meaning comes from his preaching in Acts, where the Jews in Antioch rejected the gospel and so judged themselves “unworthy of eternal life” (Acts 13:46). The church in Corinth had a dismissive attitude to the presence of Christ at the Lord’s Supper and as such they were “guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord”. The remedy for this involved rightly “discerning the body”?[9]There are two main lines of interpretation concerning this text. The first is adopted by those church bodies (Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, (some) Anglican) who believe that the body and blood of … Continue reading

Since Paul speaks here only of “the body” and not “the blood”, and his broader context is about the church as the body of Christ,[10]Cf. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” [1 Cor 10:17 ESV] the failure to “discern the body” is best understood as the rich abusing the poor by treating them as inferior members of Christ’s Church. The consequences of trivialising of Supper were deadly; “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” This verdict, together with the next part of the letter which speaks openly of gifts of healings and miracles in the church,[11]See 1 Cor 12:7-11. makes it unmistakably clear that in the one congregation of Corinth Jesus was both healing people and killing people.

How do we explain such, to us, drastic action by the Prince of Peace?

Since the Lord’s Supper is a reactualisation of the saving death of Christ, the Lord is personally present in his body (the Church) in the power of the cross. When the people of God resist Christ’s gracious personal presence the power of his death is experienced as judgement. Like so much of the Church today the Corinthians welcomed Jesus as an agent of blessing and deliverance, but they had forgotten that in the Lord’s Supper Christ comes to us as the one who has judged the world by being judged in its place.[12]Paul had already commanded the church to judge a sinner by delivering him over to Satan [1 Cor 5:3-5].

The rich and powerful in Corinth had forgotten the humility and brokenness of Christ constantly imaged before them, not only in the broken bread and outpoured wine of communion, but in the lowly state of their fellow believers (cf. 1 Cor 1:26-31). To despise their poor brethren was to despise the Lord. As such they were being judged by the very power which had once saved them. Remember what Jesus himself taught in the parable of the sheep and goats; “v35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,v36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’…. v40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40 ESV).

In a day when the Christian community is truly global, I wonder, for example, how many of us intercede and practically support our persecuted and impoverished brothers and sisters in other parts of the globe.

The purpose of such judgement must never be confused with condemnation,[13]No Christian is under God’s wrath. John confidently says, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he (Jesus) is so also are we in … Continue readingwhen we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”(11:32). God’s strong discipline is a clear sign of his love; the writer of Hebrews remarks, “v5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. v6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Heb 12:5-6 ESV).

I spend a good deal of time helping Christians, often leaders, to discern the hand of God upon their lives – the most common element of confusion is that they have not been taught how to recognise the presence of God’s love in making life hard for them! It was necessary even for Jesus to feel abandoned by the Father on the cross (Mark 15:34), but only so that we might know the absolute uncompromising purity of God’s love that saves us totally. Many believers never mature because they cannot discern the difference between God’s discipline upon his children and the divine anger which falls only upon the world.

Such  Fatherly judgement may seem so strange to us but it is abundantly clear throughout scripture.[14]For old covenant examples  see Ex 24:9-11 with Ex 32, also Paul’s words in 1 Cor 10:11-12 The Holy Spirit killed Ananias and Sapphira because their deceit threatened the purity of the early church (Acts 5:1-11). Jesus repeatedly warns the compromised churches in the book of Revelation, [“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”(Revelation 2:5 ESV); “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them (the sexually immoral) with the sword of my mouth.” (Revelation 2:16 ESV);] “I gave her (Jezebel the false prophetess) time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.

Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead.”  (Revelation 2:21-22 ESV);

[“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” (Revelation 3:3 ESV);]

“‘because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16 ESV)

Why did the Spirit-saturated Corinthians[15]Who Paul had earlier described as “not lacking in any gift” [1 Cor 1:7]. need to be told what the God was doing in their midst?

Remember, those who were sick and dying were fathers, mothers, brothers, children friends; many of whom would have been known by name to Paul personally. Why couldn’t they see what was happening for themselves and why do we similarly lack discernment? When we lack genuine humility the Lord hands us over to our own blindness (John 9:41), we consider ourselves spiritual people when we are in fact spiritual babies (1 Cor 2:1). [16]Cf. Paul finds himself saying, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.” [1 Cor 14:37 cf. 2 Cor … Continue reading

God forbid that we should ever consider ourselves as mature, godly or spiritual. The moment a church considers it has “arrived” it is in great danger because it no longer grasped by the humiliation of the cross (Phil 2:5-8; cf. Rev 3:17).

Section 4. Wait for One Another

v33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— v34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.” (11:33-34)

Paul’s injunction that the members of the church need to “wait” for one another is best interpreted in the context of the affluent providing Christian hospitality. When was the last time you asked someone over for lunch after Sunday service that is socially different from you.

