In What Type of Community Must the Church Live? – Part 2

The community represented in Acts 2 reminds me of an illustration I recently read in a book. The author spoke about the giant Redwoods just outside of San Francisco in the Armstrong Redwood National State Reserve. These Redwoods extend skyward over a football field in length. They have stood for centuries despite heavy storms coming through the region. The way they have been able to face storm after storm after storm without toppling over has to do with their root system. When you read about their roots, you learn that they are only about 12 feet under the surface. While 12 foot is not shallow, it doesn’t seem deep enough to hold a tree 100 or more yards in height in the ground against fierce winds. On it’s own it probably wouldn’t. But the giant Redwoods aren’t standing on their own. If you were to scrap back the earth, you would see an intertwined network of roots. The Redwoods are able to stand because they live in community with one another. In other words, they depend on one another for strength. What they couldn’t do on their own, they are able to do in community.  So that’s how they have been able to stand for 100’s of years despite the storms Mother Nature throws at them.

Likewise, the only way we are going to be able to endure the storms of life and thrive as God has intended us to is by living in authentic and interdependent community with one another. In other words, our spiritual roots must not just extend deep but also wide. We must be connected with and depend on our fellow believers around us. If not, we aren’t going to stand when the storms of life come at us. Instead we will fall. We need one another. We need to live in authentic and interdependent community with one another.

What does that look like live in authentic and interdependent community?

II. What does it look like for us to live in interdependent community? (vs. 44-47)

Starting in verse 44 we read,

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47)

What I want to draw your attention to in these verses is the word “together”. It appears in verses 44 and 46. While this word is translated as the same word in English, it’s actually two different words in the Greek. As you can guess, these two words mean two different things.

In verse 44, the Greek is epi and it has to do with physical location. What that tells us is that these early Christians lived in the same place.

A. They lived in close proximity to one another.

This wasn’t a small community. In verse 41, we learn that 3,000 people were initially saved at Peter’s preaching during Pentecost. Some, I presume, went back to their towns, but others stayed in Jerusalem. Along with those who initially believed, we also learn in verse 47 that others were being added to the church each and everyday. So this was quite a large community of Christians living together with one another. I’m not exactly sure what that first community’s living quarters looked like. But what I do know is that they sold their possessions and moved so that they could live in close proximity to one another.

Now, I don’t think this means that we all have to sell our houses, secure a plot of land somewhere, and build our own community. Although, I know some of my church members wouldn’t be opposed to some folks buying and building across the street here, since they have land for sale. While they will gladly sell you a plot of land, I don’t believe that’s what Acts is teaching.

Acts is mainly a descriptive, not a prescriptive text. In other words, more often than not it tells us what the early church did and not necessarily what we must do. I believe that is the case in this text. God through the writing of Luke is calling us to do something but it’s not to move on to the same plot of land together. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with that. There are families in our church that do live on the same plot of land. If anything that can be very beneficial. I’m sure the families here would agree. But that is not what God is calling us to do — that part is descriptive.

That, however, doesn’t mean God isn’t calling us to do something. We have the book of Acts for a reason even if it is written in more of a descriptive fashion. What I believe that we, as 21st century Christians, are to take from this is that:

B. The church we are involved in and its members should be local to us.

In other words, it should be in the same community in which we live. We should be able to “run into” other church members while we are out and about.

That means then that we shouldn’t be members of a church that is located outside of our community just because it is the popular church in the area or we like the speaker. No, we must live in proximity to those with whom we attend church. That makes sense if we are going to genuinely devote our lives to one another. That’s hard to do if we don’t ever see one another. Or if it is a burden or hassle to get together with one another. So we must live in close proximity to one another, just as those in the early church did. In other words, the church we attend must be local.

That idea that we must be a part of a local church gains even more traction when we consider the second “together” used in these verses. It is found in verse 46. It is the Greek word homothumadon. Literally this word means to have the same fiery passion. It’s to be intensely unified with another like fans who cheer on their home team.

