Of One Mind (1 Corinthians 1:10-18)

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On the five Sundays since Christmas, our congregation has been gathering for one worship service each Sunday. This is different from our usual practice of having two weekly services: an earlier service with more traditional liturgies and an organ, and a later service with less formal orders and a band.

One of the reasons for having one service on the Sundays after Christmas was the desire some people in our congregation express to have one common service more often. Some have told me that they are concerned that having two services divides the congregation and it would be good for us to worship together at one time and in one place to make us more united.

I understand their point of view and see some merit in it. Over the last month people have told me how much they have enjoyed the services and appreciated the chance to worship with people from our other service. However, if our goal is a deep sense of unity in the congregation, maybe there are other ways to achieve that. Worshiping together in one service can be a visible form of unity, but it needs to reflect a deeper unity we have as the people of God.

The Apostle Paul addresses this deeper unity in 1 Corinthians 1:10-18. He appeals to the Corinthian Christians in the name of and ‘by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other’ (v10a NLT). These words tell us that the unity of the church is not a trivial thing. Unity is something we need to take very seriously. Paul goes on to instruct his readers to ‘be of one mind, united in thought and purpose’ (v10b NLT).
The unity Paul is talking about runs much deeper that simply having a combined worship service. Looking at the Greek words he uses, Paul is talking about being in the same mind and in the same intention. He mentions this ‘mind’ a little later in his letter when he tells his readers that ‘we have the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2:16). When the Holy Spirit gifts us with the life of Christ we are also gifted with a new mind, the mind of Jesus.

This ‘mind’ gives us a whole new way to think about God, ourselves, our relationships with other people, the world around us, in fact our whole existence. Paul uses this same word for ‘mind’ in Romans 12:2 when he writes, ‘let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think’ (NLT). A key element of the unity God is looking for in our congregation is that we are in the mind of Jesus and we are learning to think in the way of Jesus together.

Another aspect of this unity is that when we are in the mind of Christ together, we will also be in the same purpose or intention. This has to do with why we are here as a congregation, what our reason is for existing, what God is calling us to do and where he is leading us into the future. Paul is urging us to be united in our understanding of who we are, why we are here and where we are going as God’s people in this time and place. This is closely connected to and grows out of being in the mind of Christ and learning to think in the way of Jesus. When we are united in our purpose or intention, we will be looking at our circumstances from Christ’s perspective and not just thinking about what is good for ourselves as individuals, what we like or how we can get our way. Instead, being united in purpose is about finding our purpose in Jesus and then living together in his purpose as his people in the world.

It is vital to recognise that unity is not the same thing as conformity. Conformity happens when one person decides that everyone should be like they are and do the same things they do. The church in Corinth wasn’t like that. As we saw last week, for example, there were a wide variety of gifts among the Corinthian Christians. Living with this diversity caused tensions in their community of faith but it was necessary for them to function faithfully as the body of Christ. In the same way, when we look for our unity in our minds and purpose we will be able to embrace diversity in our congregation as we see people who are different from us as people who are also part of and who contribute to the body of Christ as a whole. To try to enforce an external form of unity only leads to conformity as we attempt to get everyone doing the same thing. We’re not the same. Part of the mind and purpose of Christ is accepting that and accepting the people around us with our differences (Romans 15:7). Our differences are vital for the church to be the body of Christ in the world.

With all of our differences, then, it is possible for us to aim for the harmony Paul points us to, being united in the mind of Christ and our purpose as his church. At this point I could go on to describe what I believe that looks like, but I’m not going to. Part of our growth to maturity as Jesus’ followers is to work that out together. As we get to know Jesus more, we learn more about his mind and the Holy Spirit transforms our minds to be like his. As we listen to God’s word in worship, in small groups, in our families and on our own, the Holy Spirit shows us more and more who Jesus is and how he thinks. The Bible is the way in which we meet God through Jesus. The Holy Spirit uses its words, stories, poems and letters to continue to share the mind of Christ with us, transforming our thinking to be like his. As we remain in God’s word together and as we pray together, the Holy Spirit will continue to gift us with the mind of Jesus so we can participate in Christ’s purpose and move closer to the harmony God wants for us.

This unity can be evident when we worship together in one service. It can also be evident if we have multiple services in a number of different places. Worshiping together needs to be the fruit of being united in thought and purpose because trying to achieve these by enforcing things like one worship will only result in external conformity and not the kind of deep unity God is looking for. The unity God wants, the unity Paul is pointing us to and the unity that is possible in our congregation is being united in the mind of Christ, when thinking the way that Jesus thinks is the most natural thing for us, and participating in Jesus’ purpose for his church.