The solemn warnings about judgement in 1 Corinthians are not written induce in us some sort of spiritual terror, but to inspire us into action to receive the grace of God so freely offered in Christ.

The pastor of the first church I attended said one day that he felt the body-life of the congregation needed to be intensified. He created a space during communion where we were encouraged to find someone we didn’t know, ask them what they needed from God and then to pray and bless them in Jesus’ name.  That wasn’t easy for a very shy person like I then was, but I did it. On other occasions the pastor charged us with something much more radical. Before taking communion a time was left open to approach anyone who we felt we had a critical attitude towards and to seek their forgiveness and prayers. I remember distinctly doing this with one shocked brother; but it was a powerful demonstration of the reconciling love of the cross.[17]Jesus commanded us to forgive anyone before we pray, and to seek to be reconciled to anyone before we approach God in worship [Mark 11:25; Matt 5:23-24]. It is such godly acts that turn away the painful discipline and judgement of God and release the grace of his presence.

Conclusion

I remember preaching in a wealthy church in Hong Kong and beginning with the statement, “God must love you because he wants to rebuke you; as Jesus said to the church in Laodicea, “Those whom I love I reprove and discipline.”” (Rev 3:19).

If “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 ESV) he most certainly is judging the bulk of the spiritually adolescent and deeply indifferent Church in Australia today because he so loves us, for the painful disciplines of God are the only way he can truly mature us.[18]As it was said of Jesus, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” … Continue reading Woe to the man or woman who does not hear the Lord’s rebuke and does not feel the inner pain of his discipline (Heb 12:11), for they will surely be overwhelmed by the concerns of this life and lack that window onto eternity that only the judgements of God can bring. Unless we experience for ourselves the uncompromising hand of God on our own sins, we can never truly believe in his uncompromising reign which will surely cleanse the whole universe from evil and create new heavens and earth (2 Pet 3:8-13).

This passage on the Lord’s Supper speaks to us so directly and so shockingly, because it speaks to us so immediately of the cross – of Christ crucified and risen in our midst.  I must leave you with some open questions about your future path to maturity as a body.

Does your Church really want to know the presence of Christ in your midst as we have heard of it today? 

Are you willing to have factions emerge through God’s testing that the whole body might be purified?

Do you want to be a church regarded for its proficiency or as a shelter for the weak, broken and impoverished? Do you hunger so much for the presence of Jesus acting in your midst with such intensity that, apart from repentance, some of you will fall ill and others perish!

May God rescue us all from the errors of our brothers and sisters in Corinth with whom we have so much in common.

References

1 Cf. the “love feasts” mentioned in Jude 12.
2 James writes scathingly to his hearers about “showing partiality” and giving preferential treatment to the rich whilst dishonouring the poor [James 2:1-13].
3 The word translated “remembrance” does not mean mere intellectual recall or memory. The presence of Jesus in the Supper is not created by the power of our recollection of his saving death for us.   This is simply a subtle form of religious good works by means of the power of our memories.
4 The Greek word used in 1 Cor 11:24-25, anamnesis, is used in the Greek Old Testament for the Hebrew zikkaron employed in the passages that follow.
5 Cf. Moses’ address to the congregation in Deuteronomy 1; although the generation that have come out of Egypt had all perished, he speaks to those assembled as though they were all participants in the exodus, giving of the Law, the wilderness rebellions etc. In God’s presence they were there.
6 The Holy Spirit has a key role in this encounter; space prevents a discussion however.
7 As you would have heard from 1 Corinthians 7 a few weeks ago, “This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” [1 Cor 7:29-31 ESV]. This is why every period of spiritual revitalisation in the history of Christianity is marked by a sense that that the End is near.
8 Paul never encourages Christians to think of themselves as “worthy” of grace [cf. 1 Cor 15:9].
9 There are two main lines of interpretation concerning this text. The first is adopted by those church bodies (Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, (some) Anglican) who believe that the body and blood of Jesus are really present in a literal manner in the bread and wine at communion. For them, the sin of the Corinthians was their treatment of the meal as common rather than holy.
10 Cf. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” [1 Cor 10:17 ESV]
11 See 1 Cor 12:7-11.
12 Paul had already commanded the church to judge a sinner by delivering him over to Satan [1 Cor 5:3-5].
13 No Christian is under God’s wrath. John confidently says, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he (Jesus) is so also are we in this world.” [1 John 4:17].
14 For old covenant examples  see Ex 24:9-11 with Ex 32, also Paul’s words in 1 Cor 10:11-12
15 Who Paul had earlier described as “not lacking in any gift” [1 Cor 1:7].
16 Cf. Paul finds himself saying, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.” [1 Cor 14:37 cf. 2 Cor 10:7].
17 Jesus commanded us to forgive anyone before we pray, and to seek to be reconciled to anyone before we approach God in worship [Mark 11:25; Matt 5:23-24].
18 As it was said of Jesus, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” [Heb 2:10]