Means of Grace: The Church

Sermon by Ralph Kelley on Jul 28

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

If you would, I would invite you to open your Bibles to 1 Corinthians chapter 1; 1 Corinthians chapter 1. If you’re using one of our church pew Bibles, that can be found on page 952. As you know, this month during our morning services we’ve been looking at the means of grace that the Lord has given to us. Billy Dempsey started the month preaching on the Word and prayer, and then the following week Wiley preached on the Lord’s Supper. Last week, Cory preached on baptism. I’ve been asked to finish the series this week and the topic is, “The Church.” So before we read our passage, let me pray for us.

Father God, we ask that You, through Your Spirit, would show us glorious truth in this portion of Your Gospel. We pray this in the name of Jesus, amen.

1 Corinthians chapter 1, beginning in verse 1. And remember, this is the very Word of God:

“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge - even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you - so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Amen. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.
As we finish our series on the means of grace this morning by looking at the Church, there are three key areas that I want us to be thinking about together. First, I want us to think about the King of the Church. Secondly, I want us to think about the unity of the Church. And thirdly, I want us to think about the purpose of the Church. Or another way to think about it is, we’re going to look at the Head of the Church, Jesus, the body of the Church, God’s people, and the feet of the Church - what is it that we are to be doing? King or Head, unity or body, purpose or feet.

The King of the Church 

I think this topic of the Church is vitally important to us today. The Church is the institution that Jesus left for His continued ministry. With the pouring out of His Spirit at Pentecost, the Church was inaugurated in a new era that continues even to this day. Understanding who Jesus is in relation to the Church and how we relate to one another, is the only way we are going to be able to know what it is that Jesus wants us to be doing. So how do we know these things? Well let’s go to our text. In this text, Paul puts the Lord Jesus at the center of everything. Look with me. Verse 1, “apostle of Christ Jesus.” Verse 2, “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Verse 2 again, “call on the name of Jesus.” Verse 3, “grace and peace from the Lord Jesus.” Verse 4, “grace given you in Christ Jesus.” Verse 6, “testimony about Christ Jesus.” Verse 7, “revealing of the Lord Jesus.” Verse 8, “guiltless in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Verse 9, “fellowship in the Lord Jesus.” Jesus is center of all these remarks and He’s in the center because He is the King of His Church.

I love having the Day School students here in the building, and a couple of years ago we added the preschool and that only adds to the enjoyment around here. And last fall I was walking in the hall and I came across a class of preschoolers walking in a very straight line and being very quiet. And I started speaking to them, wishing them a good morning, giving out a few high-fives - I’m sure the teacher was delighted I was disrupting them like that! And one of the boys gave me a high-five and noted that I was allowed to talk in the hallways. And when I confirmed to him that yes, I was allowed to talk in the hallways, he asked me this question - “Are you the owner of this place?” Obviously the boy is very bright. He knows leadership and authority when he sees it! However, I had to let him know that, alas, I’m not the owner. I said,”Jesus is the owner of all around here.” I’m sure his teacher was delighted for that little hit and run conversation as I left and she was left to explain everything else to him after that!

Now if I make the statement to you that Jesus is King and Head of the Church, most of you say, “That’s right. That’s obvious.” Which is great, because Jesus is the King and the Head of the Church. But I don’t think it’s always so obvious as we say it is sometimes. In fact, over the centuries in Christendom, Jesus being properly recognized as King and Head of the Church has caused much ink and blood to be spilled. John Hus, 15th century reformer who lived about a hundred years before Luther and Calvin, was burned at the stake for heresy. And one charge against him was he insisted Jesus was the Head of the Church. Hus certainly was not the only one persecuted for this belief. 

Look at verse 2 with me. “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Paul is writing to the believers who are in Corinth, but he is also writing to a larger audience, or at the very least letting the people in Corinth understand that they are part of a larger Church. Again, “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I want you to think for a moment about the vastness of this verse. If you’re a member of First Presbyterian Church here in Jackson, your membership is far greater than the walls of this building. Your membership extends to all those in every place. So everywhere where people call the name Jesus as Lord, you are members of the same Church. But there’s even more, if that was not vast and wonderful enough. You know who else calls Jesus, “Lord”? The saints who have gone on to be with the Lord in glory are part of this group. This is what we refer to as the Church triumphant. Isn’t that a wonderful thought? Our loved ones who have died in Christ are part of our Church. My dad, some of your family members, some of our friends like Don Breazeale and Gene McRoberts and Denny Terry and Marion Swayze and Bob McDonald, just to throw out a few names. Though not sitting in their familiar places in this room this morning, but they’re still part of the Church that we’re a part of. They’re still a part of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only Christ Himself can be King of a Church that is so large and vast and distinct and glorious. 

