As the Church, we reveal to our world a portrait of Christ. Where are you in the picture?
This past week I was invited to play golf with 3 other staff members here at Colonial. Brad Harbaugh, Don Sandberg and David Loftis – the only man among us who can play golf.
But this was a diversion I hadn’t had for nearly a year – my wife said, “Honey, you need to do something different – you need to go.” I went out to the shed and found my clubs and met the guys at Knight’s Play – a very nice par three course. Easier than the long holes of most golf courses but still challenging enough for people like me.
On the first hole, Don Sandberg teed up and hit the ball – it immediately curved and went into the woods. I thought, “I like this guy . . . a lot.” I believe he got a 6 on that hole, only because we set a limit.
On the next tee, Don hit the ball very high and it went straight – in fact it landed right next to the pin, 90 yards away . . . in fact, it took a little spin sideways and went into the cup – a hole in one.
I’d never seen that happen before in person. None of us had. People play golf their entire lives and dream of a that hole in one, but never experience it.
We laughed and shouted until we were hoarse.
On the next hole, Don proceeded to hit a 6.
On the next hole, we couldn’t see the cup – it was located behind a small hill . . . Don whacked at the ball, we saw it bounce on the hill and disappear over the ridge. We eventually walked toward the green . . . looked around for his ball and couldn’t find it. David said, “Just for kicks, I’m gonna go look in the cup.” The next thing we knew, David was falling down in front of the pin, laughing in disbelief. It was in the cup. Two times – in less than 30 minutes . . . a hole in one.
Don said to us, “Guys, this really doesn’t matter . . . I’m no good and I’m probably not gonna play again for a long time.” I knew he had some avid golf fans in his family, so I asked him, “You gonna tell your family?” he said, “No, ‘cause they’ll probably ask me to play, and I don’t want to.”
Even though Don doesn’t care, we are now calling him around the office, “Don Juan (One).”
Imagine, experiencing what thousands of men and women would love to experience, and made sure they ended up in the newspaper because of it . . . but knowing, in the end, even though it was a lot of fun, it really didn’t matter if he shot a 1 or a 6.
(In fact, Don is in this service . . .I think you ought to stand, whether you care or not, so we can applaud this accomplishment – he’ll be selling his autograph after the service)
One of the great discoveries of life is the discovery of what really matters.
In fact, if you haven’t caught on to the fact that you happen to be on planet earth by Divine Design;
-if you think you’re just here to get through school
-and get a good job and pay the bills and
-maybe getting married and
-then somehow feed your family and
-put your kids through college and
-save enough for retirement so you can collect seashells --or play games and
-wait either for the rapture or the undertaker . . . then life is really about you, right?
And all the while, Madison Avenue bombards you with ever increasing things you really must have to really live;
And television and radio persistently advocate a message of individualism – that life revolves around your needs, your desires, your wants, your world;
And your peers define life by what they drive in or live in or vacation to or invest in . . . even though all of that is the nature of our culture, mankind discovers it really doesn’t matter.
The question is, “What does?!”
I invite you back to the puzzle table for further instruction from the Apostle Paul on how to put it together.
In our last session, we barely opened the box in Romans chapter 12 to look at the pieces; instead, we began to look at the process of what it takes to put the puzzle together. This puzzle called life as it relates to the New Testament church.
It didn’t take us very long to discover a Divine Design not only for the church, but for our own lives as well.
And it has nothing to do with what you have, what you drive, or where you live . . . it has everything to do with who you are and something God has already given to you.
In Romans chapter 12, verse 3, Paul informs us that we can’t discover our fit in the family without having a radical change in thinking.
In fact, he implies that you won’t fit into the puzzle without humility.
Notice verse 3, where Paul writes, “For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think.”
In other words, don’t carry around an attitude of superiority.
You can’t have the attitude that you’re more important than other pieces in the puzzle.
Just this week I read an article originally published in the Chicago Tribune several months ago. German orchestra violinists are in the process of suing for a pay raise to exceed the raise given to those members who play the flute, oboe or trombone. The reason? These 16 violinists have determined that they play many more notes per concert than their colleagues and deserve to be paid more. The director of the Beethoven Orchestra in Bonn, Germany argued that they shouldn’t be paid more, since everyone understands that even if you play more notes than someone else, every note is needed to play the music the Composer created.
2005 Preachingtoday.com: “Violinists Say Pay Far from Noteworthy,” Chicago Tribune (3-24-04)
What a classic illustration of the destructive attitude of superiority.
And can you imagine how the rest of the orchestra feels now about the violinists . . . camaraderie is gone. No doubt this orchestra will have difficulty playing with the Composers passion and design.
Likewise, in the church, nobody is more important than anybody else.
Stop keeping track of notes . . . we simply follow the Conductor.
Likewise, we don’t boast or glory in our placement in the puzzle . . . we simply surrender to the Designer.
