Spiritual Disunity One of the saddest things we can experience in church life is that when the Holy Spirit does move and certain people are revived spiritually they usually fail to take the rest of the church with them, and often the consequence is that the “spiritual ones” go off to start another church or house group somewhere else. In Gen 27 v 41. we read that Esau held a grudge against his brother Jacob because he had got a blessing that he desired. Esau hadn’t always been very keen anyway about his blessings, for he sold His birthright for a mess of pottage. What good is a spiritual blessing if you’re hungry? Sounds logical and a very intelligent assessment. You can’t eat promises. Texts will not pay the bills. How often has that sort of thing been spoken by unbelievers and sometimes believers. Jacob on the other hand was a determined character who wanted blessing more than anything else. He was not going to let little things like ineligibility get in the way. Spiritual blessings are not easily obtained. They are valuable not cheap . His later deception of His father showed the same determination that had gotten him the birthright. He was always on the lookout for an opportunity. He didn’t sit around saying. “well if God wants to bless me he can”. Later that same determination held on to God as he wrestled through the night. “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” It was this part of His character that God loved. God loves those who want spiritual things more than material things, for it shows great faith in the unseen. Nevertheless those who get blessed will always find that those who don’t will seem to bear a grudge. Much division among christians today is because of spiritual jealousy. There seems almost a built-in prejudice in them which absolutely stops them ever admitting that some other group or leader is enjoying great blessing. There is an old story about a young man who pioneered a Baptist church in the next town. However he found it harder than first thought. In his letter back to his home church which had sent him out, he says that few were attending the meetings. One of his newly appointed deacons had resigned. The photocopier had broken and the roof was leaking and needed a few thousand pounds to repair. And so he went on listing all the negative things, but finally closed with the self-comforting words, “However, the Methodists are not doing any better” Sometimes a church fellowship or even an offshoot of one will blossom into life. Christians, who previously led a sort of mediocre christian life, are changed to being vibrant praising Christians. One would think that this would give great cause to other churches and fellowship members to praise the Lord. But sadly this is not always, if ever, the case. They are more likely to be the targets of finger pointing and criticisms. But just because there are imperfections from some viewpoints, then that does not exclude the hand of God being on the work. Even Paul had many critics, even Jesus was betrayed and crucified. We may not think that those who suddenly become enthusiastic or even noisy in their worship, is what we think makes for a perfect church, but we should rejoice that the Lord is blessing his people. Surely it is better that they are as they are, than to be like thousands of other branches of the church which are dead and receive no criticisms whatsoever. Such divisions no doubt stem from spiritual jealousy, such perhaps as Esau had towards Jacob. Esau lived for the material things in the present. but he really wanted the best of both worlds, so to speak. Should we not ask ourselves, How keen are we to be blessed. Have we lost the blessing we once knew? “Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord Where is the soul refreshing view of Jesus and His word. What peaceful hours I once enjoyed, How sweet their memory still But they have left an aching void, The world can never fill.”
Why are spiritual blessings so hard to get, when God probably wants to bless us more than we want to be blessed? If we don’t really want them, then in time we will give up seeking. God tests us to see if we are genuine and if we really believe we are a children of God, we will continue to believe the promises of God. The unbeliever will ask and pray and in not receiving give up, but the child of God will press on determined to take hold of His inheritance. The unbeliever goes back to the worldly things, but the child of God knows that only his father has what he requires. As Peter said to Jesus “To whom else can we go?. So it is not really surprising that there is a great deal of jealousy among God’s people when it comes to blessing. No one wants to admit they have not got the best or walking in that which is not truth.. The wonderful thing about Jesus was that though obviously he was far more spiritual than His disciples it did not come as a gulf between them. Love was the bonding power. Chapter 13 shines as a gem in Corinthians. Love is not puffed up, and vaunteth not itself. Envieth not.
We are God’s Field & God’s Building.
