The Unified Mission, Devotion, and Power of the Church – Part 3

What is the Unified Devotion of the Church?

In Acts 2, after Peter’s Spirit-empowered preaching at Pentecost, a multitude of people began to follow Jesus as His disciples. We are told in verse 41 that:

“…there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41b)

We know from earlier in the chapter that those who heard Peter’s sermon were “from every nation under heaven” — verse 8. So a number of the people who began to follow Jesus that day were from foreign countries. I assume that many of them carried the good news of Jesus back to their hometowns and made disciples there. But many stayed in Jerusalem and joined the other disciples. We are told starting in verse 42 what their day to day activity looked like.

The text says,

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

These were the things they were devoted to and unified around. Let’s look at these one at a time.

They were devoted to and unified around learning more about Jesus and how He would have us to live.

Each day they would be taught by the apostles more about God, Jesus, and how they were to live. That wasn’t just an early church practice. We should be unified around the idea of learning more about God, Jesus, and how we are to live as well.

You see, being a member of a church shouldn’t be like being a member of a Country Club. We shouldn’t join for status, connections, or for what we can get out of it. Instead, we join and come to church to help one another become better disciples of Jesus. That should be our focus as a church — to learn how we can better follow Jesus and help others to do the same.

They were devoted to and unified around fellowshipping with one another

As well as we should be unified around fellowshipping with one another. This means that we should be close. We should know what is going on in each other’s lives. How we can encourage and be in prayer for one another.

Even if that is occurring in the community to which you belong, there’s always room for improvement. One way to actively improve fellowship in your Christian community is to pick someone out, it could be anyone — someone you know well or someone you don’t know well, but pick someone out, and invite them to do something with you. Maybe that involves grabbing a coffee or having them over for lunch or dinner one day. When you are gathered together, make it a point to ask them how you can pray for or encourage them.

Now, I know that sounds a little uncomfortable, but if we truly want to experience the level of fellowship Luke is writing about in the book of Acts, that’s something we need to start doing regularly. The easiest way to start is to just do it. So take some time this week to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to empower you to fellowship with others in your congregation, and then invite them to hang out.

They were devoted to and unified around breaking Bread Together

Next, we see that along with focusing on learning what it means to be a disciple and fellowshipping with one another, the early church was also unified around breaking bread together. What this means is that they participated in the Lord’s Supper with one another regularly. The reason they did that, and the reason we should do that, is to constantly remind ourselves of Jesus’ work on our behalf.

When we keep what Jesus has done in front of us, it’s hard to keep sinning against one another and God. That’s because when we are thankful for what God has done for us by sending His son to die on our behalf, we should want to please Him. Not to earn or keep our salvation, but simply as a way to worship Him. So by regularly observing the Lord’s Supper, we should be driven to obedience and unity with one another.

They were devoted to and unified around praying for one another

Lastly, we learn that prayer for one another unified the early church. That’s what we should be doing as well, we should be praying for one another. Not just for each other’s physical ailments, but for one another’s spiritual life. That means we have to be willing to ask others how they are doing spiritually, as well as we have to be willing to tell others how we are doing spiritually. It’s a two-way street and we have to be willing to drive down both sides.

Telling others how you are doing spiritually doesn’t necessarily mean that you are always telling them what’s wrong. While that is not a bad idea. Telling others how you are doing spiritually might also mean that you share with them how God is working in your life for good. By willing to do both, you’re not only setting yourself up to receive encouragement, guidance, and prayer, but you will also be a catalyst to worship, as others are driven to praise God for what He is doing in your life. Either way, we are bringing glory to God, and glorifying God is what our life should be about.

What are the Benefits?

So these are the things we should be devoted to and unified around as a church. Honestly, when we are unified around these things, fights and disagreements will be at a minimum. When they do occur, we will seek reconciliation quickly.

As well as, when we are unified around these things, we will always be on the lookout for one another’s spiritual health. When we see others slipping, we will be in a place where we can pray for and admonish them. Or when we see others doing well, we will be in a place where we can encourage them to keep on keeping on.

Moreover, being unified around these ideas will allow us to be better witnesses to the world because we will come across as a unified and loving family that others will want to be a part of.

Conclusion

But again, we don’t do these things in our own strength, nor do we accomplish our mission in our own strength. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to be devoted to these things and to make disciples. Which means, when we see ourselves or others slipping, we shouldn’t just encourage them or ourselves to try harder. Instead, we should pray that the Spirit would work in our lives, empowering us to keep pressing on as Jesus’ disciple.

So let me encourage you to be faithful to your Spirit-empowered mission — to make disciples and to be devoted to the teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.

Question for Reflection

  1. Are the above a point of unity for your congregation?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon The Unified Mission, Devotion, and Power of the Church

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Why Do We Fight With One Another?

Boxers Fighting

Why do we fight and quarrel with one another? What causes conflict in a community? James addresses these questions in his epistle. He starts chapter four with these two questions,

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?

Background

The churches James addressed were experiencing conflict. Conflict that led to either physical or verbal attacks.

