Have any of you ever been in a church that was horribly divided? How about a workplace? As far as I can remember, I do not believe that I have ever been a part of a church that was experiencing severe division but have certainly heard the sad stories of other churches that were. My work experience however, has certainly seen its share of divisions.
Our reading this morning takes us to 1 Corinthians 1 and as Paul begins this letter to the church in Corinth that was full of problems, the first one he chooses to highlight is their divisions. Verses 12 and 13 tell us that some in the church were claiming they were “of” certain influential individuals in the early church. Some claimed to be of Paul, Apollos, Peter or even Christ. Scripture does not tell how these divisions were manifesting themselves (though it may have something to do with who baptized some of them) but clearly this church was divided by favoritism and cliques that no doubt was negatively impacting their impact on the community.
Let’s fast forward to 2018 and ask how something similar could take place in a church today. Perhaps it could be some in the church that would hold a youth, assistant or even a radio/tv preacher in higher regard than the senior pastor at their church and consider that man to be their pastor or “leader”. Or if there is a change in the senior pastorate, some might try to hold on to the former pastor as their “real” pastor, and always try to compare to the new pastor with the former (favorite) pastor. Or it could be related to the different “camps” that exist amongst Independent Baptists. Some might consider themselves to have a strong allegiance to a college or group, while others hold strongly to a different camp with a slightly different set of standards or philosophy.
While there certainly is time for division when it comes to cardinal doctrines of the faith, we need to be careful not to let minor differences be a wedge in our church, leading to different cliques and groups in the church. Is it normal to want to fellowship with those who think like we do? Sure. But we shouldn’t look to only fellowship with those that look like and think exactly like we do. If we fall for this trap, our effectiveness for the cause of Christ will certainly be minimized, i.e. subtracted.
Psalm 23 was the first Scripture that I memorized at the age of seven. I did not learn it in church, but in the public school system. Every morning we said the pledge to the flag, quoted Psalm 23 and sung hymns. As a youngster I felt safe in school, because I had the assurance that He was with me (vs. 4).
This is likely the most quoted Psalm in the Bible; even by unbelievers (God directs this protection to believers in Him which He calls sheep and refers to unbelievers as goats). How many funeral cards have been adorned by this verse? Psalm 23 is frequently preached at funerals and has been a comfort on the sick beds of untold numbers. How many strolls through the “valley” have been eased by these comforting words?
In vs.1 David informs us Who the Shepherd is-none other than God Almighty. To be a shepherd is not always an easy task. Just ask a teacher, pastor, nursery worker or mother (shepherds in their own right). Sheep are a needy bunch and God has given us plenty of examples in the Bible. Moreover, He has given us examples of how protective shepherds are and the lengths they will go to for one of their flock.
My wife and I were exploring the Wyoming prairie (where the Pony Express rode), when we came upon two shepherds. There in the middle of nowhere was a chuck-wagon (with living quarters for two), horses saddled with rifles in scabbards, binoculars hooked to the saddle horns and cowboys/shepherds armed with pistols. This picture reminded me of God our Shepherd. He is more than capable of protecting us (Ps. 24:8), has the power to back it up (Jn. 10:29) and He watches over us wherever we are (1 Pet. 3:12).
As believers, He longs to protect us from ourselves and worldly trouble. God has provided salvation through the sacrificial offering of His very own Lamb, Jesus Christ. If you have lived on this earth a while, you have had some tough times. The future may have seemed uncertain, but by reading through Scripture we can have hope and perfect peace. These six verses are some of the most comforting and reassuring words of the Bible.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the “shadow” of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me (vs. 4). There are plenty of “shadows” in this earthly life, but nobody has to fear a shadow. And besides, God assures us that He is with us. In this present, insane world we need to constantly remind ourselves of Who is in control! I suggest typing this Psalm on a small note paper, taping it to the refrigerator or dashboard of our vehicles and referring to it often (but not while driving-please!).
I have always hated goodbyes. Since my youth, I changed my vernacular from “goodbye” to “see you later.” Although the separation of family and friends can be painful, their absence does not typically bring destruction. In fact, we all have known friends whose presence brings destruction and whose absence brings in the disaster relief!
There is one Presence which when absent forebodes destruction. In the beginning of his prophecy, Ezekiel witnessed God’s glory evacuate the Temple (Ezekiel 8-11). This allowed the destruction of Jerusalem. Because of their rebellion, God removed His presence creating a “vacuum” and everything fell in upon itself.
On a personal level, I reflect on Samson’s life. His self-willed rebellion flirted with the edge of absolute defiance until he woke up and “wist not that the Lord was departed from him” (Judges 16:20). Without God’s presence with him, he experienced personal destruction. Moses knew the importance of God’s presence. After the Israelites worshiped the golden calf, God threatened to send the nation on to the Promised Land without His presence. Moses feared the absence of God’s presence and prayed, “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence” (Exodus 33:15).
So when you read of the Lord’s glory returning to the Temple in Ezekiel 43-44, this is the inverse of His absence. If His absence brings destruction, His presence brings rejuvenation! Ezekiel instructs the people regarding their rebellion, and soon you will read the benefits of God’s active presence (Ezekiel 44:4-8). As a believer, you are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), but it robs you of the fellowship with God (1 John 1:3-2:2)
Are you terrified of living today without the presence of God? David desperately prayed in his confession post-adultery and post-murder, “Cast me not away from thy presence; And take not thy holy spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11). God’s absence spells destruction in your life, but His presence blesses and restores. Desire God’s presence, today. Live in the fellowship of His presence.
If I were to ask you to list some of the most popular Christians throughout human history, who would be on your list? Maybe some people from the Bible, such as Paul, Moses or David. Or perhaps you would think of some in the past few hundred years, such as Charles Spurgeon, Hudson Taylor or Ann Judson. However, for every one of those more popular saints, there has been hundreds and thousands of individuals who worked behind the scenes and accomplished great things for the cause of Christ.
Our reading this morning brings us to a list of Christians that would fit this description. In Romans 16, Paul takes the time to list and mention brothers and sisters in Christ that were a blessing to him. His description of these men and women only prove to show his admiration for them: “my beloved”, “my kinsmen”, “my helpers”. These are folks that were a help to Paul in his ministry, no doubt a help that if it had not been there would have severely hurt the effectiveness of Paul’s ministry. Perhaps some of these folks were encouragers or prayer warriors while others may have been blessed with the ability to help Paul financially.
What about us? No doubt very few if any of us will attain the Christian “status” of a D.L Moody or a Oswald Chambers. But God still calls us to be faithful where we are at doing what we are called to do. Whether it be a faithful Sunday School teacher who prayers for his or her students daily or a greeter who welcomes people every Sunday with a smile. God sees, God knows, and God will reward in eternity. I wonder if in heaven some of the well-known preachers of our day will lose some of their fame and popularity while God rewards faithful preachers whose congregation never experienced the same kind of dynamic growth and numbers but who instead just remained faithful where God had them for as long as He wanted them there. After all, in the end, it is “God that giveth in the increase”. (1 Cor.3:6)