Unity Is the Reality

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Unity Is the Reality


Ryan Ferguson


July 24, 2022


1 Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 10-12


It’s good to see you all. Good morning to all of those of you who are joining us via the livestream. I want to begin with a quick update about our worship team here at North Hills — two things. First off, Bryan Gilbert, our director of worship, and his wife Mary, throughout the course of this summer primarily have been working through a difficult pregnancy. So, Bryan’s absences and continued absence on Sunday is he and Mary doing everything they can to take this baby to term. So, we just wanted to let you know what was going on in his life primarily so that you could pray for them. They’re specifically asking that you join them in praying that the baby makes it to term into August. So, if you would be willing to pray for Baby Gilbert, would you give me a big amen? Amen.

Second update — Jenny Dunster, our other staff worship leader, in her life has struggled with seizures. So, she and her husband, Cole, are in the process of choosing some next steps for treatment. So, for a season, Jenny is going to be focusing her leadership on scheduling of our worship team, as well as musical assistance on Thursday nights and will not be leading for a season as they try to choose what to do next and would love to engage you as their church family in prayer. So, kind of the same thing — if you would pray for Cole and Jenny, will you also give me a big amen? Amen.

So, moving forward, the next six to eight weeks, we have a plan in place we’re going to use utilizing different volunteer leaders in different set ups. And I think this season presents a unique moment for all of us to actually believe what we just sang, that you can take away everything and worship all at the same time in lots of different ways, lots of different people. So, again, we’d love for you to join us in prayer for the Gilberts and Dunsters.

Final quick update — actually, it’s a heads up for this sermon. We’re going to read a lot of Scripture together. There’s going to be bold type up there, and I want you to join me whenever it’s bold. And I’m not going to be able to direct you every time, or it’ll just add time. So, I’m just assuming that you guys are going to be ready to jump in any time you see bold type. I’m going to ask you to do that with some energy, not doing the church mumble, but reading it out loud with me. And I’m going to ask you to do that with endurance from the beginning of the sermon until the end so that you don’t leave me hanging at the end because you get tired. But just hang with me. We’re going to read a lot of Scripture together. Okay, good? Oh, thank you. Yeah, that was very energetic. I like that!

All right. Christmas dinner. Christmas dinner. Oh, isn’t that beautiful? The set up, the lights, trees, the most unifying meal of the entire calendar year — Christmas dinner. Everyone comes from everywhere to celebrate at the table. Decorated houses, stockings hung with care, Christmas tables laden with ham or turkey or standing rib roast, all the sides you would ever want over on the counter by the stove! We all know there’s pumpkin pie and decorated Christmas cookies waiting to be devoured for dessert. Everyone is together and talking. It’s absolutely unifying and perfect … until it looks like this — someone standing up at the edge of the table. My favorite part is on the right side of the screen. The lady … I’m not sure why she’s wearing a crown … but has her head in her hands. I mean, obviously, this picture was taken Christmas 2020 because someone brought up COVID or politics, which is why they’re arguing. Oh, my word! A unified meal destroyed! How in the world could that happen at the Christmas table? It’s a unified meal, but it’s divided.

So, I want us to read about another gathering and another meal that ends up divided. And we find this story of a divided meal in I Corinthians 11. A guy named Paul writes this to a church in a city called Corinth, and he writes this. Be ready for the bold part — a little reminder. Here we go.

“But in the following instructions I do not commend you [“I don’t approve you. I don’t praise you,” Paul is saying] because when you come together, it is not for the better, but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” [I Corinthians 11:17-19].

Interesting. No one screamed or ran from the room. No exclamations of awe or disgust, amazement or bewilderment. It’s as if you didn’t learn for the first time right now. It’s as if you already have heard that there can be divisions in the church. Here I thought we were going to have this gigantic surprise. Oh, my word! Division in the church?! But why aren’t we shocked? Why isn’t someone screaming? That shouldn’t be! There’s no way! These people, this church in Corinth, they forgot their unity. They forgot about it. There’s so much wrong in the forty-five words I just read.

