Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on June 28, 2015
Open your Bibles to Acts 2:42-47. Today we will be examining the life of the Church. The reason for this message is because of our upcoming membership class that begins next Sunday night at 6:00 p.m. Like I often say, I have no desire to hide the ball in regards to my purpose when I preach. My purpose today is to persuade you, through God’s Word, that Church membership is Biblical and crucial. With that said, let us read our text, pray, and see what God wants to tell us today.
One of the many reasons that I love God and His Word is because there is simplicity in following Christ. God does not operate in shades of gray, but in black and white. For example, when we read the Bible we see comparisons of life and death, heaven and hell, good and evil, light and darkness, truth and lies. God is a God of definitiveness. This is also true when it comes to his people. We see this very clearly in the Old Testament. God had a chosen people, the nation of Israel, and God went to great lengths to distinguish his people from the other nations. For Israel, God ordained their difference through location, circumcision, eating, washings, and sacrifices. God wanted it to be clear who were his people and who were not. God's desire for distinction has not changed. God still want's a clear display of who are his and who are not.
The first time the word Church is used in the Bible is by Jesus in Matthew 16:18 when he says, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The second time the word Church is used is also by Jesus and he says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
So what does Church mean? The Greek word for Church is “ekklésia.” This word is a combination of two words, “ek” which means “out from” and “kaleo” which means “to call.” So the word means to call out from. The context that this word would have been used is to describe someone calling people out so as to assemble. For those who are object oriented, picture my kids, Julian, Ezra, and Alexandra out playing in my backyard with the neighborhood kids. I stick my head out the door and says “Parsons kids, it is time to eat. Come inside.” My three children hear my voice, turn their heads, and come inside and my family gathers around the table and we eat. This is the word Church. It is a “called out assembly.”
So the word Church lines up with what we talked about already. God desires there to be a distinction between his people and those who are not his people. He is calling his people out of the world so that they assemble. And we see this word, Church, the called out assembly, used time and time again to describe the people who gather together. In fact, we looked at it last week in 1 Corinthians 1:2.
However, here is the problem, in America there is this belief that you can be a Christian and never commit yourself to other Christians. Christians everywhere claim to be followers of Christ, but they never display being a called out assembly. Instead they look just like the rest of the world and rarely, if ever, connect with other Christians. However, to be fair, this is not a new problem that is specific to America.
However, is being at Church every Sunday the end goal? Is this what Christ meant when he said, “I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail?” Is Jesus just a glorified Principal handing out perfect attendance badges? Of course He is not. However, many of you act that way.
Week in and week out, you come in these doors as if you are attending a dentist appointment. You don't want to be here, but you see it is a necessary evil. You sit, you listen, you leave. Next Sunday, you do the same thing, you sit, you listen, you leave. Is this what Jesus called you into, a waiting room full of casual acquaintances waiting for your number to be called? Once again, of course not. So what should the called out assembly look like? We find the answer in our text for today.
Our text this morning is a picture of the first Church, the first “called out assembly”. These were the followers of Christ right after Pentecost, so there were about 3,000 plus followers of Jesus, and what do we see them doing? Neglecting each other? No. We see them assembling. In fact, we see radical assembling. Verse 4 says, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes.” It was just about Sunday's for these 3,000 people, every single day they they committed themselves to being together.
I want you to take a second and think about this. These people are not fictional characters. They are real people, with real lives. They had families, they had jobs, they had responsibilities just like you and I. However, when Christ called them out of the world and into his Church, they re-oriented their life around their new family. They made sacrifices, changed schedules, they did what it took to be a people.
How rare is this? So often, gathering with your spiritual family is the first thing to go. It takes a back seat to sports, vacations, work, and even sleeping in. Any nominal excuse is enough for us to avoid being with the ones we claim to love.
This was not the case for the early Church. They took commitment seriously. And think about how this daily commitment would have effected those watching from the outside. I am sure that people took notice of the day after day togetherness of the early Church. I can almost imagine the comments, “Your going to their house again? Weren't you just there last night? What is so great about them that you have to always be with them?” And you know what? This is exactly what Christ wants. Listen to Jesus' prayer in John 17:20 the night that he is arrested before his crucifixion.
