Undivided: 1 Corinthians 11.27-34

This week I picked up the phone. I picked up the phone over a matter that happened years ago—two people following Jesus, serving well and hard. Wires were crossed. Feelings were hurt. It happens. Was there sin? Maybe not, but there was division.

I picked up the phone, finally, in response to 1 Corinthians 11.27-34. There, we see that believers, when coming to the Table of the Lord rightly, make visible the invisible work of God. The work of Christ on the cross that unites God’s people to Him through faith (invisibly) becomes visible through the unity of His people at the table.

There’s a wrong way to come to the tableWhoever, 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 (verse 27). For the Corinthians, coming in an unworthy manner was less about pious and personal introspection than it was about the way they were going about the table. The earlier part of the chapter  gives the picture (verses 17-22). First century church meetings took place in homes. Naturally, the wealthy, having bigger homes, would host the meetings. The observance of the Lord’s Table, New Testament scholars tell us, took place in tandem with the teaching of God’s Word and preceded a common meal. But, what a situation in Corinth! One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! … Apparently, the “haves” would push through the observance of the Lord to their own meal. The “have nots” would arrive later, and without their own food, to find their social betters tipsy and themselves excluded. Division followed. Hardly a picture of Christ and those united with Him.

Paul has hard words: these will be … guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord (verse 27b). Divisions do exists, Paul has earlier taught, because some in the community don’t belong to Christ (verse 19). But, when the table divides those who do belong to Christ, this division fails to show what it looks like to be united in Christ. Those guilty of the body and blood of the Lord behave as though they weren’t recognizing Christ at all. It’s not that they’ll lose their salvation. It’s that they’re sinning as though they were never saved in the first place. The one who comes to the table in the wrong way shares in the guilt of those who don’t recognize the significance of Christ’s death.

But, there is also a right way to come to the table. 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. This examining is less about ones vertical relationship with God and more about ones horizontal relationship to others. Self-examination results in properly discerning the body, making God’s judgment unnecessary.

And, here we come to one of the twists of the passage. Up till now, it’s been about “eating the bread” and “drinking the cup” and the “body of the Lord” and the “blood of the Lord.” Now, suddenly, it’s just “the body”. What do we know about Paul’s imagery of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread (10.17). And, again, Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it (12.27). Paul frequently talks about the church as “the body of Christ”. So, discerning the body means to look around. “Who’s not here?” “Are we undivided?” we’re to ask.

Verses 30-33 describe the particular situation in Corinth: … many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (verse 30). Such a verse is reminiscent of 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 where the man caught in gross immorality is to be delivered over to Satan … for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. In both instances, God is, through discipline, preserving the souls of those who truly belong to Him. In both instances, God is preserving the unity of the church.

This doesn’t mean that behind every sickness there is a sin to be confessed. It does mean that God is very serious about the undivided unity of His people. And, He has every tool He needs to preserve both our souls and the unity of His church.  He is, after all, not a safe God.

So, we come to the table together. Since the Early Church, churches have generally moved into buildings. Since the Industrial Age, the elements of bread and cup, at least in American Evangelicalism, have been reworked to serve as many people as possible within a seventy minute service. And, as we wait for the signal to take our little pinches of bread and thimbles of juice, we probably no longer have trouble waiting for one another. Egalitarianism has taken hold in a big way. But, we are infinitely creative in finding ways to divide. Are we not?

This week at Woodland we come to the Table. Maybe you’ll do the same elsewhere. The invisible truth is that we’re saved by faith in Christ. And, God knows who is His. How will we make this truth visible? We’ll do it at the table, locally and visibly, all around the world. Are we separated by distance? No matter. 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 (1 Corinthians 12.12).

The healthy church member is united with Christ and undivided with His people. Is it true? Are there feelings hurt, a cooled relationship? Division? If so, it might be time to pick up the phone …


Find a friend and talk through the following questions:

First Corinthians 11.27-34 is a passage that poses lots of questions. As you read through the passage what questions do you have? What questions do you have that are not addressed by the post above? 


How does God show in this passage that He is very serious about the unity of His people? In your own words, why is this so? 


The Corinthians knew a rift between the rich and poor. What are some ways that we divide in our culture? 


Is there anybody you need to “pick up the phone” for before you go to the Table of the Lord again? 



Heart Repentance: 1 John 1.5-10

“Get Up” by Matt Anderson, on Flikr, CC BY 2.0

Let’s call him Johnny. I was teaching 7th grade, and Johnny totally thrashed me.

