Your Need for the Loving Ministry of a Local Church
This month we celebrated our country’s 233rd anniversary. The anniversary of the day that our congress signed the Declaration of Independence. Some cultures are built around the corporation – like Japan, where it can seem like your identity is not so much defined by you in yourself but in your company. Some cultures are built around the extended family – your identity is not so much defined by you in yourself but in your larger family history. One huge culture in our world today is built around the caste – your identity is wrapped up in the caste you are born into. But here in America, we celebrate our freedom to rise above our family history, rise above the corporate ladder, rise out of our social class, and climb higher. We are all about independence, we’re all about the individual. And in several ways, that is good. I am very thankful to God that I am an American.
But America’s emphasis on the individual has sometimes presented a challenge for biblical thinking. It’s hard for Americans to understand why they need a local church family. Certainly many people don’t see any need for church at all. There are Christian teachers who are actually urging Christians to leave all churches and just listen to the radio or sermons online. That’s a pretty small minority. But then there are plenty of Christians who go to church for an hour each week to listen to music and listen to preaching, they may talk to people for a little while afterwards, but then they leave until the same time next week. Bottom line: that’s all they feel that they need. That’s enough church for them.
In the American mindset, we say “I can do it myself.” And if we’re not careful, we can have that mindset as Christians as well. “I can do it myself.” But it is not true. God designed Christianity to be lived in community. Not communes, but community. : - ) That community is found in two God-given institutions: the family and the local church.
Not every Christian enjoys the blessing of a Christian family; but every Christian needs the loving ministry of a local church. It’s just very, very easy to forget that we need it. It’s part of our sinful inclination to think that we will be fine on our own. The very first sin described in Genesis 3 was a declaration of independence. Eve did not need God, and she did not need Adam, she would do what she wanted on her own. Ever since then, we’ve been trying to make life work on our own. And so we very easily forget that we need the loving ministry of a local church.
This week I read some good quotes that were a good challenge for me:
“Self-righteousness can cause us to try to live more independently than God ever intended. We do not reach out for help because, frankly, we do not think we need it. So we live independent and self-sufficient lives, the kind we were never hardwired to live.”
“People will attempt to live outside of a healthy accountability to the body of Christ, thinking they have the maturity to manage their own walk with God.” Just as a little child says “I can do it myself,” we want to be able to say the same thing spiritually: “I can do it myself.”
(those quotes are from Broken Down House, by Paul David Tripp.)
This morning I want to share some of the basic biblical passages that uncover what we need from a church family. But before we get into those things, I want to address one key question: “If I have good friendships with other Christians, does it really matter whether I’m actually part of a particular church family or not?”
The answer is “no, it’s not OK.” There are many ways to explain that, but the assumption throughout the New Testament is that Christians will be gathered into churches, pursuing the things God told them to do together. As early as Matthew 18 Jesus is using the word assembly in a local way, assuming that Christians will be assembling together to do what he says they should do there in Matthew 18. The large majority of the New Testament letters are written to churches, or the leadership of churches. The instructions in the New Testament epistles assume that you are part of a local church – many of those instructions make little sense without a local church. So it’s not OK to just have some Christian friends – the church is God-ordained.
Why is that such a hard concept for us? Because the large majority of people in local churches tend to be sinners. Actually, every person in every local church is a sinner. Because of that, it’s impossible to find a perfect local church. It’s much easier to just stay home and listen to sermons on the internet, or even just go pop in and hear the sermon at church and then leave, than to go and involve yourself with a group of people that are sinners and have problems and will complicate your life. But the church needs your loving ministry, as we saw in the last hour, and you need the church’s loving ministry.
Let’s look at some things the Bible says. And this list is not complete: for example, we could add Ephesians 6:18 God intends for a church family to pray for you. We could add Ephesians 5:19 God intends for a church family to sing truth to you. You need congregational singing. There are more, but we’ll focus on these four major points:
God intends for a church family to help bear your burdens.
Galatians 6:1-2 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
- See the word “Caught”, means to be overtaken by surprise, or to get trapped (which would be a surprise).
- The word “trespass” is the idea of losing your footing, stumbling, falling.
- This is not talking about long-term rebellion, this describes a Christian who falls in a way that is surprising. Nobody really expected it. It seems out of character for them.
- For example, suddenly word gets out that a sweet teenage girl in the church is pregnant. Nobody expected that from her. That’s the kind of situation in view here in Galatians 6.
- How do we handle that? You don’t ignore it; you don’t react self-righteously (“how could that ever happen!”); you don’t gossip.
