Sermon from 14th Feb 2021

2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (EHV)

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled among those who are perishing. In the case of those people, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from clearly seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is God’s image.

Indeed, we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For the God who said, “Light will shine out of darkness,” Gen 1:3 is the same one who made light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

Dear Heavenly Father, send us your Holy Spirit to open our eyes, unblock our ears and soften our hearts, so that we may gladly hear and proclaim the gospel of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Would you like to see our church full of people once again?

Well, here’s a pretty simple idea on how to grow our congregation: This week every one of you will tell one other person the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This person will then miraculously believe in Jesus and will come to worship next week. In this way, our numbers will double by next Sunday. Of course, with such an amazing response, you’d want to do the same the next week, and the next week, and so on!

In this way, if we only begin with around 25 people in our congregation today, by Easter Sunday we’d have about 200 people worshipping with us! That’s presuming all those new people don’t share the gospel with anyone else, because if they too were to tell someone else the gospel of Jesus every week, then we’re likely to have about 3,200 people trying to fit into our church by Easter Sunday, which would be a bit of a problem for our Covid-19 regulations, but that would be a good problem to have!

Isn’t this the best way to increase our numbers? Isn’t this how it works? Doesn’t it always work out that if you tell someone the gospel of Jesus, they want to come to worship and offer their thanks and praise straight away?

If only that were so!

The truth is that even if you do tell someone the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, they’re likely to argue with you, ignore you, disbelieve you, or at the very least say, ‘that’s not for me’.

This shouldn’t surprise us because, even when people like St Paul or even Jesus Christ himself preached the gospel, the response was that many people remained in their unbelief or became quite hostile toward them, despite the fact many of them thought they were faithful people of God!

You see by nature, humans don’t want to believe in God; in fact all of us are born hostile to God and want nothing to do with him. No one wants to recognise or believe Jesus is God, because we’d all rather believe the world should instead revolve around us as if we’re the one who should be obeyed.

To believe in Jesus and what he’s done for us would also force us to admit we’re a sinner in need of saving, and no one wants to admit they need to depend on anyone else except themselves. To believe in Jesus also means we’d have to admit Jesus died to take our place and received our punishment, and we probably don’t want to be in a relationship where we think we owe anybody anything. To believe in Jesus means we’d need to submit to the Lordship of Jesus where we’d rather be our own boss.

Not only this, but it’s usually easier to believe a lie than the truth. Lies are either more attractive because they appeal to our self-centred desires, or else they’re more terrifying because they mess about with our greatest fears. The best lies have enough truth in them to make them believable, or else question the truth in order to become enticing to us.

The world doesn’t want us to believe in the eternal truths and comfort of Jesus and will seek to breed insecurity and discontent in anything he offers. The world will tempt us to believe what’s being taught or offered today is somehow superior and more satisfying and more lasting than anything Jesus can offer us. The world will try to convince us that we have power within ourselves to be good people even though Scripture tells us the opposite.

Then, as if it’s not enough to have our own human nature and world lie to us or hide the truth from us, the devil also tries to deceive us. He veils our thoughts and hearts so we find it hard to believe. He twists the truth, leading us astray from God. He deceives us with his empty promises and questions the truth of God’s Word with his age-old question: “Did God really say…?”.

So, if this is our own struggle where our own human nature, the world, and the devil will try to lead us away from saving faith, doesn’t it make sense this is other people’s struggles as well? Part of the reason why we’re struggling to grow as a church is because we’re fighting against the sickness of sin, the ways of the world, and the lies of the devil.

To top it off, God calls sinful and unworthy humans to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to a sinful world. He sends human beings with faults and weaknesses to preach the gospel. He sends people who are often self-centred and anxious to preach the glory of Christ.

So, apart from the inherent problem of the inborn sickness of sin which that makes it hard for anyone to believe in Christ, the other problem is that as sinful humans, we veil the glory of Christ every time we preach ourselves. We preach about ourselves every time we show how pious we are, explain how spiritual we are, and boast how righteous we are. Even when we’re accused of being less than perfect, we proclaim ourselves as we defend the goodness of our intentions.

But, how are people to see the glory of Christ if all we show them is our own goodness? How are people to hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ if we keep denying our need for his forgiveness? How is the veil which hides the gospel to be removed when we keep living according to the ways of the world, when we keep going along with the deceptions of the devil, or keep letting our own selfish nature drive our thoughts, words and deeds? How will people believe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ when it’s hindered by blinded eyes, deafened ears and stubborn hearts?

