Sermon prepared by Rev. George Vink, Visalia , California
Dear Family and Friends in Christ Jesus, Our Risen Lord,
Allow me to begin with what may appear to you as a strange, but possibly and hopefully, an interesting question: “How would you react if I suggested we should remove a couple of the Ten Commandments?” Would you agree and suggest which ones? Allow me to suggest some possibilities and have you think about them. Would any of these be your choice?
Let’s see…. the fourth (Sabbath) commandment, maybe? We don’t take it seriously anyway, do we? We could talk about that over coffee later, right? How about removing the seventh commandment on adultery? Doing so could get rid of convicting guilt for some wouldn’t it? Another one that could get some votes for removal might be the eighth commandment on stealing. We’d have the option then of cheating on our taxes, wouldn’t we?
Let’s remember, God’s commandments were not voted on at Mt. Sinai . God’s rules for Christian living are not based on majority opinion. His command to “live in harmony with one another” has the same divine authority. It’s not a removable suggestion!
The Bible has several other “One Another” commandments for our daily living. These include: “encouraging, admonishing and accepting one another” and several others. Today we’re considering “living in harmony with one another.” It’s a good thing to be reminded regularly of this commandment, in our homes and in our churches. We need to focus on it in addition to doing so on a day like “All Nations Sunday,” which is observed in our denomination. We must realize that although we are all different, whether in age or skin color, financial status or the work we do, we’re all called into a special relationship with God and with one another. The church, called into a vertical relationship with its God and Savior and an horizontal relationships with those different, the people we know and don’t yet know, must experience and demonstrate Christ’s desire for harmony.
The church as His body is dear to Jesus. It’s what He promised to build as we hear it in Matthew 16, “I will build MY church.” In addition, we get some idea of that when Jesus confronted Paul and demanded, “Saul, why do you persecute ME?” Jesus cares deeply what happens to His church and how His church members relate to one another.
The church, that intertwined, inter-related, mutually dependent body, has commandments for living and relating. Jesus cares deeply about His church and what it does! He’s concerned how we relate to one another! He won’t tolerate anyone messing with His body—the church! Whether the church in Corinth or here, the church is “sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy.” (vs. 2) We’re called to be holy, set apart, sealed by our baptism. We’re in a special relationship and that means a way of life that demonstrates Christ’s design for His church.
You may recall from your reading or other sermons that things were not the way they were supposed to be in the church at Corinth . Paul thanked God for them, and then spelled out the problem. There was no harmony! There was no working together! He admonished them for their divisions. In the name of the Lord Jesus, he appealed to them to change! They needed to agree and work together. They were to be united, with no room for divisions! The command on harmony is not an option! No church has the option of factions, dissensions or divisions. Unity and love are the signs of Christ’s presence. Harmony is a sure indication of His blessing. It’s a sign to the community that we are “one in Christ.”
We can’t miss it! Verse 11 of Corinthians 1 refers to the quarrels among the members of the church! People are aligning themselves with different leaders. Some were aligning with Apollos, others with Cephas, still others with Paul or Christ. Whatever the issues, whether worship style, food use, or gospel understanding, there were deep and destructive divisions.
Christ’s church faces such a possibility at any time. When we forget what it is that unites us, we’re inclined to focus on externals such as skin or economic differences. When we forget that our unity is in our allegiance and commitment to Jesus Christ, we may head in different directions quickly. But, our unity is not based on liking the same music or preferring a style of dress. It’s not based on having the same language or preference in automobiles. We’ve got to make it clear: Our oneness, our unity is in Christ! In Him alone!
When we base our unity on doing similar work, having similar business, or being of the same ethnic background, we do Christ’s church a terrible disservice! That’s the kind of thing service clubs are all about or even Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Our unity, concern for one another, is not based on our having children or liking the same sports. Author and now-retired professor at Regent College in Vancouver , J.I. Packer calls that kind of religion—“hot tub religion.” Our unity and our desire for harmony are to be based on our allegiance and obedience to Jesus Christ.
The body of a man or a woman has diversity! It’s not all eye or brain. It’s not just muscles and big bones. It’s made up of complicated interrelationships. Ask any doctor about the effects medicines have on that body. The body has wonderful diversity, and that must also describe the body of Christ! God is a God of diversity—different gifts and different people.
We’re not cloned. God didn’t make us all from the same mold. There’s simply no room for cookie-cutter Christianity. Yet with that emphasis, we need to add, unity does not mean uniformity! It does not mean inferiority or superiority. Harmony means a working together with the focus on Christ. We are His church! His body!
Working together means keeping the focus on the goal that Christ has for His church. It’s His, not mine, not ours! We must continually ask, “What does Jesus want from and for His church?” Jesus had only 12 disciples but He knew their differences! He knew their tendency to push their own agenda, whether to sit at his right hand or build tents to stay on the mountain. It’s even encouraging to see how Jesus dealt with these twelve ever-so-human disciples.
God’s commands for the church in His Word include, “agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you, and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (vs. 10) The mind is to be the “mind of Christ,” His attitude as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5.
