Serving God’s People

I. Introduction

I remember as a kid playing games upstairs in the hallway with my sister and brother. Sometimes we played Chinese Checkers, Monopoly, Hot Wheels, occasionally we would work on jigsaw puzzles. Or we might just play Solitaire with a deck of cards.
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We didn’t always get all the pieces back in the box. Hot Wheels cars or section of the racetrack would go missing, some marbles from the Chinese Checkers. It was ok, though, we could still play.

But other games, not so much. I remember how frustrating it was to work on a jigsaw puzzle for hours and then get stuck, looking for a particular piece that was missing. Eventually, we’d have to just give up. We’d push all the pieces back in the box, probably dropping another piece or two under the table, and then put the box back on the shelf.
We’d never work on that puzzle again. Why we didn’t throw it out, I don’t know.  Probably the same logic all of us use when looking at 3-day old leftovers in the fridge. It looks ok, but I’m not going to eat it. Better to leave it in the fridge a few more days until it definitely goes bad, then throw it out.
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And playing Solitaire without a full deck – and I’m talking about the deck of cards, not my brother or sister playing without a full deck. Or me. Hard to play to play Solitaire when you only have 50 or 51 cards.

You know what’s interesting about playing Solitaire with only 51 cards? It doesn’t really matter which card is missing, whether it’s the 8 of spades or the jack of diamonds. The game is crippled and unwinnable without all the cards. Every card is important.

II. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, Many Spiritual Gifts but One Spirit

Our study today is from 1 Corinthians 12 on Spiritual Gifts, so let’s open our bibles and we’ll begin with 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 –

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

I found it interesting the full Trinity is listed here. The same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God. Each one of us is unique. Some are more unique than others. We are all very different, from our experiences, our desires, our abilities. But the source of all spiritual gifts is from God. The energy to use the gift is from God. Even where we live, work, worship and apply our spiritual gifts is from God.

Biblical scholars posit that Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth to help direct their spiritual gifts. The Corinthians apparently were using their gifts for their own benefit and to try build themselves up, perhaps saying that one person’s gift was more important than another’s, sort of like the 9 of clubs saying that it’s more important than the 8 of hearts. But Paul says here that the purpose of the gift given to each believer is for the common good. You can tell it’s a spiritual gift if it benefits others, not yourself. The gift each person is given is for the common good of God’s people.

Does everybody have a spiritual gift?

When I was a younger Christian and first heard about spiritual gifts, I thought it sounded like a good idea. Maybe they sold them in the gift shop. Or maybe spiritual gifts were something only spiritual people had. And being a young Christian, I just didn’t have any. Or if I did, maybe this was my spiritual gift:

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I don’t think “pew sitting” is a spiritual gift. Maybe I didn’t have a spiritual gift.
But 1 Corinthians 12:12 says, “but to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Not to some people. Not even to most people. But to each one. Including me. Including you.

Corinthians 7:7 puts it this way,
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But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

The NASB version translates this as “his own gift;” the King James translates it as “his proper gift from God.” The Greek word used is “idios” (ἴδιος) and implies that the gift has been “fitted” to you. Like going to DSW to buy shoes. One person may be buying hiking boots in size 10, and another person is getting running shoes in size 8. They are fit for the purpose, unique to you and the purpose God has.

III. 1 Corinthians 12: The Various Gifts

What are these gifts? Let’s continue with verses 8-10,

For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.

This isn’t the entire list; Paul only listed some of the spiritual gifts here. If we look further down the page in verse 28,

And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.

Is that all? No, Paul also wrote about gifts in Romans 12:6-8,

Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Some study guides also list some gifts described in Ephesians 4:11:apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, but those seem to be describing church leadership positions more than gifts. But in any case, in none of these verses does Paul say this is an exhaustive list of the spiritual gifts, and differing biblical studies may list anywhere from 16 to 26 spiritual gifts.

I debated about whether to get into the gifts themselves. Maybe I’ll just talk about the most important ones. But if we get anything out of this lesson today, I think it’s that each one of us is uniquely valuable with unique gifts given to us for the purpose of building the church up. I couldn’t even decide how to limit the discussion of gifts; could I prioritize them? And that means I’m not understanding my own lessons, like somehow that 7 of spades is more important to the church than the 9 of diamonds. Every gift is important, duh. And no gift is more important than another.

