A small boy was at church with his dad and asked, "Dad what are those names carved into the walls?”
“That’s a list of names of people who died in the services,” his Father answered.
The boy’s eyes widened. “The morning or the evening services?”
We’ve been talking about the centrality in the plans of God of this peculiar thing called church!
The church is the beginnings of God’s New world. Humanity restored in his image.
It’s the community that all people are made for!! Come to church!
Here’s the story we told last week:
God the Trinity.. God who is in himself the perfect community of persons united in love -Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 3in1
Creates humanity in his image - that is, to be in community. Relationships are at the heart of what it means to be human.
That community is lost and broken when humanity breaks contact with God
But is now being restored again by Jesus Christ IN THE CHURCH
[BBC 1 - interludes before each programme. Playing on the idea of oneness. By showing little communities of people - fell runners from Derbyshire or kayakkers from Worcestershire]
But the church is different. We’re not an interest group or a social club. We didn’t choose each other. God arranges the parts in the body as he sees fit. The church is that part of humanity NOW being restored in the image of God - a community of different persons united in love!
Look at the church and even through its human imperfections you should be able to glimpse God himself!
Now, when we hear this vision for church some of us are daunted and some of us are frustrated. Some of us think - where on earth do i find the extra time and energy in my already hectic busy life to become part of church?? Even if i recognise - as i was trying to say last week - that church isn’t just another activity i’m juggling but THE community that supports all the other activities of my life .. that doesn’t make it any easier! I’m daunted.
Others of us have tried getting involved but we’re frustrated.. our vision of what church should be has not been realised.
Well here’s the thing and it’s really important. Our passage tells us in vv4-6 that God has ALREADY laid the perfect foundation for our fellowship. He HAS bound us together in Jesus Christ. So, our common life isn’t something that we have to strive to get in on or strive to create. It is rather a gift for us to receive with thankfulness.
Listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer - the german theologian who opposed Hitler - in his classic little book Life together as he reflects on this:
‘Christian community is not an ideal which we must realise it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.’
Christian community exists and we belong. So here’s Bonhoeffer’s warning:
"He who loves his DREAM of a christian community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial."
That’s so important. Whenever you feel frustrated. Watch out that you’re not loving your dream of church of what church could be at the expense of the church that is.
Our first calling is to just love each other. We don’t create the community we receive it and as we receive it and love one another - we grow..
And that brings me to what i want to focus on this afternoon. I want to spend our time today not doing a detailed study of this passage but by focussing on one verse and one idea. v15 “speaking the truth in love..…” I want to think about our speech life in the church. How we use words.
words are powerful things.
the tongue, says the apostle James (James 3) - such a small part of our bodies can set a world on fire!
Words are powerful.
I remember driving home from a day and night at Latitude festival with Dan Sayer early on a sunday morning and i’d had my fill of thrsah guitar and industrial techno ao I was listening to morning worship from Oundle school chapel. Celebrating a festival of music. The chaplain was speaking about the power of music as against the power of words. One interesting thing that struck me is he said that unlike the more ephemeral nature of music words ‘concretise things’. when we receive words we file them, retain them, they go onto ‘the bookshelf of our lives.’ Words are powerful.
God speaks words and the world comes into existence - Genesis 1
We’re not God but made in his image our words to have the ability to create new realities
--what is a self image made out of? your regard for yourself which shapes the rest of your life? - is it not words? isnt your self image he accumulation of all the verdicts made about you by parents and teachers and colleagues and friends over the years..
So say to a child ‘you’re stupid’ and that word goes in and it affects things like a toxic chemical poisons soil. You know it does. Words have Power.
So -- words make or break community.
at a macro level if you fundamentally cannot trust the words of your government, or news media, then there is no community, there is no society.
at a micro level. you have a relationship with someone but you lie to them. the person doesn’t know… but already there’s a distance. You know you’ve got to watch what you say now. There’s a barrier between you.. established by words..
if you’re critical, or harsh… angry words… or an accusation of something … gossip.. grumbling can all do so much damage to community.. breaking trust …words have power.
‘life and death is in the power of the tongue’ says the book of proverbs.
Just as words can damage, for the same reason, world can also heal.. build, strengthen, and transform..
"Speaking the truth in love we will in all things grow up into him." (Ephesians 4:15)
So Let’s think about what this means - speaking the truth in love - by looking at two areas Rebuke and encouragement.
‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend’ Says Proverbs 27
The New Testament says that we are to rebuke, admonish, correct one another. (Matt 18:15, Romans 15:14; Colossians 3:16; 2 Thess 3:15) And always this is to be done with wisdom, with gentleness, in love.
When i do marriage preparation.. when we’re talking about conflict and resolving conflict we talk about two types of people/responses - shaped by our own family backgrounds and personaility. The rhino - who leaps into an argument; loves a bit of conflict; loves a fight. At the opposite extreme is the hedgehog - the passive aggressive who when hurt curls up in a ball, extends his or her prickles and applies the silent treatment. Suffice to say, neither extreme is good.
