(This sermon was given by Dan Slater)
The last couple of weeks we've heard from different people in the church about the faithfulness of God. You probably could relate to a lot of what they shared. The faithfulness that God showed to them is the same faithfulness that he extends to each of us in the church. The way he loved them, guided them, protected them, and empowered them to love and serve others as an outworking of His grace in their life- that is how God works in the lives of all of us who belong to the broader church community.
I want to talk more specifically this morning about the church community. Not just CLG, but the church in general. Why do we meet each week? What is the purpose? This morning I want to remind us of who it is that we gather together for and why it is so crucial that we do so regularly.
● I have seen the ebb and flow of church life at CLG for the last 33 years.
● I have seen people come and go, music styles change, building expansions.
● I’ve watched God do marvelous things in people’s lives as the gospel has been faithfully preached here.
● I’ve seen forgiveness extended between brothers and sisters, but also wounds received that never seemed to be fully mended.
But, let me be clear- I am pro-church. Especially CLG! I grew up here. It is home. I know the vast majority of you agree with me on that. All in all, those of us who call this place home are broken people who are, together as a family, clinging to the cross and growing and maturing in our love for Christ and one another.
I am far from having arrived at this though - loving God and others – and I need God’s grace. I know my meager thirty-three years is just a drop in the bucket. Some of you were here long before me and probably cared for me in the nursery. However, I want to humbly remind us of some of the aspects of why it is that we meet together each week and what it is that the church is called to do both here on a Sunday and also at our homes and jobs throughout the week.
My aim is to provoke you (and myself) to love and good deeds. Maybe you are a very loving and hospitable person. (We certainly have many in this congregation) But, I’m going to challenge you and provoke you to dig a little deeper.
● Maybe you are one who doesn’t come here regularly (for a broad number of reasons) -crazy work schedules, family life is really difficult, health issues, car trouble, sports schedule, or maybe that pillow is just too comfortable. I am going to challenge you and invite you to come more often.
● Maybe you can count on one hand the number of times you have volunteered to serve in different capacities. I am going to, hopefully, challenge you to serve more. We’ll talk more on this later.
* * * * * * * *
The writer of Hebrews gives a powerful reminder and encouragement to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, and one we can apply to ourselves as well.
Hebrews 10: 23-25-“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
1. Let Us…
Who/what is the Church?
The writer of Hebrews was addressing Jewish Christians in the church of Jerusalem. So, lets first define the word church.
(I know much of this may be review for some of you. I also want to acknowledge that the topic of church may be a sore subject for some of you or those close to you. You associate “church” with past wounds caused by those who claimed the name of Christ. These sorts of stories break the heart of God, and he offers grace and healing to a bunch of messed up and broken people who are growing and maturing to be more like Christ. So again, maybe that’s you but I want to remind you of who it is that you are as a member of this body of believers, and what it is that you are called to do- for the sake of Christ’s name and his renown and our good.)
In his book “Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know,”Wayne Grudem devotes a portion to talking about the church itself. What is the church and what are it’s functions? Grudem defines the church this way-
“The church is the community of true believers for all time. That is, the church is made up of all the men and women who have been, are, or ever will be true believers in Jesus.”
You’ll find many places in the New Testament where the word church is used to describe various gatherings of the believers-
1. Small house churches:
● Rom. 16:5-“Greet Priscilla and Aquila...Greet also the church that meets at their house.
● 1 Cor. 16:19-“Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.”
2. The church in a large city:
● 1 Cor. 1:2-“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people.”
● 2 Cor. 1:1-“To the church of God in Corinth,together with all his holy people throughout Achaia.”
● 1 Thess. 1:1-“To the church of the Thessaloniansin God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
3. The church of an entire region: (Acts 9:31)
4. The church throughout the entire world:(Eph. 5:25; 1 Cor. 12:28)
There is other imagery and metaphoric language used in the New Testament to describe the church.