It seems it’s a miracle anyone would believe in Jesus because there are so many things stacked against anyone believing in the first place!

Yet you and I believe!

Isn’t this a miracle?

You and I are living proof that the gospel can still open blinded eyes, unblock deaf ears and soften people’s hearts. You and I are proof that, even if the gospel is veiled from many people, it’s promise and comfort is still effective and shines it’s light in a fallen world. You and I are proof that the good news of the gospel is still effective and relevant today. You and I are proof that people can believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. You and I are proof we should never give up preaching Jesus Christ.

You see, despite all the attacks of the devil, despite the reluctance of our human nature, and despite the tricks of the world around us, the gospel of Jesus was proclaimed as a light to shine in our hearts and we responded by believing the gospel!

This is a miracle because, unlike the people in the Old Testament, we never saw any of the miracles of God. Unlike the apostles, we never saw Jesus in his glory on the mountain of his transfiguration. In fact, our eyes have always tried to lead us astray and attract us to the things of this world.

Instead, knowing our eyes will deceive us, God didn’t shine his light through our eyes, but God shone his light through our ears.

Now this might sound a little strange, because we never think of our ears as eyes! Yet that’s what Paul is on about when he says that people ‘cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God’. To see God’s glory is to hear the gospel. The light doesn’t come to our eyes, but to our ears. Our ears are the eyes of our heart. We never saw the light of the gospel, but we heard the gospel and believed it.

The precious gospel, that glorious light which warms our hearts, is that great news of forgiveness through Jesus’ obedience, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus Christ is the propitiation for all our sins. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for all our selfishness and rebellion. Jesus has paid the wages of sin, defeated death, and has overcome the devil. Jesus has compassion on us and is with us in all our troubles. Jesus promises life eternal in his kingdom for those who trust him. As we keep on trusting the words and work of Jesus, the world, the devil, and even our own sinful flesh will no longer deceive us with their lies and deceptions.

We have heard the gospel with our ears and believed. This happened despite the devil, the world and even our old sinful self trying to veil the truth and keep us in the dark. The light of God’s forgiveness through Jesus now shines in our hearts!

This makes us people of the Light. We’re no longer people dwelling in darkness, but people who are being inwardly transformed by the light of God’s gospel through faith. Jesus has restored our relationship with our heavenly Father, enlightening us and giving us real hope.

By faith, we accept this great news. By faith our ears act like eyes and see the truth in Jesus’ words. By faith our hearts are enlightened and light shines where once darkness reigned.

But also by faith, light now shines out of our darkness. The Holy Spirit, who came through our ears as they accepted the promise of Christ, now makes us shine in this dark world.

But the light we shine isn’t our own light. We don’t promote ourselves as if we’re the light. We’re not the light. Jesus is the Light. Jesus is worthy of all glory and praise and honour and thanks, not us. This means we proclaim him instead of us.

Just as we now live in the light of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by hearing the gospel, the light we shine in this darkened world is the same gospel which warmed our own hearts.

We don’t veil the gospel by preaching or promoting ourselves. We don’t veil the gospel by adopting the ways of the world, the devil, or even our own sinful flesh. We instead proclaim the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ and the precious gospel of forgiveness and salvation.

This means we forgive as we’ve been forgiven by Christ. We love as we’ve been loved by Jesus. We act graciously and mercifully as people who have received grace and mercy from God. We don’t proclaim ourselves as someone who should be obeyed, but we proclaim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.

But even when we do this, don’t be surprised if some won’t believe. Some are still blinded to the light of Christ. Some are still deaf to the truth of Christ. Some still have hardened hearts that refuse to believe in Christ.

In this case, pray that the Holy Spirit will open their eyes, unblock their ears and soften their hearts so they might believe. Keep on clearly proclaiming the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and pray for the miracle of faith. Then, if they come to faith, praise God that he used our humble, sin-infested efforts in the service of his gospel about Jesus Christ, who is the image of God.

Praise God that we have seen his light; the light of the gospel about Jesus Christ who came to give us life, light, and hope. May he lead us to shine his light in this dark world and lead others to the light of Christ so that…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 7th Feb 2021

Mark 1:29-39 (EHV)

29 Jesus left the synagogue and went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was lying in bed, sick with a fever. Without delay they told Jesus about her. 31 He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, when the sun had set, the people kept bringing to him all who were sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door. 34 He healed many people who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. But he did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew who he was.

