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When You Come Together

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
August 29, 2022 2:00 am

When You Come Together

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew

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August 29, 2022 2:00 am

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Well, it is my privilege tonight to share the Word of God. We're going to pick up where we left off in the book of 1 Corinthians. If you would turn with me, please, to 1 Corinthians chapter 11. We're going to be looking at verses 17 through 22. Paul is answering questions that the Corinthians had asked him in a previous letter. He's responding to various verbal reports that he has heard about the church at Corinth. And in our text tonight, he begins addressing their practice of fellowship meals and the Lord's Supper in particular. Let's read together 1 Corinthians chapter 11, verses 17 through 22.

And I'll ask you to stand if you would in honor of God's Word as we read it tonight. But in the following instructions, I do not commend you because when you come together, it is not for the better but for the worse. For in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you.

And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are a genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.

What? Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this?

No, I will not. This is the Word of the Lord. Let's pray together. Lord, you have declared that unity in the church is a beautiful, beautiful thing, something to be diligently pursued and preserved.

We also know that the enemy hates Christian unity and is constantly seeking to destroy it through self-centeredness and pride, through doctrinal error and disobedience. So we pray that you would establish in the church of our generation, Lord, an abiding unity that is genuine and that will stand the test of time. Lord, we know that that unity will only come about as we walk in obedience and humility before you.

So help us to do that. And may the Word before us tonight aid us in that pursuit. Open our eyes to understand your Word. Soften our wills to embrace your Word. I pray in Jesus' name.

Amen. You can be seated. Our text tonight is part of a larger section in which Paul is going to deal with several matters pertaining to the corporate gathering of the church at Corinth. This larger section runs from chapter 11 all the way through chapter 14. Paul will deal with a number of different issues related to the gathering of the church, how they ought to conduct themselves, how they ought not to conduct themselves, what they should be spending their time together doing and so on. In the verses before us tonight, Paul begins addressing some problems in how the Corinthians were observing the sacrament of communion, the Lord's Supper.

He calls it in verse 20. He will address Corinth's problem in verses 17 through 22 and then later he will describe the way they ought to be observing the Lord's Supper in verses 23 to the end of the chapter. We're going to just deal with that first section tonight, verses 17 through 22, as we consider the problem, the abuses the Corinthian believers were indulging in, abuses that were evidently dividing and damaging the church and hopefully we'll see some principles that will inform and direct our own practice of Christian fellowship and communion. Well, Paul begins with a general assessment of things and then moves on to a more specific rebuke later in the passage.

Let's begin at verse 17 where Paul gives a general assessment of Corinth's corporate gatherings. Verse 17, he says, but in the following instructions I do not commend you because when you come together, and he's going to repeat that phrase several times, when you come together, so the context of this is the corporate gathering of the church, when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. When the church gathers there ought to be fruit, there ought to be spiritual and emotional and even physical benefit from the gathering together of the saints. Our interaction with each other as fellow followers of Christ ought to make us richer in the things of the Lord, not poorer.

It ought to strengthen our faith and deepen our love and solidify our resolve and increase our joy and so on. But if instead we part from one another worse off than when we came, then something's wrong. Something is amiss because God intends our fellowship and communion and gathering together to produce fruit, not to destroy it.

So what was the nature of the problem at Corinth? Verse 18 tells us, for in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions. That's the Greek word schisms among you. A schism is a tear within the body of Christ. It occurs when Christians fail to work out their differences and decide to part ways or separate rather than concede.

We see this all too often in the church, don't we? Someone says something that hurts someone else's feelings or does something that someone else disagrees with and a seed of contention begins to grow in that relationship. Time passes and the contention is never dealt with to the point that the molehill becomes a mountain.

Eventually this mountain of contention is so huge that it's practically insurmountable and it becomes easier to just part ways than to deal with the broken relationship. Notice that the two people in this scenario who are at odds with each other are both professing believers. It's not as if they've abandoned the faith. They just abandon the relationship with another brother or sister in Christ.

That's what division is. That's schism. It's a tear within the body of Christ and it's ugly and it's hurtful and it doesn't honor the Lord. This sort of thing isn't unique to church, is it? We see it in the workplace between colleagues. We see it between neighbors. We see it in marriages when couples let disagreements and contention build up over years and eventually come to the conclusion that their differences are irreconcilable.

