In this sermon, Pastor Dave Capoccia finishes examining the spiritual discipline of the church from the Bible. In part 4, Pastor Dave completes looking at the “how” of the discipline of the church and explains the last three of six principles from the Bible to maximize mutual upbuilding in the church.
1. Engage in the Church Biblically (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
2. Engage in the Church Comprehensively (Acts 2:41-47)
3. Engage in the Church Humbly (Philippians 2:3)
4. Engage in the Church Courageously (1 Peter 4:10-11)
5. Engage in the Church Diligently (Acts 20:34-35)
6. Engage in the Church Purely (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
Let’s pray together. Oh Lord, as the song says, speak oh Lord, for we come to You to receive the food of Your holy Word. Take Your truth, plant it deep in us, shape and fashion us in Your likeness. Amen.
Have you ever bought something that turned out to be poorly or dishonestly made? I remember back in grade school, sometimes using cheap pencils probably seemed like a great deal to my parents or to the school that was providing them. They wrote well enough, but they showed their cheapness when it came to erasing. When you went to erase something with a cheap pencil, even if it was for the first time, it always seemed like one of two things happened. Either the eraser completely broke off from the pencil or just left a prominent smudge mark, which defeated the purpose of erasing in the first place. Of course, because of shoddy craftsmanship, I quickly learned to avoid the cheap pencils in school if I could help it.
I also remember a car that Ema and I used to own, a diesel-powered Volkswagen Jetta. It was a pretty good car. It was mostly reliable, pretty good looking, and it had a turbocharged diesel engine that advertised more than forty miles per gallon. But actually, driving the car seemed to yield an even better rate. We would drive it around and note that we had more than fifty miles per gallon. Which if you kids don’t know, that’s a pretty amazing production for a car. Saving us a lot of money we thought we had secured an amazing deal on this car.
The story ended up being too good to be true. In 2015, the Volkswagen emissions scandal broke out. It was so-called dieselgate. This revealed that the reason why the car was performing so well was because it was totally breaking the rules about how much pollution it was allowed to produce. A Volkswagen engineer had installed on the diesel cars a bit of software that made the car perform differently in testing than in real life. Basically, the cars were lying about the levels of emission they produced. Volkswagen, of course, got in huge trouble once this information was known and they were required to buy-back or give a repair plus compensation to all of those who had bought their turbocharged diesel engine cars. We ended up selling back our deceptively made car to Volkswagen.
These days when I think about products that are poorly or dishonestly made, I often think about houses. Remember that someone warned us at the beginning of our housing search to beware of buying a flipped house. A house that was recently in bad shape but that someone bought, quickly fixed up, and then put back on the market to sell for a profit. Sometimes houses flipped from bad to good can really end up being a great deal, but it all depends on how carefully the home was renovated.
Unfortunately, many home resellers are only interested in getting maximum bang for minimum buck, so they will use the cheapest options in upgrading or fixing a house. They don’t pay attention to the details, take the necessary time that various jobs in the house require, and they sometimes make changes to the house without the necessary legal permits or without keeping the building up to code. The results of many flipped houses is a house that looks good, clean, modern, attractive, but on closer examination it’s poor quality and will lead to considerable frustration and cost to whoever buys and lives in that home.
I mentioned these examples of poor-quality construction to you because as we began to see together last week, we Christians have been called to a construction project of our own; to build up the church and one another in the church. The Bible says that we as the redeemed people of God have become God’s temple, the very dwelling place of God, a spiritual building. In Christ we are spiritually joined to Him and to one another as stones are joined together in the building. Though we have been brought into this church, this building, it needs upkeep. God’s temple needs repair, upgrade, expansion, and beautification. God claims ultimate responsibility for this project. He will build His church, yet He chooses to work through us—the members and the stones of the church. We are, therefore, called to practice continual and mutual upbuilding in the church. This is for our good and for God’s glory.
Considering the construction we see in the world, we must be careful how we construct or seek to construct God’s church. Let’s be careful about this upbuilding because it cannot be a slapdash operation. We cannot be cavalier or careless when it comes to building God’s home, which is also our spiritual home. We must make sure that we are building this structure correctly. How do we do that? How exactly should we construct God’s church? How should we engage in the spiritual discipline of the church so that we indeed build up each other rightly? I want to finish talking to you about the answer to that question from God’s Word today. This is the Disciplines of Grace: The Church, part four.