So what does this commitment of being together look like? In our text we do not just see a togetherness, we see a devotion to fellowship. The world fellowship is koinónia (koi-nō-nē'-ä ) which means a partnership, a participation, a communion, and sharing with each other. Which fits perfectly to the actions we see described in out text.
Once again, is this you? Do you hold on to your things, your money, your home tightly or loosely? Perhaps the most stinging text for Churches today is found in Matthew 25:31-46 where Jesus is talking about the final judgment.
And if that is not enough, the early Church didn't just have a commitment to be together and they didn't just have fellowship, they were devoted. The Greek word for devoted is proskartereó (pros-kär-te-re'-ō ). This means to be continual, to persevere, to prevail, to endure, to stay in a fixed direction. The first Church to ever exist was intentional about their relationship with their brothers and sisters in Christ. It wasn't something that came and went, they were steadfast in their community of believers. It was not as if they were their today and gone tomorrow, they could be relied and counted on.
Which leads me to Church Membership. Church membership is an intentional, steadfast commitment to a specific group of people. It is a declaration to your spiritual family and to yourself that you are committing your life to your brothers and sisters in Christ. That you are willing to jump in the trenches with others to learn, break bread, pray, and praise God. Church membership is about saying, that you will orient your life around others, changing schedules, giving financially, sharing resources, sacrificing for those whom you love. You ware chosing to participate, partner, commune with the people sitting next to you week in and week out.
However, it is not only about giving. It is also about receiving. Church membership is about a mutual commitment. Not only are you saying you will pour yourself out for others, but you are saying you need people to pour themselves out for you. Church membership is a humbling experience, for you are admitting that you can't do it on your own. You are saying you can't afford to be causal about your walk with Christ. You are admitting that you need your family and you are giving them permission to love you, day in a day out.
In light of what is going on in America right now, there may not be a more important time then now for brothers and sisters in Christ to band together in a deeper level then just showing up at the same time in the same building. Persecution may be right around the corner. The enemy has been emboldened, and it is moments like this that we need a family to be committed to watching our backs as Satan prowls. Therefore, I hope that if you are an attender of Cornerstone, you will consider making the next step to partner with those sitting next to you, to fight this fight of faith together.
And imagine if we actually did it. Imagine if we at Cornerstone Church were all in when it came to following Christ together. Imagine if we partnered side by side in our brothers and sisters lives. What would happen? Perhaps the headlines in America this week would have read a little differently.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on May 3, 2015.
Open your Bibles to Philippians 4:2-3. Before we start I want to express how important those first few words are in doing what we are doing, that being the preaching and hearing of a sermon. If you are visiting, or if you are somewhat new to Cornerstone, you should know that the aim at Cornerstone Church is to the pursuit of the knowledge of God through the study of His Word. Week in and week out, we do the same things, we open up the Bible and look at what God has to reveal to us.
For those who attended Secret Church last Friday, I loved that David Platt started by saying that he is not an authority figure on any of the topics that he addresses that night. His only authority is the authority of the Word of God. This is my mindset each week in preparing the sermon. And this is why I start most, if not all, of my sermons with open your Bibles. Today we are going to be examining two verses. So let us read out text, pray, and examine what God has to say to us.
One requirement of an Elder of a Church, and by Elder I mean Pastor, is to be on guard against footholds that Satan may grab hold of within our congregation. Every Church has a weakness, if not thousands, Cornerstone Church is no different.
Upon thinking about our family, one weakness that I believe we may have is theology. Let me explain. Theology is the study of God. It is the pursuit of knowledge of who God is. The way we do this, as I said earlier, is that we open up the Bible to see what it says. Not only do we do this on Sunday, we do this on Wednesdays, Friday, Tuesdays, Saturdays and any other day of the week that fits. We are a Church that values studying God’s Word.
