2 CORINTHIANS 4:7-11
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
October 5, 1997
This morning we’re beginning a look at Church Membership - and what it means for us. I invite you to turn in your Bibles to 2 Corinthians 4:7-11.
When someone mentions the term “Church Membership” - what picture comes to mind? A long list of names? An organization always looking for volunteers? An elite club for people who give financially?
The Bible describes Church Membership quite differently - and we pray that at CACC we are growing closer to the Bible’s teaching on Church Membership. This morning we want to look at how the Bible describes Church members - the Biblical traits of those committed to Christ and to His body - the Church.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, - treasure, meaning the Gospel of Jesus Christ - “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent - or all sufficient - power belongs to God and not to us - the power to live and proclaim the Gospel comes from God and not us. - We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested - or revealed - in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
There are four Biblical traits of Church Members that we want to highlight this morning.
First, the Church is made up of ordinary people - like us.
Pauls says, “We have this Gospel treasure in earthen vessels” - clay pots - ordinary dirt.
There is a story told of 3 church members who were attending a spiritual retreat together. It was one of those retreats where the focus was on becoming more intimate together in the body of Christ - caring for one another as Christians.
And the speaker had given assignments to the participants. Before the next joint session they were to meet together in small groups and share their struggles as Christians - as human beings - and then pray for each other. A great time of sharing and support.
These 3 church members got together and the first one shared that he had a struggle controlling his temper. And while he publicly maintained control - on more than one occasion he had anonymously sent scathing and very critical letters to various members of the church. The second church member shared that he struggled with finances and greed - he confessed that he had cheated consistently on his taxes for the last 10 years.
The third church member confessed that he struggled with gossip - and would be leaving the conference early.
We are all ordinary people trying to move through life - and live in obedience to God. Paul describes the human condition as “clay pots.” There are all different types of and grades of clay. Some of you are fine china - you crack easily - still, you have a very fine texture. Others of us are more like sun-dried mud - and we crumble the first time we’re bumped. But we’re all common clay - and that’s why we all have the same problems and limitations. As someone has said, “We’re all made in the same mold - only some are moldier than others!”
Its very humbling to be described this way - but its realistic. Paul says that we are nothing more that insignificant bits of clay. And one of the traits of church members is that they realize this. They have the trait of humility towards others and God. Our purpose in being here is not to exalt ourselves - or defend our rights and positions - but to lift up Jesus Christ and to support each other in that ministry.
Secondly - Paul says, the trait of a church member is that their life is Christ’s.
Paul says, “We have this all sufficient power in us - so that people will see that the power for our life comes from God.”
If the pot is made of dirt - then the value must be what’s inside.
It is no accident that we describe lives without Jesus Christ as empty lives - because that’s exactly what they are. The world today is suffering from what Dr. Carl Jung calls a “neurosis of emptiness.” He says, “when goal goes, meaning goes; when meaning goes, purpose goes; when purpose goes, life goes dead on our hands.” This is what’s happening in so many people’s lives - old and young - a great wave of emptiness and despair. The result is hollow men and women, who have a facade of interest, attention and activity, but inside there is nothing but emptiness.
Even in the church - even here - many come who are empty inside - or find no purpose or relevancy for their lives. They come because they are drawn by culture - or friendship and family - because serving in the church gives them a place of importance or control. But inside they’re empty - because the sufficiency and power for their lives is not Jesus Christ.
We are created to hold something - God’s light and life in us - and without Him in us our lives are inevitably empty and meaningless.
In Genesis chapter 2 we read that God created man from the dust of the earth - dirt. And God breathed into him the breath of life. When we come to Christ - as earthen vessels - when we open our lives to Him - He breathes the saving life of Jesus Christ into us. Those who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ are those who have His life inside them.
We want to be really specific here. Because too often there’s a confusion about this. Too often when we speak with people - we find that - the idea that some people have is that being a member of a church is because they have gone through some class - or gone through a ceremony - or even because they were baptized into a particular church. Or, maybe they’ve been around so long that they and everyone else considers them members.
But, that is not how the Bible describes church membership. The Bible says that a church member is a person who has given their lives to Jesus Christ by receiving Him as their personal Savior. To be a member to the church means that we must open up our lives - these clay pots - to Him - and say, “God - I accept that I am a sinner - thank you for forgiving my sin. I am a clay pot who needs to filled. Fill me with Jesus and let His life be inside me.”
