South Sydney Anglican Church

“Vision 2024: A Community overflowing with Faith, Hope and Love in JESUS” – 2nd Sunday

Bible Passage: 1 Corinthians 13:1-7

Our Church Community is Meant to Overflow with God’s Love

Intro:     Morning South Sydney Anglican Church. My name is Matt Johnson and today we are continuing to think about our vision as a church. We want to be “A Community overflowing with faith, hope and love in Jesus”. So, lets pray as we begin…

Prayer:   Well let me begin by saying – 1 Corinthians 13 is not really about MARRIAGE. I know that about 50% of Christian weddings use 1 Corinthians 13 to speak about loving your spouse. But this passage is really about loving all the weird and wonderful people in a multicultural, multi-socio economic, multi-gifted church.

As I shared last week the church growth movement really kicked off in the 1980’s and it brought what was called A SYSTEMS APPROACH to church life. They argued that if you put the right management systems in place the church will grow. For instance, ANDY STANLEY of North-Point church in Atlanta says that every church needs 7 key systems to grow. Andy Stanley says; (Slide 2) The argument goes that if you get the right systems in place it will help the church grow and then you can measure the outputs of each system. The outputs are the KPI’s…

Now a lot of helpful observations came from a systems approach to church because many churches were mismanaged. But I remember sitting in one of these church growth conferences (around 2010) and it struck me quite strongly; where is God in all these systems? I realised that if you applied a systems methodology to an ISLAMIC MOSQUE or a LOCAL LIONS CLUB – they could also grow exponentially. Basically, irrespective of your gospel, your bible teaching (or even Gods involvement) – a systems approach to church – could grow just about any organisation because of the nature of human beings.

So what outputs or KPI’s should the church really focus upon and are they really measurable by normal business models.

As Paul tells us today in 1 Corinthians 13 – you can have much ministry activity – but if ministry activity is not coming from faith, hope and love – it is nothing. It is just a lot of hot air. Now I can’t really call faith, hope and love – KPI’s or even outputs. But without real, mature faith, hope and love – Paul tells us there will be no real KPI’s or outputs. So it got me thinking what inputs are needed for faith, hope and love to be strong? With the church growth movement primarily focussing on outputs, I began to see they were assuming or even ignoring the necessary inputs for strong faith, hope and love.  

For four years Naomi and I lived in OUTBACK WESTERN AUSTRALIA. It was desert and for most of the year everything was nearly dead. Life was only just holding on by a thread. But thankfully, every year, a CYCLONE would form off Broome and storms would come into the desert. Then all of a sudden the waterholes and gorges would fill-up with water, they’d begin to overflow, and then life would emerge in abundance with all sorts of beautiful desert flowers. But without the right input of life-giving rain – everything was dry, dead and dirty.

Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 13 is that you can have lots of spiritual gifts and church activity, but without the right inputs to our faith, hope and love – nothing meaningful will really happen.

Point 1:           The Church needs to be filled with Faith, Hope & Love first.

Show:             1Cor.13.1-3 (READ)

Explain:          As you can see Paul says that even if a church is doing lots of great Christian things – without love it all amounts to nothing. Yet again, we are reminded that while man focusses on the outward appearance of churches, God looks at the heart. What looks absolutely fantastic to us may actually be as good as dead in Gods opinion.

Now last week we saw that the church is an eclectic community of people to whom the Holy Spirit gives different spiritual gifts so we can serve God and serve one another. Now at this point – we think “ok, let’s get moving.” But Paul finished 1 Corinthians 12 – with these words (Slide 5). Now notice Paul tells us to desire the GREATER gifts. The word GREATER is megas. Now that’s not MAGA. We’re not trying to make America great again. No! Megas is about making everyone great again spiritually. So how do we make everyone in the church great again spiritually.