So I selected the gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, bearing in mind that there may be other gifts that may be used for building up the church that are not specifically spelled out in scripture. And also I want to stress that a gift is not the same thing as a talent. One can have a talent for singing, for instance. But singing can be exhibited in a way that can does not bring glory to God. But this is a fairly complete list and as we go through these, see if they stir up a passion within you.

The ones listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 include word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues.

Slide12• Word of Wisdom. This is described as a “word” of wisdom so it is likely Paul was describing a speaking gift. Biblical wisdom is available to all believers and is different than human wisdom – you probable remember Proverbs 3:5,

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

If you lack biblical wisdom, just ask. James 1:5 says,

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

So when Paul says “Word of Wisdom,” Paul probably means someone gifted in understanding and speaking forth biblical truth in such a way to apply it to life situations.

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• Word of knowledge. Also a speaking gift, this gift involves understanding truth with insight from the Holy Spirit, who understands biblical text and can explain it to others. At my wife’s church is a pastor that can explain the book of Daniel using the book of Revelation in a way that makes me go “wow, so that’s what that meant.” I believe he has the gift of the word of knowledge.

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• Faith. Don’t all believers have faith? Of course they do, or they wouldn’t be believers. In fact, some of these gifts are shared by all believers to some extent. But some seem to be ably to rely on faith, depend on faith, exhibit faith with a strong, unshakeable confidence that God will answer. Remember the movie, “War Room?” Miss Clara has just heard that God has answered a prayer, and this was her reaction:

That is somebody with the gift of faith.

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• Healing. God still performs miracles, especially in healing. In the first century, the apostles healed the lame and raised the dead as evidence their message was from God. Most biblical scholars put this gift in a special category of gifts called the sign gifts, available only to those that preached the word in the first century and had direct contact with Jesus. When people are miraculously healed today, God now does it directly and miraculously and not through men, otherwise the hospitals would be full of these gifted people raising people from the dead. Another of the “sign” gifts is –

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• Miracle powers. This involved performing supernatural events that could only be attributed to the power of God. Paul, Peter, Stephen, and Phillip all exhibited this gift in the book of Acts.

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• Prophecy. This doesn’t mean telling the future; the Greek word is “prophēteia” (προφητεία) and means to talk with “divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden.” The gift of prophecy is the gift of preaching the Word of God. In many ways, Dr. Young prophecies when he speaks from the pulpit. Peter puts it this way in 1 Peter 4:11 –

“Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; . . . so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever.”

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• Distinguishing between spirits. This same gift is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14:29,
Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said.

This gift is dedicated to spiritual discernment in the truth because many false prophets twist and distort the truth. Those with the gift of discernment can help separate truth from error, as it is said in 1 John 4:1,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

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• Speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues. This gift has differing opinions, some saying that it is a speaking gift of earthly languages like those mentioned on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts, and others say it is an “ecstatic” or “heavenly” language like those taught in the Pentecostal churches. It is a legitimate gift of the spirit, but speaking in tongues comes with a lot of guidelines described in 1 Corinthians 14. Many misinterpret the gift of tongues as a sign of salvation or of a special closeness to God, which it is not.

Romans 12:6-8 has another list of gifts from Paul –

Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Some of these duplicate those we just reviewed, but there are some new ones listed –

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• Service. This is a general term for all ministry within the church. Those wonderful classmates of ours that write us cards and letters during Wednesday night outreach or handle our class administration every week or write our weekly newsletter or arrange lunches or welcome new visitors or direct our class or lead us in prayer or any other effort that provides help to one another in the church.

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• Teaching. This one isn’t important, let’s skip it. Ok, no seriously, this gift is much like prophecy that Dr. Young has, and certainly one who prophesies probably also has the gift of teaching. But while prophesying involves proclaiming God’s revelation, teaching is the systemic and regular instruction in God’s Word, any place where God’s Word is taught. I certainly don’t claim any special revelation, and I am not a preacher, but with the good Lord’s guidance, perhaps I can faithfully share what God says in His Word. The Great Commission tells us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” For all of us whenever we tell someone about Jesus, we owe it to them to give a faithful and truthful message about the good news.