It's easier just to cut their losses and bail than to work things out. It's division. It's schism.

It's a tearing in two of a relationship that ought not be broken. So Corinth was to some extent going through the right motions. They were gathering together for worship and fellowship.

They were doing their church thing, but it was fruitless and it was even harmful to the body of Christ. Well, Paul goes on in verse 18. He says, And I believe these reports I'm hearing in part, verse 19, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.

Now the word factions is different from the word divisions. It's a stronger word than the word divisions in verse 18. It's a Greek word for heresy. In fact, that's how the King James Version translates, verse 19.

It says, There must be also heresies among you that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. So a heresy, unlike a mere division in verse 18, is a belief or behavior that is incompatible with the Christian faith. It's not just a difference of opinion. It's a difference of religion. It's a different faith.

It's a truly irreconcilable difference. Schisms are unfortunate and should be worked out and resolved, but heresies by definition are unresolvable because they represent a division of such depth that what has been torn in two cannot be mended. Now notice, Paul does not condemn the church at Corinth for the presence of these factions, these heresies. He says, In fact, there must be heresies among you. That's how it works, at least until Christ comes back. As long as there is a church being salt and light in the fallen world, there will be heretical ideas and heretical practices and heretical people making themselves a nuisance by resisting the gospel and the true church. It's to be expected. And so just because someone says Christians are always arguing and divided amongst yourselves doesn't necessarily mean we've done anything wrong.

Why? Because there is a sort of division that is necessary and unavoidable. In fact, if heresies are not being exposed and rejected, then a far worse problem is happening in the church. Heresies will happen. But then Paul gives an explanation as to why they must happen. Heresies happen so as to expose who the false teachers are and who the true followers of Christ are. In fact, the New Testament makes this point rather frequently. 1 John 2, verses 18 and 19 says, Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come.

Therefore, we know that it is the last hour. They, the antichrist of whom John speaks, those deniers of the faith, they went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us, but they went out that it might become plain that they all are not of us. Heretics eventually leave the church.

That's not a bad thing. John is essentially saying good riddance. We didn't want you here anyway because your lies are distorting the gospel and obscuring the true church from these pretenders who are within the church. This is the kind of church split you want to happen, the kind that gets rid of cancer and enables the body to grow and function as it ought. In Acts 20, another example of this sort of thing, Paul predicted that this sort of division would occur. As he said farewell to the elders at Ephesus, he said to them, I know that after my departure fierce wolves, heretics, will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things to draw away the disciples after them, therefore be alert.

Be alert so as not to allow that sort of thing to take root. Deal with heretics by calling them out and removing them. So by using these two different terms, Paul is saying that not all division is created equal. There's bad division and there's good division. Schism is bad in that it amounts to essentially nothing more than the holding of personal grudges and self-centeredness being expressed between believers, but heretical factions are inevitable and happen in and by God's providence in order that those who truly belong to Him might be evident and made manifest to all. I think what this means among other things is that unity and truth in the body are not at odds with each other. Sometimes our pursuit of the truth might appear to be upsetting the unity of the church, but it's really not.

It's simply pruning the church of fruitless branches that were really never part of the church. Sometimes we might excuse disunity on the grounds of pursuing truth when really we're just dying on some hill of personal preference and we should be deferring to our brothers and sisters in Christ. The point is we don't have to choose between preserving the unity of the church or preserving the truth of God's Word. It is the truth that creates and defines our unity, and so we can and should be pursuing both of these things.

They're two sides of the same coin. Unity needs to prevail in our attempts to overcome differences of opinion and preference and culture, while truth must always define the boundaries that dictate our faith and obedience. We don't compromise truth to achieve some pretend unity, but conversely we gladly yield our preferences and inclinations for the sake of unity. I think we would do well to ask ourselves whenever we notice division in the body, is this a division that's over non-essential matters of culture or taste or preference or so on, or is it over essential matters of Christian belief and behavior? Divisions of the former sort should be mended. Divisions of the latter sort should be encouraged because as Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 6, 14, being unequally yoked with unbelievers is never a good thing.