I know most of you in Decatur like football. Even if you don’t, being from Decatur, you probably still attend the Homecoming festivities — the parades, pep rallies, and the game. Those who attend those activities don’t sit there half asleep. They engage, they cheer, they root for the home team. If you were to take a step back and get a birds eye view of the stands, especially if Decatur was driving down the field for the winning touch down, you would see a fiery passion, a sense of unity among the fans. That fiery passion, that unity that draws you together is the idea that this word is trying to convey. This is why some translations translate it as “one accord.”

But this word doesn’t just carry the idea of being in one accord with other spectators at a sporting event. It goes much deeper than that. It carries the idea that we are to be together, in one accord with one another, on a deep spiritual and emotional level. What this word tells us then is that:

C. We are to live interdependently.

Living interdependently means that we are together in both proximity and in dependent community.

Think about the example of the Redwoods that I opened with. They exist in proximity to one another, as well as they depend on one another. They live in interdependent community. That’s how the first church lived. That’s how we are to live as well. 

Now, living in interdependent community of course means that we live in proximity to one another. But:

Interdependent community takes us much deeper than proximity.

Even though proximity is associated with interdependent community. To a certain extent living in proximity is easy to attain. All it takes is for us to live in the same community and attend the same local church on a regular basis. Proximity is really nothing more than seeing one another, saying hey, shaking hands, sitting in the same Sunday School class and sanctuary together. So achieving proximity is really not all that difficult. But it is the first and a necessary step to living in interdependent community.

That tells us, then, that

We can’t just stop at proximity, we have to keep going until we also are living lives that are depending on one another for growth and godliness.

We need to get to a place where we believe that we need each other in order to grow in Christ, that we need more than just Jesus, a Bible, and a quiet a place. Don’t get me wrong, we need time alone with Jesus. We need our time in the Word and in prayer, but we also need one another. We have to recognize that or we will never live in interdependent community with one another. We will never see the value of asking someone else to pray for us. We will never see the value of asking another to hold us accountable. We will never see the value of getting together with one another in Bible Study. We will never see the value of serving one another by using our spiritual gifts.

So we must get to a place where we believe that we need one another in order to grow in Christ and accomplish our mission as the Church.  I’m not talking about a physical need. Certainly, we need others to help us with things. We need people who are willing and able to cook meals for those who can’t do it on their own. We need people to go and fix things at other people’s houses. We need others to give us a ride at times. We need each other physically.

But we also need to go deeper than that, so that we recognize the fact that we need each other spiritually. The first church saw that need, and that’s what drove them to sell everything, to move in with one another, and to gather together on a daily basis to not only fulfill the physical but the spiritual as well. They saw their need for one another. If we want to be a growing vibrant church that is making disciples, we must see that need and we must allow others to meet that need.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do we see a need for one another? 
  2. Are we willing to be open and transparent so that others can fulfill that need? 

Next Time

Next time, I’ll focus on how we are to live in interdependent community with one another. 

Resources

Post developed from my sermon In what type of community must the church live?

In What Type of Community Must the Church Live? – Part 1

The community represented in Acts 2 reminds me of an illustration I recently read in a book. The author spoke about the giant Redwoods just outside of San Francisco in the Armstrong Redwood National State Reserve. These Redwoods extend skyward over a football field in length. They have stood for centuries despite heavy storms coming through the region. The way they have been able to face storm after storm after storm without toppling over has to do with their root system. When you read about their roots, you learn that they are only about 12 feet under the surface. While 12 foot is not shallow, it doesn’t seem deep enough to hold a tree 100 or more yards in height in the ground against fierce winds. On it’s own it probably wouldn’t. But the giant Redwoods aren’t standing on their own. If you were to scrap back the earth, you would see an intertwined network of roots. The Redwoods are able to stand because they live in community with one another. In other words, they depend on one another for strength. What they couldn’t do on their own, they are able to do in community.  So that’s how they have been able to stand for 100’s of years despite the storms Mother Nature throws at them.

