What Every Healthy Christian Prioritizes
The Church being salt and light in priorities–the biblically unique church
It was the Titanic, and she was sinking. Women and children were being ushered into the lifeboats. Men were standing watch, waiting to die. As one lifeboat was about to be loaded, one of the women asked permission to go to her stateroom for something. The steward gave her permission, but warned they would not wait. With panicked haste, she ran to her top deck room, opened a drawer, and pushed aside her jewelry and other valuables to grab three small oranges–then ran back to the lifeboat just in time to board.
When facing the reality of certain death, when faced with an uncertain survival, all our priorities change. What was once the most valuable–her jewelry is worthless. And that which was common, ordinary, and taken for granted–three oranges is now priceless. Those things which were most important were not anymore. And those things which were not important suddenly became critical.
The same should be said of you and I who are rescued–this life, this world is sinking into judgment and the only lifeboat is Christ. And now the things we used to value, that this world treasures, have no value to us. But the things that will sustain us until Heaven, the things which can be sent ahead to Heaven, have the greatest value. Everything is different once our eyes are open to eternity–things like sharing the good news that doomed souls can be rescued by Christ, teaching the food of God’s Word which alone can sustain us on our journey to Heaven, and investing everything we can into our perfect home that is to come. Our priorities change once our hearts are transformed–but why don’t they for all? Why do we sometimes struggle with letting go of this world and embracing what is to come?
1 Some struggle because of EARTHLY PRIORITIES
After all, we have to work to provide for our families. We have to parent our kids, clean the house, buy and prepare food, maintain the yard, repair what’s broken. Some have to attend classes, pass tests, play sports, maintain friendships. There is so much to do here on Earth, it is difficult to prioritize what is to come in eternity.
2 Others struggle because they LOVE this WORLD
Even though they’ve prayed a prayer, had an experience, think Jesus is the way, and call themselves a Christian–in their heart, they want what the world teases and not what the Word teaches.
3 Many struggle because they have not been TAUGHT or MODELED
They only see so-called Christians busy with the world and they have not heard what the Bible teaches the priorities of a Christian are–especially as it relates to the Church. And because of that, they live marginal lives instead of exceptional lives. They experience little joy and miss the abundant blessing which comes with obedience.
4 And there are some who are PROGRESSING
Some of you are seeing a decreasing focus on the things of this world and an increasing priority on the commands of Christ. Which one are you? The busy with the things of the world, lost in your love for the world, lacking instruction–or modeling of a life prioritizing the Word, or someone making progress in living for Christ and eternity in all things? Let’s find out.
This morning, we are in the midst of a short break from exposition through a book to study the doctrine of the Church–how the Church is light and salt in a dark and tasteless world. Last week, we studied the attractive commitment to doctrine. And today, we’ll study the necessary commitments to Christ’s priorities for His Bride. As the people of God, we exist in a community called the local church. And Christ has very specific priorities that each of us are to commit to.
When I ask solid Christians today, “What are the priorities of the local church?” you most often hear, “A solid expositional pulpit, seeking only the author’s intended meaning.” If you say that, you are correct. But you are also not done. In our desire to increasingly get the main priority correct, we have increasingly neglected the other priorities which are necessary for a healthy church. There are priorities which are to be pursued by you.
A few involve the leadership, but the majority are directed at each one of you as a part of the body of Christ. Along with living life in this world, Christ wants you committed to the next world in very specific ways right now. Most of you spend too much time on what is most urgent, and not enough time on what is most important. As a Christian, what Christ commands you to do is the most important. What are some of those crucial priorities for each one of you?
#1 To Submit to a plurality of Elders
Read these passages with me, first in Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” First Peter 5:1, “I exhort the elders among you.” Acts 20:28, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Titus 1:5, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.” Acts 14:23, “When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
The assumption of the New Testament is that every Christian is interconnected, intertwined, immersed and involved in a local church–it is only our culture that has created the independent, isolated, insulated Christians. All believers are to submit to the elders who are responsible to establish sound doctrine and a biblical direction for that church family. Submit means to rank yourself under and obey.
The New Testament teaches Christians submit to each other, wives submit to husbands, saints submit to Christ, citizens submit to government and believers submit to their elders. What most Christians do not notice from the passages above, and from the entire New Testament is this–at no time does Scripture call you to submit to one leader in the church. Notice, every single one of the passages above is in the plural–not elder, but elders. Under the headship of Christ alone, not once is the church described as having one leader, one pastor, one main pastor, or a senior pastor–the leadership of the New Testament church is always described as a plurality of elders. That is the New Testament design for church leadership.
