One great quality about our current series Irresistible; The Power of Grace, is that the congregation will get to walk through it hearing two distinct voices.
I, Simon, and team teaching this series with Doug Stevens, who is newish to our community having just relocated to the Round Rock/Austin area with his wife Nancy.
Doug is a long-serving Pastor of note from California where he’s had a great amount of pastoral and leadership experience. I’m so excited that he and his were called to serve at RESTORATION!
Doug and Nancy are invested in a ministry in Haiti and were there last week serving. They were supposed to return in time for Doug to share from 1 Corinthians 3. But their flight out of Haiti was delayed and he messaged me on Saturday, asking if I’d cover it.
Of course, I said yes and sure, who wouldn’t want to more time to pray and prepare but I was actually operating out of some peace, not having the pressure to prepare during the week, so I wasn’t too alarmed.
I have to say that when I sat down and began to explore that passage, the message sort of just “fell open” before me. I described it sort of like a nice cut of meat that’s been smoked to perfection; when it just falls off the bone.
But this week, Doug sent me his notes that he would have preached from and I was so impressed that I’m going to repost them here for you at the end of this post. I’m impressed that his message is compatible with what I offered, but also quite distinct.
I love how the Holy Spirit informs each of uniquely from the same text in a way that preserves the integrity of God’s Word!
Besides our backgrounds, another distinction from me and Doug is that I don’t write out my messages—I more work from and scawlings made over an outline:
I think our church is benefitting greatly from hearing from two distinct perspectives of the power of God’s grace to compel our hearts and I’m so thankful for Doug’s participation in this series.
All Yours; The Cure for Conflict in the Church
The church in Corinth was a mess. Maybe a little like your church. And yet there is hope! More than you imagine.
In his first letter to the Corinthian Christians the Apostle Paul takes on many timely topics specific to their situation and, at the same, easily applied to ours.
In Chapter Three he offers a scathing critique, exposing the weakness of their character, and at the same time calls out their incredible privilege.
Let’s look at both, acknowledge both as our reality — one very sad and the other transformational, and lean hard into this new perspective that changes the whole pattern of our lives.
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still enamored of the world — still infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, because you were not ready for it. In fact, you are still not ready. You are still controlled by the world’s values and mindset.
Since there is envy and arguing among you, are you not simply conforming to the ways of the world? You not acting like people who belong to God.
When one person says, “I follow Paul,” and another “I follow Apollos,” are you not unenlightened humans? After all, who is Apollos, and who is Paul? Only servants,
through whom you came to believe — as the Lord assigned to each his task.
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service and you are God’s field.
Paul is hoping that these baby believers will grow up. Evidence of their immaturity is obvious. They have not yet emerged from early childhood in their faith — and their dependencies, rivalries and resentments show it.
Paul is extremely concerned that their allegiance to a particular leader or party or point of view — and the resulting conflict with each other — limits them, undermines their intended unity, and discredits their profession of faith. Discredits Christ.
Christ has no rivals — not Paul, not Apollos, not Peter (mentioned in Chapter One and again at the end of this chapter). Our faith is Christ-centric. Everyone else serves him, draws attention to him, invites people into relationship with him. Preoccupation with any other leader or teacher, prophet or apostle is not only inappropriate and inadequate, it is misleading and dangerous. And, for those who call ourselves Christians, infantile or worse. A sign of infidelity. Christianity has no demigods or gurus.
The quasi-worship of any human being is spiritual treason, a temptation that sabotages community, seductive and stupid. Only God is worthy of worship. That claim for Christ as the Son of God is, of course, controversial, as well as undeniable (read the Gospels with an open mind) and completely confirmed (read the whole Bible, consider human history and the testimony of the church over the last 2000 years, and compare him with any other leader who has commanded a following). But this is not the place to make the larger case for Jesus Christ.