A young teacher, I’d work each night to developed my own Bible curriculum for the large, Christian day school where I taught. In the morning, Johnny and his buddies were there to blow the class apart. One day Johnny stood on his desk and launched himself across the room. That got him sent to the principal, but they sent him back. Something about me needing to work out a relationship with him. Got it …

Then, Johnny got “saved”. It happened over a weekend church retreat. Apparently, Johnny surrendered his life to Christ. Now, he was celebrated by lots of cute girls. I went to his baptismal service. Something like a thousand people turned up. Jesus was mentioned, but the service was mostly about Johnny.

Three years later, I was studying in a popular sandwich shop when Johnny, now a young teenager, pulled up and jumped from his Jeep Wrangler. “Hey, Reg!” he said. (I was Mr. Reg in those days). I bought him a sandwich. Johnny started boasting about old times—the hellion he’d been, what a great time he’d had making things hard.

“Tell me about your baptism and your decision for Christ,” I prodded. “I was there. What was going on then?”

“Oh, that …” Johnny said, “I was just screwing around with that [religious] stuff back then. Nothing big ever happened.” And that was that. The lunch ended, and—unless he pops up in my life again—so did the relationship. Heart-breaking.

We’ve all known Johnnies, people who make a grand show of change, but then, a few years later … nothing. Are they genuine converts to the faith? It’s hard to say, especially with a young person, since we can’t look into peoples’ hearts. But, the church is the place where the invisible work of God becomes visible. And, when we consider the relationship between faith and repentance, it’s clear that saving faith will look like something.

We’re talking about conversion—that is, what it looks like to other people when we place our dependance on Christ in a saving way. And, the Apostle John’s first epistle is a wonderful place to go, because the old, revered apostle and friend of Jesus’ was sorting out for others just what genuine faith amidst apostasy looked like in the waning days of the first century.

Genuine conversion requires faith. In John’s imagery, the genuine convert has received “the message” from Christ of God’s holiness and has responded by “walking in the light” (1:5-6). That person’s life matches his confession. He is one who has ” … believed in the Son of God” and now has assurance of eternal life (5:13). “Walking in the light” for that genuine convert involves personal dependance on the person and work of Jesus.

But, in the words of the old adage, we’re saved by faith alone, but saving faith is not alone. It has a companion.

Genuine conversion includes repentance. As faith is the positive turning to God in personal dependance, so repentance is the turning from sin—the change of mind with regards to God involving godly sorrow and a desire to live for God.

We’re often hesitant to emphasize repentance. Maybe, we don’t want to dilute pure faith as the means to salvation, or we don’t want to lead others to rest their salvation in being sorry for their sins. We’re right to be careful. But, Scripture makes much of this change of mind in regards to God.

There’s Peter on the day 3,000 were gathered in, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit ‘”(Acts 2.37-38).

And, Paul, to the Ephesian elders, “You yourself know … how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ …” (Acts 20.18 … 21). Faith and repentance appear here together, so as to appear almost inseparable.

Perhaps the image of the baseball pitch helps. The ball leaving the pitcher’s hand catches the eye, but few would consider the release the sum total of the pitch. There’s also the wind-up. And, for those who know the game, it’s hard to imagine one without the other.

So it is with faith and repentance. We’re saved by faith alone—not crying about or feeling badly for sins. But, faith results, sooner or later, in godly sorrow. It looks like something!

When we gather in our local church communities we’re watching God’s invisible work become visible. This involves discerning who among us has experienced God’s work of conversion, as evidenced by a heart-felt desire to turn from sin toward God in repentance. In the language of Woodland, the healthy, growing church partner is a genuine convert who repents from the heart. 

Ten years ago, some ten years after I finished teaching, I received a phone call. It was from Ben, also a former student of mine. While not a hellion, he’d been a rascal. “Mr. Reg,” Ben said, “I want you to know that I love you, and I’m sorry for how I treated you.” Then, he told me of his life in Christ and how he’d found a godly girl to marry. And, how he thought that he just ought to get right with me so that we could celebrate God’s work in his life together.

We’re saved by faith alone that is not alone. And, the invisible work of God, when seen in the genuinely converted in Christ, really does look like something.

Find somebody to share with, and talk the questions below:

How does it help you to think about conversion as a positive turning toward God in faith and a negative turning from sin in repentance? 

If you’ve trusted in Christ, how is this similar to or different than what you’ve learned before?

Do you think we avoid talking about repentance? If so, why? 

Again, if you’ve trusted in Christ, when did you experience sadness at your sin and a desire to live for Christ? Was it right when you trusted Jesus by faith? Before? A long time later? 

What about these ideas is perplexing or confusing or needing more talking about? 