I am sure we have all witnessed this at one time or another in a church business meeting. A passionate discussion ends in either physical or verbal blows. Not what you expect out of a church business meeting, but it happens. Why?

Our Passions are at war within us

James’ letter points to those in the community desiring leadership or teaching positions. Presumable for the power, authority, and influence that comes along with that position, which they could use to satisfy their passions and desires.

Isn’t that true for us as well? We have a passion or desire that needs to be met. Passions that war against us. Passions that win the battle causing us to lash out in sin in order to satisfy them. Passions that lead us to fight with another if they get in the way of us satisfying our need.

James’ insight leads to an interesting question.

If it is our passions that cause conflict, what doesn’t cause conflict?

It’s quite common to blame conflict on our environment. Our upbringing, school district, neighborhood are all said to be the reason for conflict. According to James, environment is not the main reason for conflict. While our environment may make conflict more likely, and addressing it may curb the problem, it is not going to eradicate it. So then, we can’t  ultimately blame conflict on our environment.

Less common, but still used is the idea that evil forces outside of ourselves drive us into conflict. A devil made me do it attitude. Again, while evil forces may be at work on us, they are not the ultimate cause of conflict.

If we buy into the lie that conflict is the result of either environment or external spiritual forces, we will never realize the true problem – us. We are the problem. More accurately, our sinful nature is the problem. James is right. We fight and quarrel because we are sinners, and sinners have passions that are contrary to God’s will.

What is the Answer?

A Savior is the answer. We need the gospel. The gospel is the only thing that will change a corrupt heart. A gospel changed heart is regenerate. It is provided with the ability to choose between right and wrong. It is motivated to obey God, as well as it is empowered by the Holy Spirit. So a gospel changed heart is the answer to killing conflict.

If we don’t turn to the gospel, we will continue to think we are good people, who have just been made bad by our environment or evil spiritual forces. The result will be continued conflict.

Question for Reflection

  1. What do you think? Is my assessment right or wrong?

Resource

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Gospel Witness through Community Unity

Church in the City

John 17 is known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. He prays that:

  1. The Father would glorify Him in His mission (1-3).
  2. The Father would return Him to glory at the end of His mission (4-8).
  3. The Father would protect His representatives in the world (9-15).
  4. His representatives would be holy in the world (16-19).
  5. His representatives would be unified as they are on mission (20-23).
  6. His disciples would join Him in glory (24).
  7. His disciples would live and act as He did when He was in the world (25-26).

Seven things he prays in His High Priestly Prayer. I want us to focus in on His fifth petition. It comes in verses 20-23.

Let’s read verse 20:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,

Throughout history the gospel has been spread, people have believed and passed that message on, and that process has continued all the way up to today, making believers along the way, including many of you reading this right now. With that in mind, the first thing this verse reveals is that Jesus prays not only for His current disciples, but also for us.

The second thing this verse reveals is that Jesus’ disciples are to be on His mission. What does that mission involve? It involves making disciples. How do we best go about calling others to be Jesus’ disciples? The remainder of His fifth petition gives us an idea.

How do we make disciples?

Disciples are made primarily through our verbal witness. The proclamation of the gospel tells others of the hope that is in us. Proclamation, however, is not all that is required. Disciples are also made through our community witness. How? Let’s look at verse 21.

that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

We act as a witness to the gospel by the way we relate to one another. Why? Verse 22 and 23a hold the answer.

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one,

Two things we see here:

(1) True unity requires heart change.

Change which only occurs by the gospel piercing our hearts.

(2) True heart change through the gospel allows us to image or reflect the Trinity for the first time ever.

Imaging the Trinity means that we love one another as the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. It also means that we will be unified with one another as the Father and Son are unified.

The unity we show by imaging the Trinity allows us to act as a witness to the world for the gospel. Look a the remainder of verse 23.

so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

When we are unified with one another, we not only give credence to our verbal witness, but we also act as a witness to a completely different way of life. Life that can only be lived through true heart change by the gospel.

So then, our community witness speaks just as our verbal witness does. One cannot be had without the other. If the community is not unified, then their verbal witness will not hold much weight. If a community doesn’t give a verbal witness, then those around them will not know why they are different. Both need to be present.

Unity takes work

Unity doesn’t come without work. Jesus knows that, which is why He prays His disciples would be unified. The work it requires though is worth it because it allows us to accomplish our mission in the world.

How do we become unified?

(1) We must first allow the gospel to pierce our hearts.

The gospel must change our hearts from a heart of stone to one that is gripped by the gospel.

(2) After that has taken place, we must continue to reflect on the gospel. 

The love Jesus showed us by dying for us must constantly be preached to ourselves. Reminding ourselves of His love, should spur a desire in us to love others in the same way Christ loved us, selflessly.

If everyone in the community selflessly loves one another, we will see a unity, a oneness, we, or this world, has never known before.

Challenge

So let’s love each other like we have never loved each other before, so that we may experience unity as we have never seen before, so that we may be a witness to our community for Christ. That is Jesus’ prayer, and that is my prayer as well.

Resource

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