September 29, 2019

At many Christian weddings, couples use symbols to represent their union as husband and wife. These symbols involve three objects that fit together. One represents the bride. One represents the groom, and one represents God whom they believe to be the most vital part of their relationship.

I’ve seen couples light unity candles, construct a unity cross, and mix unity sand.
Tanner and Tori Thurmond invoked a different metaphor last month at their wedding when they had this passage from Ephesians read at their wedding.

9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  (Ecc. 4:4-12)

So there you have it — the image of a three-stranded cord for marriage, one for the groom, one for the bride, and one for the Holy Spirit. While this passage is not about marriage, it is about the strength of unity, and no marriage can survive without unity.

We are living in a time when we could use a reminder of the importance of unity.

Our country is divided on many fronts. That’s not a new thing. In case you forgot, we had a Civil War in this country one time.
If you were a person of color living in the ’60s or any time before that, you knew we lived in a divided country.

If you laid your life on the line for your country in Vietnam, when you came home, you discovered that we lived in a divided country and your sacrifice wasn’t appreciated.

If you are a woman who expected equal treatment in the workplace, with equal pay for equal work, for most of our country’s existence, you know we have lived in a divided country.

Today the hot button topics that are dividing Americans are health care, gun control, abortion, immigration, the environment, education, politics, and taxes.

People have come to identify themselves so strongly with one political party or another that it has become divisive within families, among friends, and even within churches.

We have forgotten how to have civil discussions without wounding and disparaging one another.

Since the Holy Crusades 600, 700, 800 years ago, religion has divided people to the point of death. So much for “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

We now live in a post-denominational era. That means that most people no longer care whether the church sign says Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Christian, or non-denominational when deciding whether to attend or belong.

People are tired of churches and denominations that are not unified around a message of love, faith, grace, and service to Jesus. Any hint of division and those that are on the fringes looking in want no part of the conflict. Life is filled with enough of it already.
Our denomination has been in steady decline in membership and baptisms, and much of the decline can be traced back to our denominational conflict that began in 1979.

This is my sixth message in a series of messages on the vision of our church. Today, I am going to speak lovingly but plainly.
I have been a Baptist all my life, so I cherish the freedom I have as a Baptist. Bible freedom, soul freedom, church freedom, and religious freedom, are freedoms we have as Baptists. No pope or preacher tells us what we must believe in non-essential matters of faith. We agree on enough to bind us together in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and much more.

Because we are Baptists, we are not always in agreement. It’s not in the Bible, but it’s written in the margins somewhere, “Where there are two Baptists, there will be three opinions.”

What is in the Bible are commands about loving and getting along. Part of living in a community of believers is learning how to how to agree on the essential things and not get sidetracked on things that are not kingdom issues.
What’s beautiful about the Bible is that we can find guidance for many of our modern issues in our churches by studying what was happening in the early church.

The church of Corinth was dealing with just such an issue:

Listen to what the Apostle Paul said to them:

1 Corinthians: 1:10-12
10 I have a serious concern to bring up with you, my friends, using the authority of Jesus, our Master. ‘I’ll put it as urgently as I can: You must get along with each other. You must learn to be considerate of one another, cultivating a life in common.

11-12 I bring this up because some from ‘Chloe’s family brought a most disturbing report to my attention—that ‘you’re fighting among yourselves! ‘I’ll tell you exactly what I was told: ‘You’re all picking sides, going around saying, ‘I’m on “Paul’s side,” or “‘I’m for Apollos,” or “Peter is my man,” or “‘I’m in the Messiah group.”

What this says to me is that church hasn’t changed a lot 2000 years. The reason is that people are people. People who come to church will naturally find the most comfortable and safe space they can find without thinking about whether it’s unifying or not.

Adults are not that much different from children sometimes. Have you watched how children divide up and play on the playground?
When they pick teams on the playground, they don’t care if they promote unity. They pick based on who is the best player, or who they like the most, or who they want to be their friend.

Here we learn that through the Holy Spirit, Jesus wants to transform the way that we communicate, solve problems, and make decisions.
Paul identified a problem in the church of Corinth. People were breaking into factions which seemed to be driven by personality.

Paul’s goal was to shift the focus away from himself and other leaders on to Jesus and the gospel itself.

Paul wrote: I ask you, “Has the Messiah been chopped up in little pieces so we can each have a relic all our own? Was Paul crucified for you? Was a single one of you baptized in ‘Paul’s name?” I was not involved with any of your baptisms—except for Crispus and Gaius—and on getting this report, ‘I’m sure glad I ‘wasn’t. At least no one can go around saying he was baptized in my name. (Come to think of it, I also baptized ‘Stephanas’s family, but as far as I can recall, ‘that’s it.)

