South Sydney Anglican Church

“Vision 2024: A Community overflowing with Faith, Hope and Love in JESUS” – 3rd Sunday

Bible Passage: 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

Mature Christianity is about Faith, Hope & Love for Eternity

Intro:       Well morning church. My name is Matt Johnson and right now – we are revisiting our vision as a church. As a church we want to be “A Community overflowing with faith, hope and love in Jesus.And this is what Paul is speaking about in 1 Corinthians 13 – the importance of faith, hope and love – in the Christian church.

Prayer:     Well over the past few weeks we’ve been looking at the Vision Statement of our church. But we’ve kind of missed an important question. Where does the Bible tell the Christian church to construct a vision statement or mission statement? (Pause) If I was devious I could suggest that it is in 1 Corinthians 17 or Acts 29. But truth is there is no 1 Corinthians 17 or Acts 29 in the Bible. So why do churches have vision statements?

These days most evangelical and pentecostal churches have Vision Statements and Mission statements. But the reason this is the case is largely because the church growth movement brought a business model into the church in the 1980’s. Most companies and large corporations have vision statements – so that the employees know what the business values most and what it is trying to achieve. So it was decided by someone, somewhere that it would be good if Churches also had Vision and Mission statements.

This has become so normal that some Christians (especially younger, aspiring Christians) EXPECT a church to have a vision statement – otherwise they assume the church has no clear goals or direction. So many churches started to cast their visions in terms of winning souls for Christ OR making disciple makers for Jesus. The truly aspirational young pastors often said things like: planting a church in every city on earth. I’m sure that’s all for Gods glory, not their own glory. But if Christians want a vision statement – I have no problem giving them a vision statement.

Being all things to all people – so that we might win some for Christ is a biblical principle.  But we need to remember that Jesus never told us; “Go now and form a vision statement.What’s more – most churches have done quite ok without a vision statement for the past 2000 years.

Anyway Vision Statements usually articulate what a church values and what it is trying to achieve. Then what the church says it values in its Vision it usually tends to measure. 76 baptisms in 2023. I wish. $46,000 more dollars in church offertory. Hooray! 12 people through our leadership program. But hang on – we don’t have one. Again, counting our KPI’s may not necessarily be wrong. BUT REMEMBER, in the Old Testament, after a particular victory in battle – it was Satan who inspired King David to count his KPI’s. This counting then led God to punish Israel – because instead of glorying in God, they started glorying in their amazing numbers. So, measuring KPI’s (as the church growth movement loves doing) can be dangerous.

Finally, we also need to consider what a church should value the most and can it be counted? Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that what we should value the most is faith, hope and love. And the interesting thing about faith, hope and love is that it’s hard to measure in a quantifiable way? But when we read the Bible what we see growing Gods kingdom time and time again is real faith, hope and love in action. Gods Kingdom advanced because David’s FAITH led him to go out and take on Goliath – against all odds. Queen Esther’s FAITH led her to challenge King Xerxes and the Jewish people were saved. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s unwavering HOPE that God would save them from the fiery furnace inspires the church today. And of course, the Bible is full of stories of EXTRAORDINARY SACRIFICIAL LOVE that come to climax with Jesus laying down his life on a cross. What God uses to build his kingdom is not ultimately 1) vision statements or 2) ministry systems or 3) even good marketing campaigns – but ordinary faith, hope and love in action.

 Point 1:         Faith, Hope & Love are Eternal, Spiritual Gifting is Not

Show:            1 Cor.13:8 (READ)

Explain:         Well Paul begins THIS NEXT SECTION of his argument about church life – saying; “love never fails.What Paul means by this is that love never comes to an end. Love is eternal. We know Paul has this eternal view of love because he contrasts love with PROPHECIES that will (ENTER) cease; TONGUES will be (ENTER) stilled and KNOWLEDGE will pass away. Paul is reminding usthat some things in Gods kingdom are eternal and some things are temporal. Some things will continue forever and some things are only for here and now – before Jesus returns. The eternal is more significant than the temporal.