● We are all members/parts of one body, of which Christ is the head. We each have our own special function. (1Cor. 12, Eph. 1:22-23; 4:15-16 Col. 2:19)
● A new temple(1 Peter 2:4-8)
● A Holy priesthood(1 Peter 2:5)
● Branches on a vine(John 15:5)
● An olive tree(Rom. 11:17-24)
● A field of crops(1 Cor. 3:6-9)
Grudem goes on to say:
“Every church should attempt to fulfill the three purposes God created it for (worship, nurture, and evangelism and mercy). One purpose is not more important than the other, and no church should seek to make one purpose primary to the neglect of the others. Instead, with the full confidence in Christ’s promise that he will build his church (Matt. 16:18), every church should wholeheartedly seek to worship God, build it’s members to maturity, and preach the good news of the gospel to the world in word and in deed.”
This is certainly the goal that the leadership has for CLG.
2. Hold unswervingly to the hope we profess
We talk a lot about closed-handed and open-handed issues.
The closed-handed ones are ones which we won’t budge on. (The trinity, God is eternal and the creative, the divinity of Christ, his atoning death for sins on the cross, the resurrection of Christ, His second coming, scripture is the authoritative Word of God). The open-handed ones are ones we can debate and often our stance on them can change as we continue to grow in our faith. (Mode of baptism, views on end-times, gifts of the Holy Spirit, worship style, etc.)
The hope we profess is in Christ - His death and resurrection - those are the truths we hold in our hands tightly and don’t waver from. Paul describes them this way-
2 Corinthians 5:21- “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Colossians 1:13-“He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
At Church of the Living God, our unswerving hope is placed in Jesus! “For there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”(Acts 4:12)
3. He who promised is faithful...
As I mentioned earlier, we’ve heard some testimonies over the last couple of weeks about the faithfulness of God. This is who God is, in each of our lives. I am a father of four. One of the things that I strive to do is keep the promises I make to my kids. But, unfortunately, I don’t always do that. It kills me when I have to apologize to my kids for forgetting to do something with or for them that I promised I would do.
I am so thankful that Jesus fulfills His promises. All of them. Jesus is the faithful one. The church belongs to him and he is the head of it.
Colossians 1:18-“He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”
Phillipians 1:6- “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Take heart this morning in the fact that Jesus is faithful.
● -Jesus faithfully represented the Father. He was and is, “The exact representation of the Father.” (Hebrews 1:3)
● -Jesus faithfully kept his Father's commands, to preach the Kingdom of God and repentance of sin, and was faithful to lead and love His disciples.
● -Jesus faithfully poured out his life, even unto death on a cross, to purchase our salvation, and free us from the curse of sin.We read in Galatians 2:16- “And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by ‘the faithfulness of Christ’and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”
● -Jesus faithfully lives to intercede for us. (Hebrews 7:25)
- Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would be sent as a sign of His faithfulness.
- Jesus will be faithful to return again just as He promised.
4. Spur one another on toward love and good deeds
This is the part where we put our faith into action. We respond to our generous and faithful Savior. If you are apart of the church, what role do you play in it? What gifts do you have and how can you generously love and serve others for their good and God's glory?
Philippians 2:4-8- “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:6 Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-- even death on a cross!”
You might say, “That is a tall order. Easier said than done.” I agree! But, Paul was writing to every day people like you and me. Have you seen the types of people that come here? We are tough to love at times. We are all a little rough around the edges. Have you gotten to know me at all? I love to look out for my own interests. I am barely getting a passing grade in valuing others above myself. I’m prone to pride and selfish ambition. Anybody else? Thank God that he is gracious with us though and slow to anger and rich in love.
How can we pursue right relationship with one another?
Being in this church community is our opportunity to practice the 100 or so “one-anothers” that we find in scripture.
