Today, we're going to look at the second of God’s five purposes. You are formed for God's family.
Notice this verse at the top of your outline, Hebrews 2:10, would you read it with me.
"God is the one who made all things, and all things are for His glory. He wanted to have many children share His glory."
Everything that God created was preparation for the crown of his creation. He prepared the world as an expression of His divine qualities as the destined environment for man to inhabit. And then, different from everything else, he formed man in His own image and he breathed into him the breath of Divine life, the very breath of God and man choked his way into physical existence.
“His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ."
And He didn’t leave after all His work. The scriptures tell us that he walked in the garden routinely to enjoy the creation and the man child.
This week we are going to begin to focus and start practicing on His second purpose for your life. And here it is in I Peter 2:17. Read it with me.
"Love your spiritual family."
I believe that God wants you to learn to love your spiritual family as He loves them.
God’s design for his people, in process through this life experience is rich and deep fellowship. The Greek word for fellowship is “koinonia”. The root word is “koinos” which means, “common, ordinary, everyday”. The expansion of that root means “sharing” what is common, ordinary, everyday. While it may be wrapped in the common parts of life, there is nothing common about the connection that God creates between his children. It is really an “uncommon thing” when it works as it should.
/"“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”" (John 13:34-35, The Message)  /
The shame is that we so often settle for less than God’s perfect plan for us. We interpret the trickles of blessing as the totality of it. God is so good that He cannot help but bless His people. There is a “spill-over” that affects a person when God comes near. But that “spill-over” is just a taste of what He would like to do among His people.
/"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." (Malachi 3:10, NIV)  /
Fellowship is loving God's family.” And the Bible says this in I John 4:21. Read it with me.
"The person who loves God must also love other believers."
Now remember, this is the second greatest commandment, next to loving God supremely. By comparison this is much more crucial than what you believe about other controversial issues. The necessity of loving one another is emphasized by those very words specifically, 13 times in the New Testament. Nine of the references come from John the Beloved. I would say that what you choose to do about this commandment is more important than everything else other than loving God, and when you love God’s kids, you love God.
Family life has its challenges. Look at this verse:
"I’m writing so that you'll know how to live in the family of God. That family is the church."
Now, would you circle the word "family” and circle the word "church," and kind of draw a line together -- because the church is a family. It is not a building; it is not an institution; it is not an organization; it is not a club. It is a family. A lot of people say, “Well, I’m going to go to church,” as if church is a place you go to. That's not correct. Church is not a place you go to. Church is a family you belong to. Big difference. It's more than a building, more than a service. It is family that we are to belong to.
And so we choose to live in the “spill-over” or we choose to pursue everything that God has to offer us and fellowship is one of those areas that we make that choice. People choose to live at one of four levels of fellowship.
The first level of fellowship is:
1. Membership - Choosing to Belong
That's the most basic level. That means you find a church family and you choose, you choose to get connected to it. Look at what the Bible has to say in Ephesians 2:19.
"You are members of God's very own family and you belong in God's household with every other Christian."
You belong. The Christian life is not just a matter of believing. It is matter of belonging, and you and I must choose to belong. Fellowship begins with belonging, with making that choice. God wants you to identify to make the choice to be a part of His family. When you were born, you automatically became a part of the human race. But you have to choose to belong to the family of God, the church. It is a choice. It is a membership choice.
And it’s significantly more than membership in an organization.
/"so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." (Romans 12:5, NIV)  /
The scripture speaks of membership in terms of human anatomy, one part of the body being joined to other parts to form a complete representation. None of us represent the whole picture by ourselves. To hope that the world can understand who Jesus is by looking at your life alone is a vain hope. Your spiritual influence and effectiveness with your family and friends will be increased as you take your place as a part of the body of Christ.
There are people who stay away from the church because they discover its imperfections. The ability to see flaws and mistakes, the ability to analyze the mistakes of others are not the marks of wisdom – simply the characteristics of critical, detached people. The farther detached we are the easier this becomes. The most critical people in any organization are the most detached. Attendance at any sporting event will quickly reveal that the expertise is in the bleachers. You don’t have to be in shape to be a critic. It is really not even necessary to have ever played the game.