Now we know Paul envisages prophecy, tongues and biblical knowledge coming to end at Jesus return – because he says in verse 12 (slide 3; 1Cor.13:12). Now we know that we will only see God face to face after Jesus returns and/or we die and go to heaven. So, prophecy, tongues and biblical knowledge remain important up to the point Jesus returns. But when we get to heaven prophesy, tongues and bible knowledge won’t matter anymore – because we will all see and speak to God face to face. Again, Paul’s point is to keep spiritual gifts in an eternal perspective. MAJOR ON THE MAJORS – of faith, hope and love, DON’T MAJOR ON THE MINORS – of prophecy, tongues and knowledge. But this is the very thing churches often fail to do.

Now at this point – I need to do a short THEOLOGICAL EXCURSUS for a moment on spiritual gifts. Many traditional Protestant churches have used 1 Corinthians 8 – to dismiss the idea of the miraculous and supernatural in the modern Christian church. Some churches argue that there are no more tongues or miraculous activity in the modern church because these things ceased with the age of the apostles. These churches usually say – the supernatural gifts simply existed to help the apostles form the early Christian church. Once the church was established (and the the canon of Scripture was complete) these gifts came to an end.

Now Christians who hold this belief are usually called (Slide 3) CESSATIONISTS which comes from the word “cease” in verse 8. But please note this is an argument from spiritual experience, which these same churches usually denounce The traditional protestant churches didn’t have anyone praying in tongues and they rarely witnessed miracles – so this explanation of 1 Corinthians 13 became a convenient way to explain their spiritual experience. But perhaps they should have asked “have we quenched the Spirits fire?” Or perhaps “have we come to despise prophesy?” (1Thess.5:19-21).

In my opinion – it is EXEGETICALLY IMPOSSIBLE to defend “a cessationist position” based on 1 Corinthians 13. FIRST, Paul makes it clear that prophecy, tongues and knowledge will cease when we see God face to face. Not before. SECOND, in the context of 1 Corinthians 13 – a cessationist position is just weird. In the very next chapter – 1 Corinthians 14 – Paul says he wishes we would all prophesy. But if tongues ceased with the age of the apostles, so too did prophesy and knowledge cease and 1 Corinthians 14 becomes nonsensical.

Apply: Again in my opinion there is nothing in Scripture that says the supernatural spiritual gifts ended with the age of the apostles. (Now we’ll talk a bit more about tongues and prophesy next week). But Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 13 is still that faith, hope and love are more important than spiritual gifts. FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE should characterize our spiritual lives forever. But spiritual gifts will stop having relevance when we get too heaven.

So Paul says LOVE NEVER FAILS. Love will work forever. But he is not talking about Valentines Day – romantic love. Paul is talking about covenantal, unconditional, sacrificial Jesus-like love that puts other people before yourself. Jesus showed us what real love looks like

(GOSPEL) Despite all our failures as sinful human beings – Jesus saw us in our spiritual poverty and Jesus loved us. Jesus loved us so much that he went to the cross and died to pay the penalty for both your sins and mine. Jesus took the punishment for our wrongdoing – so that we can be saved and go to heaven. Jesus did the time for our crime. And the Bible says that if you believe Jesus died for you, you love Jesus for dying for you and you ask God to forgive you – you will be pardoned. You will get to go to heaven. NOW WHETHER you do this or not – is entirely up to you. BUT IN RESPONSE to this amazing gift – God asks Christians to love Jesus for saving them and to love our neighbors – even as Jesus loved us. This means loving people (even people in poverty and spiritual brokenness) like Jesus loved you…

But all too often we don’t even see the people God puts in front of us. This is especially the case with people that we think 1) are beneath us or 2) are less important than us. We are so into networking with people who can advance our own purposes, that we often fail to see the people who have nothing immediate to offer us. But God didn’t call us to network OR to use our spiritual gifts to advance ourselves. RATHER, God gave us certain spiritual gifts so that we can serve others with Jesus-like love. But very often pride and busyness get in the way.