This morning, we recited the Apostles’ Creed. And one of the lines - you’re welcome to look at it - one of the lines refers to the “holy catholic church.” I want to be clear what we mean when we say this. “Holy” does not mean a church without fault or a church with perfect people. What it means is our sins are forgiven. We have been cleansed by the Gospel of Jesus and one day Christ will present us as His perfect and radiant bride. And when we say “catholic,” it does not mean Roman Catholic; it means universal. The Church is for everyone who believes, no matter what their ethnic or social background may be. Salvation and church membership are found in Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ alone. Our King Jesus redeems His people from the tyranny of sin through His Gospel of faith and repentance. When we think about the Church, one way to think about it is in the context of the visible and the invisible Church. Look around the room this morning. If you have made a public profession of faith, you and your children are a member of the visible Church. However, it is possible to be a member of the visible Church and to truly not be saved. The members of the invisible Church are those who are truly converted, both those here on earth and in heaven.

With that being said, I plead with you this morning. If you’ve not turned from your sin into King Jesus in faith and repentance, you must. You must! There’s nothing more important in your life than dethroning yourself from the throne of your heart and having King Jesus sit on the throne of your heart. If you continue in your own way, instead of spending eternity with King Jesus and the saints you’ll spend it forever damned in hell. You see, recognizing who really is the King of the Church and your heart is utmost critical. Please, I beg you, recognize the kingship of the Lord Jesus in your life. Jesus is the King and the Head of the Church. That’s the first point.

The Unity of the Church 

The second point is the unity of the Church or the body of the Church. Again, take another look at verse 2 with me - “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” So not only does our being a Church have a vertical aspect to it where we serve the same King, it also has a horizontal aspect to it as we’re called to serve and to care for one another. One of the biggest changes in America in the last twenty years is the shift of thinking towards individualism. This is now a prevalent thought and agenda in our day. Most Americans now are quick to put off group identities and group culture and are much more likely to be defined by the way they personally want to be defined. This is why some people are wanting to be identified by their own choosing of gender. Of course this flies in the face of what the apostle Paul is directing the Church to do here in this verse. He’s calling us to die to self and to live in community with one another; to be identified as a group and to treasure our identity as a group in Christ Jesus. Our call now is to love others like Christ loves us.

The reality of wanting to be identified with our self is that that is exactly what Jesus came to save you from. If left on our own to be identified by the way we identify ourselves, we are hopeless and helpless and lost. But with Christ saving you from none other than yourself, you get a new identity. You are no longer a lost soul but you are a child of God. You are a child of God and a child of the King. And you have all the rights and privileges of living as a prince or princess of the King. You are now part of the kingdom of Jesus. We are now part of God’s community and in this community we are now also called to love others - others who we know are not perfect in most ways. In fact, sometimes we are called to love those that have disappointed us or dare I even say, have hurt us. Yet it is clear if we call on the name of Jesus, that is to say if you are a Christian, then there is a spiritual unity that’s not grounded just in our location of being together but it’s by our common worship of the Lord Jesus. 

Again this morning as we were reading through the Apostles’ Creed we talked about “the communion of saints.” A communion here does not mean the Lord’s Supper. It means community or fellowship. Look at verse 9 with me for a moment. “God is faithful by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The word “fellowship” is the word “communion” - bringing about the reality of community. Our relationship with Christ is based on communion or fellowship with Him. Therefore our relationship with one another is rooted in our common communion to Christ. Obviously, we should make every effort to be united to each other. Churches are to be communities of love and of care. 
That’s not always easy for us, is it? And I think part of the reason why we struggle is we don’t really even understand what we mean when we use the word “saints.” The word “saints” simply means “holy one.” However, saints are not special people that should be revered more than any other people. You see, all of God’s people are called saints. We’re all saints. We also know we’re all flawed. All of God’s people are called to serve God and each other to build up His Church. 

Paul gives us a real good look at how this plays out in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians. Will you turn over to chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians for just a moment please? In our text this morning we can see Paul, he presupposes the Church as an organic entity. And here, Paul really shows what that is to look like. Chapter 12 beginning in verse 12:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”