As part of discipling ourselves for godliness, according to Paul in 1 Timothy 4:7, God calls us to certain effort-filled activities for our own spiritual health and growth. These are the discipline of the Bible, prayer, and of the church. We have been exploring the discipline of the church together over the last several weeks, looking at both the why and the how of our devotion to one another in the church.
Last week we began looking at the how. We saw the first three of six principles from the Bible to maximize mutual upbuilding: you building up others and others building you up in the church. Really looking to answer the question of how you should engage in the church to best please God, benefit others, and bless yourself.
Number one, you must engage in the church biblically—this is review now. God declares in 1 Timothy 3 that He has shown us in His Word both what the church is and how to conduct oneself in it or how you should participate. He’s basically given us the building plans. Therefore, we must not engage in church according to our own ideas or feelings, but we must allow our thinking and feelings to be transformed by God’s perfect Word.
Number two, you must engage in the church comprehensively. The discipline of the church is not simply gathering for one hour and a half each Sunday morning. Though, that is good and a start. I’m glad you’re all here to do that. But God’s construction work requires more than that. The people of God need more than that and so do you—as one of the people of God. Just as the Acts 2 church engaged in all kinds of sharing, ministry, and expressions of love toward one another, so should we if we want to experience the mutual upbuilding that God designed for us to experience.
Number three, you must engage in the church humbly. The church will never be the blessing site of mutual upbuilding that God meant if the people are not humble. That’s not just for other people in the church to hear, those other construction workers, it starts with you, me, and each one of us. We must remember, even as was prayed and sung in the church today, all the undeserved blessings that we have received in Christ and how kindly He still treats us, even though we often fail. This should teach us to adopt a gracious, patient, and others-oriented mindset in the church. According to Philippians 2, which we looked at together last time, we are to have Christ’s own attitude of humility in ourselves. Giving up, by taking the position of slave, our own rights, privileges, and interests for the sake of others. What Jesus did is what He teaches us to do.
We’ve already seen these three principles, but how else should we discipline ourselves for the church? How else, according to the Bible, should we engage in the church to maximize mutual upbuilding? Let’s look at the three other principles today. Let’s look at number four: engage in the church courageously. I think one of the main reasons why we don’t often engage more in the church is fear. We are afraid of failure.
We are afraid of what other people will think if we act. We are afraid of getting hurt, becoming embarrassed, or hurting the ones that we’re trying to help. We often feel so inadequate, unable to serve, unable to engage in the church correctly so we tell ourselves that it’s better to not get involved or even try. We say, let others who are godlier and better equipped than I am to handle the upbuilding of the church. After all what will little old me possibly be able to give that will be good to the people of the church? I don’t know if you’ve ever thought those kinds of thoughts. They may seem humble to you, but they actually aren’t.
Consider, what would we think of a homebuilder who says, I’ve been trained by the boss, he’s told he’s confident and I can do that job, I have the building plans and all of the tools I need to build this house, but I don’t think I can do it. Will we say of this guy that he’s a humble and conscientious worker who really care about doing a good job? No. We would say that this self-focused worker is proud, lazy, and full of unbelief. So it is with us when we fear and that causes us not to engage in the church.
As Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:7, God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. The truth is, you can engage in the church, even courageously, because you do have something good and important to give. That important good doesn’t come from yourself and it’s not for yourself. It comes from God and it’s for God and your brethren.
Let me show you this from an important passage. Please take your Bibles and turn to 1 Peter 4:10-11. If you’re using the Bibles that are in front of you or next to you, that will be on page 1214 in the pew Bibles. In the letter of 1 Peter, the apostle Peter, just to remind you, writes to persecuted Christians. He urges them to love one another and live holy lives amid their suffering. Specifically, in chapter four, Peter urges Christians to follow Christ’s example in suffering while doing what is right, waiting on God to provide vindication and reward at the proper time. In verses 10-11, we’re going to see how Peter describes engagement in the church as fitting into that greater purpose. Let’s read those verses now and we’ll include a few other verses for context. 1 Peter 4:7-11. Peter says,
The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. 8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
You can see that the main topic of the passage that we just read is relations in the church. In the first few verses, verses seven and nine, we see exhortations to fervent love, prayer, hospitality; this all has to do with one-another-relations, right? Notice starting in verse ten, Peter exhorts each believer in the church to use his gift to serve others in the church. This command is framed in terms of stewardship.