Our spiritual growth depends upon us. How we receive. We all receive. Everything we have in the kingdom, we have received. The question is, how have we used those things we have received? This analogy of the field begs the question, How have we appropriated the word? We are God’s field. Stony ground, thorny ground or good ground. We have to remove the stones and thorns ourselves. The stones are the hard parts of our heart, the areas of unbelief. The thorns are worldly attitudes and ambitions. We all receive the same word. How readily do we receive the messages preached to us and often comment upon them shortly afterwards, but how few actually remember to apply the Word preached, to our lives. Have we not all heard great messages on Galatians or Ephesians? But have we appropriated the word. Are we rejoicing in our justification or still weighed down in self- condemnation. “God cant bless me... bla bla bla.””—Did we really listen? The pre-requisite for God’s blessing is an open heart. May be we need to remove of the stone of unbelief. When we read the word, how prepared are we to obey it and appropriate it to our daily life? Has the gospel had the effects that we saw in Galatians. Are we living in the blessings promised in Ephesians? Are we appropriating the unity of the body, The purity of the bride, the security of the building, the fertility of the branch? The commitment of the Battalion? In a 24 hour day, how much "abiding" do we do? How much fighting do we do as a soldier of Christ. Have we got our armour on? Some of us don’t even know what it is, let alone wear it. Those living in blessing are those who are appropriating the word. We all get the same seed. We all are watered in various ways, but God makes things grow. He knows the kind of ground we are. The eyes of the Lord go up and down throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong on behalf of those whose heart are perfect towards Him. (2 Chron 16:9) It was Jacob’s heart that God saw, it was ground in which he could produce his fruit. We may see only his lying and cheating, and ask why should God bless Jacob (and not us ?) God saw fit to name His people after Him. David was an adulterer and a murderer, but God said David was a man after His own heart. Jesus was called the Son of David. Solomon was warned that he would lose the favour of God if He did not walk in the ways of David His father. Every king of Israel and Judah was judged according to how perfect they were, and David was the plumbline, by which they were measured. Ruth was a Moabitess, who had no right to any blessing, as she was not even one of the children of God. But God saw her determination and commitment, when she said to Naomi, “Your God shall be my God and your people shall be my people”. God did not choose her, but that did not seem to matter, she chose God. God saw that cry of allegiance and made provision for her to come into blessing. A blessing which many Israelites would have longed to have received. No doubt many would be jealous, to think that God had chosen her to bless . She was not entitled to marry Boaz who was a Jew, but her determination and love for Naomi's faith, touched the heart of God himself. God saw, and through the love of Boaz, which God put in his heart, Ruth became the great-great grandmother fourteen times removed of Jesus. We might be able to think of a hundred reasons why God doesn’t bless us like he blesses others, but we need to realise and accept that those reasons which are valid are entirely our own fault. God is no respecter of persons. Calvary demands the best we can give. God will give nothing unless He gets the best. If these people in the Old Testament could please God with their devotion, separation, faith and determination, then how much more should be our response who profess to know what it means to sing ; “When I survey the wondrous cross. What does the cross of Christ mean to us in the reality of our daily experience and in our relationship with other church members? Will it move us to seek God, even if it costs us the greatest thing we have in a worldly sense? The cross only means something to us when we see those things we love nailed to it. Our relationships, our money, our hobbies, our time, and our personality all need to be “nailed to the cross”. “Love so amazing. so divine. demands my soul, my life, my all”. There is no other kind of Christian life. We either respond with everything and get all or respond with less and miss God’s best. How determined are we? We lack no determination in the things of this world. We may not get riches over night, but we have well worked it out that if we save £5. per week for forty years, we will get about £20,000 pounds. In the same way we must appreciate the value of abiding in Christ. Patience sees the promises fulfilled. God will test us to see if we will give up. As with worldly ambition, we may get our money out and spend it or leave it invested: similarly day by day patient determination will see us achieve those things which we believe are ours in Christ. It behoves us to ask ourselves if we have truly committed ourselves to the Lord. Are we really committed to the body of Christ, i.e. the people of our fellowship? Are the members of the fellowship into which the Lord has led us, our service in the Lord? May God give us the determination of Jacob David and Ruth. May spiritual blessings received not make us proud, and may those who perhaps have not yet got the kind of blessing they think they ought to have, not get jealous or bear a grudge against those who may appear to have already obtained.