Thirdly, Paul says that the church is made up of cracked pots. By the way, that’s cracked pots not crack pots.
Paul says, “We are afflicted in every way - but not crushed, sometimes in doubt - but never in despair, persecuted - but not forsaken, badly hurt at times - but not destroyed. At all times, these mortal bodies of ours face the struggles of life and death just as Jesus did - so that everyone can see the life of Jesus revealed in our bodies.”
Put simply: The more we crack - the more the light of Jesus shines through.
Bruce Larson, in “Believe And Belong”, shares this: “For many years I worked in New York City and counseled at my office any number of people who were struggling to surrender their lives to Christ. Often I would suggest they walk with me from my office down to the RCA Building on Fifth Avenue. In the entrance of that building is a gigantic statue of Atlas, a beautifully proportioned man who, with all his muscles straining, is holding the world upon his shoulders. There he is, the most powerfully built man in the world, and he can barely stand up under this burden. ‘Now that’s one way to live,’ I would point out to my companion, ‘trying to carry the world on your shoulders. But now come across the street with me.’
“On the other side of Fifth Avenue is Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and there behind the high altar is a little shrine of the boy Jesus, perhaps eight or nine years old, and with no effort he is holding the world in one hand.
“We have a choice. We can carry the world on our shoulders, or we can say, ‘I give up, Lord; here’s my life. I give you my world, the whole world.’”
Its hard to admit we’re cracked. We try to glaze over the cracks - to cover them and hide them from each other - and God. We try to live by our own self-sufficiency and carry weights in life that God never intended for us to carry.
Paul gives four examples of things that often crack us - weights we are tempted to carry by our own strength.
Afflictions - the normal trials everybody faces - Christian and non-Christian alike. The car breaks down on Monday morning. Company comes for dinner - on the wrong night. Sickness strikes your family - heartbreaks come.
Doubts - decisions to be made and not knowing which way to turn. Anxieties, worries and uncertainties.
Persecutions - bigotry, prejudice - unfair practices of members of society against one another.
Being badly hurt - terrible episodes which shatter a family or an individual and leave us frightened or baffled.
For the Christian - these things do not have victory over us. Perhaps every one of us who knows Jesus Christ has experienced this. We know the truth of what Paul is saying. We know how Jesus can undergird us in times of sorrow and strain. And usually it is in the really big things - the shattering things - that we experience the greatest outpouring of His all sufficient power.
With the cracks showing - by admitting our own weakness - His light shines through us. And the valuable treasure we have inside - the value of our lives is seen.
And others watch us to see - “How do they handle all of this? Where does their strength come from?”
Do you remember the account of Gideon? - Judges chapter 7. Gideon and his band of 300 men who gathered around the camp of their enemies - the Midianite Army. You remember that they had torches hidden in earthen vessels, earthen jars, which obscured the light. At night, they circled the camp of the Midianites - and at a given signal - they broke the vessels and the light blazed all around the enemy camp. There was a great victory over the Midianites who saw an army surrounding and threatening them.
This is what Paul is getting at - the victory that is ours in life - proclaiming that victory. But, the vessel must be broken. Our ego - our pride - must be crucified with us - put to death. Then the life of Jesus is revealed and shines out for others to see.
The fourth trait is that Church Members testify together of Jesus - Paul says - and hear the plurals in this statement - verse 11: “For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’s sake, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal flesh.”
In a few minutes we will come together to the communion table - elements which symbolize the broken body and shed blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.
By taking these elements we declare - as His church - that we have also died. We have died to ourselves and that the life we live now is His life in us.
The church - church membership - is those ordinary people - like us - who have trusted Jesus with our lives - given ourselves to His salvation - His filling. And who are willing to admit our weakness before others that His sufficiency may be seen in us. That we together might testify of Him.
May be this morning you’ve come - you may be the most faithful church attender - but you’ve come and inside you’re empty. And you need to be filled. You may be weighed down with burdens and sins and your pot needs to be cleaned - and you need to open yourself to Jesus and let Him come in and wash you. May be you’re glazed over - trying to live life in your own sufficiency and pride. Its okay to be cracked. In admitting our weakness we find God great salvation, strength, and purpose for our lives.
This morning - as we come to communion - we want to have a few minutes of silence and prayer. So that each of us can take the time to let God examine our lives - to speak with God about those things which hold us back from Him.