Is your church full of hypocrites? Maybe you’ve heard that saying: ‘The church is full of hypocrites.’ Look around. You [singular] sit in a church. You [singular] gather with familiar faces. What do you think? Is your church full of hypocrites?
Give careful thought to your answer because this issue does affect worship. This is why you read on Facebook: ‘I believe in God, but I’m not a Christian.’ This is why you hear on the news report: ‘People are spiritual, but not religious.’ Understand, oftentimes those who say these things tend to have legitimate concerns. If people outside of church claim ‘the church is full of hypocrites’ and we are inside the church, then we want to examine how they reach that answer.
So, to gain understanding we turn to Romans 15:4-13. There, God highlights the core of Christianity and its impact on life. These words demand careful thought and honest reflection. They allow us to begin answering that question— maybe not as you want it answered, but as others need it answered. May Scripture Give Us True Hope in appreciating our unity from God and in strengthening our unity with believers.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. That’s is the number-one purpose of Scripture: to show Jesus, your Savior (John 20:30-31). The tremendous truth of standing without guilt before God is scribbled on every single page. Adam and Eve— people who lived in former times, that is, in the Old Testament— clutched the guarantee of the devil-Slayer (Genesis 3:15). Moses, who lived centuries before Christmas, looked ahead to the day when Jesus would stand on earth and speak as God (Deuteronomy 18:15). Jeremiah and Daniel traced out David’s family tree, watching that little sprout stretch on (Jeremiah 23:5-6; Daniel 7:13-14). So many believers watched for the King who would ride a donkey into Jerusalem, loaded down with their guilt, riding onward to die but then rising! (Zechariah 9:9-10; Isaiah 53). Scripture reveals promises made and promises kept! God used that Scripture to tie your heart to the results of Jesus’ work. God has created in you the conviction, the trust to believe that everything Jesus said and did, he said and did for your benefit!
Still, Scripture does something more: it teaches perseverance and encouragement. Here— God’s not talking about persevering through illness or financial hardship. He’s talking about dealing with each other, fellow believers. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. You are not the only Christian in the entire world. All who trust in Jesus as Savior are bound to the one God. That means we each have something in common. You and I live united to God! Even though we share this same faith, you and I are not exact clones of each other! I may not have the same interests as you do and you may not have the same personality as I do. Your standing in the community might not be my standing in the community. My expectations might not be your expectations. Your education is not my education. We may be Christian, but you and I are vastly different from each other!
Because we are different, we will act in different ways. We will act in line with our personality. Some can focus even with children running around, others find it difficult to concentrate with extra noise. You may expect those in worship to sing or follow along, but others may feel uncomfortable doing just that. He might have trouble reading. She might sing off-key and does not want to stand out. I might expect you to have no arguments because you are patient, and have no strife in marriage because you’re forgiving, and that you regularly set aside the best offering you can, and that you trust God in every dilemma— but maybe you’re not there yet. You’re working hard to control a fiery temper, and you know that those marriage problems are partly your fault and you’re addressing them. Your expectations are still growing and my expectations for your needs are still growing too. We have different personalities and different expectations, but still live united to the same Savior.
Unity to Christ trumps every personality difference. Forget this— and you begin emphasizing differences. You (and I) start ranking and enforcing behavior according to personal preference. When one personality stands above another, that is called ‘superiority.’ Superiority never unites, it divides.
Superiority expects everyone to conform to a made-up standard. The religious leaders (from Matthew 3:7-10) strut out towards John for one reason: to look superior. They dressed better, they read more of the Bible, they gave more money— not out of love for God. Rather, their comparison chart was a made-up tool in order to look pleasing in God’s sight. They were hypocrites! They did not worship for the right reason; they do not gather in church not to hear about their need for a Savior. They gather because they thought they could do the Savior’s work! All God saw was a brood of vipers slithering around still soiled and stained with guilt.
What God sees can be seen by others. Is your church full of hypocrites? We gather for the wrong reason if we demand others to conform to our personal preferences. We gather for the wrong reason if we forget that we still desperately need the forgiveness from Jesus. Let’s not lose sight on the reason we gather here.
Let us welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. That’s more than just shaking hands or flashing a smile-wave. Literally: welcome one another just as you welcome your close group of friends. Why? Why be patient with those who might be irritating? Because Christ welcomed you into his group.
Christ welcomed you because of who he is and not because of who you are. Jesus does not embrace you because you have a perfect marriage with two well-behaved children and live in a country house with a white-picket fence. He does not praise you because at least you are not a child molester or a drug dealer, or that you have higher morals than the abuser. In fact, verse 7 makes absolutely no reference to your character at all. It simply says: Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) He flushed pride out of the heart. He removed any need to try to appear superior. He poured purity into our hearts. That is the reason you (and I) can glorify God today. Because Christ has welcomed you. May Scripture Give Us True Hope as we appreciate God uniting us to himself.
