Tough Stuff: Belonging to a Community
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Sermon Manuscript …
Belonging to a Community
Tough Stuff–Difficult to belong–the need for genuine community
This morning I want to introduce you to some important items–a brick and a cow tongue. These crucial items actually represent you. You are the brick, and you are the cow tongue. Both the brick and the tongue have some crucial similarities that actually relate to each one of you. Both the brick and the tongue belong to something greater. A brick is part of a building, and a cow tongue is a part of a body, a cow body. Both the brick and tongue have little use without the whole. Both the brick and the tongue need to be a part of the whole to function in the manner they were designed and intended. You are a brick and you are a cow tongue.
As a Christian you are a part of a whole, a part of a community–as a Christian family, you are a part of a larger family. You are a part of a community, a unique called-out group called the Church of Jesus Christ expressed in a local church called FBC. Sadly because of our cultural “don’t push me” individualism, because of our wealth and ease and comfort, because of too many options to pick from, because of an overload of resources from radio, TV, MP3’s, books, websites, seminars, conferences, multiple churches and more, Christians today are not passionate about the local church. Are you passionate about our church?
I lived in the northwest for eleven years and during that time away from my true home called southern California, I desperately missed In-N-Out Burger. Every time I flew down to teach or we came down on vacation, whether flying or driving, we made it our goal to go to In-N-Out. In fact when flying, our goal was to see how fast we could make it to an In-N-Out. Timing from the moment the wheels touched down to the time we arrived at In-N-Out was actually twenty minutes flat once.
We were so passionate about In-N-Out that Jean didn’t want me to bring her flowers when I traveled, but to bring her an In-N-Out burger. I’d time it so I would drop by when they opened at 10 am, tell them what I was doing, have them cook them up and help me put the burgers, fries and shakes in Ziploc bags, pack them carefully in my carry-on in time to make my 12 noon flight back to the northwest.
One time sitting in the front of the plane, I didn’t realize I was being observed as I put my bag carefully in the overhead bin and sat down for take-off. As soon as we could unbuckle, I jumped up to grab my bag to protect it from tipping over too much. One suspicious passenger nervously asked me, “Hey, what do you have in there that’s so valuable?” I said, “An entire In-N-Out Burger meal for my family,” after which the entire front half of the plane exploded in reaction. “Oh how great, what a great idea, can you share, how did you do it, we gotta do that next time”–it was like a commercial, I had started a party. We were passionate about In-N-Out.
But now things have changed, and it is not just because I am concerned about my weight or cholesterol. Now I live in California, we have two In-N-Outs within striking distance, and I have probably gone there five times in two years. That’s how Christians are about the Church of Jesus Christ. If we didn’t have a church we loved, we’d be desperate and many are. But now that we have a church we love and can align with, we go when we want to, we serve when it’s convenient.
Do you remember how you acted with your fiancée? I remember organizing my entire apartment, writing notes, even poetry, and gave lots of little thoughtful gifts. When she said something dumb, I still thought she was Miss Einstein. When she was late, “It’s never a bother when the queen is late!” When I caught her without make-up or with messy hair, my eyes saw beyond those temporary flaws to her true beauty. This was my bride–the woman of my dreams.
Men and women, you’re not dating the church, you are engaged to her. You are a part of her, like a brick is to a building. You are a part of her, like a tongue is to a body. You are one with her–part of the community of Christ. Don’t treat her as optional–she is not to be ignored. Don’t behave like you are an indifferent partner or worse–don’t act like a prostitute, selling your passions to other loves like a job, a house, a sport, comfort, fame, beauty or money. God has called you to something better, sweeter and good.
The Church is so powerful she can turn the world upside down. She is so eternal it is the only group Jesus holds you accountable to function in. Many people don’t have Christian family or parents, but they have a spiritual family they are to function in. She is so blessed that gathering with her should result in love and joy. Are you truly a part of this eternal community called the Church?
I have been praying that today you’d have your affections grow for Christ’s bride–not be a brick, but a part of the building. Not be a tongue, but function as a part of a body. Do all you can to make FBC be what the Lord wants her to be. Sadly, as soon as I say the word church, because of past baggage people have a hard time seeing the Church of the Bible clearly.
Not long ago I lost my glasses on the first few days of a long trip. Fortunately I had an old pair which I wore the remaining time. Yet because it was an older pair of glasses, my sight was not clear. When it comes to the Church, many of us are wearing an old pair of glasses. We think, “this is the only way I’ve ever seen it done–this is what every church does–this is how the Church functions.” But I want to propose this morning that our vision is blurred as to the way things really are supposed to be. I believe most of us are looking at the Church through old glasses and not through the crystal clear lenses of Scripture. So this morning I am going to ask you to put on Biblical glasses and see the Church and your role in it clearly. And at the very least we can clean some smudges off your old lenses.
