There is a strange tendency in men that allows us to see our faults in other people much more quickly and easily than we can see them in ourselves. Maybe it stems from selfishness and pride, but for some reason, I am able to tell when someone else is arrogant with my arrogance being masked from me day after day (such is a good reason for accountability). I am able to look at some people and say to myself, “That person thinks he is never wrong,” while I think that though I may have been wrong before, it hasn't happened in quite some time.
And because of that tendency, it is humorous to me what we do when we come to Scripture. We get almost angry at the Israelites when they see the Red Sea parting, manna coming from heaven, and healing coming from looking at a bronze serpent and yet have trouble trusting God. It almost makes me down-right mad at them. And I do not doubt that it does the same for you. But how many of us do the same thing? In fact, the reason it probably makes many of us so mad is because we feel as if we are looking in a mirror, seeing our own faults, and that is never fun to do.
Many of us repeat the Israelites’ lack of faith in our trust of God with money. I mean, it might be that one month you could not pay for rent, or car insurance, or your car payment and God miraculously provided, and yet we struggle to tithe and to give because we just do not trust God to be able to take care of what we have—as if he is unaware of our utility bill. And the reason we can look at the Israelites with annoyance and simultaneously repeat their mistakes is because we have this tendency where we can see what other people should do more easily than we can see what we should be doing.
Therefore, taking advantage of that tendency, I want to ask the question, “What should a covenant community look like?” by looking at a group who seemingly had it all wrong. For in looking at them, just maybe it will be more apparent to us what we need to be doing.
Thus, I want to paint a beautiful picture of covenant life in a community this morning by looking first at the ugly backdrop that we find among these in Corinth. And then I want to end with an evaluation that each of us can give to ourselves, asking ourselves if we (personally) are doing these things in order to be this kind of covenant community.
1) A covenant community should consist of individuals unified in truth.
Now I know that I mentioned last week that we need to be in unity, but please hear what I am going to say this week as well or else you might have a defective view of what unity should be.
Thus, let’s first look at the Scripture. Paul says in verses 17-18, “But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together for the better but for the worse [they did more harm than they did good]. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it.”
So, in essence that is what I was saying last week; we need a church covenant to work for unity because there does not need to be division among us. But I want to move on to something else this week to correct a view of unity that you might have and show even more clearly what the unity of a covenant community should look like.
Paul says in verse 19, “For there must also be factions [dissension/disputes/division] among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you.”
Now what’s this? Paul first says that there are divisions and that is bad, but then he says that there is dissension and that is necessary to show who are the genuine believers. So which is it? Does there need to be unity in the Church? My answer to that is “yes … but …” Yes, there needs to be unity, but it does not need to be at the cost of truth.
I think Paul is saying that some dissension is necessary because there might be people speaking up and saying that circumcision was necessary to salvation (for example), and thus there needs to be dissension here and that dissension might show who are the genuine believers and who are not.
I mean, brothers and sisters, let’s not be deceived, Satan is going to sow tares among the wheat in the church. There are going to be people in the church, on membership rolls, who are not genuine believers. And, in fact, that is another way a church covenant should help: by cutting down on the number of members who are not genuine believers.
I think the fact that Satan will sow tares is quite evident in Jesus’ description of the kingdom in Matthew 13:24-30, but I also think it is evident in 13:47-52. Jesus says that the kingdom will be like a net dragging in fish and then the fisherman throwing out the bad fish. Who are the bad fish? Jesus says in verse 49, “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels shall come forth, and take out the wicked from among the righteous.” The bad fish are the wicked. But how were they right there amidst the righteous? The answer: there will be unbelievers right in the midst of us.
Therefore, if Satan has put them there, then they are going to act much like him, and he is sly. Thus, one of the things you can anticipate happening as unbelievers are in the Church is that they will attempt to slightly pervert the truth. And if the genuine believers are not on guard, the people will adapt and truth will be lost. In fact, that’s why part of our church covenant says, “We will uphold and defend the doctrines of the faith against all who would come against them.” Therefore, Paul says, “There must be … dissension among you, in order that those who are genuine [approved] may have become evident among you.”.
We will not strive for unity with everyone claiming to be a believer, at all costs. If someone does not believe that faith in Christ alone is the only way to know the salvation of God, then I have no basis for Christian fellowship with that person.
Remember Paul in Philippians 1? Some were preaching the gospel out of incorrect motives. Maybe they were wanting to be seen and were prideful, or maybe they were doing it to show up Paul. Paul says it was from envy and strife. Yet Paul writes in verse 18, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.” So, when men are coming to the Galatians and are preaching to them salvation through Jesus BUT with circumcision as a necessary work for it, what does Paul do? You might think (by looking at Paul writing to the Philippians) that he would say, “Oh well, just that Christ is preached.” But he doesn’t does he? Instead he says in Galatians 1:6-10, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”
But what was the difference? There was one thing. The group in Galatians 1:7 were distorting the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul didn’t care if they were arrogant or annoying, per se, but if they were distorting the truth then he had big problems.
Therefore, yes, a covenant community should be a group of people who are unified. However, unity should never come at the cost of truth but should be sought from a common understanding of truth.
2) A covenant community should consist of people meeting one another’s needs
Paul writes in verses 20-22, “Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.”
It seems that some who were rich were coming to the church and eating before others and of course more than those who did not have as much. So Paul asks them (seemingly sarcastically), “Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink?” And then asks if the reason they are coming to the church and eating before others is to shame those who do not have any. It appears that possibly the Corinthians were flaunting what they had in the faces of their brothers and sisters who did not have as much and were in fact hungry.