That unity to Christ is we see in each other first and foremost. As we see that, it will produce a response. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. For centuries the Jews held the promises of a Savior. God spoke to their ancestors. They held God’s written Word. God sent prophets to proclaim his Word. Everything God promised about the birth of Jesus, his life, his death and resurrection, happened just as God said it would! Yet, God did not intend Jesus for one people-group only. Jesus came for both Jew and non-Jew [Gentile].
That was always God’s plan. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” Aren’t you doing that now? You praise God. On a day many have off, you woke up [earlier], got dressed, and arrived here; you demonstrate God’s high priority in your life. You support the existence of this building; its mere presence preaches that God is found here. You praise God among the many people in your community.
You do even more. Again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” You do not keep Jesus only to yourself, but invite others. You want others to find real answers in the midst of the swirling chaos of life. You want others to find real peace. Realize that invitations take deliberate effort. To call that one person you have not seen in worship. To approach that friend who searches for life’s meaning. To talk with your child so that he anchors spirituality to its Source. What can you say? Well, what is the message in verse 11? ‘Rejoice.’ That’s the message! ‘Come, worship with me this Christmas. I’ll be there. We’ll go through service together. Come and grasp the real peace Jesus brings, a peace the world cannot give.’
As we shine the light on Jesus, God will bind more to himself. Again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” Hasn’t that happened? I have worshipped with new faces each year. Some of you are here because of your parents. Others because of a friend. Still others move here. You are different than I am and I am different than you. Yet, we unite around the one Savior. You (and I) are a fulfillment of this promise.
And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” That is why you (and I) are here. To live under the umbrella of God’s ‘hope.’ Now, when God promises ‘hope’, it does not mean ‘something unsure.’ God does not say, ‘You’ll never know if you got into heaven until you get there.’ Hope does not suggest uncertainty. Instead, ‘hope’ means ‘confidence.’ We can point at some object and label it our ‘hope.’ For example, America’s military is our ‘hope’ of defense. There’s nothing uncertain about that. The military has the ability to defend me from foreign threats. They are my ‘hope,’ my ‘confidence’ for safety. God, in his Word, makes certain that he will provide strength as we keep pointing each other to Jesus. As we gather around Jesus, our Hope, we strengthen our unity with believers.
So, is your church full of hypocrites? Look around. You [singular] sit in a church. You [singular] gather with familiar faces. What do you think?
The answer starts with you. What is the reason you are here? Church does not exist in order to hold each other to a manmade standard. Nothing is gained by looking superior. The one thing we share in common is the fact that none of us stands superior before God. Scripture Gives Us True Hope by pointing each of us to Jesus. We gather here to appreciate our unity from God.
May that move us to live aware of our behavior. When that remains our key focus, then those on the outside will not see a church fighting for feelings of superiority. They will see a group of people who recognize a need for a Savior and want to share that same need filled with the world. By our words and actions the unity among ourselves and with those who will believe will only grow stronger.
In these days before Christmas, May Scripture Give Us True Hope as we work together for the sole purpose of welcoming Christ to the world.
Where are you in the ‘Parable of the Lost Sheep’? I mean, did you feel pulled into the story? Try to place yourself into the setting of sheep and Shepherd, lost and found? The parable really wants you to choose a side, doesn’t it?
It’s important that you do. Jesus does not speak these words to first-century Jews only. The point of his parable carries eternal implications for all people of all time. That is why it is important for you to answer: Where are you in the ‘Parable of the Lost Sheep’?
Go back to our gospel lesson and you find two distinct groups, right? In Group #1, you have ninety-nine ‘found’ sheep. In Group #2, you have one ‘lost’ sheep. Those groups even have characteristics. In verse 7 Jesus says: I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Who are those people? More importantly, where are you?
Well, look at verses 1 and 2. Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” No one likes the tax-man. He takes your hard-earned money and ships it off. None of your money goes towards improving your city. Instead, your taxes pay for extravagant projects done some 2,000-miles away in Rome! Yet, a bigger problem exists: The tax collector is a Jew! One of you! Your high-school classmate! Your next-door neighbor! Your brother-in-law! Someone who lives in your community and sees your struggles and hears your frustrations and knows for a fact that Rome cheats you— and still participate in this injustice! As if that was not bad enough, that Jewish traitor can deliberately overcharge you! If you owe $100, he could bill you for $200. He sends $100 to Rome (it keeps Rome happy) and then he pockets the other $100. You can do nothing about that because Rome’s own soldiers protect their man.
So, the Pharisees have marked this tax-collecting group as ‘beyond hope,’ ‘not-going-to-heaven.’ You know what? They would be right! Those tax collectors will never enter heaven without Jesus! So, Jesus sits with them. He exposes a heart that worships money more than God, a heart that deserves hell. Yet, Jesus does not stop teaching there. He points to himself; he reveals that his obedient life cures them.
In our parable, the tax collectors are the spiritually lost found by Jesus. That makes the Pharisees the ninety-nine who see no need to repent. Why would they? The Pharisees have already set themselves in the column: ‘loved-by-God.’ They go to ‘church’ and give big offerings. They dress in fancy clothes. They have respectable wives and well-behaved children. They commit no crimes and carry no moral baggage. The Pharisee feels God must welcome him into heaven because his life is superior.