Expository Listening: 2 Timothy 3.14-4.4

Imagine you’ve come to the end of your life. You’ve poured yourself out, and now you’re giving that last bit of advice to a young person who will carry on your work. What will you say?

That was Paul’s situation in 2 Timothy 3-4. He’s just advised young protege Timothy, in light of last days apathy toward God’s Word, to continue in God’s Word—the message Timothy received from him, as well as the Scriptures he grew up with under his believing mother (Acts 16). Taken together, he’s likely referring to what we now call the New and Old Testaments. This Bible, described as “breathed out by God” (ESV), will accomplish God’s specific purpose for the hearer—this to include teaching and correcting those in error, as well as instructing new followers of Christ still learning the basic things of God. The result for the one who learns to listen well will be full qualification for every thing God has planned for that person.

“So, Timothy, young pastor,” Paul says: ” … PREACH. THE. WORD”! … Full stop.

This week at Woodland we begin a new series we call Healthy Church Partners. We’re asking “What are the marks of the healthy (not perfect, but growing!) church member?” And, while we’re not all called to stand behind a lectern, we are all called to be good listeners to God’s Word, which includes the embracing of God’s Word preached. Make this mark characteristic of our involvement in YOUR church family and all the other marks of healthy church life will take care of themselves.

We’ll see that listening (expositionally!) to God’s Word producing healthy, growing followers of Christ. There’s a Cadillac-Lamborghini word here. “Exposition” means “a setting forth of the meaning or purpose of a writing” (Websters). In the handling of Scripture, this means that the main point of the passage becomes the main point of the message. “So, Timothy, don’t just give your testimony, or lecture, or share good ideas, or even just preach. Preach THE WORD!”

We might think of the good message then as a rifled bullet, or an arrow hitting the target. The good message aims to expose the particular purpose and intent of God as laid out in the particular biblical passage that is then rifled into the particular church situation. The opposite image would be the shotgun blast where the speaker aims to hit something … anything. He will, but not but not the hearts of his listeners. And, over time, they will only hear noise.

The flip-side of expositional preaching is expositional listening. And, returning to 2 Timothy (now, 4.3-4), we learn that listening (expositionally!) to God’s Word protects God’s people from falsehood and false teachers.

In the times between Jesus’ two comings, Paul forecasts, people will be driven by their desires. (See also 3.1-9). They’ll want their “itching ears” scratched and their feelings messaged. They’ll find teachers who will do their market research and say things that people want to hear. In the end, they’ll start out with the truth, but as (expositional!) preaching diminishes, they’ll add Jesus to their pantheon of good ideas and so “wander” off into stories.

Instructive for us is to note that Paul holds people accountable. This implies that there’s desire and skill in listening for the main idea of a passage and expecting to find it in any pastoral exposition of Scripture. The healthy, growing church partner is a trained expositional listener to God’s Word. And, like Timothy’s listeners, we have plenty of myths and pseudo-gospels and false teachers to shank us wide of the mark of God’s truth, if we don’t preach and listen for the gospel-center in each proclamation of God’s Word.

Here’s five suggestions for listening (expositionally!):

  1. Get into the text ahead of each message. If you’re a Woodlander, you’ll find the passage on this site by the end of the week. This will put you on your toes and not your heels as you come into worship.
  2. While you’re reading or listening, summarize the main idea of the passage in one statement. So, for 2 Timothy 3.14-4.2, you might say: Old Paul’s last advice to the young pastor Timothy is to preach the Word. That’s got it.
  3. Then, rewrite the main idea of the message to include your own situation. So, the statement above becomes: The healthy, growing church partner is a trained expositional listener to God’s Word. Not an infallible statement, but it connects the passage to our situation and our series.
  4. Engage your pastor with the main ideas you’ve written out. If you want to say something nice, don’t say, “Great message!” He’ll only think he stunk it up, and now you’re trying to encourage him. Tell him something specific about the passage and how God is applying it to your life.
  5. Finally, find somebody to talk to about how God is helping you apply the main point of the sermon that comes from the main point of the passage.

Now, find that somebody you’re sharing with, and talk through these questions:

Which of the pointers above do you find to be the easiest to do? The hardest? 

Are any of them unclear, needing further explanation? 

How has the idea of targeted, expositional preaching changed the way you think about how you ought to listen? 

What are some additional ways that you can listen “expositionally”? 

Risk! Romans 8.35-39

“Lindsey Sky Dive” CC by Steve Conger-NC-ND 2.0

When is the last time you took a risk?

I don’t mean a thrill-seeking risk. Or a risk, like a lottery ticket, to play the odds to get rich, to profit yourself, or to self-promote.