Having said that, theology is not an end in itself. The study of the Bible is not the goal. As we saw recently, the goal is Christlikeness. This is the prize that we are striving for is to become like our Master, Jesus. So like Jesus, we are not to be only thinkers, but doers.
So what does this have to do with our text today? In today’s text we see theology applied. By that I mean that we see Paul implementing what he has already taught previously in his letter to the Philippians.
Distraction of Disunity
Last week we talked about standing firm in the Lord. This led us to talk about the issue of standing firm against what? We concluded that the “what” was the schemes of the devil.
Why am I saying this? Because, like Paul, I want to bring this issue of unity into our Church. We at Cornerstone are still in what I believe is a honeymoon period. We are a very young Church. And right now things are exciting. We are growing in our love for the Lord, we are seeing authentic pursuit of God’s glory, we are seeing real transformation, and it is contagious. Things are good. But we are naive to believe that things will always be this way, for we have an enemy. He is lurking around, trying to find a foothold into our church, and by foothold I mean you or me, or a future attender. Satan will attempt to destroy the work of God at Cornerstone Church through the people of Cornerstone Church.
Satan’s common scheme is to create clicks, and disunity, and discord, and factions, and arguments and wars. And through these wars, he wants to take down the whole ship.
Will Satan tempt? You bet. But what causes the quarrels and the fights is YOUR passions, YOUR desires, YOUR covetousness. The problem is that you and I and everyone who walks in these doors is a sinner and we are all vulnerable, just like Euodia and Syntyche. Don’t forget these two women were active in the ministry. Paul says he labored side by side with them in the faith of the Gospel. But now, because of their self-centered flesh, they were no longer side by side, but toe-to-toe in disagreement. No longer were these two women focused on the mission, but instead they were focused on their passions.
Now what would happen if this disagreement would have continued unaddressed? Would time heal all wounds? Absolutely not. Most likely what would have happened are sides would have been taken. The poison would have been like leven, starting small, but working itself through the entire piece of dough. This disagreement had to be address.
This is where most people, and most Churches fail. A majority of people know there is a problem. They see the problem. They may even talk about the problem, but they never address the problem. They just let the wound fester, if you will. Why? Because there is a lack of courage and a lack of leadership.
Paul recognized that something had to be done. He wasn’t about to let their argument wreck things the Church from inside out. He was going to take action. However, here was the problem, Paul was in prison. He was not able to help firsthand. He needed to recruit someone. So he recruits the True Companion.
The Greek for companion is Syzygus. In fact, many of your Bible may have a footnote next to the word companion that tells you this. The reason for this is that there is a debate as to whether the Syzygus is used by Paul generally to refer to anyone of that nature, or if he is actually using a persons name that matches the action he is requesting. I believe that Syzygus is actually the persons name. I will even take it a step farther, I believe this Syzygus is an overseer for the Philippian Church.
Why? First, because Paul addresses this letter to the overseers and deacons in the opening of the letter, Philippians 1:1. Second, because this is exactly what an overseer should be doing. An Overseer, or elder, of a Church should be constantly on guard for anything that may cause potential division in the Church. When he sees this divisions, he must take action before it is too late. Once again, I think Churches have failed miserably at this, and it appears the Philippian Church had as well.
Too often Pastors are weak. We worry about filling seats on Sunday, weekly donations, wanting everyone to like us, not rocking the boat, or not getting fired. So because of this, we don’t like to get our hands dirty, we don’t like to get in the middle of things, so we instead stick our heads in the sand. This is the exact opposite of what we are called to do. Pastors are called to protect the Church, to stand on guard against strife and division. We are to jump in the trenches right along side each one of you to help in the midst of your sin. I wonder how many Church splits could have been prevented if Pastors would have done their job. If they would have had the courage to love others more than they loved themselves.
