Today we remember Operation Agri which is a development charity which supports Christian-led rural and urban development projects in three continents, showing the love of Jesus in action by attacking the basic causes of poverty amongst some of the most disadvantaged people in the world, regardless of their religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. and we remember our Harvest Service. 1 Corinthians 3:1 – 17 TAKS ABOUT BEING BUILT UP TOGETHER
I consider it to be both a privilege and a great responsibility to be your Pastor at this time, we who are within the membership and service of the church even during this pandemic we need to get on with God’s work which lies ahead of us.
Let me tell you how I come to preach to you today from 1 Corinthians 3. I come to this text because of the theme “Built up together” I come to this text because of the theme in the first few verses of this chapter and the potential for growth that God puts in every Christian at the point of his conversion. This is the right word for today, during this pandemic crisis we are facing, and from this passage I have three simple titles and themes and I want you to see that each three as being a door way through which God wants us to go.
GOD’S FIELD (vv 5 - 9).
Paul tells the Corinthian church that they are “God’s field” in v.9. This field was planted by Paul himself (v.6) - in other words he was the first person to preach the good news in Corinth and to see converts. He was followed by Apollos who watered the field (v.6), in other words the follow up of the first Christians and the work itself was continued by Apollos.
What we see here is that in order for a church to grow it needs different kinds of ministries, indeed different kinds of ministers at different times. This is a point about ministry which is worth labouring upon by itself, but the point from the text is twofold - the first point is that the purpose of ministry is so that the people of God will grow, and the second point is for us to remember that the power for growth comes from God himself.
The whole point of calling a group of Christians “a field”, is that the field ought to grow unto a harvest. A field here is not a Van Gogh or Monet picture to be hung on a wall and admired, the field here is industrial, it is the place where God works, planting, watering and harvesting.
The question now is what kind of harvest is God going to get from this field called Portslade Baptist Church?
This question must first of all come to us personally. For the bible tells us in 2 Cor 9:10 that there is a harvest of righteousness which ought to be found in our lives. It is interesting to see from Heb 12:11 how this harvest comes about - it comes as God disciplines us and brings our lives into line with his word. It seems painful at the time, says the writer to the Hebrews, but later on it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace. The challenge then is are we submitting to the discipline of God? Are we resisting sin, and are we prepared to bring our lives into line with the word whatever the cost, however much it hurts? Do we care whether God harvests righteousness from our lives or not?
The Lord spoke to me on this theme early in my ministry through the Sermon on the Mount and the verse which says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they will be filled.” What God showed me then was I had to seek righteousness before happiness. There are too many of us who seek what we think will make us happy, rather than seek after what we know to be right.
We seek relationships to make us happy, we seek to influence others along the same lines as our thinking to make us happy, we want the worship pattern in the church to make us happy, but it is righteousness which counts. I want to challenge you in the name of God to seek righteousness and holiness before happiness, and I’ll tell you something, if you do that you’ll discover what real happiness is.
But there is a second dimension to this harvest - and that is the harvest of souls. The challenge moves away from personal holiness to winning souls for Christ. You really don’t need me to remind you of Mt 9:37, 38 where Jesus says “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
As we look yet again at this church we might be deluded into thinking that we’ve been successful. I want to say in no uncertain terms with full biblical authority that as long as we see this as being a place where we expect people to come of their own willingness and fill up our pews and thus fail to see this church as being a place from which believers are sent into mission then we are not successful - we are sinful.
But I believe that God looks for a harvest of righteousness from the existing membership first of all, this church needs a work of holiness, renewal and revival - and hopefully it is out of that that a genuine spiritual overflow will pour into the community and new fields will be planted.
GOD’S BUILDING (vv 9 - 15).
Paul’s point in these verses is that God’s building is not a physical building, but a building up of believers on a foundational experience - this foundation is Jesus Christ himself. The church is founded on the person and work of Jesus Christ on the Cross - you don’t belong to the church in its truest sense until you first of all believe on him.
Now I must pause and bring yet another challenge. I want to speak to those of you who have not yet been baptised or brought into the membership of any church. I want to ask you to ask yourself whether this is because you know that you have not yet had that necessary personal encounter with Christ.
In one sense you do belong to the church, you’ve got friends and family members who come here, there are meetings that you wouldn’t like to miss. Yet in the very bottom of your heart, in the deepest place inside of you, you know that there is an empty space which Christ has already asked to fill.
You need to know in no uncertain terms that as long as that space is empty you are not saved, and that in the truest sense you do not belong to his church. I want to encourage you to take that decision you know that you should take and very simply to ask Jesus to forgive you your sins, of your delaying, and to invite him into your heart as your Lord and Saviour. And having taken that decision don’t go the way of compromise that you’ve seen others take, become a brick in the building, come right on for baptism, come right on for church membership and give him everything because he’s given everything for you. Will you do it? Hold that question in your mind now and don’t let go of it until you know your sure and final decision.
Having said all of that Paul’s words are really directed towards believers who have already made their decision for Christ and his concern is that they may have built poorly. There are in fact two ways that a Christian can build poorly.