So we go into chapter 13 – expecting to get some indication of what are the mega spiritual gifts. But instead, Paul immediately tells us that all the gifts we normally regard as MEGA – are as good as useless – without love. But it’s not just love. Paul’s concern is faith, hope and love (and especially love). Look at what he says – in 1 Corinthians 13:13. (Slide 6; 1Cor.13:13). Faith, hope and love are more important than the actual gifts. We also see this TRIFECTA in verse 7. Let me show you (Slide 7; 1Cor.13:7). The fact is faith, hope and love are identified as the key marks of true Christianity in several key passages in the Bible.

BUT please notice, in 1 Corinthians 13:13 we AGAIN get the word MEGAS – making everyone great again spiritually. Paul told us – end of chapter 12 to seek the greater gifts and he now says the three greatest gifts of Gods Spirit – are faith, hope and love (and the greatest of these is love).

Now we don’t usually think of faith, hope and love as spiritual gifts or charismata. But Paul is saying these are the most basic, fundamental gifts or graces of God’s Spirit. (GOSPEL) God’s Spirit is the one who gives us FAITH that Jesus is Gods Son who died on the cross for our sins and rose again. Yes, as sinners we deserve to die and go to hell. But Jesus took the punishment for us because he loves us. So the Holy Spirit then give us trust or faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Then comes HOPE. JESUS PROMISES that if we trust and obey him God will then forgive us and always help us. So the Holy Spirit then gives us the HOPE of heaven. But all this is meant to culminate in LOVE for God, love for Jesus and love for neighbour. So the Spirit puts God’s love in our heart so we love Jesus for saving us AND we begin to express our love for Jesus – by loving our neighbour as ourselves. So the three primary gifts or graces of the Holy Spirit that should be present in every Christian is faith, hope and love.

Apply:            Paul is adamant that faith, hope AND love (and especially love) – MUST be driving the activity of the church. REMEMBER, Jesus said to his disciples; “the world will know that you are my disciples if you love one another”. Jesus did NOT say, the world will know you are my disciples if you build MEGA CHURCHES; you have MEGA CHRISTIAN ALBUM sales and your pastors all fly in MEGA PRIVATE JETS.” Now you might think Matt – you’re getting too basic. Of course, we are people of faith, hope and love. We’re Christians. But the Bible is clear that our faith as Christians can grow or it can grow weak. Hope can wax and wain. And love itself can grow more and more like Jesus’ love OR it can grow cold.  So we can’t just assume that because we have faith, hope and love as Christians, that we are strong and growing in our faith, hope and love. If faith, hope and love are the ESSENTIALS that must drive Christian activity we must think about THE INPUTS that nurture faith, hope and love and not just THE OUTPUTS of faith, hope and love. The things we ASSUME, we tend to lose.

So like the cyclones in Western Australia that brought much needed rain into the desert – what inputs do we need to remain strong in faith, hope and love. What Christian activities really keep us strong in faith, hope and love. (PAUSE)

This brings us back to what old timer Christians used to call THE MEANS OF GRACE. The means of grace are things like 1)  prayer, 2)Bible reading, 3) regular Christian fellowship, 4) praise and worship, 5)occasional fasting and I’d add 6) truly pursuing holiness. All these things are absolutely necessary for us to maintain our faith, hope and love in Jesus. Ignore these spiritual inputs or be lazy with these inputs and there will be very little meaningful outputs. (Slide 8) So apart from our church vision, we also have a personal mission statement for everyone in our church (READ). Now when this says; 1) LIVE by faith, hope and love we mean develop good Christian habits of bible reading, prayer, church attendance and basic holiness. Too many Christians are calling themselves Christians while neglecting the fundamental inputs of Christianity. When this says GROW in faith, hope and love – it means read a Christian book, attend a Christian conference or get trained up in some Christian activity. If we get the basics right AND THEN grow in these things; before long you will begin to overflow and you will share your faith, hope and love with others.

Point 2:         The Church’s F, H & L must be Expressed in Christian Character

Show:                        1Cor.13:4-7 (READ)

Explain:         Well Paul now explains that if we are serious about using our spiritual gifts in the church – our faith, hope and love MUST first shape our CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. God MUST first work in us before He works through us. Without the right CHRISTIAN CHARACTER we will often end up doing more harm in ministry, than good.