In church life I have to keep telling myself – “see the person in front of you. Don’t be dismissive.” “Love the person in front of you. Don’t be too busy”. LAST WEEK – just before church I was running around like normal with a million different things on my mind. But one of our beloved church members came to me asking if she could speak with me. Now in my busyness – I was almost dismissive. But thankfully, God helped me to see the person in front of me. So, I stopped and she shared with me, she had just received word that her sister had died. Imagine if I had of been dismissive. Imagine if I’d been too busy. She needed me right then and thankfully, by Gods grace, I stopped. listened and we prayed together. Sadly, we often fail to see or love the person in front of us.

Point 2:         Faith, Hope & Love are the marks of Mature Christianity

Show:            1Cor 13:8-11 (READ)

Explain:         Well Paul says that when he was a YOUNG  CHRISTIAN he spoke like a child, thought like a child and reasoned like a child. But as he grew up, (and completeness began to come), he left childish ways behind him. The word COMPLETENESS in verse 9 (is sometimes translated perfection). But the root word is “TELOS.” Telos has to do with the END of all things or the GOAL of all things. What God is ultimately interested in – is not vision statements OR church systems OR even spiritual gifts. Ultimately what God is really interested in is people having a real relationship with Himself – based on faith, hope and love.

THE POINT IS – there is a way of seeing and thinking that is mature Christianity and there is a way of seeing and thinking that is immature Christianity. THE CORINTHIANS were a very immature church. Earlier in 1 Corinthians 3 – Paul said to them – “I cannot address you as spiritually mature Christians, but as worldly and carnal Christians – mere infants in Christ (1Cor.3:1). THE CORINTHIANS were majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors. And I think Paul would have a similar thing to say to many Christian churches today.

When you think about mature Christianity – I want you to think of three words beginning with C – CHARACTER, CONVICTION AND COMPETENCE. (Rpt). In order to really serve in the Christian church – you need to first be developing a CHARACTER that is like Jesus. Then, you need to have the same CHRISTIAN CONVICTIONS as Jesus. You need to know what Jesus stood for in terms of truth and you need to have the same convictions in terms of truth. Then, as your character and convictions mature – you need to also have the COMPETENCE in certain areas to serve others – in a way that builds up the church. COMPETENCE largely has to do with your spiritual gifting. You may be competent as a teacher, or an evangelist, or as a prayer warrior, or helping with administration or perhaps even working miracles because God has given you certain spiritual gifts.

But competencewithout the right character or the right convictions – usually results in us A) bringing God’s name into disrepute and B) promoting heresy in the church. Just because you have certain spiritual gifts or competencies – doesn’t mean you are ready to serve in terms of character or convictions. character and conviction must come first.

Apply:            NOW FAITH (in terms of Christian character and Christian convictions) really means believing Gods word in the Bible. FAITH MEANS believing what the Bible says in terms of convictions and putting it into practice in terms of character. FAITH MEANS we believe in hell. FAITH MEANS we believe certain sexual activity is immoral. Faith also means practicing things like forgiveness and generosity and self control. But many of us – doubt God’s Word on certain subjects and we don’t out it into practice. We think God is wrong. NOW HOPE MEANS having a positive, unwavering attitude towards Gods providence and protection. Are you confident that God will look after you in all situations? OR IS YOUR HOPE still in yourself; or money; or science or government to look after you? If we don’t really have our faith and hope in Gods providence to look after us – our love will always have a narcissistic flavour. Our sinful nature will always love and tend to look after self if you don’t really have your faith and hope in God. Now the only way I know to keep faith, hope and love strong is to have real personal communion with God on a daily basis where you go to him in prayer and he speaks into your life – by Word and Spirit. A devotional life is essential for a spiritual life.