Each elder has different giftedness and strengths–some elders are pastor-teacher/equippers, others are leader/trainers, some have gifts of mercy, others teach, others exhort–but each one brings a strength of Christ to the table and each one has different weaknesses and sin bents. Yet together, this plurality of men seeks to determine what Christ wants for each church family. Elders are under-shepherds under the Great Shepherd. Elders are men seeking to follow the Head of the body, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Maybe you’re used to elders functioning like a board of directors under a single CEO, or like sheriffs who seek to police the church and keep it orderly and under control, or as men who seek position so they can boss everyone around and do what they want. But the biblical elder knows that to shepherd biblically, he must act as a godly father over a giant family of believers, under our great God and Father.
They do this by studying the Word, praying, seeking God’s wisdom, listening to the church family and to each other for wisdom–and determining together in total agreement (we call unanimity) all the decisions concerning doctrine and direction. They trust each other with ministry, areas of oversight, personal preferences–but when it comes to the doctrine of the church and the direction of the church, they are one heart and one mind together. Though we attempt to never be heavy-handed, function as fathers, work in unanimity and seek to be men of character–we will fail you at some point. Yet in spite of that, are you prepared to submit to the eldership of FBC, to follow their lead? Thank you to the vast majority who allow us to lead, as Hebrews states “with joy”–it is a priority. Another command given to the Christian in a local church is . . .
#2 To Interconnect to the Body of believers
Look around you–here we are driving anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes to gather for church–each from different homes, different jobs, differing marriages and kids, different cars. Yet if we’re in Christ and this is your church home, then you are one body. First Corinthians 12:12, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” Ephesians 4:15 to 16, “Him who is the head, even Christ, 16from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
Today, just like we have lungs, heart, kidneys, and liver making up our human body, we also have Kevin, Frank, Cindy and Megan making up our local spiritual church body. Each of you is a part, a member of the whole body. You belong to the body, and you desperately need the body to survive. No liver is going to remain outside the body for long without spoiling. And no body will survive without a liver.
We are to be spiritually and relationally intertwined and involved with each other–so dependent we are like mountain climbers who are roped together. Just like the Early Church gathered on Sunday, but also met house-to-house, we are to be in relationship with one another, like CG’s. We know we are sinners, we know relationships are messy–that is why we help each other flee sin and pursue Christ, and our love for one another covers a multitude of sins.
We are to know each other, love each other, serve each other, build up one another. There are over forty one another Nes Testament exhortations and commands for you towards each other. Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another.” Romans 15:7, “Accept one another.” Romans 15:14, “Admonish one another.” Galatians 5:13, “Serve one another.” Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another.” Philippians 2:3, “Regard one another as more important than yourselves.” First Thessalonians 4:18, “Comfort one another.” Hebrews 3:13, “Encourage one another.” First John 4:7, “Love one another.”
The local church is to be closer than a family that likes each other—brothers and sisters, one in Christ. Why doesn’t this happen? Pride. We arrogantly think we have all we need. In pride, we think preaching is enough. We think knowing a few others is sufficient. But you are liver–you are not going to survive unless you are interconnected with the body as a whole. Is this a priority? You say, “Chris, I know involvement in the church body is important–but friends?” Your priorities aren’t what you say they are. They are revealed by how you live.
#3 To Faithfully SERVE, by finding and developing your giftedness
In His amazing love for you and for me, the Spirit of God gifted each born again Christian with a spiritual gift. A spiritual gift is a God-given ability for service within the body. That you learn and serve with your giftedness is a New Testament command–a priority. First Corinthians 12:1 and 7, “Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. 7…to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Romans 12:6, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith.”
The purpose of spiritual gifts is to serve in such a way as to show off Jesus Christ. When you are gifted to teach, people see a little window into Christ the teacher. When you are gifted at mercy, people see a glimpse into the incredible compassion of Christ. When a church is filled with obedient Christians who embrace faithful service in the manner Christ has gifted them, you see more of Christ, people become more like Christ. Spiritual gifts are not extra–gifts are not only for the mature. Gifts in service are not, “if you have time”. Exercising your spiritual gift is a priority for every true believer.