35 Jesus got up early in the morning, while it was still dark, and went out. He withdrew to a solitary place and was praying there. 36 Simon and his companions searched for him, 37 and, when they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 He told them, “Let’s go somewhere else, to the neighboring villages, so that I can preach there too. In fact, that is why I have come.” 39 Then he went throughout the whole region of Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may pay attention to the words and work of our Healer and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever considered how much our own priorities and the priorities of Jesus differ?

Of course, as faithful followers of Jesus, we’d love to say we’re always doing the will of God, but I wonder if we’re as true and loyal as we first think. If our priorities and Jesus’ priorities aren’t the same, what’s hindering us in our faithful discipleship?

Just to check this out, let’s consider how we might prioritise things.

Let’s imagine God’s like a genie who would grant our wishes. Of course, we should never consider our God to be like a genie or that our prayers would be granted like wishes, but just for this exercise, let’s consider what type of things we want God to do in our troubled world right now.

So, if God were to grant your wish, what would you think God should do as his first priority?

Would you want God to get rid of the coronavirus? I mean, just think how many people are suffering in the world right now, how many have died from this virus, and how it’s disrupted our lives, our travel plans, our mental health, and our freedoms. If only we could get back to how we used to live! Wouldn’t this be a good thing for God to do which would save a lot of heartache?

But then again, why would we stop with just one virus? What about all the other viruses and diseases in our world? Maybe we would want God to get rid of all those pesky germs and infections! And what about all those insidious medical problems such as Alzheimer’s, Cancer, Motor Neurone Disease, heart conditions, Diabetes, blindness, deafness, respiratory conditions, and so on? Doesn’t God want us all to get better and live happy and healthy lives?

What about stopping drought, floods, storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis? What about fixing our environment so that we don’t experience the extremes of weather and its associated fires, starvation, and other disasters? If only God would grant us all good weather so that our gardens and crops and herds would benefit!

What about world peace? Don’t you think God should stop all wars and threats of war? Perhaps you want all rightly established governments to prosper and that all coups and rebellions would stop. Perhaps God should also stop all terrorists, radicals, extremists, rebels, protestors, anti-vaxxers, and all those left-wing or right-wing activists!

In fact, why doesn’t God get rid of all evil? Imagine how much better life would be without the influence of evil! And I’m not just talking about the evil acts of humans, but also the evil of spiritual powers and demons. After all, Jesus has power and authority over them too, doesn’t he?

In other words, what do you think God’s first priority should be in our crazy, mixed up, troubled world? What should God prioritise in your own life as of highest importance? It could be those very things you spend much time and energy on is what you think God should spend his time and energy on.

But as you consider the list of priorities you think God should attend to, did any of you have as the first item God should act on is the need for God to preach or teach?

Similarly, do any of you currently list as your own first priority as a faithful disciple of Jesus that you listen to the preaching and teaching of Jesus or any other part of Scripture? And if you don’t consider listening to sermons and attending bible studies as your own first priority, why not? It’s Jesus’ first priority, so why isn’t it yours?

Now, why do I say this is Jesus’ first priority?

Well, have you been listening attentively to the Gospel readings over the last few Sundays? Have you noticed how important preaching and teaching is to God’s plan of salvation?

For example, once Jesus was baptised and tested in the wilderness, and after John the Baptist was put in prison, what was the first thing Jesus did according to St Mark?

He proclaimed the kingdom of God and called people to believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:14)

After he called the first disciples, the next thing he did was go to the Synagogue to teach, and people were amazed at his authority. (Mark 1:22, 27)

Today we hear that after Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law (and many others), he tells his disciples it’s time to go and preach in another place, because this is the reason why he came! (Mark 1:38).

While we’re often very impressed with Jesus’ authority to drive out demons and wish he would get rid of all types of evil from our lives, and while we’re also impressed with Jesus’ power to heal people and wish he would also do the same with us and our loved ones, it’s easy to miss out on what Jesus first priority actually was.

His first priority was to preach and teach the Kingdom of God.

Of course, many people don’t always want his words. Most people only want the miracle making God who gives them what they want. And what most people want is a comfortable, healthy and happy life. This will mean God’s priorities and our priorities will often clash.

Martin Luther realised the importance of paying attention to God’s Word. His explanation to the 3rd Commandment about Remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy is: ‘We are to fear and love God, so that we do no despise God’s Word or preaching, but instead keep that Word holy and gladly hear and learn it.’