First off, did you actually hear what Paul said? He said the church is worse off gathering than if they stayed at home. He’s looking at the church in Corinth and saying, “You guys would have been spiritually better off to stay at home than to gather together.” Why? Why is that true, Paul? Why are they better apart? And he answers that with this little word “for,” and we’re going to notice this structure a couple of times … “for I hear that there are divisions.”

So, when the church of Corinth comes together, they’re in the same place, but they’re not one family. They’re geographically unified. They’ve come together, but they’re relationally divided. But it gets worse. It’s even worse than that reality. Their division makes that Christmas argument look beautiful because instead of being divided at a holiday meal like Christmas, they’re divided not at the Christmas table, but at the communion table, at the Lord’s Supper table.

Paul continues.

“When you come together it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not” [I Corinthians 11:20-22].

Paul uses that same structure again. Something is not. It is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat. You’re not doing what you think you’re doing. Why isn’t it the Lord’s Supper? Because Paul says “for.” For when you gather, you’re eating without considering each other. So, they forgot their unity, but they even forgot about each other as family. They just forgot about each other. Corinth, you’re not doing what you think you’re doing. You think you’re doing a good thing. You think you’re coming to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but you’re not. Your division and your dismissal of other family members destroy the dinner at the Lord’s table. It’s no longer what you think it is.

So, I want you to imagine something. I’m chairman of the Board of Elders this year. I want you to imagine what it would be like if I had come up here at the beginning of the service and said, “Hey, I need to give you a little life group update. One of our life groups meets, and some of them are able, because of their schedules and income, are able to come early, and they eat dinner together, and everybody kind of contributes. They drop food off, and then they show up when they can. But what’s been happening for the past couple of months is the people that are able to arrive early, they’re eating all the food, and someone is dropping off wine to go with dinner, and then they use that later for communion. And unfortunately, about five or six of them take advantage of that and drank it all, and they’re just trashed. And so, by the time we get to try to have the Lord’s Supper, everything’s gone.”

That’s what’s going on. They have so forgotten each other that the wine they’re supposed to remember they’re using to get drunk. They forgot what this whole meal was about. And Paul uses that little word “for” again to kind of reorient them back to the unifying power of the meal they think they’re celebrating. Paul goes back to where it came from. Where did this meal even start? And it started with Jesus. And he recalls that story. Paul says this.

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed, he took bread, and when He had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” [I Corinthians 11:23-24, 26].

So, this meal is about Jesus, not bread. It’s about Jesus’s blood, not throwing back a nice bottle of Cabernet. The point of this meal in its origins was Jesus and his friends gathered together to focus on what Jesus was focusing on, which was the sacrifice of himself. Jesus gifted to his followers this multifaceted meal that we get to experience.

This moment … It’s a terrible metaphor because it’s overused, but it is a diamond. It’s got lots of faces. This is a Thanksgiving meal. Some people call Communion or the Lord’s Supper “Eucharist.” Eucharist just comes from the Greek word for giving thanks. It’s a Thanksgiving meal. So, our hearts approach this meal with Thanksgiving.

It’s a remembrance meal. Jesus said when we do this, when we have bread and wine and we’re all together, we remember him.

It’s a proclamation meal. As we take it, we’re proclaiming Jesus’s death until he comes. But packed within that moment is we’re proclaiming Jesus’s death and resurrection because if Jesus is still dead, he can’t come back. So, he has to be alive. So, in this meal, we proclaim his death and resurrection until he returns.

This is a participation meal. It’s more than memory. We actually ingest, chew, drink, swallow things. God gave us props. He gave us things as humans so that we actually have to consume it and chew it and crunch it and taste it. Why? Because God wants us to remember and feel that it encompasses all of us in this meal. By consuming it, we’re reminding ourselves of the reality and our need of Jesus.

A divided church that doesn’t consider other members, especially at this meal, needs a serious warning about the dangers of their behavior. A divided church coming to the table needs to be warned. And Paul does that next in I Corinthians [11:27-34]. He says this —

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak or ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another — if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home — so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give you directions when I come.”

So, they forgot their unity. They forgot each other. They forgot how serious this meal is.