People detach from churches when they discover that they are not perfect. They stop serving and the farther away from the playing field that they get the more critical they become.
It is a mark of immaturity to criticize from a detached perspective. It is a mark of spiritual maturity to learn to love the wrinkled church. God still loves it. There are thousands of good organizations but only one church. He’s committed himself to its preservation and one day a wedding will take place – the bridegroom will claim the church His bride, spotless, wrinkle free. So don’t stand back and throw mud at His Bride. You’re not helping.
Baptism is a symbol, the picture that we belong together in the body of Christ. Look at what 1 Corinthians 12:13 has to say about that.
"This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized. Each of us is now a part of His resurrection Body."
It is a public way of saying, “I am part of a group of believers and I am excited to belong to this group of believers.” Romans 6:3 says it this way:
"That's what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus."
So baptism is a public way of saying together we're proclaiming we died to something; we live to something. We died to an old way of life; we're living to a new way of life.
I guess the best picture I can give you is like the wedding ring of the Christian life. This wedding ring that I am wearing doesn't make me married. Elaine gave this ring to me on the day we were married so I could wear it from that day forward as a visible symbol of a commitment of my heart. That's what baptism is. It is visible symbol of the commitment of a person's heart, saying I’m not ashamed to tell the world that I believe in Jesus Christ.
The second level is taking the next step and going just a little deeper.
2. Friendship – Learning To Share
The Bible says,
“It is not good for man to be alone.”
In other words, we were made for each other. Life is not a solo act. And you need friends. The Bible says this in Acts 2:44.
"All the believers met together constantly and shared everything with each other."
Notice two things: one, you can't develop friendships without meeting together; and two, you can't develop friendships without sharing. Now, the more frequently you meet together, the closer you're going to get. Do you ever see some people that have really deep friendships; they have long-term friendships, 20, 30 years, something like that. And you go, “Man, how lucky.” You’re kind of a little envious. How lucky they are to have a deep friend like that. And I say to you, it is not luck at all. It is a choice.
You choose to develop friendships by making time for them. Do you know why most people are lonely? They don't make time for friendships. They are too busy achieving; they are too busy working; they are too busy doing other things. They are not willing to put the time into it. You have to meet together. You have to get together. And until you start saying this is going to be a priority in my life, you're not going to develop any deep friends. They don't just happen. They happen because you choose to make the time for them. It is not luck. It is a choice. And you can't develop friendships without sharing. It says,
“they shared everything."
Now, those of you who are parents know one of the fundamental lessons children have to learn is learning to share. Every little child has to learn to share. And God says “You know what? In the family of God I want you to learn to share with other believers.” So what are we supposed to share? Well, the Bible is full of instructions on things we're to share as Christians with each other. Let me just mention a couple or three.
ð Number 1, the Bible says we're to share our experiences. Experiences. The Bible says people learn from one other “just as iron sharpens iron." Have you ever heard of that phrase "its wise to learn from experience?” Well, it is wise to learn from the experiences of other people, because you don't have time to make all the mistakes yourself. You see, if everything you learn in life you learn personally by trial and error, you're going to go through a lot of problems unnecessarily and about the time you figure it all out, you're dead. You don't have enough time to learn everything on your own. So God says you can short-circuit and learn a lot quicker if you learn from the experiences of others. Nobody knows everything. You see, we're all ignorant, just on different subjects. So you know some things I don't know and I know some things thing you don't know. And the person next to you knows some things neither of us knows. And the Bible says that you can learn from anybody if you just learn to ask the right questions. So we're to share our experience with others. Think of all the wealth of knowledge sitting here right now in this church family in this service, and how much we could learn from each other if we just spend the time to get together.
ð Second, the Bible says we're to share our homes.
We're to share our homes. The Bible says in I Peter 4:9,
"open up your homes to each other."