Peter says, as each one of us has received of the manifold, or we could translate that to diversified or many-colored grace of God, we are to minister of and from that grace to one another. This is not an optional task. Using our gift is a matter of faithful stewardship to God. Notice the attitude in verse 11 in which these gifts of stewardship, or rather these gifts that we are to steward, are to be ministered. It’s with an attitude of confidence. Peter says that if you have a speaking gift, whether counsel or encouragement or teaching and preaching, how should you use it? Peter says, as one who is speaking the very utterances of God. Woah, wait a second, what are the qualities of the utterances of God? Of the words of God? Authority, power, life, comfort, encouragement, conviction, wisdom, and we could say more.
Peter says that when any of us are ministering by a speaking gift to the church, and that’s one of the primary ways that we can minister to one another, it ought to be as one speaking that kind of word. That is the authoritative, powerful, life-transforming, wisdom-giving, comforting, conviction-bringing, even the words of God Himself. Why ought our words to one another be treated as if they were that? Because they are that. Or at least they should be. By various means in the church, yet ultimately dependent upon our sufficient Bible, we speak to one another the life-giving word of God. If we have such a wonderful, comforting, sufficient word to impart to one another then shouldn’t we do it enthusiastically, confidently, even joyfully? This is the word of God that I’m sharing with you.
What about the other side? Verse 11 goes on to say that if you’re ministering with a serving gift, some kind of practical help that doesn’t involve speech so much, then serve as one serving by the very strength of God. Again, that’s pretty amazing because what is the strength of God like? Powerful, enduring, infinite, inexhaustible. Why should one serve as if serving with that kind of strength? Same as before. That is the kind of strength that you have to serve. God’s Spirit is empowering you with that kind of strength. To be good stewards of the manifold grace of God that we have all received we ought to both speak and serve in the church as those speaking and serving with God’s own wisdom and power. This is because that’s actually what we’re doing.
What is the result of this divinely empowered ministry in the church? End of verse 11: glory to God through Jesus Christ who is worthy of it. Brethren, you don’t need to be afraid to engage in the mutual upbuilding of the church. You are equipped for this. You are equipped with the Lord’s word and the Spirit’s power. Not only can you do the work set before you, but you can do it well, joyfully, and to the glory of God.
Peter additionally says in his second letter, 2 Peter 1:2-3, which I’ll just paraphrase for you: that God’s divine power has granted us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the knowledge of Jesus. Whatever essential things you need for life and godliness have already been provided through Christ and through the knowledge of Him which we have in the Word. Then by union with Christ, by the indwelling of the Spirit, by prayer, and by His sufficient Word, you can engage in the church as God has called you to do—even comprehensively. We, therefore, should be confident, even courageous, and looking to meet the needs of our brethren.
I should balance that just a little bit with other scriptures. What I’ve just mentioned to you does not give us license to be presumptuous in our service in the church. To think that we will not need any correction, instruction, or refinement in the use of our gifts. No, no, no, I’ve got God’s Spirit, don’t tell me I need to do anything different; I already know what I’m doing. No, we shouldn’t go there. We also shouldn’t assume that every ministry situation in which we involve ourselves will be totally and abundantly successful, at least in an outward sense. There should be a sobriety in our confidence. We should expect even that we will need ongoing equipping and sharpening as we seek to engage in the church and help others.
We also should expect that we can be faithful and show real love in ministry and it might not have an outwardly successful result. You will do as God calls you to do, but the other person just doesn’t respond. We should expect that. Nevertheless, we should have confidence, even courage, as we seek the mutual upbuilding of the church. We should settle fundamentally, once and for all, where the courage and strength necessary for this upbuilding work comes from. It comes from, not us, but from God. It comes from God and what He’s chosen to provide.
You may remember a famous exchange in the beginning part of the Bible. God speaks to Moses in the burning bush of Exodus 3 and 4. God calls Moses at that time to be His special instrument in rescuing Israel from cruel bondage in Egypt. This is a glorious task, but Moses didn’t want to do it. Why? Well, he felt inadequate. He kept giving God excuses: oh, Yahweh, I’m not worthy and I won’t know what to say, I’m not a good speaker, what if they don’t believe me? Moses even asked God outright to send someone else, which provoked God to anger. God didn’t yield to Moses’s stubborn fear and unbelief. Nor did God butter up Moses by telling Moses how skilled Moses really was and how Moses needed to have greater self-esteem.