So, Paul now tells us (Slide 10) that 1) love should promote seven positive character traits and 2) love should restrain 8 negative character traits in us. Have a look with me..

Now please remember this is primarily about LOVE in the CHRISTIAN CHURCH. It’s not really about love in marriage. As we saw last week (in 1 Corinthians 12) the Christian church is meant to be an eclectic, diverse, multicultural community because Jesus is the Saviour and Lord of all people. So, as a church family we should have members from all sorts of cultural backgrounds, different denominational church backgrounds and even different socio-economic backgrounds. But this makes church really diverse and it means loving one another properly, won’t always come naturally. It will take some effort.

THE EARLY CHURCH had a lot of difficulty bridging the gap between 1) Jewish Christians and 2) Gentile Christians. It also had difficulty bridging the gap between Christians who 1) were free citizens and Christians 2) who were slaves. So if you come back to the list (Slide 11) – of positive Christian character traits Paul tells us the first thing our love should produce is PATIENCE. Now I’m sure that like myself, you are all excellent at patience. No problems here, just ask my kids. No problems stuck in traffic. Right! But truly, as we come together as a church – we need to be PATIENT with one another’s differences. We need to give the Holy Spirit and Gods Word time to work. Rome wasn’t built in a day. So we need to stop picking theological fights with everyone who has the slightest difference to us. Who knows you may even learn something from the Christian you are sure is wrong. PATIENCE is also really important with NEW CHRISTIANS. The new Christians are like the babies of the church family; and like all babies they regular poop their spiritual pants. This takes patience.

Then we get to the word KIND. Kindness has a certain motherly quality to it. A good mother is KIND to her children. And as a church we too need to be intentionally kind in our interactions with other people. It’s often said – people DON’T CARE how much you know until they know how much you CARE. So are you a kind, soft person OR a little harsh. Well pray about it and ask God for help.

Then we have REJOICING IN THE TRUTH. As we interact with other Christians – our hearts should rejoice – whenever we see them growing in biblical truth. Instead of A) jumping on each other whenever we say something that is biblically untrue, lets rejoice B) whenever we see people saying things that are biblically true. This is an attitudinal thing. When you look at other Christians do you see a cup half empty or half full. Well rejoice if its half full.

Now the word “PROTECT” especially has to do with what we do with our mouths. Yes, from time to time, you will discover things in the church – that are not quite right (because we are all still sinners). But if you start to gossip or slander other people OR you can’t keep peoples confidences you are not protecting them. Of course, if there is something SERIOUSLY WRONG – you can always come and speak to me, Seti or one of the elders. Sometimes protecting a fellow Christian means gently speaking the truth to them in love. But protecting one another never means gossip, slander or malicious defamation. If you are little too loose or nasty with your tongue – pray about it.

Now in verse 7 Paul again picks up the key words of FAITH or TRUST and HOPE. Sometimes we just have to TRUST God is working in another Christian, even when we see difficulties. Give it a bit of time and pray for them. HOPE is confidently believing that God will finish the good work he has begun in every genuine Christian – even when there are problems or setbacks. Its not actually us building the church, its Jesus building His church; and His ways are not always our ways. Sometimes we just trust and hope that Jesus knows what He is doing.

And this brings us to the final word PERSEVERE. Truth is – Christians have become a little bit too quick to jump from church, to church, to church – whenever there is a problem. But God wants us to persevere. You don’t give up on family. INSTEAD, you persevere in love – because that’s your God-given family.

Now I know that sometimes because of work commitments, or moving house or life-change – it does become necessary to leave a church. But this 1) should never be done lightly AND 2) it should never be done just because there are a few problems. God often does His best work growing our faith, hope and love – in and through difficulties.

Apply:            So these are all things of Gods Spirit (ENTER) that we need if we are serious about building the church. THE APPLICATION question is – which of these things do you really need to work on. Pray about it.