So, before we even begin to work on the puzzle pieces, Paul very clearly warns us that we are probably going to need an attitude adjustment before we even start!
There’s more that Paul wants us to understand.
He goes on in the next 3 verses to deliver what I have summarized as in three principles.
This is God’s Divine Design for the church in the 1st Century all the way to the church in this 21st Century.
Number One: Maintain the principle of unity.
Paul writes further in verse 4 of Romans chapter 12, For just as we have many members in one body (skip down to verse 5. so we, who are many, are one body in Christ.
God never repeats Himself because He’s at a loss for words.
Twice he inserts the phrase “one body.”
The church universal – no matter what continent you live on and what generation you lived in during this grand dispensation of grace, now 2,000 years old – we are one body – one bride in Christ.
The church local – also fashioned by Christ and held accountable to operate in submission to Christ, to effectively reach its world, is unique in it’s own personality and opportunity as God so determines.
For further study, you might want to ransack Revelation chapters 2 and 3 for truth about the unique ministry and personality of individual local churches who were required to love one another, seize opportunity for ministry, pursue purity, defend the faith and serve Christ in their particular world.
At all costs, maintain the principle of unity in the local church.
Paul would stress this principle over and over again as he wrote to the churches of Asia Minor.
To the Colossian believers he wrote,
12. As those who have been chosen of God . . . put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13. bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
15. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one puzzle – that’s my paraphrase! (Colossians 3:12-15).
To the Ephesian church, Paul wrote,
I implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2. with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3. being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3)
The writer of Hebrews challenged the church to place their unity in truth and love at a high premium! He writes in Hebrews 10:24. “Let us consider how to provoke one another” (you say, stop there – that’s me, I know how to provoke people . . . I’ve got the gift of provocation) no, the writer isn’t finished . . . consider how to provoke one another unto love and good works. How? “By not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some.”
We all are to contribute to the love and unity of the church by making a habit of assembling together . . . it is in the assembly where we practice unity!
None are exempt from making a contribution.
I read one author who wrote with mischievous humor, that some of God’s people have a joy that is so deep, it never rises to the surface!
“Oh, that Christian is so deep.” What they might be actually saying is “That Christian is ornery.”
Reminds me of H. A. Ironside, who pastored Moody church years ago . . . a best selling author of biblical studies and books, he once admitted that he prayed every day, “Oh Lord, help me not become an ornery old man.”
Spiritual gifts are ways of bringing joy and blessing and unity to the body.
They are not toys to play with . . . they are not personal treasure to keep to ourselves . . . they are not weapons to fight one another with – they are tools to build the unity of the body.
Let’s admit something . . . The truth is, we are naturally divisive. We easily separate. We tend to criticize . . . we like to gossip. We don’t find it easy to give anybody the benefit of the doubt.
Apart from the work of Christ in our midst, we would never stay together. No church would ever last. Unity is like fine china – it’s beautiful, but fragile.
It must be reinforced and protected.
That’s why Paul issues this challenge as he begins to address the church . . . do your part, as a piece of the puzzle, to maintain the principle of unity.
And that leads me to the second principle.
Here it is: We are to strengthen the principle of family.
I find it interesting that even though Paul has already stressed the fact that we are one in the body of Christ . . . he says it another way that is even more challenging.
In fact, it’s easy to miss – the phrase in the latter part of verse 5 – we are “individually members of one of another.”
It’s easy to overlook this, because it’s harder to accept, right?
I mean, it’s one thing to say, “I belong to Jesus Christ,” but it’s another thing to say, “I belong to you.”
It’s one thing to say, “I’m related to God by faith in Christ.” It’s another thing entirely to say, “I’m related to you too.”
But that’s exactly what Paul means.
Ask the average Christian for their list of priorities and they will rattle off,
- My family
- My career
And then look at you as if they’re something special!
The older I get, the bolder I get . . . now I just ask them, “which family?”
You have God first,
Then you have family
Then last, is your career
I assume by “family” you mean immediate family members?
But where is your spiritual family? Are they even on the list?
In the Book of Ephesians, Paul clearly teaches the responsibility and priority of the nuclear family – husband and wife reflecting the truth of Christ’s for His church; children honoring their parents . . . all of it glorifying to God.
Here in the Book of Romans, Paul is teaching the relationship and priority of the spiritual family – the living church. With equal passion, serving one another, building up one another, edifying and instructing one another in the faith.
In Ephesians it is the priority of a biological relationship;
In Romans, it is the priority of as spiritual relationship.
Has it ever occurred to you that the spiritual family will live beyond the biological family?
In fact, when you leave planet earth, as the Bride of Christ, your husband will be Jesus Christ. The Son of God, your Bride-groom has a place already prepared a place for you in the Father’s house.
Ma’am, that means the husband you have on earth will not be your husband for eternity – isn’t that a relief?
You are the Bride of Christ.
Which means, right now, we’re all related by faith in the Bride-groom.