Thankfully, for this Church Paul intervened, and addressed the problem and urged Syzygus to help these two ladies out. So this is my exhortation to all of you. If you see me more worried about my skin, then your hearts, you need to confront me. If I am failing to do what I am called to do and protect the sheep, then you call me out and come and speak with me face to face. For I know that I am a sinner and I am prone to wander, and I need you to help me fulfill my role. Second, in this room I am hoping that we have a handful of future elders. Men, if you can’t see yourself confronting people about their sin, then you are not called to this position. To be an Elder is not for the faint of heart. It is hard, for you never know how your help may be received.
Agree in the Lord
Which leads to the final point, and perhaps that most important. How do you help? What is the answer to the division, what is the answer to the disagreement? The answer is “Agree in the Lord.”
This is where we should all be listening. Up to this point some of you may be thinking, what an irrelevant message. I don’t care about church roles. Well you should, but in case you don’t, this message is for everyone.
The details of the disagreement between these two ladies is immaterial, for the problem is not found in their positions. THe problem lies in their hearts. These two ladies are sinners. Yes, they are Christians, but they still struggle with their flesh, their sin. And this is the root of all disagreements on the face of this planet. This is why wives and husbands argue, this is why parents and children argue, this is why democrats and republicans argue, this is why everyone argues. We are all sinners. Each one of us act like little kings and queens demanding that every little desire of our heart be fulfilled. If it doesn’t happen, we fight, just like we talked about before.
The only solution to the perpetual war, is to crucify your flesh, submit, and let Jesus be your Lord. Now don't miss that word, Lord. To let Jesus be Lord means to lay down your life and let him call the shots. To let him control your life. To pursue his will, not yours.
These two women were too focused on their will, and it was destroying their relationship and would potentially destroy their entire Church family. This is true for every single one of us. If we focus on our wills and our desires we are guaranteed to make a wreck out of our life. Don’t believe me, just look around. The one and only solution is to let Jesus be Lord. Now some of you may be saying, but that doesn’t sound fun, to let Jesus control my life. Let me ask, are divorces fun, are Church wars fun, are kids that hate you fun, is bitterness and unforgiveness fun, is destruction fun? No. What is fun is unity, togetherness, peace, love, harmony, and these things can only be found in making Jesus the King of your life.
Friends, we have to get this. God has created this life to flourish only in Jesus Christ. No other way will produce the joy that your heart longs for. So, the next time you feel your selfish desires start to take root, pick up and axe and cut it out, and humble yourself before your Lord Jesus Christ.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on March 15, 2015.
Open your Bibles to Philippians 2:25-29. Today we continue our journey through the book of Philippians and we find ourselves at a section that, oddly enough has played a substantial part of my life now for the last four years, for today we will be looking at a man by the name of Epaphroditus. With that said, let us read our text, pray and get into the Word.
Today, we are now going to examine another person within the Body of Christ, Epaphroditus. This man, Epaphroditus, is only mentioned in the book of Philippians. Some argue that Epaphras mentioned in Colossians is the same person, but there is nothing to support that conclusion except the similarity of their names. Because of this, not a lot is known about Epaphroditus. However, here are some things we do know. First, his name is Greek and it comes from the worship of Aphrodite, a Greek god. His name literally means “Devoted to Aphrodite.” From this we can assume that his parents, when Epaphroditus was born were pagans, worshipers of false god’s. He was therefore most likely a first generation Christian. The second thing we know about Epaphroditus is that he lived in Philippi. He was a true Philippian. Philippi was a city, or Roman colony, in Macedonia, which is modern day Greece. There is not a lot that is known about Philippi, except that it had a very small Jewish contingent. The reason we know this is because when Paul first visited there, there was no Synagogue. A Synagogue was needed when there were 10 Jewish men in the town. This is important because we can get an understanding that Philippi was Biblically illiterate, meaning that they wouldn’t have had a lot of knowledge about the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, etc. They wouldn’t have been exposed to the foreshadowing of the coming Messiah.
Having said that, this was not an obstacle for God. Remember the background story of the Philippians. God gave Paul a vision to go to Macedonia and preach the Gospel. Paul went there and preached the Gospel to Lydia, then to the Philippian jailer, and from that point the Church was born in the midst of this pagan, unreached Roman colony.