It appears rather convincing that most divisions in the church are ego driven. Church members want their own way, their own preferences, their personal whims. While doing so, they forget that we sing, “Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.” We need to make sure we honor the beauty of diversity, differences without having divisions. We need to know what are the essentials and what are not so. What are the things that need to separate us from the world and what are things that don’t separate us from fellow Christians committed to serving the same Lord. Some things the church has labeled as the “adiaphora,” meaning that it’s not necessary for all to agree on them. It’s a good word to describe differences that should not lead to divisions!
Let’s be quick to add that of course there are core values, basic teachings that are not to be altered. But whatever it is, it is important how we disagree when we do disagree. We cannot and we must not even pretend to agree on all things. That wouldn’t be reality! But, Robert Meldenius stated it simply and clearly years ago: “In necessary things—unity. In non-essential—mutual tolerance. In all things—love.” I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing.
As we think about the need for harmony, think about what are the primary beliefs that are the non-negotiable. You might list three to your way of thinking. You could then ask, what are three more issues that are being discussed that you might say are not that vital to the life of the greater church or our local church. Then, as you’re listing these, you may even list three beliefs or practices that you could see as not important at all. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at yourself as you try this little exercise of listing what are the essential and what are the non-essentials.
We would probably realize, upon sharing these, that there aren’t such big issues to divide folk. Allowing for some differences can be rather healthy in a family. Imagine any family without them! We don’t all have the same tastes or preferences, but that doesn’t stop us from being family—brothers and sisters in Christ, sharing the same name.
The beauty of Christ’s church is in the harmony of sounds coming together like those of an orchestra. Each one contributes his/her part to the music making of the whole. Each instrument contributes, even though you may prefer the brass and others enjoy the wind instruments.
As we consider what is essential, let’s remember to distinguish between style and substance. What some mistakenly call “liberal” is hardly what is really “liberal” at all. Let’s be very careful about any use of the term. Often, it’s more of a style, a way of doing than the substance of a belief.
God commands unity and harmony. Scripture spends a great deal of time on the subject. It’s all about the common ground we have in Christ Jesus that supercedes any skin color, music preferences, clothing choices and more. It speaks about our attractiveness as a body of Christ in order that others may see that which is so essential as we reach out: “How they love one another!” Or, as Jesus Himself put it in His high priestly prayer, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them, even as you have loved me.” (John 17: 23). It’s almost frightening and certainly rather sobering to hear that our unity has such an effect on others coming to a living relationship with Jesus! Love begets love and our love is a magnetic force to a world that needs to be drawn to the Savior.
The questions then become, “Do we have unity? Are we in harmony with one another? Is our church a good example of the harmony the Bible commands?”
Ultimately, we need to get even more personal and ask, “Am I?”
God’s Word doesn’t give us a choice, does it?
Prayer of Application
Dear Lord, Builder of Your Church, help us to understand and appreciate the importance you’ve placed on our being in harmony with one another. Help us to look into our lives and see where we’ve failed to live obediently and lovingly. Help us to ask for forgiveness and empower our resolve to redeem our wrongs by living as your Word teaches. We ask these things in the Name of Him who demonstrated His love by way of sacrifice—Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen!
Order of Worship
Music Preparing Our Hearts for Worship/Praise Songs
*Indicates Standing for Those Able to Do So
Call from God’s Word - Psalm 133
*Opening Response PH 514 “How Good and Pleasant Is the Sight”
* God’s Word of Greeting: May the love of God the Father, the peace of God the Son and
the presence of God the Holy Spirit bless us as we worship in spirit and truth. Amen.
*We Greet One Another
* Singing of PH 510 “I Love Your Church, O Lord”
* Responsive Reading of the Law-PH p. 1014 “From the Epistles”
*Song of Commitment & Power: PH 416: 1,5 “For Your Gift of God the Spirit”
Sharing In Prayer - Prayer of the Congregation
Children’s Message: “GETTING ALONG” - Talk with the children about using words, basing it on “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Talk about the fact that bad names, being called names, hurts and sticks with us a lot longer than a bruise from a stick or a stone. We need to respect each other in the way we talk too!
*Song of Preparation PH 278 “Holy Spirit, Mighty God”
Prayer for Illumination: “Gracious God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we ask for your helping us focus on the teaching from your Word this morning once again. Please remove what would hinder us from hearing what you, O Holy Spirit, are saying to the church, to us, today. Empower us to hear, understand, and then live what we know is the truth from your Word. Amen!”
Scripture Reading from NIV: Romans 12: 9-16 & I Corinthians 1: 10-17
Sermon: One Another ~ Living in Harmony
Prayer of Application
*Song of Application PH 513 “Christian Hearts in Love United”
Prayer for Offering by deacon
*Parting Song of Praise-PH 606: 1,2,4 “O God of Every Nation”
Use the tune of PH# 555
*Prayer for God’s Parting Blessing:
May the peace that unites us in Christ
dwell in our hearts as we serve in His world.
May the joy that enlivens our obedience,
empower us to live in harmony with one another
May the Lord be with us as we share His love. Amen!
*We Leave To Serve - Music Concluding