Now, there’s a part of this Scripture that I’d really like to edit out if I was allowed to do that. I’d like to go in there and kind of redact the “many of you are weak or ill and some have died.” It would make preaching it easier. But in here there is a very serious reminder about what unity at the table and the sacrifice of Christ means. It is life and death — the life and death of Jesus so that we can have life. And that is a very serious thing so that if you are coming at this divided from other members of the body, you should stop for a moment and consider yourself. And this is where Paul gives us three cautionary statements that, in my opinion, among church world are often misunderstood. So, if you’re new to faith, you’re new to Jesus, I’m going to talk about some things from the perspective of someone who grew up in church and try to explain because I think there are a lot of people like that here.

I want to talk about these three phrases that Paul uses in here. First “if anyone takes this in an unworthy manner.” What is Paul talking about? What does it mean to be “worthy”? To take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, based on the context of the text, is eating and drinking while humiliating others in the body. It is not looking at yourself as a very terrible person or being a really bad sinner — “Now I am unworthy for the table.” No, the table is for everyone who really needs Jesus. Let’s just get that flat out. We need this, or we have no hope. So, “unworthy” is assuming because I’m in Christ that I can treat everybody else however I want. I can eat everything before you get here. I can get drunk and it not matter. I can forget about you. I can be different than you. There can be an us / them mentality in the church. That’s what it means to take it in an unworthy manner.

Second — “examine yourself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Now, I grew up in a context of church where “examine yourself” meant you kind of did a mental catalog of all the sins you had committed since the last time you had communion. You walked through a list really fast to make sure you took care of all of those, and then hopefully you didn’t feel so terrible at the end of that that you didn’t even want to take communion. And then maybe you might take it. The attitude of it was very inward and “examine yourself harshly.” “Examine yourself” is reflecting on who you are in Christ and your relationship to others and then eating and drinking. The text is clear. “Examine and so eat.” Examination (whatever it is) leads to participation. It’s a free invitation. Hey, take a look at yourself. Take a look at yourself in light of who Jesus is. Take a look at yourself and how you view others in this body. Are you divided from them? And then run to the table. Examine yourself.

And then finally, if we “eat without discerning the body,” without discerning the body. What is the body? Well there are lots of explanations here. I think the most plausible one, because of the story that Paul’s telling us, is you eat without considering that you’re part of a family. The body is this. It’s not necessarily Jesus’s body. It’s here. They’re eating this meal and not thinking about each other. The Lord’s Supper is not a solo meal. It’s not a snack on your way to work by yourself. We call it communion, community, family meal. We do it together. So, to do it with an idea of not considering everybody else that’s part of my family doesn’t seem to make sense. It’s a moment, yes, for us to consider our relationship to Christ. But communion is an opportunity to consider my relationships with everybody else in my family.

So, Corinth … man, they just kept forgetting. They forgot their unity. They forgot each other. They forgot the real point of communion. Unity is the reality they forgot. Unity drives us to remember what we really are. We are a family, not factions. Unity forgotten fuels division. If we forget about unity as a reality, It’s like gas on a fire. It just fuels divisions among us because our first thought isn’t we’re unified. Unity remembered fuels more unity. And I want us to see Paul drives at this argument of unity over and over and over, so much so that it should be shocking when there are divisions.

So, I want to look at Paul’s view of unity to this very church in Corinth. Unity is the reality that should be remembered. Paul states at the beginning of his letter that unity is the goal of the letter.

1 Corinthians 1:10, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

No minced words, no lack of clarity, not really an ambiguous statement. Agree, no division, same minds, same judgment. And Paul was addressing a group of people just like us, with all types of potential things that could divide us, things like theology, race, class, spiritual gifts, sin in the church, legal action between members, and in this context, even whether or not to eat food offered to idols. And Paul, on top of all of that, says, I want everyone here to be unified. And did you notice that he appeals to the very name of Jesus Christ to make it happen?

So, I want you to think about something. Have you ever looked at someone and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I want you to … ” and then fill in the blank? Okay. If you haven’t, would you feel awkward doing that? I sure would! I’ll tell you why. Because I sure hope the words that come after “I want you to, in the name of Jesus” are true or good or right and not my opinion. The idea of unity is so important that Paul says it in the name of Jesus. In the name of Jesus, church, unity. Paul says unity is the reality.

Paul then illustrates that goal of unity two times. The first time he uses eating. Eating. Unity comes from eating the same bread.