Now a problem I see in many modern forms of evangelical Christianity is that they think FRUITFULNESS for God equals FAITHFULNESS to God. Of course, faithfulness to God in terms of real faith, hope and love will always result in fruitfulness for God’s Kingdom. But the appearance of fruitfulness for God’s Kingdom based on our own KPI’s does NOT always mean real faithfulness to God. As I’ve explainedthe church growth movement has come up with all sorts of ways to grow very big churches with prosperity gospels, church systems and savvy marketing that is often far removed from genuine faith, hope and love in Jesus.

Point 3:         Faith, Hope & Love will be Celebrated for Eternity

Show:           1Cor13:12-13 (READ)

Explain:         Well, like many parts of the Bible – Paul speaks about the NOW and the NOT YET of Gods kingdom. Christians live as people who already see Gods beauty and glory in part NOW, and one day we will see Gods beauty and glory face to face NOT YET. And this now and not yet – kind of leads in two directions.

FIRST, as people who see Gods beauty and Gods glory in Jesus – it is meant to shape us now in terms of faith, hope and love. And while we only know God in part now, God already knows us fully. Every day God is looking to see how you are going in terms of faith, hope and love. God is more interested in you being a sincere Christian, than being a workaholic Christian. You don’t have to be the greatest pastor of all time – you just need to be a real pastor. You don’t have to be the greatest worship leader, or the greatest evangelist or even the greatest mother of all time – you just need to be faithful to the best of your ability.

Too often we base our significance as Christians on WHAT WE DO for Gods Kingdom, rather than WHO WE ARE in Gods Kingdom. We are already significant because we are beloved children of God. And the work God is doing in us is just as important to Him, as the work He does through us. I SAY THIS – because A) much of the work our church does AND B) Jesus Cares does will never be great in the eyes of the world. I don’t see our church planting more and more SSAC churches all over the world. Nor do I see our church sending lots of people to Bible college. Of course, I could be wrong. But the Bible tells us in Zechariah 4; do not despise the day of small things (Zech.4:10). Given our particular mission field to the least, the last and the lost of Sydney – we may never be great in the eyes of the world. But that is ok.

As a church family we have decided an important part of our mission field are the many damaged people living in housing commission and the many hurting people living on the streets of Sydney.

And when you minister to people living with mental health issues, trauma, addiction and poverty – it is always three steps forward and two steps back. If you have people in your own family that suffer with mental health issues or addiction or even disability – you know that this is often very hard work. Simply leading a person to Christ doesn’t immediately fix all the other problems in their life. And hurting, damaged people can even be counter-productive to church growth because their own hurts or anger at life – often gets expressed at people who don’t deserve it and they then leave the church. Now I’m not saying this is ok. I’m just saying it’s a reality and this church may NOT be for everyone.

Real Christian ministry sometimes involves nails through the hands and feet. Real Christian ministry often appears pathetic and forlorn like Jesus hanging on the cross  But do we see and value what God sees and values OR do we despise the day of small things? HARDSHIP and DIFFICULTY can be incredibly good for us, because the Bible says suffering produces perseverance and perseverance character and character, hope. (Rom.5:3-4). The Bible also says that; 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are nothing—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast. So great in Gods eyes is not always great in the worlds eyes.

THE SECOND THING the now and the not yet reminds us – is that NOW is the time for salvation. NOW is the time for people to put their faith, hope and love in Jesus – otherwise they will not be saved. So while our faith, hope and love is most important to God, our faith, hope and love MUST also drive us to 1) evangelism, 2) good systems in the church and 3) proper use of our spiritual gifts – so that people are saved. Paul will begin next week to speak about how faith, hope and love should mobilise us to build the church. But Paul is adamant that we mustn’t put the cart before the horse. If we get the principles of faith, hope and love right AND do not despise the days of small things – true greatness in Gods Kingdom will follow – even if that is only recognized at Jesus’ return.

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