Likewise, the only way we are going to be able to endure the storms of life and thrive as God has intended us to is by living in authentic and interdependent community with one another. In other words, our spiritual roots must not just extend deep but also wide. We must be connected with and depend on our fellow believers around us. If not, we aren’t going to stand when the storms of life come at us. Instead we will fall. We need one another. We need to live in authentic and interdependent community with one another.

What does that look like live in authentic and interdependent community?

I. What does it look like for us to live in authentic community? (vs. 42)

Authentic is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. You have authentic clothes, shoes, bags, drinks, coffee, stores, etc. It seems that everything and everyone wants to be authentic. But have you ever thought about what it actually means to be authentic? When you look that word up in the dictionary, you’ll find that one of the definitions is genuine, which is  how I’m using authentic here. As Jesus’ disciples, we are to be genuine.

A. What does it look like for us to be genuine?

In Acts 2:42, we read,

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

This verse tells us what it means for us to be authentic. Looking at it in more depth, the first thing we encounter is the idea of devotion. Devoting ourselves to something means we approach that activity with an intense effort over a sustained period of time.  We are told in verse 42 that the early church in Jerusalem were devoted to several things.

B. To what were they devoted?

They were devoted:

  • To the Apostles teaching
  • Fellowshipping with one another
  • The Lord’s Supper
  • Dining together
  • As well as praying together.

These were things, the activities they were devoted to. Their devotion to these things allowed them to carry out the mission Jesus gave them — to make disciples. That tells us, then, that making disciples requires more than telling others the good news about Jesus, or urging the pastor to do that. I mean, certainly we need to tell others about Jesus, and we need to encourage our pastor to do the same. Paul does tells us in Romans that others aren’t going to believe unless they hear, and they aren’t going to hear unless someone tells them. So we we must be about the business of speaking the gospel.

But speaking the gospel is only step one in the disciple making process. There are other things that we need to do in order to make disciples. We see what those are in this verse. But here is the thing, we can’t do those things unless we are in community with one another. Not just community that leads to business connections, social activities, or cultural approval. No, I’m talking about real authentic community where we are genuinely sharing our lives with one another and we are devoted to one thing — accomplishing Jesus’ mission.

So those who are authentic disciples are not just in it for themselves. They genuinely care about the lives of those around them. They genuinely want to see others built up in the faith. They genuinely want to use their God-given gifts to minister to one another. There is not an ulterior motive.

So when you think about your church involvement: Is it authentic? Is it genuine? Are you here because you are devoted to your growth, the growth of others, and furthering Jesus’ kingdom? Or are you here for another reason? If we are going to grow as a church and impact Jesus’ kingdom, then we have to be here for the right reason. We have to be authentic disciples, who are devoted to one another.

Question for Reflection

  1. Are you are a disciple that’s devoted to others in your church?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon In what type of community must the church live?

Why Shouldn’t We Change the Gospel? – Part 4

The gospel was being distorted in Galatia by a group called the Judaizers. Essentially they were teaching that the Gentiles had to accept circumcision alongside the message that Jesus was their Lord and Savior. While it was a small change, it was still a change. A change that made all the difference. Remember the gospel tells us that we can do nothing to earn our own salvation, and here the Galatians were being taught that they had to do something.

There are a number of things we can add to or replace the gospel with, but doing so changes and distorts the gospel so that it’s no longer good news. It is just another form of works based salvation labeled as the gospel. When we change the gospel today, we are essentially committing the same error as the Judaizers in Paul’s day.

But we shouldn’t change the gospel. Why is that?

Why shouldn’t we change the gospel? (vs. 3-8)

As I have already alluded to:

(1) Changing the gospel makes salvation impossible.