In this case it might be helpful for us to reconsider our priorities and ask ourselves such questions as:

  • Have I become lazy and inattentive to God’s Word? And if so, why don’t I cherish it as I ought?
  • Have I become indifferent with, or defiant towards, what I hear through the sermon? And if so, why have I become apathetic or resistant towards hearing the proclamation of God’s Word?
  • Am I unwilling to learn from God’s Word through attending bible studies? And if so, why have I become a reluctant disciple of Jesus who doesn’t want to learn from God’s Holy Word?

It could be we need to repent of our own selfish priorities and refocus on what is most important so that we would have in mind the things of God instead of the things of humankind.

What we hear in the Gospel according to St Mark is that Jesus’ first priority is to preach and teach the Kingdom of God.

He seeks first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. He proclaims how he is the fulfilment of God’s Word as the Word-made-flesh. He preaches and teaches us so we can grow in the grace and knowledge of God. He knows the Word of God acts like a sword which cuts to the heart of what’s wrong with us and why our priorities differ with God’s. He proclaims the Gospel – the good news message of God’s forgiveness for our apathy, rebellion and reluctance. He knows we need to learn the ways of God because everything we learn about God and his holy ways is counter-cultural and supernatural. He knows the Holy Spirit calls us through the words of the Gospel, enlightens us with his gifts, makes us holy and keeps us in the one true faith. He knows faith comes through hearing God’s Word.

But just because Jesus’ first priority is to preach and teach, this doesn’t mean he isn’t concerned about the evil we face in this world. It also doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t concerned for your physical health and mental well-being. Jesus is deeply concerned about these things, and his gracious compassion is illustrated in his work of healing people and casting out demons. Many people came to him in the hope they would be cured and out of compassion Jesus healed many of them, but we need to remember he didn’t heal everybody. Even those he healed were likely to get sick once more.

This means it’s ok to pray for healing for yourself and your loved ones. God may grant you and your loved ones healing, which will lead you to praise him and his goodness to you, but don’t be surprised if your priority and God’s priority don’t always match. Sometimes God will grant you health once more, but sometimes you won’t get better. This doesn’t mean his goodness or compassion or power or love is limited. It could be God has a different priority for you and your loved ones to focus on right now. It could be you need a good dose of God’s Word to cure a deeper illness or a deeper longing.

You see, since the sickness of sin and its wages of death are inevitable for us broken, hurting and rebellious people in a troubled world, God’s priority is different to ours. No matter how important your physical health is to you right now, your physical health isn’t as important to Jesus as your spiritual health and your eternal well-being. There’s a deeper spiritual illness God wants to treat and cure, which is only received through faith and trust.

But this faith and trust isn’t always built up by God giving us what we want, but through us believing his words – the words which he preached and taught; the words which he enacted through his proclamations of forgiveness; the words which explain how Scripture was pointing to himself as the fulfilment of God’s Word to us; and the words which continue to do what they say through the church today.

If you think about it, our faith in Jesus isn’t because we saw Jesus with our own eyes or because we witnessed the miracles of healing, but because we believe the words spoken about him. We don’t always have physical proof, but we have his words, and in matters of faith, that’s all we need.

Even in our church today, Jesus’ words come to life and do what they say.

For example, we receive the benefits of God’s gracious gift of baptism through faith – by believing what we’ve been told through the Word of God. We believe that God promises forgiveness of sins, redemption from death and the devil, and eternal salvation to all who believe God’s Word.

As Luther said: ‘Clearly the water does not do (such things), but the Word of God, which is with, in, and among the water, and faith, which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without the Word of God the water is plain water and not a baptism, but with the Word of God it is a baptism, that is, a grace-filled water of life and a “bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.”

Similarly, as we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we listen for the words. We hear Jesus’ body is given for you and me. We hear Jesus’ blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins. We eat and drink in faith, trusting Jesus doesn’t lie and we receive what he promises. We receive the benefits of this holy meal by believing what we’ve been told through the Word of God.

We learn today that Jesus’ faithful and obedient adherence to the priorities of the Kingdom of God stand in sharp contrast with our own desires that our own selfish priorities become the most important matters in God’s plan. Today we rejoice Jesus gets the priorities right for our sake and the sake of all in his Kingdom. His highest goal was, and still is, to fulfill the Father’s command to save all those who are lost – to fulfill everything spoken about him in the Word of God, so that…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 31st Jan 2021

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (EHV)

1 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone supposes that he knows something, he does not yet know the way he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this person has been known by him.