First Corinthians 10:16-17, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

So, this is before the story of everybody eating and getting drunk at communion. This happens before that in the letter. And then Paul says this,

“Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

So, what bread is Paul talking about there — pita? Gluten free? Some special multi-grain at Whole Foods that costs $38? Is that the bread that has the power to do this? Well, remember, the teachings in the church would have been passed down from Jesus to the disciples to the churches. And maybe some of the people in Corinth, maybe their memories would have clicked right here and said, “Hey, wait a minute. Didn’t Jesus talk about bread? Didn’t he actually do a whole lesson on bread?” And then somebody would have said, “Yeah! Remember, John taught us about that.” John actually records it for us. This is John 6, and this is Jesus talking about bread.

“‘For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’”

 John 6:50-51, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Take this bread which is broken for you. It’s my body. Jesus is the bread of life. He’s the bread of heaven, the bread that gives life forever. Jesus is the bread that makes many one.

So, Paul and Jesus are both using imagery to try to help us understand, I think, what it actually means to believe in Jesus. Believing in Jesus is more than just knowing the right answers about Jesus or having the correct mental ideas about Jesus. Here in Jesus’s words and Paul’s, it’s consuming Jesus so that what He is takes over who we are. We take him completely in. Jesus becomes our fuel and sustenance of life, our support system. So, in the text, when he says we all eat the same bread, therefore we’re one, we recognize that if other people have eaten the same bread, then we have life from the same source; so, we’re unified.

This might sound silly, but if you and I had a loaf of bread, I broke it in half, and we both ate half a loaf of bread — we’re carb loading — and we shove in a whole half loaf of bread, then in that moment, on a cellular level, we are connected by one loaf of bread. The same bread, the exact same loaf is in both of us at the same time. We can look at each other and say, “We’re fueled right now for this race with the very same bread. We’re the same person.”

Now on a cataclysmic level, when each of us consume Jesus, we are one on a cellular, spiritual, mental, emotional level that I lack the capacity to explain really well so much so that the bread of Jesus makes all of us different, weird, wild people all one. Unity is the reality.

Paul illustrates the goal of unity one more time, this time with drinking, eating and drinking. Unity comes from drinking the same Spirit. I warned you we’re going to read a lot of Scripture. I’m going to read a lot right now. I want you to hear “same, same, one, one” all through this text, and then we’ll talk about it.

First Corinthians 12:4-27. Unity comes from drinking the same Spirit.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body [physical body] … 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 the same Spirit.”

Lots of words, but clear, repeated message. One Spirit, variety of gifts. One Spirit, variety of people. Variety of people, one body. Let me hit that again. This is basically all of I Corinthians 12. One Spirit, variety of gifts. One Spirit, variety of people. Variety of people, one body. We don’t need to get lost in what all of these gifts are, what they’re for, and who has them. The point is clear that the Spirit uniquely gifts each one of the body with a gift for the common good of the one body. So, when we see someone operating in the gifting that the Spirit gave them, we are unified with them because what they’re doing is empowered by the same Spirit who empowers me to do whatever it is I’m called to do. Gifts are not divisive. They’re inherently unifying.

Paul picks up on a Jewish metaphor in this text. He says, “We’re all baptized into one body.” We’re all … It’ll sound weird … We’re ritually cleansed into one body. This body that we’re part of, Paul says, is not determined by race. Where he says, “Jew or Greek,” that’s kind of shorthand for “all of the nations in the world” at this point. Paul is saying it’s not about race. Everyone is welcome at the table. Paul also says it’s not about class, slave or free. It doesn’t matter your economic class. What matters is, is that the Spirit unifies you into this body. Just as we’re one body in eating the same bread, so we’re one body in drinking the same Spirit.

Paul takes this metaphor of the body and basically just hammers it into the ground over and over. He says this later in I Corinthians 12:14-27.

“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 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 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 of 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.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable, we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.

“But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

Now [we] are the body of Christ and individually members of it. Many parts, one body; one body, individual parts.