- Love one another: John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Romans 12:10; 13:8; 14:13; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 3:22; 4:8; 23; 4:7, 11-12; 2 John 1: 5
- Serve one another: Galatians 5:13; 21; Philippians 2:3; 1 Peter 4:9; 5:5
- Strengthen one another: Romans 14:19
- Help one another: Hebrews 3:13; 10:24
- Encourage one another: Romans 14:19; 15:14; Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24-25
- Care for one another: Galatians 6:2
- Forgive one another: Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13
- Submit to one another: Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 5:5
- Commit to one another: 1 John 3:16
- Build trust with one another: 1 John 1:7
- Be devoted to one another: Romans 12:10
- Be patient with one another: Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:13
- Be accountable to one another: Ephesians 5:21
- Confess to one another: James 5:16
- Live in harmony with one another: Romans 12:16
- Do not be conceitedtoward one another: Romans 13:8
- Do not pass judgment on one another: Romans 14:13; 15:7
- Do not slanderone another: James 4:11
- Instruct one another: Romans 16:16
- Admonish one another: Romans 5:14; Colossians 3:16
- Spur one another ontoward love and good deeds: Hebrews 10:24
That’s quite the list. A lot of these apply specifically to those in the church but Jesus even tells us to love our neighbor which really is anyone, anywhere in the world who is suffering, wounded, andneedy(Luke 10:25-37; Matthew 25:31-46). Loving just about anybody requires a supernatural strength and grace from God. Especially when it is agape love: self-sacrificial love.
We see a lot of suffering people every day. We work with them, live next door to them, see them at family reunions, share meals with them.
He goes even further when he widens the circle to include enemies and “those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-48). We are called to love them too, because he loves them. It is a self-giving, self-emptying love. This is all apart of the Great Commision that Christ gave. We can love as Jesus loves only when we stay close to him. Abiding in Him. Oneof the ways we stay close to him is in the community of people Jesus gives us in his church.
How can we practically serve one another?
Our aim is to serve like Christ. It doesn’t matter our age. (Now you can choose what category you fall under here!) Young people- we need you in this church community. Set a godly example. Don’t sell yourself short. Older generation- we need you in this community. You have wisdom and experience that some of us don’t. We are a church family. We must serve one another. Again- you pick the category. :)
What specific gifts do you have? Maybe you just need to ask someone if you are not sure. Sometimes you may be the one who notices a particular gifting in someone else and they are just waiting for a friendly encouragement of what you see in them. Below is a list of some of the gifts you’ll find in the New Testament. To go into great depth on all of these would require another sermon- but for the sake of time this morning I want to focus more on serving, giving, hospitality, and helping.
- Prophecy(1 Cor 12:10, 28; Rom 12:6; Eph 4:11; Acts 15:32; Acts 21:9-11; Lk 7:26)
- Pastor(Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 3:1-7; Jn 10:1-18; 1 Pet 5:1-3)
- Teaching(1 Cor 12:28; Rom 12:7; Eph 4:11-14; Acts 18:24-28; Acts 20:20,21)
- Wisdom(1 Cor 12:8; Acts 6:3, 10; 2 Pet 3:15; 1 Cor 2:1-13; Jas 1:5,6)
- Knowledge and Word of Knowledge(1 Cor 12:8; Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor 2:14; Col 2:2,3)
- Exhortation(Rom 12:8; 1 Tim 4:13; Heb 10:25; Acts 14:22)
- Discerning of spirits. (1 Cor 12:10; Acts 16:16-18; 1 Jn 4:1-6)
- Giving. (Rom 12:8; 2 Cor 8:1-7; 9:2; 6-8)
- Helps(1 Cor 12:28; Rom 16:1,2; Acts 9:36)
- Mercy(Rom 12:8; Acts 16:33,34; Lk 10:33-35; Acts 8:4; Rom 10:15)
- Missionary (1 Cor 9:19-23; Acts 22:21; Acts 13:2,3; Acts 8:4; Rom 10:15)
- Evangelist (Eph 4:11; Acts 8:5,6, 26- 40; 2 Tim 4:5; Acts 14:21; 21:8)
- Hospitality(Rom 12:9-13; Heb 13:1,2; Acts 16:15; Rom 16:23)
- Faith. (1 Cor 12:9; Acts 27:21-25; Acts 11:22-24; Rom 4:18-21; Heb 11)
- Leadership.(Rom 12:8; Acts 15:7-11; 1 Tim 5:17; Acts 7:10; Heb 13:17)
- Administration. (1 Cor 12:18; Acts 27:11; Acts 6:1-7)
- Miracles(1 Cor 12:10,28; Acts 19:11-20; Rom 15:18,19; Acts 9:36-42)
- Healing(1 Cor 12:9,28; Acts 5:15,16; Acts 14:8-10)
- Tongues(1 Cor 12:10,28; 14:13-19; Acts 2:1-13; 19:1-7; 10:44-46)
- Interpretation(1 Cor 12:20,30; 14:13, 26-28)
- Apostle(1 Cor 7:7,8; Matt 19:10-12)
- Intercession(Jas 5:14-16; 1 Tim 2:2,2; Col 1:9-12)
- Martyrdom(1 Cor 13:3; Acts 7:54-60; 12:1-5; 8:1-4)