That feeling of superiority has an effect. The Pharisee sees no need for Jesus because of their action. Then, the Pharisees resent the Word of Christ reaching a group deemed ‘undesirable.’ Just look at those messy lives! It might appear that certain groups are undeserving of a good thing like God’s love.
That attitude did not only exist years ago. It still erupts today. Our congregation recently collected money for a Pastor-Training Institute in Vietnam. Now Vietnamese pastors will receive better training to share God’s Word with the Vietnamese. Still, after the history of violence, crimes, and torture the Vietnamese inflicted on Americans, you might not wish to help them. Maybe those foreigners deserve hell— or, at the very least, maybe they do not deserve my support. Last Wednesday, you relived horrific terrorist attacks. Innocent thousands died and even more still suffer! It might have been difficult to think anything good of the Middle East— without even considering that those people without Christ will go to hell. Still, maybe you think: “Good riddance!”
We could bring our thoughts closer to home. Many in your community behave far different than you (and I). You may even realize those lives inflict negative consequences. The meth-house does not really seem deserving of Jesus; it seems more deserving of punishment! The scruffy guy always walking around town, well, he looks lazy. That laziness does not deserve free forgiveness! That stranger who walks into church at the last minute— frazzled and disruptive and acts weird— well, what is she doing here?
We could bring thoughts even closer home. You know people who have different values and priorities. Your child has not been in worship for a long time. Your brother, your sister may worship the lake. Your neighbor treats travel teams like God. So many other things take priority! Maybe you think: ‘That’s fine. God will have mercy on them. They are good people. They cannot possibly go to hell.’
How do we reach these conclusions? By my own standard. I pull out my behavior, my home life, my worship attendance and expect the world to be what I am. If that person fails to match up, then just leave them lost. Just like those Pharisees, my own heart can rank people as ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ of Jesus. It boils down to me saying: “Well, I deserve forgiveness.” And Jesus says: “You have no idea how lost you are.”
So, Jesus searches. Isn’t that an astounding fact in this parable? Out of ninety-nine fluffy white bodies, Jesus actually notices one is missing— and he looks for it. He leaves heaven’s safety and puts on human flesh. He literally walks to hearts wandering in greed. He literally walks to hearts absolutely oblivious as to what happens after death. He literally walks to those who resist hearing a desperate need for the Savior. Jesus walked all over earth to rescue you. He walked into the death you earned and rescued you. He returns from death— alive! Alive, holding you alive in his hands.
Hearts can think only a select few deserve Jesus. Yet, this parable makes clear: The Lost Means the World to Jesus. That is why he searches for all. He wants all saved. We could put it this way: The Lost Means IS the ‘World’ to Jesus. He rejoices over the found.
[W]hen he has found [the lost], he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Do you see where you are? On the shoulders of Jesus!
When did that happen? Because maybe you don’t feel saved. Can you be sure that lie on Christ? Yes! [Y]ou who were baptized into Christ and have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). In baptism God attached his Word to water. So, when you were baptized, he said, you carry the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Yes, baptism has washed pride out of your (and my) heart. God does not recall your past. He does not lay out criteria you must meet before he will ever re-love you. Nope. He lays you on his shoulders and rejoices. He carries you into the family of believers with hop-in-step. It’s like he’s holding back from breaking out in a sprint! The Lost Means the World to Jesus. He rejoices over the found.
Yet, God is not the only one rejoicing. Neighbors and friends rejoice. They so desperately want the lost found, and so they rejoice as another lost is found! Those neighbors and friends are you.
Did you know that on an average Sunday, about half of our fellow believers do not worship? You know those faces. You watched them baptized. You heard them, on their Confirmation Day, promise to regularly hear the Word and receive the Lord’s Supper. They confessed their faults, heard God’s forgiveness, listened to the same messages you do. They are not here! Some worship only Christmas and Easter. Others barely come at all. Does that bother you?
Dear friend, those who love Christ love hearing his Word. Love for Christ does not make up excuses to be out of church. Love for Christ does not pack weekends with camping and fishing. Love for Christ does not brag that they already know everything about the Bible (and so they do not need to hear anymore). No, love for Christ finds reasons to be with God (read Hebrews 10:25 and John 8:31). Step back for a moment and see to whom Jesus speaks. You have Pharisees and tax collectors, the curious and the disciples. Understand, it is not only the Pastor’s job to go and reach the drifting. It is our job— together.
We gain motivation when we go back to these words and see where we stand in this parable. You are that once lost, now found sheep. You did not deserve rescue, you needed rescue. So, Jesus made you his priority and he rejoices over that!
Those drifting are worth our time. Each soul is worth our effort of hearing the gospel. Maybe your daughter who has not been in worship for a while. She’s just ‘taking a break from church,’ as she puts it. Maybe your friend is completely oblivious to anything ‘God.’ He just feels that everything will be alright in the end. Maybe you recognize a few faces you have not seen for a while. You really just do not know where they are. It is incredibly easy to say nothing, but then again, someone shared Jesus with you.