God’s Word makes it really clear in 1 Peter 4:10 to 11 as we pick this verse apart. “As each one [that is each one of you] has received a special gift, [it is already yours the moment you were indwelt with the Spirit of God at salvation] employ it in serving one another [gifts are not for you, but for you to use in service] as good stewards [you are to be a faithful steward of your gift] of the manifold grace of God [your gift is from the main gift lists, but a unique combination, like different paints on a pallet].11Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies [gifts are used for the glory of God in the power of the Spirit]; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
You discover your gift as you serve–God’s people will affirm the unique fruitfulness of your service for Him and you’ll experience incredible joy from your service. Don’t treat the present from the Spirit like the present you didn’t want on your birthday. When you turned to Christ in repentance and faith, you gave your life to Christ, which means your time is now His time. For some of you, you have to say no to lesser priorities so you can actually pursue God’s greater priorities. And giftedness is a stewardship, a normal expectation, a blessing to others and to your own heart. Treat it as a priority for your life. Start praying, start serving, start asking the body, and start being blessed in a big way.
#4 To Sacrificially GIVE of your resources
The clearest indication of your heart maturity is how faithfully and sacrificially you give. Genuine believers have a heart’s desire to give–and though we are afraid and sometimes greedy, we want to give a lot to the purposes of Christ. First Corinthians 16:1 to 4, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. 2On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.”
God’s Word teaches regular giving should be systematic. Set aside the money for your offering, verse 2, “on the first day of every week.” In verse 2, the tense for “put aside and save” is literally keep putting aside and saving, telling us our giving is to be a consistent, regular part of our worship. Verse 2 adds, “Each one of you.” Regular giving is for everyone, not just for wealthy, or merely for adults. Everybody is to give, whether we are as rich as Zacchaeus or as poor as the widow who gave less than a penny. “Let each one of you put aside and save” means the church had a safe, designated place to put the offerings that people brought as part of their worship.
The first day of the week is the day of worship, and how believers handle their money is completely tied to the depth of their worship–meaning, if we don’t give properly, we can’t worship properly. But how much are we to give? Verse 2 uses the phrase, “as you may prosper,” which means according to how well you’re doing. Giving is to be proportionate to what we receive—”as you may prosper.” In Christ, giving is by grace–you are not under law, nor are you without the law of love. That means your giving is not because you have to, or because you ought to–but true Christians give because they want to. Do you really want to?
God doesn’t want my money–He wants my heart. But if my heart is tender toward Him, He will be first with my money, every pay period, with every raise, in my financial planning, even in my will, God is first. Christians are those who financially, faithfully, preparedly and sacrificially give. Second Corinthians 9:6 to 7 tells us the heart. “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Is giving a priority or a preference–is it obedience or an option? Are you a clutching giver or a cheerful giver?
Now by this point, most believers in the US are saying to themselves, “That’s enough.” I’ll submit to leaders. I love my brothers and sisters relationally. I faithfully serve with my giftedness and I sacrificially give–that’s about as committed I can be. But because you surrendered your life to Christ, because He is the Master and you are His slave–because you don’t just hear the Word, but are a doer of the Word, you’ll also seek . . .
#5 To intentionally engage in RELATIONSHIPS for the purpose of growth
You and I are responsible to be following Christ’s final command to believers to transform the world. You know it–Christ is resurrected from the dead. He has gathered His followers and commands them to Matthew 28:19 and 20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The command is “make disciples”. it is defined by going, baptizing and teaching–and it is the final order from the King of all kings, and Lord of all lords. It is non-optional. The last phrase makes it clear, this command is for you–to the end of the age. We are not at the end of the age yet, so this command is still on the table. Discipleship is intentional relationships for the purpose of the Gospel and growth.
Simply stated, Christians are expected to pursue relationships with non-Christians so that you can share the Gospel with them and they become followers of Christ. And Christians are expected to pursue relationships with fellow believers so that you can assist each other to grow mature in Christ. Though it can be one on one, the normal process of New Testament discipleship is friend groups. Just as Christ Himself discipled His men, now the body of Christ disciples His people. You need the relational investment of trusted brothers and sisters into your life. More than a sermon. Different than a bible study. Discipleship is intentional relationships.
Growing/sanctification is living filled with the Spirit, fleeing sin and pursuing Christlikeness. God expects you to grow up together–help each other overcome sin in your life and help each other to develop Christlikeness as you come under the authority of the Word. A group of men from your CG, Jr High staff gals, jail guys who meet monthly, ushers, etc.–it doesn’t matter who, as long as you are helping each other live filled with the Spirit, overcoming sin and pursuing Christlikeness. Or if you are building relationships with non-Christians, in order to share with them the saving Gospel of Christ alone.