I mean a godly risk … A godly risk, as I mean it, is an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury and that is for the cause of Christ, after God’s own heart and under the direction of the Spirit for the purpose of making Jesus big in the hearts and minds of others.

If that resonates, Romans 8.35-39 is your passage. Its purpose is to show that growth in holiness—toward conformity to the likeness of Jesus—is built on the finished work of Christ and our assurance of our salvation in Christ. We’re secure in present suffering (verses 18-27). Secure as we move toward glory (verses 28-30). Secure until we arrive at the goal of our holiness—conformity to the image of Christ (verse 29). In total, God is for us!

Romans 8.35-39 is about what might happen when we take godly risks for the cause of Christ and why we have the courage to do it anyway.

Risk (for us) is Real (:35-36). There’s paradox here—”truth standing on its head” (G.K. Chesterton). Like in Luke 21.18-19 where Jesus says ” … not a hair of your head will perish” but ” … by your endurance you will gain your life” (ESV). In other words, in some ultimate sense, trouble won’t touch your head, but you could lose the whole thing chopped right off.

Paul is being autobiographical here. His “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (verse 35) is really just a paraphrase of his own litany of personal sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11.25-29. Plus, he throws in a snatch of Psalm 44. We’re considered as sheep to be slaughtered. It’s always been this way with God’s people.

We take risks as well. The mission trip to the big city. The child who risks ridicule by befriending the lesser-thought-of child. The family who opts out of Sunday morning youth baseball to worship in church. The parents who introduce another gene pool to their family through the wonder of adoption.

These risks are real in this life! Even so, while we risk for the cause of Christ, we remember that God doesn’t take risks. He knows the end from the beginning. Jesus secured the redemption of the cosmos (8.20-23). In fact, if you are in Christ, God foreknew you (a relational word!) before the foundation of the universe (verse 29). Nobody is lost between God’s foreknowledge in the past and God’s glorifying work in the future (verse 30). We can take risks because God doesn’t. Our risk-taking is done under the watchful care of a God who doesn’t risk anything.

This makes risk right! In all these things we are more than conquers through him who loved us (verse 37). It’s “in all these things” (all the apparently adverse effects of risk) that we become “more than conquers”. This indicates that the results of risk are actually turned to the good by God. As the commentator Tom Shreiner has put it, “Instead of believers being separated from Christ’s love through affliction the afflictions become the means by which believers ‘more than conquer’.”

We’re helped here by the overall picture of Romans 8. It’s a courtroom. God is the judge, and Jesus is the prosecuting attorney. But, Jesus is also the hangman. And, when we’re found decidedly guilty, Jesus points to us and says, “He’s with me! Guilty, yes! But, paid for by me all the more.” And, with each risk undertaken for Christ’s cause, there’s Jesus’ ongoing intercession for us to the Father. “That one … he’s with me!”

All this helps us remember that risk is in relationship (:38-39). I am sure, says Paul, that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is Paul’s reflection on the backside of his own experience. Death nor life … That’s state of existence. Angels nor rulers, nor powers … That’s supernatural beings. Things present nor things to come … That’s time. Height nor depth … That’s space. Anything else in all creation … That’s everything else in all creation. Nothing can separate us from relationship to God in Christ.

If we understand this passage, we’re going to know that whatever we undertake for the cause of Christ we undertake in relationship to Jesus, and we’re secure.

We can take risks for the cause of Christ, because God in Christ loves us!

So, what’s your risk? Start small and ordinary, maybe.

Is there a need in your gathering of God’s people that will certainly take you outside your perceived gifting. That could be it—risking comfort, but trusting God to make up what you lack.

Or, maybe you ought to risk taking a break from technology to relate face-to-face with somebody. Your media “family” might miss you for awhile, but it could be where God is taking you.

Or, take somebody from outside your family on vacation. Or, join a small group where you’ll have to be vulnerable. Or, …

We can take risks for the cause of Christ, because God in Christ loves us!

Find a friend or talk to your small group about these questions:

How does Romans 8.35-39 change the way you think about risk? 

How does knowing that “risk is real” help you take the whole idea of godly risk seriously? 

How does knowing that God transforms the adverse effects of risk (and actually uses the results of risk to accomplish His ultimate purpose for us) help you take seriously the idea that “risk is right”? 

How does knowing that “risk is in relationship” give you courage to step out in faith?

What godly risk do you discern God is leading you to undertake? 

Then, consider picking up a copy of John Piper’s Risk is Right (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013). It’s the source of some of these ideas and a book that sits permanently on my desk at Woodland. It’s actually a revised chapter from Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), another book I like to give away, especially to young people, but older folks need it too!