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• Exhortation. This is from the Thesaurus version of the bible. Most people would use “encouragement.” This gift enables one to advise, plead, warn, strengthen, comfort one another. I think the talent of singing, when used in worship, usually is part of the gift of exhortation, to encourage others. The Christian walk is not always a walk of roses and sunshine. We go through thorny patches, we go through storms. And we need those in our lives with the gift of encouragement to stay faithful, trust in the Lord’s goodness and mercy. I thank the good Lord for those that have an uplifting word of encouragement during difficult times. Sometimes the gift of encouragement can strengthen a weak believer into resisting sin. In Hebrews 10:24-25, the gift of encouragement is described like this –

Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Should the gift of encouragement be used sparingly or only in emergencies? Hebrews 3:13 says,

Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,”

So only encourage people today.

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• Giving. Like most of the other gifts, we are all to give generously to one another. Luke 3:8,11 says,

Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise.

But some have the gift of giving that gives sacrificially. And one with this gift gives *of* himself, not *for* himself. Most that have this gift never receive recognition because they feel all the recognition should go to the Lord. And while giving can refer to money, it can also refer to time and effort. Any time somebody gives up something sacrificially to a brother or sister in Christ to bring glory to the Lord, they are exhibiting the gift of giving.

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• Leading. This is also sometimes called “administration” and the Greek word used means “to guide” and refers to someone who pilots or guides a ship. Here’s a favorite poem of mine about leadership, I saw it years ago on a business trip, it’s called “The Leader,” by Roger McGough:

I wanna be the leader
I wanna be the leader
Can I be the leader?
Can I? I can?
Promise? Promise?
Yippee I’m the leader
I’m the leader

OK what shall we do?

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The funny thing about those with the gift of leadership is that most of them didn’t ask to lead. They just led. They saw something that had to be done, and they made it happen. They made it happen now, they made it happen as soon as they saw the need.

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• Mercy. Demonstrating sympathy, genuinely caring about the needs of others to strengthen and encourage them. They may visit hospitals or jails or the homeless or the poor or the handicapped, those with this gift find joy in ministering to others who need help.

IV. 1 Corinthians 12:20-27, We Are All the Body of Christ

In the rest of today’s scripture, Paul describes how all these gifts fit together. 1 Corinthians 12:20-27 says,

As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

And the 10 of spades cannot say to the 9 of hearts, “I don’t need you.” No gift is greater than another; the director and the pastor and the janitor and the secretary and the trombone player all work together to bring glory to God. Whatever gift you have, use it. The more you use it, the more God will give you opportunities to use it. It’s like learning to play the piano. You may have the gift, but you have to practice.

V. Conclusion

Of course you have a spiritual gift that can be used for the common good of the body of Christ. It’s like a muscle, and some muscles atrophy and shrivel if they are not used. But if you exercise your spiritual gift for the glory of God, you will find that God provides more and more opportunities as your spiritual muscle grows stronger.  Together, the muscles and the eyes and the hands and every part of the body grow stronger when we all practice our spiritual gifts. What is your gift?

Bree shared this link a few months back; it’s a questionnaire that you answer that will help you figure out your spiritual gift. Everyone has one; find yours and share it with us because the rest of the body needs you.

Spiritual Gift Test

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To God be the glory. Amen.

Keeping Commitments

I. Introduction

It is not LOVE that is our first commitment. It is TRUTH.

I didn’t want to teach today’s lesson.

It’s not that the scripture to study today is difficult to understand. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s too easy to understand. It’s just impossible for many to follow. Including me. Teaching a lesson about the meaning and purpose of marriage to singles, marrieds, and divorcees that stays encouraging and doesn’t hurt anybody just seemed to be a task that was beyond my ability.