Now before we move on to verse 20, let me just point out something that occurred to me as I study this distinction between schism and heresy. I've noticed that Christians, myself included, sometimes have a tendency to excuse or justify a schismatic attitude by elevating a division or a dispute to heresy status. In other words, we may not like what another Christian is doing or believing or the direction that they're heading, but rather than taking the time and energy and humility to work it out, we'd rather just assume the absolute worst in that person with whom we disagree. We'd rather, I guess for the sake of ease and expediency and pride, suppose that their motives are wrong or what they're really espousing doesn't merely contradict me, it contradicts God. We assume the worst in the other person so that we won't have to humble ourselves or die to our own preferences or figure out how to be more winsome in how we articulate and defend what we believe.

So we privately, mentally excommunicate them because excommunication is easier than loving someone with whom I disagree. I've seen a similar thing in marriages that are going through a difficult patch. A Christian wife maybe is hurt by her husband. A Christian husband is tired of his wife. There just seems to be no end to marital strife and conflict and so divorce is contemplated as a possible solution. The problem is, Scripture is very clear about what constitutes legitimate grounds for divorce. And so if legitimate grounds are not met, a spouse easily begins to redefine what constitutes adultery or redefine what constitutes desertion.

We make our opponent toe the line while simultaneously giving ourselves a hundred passes. We become skilled at convincing our minds that our conflict with the spouse, with the sibling, with the fellow saint is certainly not ungodly schism. It's heresy that needs to be dealt with swiftly and severely. Of course, it's always the other person it seems that is the heretic. Beloved, let's be zealous and unswerving in our commitment to God's truth.

Let's also be careful not to conceal our stubborn pride behind a pretentious mask of loving the truth. Well, Paul then moves on from his general assessment of Corinth's corporate gatherings to a specific condemnation of Corinth's communion practice, a specific condemnation of how they practice communion. Yes, it's true that some types of division in the church are necessary and yield good fruit, but in Corinth's case, their division was sinful carnal schism. He says in verse 20, when you come together, it is not the Lord's supper you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal.

One goes hungry, another gets drunk. Now to understand what's going on here, we need to take a look at a practice that occurred somewhat regularly in the early church but gradually became less and less normative. Eventually, it was almost never practiced except by just a few sects within Christianity. I'm referring to what the early church called love feasts. We can look at various documents from the first and second centuries and learn a great deal about what these feasts entailed.

In fact, Jude 12 makes a direct reference to them. Speaking of impostors in the church, Jude 12 says, these are hidden reefs at your love feasts. So the Bible acknowledges that these feasts were happening in the early church, but to discover the specific practices that occurred at these gatherings requires kind of a piecing together of various clues, both from inside and outside of Scripture.

Well, scholars have done that. They've pieced it all together, and we kind of have a good idea of what first century love feasts entailed. We learned that Christians would gather on the first day of the week for worship, usually at a wealthy member's home, since wealthier families' homes were typically large and well-suited to accommodate the most people. Oftentimes, before the worship service began, the assembly would enjoy a full sit-down meal together, a love feast. Well, at the conclusion of these love feasts, these fellowship meals, bread and wine were distributed and eaten in commemoration of Christ's Last Supper with the disciples before his crucifixion. We call this the Sacrament of Communion, the Lord's Supper.

It's a religious sign act commanded by Christ that points Christians to the atoning work of Christ. So the meal before the sacrament came to be known as the love feast, and then the Lord's Supper followed. The love feast was not the Sacrament of Communion.

It just preceded the sacrament, and so the two became closely associated with each other in the early church. Well, these feasts began to garner quite the attention and reputation. Participants in the love feasts were sometimes prone to overindulgence, to gluttony, to drunkenness. Also, following the customs of the time, hosts would most likely have observed a hierarchy with regard to the seating of the guests.

This was normal in first-century Roman culture. The most prominent guests were seated nearest the host, while less prominent guests were seated in other rooms throughout the house as space allowed. And the best food was served, of course, in the host's presence, while the other rooms received the leftovers. It was common for the manual laborer or for a slave to arrive late to these meals due to their work obligations.