- First you have an attitude of gentleness. This is not the time to obliterate the girl with guilt trips and endless reminders of how no self-respecting young lady should ever do that. It’s a time for gentleness. The second attitude is Humility. Get rid of this self-righteous “how could anyone ever do that” attitude.
- The action word is restore. Gently, humble restore.
- But what does restore mean?
- That word is used for things like fixing a net that has become torn, or setting a bone that has been broken.
- When a Christian falls into an unexpected sin, is in a dangerous time. If they experience condescending, gossiping spirit from others, they may turn away from God in bitterness. They may pridefully refuse to admit that they’ve fallen, that they’ve done anything wrong, and turn away from God in pride. Or in their guilt they may feel like God can’t love them and God can’t use them anymore. And they turn away from God because of the guilt. They need a gentle, humble, restoring church family.
- So verse 2 says, Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Verse 1 is just one example of the ways that we can bear one another’s burdens. This is fulfilling the law of Christ – this kind of personal ministry may not get the flashy attention of other big public ministries, but this is the very heart of what pleases Christ.
God intends for a church family to help bear your burdens.
God intends for church leadership to watch for your soul.
God established not only the model of the local church, but also the leadership for local churches. Deacons are godly servants who minister in whatever capacity they can help. Elders are entrusted with the oversight and leadership of the entire church family.
In most situations, there should be multiple elders in a local church: Acts 14:23 says they appointed elders, plural, in every church, singular.
Those elders are given a very serious responsibility - listen to some of these phrases:
Acts 20:28 Be on guard for all the flock
Acts 20:28 shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood
I Pet. 5:2 shepherd the flock of God among you
I Peter 5:2 exercise oversight
I Pet. 5:3 prove to be examples to the flock
I Tim. 5:17 rule well
This is a remarkable responsibility that God gives to the church leadership.
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.
1 Timothy 5:17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
I Thes. 5:12-13 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, 13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.
Don’t miss those words: have charge over you in the Lord. Like Hebrews 13: watch for your souls.
This doesn’t get discussed very much, because it’s awkward for pastors to talk about it. It feels like self-promotion to say these things. Yet when it is not said, when these things are ignored, people can pop in and out of churches, and Christians can go for years without anyone who has charge over them in the Lord. That is not the way it is supposed to be.
Properly understood there is nothing self-promoting here. Pastors shouldn’t feel bad about saying these things, because really there is nothing glamorous about being accountable before God for souls that He gave His life for! Glamorous is the wrong word for that: sobering would be a lot better. This is a sober responsibility for pastors. But it is an important principle for each of you. God intends for church leadership to watch for your soul – but you have to make that possible – as Heb 13 says it’s your responsibility to let them do it with joy!
God intends for a church family to provide disciplining accountability for you.
Romans 15:14 And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.
· This word that means “to counsel about avoiding or stopping an improper course of conduct.” To confront, to warn.
· To the Christians in Rome Paul says “I am confident that you are able to confront and warn one another.”
James 5:19-20 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
· Though the English word stray here might suggest something that is completely naïve and unintentional, I don’t think that is really the intention here. A Christian does not accidentally stray off of the path of truth and end up way off the path. If we end up a long ways away from the path of truth, we have done it intentionally.
· So I think that straying from the truth here is a more rebellious, hardened, willful direction than the getting caught in a trespass that we saw in Galatians 6.
· The assumption here seems to be that this person will continue in their path until someone turns them back. And that is exactly how God describes the ministry: turning the person back. Turn this person around, so that they are headed back toward the truth.
Then of course Matthew 18:15-20 describes the process of church discipline. It begins with the sin of someone in the church. But that sin continues despite the admonishing of the church, and a hardness of heart develops that refuses to stop sinning, and refuses to listen. After this goes on and on despite the loving ministry of that church, finally the church family must come to the conclusion that this person must be excluded from their fellowship. That is disciplining accountability.
Let me cut right to the chase: if God has brought you to this church, you need to join this church, officially be a member of this church, so that this church can kick you out. I say that partly tongue-in-cheek. But there is much truth to it. If you love God, you welcome serious spiritual accountability. You don’t want to be allowed to go your own way. When a person joins this church, they are essentially asking for this level of accountability from us. We are making a mutual commitment to spiritual accountability. I remember meeting with one couple that has since moved away, we were talking through church membership, and I said to them: “You realize that this means that if you try to get a divorce, we aren’t going to let it go. We’re going to come to you and say ‘No you’re not getting a divorce.’” It’s neat to see people like that come to realize that they want that: “we don’t want to be left alone if our marriage starts to fall apart. We want accountability.”