The first way is to tamper with the foundation - and having become a Christian to try and lay another basis for your life other than Christ. There are Christians in our churches today who have made that mistake. People who have decided, perhaps even been baptised and even in membership who are building their lives now upon another foundation other than Christ. The foundation now is money, or business, or even more subtely its religion and the church rather than Christ himself. Let me tell you now that your building is going to collapse.
The second way to build poorly is to build upon a good foundation with shoddy materials. Recent devastating earthquakes in Russia and Eastern Europe have exposed poor designs and cheap and nasty construction so that when the tremors came however deep the foundation was the building above them just disintegrated.
So the challenge comes - what are you building with? Is it gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw? Paul says that if you put unworthy material into the construction that when the Master Builder comes to test the building he will see the shoddy construction for what it is and the builder will lose out on his reward or his pay. That’s a point worth dwelling upon tonight, but again we don’t have the time.
So again the challenge - what are we adding to the spiritual fabric of the church? You might be quite active, but loveless, critical service is worthless service and it is but straw to be burned. When our children come to look back at the period in which we were responsible for the prayer life and leadership life of the church will they find a layer of gold or a dangerous layer of wood?
The question is personal, it’s also collective. Where are we today in the building up of God’s people together? Are we even in the building in the first place genuinely belonging to a foundational conversion experience of Christ, and if we are Christians what kind of materials are we offering up to God for him to use.
There is a story of the man who died, arrived at the gates of heaven and Peter showed him to the place prepared for him. He went past great mansions, and then through a heavenly equivalent of a council estate, and ended up in a row of shacks. The place prepared for him was a pile of hay, straw and rubble. “What happened to my mansion” he cried out. Peter replied “we can only build with what you send up.”
OK the story is fanciful. But it is not fanciful to ask “what are you sending up to heaven today?”
GOD’S TEMPLE. (vv 16 and 17).
Our final picture is that of the temple, and we need to remove from our minds any image that we may have of a building, and accept Paul’s definition that a temple is the place where God’s Spirit lives. Individual Christians are therefore temples of the Holy Spirit, and when they meet together for worship a local church is formed.
Yet Paul gives a warning - he says that the temple can be destroyed in v.17. Now we know that Jesus has stated explicitly in Mt 16:18 that the church can not be destroyed. Jesus says there “I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.”
What we learn when we balance Mt 16:18 with 1 Cor 3:17 is that the great group of believers throughout the whole of history can not be overcome, the church of Jesus Christ as an institution can not be destroyed.
But it is clear that a local fellowship can be brought to an end. It happened to the 7 churches in Revelation, and it can happen to us. Ruling out the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, there are no guarantees that this Baptist Church will be here next year never mind in the next 150 years.
We need to ask then what is it that can destroy a church - and having defined that we need to make sure that we don’t fall into the trap.
Paul makes it plain that there are three things which can destroy the temple, one taken from the picture of the field the other two taken from the picture of the building.
The first thing is to exercise the wrong ministry at the wrong time. It is to plant when you ought to be watering, and to water when you ought to plant. If you try and plant a crop on ground which has not been irrigated and watered then that crop will die. If we move ahead and try and plant a church when it is the wrong time, or when the planting has not been covered in the irrigation of prayer, sacrifice and commitment then the church plant will die.
But if we keep on watering the spot when we ought to be moving out in a new field sowing or planting then the watered spot will die. If you over water a plant you kill it. If you over feed a fish it dies. We have to be make sure that we don’t spend so much time and energy on ourselves that we fail to secure new growth for the future.
Portslade Baptist Church will die unless it sows at the right time, and waters at the right time. God will guide us on this, our future is secure if we move in faith within God’s timing, for it is God who gives the growth.
The second way to kill off a local church is by tampering with the foundations. Paul was concerned that some of his churches were tampering with the foundation of the work of Christ on the cross and were going back to Jewish Legalism. We too have to make sure that we do not replace a love encounter with Christ as the essential foundation of the church with religion, or respectability, or rule keeping; that we do not replace loving Christ with cold-hearted service, or replace gospel truth with our twisted understandings of the scriptures.
And the third way to destroy the temple or kill off the local church is to build on the foundations with unworthy materials. It is tragic to see God’s people go back to their old ways, and it is a certainty that if a local church ruins its testimony then that local church runs the risk of disappearing. We may have been here a short time but I know that Satan works hard at trying to make sure that individuals and the church as a whole may be brought down by falling into one of these three traps.
How do we avoid them, how do we secure our future, and the future of our children should the Lord tarry?
It is by being built up together. It is by taking
a personal decision that we are going to give the Lord and his church the very
best that we have to give, and it is by taking the collective decision that we
are here to do the Lord’s business, and here for each other.
I call you then to embrace the highest calling that there
is in life, to give yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord
and to serve him through this local church called Portslade Baptist Church.
I call you to the great responsibility of the covenant of
love towards God and towards each other.
I ask you to work according to God’s timing and not your own, I ask you not to tamper with the foundation and not to build with unworthy materials. If we go by any other route then this fellowship will fall, if we go this way in the light of God’s word then the kingdom of God shall grow, and we shall be built up together!
I can see and dream of this church growing as we together see our God doing great things in and through us.