Monday, May 8, 2017

A Grace Driven Church Part 3 - Affirming in the Body of Christ - Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-33

I began a series of posts a couple of weeks ago entitled A Grace Driven Church. In these 5 posts, I’m sharing with you messages around an acronym of the word Grace. In the first post, we began with the letter G and talked about Growing in the Love of Christ. How that true disciples will have a deepening relationship with Christ that leads to a definite reformation of conduct… Last week, we took the letter R and looked at Reaching in the Name of Christ. How we as Christians need to take a serious view of evangelism and get busy trying to win people to Christ. Over the next 3 posts, we’ll be looking at…

Affirming in the Body of Christ
Caring in the Nature of Christ and
Exalting in the Glory of Christ

Today, as we continue our discussion of being a grace driven church, we are going focus on the area of fellowship. We need to understand how powerful fellowship between a group of Christians can be. Have you ever heard anyone say, “I don’t have to go to church to be Christian?” While technically true, without Christian fellowship, a person with that attitude will literally be like a flower on a plant without water and wither away.

Fellowship is an extremely important part of our church. It is the true test proving whether or not we’ve actually experienced God’s grace. Jesus told us to embrace a type of fellowship that reflects His grace filled love for each of us.

John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 15:12, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

You know I think the heart of fellowship in our church is probably the front hallway. This is where we interact with each other before and after services. It just buzzes with fellowship. Doesn’t it? You can sense our church affirming itself almost when you walk through the door. These verses from Acts 2 and 4 tell us that this first group of Christians put a high value on fellowship. Verse 42 of chapter 2 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship…”

Today, I want us to try and discover the secret to their fellowship. Doing this will help us keep our relationships strong and grace filled. What was is about this early church family that made their fellowship so strong? Notice first with me that churches with great fellowship are…

PLACES OF GROWTH

Acts 2:42 tells us, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…and to prayer.” As Christians, our lives should be marked by the fact that we have a desire to know more of God and His Word and that we are people of prayer.

Within any church…any group of Christians, there are people with different levels of spiritual maturity. Some have just been saved…they are infants in the faith. Others are spiritual adolescents and others have been working at spiritual growth for decades and, as a result, are very mature spiritually. Listen folks… Church fellowship is not just enjoying each other’s company. It is taking our God-given responsibility seriously to encourage each other to mature spiritually.

Listen to what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:11-16, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his 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. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Folks…we need to understand that the church is a place of growth…not in numbers of people but growth in a relationship with Christ. We need to be concerned about the spiritual growth of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to be doing our part to encourage those around us to commit themselves to a deeper relationship with the Lord.

Listen folks…fellowship is a by-product of spiritual growth. If Christians devote themselves to growing spiritually, they will have healthy fellowship. 1 John 1:7 says, “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”

Not only do we see that churches with great fellowship are places of growth, they are also…

PLACES OF GLADNESS

If the church is really the family of God, it should be a place of laughter…a place of joy…a place where people like to go and want to be. In grace driven churches, people love each another. They value and cherish their time together and can’t wait for Sunday to get here. I hope that describes you. We all should be like David who said this in Psalm 122:1, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

Churches with healthy fellowship emphasize the positive not the negative. They focus on what God can do, not what we can’t do…they focus on what’s best in people, not what’s worst…they build each other up, not tear each other down. They have a positive attitude of joy and gladness.

It’s important that we understand that this joy and gladness is rooted in unity. Acts 4:32 says, “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” Christian unity is so important that it was one of the last things Jesus prayed for before he went to the cross. Listen to His prayer from John 17:20-23, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Christian unity doesn’t mean that we have to agree on everything. Listen folks…we are all different. We have different backgrounds, abilities and education so we are never going to be the same. Christian unity comes from our knowledge that even though we are different, we have one thing…the most important thing…in common and that is our relationship with Christ…our mutual acceptance of and dependence on the grace of God.

Now hopefully, we don’t have any of this kind of behavior going on in our church, but did you know that the main thing that will rob a church of its unity is gossip and slander? This is one of satan’s greatest weapons and he uses it to destroy churches. Words spoken behind the back of another Christian will hurt and divide the body of Christ and make it into a place that is not glad.

Folks listen…I’ve told you over the years now that at some point, I’m probably going to say or do something that you don’t like…something that upsets or offends you. I can honestly tell you that this won’t be intentional but it’s probably going to happen. When it does happen, my hope and prayer is that you don’t go out Sunday afternoon and have preacher for lunch. My hope and prayer is that you will come and talk to me about it and let’s resolve it like the brothers and sisters in Christ we claim to be. The reality is if you and I love the Lord like we’re supposed to and love each other like we’re supposed to, there shouldn’t be anything we can’t work out.

To make sure our church is a place of gladness, we need to do everything we can to preserve our Christian unity. So, we’ve seen that churches with great fellowship are places of growth and places of gladness. Notice with me lastly today that churches with great fellowship are also…

PLACES OF GRACE

Acts 4:33 says, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was…powerfully at work in them all…” In other words, grace improved their fellowship.

Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a former marine buddy recently converted to Christianity. His friend said the only thing he missed about his former way of life was the neighborhood bar. He described it as a place where he could go and find friends who would accept him just as he was, listening to his problems in a non-judgmental way.

Keith Miller talks about this in his book The Edge of Adventure. He said this, “The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give His church. It is an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. You can tell people secrets and they usually don’t tell others or even want to.”

Listen…bars flourish not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved and so many seek a counterfeit for the price of a few beers. Now, I am not suggesting that we serve alcohol and set up HAPPY HOUR on Sunday mornings. But I do want us to realize that all people thirst for grace and if there’s one place on this planet where a person should find acceptance and love…if there’s one place where people can come to have their thirst for grace quenched it should be here in church.

1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

Listen folks…we are God’s servants charged with dispensing God’s grace. As Christians, we’ve experienced the greatest thing ever when we received God’s saving grace and it’s our job to share it with the world around us.

Just think for a moment about the words of one of the most famous hymns in our hymn book…

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

Three things enabled the early church to have healthy fellowship. Their growth…their gladness rooted in unity…and their grace. These same three things will help any church…including ours…to have healthy grace-driven fellowship.

Do we want to be a grace driven church? We must never take our fellowship for granted. We must guard it and nurture it.

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