Christians should know better than to get bogged down in intramural disputes. But we do it all the time, with disastrous results — the demoralizing of our brothers and sisters, the weakening of the Body of Christ, and the degrading of our mission. Which always leads to complaining, blaming, boasting and separation into antagonistic camps.
Debate is great and attraction to a particular teacher is fine, but turning a preference into adulation and absolute loyalty, and a certain theological school of thought into the exclusive arbiter of orthodoxy, is always detrimental to the cause and camaraderie of Christ.
Is Christ divided? NO
Was Paul crucified for you? NO
Were you baptized in the name of Paul? NO
(from I Corinthians Chapter One)
Here’s what happens when we revere a leader other than Jesus and make him/her our final authority. Whether the great apostles Peter, Paul or Apollo, or any other luminary. We experience these debilitating consequences …
Superficiality: Ironically, if we are attached to one teacher/expert we only have access to their understanding, as helpful as it might be. We are impressed with their depth (and their teaching may run deep) but we are missing the texture, richness and expanse of the Word of God if one man’s voice is our only source of truth. It tends to get reduced to a formula (if not by them, then by their acolytes), to an ingenious collection of proof-texts, to an appealing ideology, to some narrowly configured -ism that trends to its own time and place. Packaged as meat, it is sucked like milk.
Selectivity: Some elevate the epistles of Paul above the four Gospels. Others pitch the Gospels as sufficient. Some disregard the Old Testament altogether as anachronistic, others are fascinated with a particular book (Ecclesiastes, Acts, or Romans! or Revelation!) and downgrade the rest (I’m captivated by Philippians). But all Scripture is inspired and authoritative for us. Reducing the range of Scripture to a compressed canon within the canon mutilates the Book, fragments the Story, fabricating a vocabulary coded for those in the know, slicing God’s Word to suit our tastes and protect ourselves from any uncomfortable truth. We must not manage or try to control the Word — it subdues us, and sets us free.
Stagnation: Faith has to grow, it must interact — avoiding defensiveness and rigidity, be stimulated by more than one voice, be challenged and thereby strengthened, a participant in a rigorous process of refinement. Exposure to other people’s experience and points of view is healthy, stretching, maturing. Learning more about what God communicates in the Bible and what God is doing in our world now requires the capacity to set aside preconceptions and consider new insights and mine freshly discovered implications. Truth is solid and steady … our construction of theology is always relative, conditioned, imperfect. Don’t get stuck in a paradigm.
Subsistence: Maybe the worst by-product of partisanship within the community of Christ is the passivity and spiritual poverty it produces. Paul and Apollos and Peter and (insert the name of your favorite expositor here) fulfill their calling — nothing less and nothing more. Paul, the most outspoken and prolific of the apostolic band claims nothing more. In fact, he claims to be the chief of sinners, as well as the last and the least of all the apostles. Like the charismatic John the Baptist, Paul says “follow me” … in order to find Christ. The ancient Israelites subsisted on a staple called manna until that fateful day when the regular supply suddenly stopped by God’s decree and they were forced to go out and find food for themselves — in a land rich with produce. Abundance awaits!
Back to I Corinthians Chapter Three. The writer changes metaphors — there are so many angles on the truth. He moves from the organic (seed, water, growth, flowering and fruitfulness) to the structural (foundation, building, temple).
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.
Notice that this is a group effort. That ministry is a team sport. That Paul has a crucial role to play as founder and father-figure, but that he is one in a sequence of servants appointed to edify this church. For Paul, partnership is crucial, humility mandatory, the full and sharp focus on Christ uncompromised, unimpeded.
No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
One foundation. Many skilled workers. A beautiful building, composed of flawed men and women, designed to show off the character and brilliance of God.
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives among you?! If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person, for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
Later, in I Corinthians 6, Paul will talk about the powerful notion that the body of each individual believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit. But here the emphasis is clearly communal. We are — together — the sacred temple of God. He chooses to take up residence inside this redeemed community.