Today I want you to embrace a forgotten aspect of the Church in our day. You’re a brick and you’re a cow tongue, part of a building and part of a body. You are inseparably linked to a community. What is it like? Turn to Ephesians 3:20 and put your Biblical glasses on for . . .
#1 The Church is a believing community
The true Church is only made up of those who are truly born again–they have received the blessings of Ephesians chapters 1 to 3. Before Paul talks about our lifestyle as a Christian in 4 to 6 he describes the key that turns the engine on to empower our life in Christ–the Spirit of God. Paul concludes this discussion with a couple of my favorite New Testament verses, Ephesians 3:20 and 21, “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Underline the phrase in verse 21, “in the church.” Paul is telling us to think differently about our church.
First We’re to dream big for our church
Paul says, “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think in the church.” God is able to do big things in His Church–and not only things we ask of the Lord, but even things beyond what we can think, beyond what we imagine. We ought to be believing God for great things in our church. Some of us have never seen God do providentially impossible things, or genuinely supernatural things in and through the church. I have.
We are too familiar–or we’ve never been a part of a community that actually believed God. They may have taught the Word, sought to live godly, even upheld sound doctrine, but didn’t live by faith. Ronald Reagan said this nation was too great to not have great dreams, and I believe the true Church, our church is too great for us to not have great dreams. Not because we are great, but because God is too great, too mighty, too incredible, and too amazing not to.
Do you have any great dreams for our church family? I do. A church filled with humble ministers, filled with truth and grace, crazy about loving the Lord and each other, with a passion to reach the lost–and a church that has faith in God–property and or building that comes to us in a way where only God gets the glory–being allowed the privilege to plant churches in local cities around us and internationally–a place that is deep biblically but loving relationally. Dream big.
Second We’re to depend on the Spirit, not ourselves (in the Spirit)
Verse 20 tells us “according to the power that works within us.” The context tells us the power is the Spirit who is the only source for the ability to glorify God. A believing community depends on the Spirit. Let’s face reality–some of you drove here in your own strength. Some of you are serving, giving and singing in your own strength. Some of you appear to be living for Christ, but it’s your own strength. We can’t tell, we don’t know, you can fake us all out–until you gossip, tell someone off, start complaining, get critical, yell at a youth, then we know (at that moment you were putting on a show for us).
When you are not in the Spirit, you are in the flesh and both the spirit and flesh have fruit that tells us who you’re depending on, you or the Holy Spirit. But we will never do anything for God’s glory as a Christian or as a church unless we’re depending upon the Spirit of God to do it through us. And when the Spirit is filling us, what does it look like? Verses 16 to 19 mention two main fruit–power and love. Power for tasks and love for relationships–He is all you need. This believing community is to be dreaming big dreams because God is big and we have all the power and love we need through His Spirit.
Third We’re to dedicate ourselves to His glory
This church is not about what I want–it is not about what you want. It’s about what God wants and all to His glory is what He wants. What’s that look like? When the Church speaks and acts like Christ. The end of verse 21, “to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.” The more we are like Christ—in Christ–the more glory God gets. That means we actually say, act and respond like Jesus.
To the lost, we want them to know Christ–we weep over them like Christ
To the hurting, we want them to experience Christ’s compassion through us
To those full of sin, for them to see us viewing ourselves not as better than them, but as those who have found His forgiveness
Fourth We’re to disciple the next generation
Verse 21 ends with, “to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Jesus said we are to make disciples–the Church is to entrust truths to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. In the Church older women are to train younger women, and younger men are to submit to older men. In order to dream great dreams, depend upon the Spirit and dedicate ourselves to His glory, we must be committed to disciple the next generation. Our focus is the next generation.
The reason we focus on parents training their children over educating their children, the reason we have a training center for future leaders, a strong commitment to discipleship groups and a passionate commitment to our children, students and collegians is the Church must be committed to the next generation. The Church is a believing community–we believe God desires to do great things in our midst, so we remain dependent upon Him, passionate about His glory and dedicated to training the next generation.
#2 The Church is a Gospel community
Christian community only works when we live by the Gospel and that is the reason why so many churches don’t enjoy community. Most church-goers think of Church as a building. Jonathon Dodson says, “On Sunday mornings we get up, get dressed, and ‘go to church.’” However, this is not how the early Christians thought of church. They did not go to church–they were the Church. Church is a community, not a building or a meeting. Church is all week, not just on weekends.