If we are forced to rely on our own works, we’ll never experience salvation.

When I was in college, I let my credit card get a little bit out of control. Nothing too crazy, but it wasn’t something I could pay off while I was in college. I just worked part-time at a climbing wall. It was a fun job, but it didn’t pay a lot, so I ended up graduating college with some debt. Now, I didn’t keep that debt for long. After I got my first job out of college, I paid it off quickly.

We often think of salvation like that. Like it’s a debt we have to work off by doing good works. If we do enough good works, God will forgive us and we will experience eternal life. But that’s not how it works. God doesn’t accept our works as payment towards our debt. He only accepts the work of Jesus on our behalf.

Paul makes this clear in Galatians 1 when he says,

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” (Ga 1:3–4)

You see, it was Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf that gave us peace. It was His sacrifice that delivered us. Not our works. That’s the case because that’s how God designed it. Notice that Paul says that this is “according to the will of our God and Father,” Since God doesn’t change, the payment He requires doesn’t change. So, if we change the gospel to a works based system of salvation, we make salvation impossible because God doesn’t accept our work as payment towards our debt.

(2) Changing the gospel leaves us with a disturbed conscience

Starting in the middle of verse 7 Paul says,

“but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (Ga 1:7b)

The idea here is that changing the gospel doesn’t help us instead it hurts us. Paul tells us that these folks are troubling the Galatians. It troubles them, it troubles us because a works based system produces emotional distress. It makes us uneasy because we don’t know where we stand with God. We know that’s true because when you talk to folks who are caught up in a works based system you hear them more often than not say something to the effect of: “I sure hope I have done enough.” The point being, they don’t know if they have done enough. They just hope they have done enough, which means they are left in limbo, always wondering if they are good enough. That affects us. It affects us emotionally producing a disturbed conscience.

But as Christians we don’t have to worry about where we stand. If we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are God’s children. We will experience salvation instead of eternal damnation. We can be sure of that because Jesus’ work is enough. It has satisfied God’s wrath, so we don’t have to worry. Nor do we have to live with a disturbed conscience, but those who change the gospel do.

(3) Changing the gospel means we aren’t delivered from bondage.

In verse 4, Paul tells us that Jesus

“gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.” (Ga. 1:4)

If we add works to the gospel, that means we don’t understand or believe the gospel. We aren’t trusting in Jesus as our Savior, which means He hasn’t delivered us from bondage. Since we can’t deliver ourselves, we remain in bondage. Satan remains our master and we his slaves.

(4) Changing the gospel means that we are taking worship away from God.

In verse 5, Paul tells us that our salvation should result in God’s glory forever and ever. But if we make salvation a work that we do, we steal God’s worship away from Him. Instead of it being about God’s grace and sacrifice on our behalf, it’s about our work. What we do. Our ability to muster the effort, to crack the code of salvation. When we think like that, we’ll find that we start praising ourselves for what we’ve done, instead of what God has done in our lives. So changing the gospel steals worship away from God.

(5) Changing the gospel means that we will face a curse.

In verse 8 Paul says,

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Ga 1:8)

The idea here is that those who change the gospel will face a curse, and that curse is eternal damnation.

Conclusion

We must see that changing the gospel isn’t a good idea. It might be tempting because we often think we have to do something in return for what we are given. But that’s not so with the gospel. It’s a gift of God that’s freely given. Nothing is required of us. We should rest in that understanding. If we don’t salvation is impossible, we will most likely experience a disturbed conscience, we will continue to live in bondage, we won’t give God the worship He deserves, and ultimately, we will experience eternal death instead of eternal life.

While change can be good, when it comes to the gospel, it’s not. What we need to do, then, is rest in the biblical gospel, trusting in God’s wisdom for salvation.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you see why changing the gospel is not a good thing?
  2. What are some other reasons we shouldn’t change the gospel?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon: Why shouldn’t we change the gospel? You can listen to it here.