The whole confidence of Moses for accomplishing this momentous ministry on God’s behalf came down to just one simple promise from God. Which is what God says in Exodus 3:12, God says to Moses: Certainly, I will be with you. Brethren, that’s all we need. That’s really the only promise that we need to have courage in God’s work. God says, I will be with you. He has given us that promise so we can have courage. If the Lord is with us, we can do what He’s called us to do.
Just to encourage you a little more, do you remember what Jesus says to His disciples? If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, what will you be able to do? You will say to this mountain, be uprooted, and be cast into the sea. I don’t know if you ever thought about that. Maybe it sounds a little weird to you. This is not a carte blanche to rearrange the earth’s physical topography. No, this is about when you encounter obstacles in obedience or in ministry. Don’t despair, trust Me, proceed forward in obedience, and watch how I (God) will move mountains on your behalf.
As the great missionary to India, William Carey, famously said, expect great things from God; attempt great things for God. If our God is with us then we should do that, especially in the church. If we want to maximize mutual upbuilding in the church let us engage in the church courageously. Let the Lord glorify Himself in what He chooses to do.
A fifth principle for maximizing mutual upbuilding in the church is number five: engage in the church diligently. Merriam-webster defines the word diligent this way: characterized by steady, earnest, and energetic effort. That’s a pretty good description of the kind of mutual upbuilding that is needed in the church. The church is not the kind of construction project that only needs bursts of activity. Oh, the ministries are restarting, everybody let’s work. Or it’s the new year, everybody let’s work. Then the activity just gradually tapers off. That’s not really what the church needs. Instead, you and your brethren need a truly diligent engagement in the church. A steady, ongoing, earnest, and energetic effort that perseveres through times and difficulty, and keeps going all the way to the end. Not just during the ministry year, but of your life, or until Christ comes.
In fact, diligence is one principle for church engagement that the Apostle Paul, in multiple places in the Bible, particularly emphasizes. I want to show you a few of these. The main one is going to be in Acts 20. You can take your Bibles and turn to Acts 20:34-35. In the pew Bible it’s page 1114. Here we are back in the book of Acts, an inspired and historical record of the church’s birth and growth.
In Acts 20 Paul is on his way to Jerusalem to be imprisoned for Christ. However, he stops in the city of Miletus to give a final exhortation to the leaders of the church of Ephesus who have traveled to meet him. Part of Paul’s exhortation to these Ephesian elders includes a review of his own behavior among them, where he provided an example as to how they should continue to shepherd the church and conduct themselves in the church for Christ’s sake. Look what Paul mentions about himself in the two verses I mentioned. Acts 20:34-35, and I will read verse 33 just to give a tiny bit more context. Paul says,
33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself, said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
These words from Paul are remarkable, especially because it was his right, as a minister of the Gospel, to be supported tangibly and financially by those to whom he ministered. He makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 9:14. God has ordained those who minister the Gospel get their living from the Gospel. But Paul, doing exactly what he exhorted the Philippians to do, he was not only thinking about himself when it came to ministry. He considered the interest of others and he foresaw that his receiving compensation for Gospel ministry, especially as a founding apostle, might become a stumbling for some.
He saw that it would become an excuse to reject the Gospel, salvation, or Paul as a true representative of Jesus, because people would say: look, he’s only in it for the money—don’t listen to him. Paul wanted to take away this potential stumbling block. He also saw an opportunity to teach an important lesson about self-denial and hard work to Christians. Paul decided that he would support himself by manual labor even as he poured himself out in Gospel ministry. He became a tentmaker, or perhaps leatherworker, according to the word used in Acts 18:3.
How did Paul’s ministry self-support decision turn out? We’re seeing the result here and what Paul says to the Ephesian elders. Look back at those three verses. Verse 33 says,
I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes.
How do we know that, Paul? Well with what I’m about to say next. Verse 34 says,
You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.
This is an amazing statement. This means that Paul didn’t just support himself by his work, but he also contributed to the support of those who are with him. I mean, come on Paul, how much are you working? He actually tells us in 2 Thessalonians 3:8. He says there, testifying about the same thing, with labor and hardship. We, he and his companions, kept working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you. Night and day. Labor and hardship. That’s extreme. Why do that? Verse 35 says,
In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself, said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
This is a message just for church elders, right? Actually, going back to 2 Thessalonians 3:7, Paul says his example of working hard on behalf of others is a pattern for all Christians. Yes, it does apply especially to leaders in the church, but really, it’s for all of us. Paul says, I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak.
