Second Sunday after Epiphany (A) January 20, 2008
What Makes a Church a Church (1 Corinthians 1:1-9)

What makes a church a church? Is it the building? But what if the building burns down or is blown away in a hurricane? And, furthermore, I have seen my share of “church” buildings used as antique stores, restaurants and private residences. It must be something more than bricks and mortar.

Paul, writing to the church located in Corinth, helps us understand what makes a church. The church at Corinth was experiencing its share of problems. Some of its members were guilty of worldly living, some factions were fighting and worship had degenerated into a selfish grabbing for supernatural. As a whole they were disgracing the name of God. Paul writes to them, but rather than dwelling on the negative, he focuses on the positive. He reminds them of what a church really is.

I. A church has leaders who follow the will of God (v. 1).

Paul had established the church at Corinth, now as their spiritual head, he was addressing them. Paul had a divine calling upon his life. God had set him apart for a special task.

Leaders who lead for their own self-aggrandizement or self-promotion violate the intent of biblical leadership. Church leaders are to be in touch with God so God can be in touch with them. And, they, in turn, can touch their congregation. Spiritual leadership without the leadership of God is doomed from the start.

Oswald Sanders in his classic book, Spiritual Leadership, writes, “True greatness, true leadership, is achieved not by reducing men to one’s service but in giving oneself in selfless service to them…The true spiritual leader is concerned infinitely more with the service he can render God and his fellowman than with the benefits and pleasures he can extract from life” (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, Chicag Moody Press, 1980, p. 15).

II. A church has members who belong to the church of God (v. 2).

Just as Paul was called out, so too is the church. The church may meet in a particular location, but ultimately the church is God’s. God has his handprint and his jurisdiction on the church. Members are living saints, people who, through faith in Jesus Christ, have been set apart for God’s pleasure and use. Consequently, as God is holy, so are the members that make up his church. Members are set apart from the world and dedicated to God for reaching out to others.

A three-year-old girl wandered into an open field with grass and weeds waist high and became lost. The family called friends and neighbors to join in the search. Just before dusk, one of the children in the group offered a suggestion, “Let’s join hands and walk together up and down the field and see if that helps.” Because of this action the girl was found.

What a beautiful analogy of the church. We too are a group of people from varied backgrounds with different interests who have been called together for the purpose of cooperating together in reaching out to others.

 III. A church has gifts that come from the heart of God (v. 3-7).

One of Paul’s favorite words is charisma, translated “grace,” meaning a gift freely given to a person, a gift which he or she did not deserve and which he or she could never earn by themselves. These grace gifts come in various forms. First and foremost is the gift of salvation. We have been given “grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice that, and rightfully so, the word grace always comes before the word peace. We must experience God’s grace before we can know God’s peace. For this ultimate gift we are to be eternally thankful.

But that is not all. When we are saved we are also “enriched” with spiritual gifts. The word enriched connotes a very wealthy person. Our spiritual gifts are for the benefit of the church so that we as a group can encourage one another to live holy lives, serve one another, minister to the hurting and reach the world for Jesus Christ.

 IV. A church has strength because of the faithfulness of God (v. 8-9).

 Never has it been promised that because we come to Christ and are a part of his church that life would be easy-either to live peacefully or to live holy. But God has promised to be faithful. He will see us through to the end. And, he will prove to be faithful.

So the next time you consider the question, “What makes a church a church?” remember the nursery rhyme: “Here’s the church, there’s the steeple; open the door and see all the people.” Look at those fingers sticking up in the air and recognize that one of them stands for you. Now ask yourself, am I remaining strong? Am I using my gifts? Am I part of a fellowship? Am I following the leaders? When we do those things, we will be the church that God is calling us to be. (Rick Ezell)

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