Does this mean that as elders we ignore the spiritual needs of those who are not church members? Of course not. We want to shepherd wherever we can shepherd. But honestly, it does make some difference. Suppose someone hasn’t been at church for 5 weeks, and we’re trying to decide how forcefully to pursue them. When we’re sitting in an elder’s meeting, it does matter whether that person has asked for our accountability through membership or not. If it’s not a member we may say “We’ve called several times. They won’t return our calls. They’re probably just going somewhere else to church. We’ve done what is reasonable, and we’ll leave it alone.” But if it’s someone who has covenanted with us in membership, we’re likely to keep going, to keep pressing further.
It is important to note in Matthew 18, and II Thes. 3, and I Cor. 5, that it is not just the leadership involved, but the broader church that is part of the accountability in a serious spiritual situation. That’s why this point in your notes says God intends for a church family to provide disciplining accountability for you.
God intends for a church family to speak the truth to you in love.
Heb. 10:24-25 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
· Think carefully about how you can stimulate one another to love and good deeds. This is great: I need other people provoking me to love and good deeds – so don’t forsake coming together as an assembly, because you need to be encouraging one another to love and good deeds. I need all the encouragement I can get, to get me off my couch and into the lives of people with love and good deeds.
Hebrews 3:12-13 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
· There are so many things here: the alertness, at the beginning of verse 12: take care, or watch carefully. The problem in verse 13: sin is deceitful. The danger: hardness of heart. The prevention: encouraging one another. Parakaleo means to embolden another in belief or course of action. Sin can be deceitful, sin can lead to hardness of heart, but as you are faithful to come together as an assembly, other Christians can embolden you to keep fighting, to trust God’s promises and follow his way. Note also the frequency here in verse 13: day after day.
I Thes. 4:16-18 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
- I love this: Paul is saying “I’m teaching you something. But now you take what I’m teaching you and repeat it to one another. Remind one another of these things. Learn together, and then repeat what you’ve learned to one another!”
I Thes. 5:11, 14 Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing…. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
- A whole list of key words:
- Encourage – that’s parakaleō, to embolden, to give courage, to lift someone’s spirits.
- Build up = literally means to construct a building – play a role in the spiritual building of one another.
- Admonish = means to confront or warn. If we are unruly – spiritually out of line – we need someone to warn us.
- Encourage = is a different word that means to console or to cheer up the fainthearted, the discouraged.
- Help = means to have a strong interest in someone. Help the weak: the things that trouble weak people may seem very insignificant to us. But we are challenged to have a strong interest in the weak.
- Be patient with everyone.
- This is a great summary of the kind of ministry you should receive from a healthy church family.
Those things were all written to groups of Christians assembling together as churches: the point is that God intends for a church family to speak the truth to you in love.
We started this morning at 9:15 saying that we want a culture of loving ministry here at our church. We talked about our role in that, the church needs you. But it’s hard to have a culture of loving ministry if we don’t think we need it.
Remember the quote I read at the beginning: “People will attempt to live outside of a healthy accountability to the body of Christ, thinking they have the maturity to manage their own walk with God.” If we all say “I can do it on my own just fine,” we’ll never have a culture of loving ministry. Instead, we should say:
I want a church family to help bear my burdens.
I want church leadership to watch for my soul.
I want a church family that will give me accountability to the point of discipline if necessary.
I want a church family to speak the truth to me in love.
Our two sessions this morning fit right together: will you commit yourself to doing loving ministry, and will you commit yourself to needing loving ministry. If so, we’ll be well on our way to being a church where loving ministry is normal.
Next week – your role in church growth.
Some of you may need to respond very tangibly this morning. You may need to talk to one of the elders about church membership. You may need to make a commitment to come to more than just 10:30 each Sunday morning. You may need to plead with God for His grace to help you open up. Maybe you’re hiding spiritually, and no one has any idea about what’s going on in your heart. It should not be that way, it must not be that way.
If your family didn’t get a copy of Strong Foundation / speaking truth in love CD, distribute
12:00 security meeting – hoping for 8-10 men who can be part of a rotation to help us with a basic security plan.
6:15 GOnight – La Paloma park on Menifee road, we are canvassing for August 2.
7:00 Wednesday night – Ladies’ prayer meeting at the Lovegroves.
Very important session at 9:15 next Sunday morning – your role in church growth.