I don't know yet how to post audio to my blog. So until I find a way, here is the sermon I preached this last week in written form.
If someone had explained to me ahead of time how much work a canoe trip would be, I probably would have never gone on one. Canoe trips are a curious thing. You are sun burnt, tired, sweating, hungry, and thirsty. Your muscles ache, and you are continually surprised by the unique places you discover wood ticks on your body. Paddling across the lake, I would begin to long for the shore so I could be free from paddling, but when you get to shore, you hoist on your packs and portage your canoes to the next lake—the whole time thinking, “I can’t wait until I get back in the canoe so I can be free from carrying all this stuff!” Even with all this—with stepping from the canoe into two feet of mud, falling into the lake with your camera, digging holes when you need to “take care of business”—the strange thing is…you kind of love it!
Canoe trips provide a person an opportunity to discover what they are really made of. They are an opportunity to grow in skill and character.
But the thing I love most is the bond that is formed with other people. You become reliant on one another. You support and encourage each other. Each person has their task—digging the latrine, getting the fire going, boiling water, pitching tents, preparing the food—each person must do their part to make the trip successful.
If you want to grow close to a group of people quickly, a canoe trip is a good way to do it. Having common goals, a task to share—the need to rely on one another; these are the things that bring people together.
Skip has been talking about Spiritual gifts the last few weeks. Here are a few that the bible mentions—apostles, prophets, teachers, those who do miracles, those who have the gift of healing, those who can help others, those who have the gift of leadership, those who speak in unknown languages (1Corinthians 12:28). We know that at least some—if not all of these gifts are present in this church. How? Because there are Christians in this church, and each believer is given spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12 :4-7 says, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.” Our spiritual gifts are not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of the entire church. They work best when used together. In many ways being the church is a lot like a canoe trip. We face many challenges, and just like a canoe trip, if we desire to journey successfully—bringing glory to God—we need to be a united team.
When believers stop simply going to church, and instead become the Church, we find a bond that is unbelievable! It is a unity like no other—bound in the Spirit, united in serving each other through our spiritual gifts—living to bring glory to Christ!
Why is unity so important? Hours before Jesus was to die, he prayed for us—you and I. John 17:20-21 say, “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” We were on Jesus mind right before he was betrayed to death. Our unity is that important to Christ! Through using our gifts to the benefit of the church—we fulfill Christ’s prayer for us. Our unity is purposed so that the world will believe on Christ!
However, our own selfish desires can trump out this kind of unity. “Spiritual gift” unity is others-focused. Our selfish, flesh inclination is to be self-focused. The sad truth is that often the world doesn’t see our unity, but our division. In the Corinthian church, even the Lord’s Supper—something meant to unite all believers in the body and blood of Christ—had become a selfish act! It was celebrated with a feast, and some were scarfing it all down before the others even arrived! They were creating division with no care of it.
But in the following instructions, I cannot praise you. For it sounds as if more harm than good is done when you meet together. 18 First, I hear that there are divisions among you when you meet as a church, and to some extent I believe it. 19But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized!—1 Corinthians 11:17
Our flesh will quickly sacrifice unity on the altar of self-satisfaction. Who cares if there is unity…just as long as I get my way!
Let’s break this down, shall we? 1st Corinthians 8:1 shows us that love strengthens the church, while 1st Corinthians 12:7 shows this to be the purpose of our spiritual gifts—benefiting the body of Christ. So…practicing our spiritual gifts for each other’s benefit is an act of love! Jesus prayed for our unity so that the world will know God sent Him, and he also said his disciples would be known by their love, so…we are to be known by our love—a love that is practiced through spiritual gifts—spiritual gifts that unite us together!
All this is confirmed as we look at 1 Corinthians 13. Why would a chapter on love be placed smack dab in the middle of two chapters on spiritual gifts? Because the Corinthians needed to be told that love is the key ingredient to spiritual gifts. Without love, there so called “spiritual gifts” were useless—they were self-serving rather than other- serving.
On one of my first canoe trips, one of my best friends—a novice at canoeing was in the canoe with another girl. If you watched closely you could see that she was doing all the work. My friend was simply dipping his paddle in the water, and allowing the current to pull it back. It may have looked like he was paddling, but he wasn’t benefiting anyone!
In the same way, are we content to “look” the part for our own glory, or do we desire to work out our gifts to benefit the body of Christ? Selfishness can mascaraed as the practice of spiritual giftedness, but if spiritual giftedness is not practiced in love, we are not acting from the Holy Spirit’s leading at all.
I never liked puzzles—they don’t make sense to me. Why would you break a picture into pieces with the purpose of putting it back together again?
The secret to enjoying a puzzle is that you have to be patient! The fun isn’t just in seeing the final picture, but in the process of getting there.
The church body is like a puzzle—some pieces you know exactly where they fit—their purpose is clear. Others are still searching for their place in the picture. But each of us has a purpose—we each contribute to making the final picture. If a piece is missing the picture is incomplete!
I find it exciting that right now in our own church, people are stepping in to new roles, excited to put their giftedness to use in benefiting this body of believers. If we are faithful in this, God will grow us into a stronger church. But there will be hiccups along the way. We will fall short at times. Sometimes we will act out of our own selfish flesh rather than the Spirit of God. It is a continual process fitting our puzzle together. Like with any puzzle, as we fit our giftedness together, we need to be patient with one another. Ephesians 4:2 says, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”
When we click all of our pieces together, our unity makes an astounding image—that of Jesus Christ. Bound together in the body of Christ—what an unshakable unity, what a beautiful gift! What an amazing love.