Well if you are tracking with our most recent sermon series at all three campuses, you know we are all about some Netflix binging!
Here is a portion of the plot description that you can find on one of my favorite websites and most used phone apps...IMDB, "In a small town where everyone knows everyone, a peculiar incident starts a chain of events that leads to the disappearance of a child - which begins to tear at the fabric of an otherwise peaceful community. Dark government agencies and seemingly malevolent supernatural forces converge on the town, while a few locals begin to understand that there's more going on than meets the eye." At the time I pulled that quote, there were over 165k user reviews for this show and the average rating was 9.1 out to 10...which is historically high! Now be warned, the show can be creepy, evil, and disturbing. So if you are prone to nightmares, you may be living with EVERY light on in your house for a while...especially all the new Christmas lights!
I love this show because I believe it reminds us that just because something is strange doesn't mean it can't be real. In the series at the Newport News Campus, we are exploring some strange things in the Bible that I believe God wants to be our reality! They may belong in an "upside down world" but God's hope is that we will grow to both expect them and embrace them!
We started our study in 1 Corinthians 12. If you are interested in listening to those two opening messages, then you can use this link: City Life Podcast. Last week I was not able to finish our look into this amazing chapter and wanted to share my final thoughts to complete the teaching on this text.
In the first two weeks, we talked about how God wants us to expect and embrace a "strange voice" in our lives. That is the opening of 1 Corinthians 12. Paul is exhorting them and now us that we need people in our lives who love us enough to challenge and even when necessary bring correction. That feels strange if you aren't used to it but it is most certainly a vital part of any healthy spiritual family. I build trusting relationships at church so God can use me to help others and so I can have people I trust to help me. We also talked about a "strange expectation." This is where we worked through the list of nine results of grace that manifest God's reality in a supernatural way. I like the phrase results of grace because that is the true meaning of the word "gift" that appears in the text. But for simplicity sake, we call them: three gifts that reveal, three gifts that declare, and three gifts that command. Being a candidate for God to use to reveal Himself in a supernatural way feels strange, especially the first time we experience something otherworldly like the working of a miracle or a word of knowledge. We talked about a "strange reliance" that took us through verses 12 to 27. All ministry begins by learning how to serve one another as part of the same body. Mutual dependence is not easy for us; it feels strange. We like to champion this idea of rugged independence! You will never be fully complete until you connect your life to others in a covenantal community called the local church and there is a local church out there somewhere that will be forever incomplete until you show up!
The point we never reached is a "strange deference." Take a minute to read 1 Corinthians 12:28-30. Remember, Paul has already given us an outline for this chapter in verses four through six. Here he is shifting gears into part three of this chapter in talking about a "varieties of activities" that he connects to God. (If you recall, he connected a "varieties of gifts" to the Holy Spirit and a "varieties of ministries" to Jesus). I believe what Paul is trying to communicate to us here is that if the activity of church is not directed by the activity of leaders who ensure order then chaos will soon be present which is why Paul is having to write this letter to Corinth...they are a chaotic church! Paul is assuming that you have read the preceding verses. His use of "first, second, and third" are to say all of these three are examples of directive leaders in a church. We know this from connecting this text to Ephesians 4, which Paul also wrote. Paul believes in the principle of directive leaders (which I also call nucleus leaders or senior leaders). And these numbers are not to be interpreted as an order of importance. It is simply three offices in a church whose primary activity is to bring healthy authority. The emphasis should not be placed on the unique role that apostles, prophets, or teachers carry out. That is more related to the "varieties of ministries." The emphasis should be placed on their specific activity of being directive leaders. This is why we have this portion of the chapter connected to God because He reminds us of the need for the presence of a directive authority.
Again, Paul assumes you have read the whole chapter so when the verses shift in the NKJV with the use of "after that" and "then" Paul is pulling examples from both of the two former lists. He gives us some examples of "varieties of gifts" and "varieties of ministries." He is saying that what makes a church a safe place for these former two lists of "varieties" is the activity of directive leaders. It can be strange for people to allow others to be in a place of spiritual authority in their life. Although I am a nucleus, directive leader now, that has not always been the case. Many of my years in church were benefitting from the direction of elders and other senior leaders. They created order, defined vision, created ministries, set the pace in giving, exemplified Christ, cared for people in crisis, and invested in others who might one day walk in their shoes. I can't imagine what my formative years as a Christian would have been like without them. Leaders can never demand this relationship from people. They can make demands of people and sometimes that is necessary but those demands are never fruitful unless the person being directed has already embraced that person's authority in their life.
Verse 29 is basically a synopsis verse for everything that preceded before. Every person matters. Every ministry is important. Every role is essential. The family of God is made complete when each part does it's work in love...again, the great partner text here is Ephesians 4. Remember, even though I am constantly referring to verses and chapters, this was originally a letter. It did not have verses and chapters. Verses and chapters aid our study but sometimes they break the flow of the original text. Verse 31 is supposed to flow right into chapter 13...where Paul reminds us that love must be the defining aspect of any church culture. And love is not the only standard...all of chapter 13 points to every other portion of Scripture that demands of us the character of Christ. And when we find ourselves immersed in a healthy community of people called the local church, we are able to challenge one another to that end...so let's be a little "strange" together!