See, brethren, due to weakness the people of the church have a constant need for ministry. Not just physical weakness and physical needs but spiritual needs. Consider that in Christ’s church right now, even in this church, even among the brethren that you fellowship with weekly, there’s weakness, struggle, hurt, sorrow, and confusion. People are struggling with love, its mission, assurance, obedience to parents, anxiety, fear, death, evangelism, bible study, God’s sovereignty, sexual sin, anger, bitterness, loneliness, forgiveness, and of course much more.
What kind of help do they need? I’ll tell you. It’s more than one conversation and a Bible verse. They need ongoing help. How’s this going to happen? How’s this going to happen if not exactly in the way that Paul says? By each of us following his example of hard work on behalf of others. It’s got to be each of us. Pastor Babij can’t do it all. The elders can’t do it all. The deacons can’t do it all. But if all of us together will be diligent to do our part then yes, the church can be built up as it needs to be.
Notice something else in verse 35. Paul says that such diligent effort will not just be helping the weak, but what else? It will be remembering the words of the Lord Jesus that He said: it is more blessed to give than to receive. This is an interesting statement because you can search the gospels and that word from Jesus is not mentioned there. Does that mean that Jesus didn’t say it? No, the Bible is true, we’ve come to know that, so He must have said it, they just didn’t record it in the gospels. Jesus said this, Paul reports it here. Certainly, we know that even if it’s not reported in the gospel, then Jesus definitely lived it.
Jesus also worked hard in His life. Sometimes quite evident. He sometimes ministered to so many people that there wasn’t even time to eat, that’s mentioned in Mark 6:31. He frequently would withdraw from others, sometimes early in the morning, to go by Himself and pray. That’s in Mark 1:35 and Luke 5:16. Jesus also got so tired from one day of teaching that He stayed sound asleep in a boat even though it was experiencing a raging and life-threatening storm.
Jesus worked hard to give to others, which means He had to give up some of the pleasures of this life. He didn’t get to enjoy them all of the time, but does that mean that Jesus was miserable? Far from. Jesus was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief, we know that from Isaiah 53, but there’s also no one more joyful than Jesus. I mean, He’s God. Joy is part of His essence, and He also testifies that He found utmost blessing, even happiness, pleasing His Father and giving to others. It was a blessing for Jesus to give—a greater blessing than to receive.
Paul testifies of the same thing. Yes, look at what I’ve given up in my life, look at how hard I’ve worked, but I tell you it’s more blessed to give than to receive. It’s true for Jesus, Paul, and it can be true for us. Let us never believe the lie of laziness, that a life of comfort and ease, a life of pursuing the pleasures of the world, a life of others serving you is where true joy is to be found. Certainly, our entertainment, materialistic culture tells us that, but that’s not true. The opposite is true. A life of diligent effort toward what really matters that is given up on behalf of Christ and others is where true joy, blessing, and life are found. It’s like what Jesus says: he who holds on to his life will lose it, but he who gives up his life for My sake and the sake of the Gospel is the one who’ll find it. To find life, give up your life.
Of course, it is not wrong to enjoy the simple pleasures that God gives us in this life. We’ve learned much about that from Ecclesiastes in the past months. But don’t let inordinate devotion to those simple gifts cause you to miss out on the greater gift of giving yourself to others for the sake of Christ. That’s the best way to enjoy life.
I do want to mention a few other scriptures that emphasize the need for diligent engagement in the church. Just two. Ephesians 4:3, you can just listen, right after mentioning the need to walk worthy of the Gospel and live with one another in the church in humility, Paul writes,
Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Here’s that word again. The remarked unity that we enjoy in Christ will not be preserved without our constant and eager effort. How about we just go even more basic? Proverbs 12:24,
The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor.
It’s just basic wisdom from God that diligence leads to lasting reward. This Proverb gives us a special warning. If you’re not willing to do the hard work in the beginning and the hard work that is necessary each day then guess what? You’re going to face harder work and much less enjoyable work later. That’s true for the church too. You don’t want to do the hard work now? Wait until the church develops a whole bunch of problems and you’ll have much harder work then.
Not all of us have the same exact capacity when it comes to hard work. God has given to each of us a different measure of faith. Even just physically, some of us function better on less sleep, less rest time, than others. But we don’t need to compare ourselves to one another. We just want to listen to the call we have from Christ. All of us can and should, according to our ability, engage in the church diligently for our own sake and for the sake of others.