So, concerning the eating of food from idol sacrifices, we know that an idol is not anything real in the world and that there is no God but one. Indeed, even if there are so-called “gods,” whether in the heavens or on earth (as in fact there are many “gods” and many “lords”), nevertheless for us there is one God—the Father, from whom all things exist and we exist for him—and one Lord—Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist and we exist through him.

However, that knowledge is not in everyone. Instead some, who are still affected by their former habit with the idol, eat the food as something sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

Food will not bring us closer to God. We do not lack anything if we do not eat, nor are we better off if we do. And be careful that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, a person who has knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of this man, weak as he is, be emboldened to eat food from an idol sacrifice? 11 You see, the weak person is being destroyed by your knowledge—the brother for whose sake Christ died! 12 And when you sin in this way against your brothers and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I do not cause my brother to sin.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may always speak and act out of love for our fellow Christian brothers and sisters who are one with us through faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.

You might recognise a variation of this phrase if you’ve ever had a pedantic parent who likes to use every opportunity to educate you on the technicalities of the English language, such as when you asked such a question like: “Can I have some chocolate?”

Your mother may have answered: Yes, you can, but you may not.”

She may then have explained, saying: “’Can I?’ is a question which asks about ability, where the question ‘May I?’ asks permission. So, yes, you can have some chocolate because you’re quite capable of going and getting it, holding it in your own fingers, and feeding yourself. However, you may not be permitted to have some chocolate right now because it’ll spoil your appetite.”

So yes, there are many things you can do, but that doesn’t mean you should.

St Paul uses a similar argument in regard to our freedom as Christians.

An example Paul cites is one about food offered to idols, which at first glance doesn’t seem like it would apply to us today.

He tackles this subject because in Corinth there were many temples and shrines to various idols and false gods, and many of them used animal sacrifices as part of their offerings so their idols and gods in might favour or bless them.

These sacrificial meats would often be:

a) left at the altar to these false gods,

b) eaten by the people who worshipped there for their special celebrations with family and friends, or

c) later taken to the marketplace and sold.

This raised such questions as: ‘Are Christians allowed to eat any of these meats, even though they’ve been sacrificed to false gods? And, even if we could normally avoid buying these meats, what happens if we’re invited to a friend’s house who serve up these meats which were originally offered to idols? Do we refuse and risk offending our hosts? Or, do we eat these meats without a care in the world, but risk alienating some of our own fellowship who would be offended by the fact we’re eating these meats?’

Just like today, you could imagine there may be a number of arguments among Christians for and against eating these meats, such as: “But we know the idols are just wood or gold or stone. We know there’s only one true God. We know this food isn’t going to get us any closer to Jesus or push us further away. We know it’s just plain food because those false gods don’t really exist anyway. So therefore, why don’t we just go ahead and eat these temple meals!”

On the other hand, some might say: “But we’ve left those types of practices in our past because we now have faith in Jesus as our Lord and God. He’s the only one we should worship. He’s the only one we should call upon to bless our food and families and service. Plus, if we live like everyone else, then how will anyone know we’re Christian? Look, I believe this is so serious that, if any of you eat these meats, then I’m not sure your faith is genuine anymore and I’m scared you may be in danger of falling away from faith in Jesus and going back to your old ways of idolatry!”

So, what’s Paul’s advice to this divided congregation who couldn’t agree on a solution, especially where there’s no clear instruction from God about what’s commanded or forbidden?

Well, his response is: “It depends,” but then qualifies his answer.

Firstly: “Yes, you can eat this meat, at least in the privacy of your home, since you know the idol is false, and you don’t at all mean to worship it. If you eat this meat in your own home, you’re not going to offend anyone else.”

But later on, in chapter 10 (where he talks about eating this meat in public), he says: “No, you can’t take part in those temple meals in public, even if it’s just a social gathering. This is because, when you eat that meal at the temple, you’re participating with any demons who may be present there. To eat that meal in public would also give the wrong witness to those who are struggling to stay faithful to Jesus.”

But you may wonder, what does it matter if they were to eat these meats privately or publicly?

Well, because it’s not all about you.

You see, as Christians, you’re always to be more concerned with the faith and conscience of those around you than you are with your own rights and freedom, especially if they have a weaker faith or conscience.