The early church met “daily” from “house to house”. Some worry that your home may not be as nice as someone else’s. Does it really matter. They all look the same when you turn the lights off at night and go to bed. It doesn't say if they are really nice ones, open them up. It just says open them up. They don't have to be really nice. It just says open up your home. Why does God say that? Why are we to share our homes? I'll tell you why – because you cannot fellowship in a crowd. You can only fellowship in a small group. Or one on one. We're not going to do any fellowshipping here today. It is impossible to fellowship with this many people. We can worship together. We can celebrate together. We can learn together. But no fellowship will take place in this service.
You're going to walk out of here not knowing anybody better than you do right now. You can’t really determine whether this church is a friendly church or not. It will take further exposure to a group of people in order to make that determination. Fellowship only takes place in the small group. And that's why the Bible says open up your homes to each other. That's where you really get to know people. Did you know in the first 300 years of Christianity, there were no church buildings? All church meetings were held in homes. All of them. There were no buildings. And that, by the way, was the fastest period of growth for the church. One of the reasons we keep saying, “Go get in a small group” is because that's a Biblical principle. Christians are supposed to meet in homes. I read an article the other day. It says they discovered one of the reasons why the sense of community is not very strong in suburban areas. They say, you know, people live next to their neighbors for years and never even know them. They said one of the major culprits is automatic garage doors. Because when you come home, you open up the garage door; you pull in; you close it and walk in your house without ever seeing your neighbor. Before there were garages (and that was before World War II) people actually had to park outside and walk across a big lawn. Nobody has a big front lawn anymore. And so you can see people and you spend a lot of time seeing them, but you don't see them any more. You can drive in and leave, go to and from your house and never see your neighbors. So that's why the Bible says, “Open up your homes.” Do it intentionally.
ð Now, not only do we share our experiences in our homes, the Bible says, number three, we're to share our problems. We're not meant to face our problems alone. The Bible says, “Share each other's troubles and problems.” You know when you share a joy, it is doubled; and when you share a problem, it is cut in half? The Bible says,
“Weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.”
Sometimes in a small group you die of laughter and sometimes you're all shedding a tear. Why? Depends on what is going on in your group during the week. You don't have to fix everybody's problem. God hasn't told you to do that. It just says share them. This means lend a listening ear. You don't have to fix. In fact, a lot of times, trying to fix a problem doesn't help. It’s just sitting there and going, “Boy I feel for you,” “Been there,” “I understand,” “That's tough.” You know, and it is just sharing sympathy and experience.
Now, you're never going to go to this second level of fellowship until you get into a small group. That's why the Bible says this in Hebrews 10:25,
“Let us not give up the habit of meeting together. Instead, let us encourage one another.”
The primary purpose of a group is to encourage each other. And it says, “Don't give up the habit." In a small group, the agenda is people. It is important that people are heard and ministered to. This is far more important than curriculum. If you want to learn and gain information, you don’t need a small group – just a book.
Some people don’t find a good fit in their first attempt at small group attendance. That is absolutely normal. It doesn’t mean that small groups don’t work – it just means that the “make-up” of this particular group is not what you need.
Look for another group or start one yourself. Anyone can lead a small group. You are a facilitator not a teacher as a group leader. It’s not necessary for you to have all the answers. If you did, then it wouldn’t be necessary for others to participate. Often, teachers and preachers make the worst group leaders.
We have groups that meet apart from this program and we need many more to be “born”. Some of you may wish to perpetuate your group after the campaign. That would be wonderful.
3. Partnership – Doing My Part
This is perhaps one of the most significant steps that a person can take relative to their church. You have a place, a role, a contribution to make that is crucial to the health and effectiveness of the church.
You don’t come to a church to sit and soak. I hear some people say that they “watch” church on TV on Sunday mornings and get as much out of it as they might by being there. If church is merely an event, something on your weekly schedule then I can see how this would be true. You’d get the same thing out of watching it on TV as you would by watching it from the pew. And do you know what you’d get from both perspectives? Nothing significant really. You might have nice, fuzzy feelings – it might make you think about God for a minute and you might even think that you should do something nice for someone or read the Bible more. But you can’t experience church by being a “watcher”.