The Communion of Saints (Ephesians 1:11-23)

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Since the early centuries of the Christian movement, followers of Jesus have said the words of the Apostles’ Creed together. This confession of faith serves God’s people in a few ways. It outlines the basic content of what we believe as Jesus’ disciples. It makes a declaration to the world of who we are and who we believe God is. The Apostles’ Creed also unites us with people around the world and across time who share our common faith. Confessing the Creed signifies that we belong to a community of faith that transcends time, space and denominational differences. It unites all Christians as one Church.

There is a lot in the Apostles’ Creed that we can reflect on and learn from. As we celebrated the Festival of All Saints on Sunday, there was one part in the Third Article that I thought it would be good to think about more: The Communion of Saints. It can easy to say the words of the Creed without giving much thought to what they mean. When we confess our faith in the Communion of Saints, however, there is a lot of depth in those few words.

Firstly, the Communion of Saints is about our identity. Most people that I talk to think of saints as people who have done a lot of good things in their lives. in a common way of thinking, sainthood is something we can aspire to and achieve by doing a lot of ‘good’ things. However, the New Testament gives us a very different idea of what a saint is. Six letters of St Paul begin by addressing the recipients of those letters as ‘God’s holy people’ or ‘saints’ (see Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2). Paul explains in Ephesians 1:11-23 that sainthood or holiness was God’s gift to his readers when they were united with Christ (v11 NLT) through faith by the power of the Holy Spirit (vv13,14 NLT). Here and in other places of the New Testament we can read that God gives us his holiness as a gift through the Holy Spirit on account of what Jesus has done for us in his life, death and resurrection.

Sainthood, or holiness, becomes the foundation of our identity in Christ. No matter what the world, other people or our own hearts might say to us or about us, we can always come back to God’s promise to us that we are his holy children through faith in Jesus. In those times when our sense of identity takes a beating, or when we have a negative view of ourselves, God’s promise to us is that we are saints, his holy people, because of Jesus’ redemptive love for us which makes us new and clean.

This leads us on to the second important aspect of the Communion of Saints. If God has made each of us saints by giving us the holiness of Jesus through his Spirit, and if he has done the same thing for every other believer, then we are united as one in our faith. This is what Paul means when he writes, ‘the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself’ (Eph 1:23 NLT).

The Christian church, the body of Christ, is the community of God’s holy people which exists across time and space and into eternity. The words communion and community are closely connected, so we can think of the communion of saints as the community of God’s holy people. This community is the place where we can grow as God’s holy people as we encounter the reality of God’s love and grace in relationship with other believers. Following Jesus was never meant to be an individual exercise. Jesus’ command to love one another only makes sense when it is lived out in relationship with others. The communion of saints, then gives us a context to not only love other holy children of God, but to be loved by them so we can live together in the reality of Jesus’ life-changing grace.

This kind of community is vitally important in our time and place. I’ve heard it said a number of times that our digital age has made us more connected than ever before, but at the same time people are lonelier than ever before. People in the developed world are starved for real community where we can extend and encounter grace, love, forgiveness, hope, joy, and so much more through meaningful, Christ-centred relationships. Confessing our faith in the Communion of Saints means that we can find a place where we belong in a community of God’s holy people which transcends our differences and unites us as the living body of the risen Jesus in the world.

This brings me to a third aspect of the Communion of Saints. As the community of God’s holy people, we have a new purpose for our existence. We live in a broken world where people are alone and hurting, relationships are easily fractured, where virtual or fake attempts at community result in people feeling more isolated and lost. As God gifts us with his community of holy people, we have something good to give the people of our world. The Communion of Saints is also God’s gift to the world so that people can find a sense of who they are, where they fit and what they’re here for in relationship with God through their relationship with us.

The Communion of Saints is the community of God’s holy people that he calls into existence to praise and glorify him (Eph 1:14 NLT) by being part of his redemptive mission in the world. We can praise and glorify God by singing songs in worship, but we also praise and glorify God for his saving love in Jesus by living as God’s holy people in the world, bringing his goodness, grace and healing love to the people around us. God gifts his community of holy people in the world with the purpose of living in ways that are made holy through faith and love, and embracing others in the community of God’s holy people so they can find their identity, belonging and purpose through faith in Jesus and in relationship with us.