Chapter four gives us Paul’s three pictures of himself. 1. He is a steward. 2. He is an apostle. 3. He is a Father. He is a steward in His relationship to God. He is an Apostle in his treatment by the world. He is a father to those he cares for in the church. As a steward he administers the things of the SPIRIT. As an Apostle he represents The Son. and suffers likewise. As a father he expresses the concern and love of the Father.
One further way of grasping the message of these four chapters is to list all the questions which Paul puts to the Corinthians. A simple way of bringing home the divisive nature of what was going on in Corinth is to see our church fellowship as potentially divisive. How easy it is for us to think that our group is the best, our leader more proficient than the others, our teaching more deep and mature than the others and spiritual blessings more in number or quality than others. Perhaps, we would find it hard to rejoice in the knowledge that others were apparently getting more from their group, in these various categories than we were. From such misgivings and resentments would come the deep rifts of partisanship as seen here in Corinth. In order to bring the message home more forcibly the names of fictional group leaders, Tom Richard and Harry have been put in, rather than the personalities involved 2000 ago in Corinth. Read the following questions and ponder over them to see if you can get a general picture of what Paul is on about. 1. Is Christ divided? 2. was Paul crucified for you? Or 3. were ye baptized in the name of Paul? Ch1:13: 4. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? Ch. 1:20 5. For what man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knows no man, but the Spirit of God. Ch. 2:11 6. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. Ch. 2:16 7. For you are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are you not carnal, and walk as men? For while one says, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? Ch. 3:3-5 8. For who makes you to differ from another? and what have you that you did not receive? now if you did receive it, why do you glory, as if you hadst not received it? Ch. 4:7 9. What will you? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness? Ch. 4:21
Let’s think out some answers for ourselves here; 1. Is Christ divided? The answer is obvious. So if the church is divided, it cannot possibly be of Christ. 2. Who was crucified? It was his death that brought us to life, and brought us into the church. We all owe allegiance to One and only ONE. 3. Baptism is an outward sign of inward work. Spiritually we have died to our old life and the force that operates in our old nature, i.e. the flesh, or ego. We have been raised to new life in Christ. It is surely HIS life that should be operating in the church- resurrection life. We were baptised into the body of Christ, not into a house group or denomination. 4. Where is the wise ...... the scholar? Pride is the problem. It’s a virtue in the world- a vice in the body of Christ. There is no bible knowledge exam to get into heaven . The early disciples were marked as uneducated men. Learning and education are good things, provided the teacher teaches you to be humble, with it. Rom ch 12 v 3 tells us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to, but to consider ourselves merely as a separate member of the same body with may be a bit more grace than another. But what we have, be it much or less is all grace- undeserved favour. We all deserve to be in hell. Scholars and wise men are titles of the world. Such attributes are not necessary to be part of the body, that should be obvious from the people you see at the meetings. The church’s purpose is not to produce doctors of divinity or of philosophy. These things are earned by those growing in HUMAN wisdom. Divine wisdom is different it is a gift of the Spirit. 5. Who can teach us the things of God apart from the Spirit of God? If we have not the Holy Spirit in us then then all the education in the world will not make us wise in the things of the Kingdom of God. Learning Greek or Hebrew does not make spiritual truth more lucid. The Israeli and Greek football teams probably understand such languages but they are blind to the things of God. No-one knew the scriptures or Hebrew and Greek better than the scribes and Pharisees in the days of Jesus. The Bible is written in the language of Heaven and unless we have been born there and our names written there, (see Psalm 87) there is no communication from heaven. One of the disciples asked Jesus how he was going to reveal himself to them (his disciples) and not to the world. (John 14:22) Good question. (One would think that anyone who understands English would understand the Bible) One would have thought it impossible but it might be worth looking up the Lord’s answer. 