The word church actually means a called-out group, literally referring to a “public assembly of people.” It has to do with people gathering, not with program-participating. You are not going to church on Sunday, you are actually going to be with the Church on Sunday to sing, pray and obey. Once we repent of reducing Church to buildings and programs and begin to cherish the people God has given us to live with, warts and all, community will increase.
Where did the idea of a community come from? God Himself. God is three persons in relationship–God the Father, Son and Spirit. God has always existed as a community of persons, self-sufficient, and self-delighting with no need for anyone else. When God created the universe, He made man “in His image.” One thing that means is man was created with a need for community. Sadly we don’t always know how to function in a community. Most communities fluctuate in their success based on how well people keep the rules of the community. For instance, if I join a motorcycle club, my acceptance in the club will likely go up or down based on how often I go riding, how cool I jump, how powerful my bike is, etc. My sense of acceptance from the biking community is related to things I do and buy, not by who I am.
All too often Christian communities/churches have rules at their center, not the Gospel. If you read the Bible, don’t smoke cigarettes, and “go to church,” you’re accepted. If you do the opposite, you’re rejected–this is religion, not the Gospel. Religion says, “I obey a set of rules, therefore I am accepted”–but the Gospel says, “You are accepted by the sheer grace of Christ, therefore you obey.” This is crucial to our health.
As dysfunctional people, we need something more than performance to bind us together. We need something that provides acceptance and forgiveness even when we fail one another. We need Jesus Christ and His Gospel–the core of true community. Notice Romans 12:4 to 5, “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
Jesus is sufficient for our failures and successes in community. He offers forgiveness for our failure to receive His acceptance and for seeking acceptance and significance in anything but God. With Jesus at the center of our church, we will find greater joy, love, acceptance, and purpose than anywhere else. So much so we will want others to come and be a part of what He has given us.
The Gospel of Christ makes us new people. It is His grace that forms the center of true community. As a result, Christian community is based on who you are, new people, not what you do. We see ourselves and other Christians as deeply-flawed, sinful people who’ve been forgiven by Christ. Acceptance is based on the Gospel, upon our repentance from seeking significance from persons and things other than God, and the reception of God’s acceptance of us in Christ. Simply stated, Christian community only works when we live by the grace found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ–period.
#3 The Church is a family community
God has called us to be a part of each other. Romans 12:5 describes the Church this way, “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” We’re part of one another. Like a tongue needs to be attached to the body to work, we desperately need each other. This is why the New Testament tells us to be inter-related relationally. The Church is not a place you come to, it is a people who you are part of. The Church is not a business but a body–it’s not an organization but an organism of which each of us is a unique part. This is why we don’t treat each other like acquaintances but like family. Over forty times in the New Testament members are called to minister to one another in a unique relationship.
Look at some of the examples:
Romans 12:16 “be of the same mind toward one another”
Romans 13:8 “love one another”
Romans 14:13 “let us not judge one another anymore”
Romans 14:19 “building up of one another”
Romans 15:7 “accept one another”
Romans 15:14 “admonish one another”
Ephesians 4:32 “be kind to one another”
Ephesians 5:21 “be subject to one another”
I Peter 4:9 “be hospitable to one another”
Now I didn’t say our relationships will always be easy. One sarcastic poet put it this way:
To live above with saints we love, Ah that will be glory.
But to live below with saints we know, now that’s another story.
Sometimes it seems the church is like two porcupines who are freezing. We need each other to stay alive but the closer we get, the more we needle each other. But, we are still part of each other. Maybe you’re thinking, “The Church is too big”–no its not. The day the church was born, it had 3000 members and we have a ways to go before we get to that level. Don’t say we’re too big–that’s cultural not biblical. The Holy Spirit showed us His design the day the Church was born in Acts 2.
In Acts 2, the 3000-member Church gathered together, and also gathered in smaller groupings, and continued that pattern all the way through the book. As the Church grows larger it also grows smaller. No matter what size the church is each needs a ministry to identify with. God’s pattern for every Christian here is to gather together for corporate praise, giving, communion and preaching and to gather in ministry groups to serve, enjoy fellowship, exercise the one-anothers, and more. Put your biblical glasses on–the Church is not a place you go but a people you belong to.
Someone will say, I was hurt by my church. Let me encourage you–the issue is not if people in your church family will hurt you, but what to do when they do. True Christians confess their sins to one another and forgive each other. James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another.” Colossians 3:13, “Forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”
Hey, you can’t grow in Christ unless two things are true about you. One is you are constantly dealing with sin in your life. Two is you are continually pursuing being like Christ. Both are a part of the sanctification process by the power of the Spirit–flee sin and pursue Christ, that is how you grow.