Thus, it was often the case that guests with the lowest social class were seated furthest from the host and received the least food, if any at all. Well, eventually, perhaps as early as the second century, this sacrament of communion became less and less associated with these love feasts. Scholars have speculated that this may have been due to the abuses associated with the love feast or maybe due to the growing tendency to view communion as a re-sacrificing of Christ.

It took on more of a reflective, sacrificial kind of an atmosphere rather than a celebrative atmosphere. Of course, that re-sacrificing view is still the view held by the Roman Catholic Church today. What I want us to notice is that love feasts were not commanded by Christ, but the observance of the sacrament of communion was. I'm not saying the love feast was inherently wrong. I'm just making the point that it was church tradition that associated the feast with communion, not some scriptural command. But also notice that the overindulgence that Paul condemns with regard to the love feast had a direct impact on the legitimacy of the sacrament that followed. He said to Corinth, your self-centered indulgence at mealtime and negligence of the poorest among you is so egregious that this token nod you give to communion after your feasting is not even worthy to be called the Lord's Supper.

Your disregard for each other in the one meal renders the significance of the other meal meaningless. Regardless of what you think you're doing, it is not the Lord's Supper that you're eating. This was not the first time God's people had turned a good and biblical act of worship into an empty godless ritual. In Malachi 1-10, we read about the exiles who returned to Israel only to be rebuked by the Lord for their worship practices.

Malachi says, oh, that there were one among you who would shut the doors of the temple, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain. I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts. I will not accept an offering from your hand.

Isaiah 1 gives a similar rebuke to the covenant community of Isaiah's day. God says to Israel, what to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? I have had enough of burnt offerings, of rams, and the fat of well-fed beasts. I do not delight in the blood of bulls or of lambs or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings.

Incense is an abomination to me. I will hide my eyes from you. Even though you make many prayers, I will not listen.

Sobering, sobering words. Later on, Isaiah condemns Israel for their selfish motives in fasting. He says in Isaiah 58, behold, in the day of your fast, you seek your own pleasure and oppress all your workers.

Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. I think there's a principle embedded here, and it's this. The church exists for God's purposes, not for her own purposes. And when we gather, we ought to be gathering to do that which God tells us to do. We know that the church is to gather for teaching, for prayer, for singing, for observing the sacraments, for various exercises of piety and devotion and service, and yes, for fellowship that is moderate and pure. But if and when we allow things other than these to truncate and obscure the main things, we're succumbing to the same tendency as Corinth.

We are substituting things that we like and enjoy for the things that God commands. It's been a danger for the church for as long as there has been a church, and we need to be on guard. Well, Paul has given his apostolic criticism. He then concludes with what can only be called apostolic sarcasm. Look at verse 22.

What? Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Well, of course, the Christians had houses to eat and drink in. They didn't have to bring their gluttonous appetites to church with them.

They could have eaten at home before the gathering. Paul uses sarcasm here to drive home the fact that Corinth's abuses were uncalled for and unnecessary. It did not require a gathering of the church to satisfy their inordinate hunger. And so this excessive feast was all the more shocking and in poor taste. It exposed the fact that they really did love their bellies more than they loved the church, no matter what they were telling themselves. Paul continues, he says, or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? The meal at the church had become more important than the church itself.

The enjoyment of a good time had become more of a priority at Corinth than the needs and value of its poorest members. And so what was purportedly an indication of great love for the church was really nothing more than an indication that the church was despised by these gluttonous self-centered believers. So Paul concludes with a stern rebuke, what shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this?

No, I will not. You know, we could entitle this sermon, When Going to Church Hurts, because that's exactly what was occurring at Corinth. They were gathering, they were meeting for worship, they were observing communion or at least something that appeared to be communion. They were getting together for Christian fellowship, or again at least something that appeared to be Christian fellowship.

The problem was that all of their meeting and eating and worshiping and fellowshipping was not only not bearing good fruit, it was damaging the body of Christ. Church, it is quite possible for us to outwardly do all the right things and convince ourselves that what we're engaged in in the name of church gatherings is good and right, while it is actually all a pretense and even a harm to ourselves and to the saints around us. That's a sober warning for us that should drive us to take our participation in the life of the church seriously and to conduct our interaction with the saints in a wise and biblical and selfless manner.