That’s a far cry from Luke’s description of the early church in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37 as Luke tells us that they held all things in common, and there was not a needy person among them.
Can you imagine a group of people like this? I would hope we are all a little appalled by this and see their faults. But what does this show us that a covenant community is supposed to be like? I think it shows us, and our hearts should reassure us, that we are supposed to be meeting the needs of one another. Thus, our church covenant reads, “We will contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the relief of the poor and those in need, and the spread of the Gospel throughout all the nations.”
And we will come back to evaluating ourselves in light of this at the conclusion of the message.
3) A covenant community should consist of individuals whose hearts are to proclaim Jesus Christ.
In other words, to proclaim Jesus Christ and his greatness is the reason these individuals gather together. They gather because Jesus has saved them. They gather because they are now in Jesus and thus justified and being sanctified. And they gather for the sake of Jesus Christ, realizing they were created for his glory (Colossians 1:16).
Paul tells the Corinthians what the Lord’s Supper was supposed to be about. He reminds them in verses 23-26 that it is a proclamation of the death of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that should continually take place until he returns. But the Corinthians had forgotten this, and eating the Lord’s Supper had just become a meal for them. They were gathering in the name of worship and yet that was not at all what they were doing. Worship had become simply a meal.
And yet, I would not be quick to think a similar thing could not, or is not happening with us. Is this not the same thing as our singing simply becoming singing, or our praying simply a time to share some requests, or our preaching just a time when we can gain more knowledge? I think it most definitely is, and thus, every time we gather we need to examine ourselves (even as Paul tells the Corinthians) before we gather for worship in order that we do not come together in an unworthy manner but come remembering why we are gathering—to worship and proclaim the greatness and great works of our Lord.
I’ve come to think this exhortation to the Corinthians is more than sitting quietly and introspective for a couple of minutes before we take of the bread and the juice. I think it is something we are to do every week, realizing the reason we are coming and gathering and making sure our heart is turned toward that goal.
4) A covenant community should consist of individuals striving for holiness.
Paul says in verses 31 and 32 that we should judge ourselves in order that we are not judged. For he reminds us that God disciplines us in order that we may not be condemned with the world. We should judge ourselves constantly to ensure that we are walking holy.
And I want to address two things about holiness in the body of Christ. They are: 1) why is it so important that we walk holy and 2) what is the true mark of holiness in the life of a believer?
So, first, why is Paul so adamant about holiness. I mean, it was his text in Ephesians 4 where we read last week that we need to walk worthy of our calling. In Romans 12:1, he begs them to present their bodies “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to the Lord.” What is so important about holiness that Paul would beg the Romans and urge the Ephesians to live holy?
I think the answer is this: we reflect Jesus Christ to the world. The world looks at us and gets their picture of what Jesus Christ is like. And as I said Wednesday night, unless they understand (and we understand) the holiness of God, then there is no reason for God to kill his Son, and the cross is foolishness to everyone.
But why do we reflect Christ to the world? Because we are his body. Do you remember what Paul says to the Corinthians in the early part of the book to show them the absurdity of were all these divisions among them? He says in 1 Corinthians 1:13, “Has Christ been divided?” He wanted to show them that it was crazy to be divided because they are the body of Christ and he has not been divided.
But where does he get this assurance that the church is the body of Christ? I think it is in his first words he hears from Jesus. He was on his way to Damascus when a light shone and he fell to the ground. Then the voice said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (emphasis mine). And who was Paul persecuting? Christians. But Jesus shows him right from the outset that the church is his body and if you persecute them, then you are persecuting him.
Well, let me remind you, brothers and sisters, what we show the world in our lives will be what their understanding of what our Lord is like. And above all else, God is holy. Thus, I think that is why Paul is driven and I am driven to remind us to be holy because our God is holy.
Now, what is the true mark of holiness in our lives if it is so important to walk holy. I have come to believe lately that the distinguishing mark of holiness is love for your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let me show that to you with a few texts, beginning with ours this morning.
Paul tells the Corinthians to judge themselves in verses 31 and 32, and then in 33 and 34 he tells them how to walk holy saying, “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you may not come together for judgment.” Do you hear his plea to love one another in those verses?
But maybe you are saying, “Well, I am still not convinced that love is the true mark of holiness.” Let me point you to a few other texts.
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13—“ Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” (emphasis mine).
Colossians 3:12-14—“ So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
Ephesians 1:3-4—“ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him, in love.”
And finally, doesn’t it make since that love for one another would be the true mark of holiness since Jesus told us that the second greatest commandment behind loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength was loving our neighbor as ourselves?
Therefore, we should walk in holiness, loving our neighbor, and showing the world a reflection of Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Now, let’s evaluate ourselves and issue our own, individual application.
Individually, are we striving for unity while holding to the basic truths of the Christian faith? Or do we even know these truths for ourselves, or have we just heard them preached? Do you know Scripture for what you believe?
Are we meeting others’ needs in the body of Christ? When is the last time we have devoted our time, (and/or) prayers, (and/or) finances toward aiding a brother or sister in need? If it is hard for you to remember, then maybe we need to examine ourselves to see if we are walking in love.
Do we gather to proclaim and worship Jesus Christ? When you sing, do you think of him or are you just singing? And the same with everything else we do when we gather. Do you love the Lord with your everything, and that’s why you gather—to worship and proclaim his greatness?
And finally, are you striving for holiness in love in order that you may reflect to the world who our Lord is?
Only when we are answering, “yes” to these questions will we look like what a covenant community of believers should look like. And as I think about God conforming us into that picture and into the image of his Son, my heart races with excitement.
May God give us the grace to look like a covenant community of believers, or in other words, like his Son. Amen.