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Healthy Christians and a Healthy Church
Forgotten yet fruitful choices to pursue in 2014
Are you healthy? Are you working out, eating good, drinking water, taking vitamins, staying away from junk food? That is important–it is. But it is not as important–not even close to your spiritual health. The Bible, God’s never wrong always right owner’s manual makes your spiritual health a main priority. Our Savior is not fuzzy, marginal, or slightly concerned about this–physical health okay, but spiritual health a must.
First Timothy 4:7 and 8, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Bodily discipline is a little helpful now, but spiritual discipline is crucial now and essential for your forever.
Yet how many of you labor over physical choices, but invest very little time on your spiritual disciplines. You say you want to go to heaven, but do very little preparation. You say you don’t love this world, but focus all your efforts here. So today, as you and I say good bye to 2013 and hello to 2014, I wanted you to think deeply about our spiritual health for 2014, and set some goals in your pursuit of godliness, to becoming like Christ, both individually and together.
For obvious and not so obvious reasons–
1 Many of you are new at FBC . . .
and you need to know some of the core spiritual values of our church family. Do you know the truths we’ve embraced as a church to passionately pursue?
2 Since you and I naturally drift toward externals . . .
and have a tendency to forget what’s really important, as you approach this new year, here are some reminders of essentials for your spiritual health.
3 I have the privilege to teach these very truths . . .
to pastors at the Shepherds’ Conference and at men’s conferences throughout the year, and I first want to teach them to you, since I always want to give my best here at home, to my own family before I would ever teach these truths somewhere else. Are you willing to be a doer of the Word and dependently obey? You must engage your will, dependent upon the Spirit of God, but step out in dependent faith and pursue biblical truth–for without it, you will not be a healthy believer, and we as a church body will not be a healthy church.
I have to warn you type A’s this morning, I will not finish–I will have to stop before done, but that’s okay. There is more to come in the next few weeks. The Lord has me on the planet to do three things–preach, train and encourage our church and other churches to spiritual health. But when you truly do your job as a pastor, the pastor becomes less necessary, less needed, not more. Just like parenting, as your children depend more on Christ, they depend less on you.
That’s why a lot of pastors teach poorly–to keep people dependent. Or why other guys teach so technically, so people still need them. But I am not here to make you dependent on me, but dependent on Christ. The Church is all about Christ–you coming to Christ or becoming like Christ. And that happens through His Word, in a spiritually healthy environment. Like Paul said in Galatians 4:19, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.”
I want, and our elders want Christ formed in you more than anything. The Church is always fluid, and there is never a time when you or I should stop growing to be more like Christ—never! Today and for the next few weeks, as we take a small break from Mark, this will be our challenge. To do that, we have to be committed to seeing Christ clearly from His Word, and following Christ diligently from His Word.
There are many commitments that produce spiritual health. Healthy Christians in healthy churches are those who . . .
Fear God and grow deep in their love for Christ
Know and use their giftedness in ministry
Give faithfully and sacrificially to Christ’s Church
Live and share the Gospel with the lost
Build intentional relationships for the purpose of growth
Study and seek to dependently live the Word of God
Grow in doctrinal stability and doctrinal ability–explain deep truth
Live for the glory of God in every task–large and small
They’re loyal to two families equally, their own and their church
Seek to make a difference for Christ while on this planet
Praise God in worship with their entire being
Offer themselves daily to Christ in worship—and they . . .
Desire spiritually healthy churches to be established elsewhere
Are you a healthy church? Are you a healthy Christian?
Let’s look at some of the commitments FBC has made in order to become healthy Christians, and introduce a few more. As a Christian and as a church, we seek to . . .
#1 Pursue TRUTH and GRACE simultaneously
We must model the example of Christ in everything. There is no greater way to glorify God than to be like Christ! At the very beginning of the gospel of John, the apostle says something we can easily overlook in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Jesus Christ was full of grace and full of truth–100% grace and 100% truth, fully truth and fully grace. Then next in John 2, you see both grace and truth modeled by our Lord. Turning water to wine is a gracious act–He didn’t have to, but graciously served the needs of a wedding celebration. Then cleaning out the temple, an action of truth exposing the hearts of the religious leaders.
The example of Christ is this–He is the incarnation of truth, He is truth, the Word of God. And no one spoke the truth like Jesus. Yet no one was more gracious than Christ. Doesn’t it amaze you that tax gatherers, harlots and children all loved to be with Him, yet no one spoke truth and confronted sin more than Christ? He would never compromise the truth, He’d never rationalize sin, yet sinners loved to be around Him.