The rhino is a nightmare. Destroys community. Words harm. Trust is destroyed.
But the hedgehog is equally dangerous. Culturally we are hedgehogs. Our culture is marked by tolerance. You don’t disagree. You don’t point out someone elses faults. Don’t cause a drama.. It’s impolite. But what are you really doing when you never rebuke another? Well, because you’re afraid - You just leave the offending person to it. You don’t want any more conflict. You nurse the hurt they’ve caused you.. You care just about yourself.
Hebrews 12v15 says this “See that no-one fails to obtain the grace of God, that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble and by it many become defiled.”In the Christian community. For the sake of all. When we are offended by one anothers’ sin. We are to speak the truth in love. For the sake of the person who has offended. But also for our own sake. Because bitterness grows and poisons the community..
For many of us hedgehogs that will be really reallly difficult. But we must grow in this..
For those of us who are towards the rhino end of the spectrum - speaking the truth can be too easy. ‘It’s loving to tell the truth,’ we say ‘It’s my duty’and we launch in. But actually, just like the cowardly hedgehog, it might be that the only thing we’re loving is ourselves..
Proverbs 25v15 says ‘a gentle tongue can break a bone’
what’s it mean? It means, i think, this: Truth, while so essential, is almost always not easy to hear. And gentle words are most able to break through that resistance. To break through our pride and fear. If you’re trying to tell a person something that they don’t want to hear, that they might find difficult and painful. If you are in any way harsh, or hasty, - ‘It’s loving to tell the truth, it’s my duty’ - you’ll just be enhancing their resistance to the truth.. you’ll just get their back up.
which could mean that you’re not really not really on the sude of truth at all. Truth didn’t win, you just covered yourself by doing your duty and ended up hurting someone.
Admonish one another with gentleness AND WISDOM
Prayerful wisdom to know when to speak, how to speak
The only way to speak truth in a way that can break down a person’s resistance is to be kind, gentle, humble, timely, show the utmost respect. Because when you’re on the receiving end.. when you hear someone telling you something you don’t want to hear - you want to dislike them because you want to dismiss them. But when a person loves you, is gracious and humble … it breaks down your resistance. It actually strengthens the relationship… ‘a gentle tongue can break a bone’
words that never speak the truth for fear of hurting or offending are not committed to love.
But unloving truthful words are not actually committed to truth.
Only when your words are truthful and loving at the same time is your tongue life giving..
Are we prayerful and loving .. in a fit place to rebuke others?
Do we regularly give those who know us a green light to rebuke us because we need that? Can we take that? what will help us grow in maturity in this area..?
the answer is our second area of gospel speech
We are St Barnabas church. Barnabas isn the Book of Acts, co worker of Paul, co author. Acts 4 gives a Big Gift of money to the work of the church. Acts 9 Conversion of Paul - trusts him - brought to disciples. first gentile Christians - Antioch - Encouragement
His name that he was given Barnabas, (he was orginally called Joseph) means son of encouragement.
encouragement - wonderful to be st barnabas
see. that phrase - speaking the truth in love - is first and foremost not about rebuke but about encouragement. speaking the truth of the gospel, of christ to one another. is the most loving thing we can do.
see it in the context. Earlier in the passage in v11 Paul talks about the gifts in the church that equip the church for works of service and they are gifts of communicating the gospel. the church is built up in love and maturity as the gospel message about what God has done in Jesus, the glory of Jesus and who we are in him is heard and received and celebrated. And that is something that all Christians are to be involved in. Speaking the truth in love to one another…
Words are powerful.
So many false and unloving words create in us our broken sense of self. Dictate our outlook and behaviour. But the gospel - that we are loved from eternity, that in Christ we are forgiven and not just forgiven we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. we are the delight of the father. These realities must be proclaimed and heard and affirmed and received.
Whatever your earthly father or mother said to you…
What ever you think about yourself
This is what God, your heavenly Father says.. The only one whose opinion really matters … let this word go deep into your soul.. let this word become the foundation of your self image, let this word fill your heart.. God says, You are my child.. whatever happens, whatever has happened .. You are my child.. I love you… I’m pleased with you. You are mine.
when these realities grip your heart - you and i are so much more able to receive living rebuke - welcome it bring it on.. and as we look at one another our dear brothers and sisters we are far more likely to offer rebuke wisely and gently in love..
how do we speak to one another in all kinds of different ways?
we need each other. Speaking of this Bonhoeffer writes ‘The Christ in our own hearts is weaker than the Christ in the word of our brother or sister.’
we need words from outside. i need your encouragement.
Hackney Half Marathon. - clapping as hundreds of runners went by. such a joy to spot people you know! Alessio from football and Ms Perry from school and Jo and Jonny and Sarah. It’s moving to be a part of spurring them on. One of the images given to the spiritual life of the Christian is the race.. the marathon, the long distance slog of faithfulness to Christ. Fighting the desire to give up, to turn off, to stop. We need encouragement constantly that it’s more than worth it. we need the word of christ .. To keep going, keep trusting, keep rejoicing!
We need one another. We have been given one another.