The sixth, and final, principle from the Bible to maximize mutual upbuilding for the church is: engage in the church purely. You can imagine that nothing would be more damaging or discouraging on a construction site than workers who don’t work, and only pretend to be working, or even worse, they actually actively weaken the structure that has been given them to construct. They weaken the structure with their own self-serving actions. Our Lord Christ, the builder and architect of the church, He will not tolerate those who only engage in the church hypocritically, or who unthinkably target the fellow members of the church to involve in sin.
If we want to maximize mutual upbuilding in the church and avoid the fearful chastisement of God, we must commit to holiness in our own lives and in the communal life of the church. We can see this clearly from at least one scripture. Please take your Bible’s and go to 1 Corinthians 5:6-8. It’s page 1143 if you’re using the pew Bible.
This is a letter from the Apostle Paul to a church with several problems. The main problem in the church of Corinth is pride leading to division and a lack of unity. But a related problem was how the church tolerated known and unrepentant sin in the fellowship. As Paul explains in the beginning of 1 Corinthians 5, there was a man in the church who was in an ongoing incestuous relationship with his father’s wife. This is probably to be understood as his stepmother. This would have been considered unthinkable, terribly scandalous, even among pagan Romans. However, the Christians at Corinth astoundingly did not confront this man or remove him from their fellowship but they actually boasted in their loving tolerance of him.
Paul, for his part, confronts the church and he reminds them why church purity is so necessary. Let’s hear the core part of Paul’s argument and the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 5:6-8. Paul is speaking again here.
6Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Paul begins in verse six with a pretty straightforward statement. He tells the Corinthians that your boasting is not good. Your glory and your own loving toleration is not right and doesn’t really build up the church. Why not? Well, Paul explains with a rhetorical question in verse six: do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? That ‘do you not know’ construction, we hear that from Jesus sometimes too, is a form of humbling rebuke. It’s akin to, shouldn’t you know better than to do or think this? You Corinthians, who apparently pride yourself in your knowledge and spiritual maturity, is it possible that you missed such a basic truth as this?
What’s the basic truth that they weren’t paying attention to or applying? That a little leaven leavens a whole lump. You might ask, what’s leaven? Well leaven, to the Corinthians, is a piece of fermented dough that acts like modern yeast. The ancients didn’t have yeast that they could just buy at the market like we do today. They didn’t even know about yeast as a microorganism that causes bread to rise. But the ancients did know, and observed, that if you put a piece of old fermented dough into a new loaf of bread or new dough mixture, before you bake it, that leaven spreads through the dough and loaf causing your bread to rise. Thus, the leavening of a whole batch of dough became proverbial for something that automatically, quietly, and completely spreads from even a small initial amount.
How does Paul use the leaven expression in this context? He’s referring to the spread of sin in the church. When unrepentant sin is tolerated in the church it inevitably spreads.
For people say to themselves, I guess sin is not that big of a deal. I thought Jesus said we had to live lives of holiness if we believed in Him, but I must have misunderstood because I am looking at so-and-so who is very obviously continuing in sin, but he’s not ashamed or being confronted. Maybe his behavior is not sin after all and maybe I can do likewise.
Paul clarifies to the Corinthians that this situation of unchecked sin is totally unacceptable before God. He provides an analogy in verses 7-8 by using an Old Testament feast, the feast of Passover. He says:
7Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8Therefore let us celebrate the feast,
In the law of the Passover feast, given by God to the people of Israel through Moses in Exodus, all Israelites were to completely remove leaven from their houses. All of the fermented and old dough that they had was to be completely removed and only eat unleavened bread for a week and then meat from a sacrificial lamb on Passover day. These are special food guidelines they were to be a part of as an act of worship; a commemoration of God’s deliverance of the people from Egypt, and even more specifically, commemoration of the angel of Yahweh passing over the houses of the Israelites and the final plague—the plague of the firstborn, because the Israelites has the blood of lambs on the doorways of their houses. All the firstborn of Egypt were killed but the firstborn of Israel were spared. They were passed over, so this was a commemoration of that.
