Passage Acts 2:43-50
Prior to coming into full-time ministry three years ago, I spent five years working at Merrill Lynch as a broker or financial planner or a great spender of other people’s money. Comparatively, my new day job has been a breeze. I only have to ask for 10% of people’s money and not 100% as was the case before. And on top of that, when the market goes down, I don’t spend all day on the phone keeping people from jumping off buildings. Part of my commitment to my clients was keeping abreast of current economic trends, political climates, and research companies looking for investment opportunities. This is what I loved most about my job. I spent time pouring through reports and spreadsheets looking for companies who were making strides with a new product or a new market.
The first thing I always looked for in a company was what they do. Did they make paper towels or financial products? Did they serve a domestic customer base or was it an international company? For some it was easier than others. Like, when I mentioned the company Kroger, you immediately know who they are and what they do. The same with IBM and Dell Computers. All these companies have defined their reason for existence as groceries or computers. They know what they do, and they work diligently to grow their competencies.
I want to be careful here and make sure you understand that the leap I am about to make is one with a loose association and not a direct connection. The “church” universal also has a reason for existence. Much more broad and deeply impactful that any corporation, institution, or humanity created organization. Would you not agree that we have a distinct call from God and that we are given power through the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s will? The question becomes, what is our call from God? What is it that we do? You ask 100 people inside and outside the church, you will get 100 different answers. Almost as many answers as we have denominations inside the protestant movement of the church. Ever wonder why there are so many denominations? We worship the same Lord and Savior. We agree upon the tenets of salvation being through Christ. We follow the same teaching found in the bible. We have the same apostles as examples of the faith. And yet, conservative estimates put the denominational number at over 22,000. Couple that with Roman Catholic denominations and you have close to 30,000 distinct worshipping communities. Sounds like the tower of Babel to me! The point I am trying to make is that many times, the reason the church exists is not so easy to discern with all the babbling going on.
We must understand what it is that God calls us to if we ever have a shot at fulfilling it. Before we go on a trip, we find out where we are going and how to get there. We need to take a few moments to get a lay of the land and discover together what it is God has called us to do and how we are to go about that call.
Common sense tells us that a stream is purest at is source. Fortunately for us, the source of the church is Jesus Christ and therefore we have the purest source possible to learn from. Therefore I only think it appropriate that we begin the discovery process by looking at what Jesus says to his followers.
NAS Luke 10:27 And he answered and said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
The place to start, in my opinion, is with the Great Commandment found in Luke 10:27. We as individuals exist to Love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. We also exist to love our neighbors. We exist in essence for others. The church is one of the few organizations who exists solely for those outside its walls. This is a difficult message to hear for many of us. Aren’t we suppose to take care of one another? What about me and my problems or needs? Can I tell you something that really gets me angry? Wireless telephone companies. They offer all these great deals to NEW subscribers and then leave paying customers like me out in the cold! I pay their bills. I use their services. I keep them in business, and then they turn around and repay me by giving away the same service I use to others for a much lower price. Boy do I feel better getting that off my chest!
There have been those in the church who feel the same way. We have been the faithful supporters from a prayer, financial, and attendance perspective, and how we are rewarded is by the church changing in order to be more “seeker” sensitive or “outsider” friendly. The church needs to be very sensitive to this issue. I have seen too many people hurt which is not at all the purpose of the church. My answer is that we do exist for those outside of our walls, and how we reach them is through those inside the walls.
Eph 4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
It is my intense belief that if we take care of those inside the church, all other things will fall into place. We become other sensitive by becoming within aware. By understanding our own needs, issues, and being accountable to one another, we are able then to reach out and include those around us. Hence membership in a local church becomes so much more than a calling card or social status. American Express says that membership has its privileges, so does membership in the local church. We are privileged to serve God and one another. We join together in order to become stronger in order to reach out wider and more deeply in our community and world.