The next time you confess the Apostles’ Creed, I encourage you to keep some of these things in mind. There is a lot of depth in these few words. They talk about who we are as people who are gifted with Jesus’ holiness through his Spirit, where we belong as the community of God’s holy people, and what we’re here for as we praise and glorify God by embracing others in the community of holy people. The Communion of Saints is God’s gift to us. It is also his challenge to us. As we grow in relationship with him and with his people in this community, we also have the opportunity to gift God’s community of holy people to others.

‘Clothed in Christ’ (Romans 13:11-14)

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There is a lot of truth in the saying that you should never judge a book by the cover, In the same way, there is usually more to people than what you see. However, there are times when you can tell a lot about who people are and what they do by the way they dress.
For example, you can probably tell that a person is a fireman by the way he dressed, and that his job it to put fires out. A person dressed in surgical scrubs is probably a surgeon who operates on people to help them heal. Someone in a sporting uniform will most probably be an athlete who competes in a particular sport. Depending on the sport, what that person is wearing might even tell you the position that person plays in the team or what her role is in the team.

In each of these cases, there will be consistency between what a person wears, who they are and what they do. You wouldn’t want a person dressed like a fireman to do surgery in the operating theatre. A sportsperson dressed like a surgeon probably will not compete to their full ability. And there is no way you would want to fight a fire dressed like a netballer or footballer. What we wear can say a lot about who we are, and what we do.

When Paul encourages the Christians at Rome to be dressed in Christ, he wasn’t giving them fashion advice. Paul was encouraging them, and us, to find a new sense of who we are and what we are on earth to do through faith in Jesus. Through his death and resurrection, he covers our sin, shame and guilt and gives us a new identity as children of God. Through faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit washes us clean of everything that makes us unacceptable to God, to others and possibly even to ourselves and covers us with the goodness and purity of Jesus. When God looks at us, he doesn’t see our flaws, mistakes, failures or regrets. Instead, because we are covered in Christ, he sees us as his children, whom he loves and with whom he is pleased (see Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). In the same way that what they are wearing can tell us who a fireman, surgeon or sportsperson are, so being clothed in Christ tells us that we are God’s children who receive all of Jesus’ goodness as his gift to us through the Holy Spirit.

Just as it makes sense that a fireman, surgeon or sportsperson does will reflect who they are, so the way in which God’s children live our lives needs to be consistent with being dressed with Jesus and who we are in him. It is absurd to think of a fireman in an operating theatre, or a surgeon on a netball court, or a footballer fighting a fire. It makes just as little sense for the children of God to live in ways that are different from who we are as people who are clothed in Christ’s goodness. That is why Paul writes,

‘So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.’ (v12b,13 NIV).

Paul is urging us to be clothed in the goodness of Jesus so our lives show who we are as God’s children.

When we live faithfully as God’s children, we bring the light of God’s goodness into a world that is often very dark. As we begin the season of Advent, in the coming weeks we will be remembering God’s gifts to us of peace, hope, joy and love. People who live in our world, who live right next door to us, or maybe even live under our own roof, often need a greater sense of peace, hope, joy and love in their lives. As we live in ways that are consistent with our new identity as people who are clothed in Christ, we can bring the light of God’s peace, hope, joy and love into their lives through what we say and what we do. By being covered with God’s goodness and living good lives that are consistent with who we are, we are the means by which the peace, hope, joy and love of God enter into the world and bring light into people’s lives. Christianity isn’t about following a set of rules to get into heaven, like a lot of people imagine. Instead, the Christian faith is about finding a new sense of who we are as people who are covered by Christ, and then living in ways that reflect our new identity as God’s children so God’s goodness and love can come into the world through us.

We all put clothes on each day. This week, as you get dressed, remember that God gives you the goodness and love of Jesus to put on each and every day. Jesus covers each of us and gives us a new identity as children of God whom he loves and with whom he is pleased, even before we do anything. In the faith that you are clothed with Jesus with all of his goodness and purity, live each day as God’s child and bring the light of his peace, hope, joy and love into the lives of everyone you meet through all you say and do.

More to think about:

  • What are some other examples of how the way a person is dressed can say something about who they are and what they do?
  • Do you agree that it is good for there to be a consistent message given by what a person wears, who they are and what they do? Can you explain why you think that way?
  • What does it mean to you that you are ‘clothed in Christ’? How can that make a difference to your understanding of who you are as a child of God?
  • The beauty of the Christian faith is that being ‘clothed in Christ’ is not about conformity, but finding a sense of identity in Jesus. In what ways can you be ‘clothed in Christ’ without losing a sense of who you are as an individual?
  • If it is good for how us to be consistent in how are dressed, who we are and what we do, how might you be able to show that you are ‘clothed in Christ’ this week?