Let me just mention a few points of application as we close tonight. Verse 17 says, when you come together, and this assumes that the church is coming together. It assumes that the gathering of the church is important.

The question then is this, am I participating in the corporate life of the church as I should? I realize I'm preaching to the choir tonight, but let me just say this. We had about 250 people in worship this morning. Tonight we have, I don't know, about 80. I don't know where the other 170 people are that were here this morning.

I don't know what they're doing. I certainly don't assume that everyone who was here this morning doesn't have a legitimate reason for not being here tonight, but since this is a typical phenomenon on Sundays, I suspect that there is a lot of negligence of the corporate worship going on in the body at Grace Church. I am so grateful that you are here sharing this worship, this fellowship together tonight. We have sweet fellowship in our evening services. I just wish the rest of the body were here to enjoy it with us. Our zeal and faithfulness in participating in the life of the church doesn't just affect ourselves.

It affects the whole body. Am I present? Am I involved?

Am I eager to be a part of the body? But verse 17 continues, when you come together, it is not for the better but for the worse. This means that merely gathering is not enough because there is a right way and a wrong way to gather. Is spiritual fruit being produced as a result of my participation in the life of the church? Participation in body life then is not merely a quantity thing.

It's also a quality thing. It matters how we do it. Verse 19 says, there must be factions. And this means, as we've already pointed out, that some division is to be expected.

The question is, what kind of division do I find myself embroiled in? Is it the harmful spirit of schism, or is it a purifying resistance to heresy? Let's be willing to resist the heretic, but let's not excuse schism under the banner of purifying the church. Verse 20 says, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. This means that it's possible to go through the motions of participating in the body without truly worshiping or fellowshipping. Is my participation in the life of the church governed and prioritized not by my wishes and ideas and vision for what the church ought to be, but by the commands of Christ? If it's not, it's really nothing more than self-worship.

It's just empty religion. Verse 21 reprimands Christians by saying, each one goes ahead with his own meal. And this, of course, is a condemnation of self-centeredness, of self-focus, of self-serving, self-exalting attitudes and behavior. Am I properly aware of the needs, physical, emotional, spiritual, of my fellow saints?

And am I eager to meet those needs, even at personal sacrifice when necessary? Verse 22 is perhaps the most scathing rebuke. It says, do you despise the church of God? It may look like I'm holding the church in high esteem simply because I enjoy the gathering and the activity of the body, but if I'm doing it for all the wrong reasons and in all the wrong ways, it's actually a despising of the church. Enjoyment of getting together is not an accurate measure of my love for the church if it's not tempered with a commitment to conduct myself according to God's instruction. Now that ought to give us pause and cause us to evaluate our motives and actions in the body of Christ.

But you know, to end on a positive note, the opposite is also true. If you are eager to gather with God's people and engage in all the wonderful means and measures of grace that he has given us to busy ourselves with until he returns, if you're eager to hear the word of God and eager to encourage other saints and be encouraged by other saints to walk faithfully to that word, if you take delight in praying and befriending and caring for others within the body, and if you anticipate the joy of proclaiming the Lord's death together with the saints as we take communion together, if these things are your delight, then far from despising the church, you are building up the church for whom Christ died. And in so doing, you are honoring the head and bridegroom of the church by loving his bride. We're gonna spend the next several chapters thinking deeply about what this fruitful, faithful participation in the body of Christ looks like, but we'll stop here for tonight.

I'll just leave you with this thought. If Christ loved the church enough to die for her, we can certainly love her enough to make it our aim to honor and edify all of her members from the greatest to the least. May that be our goal. May that be a reality at Grace Church.

Let's pray. Father, you are good to give us one another. Thank you for the church, this family of redeemed sinners who together have come to understand and experience your amazing grace. Would you please, Lord, preserve the unity of the spirit here at Grace Church in Harrisburg. Would you even increase the love and affection and service and sacrifice that we give and receive in our dealings with each other. Lord, we don't deserve a family like this, but we thank you for the sweet gift of it. And we know that this gift is ours because and only because of the redeeming death of your son, so it is in his name that we make these requests of you tonight. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-04 21:55:42 / 2023-03-04 22:07:18 / 12

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