This is the target for every Christian and every church, to be full of grace and truth. No error gives you the right to be hateful. No sin by others opens the door for you to be cruel. And yes, there is a place for anger over the evils of error and what error does to the people Christ died for whom you love. But remember the example of Christ and obey the commands of the New Testament, which say . . .
1 Thessalonians 5:14, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
2 Timothy 2:24 and 25, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.”
I taught a poorly taught church about truth and grace, and when they heard it, they reacted to our Lord’s example by saying, “We need to be more truth-oriented.” I taught a well-taught church about truth and grace, and their reaction to this example was to become more gracious. Many well-taught churches are out of balance on the truth side, and can tend to be critical.
Yes, the Lord was very strong when He rebuked those who were teaching a false gospel, and leading others to Hell. There is a place for strong words and direct confrontation when eternal souls are at stake. But most of our dealings are with people who need to hear the truth in a gracious manner. Speak the truth without compromise, but speak it in love. Say what is difficult to say, but say it with grace.
You’re familiar with Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty, who spoke boldly about immorality and homosexuality in GQ magazine. AL Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, wrote an insightful biblical commentary over this incident, stating he affirmed what Phil said, but raised a question with how he said it (it lacked grace), and where he said it, pointing at GQ as not a place to be interviewed with integrity. Reminding us to speak the truth, but do so with grace–without sound truth you will compromise and help no one. It is the Word which sanctifies–the Word changes lives. Yet without love, you’re just a big obnoxious noise—and without grace, you don’t glorify God. Be full of truth and grace.
Now don’t say, “Yes, I believe I must be full of grace and truth”—but this year you don’t take any steps to study the Word of God, nor read your Bible, or apply the living Word in community. Spiritual health presumes you’re learning the Word–not merely reading a Christian book or attending church, but actually studying the Word of God in RMG, Women of the Word, Men of the Word, TC, or another ministry. From your study, you’ll learn how to be gracious and speak truth. In 2014, learn the Word of God, study the Bible, apply the Word, and learn to speak the truth in love and be gracious with others.
#2 Cultivate a CORPORATE mentality consistently
We live in the age of spectator Christianity. We live in a culture that esteems individualism. We have fenced yards and garage doors that open and shut to prevent interaction with our neighbors. We read our Bibles and think that when the Bible says, “You,” the Lord is addressing “me”–when most of the you’s in the New Testament epistles address “us”, Texas-style, “y’all”.
We have negated the importance of the Church in our individualistic, spectator, solo, all about me Christianity. We think more often of my walk with Christ, and rarely about our walk with Christ. Yet the Bible is really pointed–our walk with Christ is completely linked to the local church. You remember Ephesians 4:16, “from 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.” Again, “according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body.”
Our spiritual health is dependent upon the growth and health of the church we are a part of. Because the health of the local church is generally so weak today, we have all kinds of ungodly responses to the church–like what?
Discipleship is viewed as one-on-one only
Families are isolated from the church family, where parents prevent other believers from having any influence on their children
Leadership is viewed as a one-man show
Evangelism is seen only as a one-to-one person interaction
Marriages don’t benefit from the influence of older women and older men
Training for ministry is only done in seminary
And elderships do not function as one, marriages aren’t one, church bodies aren’t one, and so much more
To be a healthy Christian, you must cultivate a corporate mentality. Embrace the truth that you don’t have all the spiritual gifts–that your children and teens need the body of Christ, to even be hurt by others in the church in order to learn to forgive. Wives need the investment of older, godly women and husbands need the investment of older, godly men. Good decisions are often made with multiple counselors.
I need the body’s help, even as I battle with sin (Galatians 6). Evangelism can often take place as people love and serve each other in community, demonstrating the reality of Christ in relationship to each other. Marriages can grow strong as men and women imitate the Trinitarian oneness and unique roles of authority and submission, as well as delighting in and serving each other.
Even superior to dating, which often casts children adrift in their hunt for a mate, and superior to courtship, which often is pursued by parents who want to control their children’s hunt for a spouse, is the process of service and faithfulness to the church, where collegians can discover their gifts, disciple others, learn to give, grow, demonstrate faithfulness, learn their roles of servant leadership and helpmeet submission in the context of the church, demonstrate an understanding of the Word and their purpose on this planet, which allows students, parents and friends to see who might be the best person for a mate–all confirmed by the church family as they observe their lives up close over years of faithfulness.
