Friday, November 11, 2016

"Is Christ divided? ... It is the CROSS that unites the Church!"

Day #317

Scripture Reading:  I Corinthians 1 - 2 ...

Having been a pastor many years, I have served several congregations and have preached over a lot of sermons from God’s Word.  I've seen the Church in some of its finest moments ... and I've seen some "other" moments.  I rejoice when the Body of Christ is all that God desires her to be, and I grieve when the Body of Christ does not shine the light of Christ to the world as we are called to do for the glory of God.  Sadly, we are not the first to do so.  Such was the case in the days of the Apostle Paul, only 25-30 years after Jesus had died on the cross, risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. Some speak of the early Church as though it did not face the same trials and divisions we see today, but the letters of Paul to the Corinthians and others say differently.

Is it, then, inevitable that there should be and will be divisions within the visible church today?  Is there nothing we can do to bring oneness to the Body of Christ and so honor the One who is its Head?  The answer to the first question is a sad, "Yes."  Divisions within the outward, visible church ARE inevitable, because of false teachers and because of sin within the human heart.  As it is impossible to have a "perfect" marriage, because you are bringing together two imperfect people, it is impossible to have a "perfect" church, because you are bringing together many imperfect people! But God knew that would be the case, and He has given us what we need to be ONE ... in CHRIST!!

Listen to how Paul describes the church in Corinth:  "Those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy" (1:2).  Paul rejoices that God's grace was being seen in many ways in the believers in Corinth and He believed that God would keep them strong to the end.  "God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful" (1:9).  But he also knew there would always be challenges to face in our relationships with one another, even within the Body of Christ.  So what about the divisions?  Paul urges them to be "perfectly united in mind and thought" (1:10).  So why weren't they?  Because they were not focused on Christ and the cross!!

In the remainder of chapter 1 and all of chapter 2, Paul explains that the Body of Christ becomes divided when those within the visible body are not focused on Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross.  When we become distracted by our own agendas and forget who we are in Christ and our mission to make disciples, division results.  The true Church exists only where there are those who put their trust in the cross of Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life.  It is the cross that is "the power of God" (1:18; Romans 1:16).  And it is through the "foolishness of what was preached" (1:21) that God determined to save those who believe. Those who trust in anything else are lost and are not part of Christ's Church.

"God chose the foolish things ... the weak things ... the lowly things of the world and the despised things ... so that no one may boast before Him" (1:27-29).  Today many are teaching that God doesn't choose anybody, that no one knows enough about God to say for sure how we are saved, that God loves everyone and gives everyone a chance ... and on and on and on.  The church today often becomes more about man than about God; and even when people try to make it about God, what is often left out is the CROSS!!  Many people don't want to talk about sin or judgment ... so why do we need the cross?  But then, why do we need Jesus??

Paul puts it this way:  "We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1:23-24).  Oh, that pastors and others in the church today would hear what God is saying to us through Paul's words!  Listen again as Paul goes on in Chapter 2, claiming that he did not come with eloquent words:  "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (2:2).  THIS message is true wisdom from the Spirit of God; a message that carries with it the very power of God to save those who are lost ... to give life to the dead!

Paul describes the Gospel of Jesus Christ as "God's secret wisdom" (2:7), a wisdom that had not previously been revealed.  And he explains why most people then, and most people today, do not, will not and cannot understand the simple message of the Gospel, that by faith in Jesus' suffering and death on the cross we are saved from God's wrath and judgment:  "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to Him, and He CANNOT understand them, because they are spiritually discerned" (2:14).  Spiritually dead people will never understand or receive the true Gospel message, for their eyes are blind and their hearts are hard.

How then can anyone understand the Gospel?  How can anyone be sure that this message and only this message leads to life ... eternal life?  Again, God gives the answer through Paul's words:  "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:  'For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?' But we have the mind of Christ!" (2:15-16).  Every true believer has the Spirit living within him.  THIS is what unites those who are part of Christ's Body, who are part of the one, true Church, and nothing can divide us!  We are ONE in Christ Jesus, through His suffering and death on the cross, and by the work of HIS Spirit within us.

When the Church is focused on THIS and the Gospel is being preached, God receives the glory, the Body is built up, Christ is exalted and believers rejoice.  May God give us wisdom today to preach Christ and Him crucified, for as it was in the days of Paul, so it is today:  "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God!" (1:18).  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!!

"Our Father in heaven, in Christ alone we draw near to You with confidence, believing that in the cross we find forgiveness for our sins and life in the Spirit.  May we boast in You, giving You all the glory for choosing us, calling us, giving Your Son and pouring out Your Spirit to open our hearts and minds to the truth of Your Word.  Thank You, Father, in Jesus' name, Amen!"

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