As able, take the opportunity to seek the stray. Use your own words and tell your child why you find worship important. Share your experience. Share your comfort. Share what you gain. Invite your neighbor to church— but do more than that. Tell them why you want them in church. Tell them about heaven after death. Tell them that you stand absolutely certain of heaven because of Jesus. Pray for the wandering. Pray that someone brings news of Jesus to the meth-house. Pray that violent nations find peace in Jesus. Pray for courage to welcome those walking by your church into church.
The Lost Means the World to Jesus. The world. Everyone. Seeing how Jesus gave up the world for you, you rejoice that Jesus gave all for the world.
The ‘Parable of the Lost Sheep’ pulls you into its story. It puts you in the setting of sheep and Shepherd, lost and found. It does that because Jesus in not speaking to first-century Jews only. He speaks to you.
The point of his parable carries eternal implications. You, once lost, now stand found. How humbling to see how undeserving we were! How amazing to see how rich we are! Now found, you, like Jesus, seek the lost because The Lost Means the World to Jesus.
There is probably no greater blessing/curse than the forward facing camera on a smartphone. Yes, this tiny invention paved the way for the “selfie.” (Now, to have a common definition, a ‘selfie’ is a ‘self-photograph,’ a picture you take of yourself.) You can include yourself in a picture of friends. You can show an outfit instead of describing what you wore. You can insert yourself in front of mountains and monuments without having to find someone to take your picture. Selfies unlock opportunities for uniquely different memories.
… But then you have that disturbing news report from a few years ago… A surveillance camera in downtown Pittsburgh captured a woman assaulted and left unconscious. The attack happened in public; witnesses instantly swarm this victim— but things got strange from there. A group whips out their phones, but they do not dial 911. They stand there and record videos. One man even marches right up to this woman, kneels down, and records a close up. Then, another guy lies down right next to her and takes a selfie! No one helps! Not a single person calls 911! This woman lies motionless until she regains consciousness. (https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2017/10/26/get-marty-beechview-woman-knocked-out-video/)
How terrible! Maybe more terrifying is the gnawing, never-satisfied hunger for more attention. The human heart indulges in such selfish attention-seeking just to puff up pride. God dismantles even our selfish, self-centered cravings with one simple question: What More Do You Need?
Just think about that. What has God done for you? These closing chapters of Hebrews string together this unbroken, flowing truth: Jesus Christ is all you need! Only Jesus completely cancelled out God’s anger over what you (and I) have done wrong. Because of Jesus, you now stand before the Judge of all things without fear. You have the assurance of eternal life in heaven! You have the assurance that God hears you, cares for you, provides for you! From that point of view, you must admit: There is really nothing more you need. It does not matter how many ‘likes’ your Facebook post gets or how many friends you have. It does not matter how much money you make. It does not matter your job title— if you are the mayor or a manager or general labor. None of that matters because the only thing you can take out of this life is trust in Jesus as Savior. What More Do You Need? Only Jesus provides real value.
Lose sight of that and then you begin sinking into the world’s standard of value. A standard continuously snatching for more attention, more praise, more respect. Care for your brother? Only when convenient! Only when people can see you and praise your leadership and praise your talents. Only when you gain a sense of feeling good after giving to charity or sacrificing time. Only when your Christian friend is nice to you first. How selfish! To serve only when your ego stands to benefit! Be hospitable? Warm and friendly? That means caring for each other just as you care for your family. That means giving up time talking with friends and welcoming someone (in church) who looks lost and unsure. That means paying attention to the physical limitations of that elderly lady. That takes effort! That takes time! You are too busy! You have to focus on yourself! Hospitality sounds pretty inconvenient. Our selfish hearts can even label God’s commandments ‘Inconvenient.’ Honor marriage? That command does not satisfy pleasures; it does not make you feel happy. In fact, that command makes you stand out, and then people call you names and that does not feel great. So, you lay aside God’s unbreakable command for the sake ego. For the sake of pride. For the sake of convenience. That’s dangerous.
A selfish heart thinks it has the right to strut up to the King of the Universe and explain how you will live and then expects God to accept it. That is a form of insubordination! That is a form of rebellion against God— and God will not put up with it. Those who think so highly of themselves and live convinced that God must accept your pride, will be forever humbled.
Really, What More Do You Need? Right in the middle of our reading God zeroes in on the one thing needed. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have… Yes, God specifically addresses greed, but he teaches something broader: Contentment. Contentment with your finances. Contentment with your status. Contentment with your time, your achievements, your relationships, your identity as God’s child. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have… Why? because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.
God cannot stress that promise enough. (Remember, the New Testament is written in Greek. The Greek translation uses five negatives in one sentence. Our English language does not do that!) God literally says: ‘I will never ever desert you [it is impossible to do so], nor will I ever forsake you [it is impossible to do that].’ Jesus will never leave you in eternal shame; it is impossible. For proof of that just look at the cross.