In this case, because it might offend your brothers or sisters in Christ, you can eat these meats in the privacy of your own home, but you may not eat it in public where it may affect the faith of others.

You see, Christian love always builds up and never seeks to tear down. Christian love always considers everyone else as more important than you and will never seek to impose your own selfish demands. Christian love always considers the unity of Christians as more important than any individual freedoms or rights.

Once you understand these things, this gracious and selfless approach can then be used for almost every other situation in the church.

For example, I heard of a congregation which had a long discussion over relocating the bible from the altar to the lectern. In many ways this makes good sense. The bible readings are read from the lectern instead of the altar, so that would be a more practical and liturgical place to put it.

In this case, the congregation discussed the pros and cons for quite a while, and then put it to the vote. It was nearly unanimous that they move the bible to the lectern. But then one member said something along these lines: “If that bible moves off the altar, I’ll never set foot in here again!”

Now, no matter what you think of such ultimatums, this Christian community, out of love for this one person, agreed they could move the bible, but chose not to. They exercised both their Christian freedom and their love for their fellow member. They chose to build up the body of Christ in love instead of dividing it over rights and entitlements and democratic votes.

Of course, this doesn’t always happen.

How many times have families and churches become divided because one person (or a number of people), chose to exercise their own rights or privileges over against their love for their brothers and sisters in Christ?

How many times has the unity of the church been held to ransom by an individual or a group?

How many times have people stopped coming to worship because of what they saw and heard fellow Christians saying or doing what they shouldn’t have?

Just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean we should, especially if it affects the unity of our community or the faith if its members.

Too many times in our Christian churches, love and unity have taken a back seat, when they should have been driving all our thoughts, words, and actions. Too many times we’ve sacrificed fellow Christians because we chose to exercise our rights instead of exercising our love and compassion for those who have weaker consciences. Too many times our unity has been fractured by our selfishness and pride.

One of the common themes running through most of the New Testament letters (and especially from those written by St Paul), is for Christians to practice love and unity. He even tells us that if anyone is to sacrifice themselves, it’s always the stronger Christians who will give up their rights and freedoms for the sake of the weaker ones.

Now, this never means we should dumb down our faith, our teachings, or our practices to the lowest common denominator, because there are certain things which are commanded or forbidden by God. We never compromise on what God teaches in his Word. But it’s often in those matters which are neither commanded nor forbidden that we often make into the most divisive ultimatums and fodder for our fights.

Paul teaches us that Christian love will always seek to build up the body of Christ. Christian love will be willing to sacrifice one’s own desires and freedoms for the sake of unity in the body of Christ. Christian love will always be concerned for those weaker in conscience within the body of Christ.

Why does Christian love always put others first?

Because that’s what Jesus Christ did for you.

You weren’t sacrificed for his glory, but he was glorified through his sacrifice for you. He didn’t puff himself up with pride and arrogance, but humbled himself for your sake. He didn’t try to get his own way, but was always concerned for the weak, the sick, the outcast, the downtrodden and the dying. Even though Jesus has authority to forgive sins, cast out demons and raise the dead, he never used his authority to lord it over you.

Thankfully, no matter how much you’ve hurt or offended others because of your own selfish desires or demands, it’s good news to hear that, where the blood of Cain once cried out for justice, Jesus’ blood now cries out for your forgiveness and mercy, and through faith you’re now innocent and washed clean by his blood.

Today, out of love for you, Jesus doesn’t offer you meat sacrificed to idols, but he offers you his body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and for the building up of the church. You eat and drink the one body and blood in faith believing this is given for you.

It shouldn’t surprise you to know there’ll always be more questions the church will be faced with. Some of them will threaten to divide us or trouble the faith of those weaker in conscience. In each case, God’s Word is our guiding light to decide on all matters of faith, doctrine and life. Where God’s Word remains silent and where he doesn’t command or forbid us to do certain things, our desire for unity and our love for those weaker in conscience will always guide us.

This means, whenever we come across a question of “Can I?” or “Can we?” in matters which are neither commanded nor forbidden, we’re to instead ask: “May we?” of “Should we?”

When we consider this question, we’re to remember the guiding principle of the love of Christ which always seeks to build up the Christian community and preserve it in loving unity. That loving unity is more important than getting our own way, no matter how noble our desires or intentions are.

After all, just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should, especially if it affects the body of Christ or those weaker in conscience.

For this reason, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in the love of Christ Jesus. Amen.