I even tried to find something else to teach. I reached out to a pastor and told him that I found it impossible to teach today’s lesson without upsetting many. The word will sound harsh. The lesson talks about husbands and wives and the promises we make to one another. And I know several in here have been divorced. Some are in the process of getting a divorce. I myself have been divorced. Twice. I bet you never knew that. I’m pretty sure you don’t know that because I don’t like to talk about it. Those are my failures. They are both my personal failures, and when I read today’s scripture, I understand they are my failures toward God.

I told my wife I had argued with God and I told God thanks for the suggestion, but I’ve decided to teach from a different chapter.

My wife sided with God.

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In the end, I stumbled across this phrase while studying, “It is not LOVE that is our first commitment. It is TRUTH.” Too many want to teach only the feel-good aspects of the bible, the prosperity gospel, the social gospel, the loving gospel, and here I was, getting ready to do the exact same thing. I wanted to teach the love, even when the lesson is about the truth.

And isn’t that part of the Armor of God that we should put on every morning? The Belt of Truth?

The bible is not about just love, or even truth. It is about God’s glory. When we short-circuit God’s plan and express love without truth, we diminish His glory. So after losing the argument with God (again), I sat down to do as He asked. So we are going to study the purpose of marriage. And in the end, I pray that we will see that there is truth, there is love, and above all, there is God’s glory.

II. 1 Corinthians 7:1-5: Purpose of Marriage (Human Perspective)

Let’s start with the first 5 verses of 1 Corinthians 7 –

Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Scripture is clear that our priority should always be to the Lord. Not only is He number one, but He is also Alpha. And Omega. He is our All in All. And everything I’ve ever read in scripture, from the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament, is that there is only one thing that provokes God, and that is to put something else in front of Him.
And that includes other people. Now, don’t get me wrong; of course, we are to love others. It’s just that God deserves and is jealous for the #1 position. We don’t love others despite God; what an awful arrangement. No, we love others because of God, not instead of God.

So Paul starts with “it is good for a man not to touch a woman.” He’s not saying this is best, only that it is not necessary to have a fulfilling life with Christ if one is not married. My opinion? I’ve met so many single people over the years that are laser-focused on finding a spouse. They join a church to find a spouse, they join a sport to find a spouse, they go to bars and single events to find a spouse. To me, that is a sure sign the priorities are misplaced. Singles often go looking for somebody to “complete them.” That’s the phrase that makes me cringe. “I just want somebody to complete me.”

That tells me they are an incomplete and needy person. There is a God-shaped hole in their heart they are trying to fill with a person. We long for someone wo will always be there for us, who will be 100% faithful, who will never falter, who forgives us when we falter, and who will stay with us until the very end. And no matter who they find, that person will never fill that hole because that hole was never meant to be filled by a human. And then the disappointment starts. And then the blame for that disappointment. And then anger and bitterness. And all because they tried to find a human being to complete them in a way that only Jesus can.

Far better to be complete already. To be overflowing with the grace and mercy and kindness that comes from a perfect relationship with Jesus. When we realize the perfect love from Jesus, then we no longer have the need to be loved by a person the way a person that has just stuffed themselves at Thanksgiving doesn’t need to eat. We are satisfied, we are complete. Then, with the overabundance of love can we contribute to somebody else. Instead of each person contributing 50% and arguing over whether somebody is doing less than their share, both doing 150% and overflowing with love and there is abundance.

But we walk in a broken world and ruled by Satan. And stumbling blocks to that perfect relationship with Christ are everywhere, both to believers and nonbelievers. And the news media loves to find pastors that stumble and hold them up to the world and say, “behold, yet another fallen Christian who preaches one thing and does another. The church is full of hypocrites.”

Paul says that one of the purposes of marriage is to help guard against this sort of sin. Each man should have a wife, and each wife should have a husband. But look at how Paul orders these verses; a man doesn’t take a wife in order to prevent his own sin. That’s self-centered. When our goal is to be like Christ, of course we take care of ourselves, but we live for others like Christ lived for us. Paul says the reason for a man to take a wife is to fulfill his duty to his wife. And it is the wife’s duty to fulfill her physical duties – that’s a euphemism for sex, please don’t make me explain that – the wife fulfils her physical duties to her husband to help him resist sin.