Our divisions, our conflicts, are not only social and political, but offend against God’s purpose of showcasing his work of reconciling and reuniting. This miracle of recreating a flourishing, fully resourced and constantly cooperating human community is contradicted by our petty squabbles and belittling battles — by our lack of determination to discover, affirm, take full advantage of, integrate and celebrate all God’s gifts.
The Body of Christ is wounded. The Spirit stifled. God is grieved. Ministry shrivels and shrinks.
Paul has a better idea. And it’s a shocker … the powerful antidote to our habitual infighting.
All things are yours, he writes at the close of this chapter. Can we possibly comprehend such a statement? Can we possibly unpack and apply such privilege?
All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Peter or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are of Christ and Christ is of God.
This is one of those moments in the Bible (and there are many) when the reader is forced to pause and ponder … and wonder:
Could this be true?!
What would it mean to me/to us if it was?!
How would my life/our life together be different?!
What impact would this have on the people we meet/on the world we live in?!
You don’t have to pick sides in this unseemly dispute. Paul the passionate rabbi, Apollos the eloquent philosopher, and Peter the impatient, impertinent, irresistible fisherman are all yours. And all the rest, too.
Moses, Esther, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Micah. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The astonishing breadth of Scripture is yours. The whole literary tapestry. The immense, ingenious spectacle of salvation history. The entire cosmic drama. All of this is yours, Paul says.
The world is yours! Really.
Yours to enjoy, to explore, to enhance, to embrace — as you share the mystery of the deep affection of earth’s sovereign creator with its array of beautiful, bloodied and beloved inhabitants.
Life and death are yours.
Life! With all of its blessing, vitality, variety, ability and promise. Yours to live! To be fully alive, aware, present, perceptive, engaged and invested. To be life-affirming in a culture of death, and life-giving among the artificial, self-centered, warring and despairing. To live in such a way that everyone is attracted to the source of life … to the living Christ who has released resurrection power into a world governed by entropy.
Death. Death is also yours. Defanged now by Christ’s decisive victory. Fear of death and of judgment is banished by his perfect love, by his perfect sacrifice, by the Father’s irrevocable acceptance of us in Christ. We are accompanied in the valley of the shadow, never abandoned. Welcomed into his heaven.
The present and the future. You are invited to live unencumbered in this moment, here and now, wherever and whenever you are … to live unselfconsciously, without anxiety and with anticipation as you follow Jesus. He guides you, he goes with you, he watches over you. What he has done for you, he is doing, and will continue to do. He is the same amazing savior and friend yesterday, today and forever.
All are yours. It’s an inexhaustible supply generating infinite opportunity … by God’s grace and infinite riches. It’s the whole universe … for all of eternity. It’s the adventure of a lifetime, and beyond. No good gift is withheld. This surpasses your capacity to understand or even imagine.
All of this is true because — you are of Christ. He died for you and rose again and has called you. In response, you have chosen to trust him, to love him and to give him your everyday life as a living sacrifice to honor him. And this relationship secures your connection with God as your Father. Because Christ is the Way, Christ is of God.
Meaning that there is no longer any reason why we should fall back into the destructive habits — subtle or aggressive — that disrupt the sweet synchronicity of our life together and shared mission.
If we already have access to it ALL IN CHRIST, what are we arguing about?! Why are we fighting against each other?! Why are we envious or threatened or insecure or resentful?! Why would we go on gossiping, slandering, competing, even alienating? And then justifying it?
There’s no time or room or tolerance for arrogance. And no need. It is foolishness — to be replaced by true wisdom, robust faith, risk-taking courage and a vibrant hope. To recognize and exult in the certified fact that all things belong to us … in Christ. To live for the glory of the God who delights in displaying the immeasurable magnitude of his kindness and generosity to all of his children.
To contemporize this conversation initiated by the apostle who was addressing an audience far removed from us, I’m going to restrain my impulse to recite the names of some of the people I most admire. As I think about it, I am certain it would only stir up the kind of contentiousness I would very much like to disarm.