- Service(Rom 12:7; Acts 6:1-7; 2 Tim 1:16-18)
The byproduct of using those gifts and practicing the “one anothers” is the blessing of a poured out life sustained by God’s grace: our sanctification. The truth is we need each other! So, how we can we serve and help one another? What does that look like? It’s when you hear of a need that someone has, you be the one to volunteer. Use your talents and expertise to help someone. You know of a family that is struggling financially, and you can spare a few bucks, you give it. Maybe you don’t have a few extra bucks, but you give it anyway. Then watch God show himself faithful to you. Open up your home. When you say you are going to pray for someone, you really pray- and then check back with them. You invest part of your time in pouring into people who are younger than you and seeking out the counsel of those who are older. You give words of encouragement to those who are struggling. You do all of this prayerfully, asking for the Spirit’s guidance and wisdom. I’m not suggesting that you forfeit your other priorities to your family, finances etc..We should make sure the needs of our families are met. However, there are plenty of examples in scripture and perhaps people you know who are extravagant givers and see the fruit of it and the provision of God in their lives. So there is a definite tension there. (By the way, this is all aimed at me too. I used a lot of these examples above because those are ways in which many of you have blessed my family. Emily and I are constantly challenged to grow in this area.)
Phillipians tells us to have the same attitude of Christ. If that’s not you- if your heart doesn’t break for those who are in need around you, if you are constantly thinking of yourself and don’t really even have a desire to serve others, or you are always thinking, “someone else can take care of them”- you need to check your heart. There is something out of line. If that is our attitude then we are missing out on something that God wants to do.
● We rob others of a work that God can do in their lives through our love and service towards them, when we decide not to be obedient in serving/ going out of our comfort zone to love and serve.
● We rob ourselves of a deeper more accelerated transformation that can occur within us.
● We rob our children of the example of seeing faith lived out in service within our family and within the broader church community. Whether it’s our own children or just children within this church body. We are a church family and there are lots of kids running around here. God Bless Kim and Karl for leading children’s ministries. We have baby dedications here once in a while, and in those times, we as a church body commit to doing our part in praying for and loving those children. One of the best ways to do so is by setting godly examples of servanthood.
(I don’t want to downplay that there are seasons of life where you just have nothing to give- where you should be poured into more than you pour yourself out. There are some of you who have newborn babies, or maybe you’ve had recent Doctor visits, or are just in a lot of pain. You’ve experienced great loss. I don’t want you to feel the obligation of pouring yourself out in service. We as a church family have the obligation of pouring into you. Carrying your load…That is where we as a church step up.)
In his book “The Church of Irresistable Influence” Robert Lewis says this-
“But sanctification, bound in print and tied in theory, is nothing if it doesn’t translate into real life change. The movement from one room another- from preoccupied self absorption to radical and sacred self-giving - is the movement of faith in the real world and to the real world. The very places where ministry and life get messy.”
Serving others and giving of our time, money and possessions is costly. It can sometimes be a little scary, because it stretches us and causes us to rely more on God’s provision and strength. But by God’s grace at work within this community and His Spirit’s empowerment we can go from:
Anxious to committed.
Fearful to courageous.
Lonely to connected.
Needy to fruitful.
Confused to focused.
Protective to productive.
5. Don’t give up meeting together
So, you walk in on a Sunday morning, you will be greeted by someone. And if your not greeted within the first ten minutes or so by Ted Smith or Pete Thiel, don’t worry, you will be. They are like Liam Neeson when it comes to greeting. They have a particular set of skills. They will hunt you down, they will find you and they will greet you! (We could all learn a lesson from their example). A few minutes before 10 you come and find your seat- and then what do we do?