Do you truly have a corporate mentality? Do you belong to a church body? Do people know who you are at your RMG? Are they concerned when you are not here on Sundays? Do you embrace the truth that you are only a liver, or a heart, or a spleen, or a big toe–only a part of a whole, and desperately need the rest of the church to please Christ and grow healthy? Cultivate a corporate mentality.
#3 Practice DEPENDENT obedience continually
Reformed churches tend to focus on the FATHER
Dispensational churches tend to focus on the SON
And Charismatic churches tend to focus on the SPIRIT
But healthy churches focus on all three persons of the TRINITY, with a healthy emphasis on what it means to live filled with the Spirit. Listen, if you’re not filled with God’s Spirit, then you’re living in the flesh, which means you’re unhealthy, and your church will become less healthy. You need a continual dependence upon the Spirit of God in order to be a healthy Christian and have a healthy church. Plus today we have two extremes to avoid in sanctification.
ONE Because of the importance of obedience and fruit in the believer’s life, we have people who are striving to obey in their own flesh–the try harder crowd, seeking to obey the rules of Christianity without a relationship, making them more concerned with external traditions than internal transformation, more focused on appearing Christian than pleasing Christ from the heart.
TWO On the other side, with an overemphasis on being Gospel-driven and cross-focused, there are others who are beginning to negate their responsibility in sanctification. Instead of upholding both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man to obey in the growth process, they’ve minimized man’s responsibility so as to excuse themselves from dependent obedience. But it is the filling of the Spirit which restores a right balance.
So turn to Ephesians 5:18–God makes it clear there is no sliding scale. You are either in the flesh or in the Spirit, not sort of fleshly or kinda spiritual. At any one moment you are either in the flesh or in the spirit—period. It’s crucial that dependency upon the Spirit of God saturate your life. To do that, Christians are to obey the command of Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”
Being filled is crucial to every Christian. The Greek verb “filled” is plural, for all–an imperative, a command, it is present tense, every moment, 24/7. And the crazy part of the verb “filled” is that it is passive. If it were active, you’d do it–if middle, you’d do it to yourself. But it’s passive—you can’t do it. It must be done to you. So God gives you a command to obey, but in giving it also tells you plainly, you can’t do it. It has to be done to you. What does that mean?
In order to be filled with the Spirit, you are to yield to the Spirit. You seek, desire, expect, rely, but you don’t control as if it’s your choice, like you are in charge. No, He is God and you are not—the indwelling Spirit fills those who submit, yield, depend, rely, and desire Him, then dependently obey His Word. It’s not that you DO the Christian life–you D.O., depend and obey. This truth is also found in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith [dependence] in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”
Spurgeon practiced this truth. As he walked up each of the steps to His pulpit to preach God’s Word, the prince of preachers would say to himself with every step he took, “I believe in the Spirit, I believe in the Spirit, I believe in the Spirit,” seeking to be filled, controlled, as he proclaimed God’s Word. This is not “let go and let God,” this is dependent, active obedience. This is faith in the Word of God–this is the belief that not only can I not save myself, but I also cannot sanctify myself.
Saturate your lifestyle with the continual reminders of your desperate need to be in the Spirit and not in the flesh. Graciously do not allow words, actions or attitudes of the flesh to be accepted or tolerated from other Christians. You must not accept actions or words of the flesh. Expect other believers to treat each other in the Spirit. People allowed to live in the flesh, act in the flesh, and speak in the flesh create an unhealthy church.
A healthy church is a family of people who are dependent upon the Spirit of God to walk according to the Word of God. To be indwelt with the Spirit means you have all of the Spirit. But to be filled with the Spirit means the Spirit has all of you. So work at living dependently obedient–continually say, “I can’t, but He can through me.” This year practice dependent obedience.
#4 Cultivate HUMILITY, and attack PRIDE aggressively
Turn to 1 Peter 5–the theme of Peter is to stand firm in God’s grace, and in Chapter 5 he tells the Church how to do it. Circle the three groups—“elders” in verse 2, “young men” in verse 5a, and “all of you” in verse 5b. Then circle the three commands—“shepherd, submit, and clothe yourself.” Peter is talking to the entire church body here. And when Peter wrote this letter, he was giving instruction to believers who have been scattered around Asia Minor in ten to twenty churches who are currently experiencing persecution. The church is taking some painful hits–life is hard.
So as Peter wraps up this letter, he exhorts group one the elders, group two the young men, and group three the entire congregation—to stand firm. First Peter 5:12 is the theme verse of the letter, “Look, I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!”
