Acts 20: give background. 3 years in Ephesus-close connection. Final address-important words for us to consider.
What is this church?
Paul considered the church to be something worth sacrificing his life for. Something to be guarded closely. Something Jesus gave his life to establish. Is this our view of the church today? Is it that important to us?
As you look at the history of the church, and the history of the Israelites and their relationship with God, you can see there are times when people lose sight of the real meaning and mission of the church.
Today I can think of three common views of the church that can limit it's calue to us:
The moral church:
Church is about teaching people to do make the right choices and live properly. Training of kids is focused on getting them to behave well and make the right choices in life.
It is important for us to learn to be obedient to God, there is problem when this becomes the focus. We become legalistic, and reduce life in Christ to a bunch of rules. We focus on judging and comparing ourselves to one another.
It also denies the very reason Jesus came to earth and gave his life for us. We need the forgiveness He offers because we can't live for God on our own. Righteousness-right living-isn't something we-or our kids-or anyone else-can do without God. our focus ought to be on Christ.
Paul wrote in Philippians 3:8-9: "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith."
The Accepting Church
Church is all about accepting people. Says that Jesus loved and accepted everyone where they were. Church should be a place that just takes me as I am and doesn't ask too much of me.
The problem is that it creates a church that is powerless and meaningless. It becomes a social club filled with lost and broken people who never move beyond a surface knowledge of Christ and of one another. It's shallow and empty. While Jesus loves all people, real love challenges us to do and be more-to reach our full potential.
That's why we say, "Come as you are. Leave different."
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
(Rom 12:2 NIV)
The true church challenges us to be built up into this unity of faith and knowledge of Jesus.
The Saving Church
Finally, some people feel the primary goal of church is to bring people to salvation in Christ. To save people. While this is an important part of it, we limit ourselves when this is all we do. It leads to churches that sacrifice Godly character in order to be attractive. They use slick marketing techniques to get people to make a desicion for Christ, and when they do, there's nothing more for them. The church is onto the next lost soul. The church is confusing and powerless and indistinct from the rest of the world.
Ephesians 4:11-13 says, "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."
The Real Purpose
The real mission of the church encompasses all these things, but there is something more meaningful and important that underlies them all.
Paul get's at it in the statement he makes about the mission he wants to spend his life accomplishing:
In Acts 20:24: "the task of testifying to the Gospel of God's grace"
This is what being the church is about-each of us fulfullling this task-to testify to the Gospel of God's grace
A lot involved in this: testifying-telling. Telling what? about the gospel of grace...the effect it has had on us. Only by affecting us can we have something to testify to.
Unpack this statement some more by looking at what Jesus told other apostles about testifying or witnessing: Acts 1:8: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Being a witness to Jesus depends upon experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The life of the church and being able to testify to the Gospel of God's grace is rooted in living by the power of the Holy Spirit. In other places of the New Testament-Romans and Galatians-Paul emphasizes living by the Spirit. This is the primary thing that the church is meant to be-people growing and learning together to live by the Holy Spirit-and sharing with others-testifying-as we go.
This answers what the church is supposed to be, but it still doesn't answer why. Why is it so important that we engage in this...that we do grow in the Spirit and invite others to do the same?
For that we need a proper understanding/perspective on the world we live in. We need to recognize that we live in a fallen and broken world. This world we were all born into-with all its troubles and evils- is not what God intended for us. That beneath everything else there is a real battle between good and evil going on.
There is a story I read this week: A group of servicemen asked their new chaplain if he believed in a real hell for lost sinners, and he smiled and told them that he did not. “Then you are wasting your time,” the men replied. “If there is no hell, we don’t need you; and if there is a hell, you are leading us astray. Either way, we’re better off without you!”
I want you to know today that there IS a heaven and a hell. There is good and evil. Just as there are angels...there are demons. And just as there is a loving and all-powerful God, there is a devil who hates God and wants to lure you away from Him and destroy you. This is why the church is so important.
When God placed man and women on this earth, He intended us to live in close relationship with Him-experiencing all the joys and privileges of being close to Him. It didn't take long for man to turn away and decide they didn't trust God...and we continue to do the same thing today. In doing so, we have given Satan-the devil-power over us and this world.
In John 12:31, Jesus refers to Satan as the "prince of this world". He says, "Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out; but, I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."
God's Resuce Mission: The Church
When Jesus was lifted up from the earth, the church began. The church is all those people who jesus has drawn to himself so far. He has drawn them away from the enemy. The church is God's rescue mission for mankind.
When a person comes to Jesus for the first time acknowledging that He is the Son of God who died for them....it is a time to realize that we have been living our lives in the enemie's camp...doing His will and being imprisoned by him. No matter how "good" a person we've been, we have denied God and chosen to believe the lies of the enemy-that we don't need God...that he doesn't even exist...that we are the masters of our own lives...or that that life can't get any better than this. It's all lies.
In coming to Jesus we acknowlede that is has been our own choice to remain in the devil's camps. In choosing admitting this and turning to Jesus we are set free and filled with the Spirit of God
But this is just the beginning. As we continue follow Jesus we continue to open our lives to Him...asking Him to show us ways that we continue to turn back to our old ways. It is a continual process of letting go and leaving Satan's influence behind. Living be the Spirit is a process of opening up to God and letting His show us ways that we are not fully trusting Him. The life fully lived for God is one in which we have let the Spirit influence every area of out lives...every thought...and realized that all of our hopes and dreams and desires find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ because nothing else in this world will ever fully satisfy us.
This is what is means to be the church of Jesus Christ. People in the process of being set free and regain the live God intended for us.
Now what about the "testifying part". Every one of us has multiple opportunities in our lives to experience God's rescuing power. The moment we first come to Jesus...and in every moment after that when we let go of something else holding us back. Each of these moments leads us to greater "spirtual fruit" in our lives.
Think about an apple tree: fruit...stays..rots...meant to be picked and shared.
These moments of transformation by the Spirit are meant to be shared. We are meant to let others experience the fruit we have grown in our own lives.
Let's go back to Paul's statement now: to testify to the Gospel of God's grace. The church is people called out....and rescued from a fallen and broken world by Jesus....people living and contining to be set free by the Holy Spirit. This is the power and the good news of God's Grace! It is great news for us, but even greater news for those who have not experienced it yet themselves. All we are asked to do is share what God has done for us so that all men can have the opportunity to be set free. Someone needs to know what God has done for you before they will trust him for themselves.
This Summer...share your testimony. Let us be a beacon of hope to this world.13 weeks beginning June 6th- MNTC.VBS...