You (and I) stand empty-handed before God, holding nothing that he wants. Yet, Jesus purges pride and fills your (and my) empty heart with his undivided love and loyalty to God. This is what Jesus accomplished for you (and me). The cross has forever linked him to you. What More Do You Need? Really, if you have Jesus, What More Do You Need? Because Only Jesus provides real value.
That changes perspective. We can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Humanity can do nothing! Yes, your paycheck might be short some dollars, but that’s alright! Your bank account means nothing in the grand scheme of eternity! Yes, your sister’s drama might never stop, but that’s alright! Getting the last word, looking smug means nothing in the grand scheme of eternity! Yes, the world might look at you weird for saying, “Wait until marriage,” but that’s alright! Your god is not popularity, opinions mean nothing in the grand scheme of eternity! Humanity cannot forever shame you because Jesus has forever exalted you!
Jesus laid aside attention, praise, and respect in order to make you eternally rich! That means you, as someone connected to God, are not out gaining more attention, praise, and respect. You already have it all! It means you live opposite the world: giving attention, praise, and respect.
Stop for a moment and consider those who gave. Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you… Think how your Sunday School teacher gave up Saturday night preparing Bible lessons and gave up her Sunday morning in order to bring Jesus to you. Consider the Pastor who wanted to teach you God’s love even though you, as a teenager, maybe did not want to listen— and still he patiently taught! Recall that kind grandmotherly-lady who could have huddled with friends her age, but instead went out of the way to talk to you. Remember that Christian friend who addressed your sinful living. He risked friendship; he did not seek pride. He wanted to keep you close to God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Remember those who gave so that you have! Consider that you may be the Sunday School teacher with an already-busy-schedule. You might be that teenager who really does not want to be in catechism class. You might be that grandparently-person. Just as your leaders laid aside ego in order to touch you with God’s love, you may now be those leaders to benefit others!
Continue keeping in center focus the love Christ has for you, the love which moved others to love you. Only Jesus stimulates willing service.
A willing service like loving each other as brothers… That is what you are: brothers and sisters. God looks past your family tree and points at the one thing we all have in common: faith in Jesus as Savior. Since you are connected to Christ …and you are connected to Christ …and you are (and so on…) Keep on loving each other as brothers. Maybe you get called names when you approach a child about returning to worship. Maybe no one praises you for a generous offering or hours of volunteering. Maybe your abilities are not needed at this moment. That’s fine! Your motivation for service is not about what you can gain. Jesus, who gave you his all, motivates you to give all.
Do not forget to entertain strangers… People move often— away from classmates, away from familiar communities, away from family support. That means, a group of believers quickly becomes a family. Even though you belong to this ‘family’ now, be willing to include more. Lean over and ask the person next to you how the week went. Welcome a new face. Ask where he lives; that always creates discussion. Simply acknowledging presence makes a person feel welcome.
Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners… because prisoners are out of sight— and can fall out of mind. Pray for those in prison, pray they may know Jesus, the One who freed them from the shackles of hell. Yet, pray also for Christians around the world, those who have done no wrong, but languish in prison simply because they worship Christ. Pray that God sends people to comfort them. Pray that God uses government to free them. Pray that God strengthens their resolve to rely on him more.
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure… Yes, today’s society considers marriage something ‘good’ and ‘harmful,’ something ‘beneficial’ and ‘not needed.’ Yet, God created marriage to be a blessing, something that fills you with satisfaction, commitment, and companionship. If those you do not see those blessings, it does not come through any fault of God. (So do not blame him!) Instead, those tensions come from proud hearts refusing to love the other. Have the awkward conversations; point your children, siblings, friends to the joys God gives in marriage. Aim to serve them spiritually, leading them out from under God’s wrath.
Dear friends, What More Do You Need? If you already have faith, then you already have life’s real treasure! You have no greater status to grab after. Instead, you realize you have much to give. Jesus stimulates willing service.
That will stand out in the world. It appears so many live infatuated with themselves. Taking selfies for more attention. Fixating on popularity. Reaching for more social standing. The human heart indulges in such selfish attention-seeking just to puff up pride— a pride that considers you ‘God.’
God dismantles selfish, self-centered cravings with one simple question: What More Do You Need? Really. Only Jesus provides real value— and fills you with a treasure that lasts forever. You already have everything needed. Because you do, Jesus stimulates us for willing service.
The Carnival cruise ship, Triumph, towers about 140-feet high (that’s about the height of our city’s water tower. It measures just under 900-feet long (about the distance from this church to the Doherty Hotel). It can hold 2,754 guests (about the city population of Clare) on its thirteen decks. Four glass elevators whisk you from deck to deck, to jewelry stores and gift shops, to mini golf, to a casino with 60 slot machines, to an underground-themed arcade, to spas and saunas, to the sky lounge. A multilevel water park sprawls across the three upper decks. On the top, a waterslide stretches two-stories down. The midlevel deck has concession stands, tables, and cabanas. The lowest deck has a pool with water guns, smaller slides, wave pools, hot tubs. In case of a Caribbean thunderstorm, a retractable roof covers everyone up. If hungry, you have burger joints, Mexican restaurants, seafood, a pizza place, coffee bars, dozens of breakfast places, or you can order room service. And then, let’s not forget, this is a cruise! Triumph chugs from Caribbean island to Caribbean island so that you can take in some local life. This ship lacks absolutely nothing. It is a floating paradise.