When churches are filled with people who pretend they don’t sin–when the majority of a church body doesn’t talk about their sin, confess their sins, ask for prayer over sin struggles or forgive each other when they sin against each other, then that church is playing church. They are not living by the Gospel and they are more concerned about image than integrity.
How many here battled with sin this week? Since we are all in the same battle, let’s help each other. The true Church is made up of redeemed sinners who confess their sins to each other, forgive each other and help each other overcome sin in their lives. Veterans know that when you go out to battle, you never go alone. Never face an enemy army on your own.
God knows that too. Remember the armor of God was never intended for the individual Christian but for the corporate local church. All the armor listed in Ephesians 6 is in the plural. It is not intended for the individual Christian but for the local church–we together are to put on our armor. We pull together as a family. And let’s be honest–we have a problem today in Christian circles. With all this emphasis on the family, we have begun to think of marriage and parenting and the home apart from the Church.
Let me make this clear as a true Christian–whenever you hear the family taught with no mention of the Church it is wrong. Mom and Dad do not have all the spiritual gifts. God did not design the family unit to grow on its own. God did not intend marriages to mature independently. God didn’t plan parenting to occur independent of the Church. Parents can’t fulfill Ephesians 6:4 if it’s not in the context of the local church, since the letter is written to a local church, and Ephesians 6:4 belongs in the context of the entire letter.
Put on your biblical glasses on friends. Whenever you hear about marriage or parenting apart from the local church, they are trying to tell you to swim without water. When they talk of the family as an independent unit without mentioning the Church, they have adulterated the Word of God. How many New Testament verses are dedicated specifically to parenting—two. How many New Testament verses are dedicated to a healthy local church—thousands. Biblical parenting outside the local church is not biblical. Christian parenting independent of the local church isn’t Christian—period.
The church is a family of families, including and honoring singles, widows, children, youth, broken families, but a family of families. God has called us to be as committed to one another as we are family.
#4 The Church is a service community
If you are a Christian, you have a spiritual giftedness–a special combination of supernatural abilities which allow you to put Jesus Christ on display as you serve one another in the Church body. Listen to 1 Peter 4:10, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” And 1 Corinthians 12:7, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Notice what God is telling us in these two verses:
1 Every single Christian has a special giftedness–“as each one”
2 Gifts are assigned by God—“has received,” “is given”
3 Gifts are for service to other Christians in the church—“employ it in serving one another,” “for the common good”
4 Gifts are a picture of who God is—“to each other,” “the manifestation of the Spirit,” “manifold grace of God”
Now put on your new glasses–this means . . .
First The true Church is not a spectator event
Whenever you go to a sporting event there are always three kinds of people present
1 Those who make things happen
2 Those who watch things happen
3 Those who don’t know what is happening
In the real Church there are no spectators, only participants. There is no unemployment in the Kingdom of God–everyone has a job to do. Again, if you are healing from another situation, we welcome you at FBC, but you can’t remain broken. Don’t come to FBC if you’ve decided to permanently watch from the stands. That’s not what God intended.
Second The true Church focuses on spiritual strengths
There are two kinds of coaches–those that see how athletes can grow and those who only see their weaknesses. There are two kinds of teachers–those who help their students love to learn and those who wonder why their students are so dumb. There are two kinds of churchgoers–those who see the strengths of others in the church wanting only to be impacted by their Christ-like gifts and those who mostly see the weaknesses of others wishing others would be more like them. Which kind are you?
A church is either filled with people who see how great it is to be around others with such wonderful Christ-like strengths, or filled with people who only look at the weaknesses, shortcomings and sins of others. The Corinthian church had the wrong focus. That’s why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:21, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” Why not? Verse 25 says, “That there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.”
A hummingbird finds a flower in the desert because that is what it’s looking for. A vulture finds a carcass in the desert because that’s what it’s looking for. At church, what are you looking for a flower or a dead carcass?
As I look around the room, I can tell you by name the incredible gifts I’ve experienced through your lives. There’s mercy, wisdom, teaching, giving, service, and helps. The church is to be made up of livers who think the eyes are awesome, and legs that really appreciate the hands, and ears who like the fingers too, noses who like lips, toes who appreciate knee caps, arm pits that like teeth, hairs that like tongues. We are all different, but each of us gives the rest of us a better picture of Christ.