Somewhere in-between Paul’s first arrival in Philippi around 50 AD and the writing of this letter around 62 AD, Epaphroditus hears the message of Jesus Christ and repents and places his faith in Jesus and follows Him. When Epaphroditus becomes a disciple of Jesus, he does what all Christians should do. He begins fellowship with other believers. Epaphroditus is a member of the local Church in Philippi. We can see this in verse 25 when Paul says, “your messenger and minister to my need.” Whose messenger? The Saints in Philippi. Epaphroditus was a representative of the Philippian church. Used by the local Church to minister to Paul.
The next thing we see is the Epaphroditus not only had a local church Body, but he had great affections for his local Church. Look at verse 26, “for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. “ The word in Greek is epipotheó, which means to yearn, desire, or have great affection for. We see Paul use this word in 2 Corinthians 5:2 to talk about an inward groaning to dwell in heaven. Epaphroditus was not home-sick as much as he was Church-sick. Now I want us to recognize something. This yearning for them is a yearning to be physically with them. Epaphroditus wanted to see them, hear them, touch them, and smell them. He wanted to be in their physical presence. This is a real love, a love that is dormant in some Christian’s today. A number of Christians would rather stay at home Sunday morning then see their spiritual family. This is not good. This is not how God designed his Church, to live independent of each other. He designed his church to be interdependent. Listen to what Jesus says in John 13:34-35.
We must remember the core of the gospel. God sent Jesus to die, so that we can be reconciled to him, so that we could be in his presence forever. The heart of God is epipotheó, a yearning to be together. If we truly have the Spirit of Christ in us, we should likewise have this same yearning, just like God, and just like Epaphroditus.
So why is Paul writing about Epaphroditus? As I said earlier, Epaphroditus is a messenger and minister to Paul. What does that mean? If you look ahead to Philippians 4:14 you see what Paul is talking about.
The Church in Philippi decides to provide aid to Paul, to support him in his ministry, not just once but ongoing support. Most likely this support would have been monetary gifts, but we can't be for sure. The next issue becomes who, who will take this aid to the front lines where Paul is located? Who will be the bridge between the Church and the unreached?
Once again, we don't know how it came about, but we do know that it was Epaphroditus who accepted the task. Now what I am about to say is completely outside the Biblical text, but I would like to imagine that Epaphroditus volunteered for this mission. In fact, I like to imagine the Church gathering and discussing the monetary collection being made, and the long journey between Philippi and Rome, a distance of 800 miles. I like to imagine that they would have discussed the reality of being away from family and friends. I like to imagine that they would have discussed the physical demand of such journey. I like to imagine they discussed the risk of persecution. And I like to imagine that when they asked for volunteers, the Church was silent. That is until the silence was broken by a man's voice saying, “I will go.” At this moment, I picture the entire congregation turning and looking at this simple, yet humble Christian, Epaphroditus, as he steps forward again, and says, “I will deliver this gift to my brother Paul”.
At this point, if the Philippians Church is like the others Churches that we see in the book of Acts, most likely the Church would have brought him forward and they would have prayed for him and they would have laid hands on him, and then the Church body would have sent him.
Like I said, this is what I imagine it to be like, perhaps it wasn't like this at all, but make no mistake, Epaphroditus willingly accepted the task to be a vessel of aid. He filled a very important role within the Church, delivering aid to their beloved Paul, and most likely he was also the one who returned with the original draft of the book of Philippians in his hands.
The effect that this act of risk taking love had on Paul was strong. For Paul calls Epaphroditus his brother, fellow worker, and fellow soilder. I want to spend the rest of my time, briefly talking about these three descriptions.
There is perhaps no greater expression of intimacy between two men, then to call another man your brother. This expression is one that does not come from the head, but from the heart. It is description of togetherness that is not surface level, but one that is soulful. Every time I think of brotherly affection, I think of David and Jonathan, King Saul's Son. They had a strong bond between the two of them, that was forged by God.