Yet, on February 10, 2013, a fire in the engine room killed all power to the ship. No thrust, leaving Triumph aimlessly drifting in the Caribbean Sea at 5 to 8 miles-per-hour. No electricity for refrigerators holding red meat, seafood, chicken, dairy, and ice. No engines powering air conditioning, pool pumps, or bathrooms. Without the engine all those splendidly exquisite amenities sat useless. No one could enjoy anything the ship offered.
We have spent the last two weeks identifying spiritual gifts God gives and how your gifts benefit the body of Christ. Today, God highlights the one key component giving power to all those splendidly exquisite gifts. A necessary component so that we use our gifts for good. An essential component so that others might benefit from what we offer. One Love Motivates All Service. A love not seeking to get, but A love seeking to give.
So, let’s look at [1 Corinthians, chapter 13] verses 4-7. Here you see God define ‘love’ and explain how ‘love’ operates. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Now, in the English language, we have only one word for love. You can say you “love” a hamburger, “love” your friend, and “love” your spouse. The way you are using the word “love” in each of those statements is a little different. So, you have to understand the context in order to know what type of “love” is being shown to a hamburger, your friend, and your spouse.
The Greek language uses three different words for “love”— and 1 Corinthians is written in Greek. One word for “love” is (1) eros [ἔρως]— a romantic love between husband and wife. Another word is (2) phileo [φιλέω]— a friendship love. The other word is (3) agape [ἀγάπη]— which describes loving someone even when they do not deserve it. So, when God says, Love is patient, love is kind… he is using one of those three Greek words. Here, he uses the word: ‘agape’— a love shown to the unlovable. ‘Agape’ love never wonders: “How will I benefit?” Instead, ‘agape’ love always asks: “What can I do for the benefit of others?”
In case you wonder how this applies to your life, God lists some examples. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love-- if I am not thinking about how my speaking will benefit my fellow believer-- I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. I benefit no one because I refuse to reveal the meaning of the words. I only sing sweet angelic songs so that others might see me do something they cannot. I serve only to draw attention to myself. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. That is me flaunting spiritual gifts so that I look superior! Superiority causes me to look down on others. I am using my spiritual gifts to inflict pain. Maybe you stand firm in the face of cancer, and then mock a friend who struggles. “Why can’t you be more like me?” Perhaps you can clearly explain the difference between the ‘Will of God’ and the ‘Providence of God,’ but you do so for the sole purpose of appearing smart. You really want others to hover around your superior intellect. Or, you parade knowledge to shame others for not knowing as much as you do. Then they will not waste your valuable time with their so-called ‘dumb’ questions. Then they avoid challenging your beliefs. You are using your gifts to hurt. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. You can donate your car, your house, your clothes, all your savings to charity, but if you do all this so that we may praise your generosity, then your motives are wrong. You are not trying to benefit others; you want to benefit yourself. You want our praise. You want our respect. You want us to scramble to you the next trouble arises for deliverance. That is not ‘agape’-love. That is not a love seeking to benefit others, that is a love seeking to get.
God gives you (and me) spiritual gifts in order to benefit others. Yet, selfishness drives us to use those gifts only when we will receive something in return, be it praise, respect, or approval. A love seeking to get does not match God’s standard of love. It falls short of his expectations. It means, you fall short of what God expects from you.
That is why God gives us these words. The point of 1 Corinthians 13 is not to see how good your love is. Rather, it reveals one love that is good. One Love that Motivates All Service. A love not seeking to get, but rather a love seeking to give.
[Jesus] is patient… His anger does not flare up every single time we grow arrogant. He has repeatedly taught us to love others just as he loved us and we still fail each day. Instead of punishment, [Jesus] is kind… He demonstrates mercy, treating us not as we deserve. [Jesus] does not envy worldly praise and glory, as we might. [Jesus] does not boast about the power he has as God. [Jesus] is not too proud to die a criminal’s death. Too proud to be held guilty for our arrogance. Too proud to be rejected. [Jesus] is not self-seeking. He uses his blood to purge pride from our spiritual record. [Jesus] keeps no record of wrongs. If he did, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3). Rather, [Jesus] rejoices with the truth: ‘Forgiven!’
Jesus does not come to make you great in the eyes of the world, he comes to make you great in the eyes of God. That is what truly matters. When all on earth passes away, when life is over and eternity begins, the only words that truly matter are the words God will say to you: ‘Come!’ One Love Motivates All Service. A love seeking to give.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. Love puts faith and hope into proper use. Love for God leads to an increased faith, an increased reliance on him. Love for God’s Word increases eternal hope. Love for God leads to a self-giving love for others.