Third The true Church is made up entirely of ministers
The pastors are not the ministers, it is the congregation who are the ministers. According to Ephesians 4:11 to 12, pastors and teachers are, “For the equipping of the saints and the saints are for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” God expects FBC to be a church of 500 ministers.
Can you imagine your leg not doing what it is supposed to do? If my leg chose to do its own thing, I would look like a spastic. But when it does what it is designed to do–when my leg obeys my head, then it benefits the entire body. Don’t be doing your own thing–it makes us all look spastic, and it hinders the work of Christ. Every true Christian is a minister, a part of the body with a specific function. When we all do our part, the body shows off Christ–when we each do our own thing, then we come off looking spastic.
#5 The Church is a growth community
Turn with me to Ephesians 4:11 to 16–God says through Paul that spiritual leaders are to equip the entire Church so the members will minister and the entire Church will grow to be more like Christ. As we already saw, Ephesians 4:11 to 12 says, 11 “pastors and teachers,” 12 “for the equipping of the saints.” Pastor-teachers are to equip the body. As we gather together our primary purpose is not to be a safe place for non-Christians to be a part. But we are to be a little taste of heaven on earth as we fellowship, as we give, obey His Word, as we serve and as we praise, so non-Christians will think us a little strange. Yet if God is working in their heart, they will think of us as wonderful as well.
Then as every person in the Church does their part as well, Ephesians 4:16b says, “According to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” When pastors equip and everyone ministers their giftedness, then the body grows more like Christ and displays more of His love–which raises an important point. The longer you have been a Christian, the more you should be like Christ, not less. You should be more compassionate, more gracious, more truthful, more sacrificial, more giving, more discipling, more sharing the Gospel—not less. Is that true? Are you growing more like Christ? Not learning more Bible facts, though that’s good, or even serving more which can also be good–but looking, speaking and behaving more like Christ. If not, it may be that you don’t have a proper relationship to a growing church community.
#6 The Church is a causal community
Peter tells the Church in 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” As we live the way God designed us to be, we will show off Christ in a greater way. We’ll proclaim Him–His excellencies–His glory. When we function in a true community, a biblical community, things get so exciting, so hot–people will be literally wiping the steam off the windows to see inside. People will be impacted by this kind of church—let’s be this kind of church.
Once in an African tribe a child wandered off into the tall grass. Even though the tribe searched all day, they could not find the 18-month-old. The next day they decided on a new strategy–they would all hold hands and walk through the grass together. As a result they found the child, but due to the cold night, it was too late–he was not alive. In her anguish and through her tears the mother cried, “If only we had held hands sooner.” When the Church functions in community more people will be rescued from this cold world. Will you do your part? Here are some keys . . .
1 You can’t be a part of the bride, unless you know the groom
The only way to be a part of true community called the Church is to know Jesus Christ personally. You know the message–every human being stands condemned before a perfect God. You have sinned, you have rebelled, you have lied, cheated and stolen–you can’t stand the presence of a holy God. You cannot go to heaven, you must be sent to hell.
But because of God’s great love for us, He was born as a man, the God man Jesus Christ, and lived a perfect life–then offered Himself on the cross for our sins and took the punishment that should have been ours. So when we put all our dependence upon Him and turn from living our way to His way in the Bible, He takes our sin and gives us His perfection so we can live with Him now and forever in His presence in heaven because of what He did, not what we did.
We live like that every day–we don’t do good deeds so God will accept us, we are accepted by God so now we do good deeds. Don’t act religious–Jesus hates that. Turn to Christ alone and He will transform you from the inside out, then you will find that those who are also truly born again will become instant family. What is it that makes great churches? Genuine Christians!
2 Functioning in a church community is different than attending
In his great book, Stop Dating the Church, Josh Harris says a normal commitment to the Church looks like this–you will join a church, make church a priority, make the job of the leaders of the church a joy, find ways to serve, be sacrificial at financial giving, glue yourself to people here in fellowship and ministry and share your spiritual passion with others. Stop being a cultural Christian–you may have to stop doing certain cultural things so you can do eternal things. And functioning in a church community is an eternal thing–start living what the Bible says.
3 Become a fan of the Church
We know she is not perfect because you are here–the Church is made up of sinful people like you and me. But friends, will you join me in esteeming her and defending her honor as Christ’s bride? She is not perfect now, but one day she will be. It’s like this: I can handle criticism of myself because I know the sins in my own heart and weaknesses of my own life. But I will never tolerate criticism of my bride, Jean—never. And I wonder if that isn’t also true of the heart of our Lord towards His bride, the Church. Don’t trash His bride!