Okay, so we the church exists for God and others. Easy to say, harder to do. The next question thefore is “How is it lived out?’ What are we called to do within the life of the church? I am so glad you asked.
Matthew 28:18 “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Jesus explicitly tells the disciples which is the basis for our instruction to “go and make disciples.” Matthew 28 tells us that we love God and our neighbors by sharing God’s redemptive story. St. Francis of Assisi said that we are to “preach the gospel at all times, and use words only when we have to.” We do this by living Christ-like lives, faithfully teaching Scripture, and inviting people to join us. The “church” term we have for this is EVANGELISM. God could have chosen any way to reveal himself to humanity. And his primary way is through the church. More specifically, through the people who make up the church. Our lives are the very story God uses to bring people into the saving knowledge of His Son Jesus Christ. Remember, membership has its privileges. We are priviliged to be the story through which God reaches the world. A few people will read the bible, lots of people read our lives.
It is my belief that evangelism happens as we personally grow closer to the image of Christ or become his DISCIPLES. The 1st century Jew had a good understanding of being a disciple. One that we could take and learn from. Like other rabbis of his day, Jesus had disciples called talmidim, devout followers who were probably in their mid-teens. A talmid followed the rabbi everywhere, often without knowing or asking where he was going. He rarely left his rabbi’s side for fear that he would miss a teachable moment. And he watched the rabbi’s every move, noting how he acted and thought about a variety of situations. Talmidim trusted their rabbi completely. They worked passionately to incorporate the rabbi’s actions and words into their lives. The disciples’ deepest desire was to follow their rabbi so closely that they would start to think and act like him. Jesus’ twelve disciples ultimately succeeded in becoming like their rabbi: Their missionary efforts changed the world, and most of them gave their lives in the process. The end result was to become a Disciple in order to reach others. That was the highest calling. Not knowledge for knowledge sake, but becoming identified with the Rabbi in order to continue his mission.
The command to go also leads us to another purpose of the church and that is MISSION OUTREACH. Matthew 25 says that when we offer a cup of water on behalf of Christ, we are serving Christ. By serving Christ we are meeting needs and God uses us to impart Grace to those in need. We are called to go beyond the walls of the church and seek out relationships that allow us to be the hands and feet of Christ to a world that is hurting.
So far we have seen that the we love God and others through EVANGELISM, DISCIPLESHIP, AND MISSIONAL OUTREACH. Are there other ways we can love God and others.
NIV Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The passage in Acts 2 shows that God works through the church in our FELLOWSHIP. The Greek word in this passage which is translated fellowship is Koinonia which has many meanings. The one prevalent here is a sharing almost partnership type of existence between the believers. The Acts church was one community and one body in both spirit and resources. They shared all they had from meals to resources and were willing to give to anyone in need. In the end, we exist as a church to take care of one another. To walk through life and share both valleys and peaks. The expression goes that a grief shared is half the grief and a celebration shared is double the celebration. Think about that. We insulate one another during our down times as well act as an accelerant during the blessed times. In so doing, we love God and one another.
In addition to being a family, the church exists to WORSHIP God. Verse 46 says that the Acts church met daily in the temple courts for times of worship. Don’t miss this: many of the early church were not Jews by birth. They were gentiles and proselytes who accepted Christ. It was these three groups which came together and formed a worshipping community. They gathered daily to praise God for all that was going on in their midst. One of the primary purposes of the church is to worship God. In so doing, God is honored, we are transformed, and the world around us can view the redemptive story of God.
EVANGELISM, MISSIONS, FELLOWSHIP, DISCIPLESHIP AND WORSHIP; not in any particular order but as a complete whole are the foundations of church activity. We exist to love God and love our neighbor and we do both of these things through these five activities. By focusing on these areas, we are faithful to God’s call on our personal and corporate lives. By focusing on these areas, God’s plan for redemption is carried into the world. And I can’t think of a better way to spend a lifetime, can you? Amen.