This is a Christian family, God's family. And every one of us has a part. The Bible is filled with the fact that you and I are to work with one another in getting this job done. There are 58 times in the New Testament the Bible says we do it with one another. We serve one another. We love one another. We pray with one another. The Bible even says we have to put up with one another when we're doing all of this. That's how it works together. This is love in action. Not just in words. You see, it is great to share your heart, that's level two. But it is even greater to do your part. That is what level three is all about.
Listen to what the Bible has to say -- in fact, would you read together with me this verse from 1 Corinthians, chapter 3, verse 9.
"We are partners working together for God."
Circle the word "partners." We're partners working together for God. Paul once wrote to some people and said
"we're partners spreading the good news of Christ everywhere."
But in order to be a part, you've got to find your niche, you have got to find out, “Where do I fit, how I do I fit?” The Bible tells us we all have a niche. Look what Ephesians 4:16 says.
“The whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole Body is healthy and growing and full of love."
You have a part to play. You have a part to play in the Body of Christ. And when we cooperate, we get more done together than we could ever get done by ourselves. There is an attitude, a heart attitude that is key to me, to you, to all of us, that we're doing it for Jesus Christ.
Mother Teresa spent her life working, as many of you know, with the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India. And she was once asked, "How do you handle all the death and disease on a daily basis? How do you do the tough things when it comes to serving?" And her answer was, “Every person I bathe, every person I bandage, I imagine seeing the face of Jesus and I do it for Him.” That's the attitude that's behind this. It’s the attitude of Matthew chapter 25, verse 40,
"Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are the members of my family, you did it to Me."
So I encourage you to make this a practical action step this week, if you want to experience a deeper level of fellowship. Look for a practical need in your group to meet this next week, just some practical thing, and watch what it does for your relationship for your fellowship with one another.
4. Kinship – Loving Believers Like Family
Now, the deepest level of fellowship in the family of God is what I call "Kinship." Now, kinship is an old term. We don't use it much anymore. Kinship literally means your closest relationships. It means your closest family. When somebody has an accident, they say, “Notify the next-of-kin”, and they don't mean go find Aunt Ethyl. They mean you find the person they care about most, the person who is closest to them, the one they hold most dearly, you go get the person that matters most to them, and you bring them here right now because they are kin. And the Bible says that's the kind of attitude we should have.
That kinship -- you might write this down -- the deepest level, is loving believers like family; treating and loving believers like they’re family. You're completely committed to them. The Bible says in Acts 2:42.
“They were like family to each other."
God says “Well, we're not just like a family; we are a family.” Romans 12:10 in the Bible says,
"Be devoted to each other like a loving family."
The idea of biblical fellowship is to be as committed to each other as we are to Jesus Christ. That is family relationship. That is kinship. That is saying I’m at the level of being willing to sacrifice for you. You see, many of you know John 3:16, "God so loved the world," but you don't know First John 3:16. That one is just as important as John 3:16. It says this there on your outline,
"We know what real love is because Christ gave up His life for us. And we ought to give up our lives for our Christian brothers and sisters."
This is the deepest level of fellowship; sacrificing for each other. It's the kind of love Jesus Christ had for you. He died for you.
In other parts of the world, believers are persecuted for their faith and sometimes called on to pay the ultimate price for their faith, martyrdom. The church under persecution experiences “kinship” because only those who desire to know Christ without reserve associate themselves with a church. We may fight our battles but we don’t even come close in Canada, to that sort of persecution.
So what takes us to the level of “kinship”?
We go there by choosing to stand with other believers when they are going through a crisis. When everybody else walks out, you walk in; you're there for them in the tough times.
The motto of our church is “loving God, loving people”. This is the essence of the gospel, head and shoulders above anything that you can show me in scripture. If you miss this, you have missed the purpose of your life and I pity you. Life is not about accomplishments. It is about relationships. You were put on this earth to know God and love Him, and to know His family and love them, because that's whom we're spending eternity with. As a pastor, I have been at the bedside of many people as they were dying. I couldn’t count how many bedsides I have been at. In all of those situations where I’ve been there at the side as people were taking their last breath, I have never once had anybody say, “Bring me my diplomas. I want them close to me.” Nobody says, “Bring me my trophies.” Nobody says, "Bring me the gold watch I got at retirement." Nobody says, "Bring me my palm pilot." It is in those final moments they talk about what matters most, and they say, “Bring me my family and friends.” One day, you're going to figure out that what really matters in life is knowing God and having close family and friends. I hope it doesn't take that long. I hope you don't discover that at the last moment of your life. I hope you discover it now and begin to fellowship as God intended for us, because life is all about love.