1. We worship the Lord through music.
● Psalm 95:1-“Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.”
● Hebrews 2:12-“He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”
● Psalm 71:23- “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you— I whom you have delivered.”
● Ephesians 5:19-“Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”
2. We hear the preaching of the Word.
● II Timothy 3:16 - “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
3. We share the Lord’s supper, celebrate baptisms etc.
4. We pray together, attend classes together, drink coffee together.
While all this is going on there are people serving you. There are people greeting you and ushers helping you. There are volunteers in the nurseries and in Sunday school, taking care of your kids and teaching them about the Lord. There is a worship team leading you in worship. There are teachers teaching classes. On Wednesdays there is AWANA, youth group, and classes. Throughout the year there other ways to serve and plug in: small groups, Thomas Judd dinners, Single Moms ministry, touching hearts. I could go on and on. I’m sure we will hear about more of these in depth as we gear up for fall. The point is there is no lack of opportunities to plug in and serve.
Conclusion: Why go to church?
You might be sitting there thinking "Why do I even come here? What's the point? I’ve got nothing to offer. It's boring. Full of hypocrites.” Fill in the blank...
Sometimes it’s all you can do to get out of bed, get the kids ready, (my wife does that while I come early for music rehearsal). Sometimes mornings are tough. Life has chewed you up and spit you out during the week. I’ve been there. (health issues, feeling too depressed, a myriad of reasons). Please come! Jesus offers a well of grace and peace, his people ought to as well.
Otherwise, if the excuse is that we love that pillow too much, or Saturday night just went too long. If we profess to be a christian yet there is next to no interest in coming each week, perhaps the truth is that our heart is hard. Priorities need to be reassessed. Please don't forsake the assembly. Christ is robbed of his worship and others are robbed of the opportunity to benefit from your gifts and testimony.
There is no biblical evidence of Christians in the NT who did not attend the church gatherings.
Paul would write, “to the church in Ephesus, Galatia, Rome…” It wasn’t, “to the Christians we see at Christmas services.” The Christians to whom the author of Hebrews was writing were facing persecution. He was encouraging them to not forsake the assembly. I have yet to meet anybody in Northern Michigan who didn’t go to church on a Sunday because of fear of death. So many in the church in the west in general put such a low priority on the Sunday gathering. That shouldn’t be so. The world is looking for Christians who authentically live out the gospel. Ones who know the truths of scripture, who love and serve authentically and radically just as Jesus did. Those sorts of Christians are forged in authentic gospel community of the local church. Period.
This working out of salvation in the beautiful mess of community is the place God has designed for our sanctification. It’s in this community that we-
● We love each other and benefit one another.
● Provide others opportunities to grow.
● Encourage each other to grow like Christ
● We grow in our knowledge and understanding of our faith.
● Like the early church, we strive to take care of those around us, so that needs are met.
● We love and serve for God's glory, the good of the people (church) and then the good of the community.
● Be imitators of Christ, who emptied himself, and took on the form of a servant.
Let’s be known as a church who loves and serves sacrificially. Not for our fame but for the fame of Jesus and the furtherance of his kingdom.
Recommended video: (“Psalm 145”by: Dustin Krensue)
Heb. 1:3- “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”
Matt. 4:17-“ From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Romans 3:22-“This righteousness is given ‘through faith in Jesus Christ’to all who believe.”
Some scholars believe that perhaps a more accurate description of the Greek we find here here- ‘pistis Christou’(and similar phrases in Paul’s writings- Rom 3:22, 26; Gal 2:16, 20; 3:22; Phil 3:9) would be ‘the faithfulness of Christ.’ So it reads-“This righteousness is given through the ‘faithfulness of Christ’to all who believe.”
Heb. 7:25- “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”
Ephesians 1:13-14 -“And in Him you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, having heard and believed the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.The Spiritisthe pledgeof ourinheritanceuntilthe redemptionof those who areGod’s possession,tothe praiseofHisglory.”