6. Who can think as God thinks? Who knows his mind? If God doesn’t reveal himself we know nothing. It is His prerogative completely. He reveals nothing to the proud but gives grace to the humble. Man by his human nature hasn’t the remotest possibility of knowing spiritual things. Any knowledge gained in such matters could only have been given, by grace. So where is the place for boasting. By fulfilling his purposes through the cross, God has made it very clear that his wisdom is different from man’s wisdom. The natural mind thinks it is foolish. You would not get a degree or be granted any intellectual esteem for being able to go around the shops telling people that Christ died for them. In God’s terms, such are the “wise”. He that winneth souls is wise, says the scripture. If we are to know the thoughts of the mind of God, who alone can pass them on but the Spirit of God. Just as a man can be locked in with his own thoughts, which only he, ( his spirit) knows, and there is no-way anyone can find out, so only those in the body who have the same spirit as the head can possible find out God’s thoughts, mind and wisdom. 7 As there cannot possibly be any divisions or malfunctions in the body in which the Spirit of God rules, so likewise any divisions in a church prove that the people involved are still operating in the flesh and not under the guidance or prompting of the Holy Spirit. You can expect such divisions in human organisations where people are seeking position, esteem and respect. Paul, Apollos or whoever are merely servants of God and members of the body, under the control of the Spirit. The message they preach is the one uniting thing. When we bring in the personalities into it, we go beyond what is written. Just as we might foolishly measure the truth of the words of the song by the ability of the singer. 8. We are God’s servants under the authority of the Spirit, you are the temples of the Spirit. If you haven’t the Spirit you are not a member of the body. If you have the Spirit you can only operate in the church as the Spirit energises and prompts you. Consider the unity in the human body- what makes all the different parts and members to function without disunity. It is the central nervous system which connects every member to the head, ( mind) Only when the mind sends the message does the member operate. Likewise in the church, if we ever do anything, we should do it, or be doing it because the Holy Spirit has told us and not because we think it ought to be done. If we are motivated by the latter we will soon be moaning that no-one else is doing it, thus causing ill-feeling and division. Do everything as unto the Lord. 9 We may have differing ministries, but we are not different to the point of deference. We are not better than anyone else because our differences are only different “GIFTS”. As the finger is different than the thigh, without the nerves they are both useless. Without the Spirit communicating the things of God we are all useless. So to operate in the body of Christ we must operate in the spiritual realm. That realm which comes into being after we have died to self. The life of the body of Christ is resurrection life. Just as all that goes on in the human body is drawing attention to the head, so all that goes on in the church should draw attention to Christ. It should glorify Christ. Nothing the spirit does ever glorifies men. Men, like their father the devil, seek to steal such glory, or use the things of the Spirit to magnify the flesh. Our testimony and service should bring people to see Christ, and if we are in the Spirit we will look for Christ in others rather than look to the human aspects of what is done or said. 10 Any boasting or glorying should be in the Lord. Paul said he gloried in the cross, because the cross was the thing that destroyed all his ego, and any possibility of pride in his own personality, works or knowledge. 11. Shall I have to tell you off and sort you out myself or can you do it yourself. Get your own motives sorted out. Make your own personal relationship with God real. Make sure that you are personally in touch with the Holy spirit. Pass on what you receive. If you receive it by grace, show grace in passing it on. it is Christ that has brought us together. His death that made it possible we should be resurrected to live the life of Christ. So if we are, why divisions? Problem is pride. We may think we know more that "them". Is it human wisdom or God given? why boast if given? Only the spirit of man knows thoughts; only the Spirit of God knows God’s thoughts. We are here to learn God’s thoughts through his word. If the Spirit doesn’t reveal, we know nothing. We are but servants of the Spirit You are but temples of the spirit. Without the cross baptism, i.e. your death to self, the Spirit cannot operate. Operating outside the Spirit is the old life- mere men, not as Christ. There is no place for boasting nor for divisions. so, says Paul, sort yourselves out to save me having to discipline you