That law was given in the Old Testament under Moses. Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians here is that believers are to celebrate a new kind of Passover, and not just once a year for a week, but actually continually. Celebrate a new Passover feast and how? By commitment to purity in the church. Christ, Paul says, the ultimate Passover lamb has been sacrificed to save believers, not just from the angel of death, but from God’s just wrath against sin once and for all—the wrath of hell. Believers have been saved from that. If you’re a believer, then you’ve been saved from that. So, what should you do? You should celebrate a feast of worship to God. You should worship the Lord with holy lives, even cleansing out any old leaven left in your dough. Specifically in this context here in 1 Corinthians 5 it means confronting, and as necessary, removing those living in unrepentant sin in the church.
To make sure that Paul is not misunderstood, he clarifies at the latter part of verse 8 what celebrating the new feast entails. He says: not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness. Not with whatever spreads ill will and evil. You can’t just replace one sin with another sin, that’s not going to work. Rather, instead, he finishes with this: the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
The only kind of life that is acceptable to God as worship, even communally in the church, is one of sincerity and truth. A life that not only looks to be in conformity with God’s truth, but actually is. None of us can do this perfectly, and that’s not the intent here. But essentially, characteristically, and directionally we can, and we must. Believers in the church are to walk in the direction of holiness and Christ likeness together, as we have been enabled to do by God’s Spirit.
What are the implications of this section of scripture when it comes to what we’re looking at in our series engaging in the church for maximized mutual upbuilding? Certainly, we should abide, apply, and obey the specific of Paul’s command when it comes to dealing with unrepentant sin. We must lovingly confront a sinning brother or sister as necessary according to the Matthew 18:15-20 process. Jesus laid that out that you first go to your brother privately, then you tell one or two witnessed, then you tell it to the church, and you go through the different steps.
If necessary, if a person will not listen to the appeals to repent, that person is to be removed from the fellowship. This is to protect the church from the leavening affect, but it is also to further appeal to that erring brother. You need to see the seriousness of your sin, we want you to come back, we want you to repent, but until you do so, you cannot fellowship with us.
Certainly, we should be applying that from this passage. More basically, this word from Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 is a reminder that we cannot expect to benefit from mutual upbuilding in the church if we are, in fact, walking in unconfessed and unrepentant sin. If you walk in sin, you will not be a source of upbuilding, or benefit from upbuilding in the church, you will be a source of corruption and the Lord is very concerned about that.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying, and the Bible is not saying, that you should not bring your sin struggles into the church. You absolutely should. Actually, this is how God designed the church; you need the brethren, you need the encouragement, the instruction, and the counsel of your brethren to persevere and overcome sin, to know how to walk in holiness. So, yes, bring your sin struggles into the church, but do not secretly or openly bring in some life-dominating sin into the church that you do not intend to deal, purposing to overcome, or not willing to reach out to your brethren for help in fighting it.
This is a serious word from God and there’s a warning not to be shrugged off. God makes quite clear in the scriptures just how important purity in the church is to Him. You may remember in the book of Acts, Acts 5:1-16. This is the very first church in Jerusalem, the very first local church. According to Acts 5:1-16, God struck down dead two professing believers, because they were living hypocritically before their brethren. They were pretending to be more generous than they actually were. God killed them.
It is as God says through Moses in Number 32:23. Moses is writing there regarding those who think they will get away with unrepentant sin before the Lord. Moses says in Number 32:23: Be sure your sin will find you out. Brethren, may it never be that someone in this church knowingly and purposefully lives a life of hypocrisy among this fellowship, or even seeks to entice others to join them in that hypocrisy. If that is you today, if you are such a one, you look good on the outside, you look like you’re doing the construction work but you’re actually harming the church, then you need to listen to the warning of God in the scripture. Your sin will find you out.
Moreover, God says something else in 1 Corinthians 3:17. We looked at this passage not too long ago. God makes a promise that will prove true in your life eventually. 1 Corinthians 3:17,
17If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you (the church) are.
If you have been living in hypocrisy, then today is the day to repent. Don’t be a corrupting influence anymore, be an upbuilding influence, and receive the upbuilding of your brethren. Maybe you need to call out for help. Maybe you need to say to a brother or sister, as is appropriate depending on whether you’re a man or a woman, that I’ve been really struggling in this way and I’ve been keeping it a secret this whole time. Would you help me, and could you show me how I can come back to obedience? That’s what the Lord wants you to do and that’s where you’ll find blessing.