Paul lays it out quite clearly here. We are absolutely connected to one another. If you find yourself thinking, “This place would be better off without so-and-so being around,” you’re mistaken. Now obviously this takes quite a bit of work. As I mentioned earlier, saints are not perfect people, but they are the people of Jesus. The saints in this room are the people who Jesus loved so much that He died for them. Now as a response, Jesus wants you to love the people He loves. I think one of the bad habits that the Church in America has gotten into lately is there’s this growing mentality of consumerism in the Church. Many people now find themselves asking, “What can I get out of the Church?” The thinking really should be, “How can I contribute best to the Church? How do I love others well? How do I cooperate? How do I serve? How do I learn?” You see, in Christ’s plan, when we love and serve and learn we actually get filled up with all the things that we want and need. When we worship well, we’re blessed in that time. If you find yourself not wanting to participate in worship because you don’t like some of the instrumentation or one of the ministers or you find yourself closing your hymnbook because you don’t care for one of the hymns, or you find yourself avoiding sitting by someone because you don’t like the way they look or dress, or if you’re missing being here because of sports or work or any other way that you’re not giving your best effort, then you’re missing out on the communion of the saints. And missing out on the communion of the saints by itself would be sad, and I’d encourage you to change your thinking. 

The Purpose of the Church 

But it’s more than just sad. Since we are connected, it has a ripple effect on all of us. Paul’s point in this passage is that everyone is valuable and that we’re all connected. Let me illustrate this for you. You remember in the book of Joshua when the Lord told His people not to take anything from their enemies after a victory, but Achan ignored what the Lord had said and he stole some treasure and he took it back to his camp and he hid it under his tent - well what happened? All the people of God were hurt. They lost the battle at Ai and it was not until Achan confessed his sin that God was pleased with His people again because they are all one body. Is it possible that you need to repent of not loving others well so that we all can enjoy a better fellowship? The Lord wants us to love and serve each other well. He wants us to value others more than we value ourselves. When we lean into our work to serve one another and to love one another, despite our differences, the Lord is pleased and He blesses His people. We need eyes and ears and feet. We need livers and hearts and lungs. We all need one another. The existence and growth of the Church derive from the unity we have as one body in Jesus.

Here’s a few self-examining questions. “Do I love others more than I love myself? Do I come to First Presbyterian Church to serve or to be served? In what ways am I a blessing to others?” I don’t know if you love your answers to those questions. Maybe, you might think you’re coming up a bit short. If you are, I have good news for you. You can change. You can do more. You can serve more. You can love more. And you can be more of a blessing. When we act as one body serving the one Head of the Church, then we can get moving. Then we know our purpose. Then we can be the feet where we can fulfill the purpose of what we are to be doing. But the only way we can know what to do is by knowing who we are and how we relate to God individually and together. Note here in verse 1 - Paul talking about our calling in several verses here - in verse 1 we read Paul was called to be an apostle. In verse 2, we are called to be saints together. In verse 9, we are called to the fellowship of Jesus. The foundation of doing what God would have us to do is laid up in the idea that God has called us unto Himself. When we’re called to the Lord, we’re called out of sin and into a new relationship with Jesus and to a purpose. Our Westminster Confession of Faith says this about our calling: 

“All those and only those whom God has predestined to life, He is pleased to call effectually in His appointment and accepted time. By His Word and Spirit, He calls them from the state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ. In this calling, God enlightens their minds spiritually and savingly so that they understand the things of God. He takes away their hearts of stone and gives them hearts of flesh, renews their wills, and by His almighty power turns them to what is good and effectually draws them to Jesus Christ. Yet He does this in such a way that they come most freely, being made willingly by His grace.”

What a glorious thought that when He calls us He takes our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh. And there’s only one acceptable response to this from us, and it should be our worship. When we realize the amazing grace that is in our life, then we should want to worship. Look at verse 4. Paul says, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.” When Paul sees the grace that is given, his response is to give thanks. It is to praise God. It is to worship.

How about you - are you still amazed by the grace of God in your life that you want to worship God not just on Sunday mornings or Sunday evenings but every day, every morning, every evening? I hope so. Not only should we want to worship God, but we should be about the business of telling others about the grace that is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. We as God’s children possess the words of life that a dying world needs to hear. Just as we take stock in the goodness of God to call us from death to life, we should take a look around us and be energized to tell others. It’s what the Lord would have us do. The Lord desires the lost to come to Him, and in His plan for His Church, He wants to us people like you and me to tell others about His saving grace. Will you do it? Will you put your feet in motion to worship and to share the Gospel?

In conclusion, I want you to pick up your worship guide one more time. I actually want you to turn to the evening worship page. I want you to look down at the very bottom of the evening worship page and there’s a box down there that says, “Our Vision.” See it down there? I want us to read this together, “Our Vision.” Alright, all together, “First Presbyterian Church of Jackson exists to glorify God by making disciples on the North State Street corridor, in the greater Jackson area, and around the world.” To the glory of Jesus, may it be so. Let us pray.

Father God, we thank You for a look into Your Word this morning. We thank You that You are our God. You are the King and Head of Your Church. Lord, I pray that knowing that we will strive to love one another well. Lord, would You work that truth in our hearts today and every day? We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.

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