It shouldn’t surprise us then that the Apostle Paul actually tells us to relate to one another as members of the same family.
He gave Timothy this advice, “Respond to older men as fathers; treat younger men as brothers; treat the older women as mothers and act in purity toward the younger women as your own sisters.” (I Timothy 5:1 paraphrased)
Wouldn’t that revolutionize the way we act in church? The way you would treat younger men who are filled with questions . . . the way you would treat a young woman on a date . . . the way you would treat older women and listen to older men.
This is the picture on the puzzle box . . . this is what it looks like
- We are to pursue the principle of unity;
- We are to strengthen the principle of family;
Thirdly, Paul challenges us to allow for the principle of diversity.
And I’m not referring to doctrinal diversity, but practical diversity within the body.
Paul writes in verse 6, We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.
If the first principle was hard to swallow, this one will only go down with a lot of sugar.
Like I drink my coffee . . . I don’t like the taste of coffee, but I like something hot to drink that keeps me awake. So I pour on the sugar and extra cream. For me, coffee is dessert in a cup.
The taste of diversity is probably too strong for the average Christian.
We tend to avoid people that aren’t like us. We naturally hang around people who like everything we like; the same interests, station in life . . . people who come to same conclusions
We hang around people who celebrated UNC’s championship, right? Or we hang around people who don’t celebrate.
We get along with people who vote the same way we vote. There are people in here who voted for Bush. There are people in here who voted for the other guy. There are people wishing Rush Limbaugh would run for office.
Then we come to church.
And we often make the mistake of thinking that “church” means we all conform to one another.
That’s why you can walk into the average church today and everybody looks alike . . . dresses alike . . . talks alike . . . reads all the same books, watches the same programs and listens to the same kind of music, goes to all the same schools or chooses to home school.
Churches divide over all these issues.
Let me say this – my wife and I have had our children in public school, we’ve home-schooled and have had them in Christian school too.
None of ‘em work . . . perfectly!
Every year we follow what we believe to be the Lord’s leading for us.
But the average church today would say that if you decide all that stuff the same way, then you are operating in unity!
Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a vast difference between unity and uniformity.
Uniformity forbids diversity. Unity, as we will discover in this paragraph allows for the principle of diversity.
And I’m not talking about doctrine! I’m talking about function.
God purposefully chose not to make us like General Motors makes Buicks . . . we are different and unique; built with different features and capabilities.
To wish to be like somebody else is actually to discredit the wisdom of God, since He was the one who put you together to begin with!
If you’re a Buick, then be a Buick. You’re gonna have electrical problems . . . just be patient.
If you’re a Chevy pickup . . . don’t get too proud about it. Stay humble.
There’s room in the garage for everybody.
Notice how Paul puts it in the last part of verse 4. All the members do not have the same function (again in verse 6.) We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.
By the way, this does not mean that some have more grace than others.
What Paul means is that that because of God’s grace, we all have been given our unique and different gifts.
God sovereignly bestowed on you and me the equipment to serve Him and His church.
In fact, the New Testament tells us that every member of the Godhead was involved in giving believers spiritual gifts.
It was God the Father in Romans 12
It was God the Son in Ephesians 4
And it was God the Spirit in I Corinthians 12.
Peter wrote it this way, “As each one of you has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the grace of God.”
Think of that – should it not stagger our minds that God knew from eternity past that you would not only become a member of the Bride, but how you would contribute to the Body.
Let me make it even more personal than that. Before the world began, God knew what this church, in this generation, in this city, in this hour would need and He chose you and gifted you to add something to the puzzle picture of His grace.
Brad Estep, from St. Petersburg, Florida told the story of Jamie Scott who tried out for the play at his elementary school. Oh man, he had his heart set on being on of the characters in the play, but mother knew better. He wasn’t the most outgoing personality and was sometimes reserved and quiet . . . she feared that he would be crushed when he learned that he had not been chosen to play one of the characters. On the day the parts were awarded to the children, Jamie’s mother and one of his friends went along to pick him up, just in case he was crushed by the disappointment. When Jamie saw his mother, he rushed over to here, his eyes shining with excitement, and he said to her, “Guess what, Mom . . . I have been chosen to clap and to cheer.”
Oh that we would all find similar joy in what God has chosen for us to do . . . why? Because before you ever discover the character you are to play in the body . . . it’s as if Paul wants us to know we’ve all been chosen to clap.
We’re all members one of another.
That’s something that really matters . . . more than making a hole in one . . . twice, in the same game.
But in order for that perspective to take place in this family;
- We’re gonna have to allow for the principle of diversity.
- We’re gonna have to reinforce the principle of family.
- And we’re gonna have to pursue the principle of unity.
That’s all a part of God’s Divine Design as we, together, reveal to our world the puzzle picture of the family of God . . . the living, breathing, serving, diversified yet unified, church of Jesus Christ.
Thus revealing to the world a picture of the grace of God.