Indeed, when we consider God’s purpose in having a pure church, it is ultimately for the blessing of the whole church. It is a very happy outcome, because if the church is pure, not perfectly but characteristically, and if everybody is pursuing holiness. If that’s what’s going on in the church, everyone takes his own church seriously, everyone is helping one another deal with sin, then you know what the church becomes? It becomes formed into the image of Christ. The people become like Christ. They act and talk and think like Christ. Do you think those people are a blessing to be around? Of course they are. That’s the kind of fellowship that each of us want to be a part of. We can help create that fellowship if we will take our sin seriously.
Engage in the church purely to maximize mutual upbuilding. That brings us to the end of our list. We’ve seen from the Bible six principles for maximizing mutual upbuilding in the church. Just to review them. Number one, engage in the church biblically. Number two, engage in the church comprehensively. Number three, engage in the church humbly. Number four, engage in the church courageously. Number five, engage in the church diligently. Number six, engage in the church purely.
You know, though, looking over this list there’s one more principle that we could mention that contains and really sums up all six of them. If you really want to maximize yours and others spiritual upbuilding in the church then you should, number seven, engage in the church lovingly.
Let me show you one more passage. Turn over just a little bit further in 1 Corinthians to 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. This is page 1115 in the pew Bible. If you know your Bible a little bit or if you’ve just attended weddings, then you probably recognize this passage. This is the Bible’s famous description of love in 1 Corinthians 13.
Have you ever noticed what the original context of this passage is? You can glance over 1 Corinthians 14 and you’ll find out. The context is ministry of spiritual gifts in the church. That’s the context of this love passage. Because, you see, the Corinthians had gotten it all wrong. They were using their gifts and trying to steward the manifold grace of God in their lives not to build up others, but to show off. They wanted to exalt themselves before others: look at my gift.
Paul again patiently and gently confronts their thinking and behavior. First by pointing out, in the first three verses of chapter 13, that all miracles, knowledge, faith, and sacrificial service mean nothing without love. It’s just like a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. It’s useless, distracting, and annoying. He points out at the end of the passage in verses 9-13 that the miraculous spiritual gifts that the Corinthians were so obsessed with, like speaking in tongues or prophesying, had a good purpose but they won’t last forever—love will last. Then, in the middle of verses 4-8, Paul gives a description of what love is really like, even the love that God has commanded us as His people to show to one another in the church, just like God shows to us.
As we close today, and as you consider how you can practically engage in the discipline of the church now and in the coming weeks to God’s glory and to your own and your brethren’s benefit, listen to how Paul basically summarizes everything we’ve looked at under the category of love. Here is how to engage in the church with your brethren in the church to maximize mutual upbuilding. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8,
4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails
May the Lord stir us up to such love together. Let’s pray. God in heaven, Your church truly is amazing. A precious mystery. Thank You, Lord God, for making us a part of it. It is indeed the place of blessing. It is so necessary for our spiritual health and growth. But Lord, there are so many things that want to keep us away from church, our brethren, and from really engaging with one another. Lord, even when we are in the fellowship, there are things that can actually prevent our engagement from being effective. We can be afraid and feel like we have nothing contribute. We can be struggling with sin and feel like we need to hide or hold on to it. Lord, we can also become distracted by the affairs and the pleasures of the world so that we don’t put forth the effort that being a part of the church really requires. Holy Spirit, free us from these things.
Jesus, Lord of the Church, build us in such a way that we put off these wrong thoughts and wrong ways of living and we come back to what we really need. We need Your church. We need the mutual upbuilding that is so present in the church. We need to not only give love according to the love that You’ve given us, but also receive it. Lord, Your church has such a beautiful design. Make it so, God, that we indeed take advantage of it as you’ve meant us to. Show each of us, today, as we think through these things, how this can make a practical difference in our lives. Where we can say that I’m rearranging my schedule to engage in the church. I see that I have an ability to help out in this way in the church so I will approach someone to talk about that.
Lord, I pray that as we go into this next month that it would be one of renewed devotion to one another. Renewed love for You and renewed love for one another. Lord, if there’s any who do not know You yet, maybe they’re just a visitor into this fellowship in the Spiritual sense. They don’t know yet the love of the brethren nor Your love. They don’t know freedom from wrath, freedom from the slavery of sin. Lord, show them, convict them, help them see that they really are on the outside looking in, but they could become a part of the family. They could be saved by repentance and faith.
Lord, use us to minister not only to one another, but to those who are not yet a part of the fellowship, but could be. We can only do this by Your strength, God, but You have provided it. You promised that You empower us for ministry. Lord, we’ll take You up on that by faith. In Jesus’ name, amen.