Loving God, that's called “Worship,” and loving each other, that's called “Fellowship.” The Bible says this in John 13, Jesus said,
“Your strong love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
It wasn't too long after Jesus said this that the Roman Empire was throwing Christians to the lions in coliseums. They weren't very hospitable to Christians for several hundred years. They were putting them up on stakes and burning them and they were crucifying them and throwing them to lions and all other kinds of things. And in that period of time, one of the most famous secular historians, not a Christian, wrote this about Christians: “Behold, how they love each other."
With all my heart, what I want First Wesleyan Church to be known for is not our size, not our sermons, not our singing, not our strategy, not our buildings, but our love. We want people to say, “That's the place where they love each other,” because that's what Christianity is all about, loving God and loving each other.
Do you know what it is that grows a church? It’s not programs or facilities, or productions or money spent on advertising and promotion. I’ll tell you what I believe it is - When people find a church, a place, where there is genuine love, you'd have to lock the doors to keep people away, because people are not looking for religion, they are looking for a family. They are not looking for doctrine; they are looking for love.
And that’s why each of us is so important as we try to build the local expression of the church of Christ. There’s not a person here today who is incapable of love. There is nothing more important than choosing to represent the Savior who laid His life down for us by choosing to love someone else in His name.
How do you know if you're in God's family? How do you know personally? Let me read you three verses that will test if you're really a Christian or not. Listen to this, right from the Bible. 1 John 3:10,
"Anyone who does not love other Christians does not belong to God."
That's the Bible.
1 John 4:20,
"Those who do not love their brothers and sisters, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have never seen."
1 John 3:14,
"But if we love our Christian brothers, it proves that we have passed from death to eternal life."
That's the proof.
The greatest privilege you will ever be offered in life is a privilege of being a part of God's family. You see, God's family is a laboratory for learning to love. Some of you grew up in homes that didn't have a lot of love. And, honestly, you don't know how to love. In fact, I have come to the conclusion after pastoring for all these years; most people don't have the slightest idea how to love. The only love they know how to do is sexual love, romantic love. They don't know any other kind of love. So we have to be taught, and the church (the family of God) is where you learn to love real people, not ideal people. Nobody in your small group is ideal and neither are you. We learn to be real people and to love real people, and that's what God put us on earth to do.
So let me ask you a couple relevant questions: which of these levels of fellowship are you at? Have you even made it to the first one, choosing to belong? Are you still floating around from church to church to church and attend here and attend there? You've never gotten committed.
Which faulty fellowship will you choose to commit to? When will you stop holding the family of God at arm’s length?
Then you need to learn to share. And where do you do that? In a small group. You can’t experience true fellowship with a 90 minute investment on Sunday morning. It’s bad enough o be alone when there is no one to care. It’s far worse to be alone in the midst of a group of people who could actually become closer to you than your biological family.
You don't learn to share in a place like this. Then you need to not just share your heart, you need to do your part. That's partnership. Find your niche. Find your place to give back, to make a contribution. If you're in the family of God, you have some family responsibilities. God expects you to do your part in the family. You don't just slide along while everybody else does theirs.
Then you move to this deepest level. Are there any other believers that know you are devoted to them? That you're going to be there for them in their crisis? Even more basic question is, are you a part of the family of God? You say, “Well, isn't everybody a part of the family of God?” No. Everybody is created by God, but not everybody is a child of God. You have to choose to be a part of God's family. God gave us one condition, the last verse on your outline.
"You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”
You can do that today.
 Peterson, E. H. 2003. The Message : The Bible in contemporary language. NavPress: Colorado Springs, Colo.
 The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Zondervan: Grand Rapids
 The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Zondervan: Grand Rapids