But how are they supposed to stand firm when it’s so difficult? How are we to grow healthy in tough circumstances? Answer–humility. Notice how Peter begins in verse 1, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder.” Peter is an apostle, but instead of asserting his authority, he joins them as a fellow shepherd, he aligns himself with them, he takes his place as a part of the elder team–and in doing so, he is demonstrating humility. It’s an example of humility.
Now check out how Peter ends the paragraph in verses 5 and 6, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.” Peter ends the paragraph with a command to be humble.
Now when a biblical writer begins a paragraph with an example of humility, then ends with an exhortation of humility, what do you think he’s talking about between the example and exhortation? Humility! Yet in the context of the entire letter of 1 Peter, this passage is not merely about humility, but emphasizing the importance of humility when life gets difficult for a church. What is God’s secret for a church experiencing tough times? The answer is to practice humility. The key to a healthy church and to be a healthy Christian is to be saturated with humility.
What kind of church avoids splits, divisions, harshness and politics? Churches that are drowning in humility–so how do churches practice humility? How do we?
ELDERS You shepherd the people God’s way
YOUNG MEN (non-elders/leaders) You submit to your elders
EVERYONE in the church Clothe yourself with humility
And that is the author’s intended meaning of this passage, and the goal of your life and your church.
What is humility? Let me borrow from CJ Mahaney in his book on humility–he says, “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” Humility is not, “I am a worm–everyone is better than me.” Humility is not talking to others in a soft, whisper voice, but an accurate assessment of yourself and God.
You must be passionate about humility and hate pride to be a healthy Christian, and for us to be a healthy church–why? What was the first sin in the universe? Pride. What is the favorite sin of the devil? Pride. What is the worst sin in your life? Pride. Are you proud? Answer—yes you are. Many theologians view pride not as “one of the worst” sins, but as the core of all sin. And the only cure for pride is humility.
God loves His followers to be humble–do you remember what God said of Moses in Numbers 12:3, “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” And Christ told us that one of His attributes is humility in Matthew 11:29, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Christ is humble in heart, so the only way we can be spiritually healthy is to be humble in heart.
No one here is going to write a book and title it, Humility: and How I Attained It, since developing humility will not be easy. The world hates humility. Your non-Christian friends see humility as a weakness. In business, they tell you to be self-assured and aggressive. In school, you need to feel good about yourself. If someone asks you, “How are you doing today?”, and you answer, “Better than I deserve,” people will correct you and try to improve your self-image. To develop humility, you have to swim against the raging whitewater of pride. Where do genuine Christians start?
Look at how Peter wraps up this challenge in verse 5b, “and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Peter says, “I command you to wear humility like a garment. I command you to saturate yourselves with humility.” Men typically have a favorite shirt, or some kind of clothes they would rather wear. For me, blue jeans and a cotton shirt with tennis shoes in winter, cargo shorts and a cotton shirt with slippas/flops in summer–I may have a suit on, but I am wearing blue jeans in my heart.
Peter says, “I want your favorite outfit to be humility–wear it, show it off, serve in it, and talk with it.” Verse 5, after the elders, and the young leaders under the elders, now the rest of the congregation–the rest of you clothe yourselves. “Clothe” is a command in the middle voice, meaning you act upon yourself. God expects you and I to clothe ourselves with humility. The verb “clothe” in verse 5 actually means to tie something on oneself, such as a work apron worn by servants.
Peter is painting a powerful picture to this body of believers. In the first century, a slave would wear a white scarf or a white apron or unique overalls to distinguish himself from a free man–they wore the clothing of a slave that made them distinct. Peter is thinking of Jesus Christ, who actually put on the white garment of a slave, and served others like a slave when He washed the disciples’ feet. That’s what Peter means by clothing yourself with humility—it’s to treat each other the way Jesus did when He wrapped himself with a towel and washed the disciples’ feet. It should be your favorite outfit.
Peter is telling the Church then and the Church now, in order to survive difficult times, withstand attack and remain healthy, spiritually wrap yourself in slave clothes and serve each other. If Jesus Christ, God himself, would leave the perfection of Heaven to live on a fallen earth among sinful people–then serve us like a slave in the lowliest manner, be obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross . . . if He would do all that, then can we not wrap the towel of servanthood around us and care for others, even those who don’t appreciate it?
A healthy church is to be saturated with people willing to serve each other, take on the lowliest duty, consider others more important than ourselves–because humility is how God makes us healthy enough to survive any test. To be humble is not to hang your head low and speak in a whisper. To be humble is to serve others like a slave does His Master. Is it all that important? Look at how Peter wraps up verse 5, “for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The Greek is telling us two important facts (two indicatives)—
1 God is against the self-sufficient and the self reliant. But,
2 God gives His grace to “the God-dependent”.
God hates your pride. Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate.” Why does God hate pride? When you, as a sinful human refuse to acknowledge your dependence upon God, it lifts your heart against Him and contends for supremacy—and God hates that.