17 God ‘didn’t send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the Message of what he has done, collecting a following for him. And he ‘didn’t send me to do it with a lot of fancy rhetoric of my own, lest the powerful action at the center—Christ on the Cross—be trivialized into mere words. (13-16)

So what we see is that the members of the church were dividing up by following certain leaders, and Paul was one of them.
However, this problem wasn’t one Paul made, or Apollos, or Peter.

None of these men are trying to gain a following for themselves. They were always trying to point people to Jesus.
The people had divided themselves up for some other reason, which isn’t mentioned. Since there is no specific reason given, they may have become divided over their ethnicity.

Acts 18:24 tells us that Apollos was an eloquent man competent in the scriptures. It also says that he was an Egyptian Jew.

We know that Peter had an Aramaic name. Jesus called him Cephas. So the group that followed him were likely Palestinian Jews that spoke Aramaic. (Ibid)

The names mentioned by Paul of those he baptized are Greek in origin, so those who were following Paul were likely of Greek descent.
So it appears that the divisions that developed in the Corinthian Church were not theological, but ethnic in origin. (Ibid)

Paul paints a picture of a church that was focusing on their differences, instead of what they had in common.

When they began to focus on what made them different that created an unhealthy competition between them.

Whenever you pit one group against another within God’s kingdom, both lose. Both lose because you lose the focus of why you exist. You lose sight of kingdom goals.

There is a fable of an eagle which could outfly another, and the slowest eagle didn’t like it. One day he saw a sportsman one day, and said to him:

“I wish you would bring down that fast eagle down.”
The sportsman replied that he would if he only had some feathers to put into the arrow.

So the eagle pulled one out of his wing. The arrow was shot, but didn’t quite reach the rival eagle; it was flying too high. The envious eagle pulled out another feather and kept pulling them out until he lost so many that he couldn’t fly, and then the sportsman turned around and killed him.

That my friend is the reason, Paul was so concerned for the church at Corinth. He knew that their jealousy, which had them to quarreling and caused them to separate into clicks along ethnic lines, could destroy their church.

The church at Corinth was a young church, but it had already learned to use words like “us” and “them.”
“Us” and “Them.” Those are words that divide us into two different groups.

“Us” and “them” are words you use when you have an opponent, not words that you use when you want to have unity.
What did the scripture say?
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.

In this example, there is no “us,” and “them.” There are two people, yes, but they are working for the same goal.
When you have an “us,” and “them,” in the church, how can you come together to invite the Holy Spirit to bind you together like a three-stranded cord?

Some of the people said, “We belong to Applo’s church.” Some said, “We belong to Peter’s church.” Other’s said, “We belong to Paul’s church.” Some said, “We belong to the contemporary church.” Some said, “We belong to the traditional church.”

The Apostle Paul became very disappointed with this kind of conversation.

Paul warned the Corinthians in verse 3 of chapter 3: “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?”

The arguing or division among them did not help their church. Their jealousy and quarreling were producing unhealthy relationships in their church.

People are attracted to church is that it is unified around a vision. People are attracted to a church family that loves one another and those outside the church.

God will bless this church beyond measure when we are unified around our vision, even when we may not always agree on some of its details.
When good things happen in one worship service, good things happen to the entire church, because good things are happening in the kingdom of God.

When good things happen in the youth group, good things happen in the entire church.

When good things happen in your Sunday school class, good things happen in the entire church. When good things happen in the children’s department, good things happen in the whole church. Do you get the point?
There is no “us” and “them.”

We are all members of one church. We are all part of one family, the family of God. We are all working to win people to Jesus. When people are baptized in the name of Jesus, does anyone ask, “Which service are they attending?” I don’t think so.

The identity of our church is being forged. The day is coming in this community when we will be known for two special, strong, but different services of worship that are bound by one vision, which is to “Impassion people to follow Jesus.”

What a strong cord that is: traditional and contemporary worship, bound together by the Holy Spirit.

What a strong witness we have, as we continue to reach out into the community and invite people to Jesus.
This church has a bright future. Our best days are ahead of us. We are learning that our diversity in one of our strongest assets.

One of the things that makes the reach into our community unique is the diversity of our worship.

If you will commit to being unified as a church around this kind of diversity, celebrate it, share it, and promote it, God will bless our efforts to reach a lot of people in this community for Jesus.

This morning the invitation is simple and straightforward.

Will commit to being one unified church, so that we can impassion a divided world to follow Jesus?
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