But I will say this … as I mature, as I study the Scriptures, as I am exposed to diverse expressions of the Body of Christ across denominational, cultural and generational lines, I find that I can glean valuable insights, moving illustrations, innovative applications and even new vision for God’s ongoing work in our world by expanding my repertoire.
My ecclesiastical home base is evangelicalism by way of fundamentalism. But I now read and listen to a broadband of speakers, writers, pastors, teachers, evangelists and artists who are communicating about “spiritual matters” — which is, in itself, a category that keeps overflowing its banks and found to be highly relevant as an underlying concern in areas often dismissed as unrelated or out of bounds.
I evaluate all that I hear with a serious desire to be highly teachable, biblically faithful, respectful and edifying to everyone involved, and more capable of entering constructive dialogue with those gathered around this personality — with whom I may mostly, partly or scarcely agree.
Because I am coming to see that all things are mine, that all things belong to you and me. We can take the best and leave the rest. We don’t have to be squeamish about labels or traditions, even while we must be careful about content and especially sensitive to the congruence of the walk (the character of the person) with the talk. Even then, even when mixed with error or hypocrisy, a residue of truth can be distilled.
And we give grace. Full agreement is not required. Everyone harbors at least some shadow of heresy in some unexamined corner. Everyone beyond the authors of Scripture has some gap or distortion or misunderstanding in their theology. Our background, our temperament, our influences and ignorance practically guarantees it. Everyone, including (your name and your mentor’s name here). We give grace and we are saved by grace, not by our grade on the theology mid-term. Of course, conscientious correction of our doctrine should always accompany our growth in grace.
We are all a work in progress — although teachers are held to a higher standard of responsibility, which is sobering. And we should all be advancing in our diet from milk to solid food that delivers strengthening and sustaining nutrition… which will happen if we discipline ourselves to graze with great interest, a healthy appetite, a discerning palate, and a cultivated appreciation for the gifted chefs represented at the feasting table prepared by our Lord.
And yet, the question lingers in the air. The larger question. The one that surpasses our wildest dreams. Beyond the invitation to claim Paul, Apollos, Peter and others as our instructors, advisors and exemplars, the lift-off in that last sentence takes us to a realm of inconceivable blessing.
Was Paul the only one who made such an extravagant claim or do we hear it elsewhere? It’s still hard to believe, to process within the framework of our life experience and expectations, that “all things are yours” … that the “world” is ours … that “life and death,” “the present and the future” belong to us. In what sense is this true later on and right now?
Here’s further corroboration from several other passages of Scripture … slowly savor this message.
So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth steward it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground … I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit … they will be yours for food” … God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (I lack nothing I need)
The Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
In his magnificent sermon on the mount, Jesus exhorts his followers with these words, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear … your Father who feeds the birds of the air … and clothes the grass of the field … are you not much more valuable than they are? But seek first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
When the disciples of Jesus were on the verge of giving up because the challenge of their commitment to him was too great, he told them, “No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or fields for me and the Gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age … and in the age to come, eternal life.”
As told by Jesus, the exceedingly gracious, outrageously generous father in the story of the prodigal son reminds his oblivious older son, “You are always with me and everything I have is yours.”
Consider these excerpts from John’s Gospel. Straight from Jesus. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believe in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die? Do you believe this?”
“Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask ,r for anything in my name and I will do it.”
”Jesus prays for his followers as he prepares for the crucifixion. “May they have the full measure of my joy within them … I have given them the glory that you gave me that they may be one as we are one … then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Paul exults as he opens his letter to the church in Ephesus with a long run-on sentence gorged with superlatives, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ … he has lavished on us the riches of God’s grace … because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions … and God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in order that he might show the incomparable riches of his grace.”
And then Paul soars in his prayer at the end of Chapter Three. I pray that out of his glorious riches … you may have the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Paul reminds the Christian community in Philippi that “My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus.”