Discipleship is designed to be men-to-men and women-to-women. It can be couple-to-couple and it is preferred when there are one or two more mature saints with you, like Titus 2:3 and 4, “Older women (are to be) teaching what is good, 4so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children.” First Peter 5:5, “You younger men, be subject to your elders.” Even though it is missing in most churches. Even though you’ve never done it. Even though it makes you nervous to expose your life to a few trusted brothers or sisters, it is what Christ commanded. Again, if it is important to you, you will find a way. If it is not important to you, you will find an excuse. Finally, you are to . . .
#6 To Aggressively Run to the finish line of BEING COMPLETE in Christ
Our goal as a church is not to get you involved. Our target is not to see how many baptized members we can get. Our passion is not to see how big we can grow. Our desire for each one of you is Colossians 1:28, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”
After studying the phrase “complete in Christ,” it doesn’t mean you don’t sin. But it means you know what the Bible says about every area of your life and you seek to live by God’s Word in every area. It means with your marriage, your parenting, your job, your money, your ministry, your thought life, your intimacy, your relationships, your free time, your emotions, your friendships, your girlfriend or boyfriend, your employer–you seek to live by the Bible in all of it. With every area of your life, you know what the Bible says, and seek to live by it.
Complete in Christ is the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Matthew 28:20 says, “Teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” What we want for you, is what Christ desires for you–to be complete in Christ. And as a church, we will not settle for anything less. To live complete in Christ is your priority and it is our priority. The Church of Jesus Christ is to be filled with men and women, students and seniors who passionately pursue God’s commands for His glory. Christian culture has destroyed Christ’s perfect design for His bride, the Church. But if each of you determine to pursue God’s priorities for His Church, we can recover the beauty of His bride.
We taste it here at FBC. My prayer is we continue to pursue it with all our hearts–to run the race, to seek to win, to dependently exercise self-control, and hit God’s target. It will require a majority of you willing to run after God’s Word in this manner. Will you?
A Each of these priorities ASSUMES some truths about you
That you’re born again and filled with the Spirit–you can’t obey God’s Word unless you are in Christ and unless you are dependent upon His Spirit. You can’t live the Christian life unless you are given a new life by Christ. With true salvation comes a new internal nature that wants to obey God’s Word. When you are born again, you are empowered to live by the truth.
Then as you are saturated in God’s Word, given to continual prayer, depending on God’s Spirit–you will make progress in becoming complete in Christ. Do not try to live the Christian life unless you have turned from your sin in repentance and are depending on the person and work of Christ by faith, causing you to follow Him.
B Treat every priority as NORMAL, not average
Each of the six priorities today are normal Christianity. Each one of them are the normal expectation of Christ for every born again Christian. These priorities are not pursued by the average Christian today. But you don’t want to be average. You don’t measure your life against others, and say you’re okay, you compare yourself to the Word of God and say you have not arrived yet. You need to dependently cooperate with the Spirit of God in sanctification and bring every area of your life under the authority of God’s Word. This is normal Christianity, biblical Christianity, true Christianity–not average.
C Develop a passion for spiritual REPRODUCTION
You and I are here for a great purpose–to be used of God to make as many people like Jesus Christ in the shortest time possible. You have great opportunities to be personally impacting the next generation. Prayer for our students and giving to camp scholarships, sponsoring a training center man to get trained in ministry. For some, discipling children, students, collegians on youth staff. Being open to participate in a coming church plant.
Going on a short-term team and becoming an encouragement to one of our missionaries. Giving at a higher level–get to 10%, then trust the Lord to give more. Go crazy and invite your unsaved neighbors over for a barbecue and share what you believe, the Gospel. Pursue discipleship relationships with men or women in your CG, especially over the summer. Healthy Christians and healthy churches love to influence others to come to Christ and become like Christ.
D Everyone is in process, but get on with God’s heart PURSUIT
You may be wondering how a mother of four actually pursues these priorities. More than doing, today’s passages starts with a heart desire to pursue God’s plan and obey His Word. If you pray, if you are creative, you can be submitting, one-anothering, serving, giving, discipling and seeking to grow complete in Christ. Then watch how God makes it possible, to some degree, even with four rug rats, two ailing parents, homeschooling, and a demanding career.
The issue is, if you want to obey, and you pray–the Lord will provide in a real way. If it is important to you, the Lord will find a way for you. If it is not important to you, you will find an excuse. Let’s pray!