What do you hate? I do hate drivers that don’t use their turn signal. I hate guys that wear Speedo bathing suits at the beach. I hate abortion, child abuse, racism and men who abuse their wives. And I hate my own sin–I hate it. But all that is nothing compared to God’s hatred of pride. John Calvin wrote, “God cannot bear with seeing His glory appropriated by the creature, in even the smallest degree.”
And because God cannot bear this arrogance, He tells us in verse 5 that He actively opposes the proud. This opposition is a fact–it’s real, it is present tense, ongoing, continual opposition–God Himself is opposing you. And the Greek “opposed” literally means God is hostile toward you when you’re proud, making pride your most dangerous enemy. It is the sin you should be most alert to and most afraid of.
Jonathan Edwards called it, “the most difficult sin to root out of your life. Pride will undermine you, destroy you, ruin you, lead to more sin, push you into compromise and keep you enslaved to lusts.” And pride can ruin your walk with God and your church—FBC. Yet God will give grace to the humble Christian and humble church.
#5 Glorify God’s Person through your RELATIONSHIPS incessantly
We would all agree, our ultimate purpose is to glorify God–but sadly, we think that merely means reflecting His attributes. Have you considered the truth that you glorify God by reflecting His person? It is the Trinity, the three persons of the Godhead in perfect oneness with each other which is the basis of every relationship, the motivation behind biblical unity, the goal of every eldership, marriage, family and church body.
From the very beginning, God said in Genesis 1:26, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” We’re made to be like the Trinity. We are to imitate the person of God in relationships. We are to treat others the way the persons of the Trinity treat one another. We are to function the way they function. And the more we pursue this, the more glory God receives, and the more joy we will enjoy in relationships. And a healthy church pursues reflecting God’s attributes and imitating God’s person–how?
The entire Church is to imitate God’s persons, seeking to be one, which is part of what Jesus prayed for in John 17:21, “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” Unity demonstrates God.
Marriages are to be one, yet function in different persons. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul is about to address the problems the Corinthians were having understanding the roles of women and men in marriage, when He says this in 1 Corinthians 11:3, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ.”
This lays a foundation for a theology of marriage. Paul says, “God is the head of Christ.” We know from the New Testament that God is one yet three. Christ is just as much God as God the Father. By saying God is the head of Christ, and the husband is the head of his wife, God is telling us that marriage is modeling the Trinity–that marriage, like the Trinity, involves distinct persons yet also an equal oneness.
The Father and Jesus are fully and equally God, yet the Son submits to the Father. A husband and wife are one, yet the wife submits to the husband, and the husband sacrificially leads his wife. Many churches have people who learn the doctrines of Scripture, yet they are divisive to others and selfish with their spouse–they’re missing the point. We glorify God, reflecting His person by how we treat each other–like the persons of the Trinity treat one another.
In His high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus makes it clear the persons of the Trinity glorify the other members of the Trinity. The Father, Son and Spirit are each centered on the other persons in the Trinity, adoring and serving each other. This Trinitarian love relationship is the model God sets up for marriage, as we unselfishly, sacrificially give ourselves away to our spouse–that is what creates joy and happiness . . . not getting from your spouse, but giving to your spouse. And the Trinity is the model for all Christian relationships–every eldership, marriage, family and church family.
And it is the commitment to pursue this selfless service to each other in relationship that glorifies God as we reflect His eternal person, the three unique persons yet one God. Are you a healthy Christian? Is there truth and grace? Is there dependent obedience? Is there more humility than pride? Are you glorifying God by how you treat others in marriage, home, school and church? And do you have a corporate mentality–you are connected? Are you a Christian?
Spiritual health is found where love covers a multitude of sins, yet we also lovingly address sin in each other’s lives. Spiritual health flourishes where each Christian is captivated by Heaven, not earth.
That Christ is our first love, above our spouses and children . . .
That we labor now and look for rest in heaven . . .
That men minister to men, and women minister to women . . .
That men are responsible to spiritually lead at church and home . . .
I could go on and on–that’s what the pastor says when he runs out of material. I could go on and on. I hope this gives you some encouragement, and some challenge to pursue this year, 2014, and exposes you to the grace of God manifested at FBC, and the truths we value and pursue. May this year be your year of greatest growth to be like Christ, for His glory and service for Christ, for His glory. Let’s pray.