Again, it’s not what marriage can do for us. It is what we can do for the marriage. And one of the purposes of a God-centered marriage is to do what we can, in a positive and encouraging way, is to provide physical intimacy to our spouse as a gift to make it easier for them to resist sin.

III. 1 Corinthians 7:10-16: Let Your Yes be Yes

Let’s continue with verses 10 through 13,

But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.

I said earlier that it’s not difficult to understand the scripture. It says what it says, and any mental hoops we jump through to justify some other meaning doesn’t change what this scripture says. Believers should not divorce their unbelieving spouses. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:37,

“Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’”

I looked into divorce statistics this week in preparation for this lesson. You’ve probably heard that 50% of marriages end in divorce, and I’m happy to say that’s a bad application of statistics. The highest rate of divorce in a 2001 survey was 41% for men and 39% for women. Still pretty high. And since 1980, the divorce rate has been slowly dropping, but not always for the best reasons. In many cases, people are just deciding to live together without getting married. If you never marry, you never divorce, right?
And you’ve probably also heard that Christians are just as likely as everybody else to get divorced, though that’s probably bad statistics, too. Conservative Christians who go to church regularly are 35% less likely to get divorced. One common thread in successful Christian marriages is that both partners put Jesus first, and their spouse second. They value their relationship more than they value winning any argument.

On the other hand, people who call themselves Christian but do not go to church regularly are 20% more likely to get divorced. And those without religious affiliation or with different religions are 35% more likely to get divorced.

Why? Too many reasons to list. Every marriage is different, every failed marriage is different. In some cases, the two people may be “unequally yoked,” a phrase from 2 Corinthians 6:14 that says,

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

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When two oxen are yoked together, the two oxen can pull better than one. When one stumbles or grows weak, the other can take up the slack, and each supports the other. But unequally yoked, the oxen aren’t even pulling in the same direction. The work is just as hard, and on top of that, they are struggling with the other.

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Those that understand this scripture live this scripture and make sure they do not become yoked with an unbeliever. Help an unbeliever, sure. But enter a relationship with an unbeliever? Marriage has so many challenges even when you are heading the same direction, and it’s impossible if you’re pulling in opposite directions.

But when we find ourselves unequally yoked, Paul says we should honor our marriage vows. If the unbeliever wants to leave, let them leave, but don’t initiate a divorce. And if one is married to an unbeliever, Paul tells us the God will use us for His purpose in 1 Corinthians 7:14-16,

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

If we are unequally yoked, Paul tells us to stay married because we have a mission field of one: We are to be a witness to the unbelieving spouse. It’s a one to one witness like no other.

So that is what a perfect Christian spouse married to an unbeliever should do. And as Jesus says in Matthew 5:48,

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Be perfect. Never make a mistake, never come up short. Be perfect every single time.
Trouble is, I don’t know any perfect Christian spouses. Including me. My wife comes pretty close, especially when she’s admonishing me to teach the lesson I was given and not the lesson I wished I had. But she’s not perfect. In fact, I don’t know any perfect people. Every person I know is a failure at something. Romans 3:23 says,

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Every single person, except Jesus, has failed. Including me. Including you. Including your spouse or ex-spouse or future boyfriend or ex-girlfriend or your oldest son or youngest daughter or best friend or worst enemy. Every single person has failed and fallen short of the perfect plan that God has planned for them.

In many ways, we are like God’s chosen people. At first there was only one rule – don’t eat the fruit of that tree over there. Then it was Ten Commandments and then all those rules in Leviticus and then 613 mitzvots.

So many rules. So many ways to fail. So many ways to fall short of the glory of God. Israel worshipped idols and married pagans and did evil in the sight of the Lord for centuries. The rules became so difficult that there was no way anybody could follow them all.
Until the Son of God came. Jesus was perfect. Hebrews 4:15,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.

