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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Fellowship and Division - part one

This is part one of the message I preached at the 55+ community on Sept 15. You can find part two here.

“God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? (1 Corinthians 1:9-13)

Last week we looked at the first clause in verse 9: God is faithful. Today we turn our attention to the rest of this text, through verse 13. Let’s begin with the last part of verse nine: “[God] has called us into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ.”

The word Paul uses here and translated into the English, ‘fellowship’ is the Greek word, koinonia. First century Greek speakers understood koinonia to not simply mean ‘fellowship’ or friendship as 21st century speakers might understand the word, but koinonia can also mean by context a joint participation in some activity, an intimacy in an interaction and communion with each other.

In other words, Paul tells us that God has called us into an intimate, joint participation with Jesus in His work on planet earth. And we should spend time with this point because the New Testament Scriptures repeatedly tell us Koinonia, an intimate joint participation with Jesus, will cost us something.

That something is called, “obedience” – to go and to do and to be whatever it is that Jesus commands. What do I mean by that?

As always, let’s let Scripture define and clarify Scripture. Here is what the apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Christians at Philippi about true discipleship: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 2:7-11)

I hope you caught a sense of Paul’s emotion when he implores God to permit him to share in the koinonia – the fellowship, the intimacy, the joint participation – in Christ’s ongoing suffering?

Paul understood, as every Christian should understand, the privilege we have of koinonia with Christ and His work on earth must and will cost us something.

It cost Paul his well-respected position in his Jewish community. He further describes his own cross when he writes his second letter to the church at Corinth: “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I’ve been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure . . . .” (2 Corinthians 12:24-27)

Pope Francis recently said there are more martyrs in the church today than there were in the first centuries. According to Prisoner Alert, a ministry of The Voice of the Martyrs, Christians are being persecuted for their faith in more than 40 nations around the world today. In many of these nations it is illegal to own a Bible, to share their faith in Christ, change their faith, or teach their children about Jesus. Those who commit such ‘crimes’ as they are called, face arrest, torture, and even death. 

Which brings us to what the Lord Jesus Himself said of fellowship with Him.  You’ll find this in Luke’s gospel 14:26-28 -- “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?”

What does the Lord mean by ‘hating’ his parents, his wife, children, and so on? Jesus is NOT contradicting the rest of Scripture. So, as always, we will let Scripture clarify Scripture. As early as Genesis, God tells us a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

In the New Testament, Paul compares the relationship of a husband and wife to that of Jesus and His Bride, the Church.  One of the Ten Commandments requires us to “honor thy father and thy mother.”  The Psalmist tells us, “Children are a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3)  and Jesus said, “Permit the children to come to me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” (Mark 10:14)   and, “If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were tied around his neck and he be tossed into the sea.” (Mark 9:42)

So, what is Jesus saying about hating one’s family? It's this: “Unless your love for Me is so great that even your love for the closest members of your family is like hatred by comparison, you cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus is God almighty in the flesh of a man. And God has the absolute right to demand that his creatures honor Him above all else. Why? Not because He is an egotistical, arrogant self-centered bully. Those evils belong exclusively to the devil and his children. It’s because our Father in heaven desperately loves us, and He knows – because He created us, He should know – He knows that only by loving Him above all else can we experience the freedom that comes with being His child by faith and obedience to His commandment to love Him above all else.

That’s why the Lord also said in that Luke passage, “Count the cost of discipleship.” Are we willing to put Jesus above our wealth, our freedoms, and above the approval of our spouse, our parents, our children, our friends, or anything and anyone else?

You may recall Jesus’ warned His disciples to “Remember Lot’s wife.” (Luke 17). He was referring to the story of Lot’s escape from Sodom before God destroyed it. As Lot, his wife and their two daughters left the town, Lot’s wife looked back toward the city and was turned into a pillar of salt.

What is implied in that text in Genesis – and seems confirmed in the context of Jesus’ words in Luke 17:32, Mrs. Lot looked back longingly toward her home, her family, her friends, her neighbors. She wanted them more than she wanted what God wanted for their lives.

We should be careful to remember her judgment. Before the Trumpet echoes throughout the halls of eternity, calling God’s children home, we must prepare ourselves NOW to NOT look back at what -- or who -- we leave behind. Koinonia with Christ costs us something. Sometimes it costs us our friends. Sometimes even members of our family.

Which brings us to the next part of Paul’s message to the church at Corinth in which he addresses the sin of division in the family of God. We will look at that subject in part two here.

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