So, look at verses 4-7 again. This time, do not listen with a mental checklist of “dos” and “don’ts.” Instead, remember that these words describe the love Jesus poured out for you. That means, this is not list of demands for you to obey and earn something. This describes the hearts God put in us. This describe our new hearts of love.
Love is patient, love is kind… It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. You may have that sister who argues all the time. Just being with her gives you fits— and you do not always think nice thoughts. You may even go out of your way avoiding to help her. Sound familiar? How often have we argued with God’s commands, but Jesus never avoided us? He came from heaven to earth to us. That self-giving love only motivates us to be self-giving. So, you overlook her faults— not that you pretend hurt never happened— rather, you do not keep a record of wrongs. You are kind and compassionate, forgiving, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud… That means you are never too proud pulling weeds in the flower beds. Never too proud picking up scraps of paper or pushing leaves out the door. Never too proud washing a dirty dish or straightening up sloppy appearances. No one may ever see you serve, praise you, hand you an award, and pat your back. Still you serve, seeking nothing in return. You imitate Jesus’ love that gave his all—so that he might receive you in return.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Mourn with those who mourn. Encourage those who need encouraging. Pray for those who need prayers. One Love Motivates All Service. A love seeking to give.
One engine powers so many luxuries on the cruise ship, Triumph. No engine and you have no thrust to move. No refrigeration. No pools and waterslides. No glass elevator. No mini-golf. No air conditioning. No bathrooms. One crucial part is so necessary for every pleasure to be enjoyed.
One crucial part is so necessary for us to benefit from each other’s spiritual gifts—and that part is love. This is not a love which fits our terms or wants. This is a love first shown to us. A selfless Savior gave his life for us. A selfless Savior gave his forgiveness to us. A selfless Savior gave gifts to us. Gifts not to advance ourselves. Gifts not to prop up and elevate our status. Rather, gifts to give. Gifts to give so that others may be ever more intimately connected to the body of Christ and to each other.
What gifts do you have? How might you use those gifts? Set your sights on Jesus, the one key component to use those gifts for good. One Love Motivates All Service. A love not seeking to get, but A love seeking to give.
This is what division does. Thirty-four days of a government partially shutdown. Now, let’s be clear about one thing: we are not discussing politics this morning. We are not debating who we think is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong.’ For just a moment, ponder what you see. One political party proposes a budget-bill only to have it rejected. The other political party proposes a budget-bill only to have it ignored. Each body of government seems to only function among itself and not with its counterparts. That division has an effect. About 800,000 employees still wait for a paycheck; some have gone one month without pay. That means, rent and mortgages go unpaid. That means, spending is watched at grocery stores. That means, trips in the car are limited. An increasing amount of Transportation Security agents refuse to work. So that means longer security lines in which to stand. That means longer wait times for flights. That means some agents work longer hours and spend less time with family. Division stirs up anger. Division tarnishes respect. Division damages relationships. Division benefits no one.
So, if division helps nothing, why does it still occur? Boil it down. Form one concrete answer. Why does this happen?
God knows the reason. That is why he gives us these words today. God does not want our differences morphing into painful division. He reminds us: One Body has Many Parts. God makes each member uniquely different, So that each member is uniquely united.
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… Different-sized parts like hands and arms, feet and legs. Different-shaped parts like bones. Different-textured parts like internal organs. Different-functioning parts like eyes and ears, nose, and mouth. [A]nd though all its parts are many, they form one body. You do not hold one single part— like a heart— and say: “This is a body.” No! We identify the heart as a part of a larger object.
So, just like many individual parts come together and form the body, So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body— whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free— and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Each one of us here have one thing in common. One thing— regardless of your age. Regardless if you are a man or woman. Regardless of your job or how much you make. Regardless of your personality or interests or hobbies. Regardless of where you were born, where you grew up, and where you live now. You (and I) might be completely, absolutely different in every possible way, but we still have one thing in common: We are here today because of Jesus.
[W]e were all baptized by one Spirit into one body… You are just one person, but at your baptism, God adopted you. God took you [individually] by choice into his family. And God adopted the person next to you at her baptism. God used baptism to adopt the guy sitting in front of you. The person across the aisle is adopted through baptism. One-by-one God joins each single believer into one spiritual family that has one common belief: Only Jesus saves. [T]he body is not made up of one part but of many.
Forget this and you start sounding like a foot. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. Do you catch the problem? It’s jealousy! After all, hands get more attention than feet. You lotion hands, you wash them often, people see your hands, I shake your hands. Honestly, I forget that you have feet; it’s the farthest thought from my mind! And how often I pout because no one sees my contributions. “I keep clean the church. I water plants and shovel the walks. I reached out to that fellow member who has not worshipped in over a year. No one saw me do that. No one thanks me for this.” Jealousy demands credit for a God-given gift. It is absolutely selfish to fold your arms, pout, and gripe: “Well, since I receive no praise, then I will stop helping this body.” Division hurts others. Division limits you. Division benefits no one.