Jesus was perfect, and willingly sacrificed Himself on the cross as a punishment for our failures so that we may have eternal life. The punishment for our sins is death and the wrath of God, but it is paid in full by the Son of Man. And that verse that said we have all fallen short? There’s good news; here’s the rest of that verse –

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Jesus knows I am a sinner, I’ve fallen short. And yet He willingly died so that I may live. It’s a miracle that just keeps on giving because I’m apparently not done sinning, despite my best efforts to be perfect.

So did I wander away from our topic today? That married couples are supposed to have sex to help their partner avoid sin and that believer should not divorce their unbelieving spouses?

I don’t think so. Of all the things we do in this life, trying to maintain our relationships with one another in love is the most challenging thing we will ever do, whether it’s our spouse or friend or child or stranger. And if we fail in the little things like stealing a pencil from the office or telling a little white lie, then it’s no wonder so many of us will fail, have failed, in the big things like marriage and divorce. But our God is bigger than any of our sins.

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Thomas Moore, a poet from the early 1800’s, wrote a poem that captures our gratitude for this sacrifice, that God is bigger than our sins. The first stanza goes like this,

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,
come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Whatever our failures are, God already knows. God has already paid for them. And God loves us despite our many failures.

IV. Revelation 19:7-9: Marriage Supper of the Lamb

So 1 Corinthians 7 has scripture that is easy to understand yet difficult to live. If we’re single, recognize that marriage isn’t a chance to make ourselves complete, but to help another to be complete. If we’re married, recognize God’s will is that we hold nothing back from our spouse, and if our spouse is not a believer, then we have a mission field of one to show how Christ lives in us. And then recognize that this is the biggest challenge of living, the relationships we have with others, and that we are going to fail.

And despite scripture that tells us to be perfect like Christ, we are human and we’re going to fail. But Christ never fails. His love is perfect.

And Christ demonstrates this love in his own marriage.

What? You didn’t realize Jesus Christ was married? That there is a Mrs. Christ? Here’s a description of the wedding in Revelation 19:7-9,

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Then he *said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he *said to me, “These are true words of God.”

In case you haven’t figured it out, Mrs. Christ is the church of all believers. To fully understand the vision in Revelation, though, we need a quick study of the wedding customs in the time of Mr. Christ.

There were three major customs of the wedding. The first custom was the marriage contract, signed by the parents of the bride and the groom, and the parents of the groom would pay a dowry to the bride. This is the betrothal period or the engagement.

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The second custom occurred a year later. The groom, accompanied by his male friends, would go to the house of the bride at midnight, making a parade with torches through the streets. The bride would know ahead of time that he was coming and she would be waiting expectantly with her maidens, and then all the grooms and groomsmen and the bride and the maidens would all parade to the bridegroom’s father’s house and make their new home together. This custom is illustrated in one of Jesus’ parables of the ten virgins in Matthew 25.

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The third custom was the wedding and the feast which could go on for several days, as in the wedding that Jesus attended when He turned the water into wine.

In John’s vision in Revelation of the wedding feast, he’s describing this third custom, the wedding feast, the marriage supper of the lamb, but all three customs have been observed. The first custom, the dowry, has already been completed. Each person, when making their decision to place their trust in Jesus, requires a dowry from the groom’s father. God the Father provided this dowry by shedding the blood of our savior on the cross, paying all debts in full.

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The church of believers is betrothed to Christ, we are engaged, and the night of the wedding approaches. Like the wise virgins in the parable, we should all be watching and waiting for the Bridegroom to appear. This is the rapture when Christ appears to claim His bride, the church, and take the bride to His father’s house.

Then we get to the third custom in Revelation 19, the marriage supper of the Lamb. The bride has made herself ready and blessed are those who are invited, there is a glorious celebration of all who have wed themselves to Christ.

And unlike fallible humans like you and me, Christ will never fail and never go back on His word, His promise endures forever. Jesus will succeed where we could not, and our marriage to Christ will last then thousand years and then forevermore.

V. Conclusion

I heard this hymn last week and I thought it was perfect to wrap up today’s study of 1 Corinthians 7. Written in 1860 by Samuel John Stone, we are reminded that the promise of Jesus to bring His church unto Him was bought with a great dowry and comes with a promise that will never be broken.

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By spirit and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

To God be the glory. Amen.