Point 3:         The Church’s Faith, Hope & Love also needs to restrain the Flesh

Show:            1 Cor.13:4-7 (READ)

Explain:         Well there are certain positive character traits we need to develop AND there are certain negative character traits we need to restrain if we are serious about building the church. Paul also identifies 8 negative character traits we need to restrain with our faith, hope and love… (Slide 14) I would call these things our fleshly struggles (ENTER).

Now remember – Paul has made it clear that our use of spiritual gifts and our desire to see the church grow MUST come from our faith, hope and love – otherwise it is nothing. But very often we desire to use our spiritual gifts and even grow the church for fleshly reasons.

First, we often ENVY those who have certain positions of responsibility on  the church. So envy motivates our volunteering to serve. Or we want to do great things in the church – so we can BOAST about how good we are AND make a name for ourselves. We can even flaunt our spiritual gifts because we have a problem with PRIDE. Sometimes, young Christians will even DISHONOUR other people in the church because they crave more honour for themselves. Our reasons for serving in the church often have much more to do with self-seeking interests rather than really serving God. Then we get ANGRY because I’m not valued enough. Then, we start KEEPING A RECORD of everyone elses sins, because its not fair and then bitterness sets in.

Now at this point how do you think we’re going building up the church? I’ve actually seen Christians reach a point where they take more delight in tearing other Christians down and even tearing the church down – rather than building it up. These problems all come from the unrestrained desires of the flesh.

Now the Bible is clear that this battle is raging in all of us – between spiritual desires AND sinful fleshly desires. Now thankfully, as we grow and mature as Christians the Holy Spirit begins to give us victory over the flesh. But this is why the Bible is very, very, very clear that young Christians should never be given too much responsibility in the church – because pride, boasting and self-seeking always begin to emerge. The spiritual battle to build the church MUST begin in the battle to build real Christian character in all of us. THE POINT IS – you may think you have the spiritual gifts to really help the church, but you need to realise you may not yet have the Christian maturity to do that well. Just because 1) you have certain spiritual gifts doesn’t mean 2) you are ready to serve in a good way. Again, this means you need patience and you really need to check your motivations and desires.

How often do you see CHURCH PASTORS envying the size of other pastors churches. How often do we see church leaders boasting about their churches. We led 663 people to Christ. We produced a Christian album that went platinum. PRIDE is always crouching at the door waiting to trip us up. And very often Christian ministry and activity can become self-seeking rather than God glorifying. Many church families become more concerned with making a name for themselves (as the next big thing) – than they are about LOVING people, GROWING Christians or really SEEING non-Christians come to know Jesus. And if you don’t think that’s happening, I think you are blind. Paul is giving us this instruction because he knows it is a real and present danger…

Apply:            But this brings us all back to SPIRITUAL INPUTS, before we start focussing on SPIRITUAL OUTPUTS. If we do not have in place the right disciplines of 1) prayer, 2) Bible reading, 3) good Christian fellowship, 4) worship and 5) real Christian character – THE OUTPUTS start becoming very fleshly AND very shallow. Just because a church is growing in numbers does not mean real Christian growth is happening.  If we are going to be church full and overflowing with faith, hope and love – God needs to be constantly filling our spiritual tanks. (SHOW – pour water into bowl).

If God keeps pouring faith, hope and love into our lives through personal prayer, bible reading, Christian fellowship, occasional fasting and walking closely with Jesus – what happens naturally? Come on – what happens naturally??? That’s right – we will overflow. But what happens when the inputs stop? That’s right we stop overflowing. We may find ways to rock the church – to get a bit more to overflow. Or we might even be able to tip the church a bit – to get a bit more overflow. But what is now happening to us? That’s right – we become more empty. In order to be full and overflowing with faith, hope and love – the right inputs are actually more important than outputs. So my big question for today (in terms of application) is are you really growing personally in your Christian CHARACTER and Christian CONVICTIONS because only then will you be really COMPETENT to serve in Gods Church. Lets pray – as we conclude…


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