Two things to see about unity — First, you can’t disregard yourself as part of the body. You can’t disregard yourself. And again, in church world, this gets into the realm where people think if they start thinking this way, it’s immediately thinking too well of ourselves or pride. It’s actually just the Scripture. You can’t disregard yourself because you’re not like other parts. That’s where the text is saying “because I’m a foot and you’re a hand, I don’t really belong to the body.” It’s self comparison — because you are like this, and I’m like this, I’m lesser than. You can’t do that and maintain a unified body. You can’t disregard yourself. The foot can’t disregard itself because it isn’t a hand.

And Paul is being silly here in the metaphor. I hope you see the humor of it. He’s basically saying if the human body were made up of one thousand ears all stitched together, it would be the most ridiculous, useless piece of flesh in the world. Why? Because that’s not the way God arranged it to be. So, you can’t disregard yourself, and you can’t disregard others because they’re not like you. You can’t disregard you because you’re not like them, and you can’t disregard them because they’re not like you. The eye can’t dismiss a hand. The head can’t dismiss a foot. One part of the body is not inherently better than the others.

In fact, it’s fascinating that God talks about the lesser parts deserving more honor, the parts that seem to be weaker. Let me see if I can make that make sense. Six weeks ago — I’m trying to learn how to trail run — I was on a trail run in shoes that I shouldn’t have been trail running on, and I sprained my ankle. It’s taken me six weeks to where I can walk normal. Why? Because there are these four little tendons on the outside of my right foot that I stretched in a way that I was not supposed to stretch them, and they are letting me know. These weaker parts of the body that I’ve never put any honor on in my entire life — my first sprained ankle in life — never thought about those four things and that part of the ankle that actually matter until I sprained them. And then as I’m limping, walking around for six weeks, other parts of my old man body start to hurt because they’re compensating for the fact that that ankle will not work. So, now my left knee clicks, and my left hip hurts. Why? Because the weaker parts of the body deserve honor. And God says, “Why did I give you weaker parts of the body, Ryan? Why did I give you four tendons in your ankle? So that you would recognize that your body cannot be divided.”

So, when we look around at people in the church who are having a tough time, who are struggling, if we don’t even consider other people in the church who are serving in secret ways as deserving of big honor, we’re missing the point of the body. They’re there so that we’re never divided. God honors the lesser parts, which tells us a whole lot about God. Your part in this body is God ordained. God arranged it, and God composed it. Quite simply, brothers and sisters, we all need each other in this body, or we collapse. None of us are independent as we’d like to think we are. Unity forgotten fuels division. Unity … Man, when we forget it, it’s just wide open to be divided. Unity remembered, the goal, these illustrations … We remember that it fuels more unity as we consider the body.

So, today it is a simple call, on my part, to you. It’s a call to be unified at this table. We are not like that family arguing at the Christmas table. Or we shouldn’t be. We share the same bread. We drank the same Spirit. We’re in the same body, and none of us is lesser than. There is no us / them in the church. It’s body.

So, we’re going to share this meal that Jesus gave us. And I want us to do what Paul talks about doing. We’re going to take some time just in quiet to examine ourselves. And this is not a time for you to beat yourself up. This is a time for you to recognize, “I desperately need this meal, Jesus.” I desperately need you. I need you to be right with God. Examine yourself in light of Jesus.

I want you to take time to consider others. Are you coming at this table in the middle of division? And we would be fools to think that this only happens in Corinth. It’s here. So, if you’re coming at this table, if you examine yourself, and you’re coming at it knowing that there’s an us-and-them in your world, come to the table and make it right today.

And finally, I’d like us to, as one body, choose to deny division. Anything — and there’s a list of them that you could get from the church in Corinth — anything that creates an us/them mentality. Again, in here, theology, race, class, gifting, role in the body, sin … all of these things. Those people and me. My team, their team. We have to deny that. There is no us / them.

So, we’re going to hand this out. We’re going to take some quiet. We’re going to hand this out in a few minutes. I’ll come back up, and we will celebrate this meal together, proclaim Jesus’s death until he comes back to get us. Let’s pray.

So, Father, would you allow your letter through Paul to fall on our hearts and unify us as a people around a table that is open to all? Open our eyes now to examine ourselves in a healthy way before an all-loving God who gave us his Son so that we could be right with him. Let us consider our brothers and sisters in this body whom we desperately need, and then let us celebrate you together in your name. Amen.