And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. Eyes and ears constantly work. When we are awake, we are always seeing and hearing. Both get credit… but maybe the ear thinks sight is a more important function than hearing. Really, the ear demands to perform in a way it cannot! That, too, is jealousy. Jealousy ranks gifts. Jealousy says: “It is unfair that I have to listen and not preach.” Jealousy says: “I want to lead, not follow.” Jealousy says: “I want to be known as outgoing and personable, not quiet.” Jealousy refuses to use the unique gifts God gave you.
Catch that? Look at verse 18. God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. Who gave you the gifts you have? Who opens opportunities for you to use those gifts? Who equips you for service? God. So what does jealousy say about God’s arrangement? “God, you do not let me be praised. God, you do not let me be seen. God, you got it all wrong.” You tell God how to function.
God would have every right and reason to amputate us from his body, but he does not. Instead, he amputates Jesus. Yes, Jesus, the Son of God is made lower than the angels. His twelve fishermen constantly squabble about the most important rank in their group. Still, it is Jesus who has our jealousy written all over him. It is Jesus who is cut off from the body of God. It is Jesus who dies to join you (and me) into the body of Christ.
Jesus strips away jealousy by dying for you and then living again to tell you about it. You are a part— yes, just one part of a larger body— but you are a special part because Jesus spent his life to join you to him.
God makes each member uniquely different for a reason; God makes you different for a reason. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? If you all had the same flamboyant gifts, who would benefit? Picture it: an eyeball laying on the ground. This is a body? It can see me talking, but cannot decipher my words. It can see dinner, but cannot smell or eat. It can see friends, but it cannot wave and say ‘Hi!’ An eyeball does a great job of seeing, but it fails miserably to do anything else! The body has other needs, so it needs other parts. Each part uses its unique ability in its role at the appropriate time. One Body has Many Parts. God makes each member uniquely different, So that each member is uniquely united.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” What would happen if the eye got its way? You have no hands. How would you pick things up? If you tripped, you could never catch yourself. You would get hurt. You need hands. Each of you have an ability that is valuable. Maybe not noticed. Maybe never credited. But still valuable.
Think about that. You have value. You do not have the right to throw a pity-party, neglect your gifts, and say, “Well, they don’t need me… I’m too old… I’ve put in my time serving… I’m too busy… I don’t want to…” If you are a hand, then serve as a hand would. If you enjoy people, then encourage like a people-person would— because others may not be people-persons. Or, if you are a not-so-noticed-foot, then serve as a not-so-noticed-foot. If you enjoy completing tasks, then keep clean your worship space and help clear sidewalks. No one may notice your contribution, but it is noticed when it is missing. If you are a powerful eye, then serve as a powerful eye. You may have knowledge of Bible stories. Use that knowledge to teach. You may have that strong faith. Then use that faith to focus others on Jesus.
God does not distribute gifts so that you compare yourself to others. God makes you unique so that you can serve unique needs. Your uniqueness might feel unnecessary. Friendliness? Really? Well, what an awesome feeling to be greeted by a warm face! Supporting, not leading? You do not need to all be Pastors; Pastors need helpers too. Helpers who have those relationships in the community, relationships that help remove barriers. Helpers who have building knowledge, who can design and decorate, who can use their body for work. Feel too elderly to contribute? Physically, maybe; spiritually, never! Experience is a treasure trove of wisdom! And you, dear Christian, may have the wisdom to approach the youth, identify temptation, and connect Jesus to life-situations. One Body has Many Parts so that each member is uniquely united.
That is the reason you are different from others. Differences actually unite us! Think back to the beginning (of our message). Our government has separate bodies that each have a unique set of responsibilities. When all work together, the economy runs strong, employment rises, and people receive physical needs. People are brought together. Division stirs up anger. Division tarnishes respect. Division damages relationships. Division benefits no one.
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it… Ever stub a toe? Such a little part of the body makes the entire body stop and floods the mind with pain. When a fellow believer suffers, the entire body of believers pays attention. Again, each part in its own way. A fellow believer loses a spouse. You hurt too. Some of you pray, others encourage, still others offer affectionate hugs. A fellow Christian stays away from worship. You hurt because you know faith can be lost; unbelief results in hell. So, friends encourage. Parents speak up. Believers pray. Your different roles actually bring us closer together.
[Y]ou are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. Faith in Jesus as Savior makes you part of the body of believers. Even though you stand in one big group, God makes each member uniquely different. You are the only one with the life experience you had. You each have different priorities. You each have different abilities. You each are unique, but still in the one body of Christ. That uniqueness is put to work So that each member is uniquely united.
Focus on the one Savior who joins us all together and see how God uses you (and me) to only strengthen bonds. To encourage others to remain strong in Jesus. To strengthen bonds of friendships here. One Body has Many Parts. God makes each member uniquely different, So that each member is uniquely united.