Paul writes to his young protégé Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
[I Timothy 6]
Our brother James points out that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”
Finally, a vision of that promised consummation. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth … I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among his people … they will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new! Write this down for these words are trustworthy and true,”
All things are yours … because you belong to Christ. And through you — cherished son or daughter, showered with the Father’s love and joint-heir with Christ — the blessings of the Kingdom of God are extended to family and friends, neighbors and nobodies, strangers and enemies.
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. [Colossians 1] For from him and through him and for him are all things. [Romans 11] And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work … you will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion. [II Corinthians 9]
St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople in the 4th Century AD, offered this insight into Paul’s motivation. “The most important thing of all to him was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else … in being loved by Christ he thought of himself as possessing life, the world, the present and the future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings.”
One of the happiest, most capable and durable people I know is Pastor Furman, who lives and serves in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Happiest? How can this be? you might ask.
Pastor Furman and his wife had 6 children before the devastating earthquake that struck that Caribbean island nation on January 12, 2010, claiming more than 200,000 lives. Their family survived intact, but there were many orphans created by the disaster.
He and his wife gathered the family in the aftermath and talked about the great need — their own and the dire situation in many parts of Port-au-Prince. They decided together that they could take in as many as 12 children, even though their own home was now uninhabitable. They ended up taking in 14.
As soon as they arrived Pastor Furman and his wife were Mama and Papa to 20 children, the youngest who was five months old. The family would live in a tent in their back yard for the next three years before their house could be rebuilt.
How did you feed all those kids, I asked as we drove to the southwest end of the island for a recent pastor training, and how did you all stay dry during the rainy season? He smiled (he smiles a lot) and said … “God provides.” As if I should know that.
“I have 20 children … how big a blessing is that?! They all hug me and kiss me. Our children have many new brothers and sisters, and we are all together in a larger home now. We have a second story.”
“We celebrated the wedding of our oldest daughter last month. Let me show you some pictures.” The photos of the soiree took me by surprise. It was an elegant evening, beyond my expectations. I was sorry I missed it.
After the two-day seminar for a couple of hundred Haitian pastors, we drove to his house and he invited me in. I was prepared for the best, based on his preview, but the warmth, welcome and laughter in this home exceeded my premonition.
I was besieged with embraces and sideways kisses by the boys and girls, alike. One little girl held my hand and I wasn’t sure if she was going to ever let go. The mother of this mob was at the hub and didn’t skip a beat as she invited me into her mansion. The tight quarters in this oddly-shaped house actually magnified the effects of voices and activity and affection.
I could almost read the mind of my brother-pastor, as I watched him glide through this place. “This is mine … all of these are mine! All of this a blessing beyond belief. And they belong to each other, and we all belong to Jezi (Jesus in Creole). How did I get so lucky?!”
And the same must be true of his church, as I listen to him talk about the trials and highlights of his church family. He takes obvious delight in them.
And this city is his, and the pastors on the west peninsula, just recovering from a hurricane last fall, are his.
And Haiti is his, as I hear him praying for his beloved people and searching out new ways to care for this community.
And now I am his, too. And everyone who knows him from this tale of God’s Kingdom — you are his. Because I’m telling him about you. Believe it or not, he’s very interested. There’s no end to this man’s interest and gratitude for all God’s gifts.
Whoever you are … all things are yours, since you belong to Christ. And you are completely his. That’s the very definition of win-win for us. That’s the deal, a summary of the covenant God makes with his chosen people, weighted heavily in our favor, revealing the freehearted, openhanded liberality of our God.
We could spend the rest of our lives marveling at, and making the most of, our spiritual birthright. Or we could lapse into quarrels and conflicts, as is our instinctive practice, turning on each other as we default to defending our one-dimensional, much-diminished version of God’s vast treasury.
Copyright © Doug Stevens 2017