I worry, however, that for many of you would not volunteer. Your life is too precious to you. You like your comforts. You like your picket fence, American Dream. Helping people is just too messy, it is too dangerous. Listen to what John says in 1 John 3:17-18.
Which leads me to Paul's next description of Epaphroditus, fellow worker. This is a common description of certain men in Paul's life. He uses this phrase “fellow worker” in Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philemon, and Thessalonians. The sad part is that it was commonly used by Paul, but it is not commonly practiced today. Very few Christians in American could be rightly called a fellow worker. American Christianity has become consumer oriented. We have become fat and lazy. We barely lift a finger in the spread of the Gospel. Instead of obeying the Great Commission, we leave that in the hands of pastors. Shame on us! Let us heed to the words of Jesus who in his parable of the talents said this to the servant who failed to use what the Master had given him.
Lastly, Paul's final description of Epaphrodits is fellow solider. I truly believe this is a primary way that we must understand our lives as followers of Christ. Too often we live our life as if everything is ok. Everything is not ok! We are at war! Satan hates you. He has declared war on Christ and war on God's creation. When you chose to follow Jesus, you didn't just sign up for heaven, you enlisted in God's army. An army sent behind enemy lines to rescue POWs held captive by the power of Satan. We are to be using all of our resources to battle the enemy. In Philippians, we see Paul leading the attack, Timohty watching his back, Epaphroditus feeding the front lines, and the people back home leveraging all their resources to provide aid. Each person was playing a crucial role in pushing back the forces of darkness.
Once again, is this how you live? Are you living with a war time mentality, or are you living as if this world is at peace and everything is going to be just fine. Folks, we need to wake up. We need to recognize that Hell is real. Satan is real. And that God has left us, His Church, to set captives free. We must be about His work and fight the fight of faith and partner with our brothers and siters in the spread of the Gospel, just like our brother Epaphroditus.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on March 8, 2015
Turn with me in your Bibles to Philippians 2:17-24. Over the last several weeks we have been unpacking what it looks like to be a disciple of Christ. We have seen that the life of a disciple is a life of progress, a life of working out, a life of sanctification. The end goal of this journey for a disciple is for us to look like our Rabbi, or teacher, our Master, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Who we are told in verse 8, “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Today, we are going to examine two disciples in the midst of their journey of sanctification, Paul and Timothy. So let us read our text, pray, and get to work.
When Paul found Timothy, we are not sure how old he was, but most people believe him to be in his late teens or early twenties. However, at that age Timothy was already a follower of Jesus Christ. We are told that the Christian brothers in Lystra and Iconium spoke well of Timothy. We don’t know all the details but we can piece a few things together. We are told in 2 Timothy 1:5 that Timothy’s grandmother and mother were both believers in Jesus Christ. Paul says this in his letter written to Timothy:
I want to spend just a brief second to encourage parents and grandparents. Your role in your children and grandchild’s life is crucial. You are to be like Lois and Eunice. So many “Christians” are utterly failing in this area of their lives. God has given you a child to steward. He has give you this Child for the chief end of glorifying Him and enjoying Him. Therefore, the first responsibility you have as a parent is to introduce your child to his or her Maker., and then teach them about Him The only way this is done is by opening up the Bible. This should be of first importance. This is more important than gymnastics, or baseball, or boy-scouts, or even school. From the moment they are born until the Lord returns, you should be constantly pointing them to Jesus Christ.
Timothy was a product of this type of child-rearing. And because of this, when Paul first encountered Timothy, he knew instantly that Timothy would be an asset to the team. So what did Paul do? He invited Timothy to join him in his second missionary journey.
What is amazing is that it appears that Timothy agreed without hesitation. At least, if there was hesitation, the Bible is silent on it. In fact, Acts 16 is amusingly nonchalant about Timothy leaving his home, his comforts, his friends, his girlfriend, his mother and grandmother, and his dreams.
When I was 18, I have to admit, nothing like this was on my radar screen. The only thing I thought about was going to college, finding a wife, getting a job, and pursuing the “American Dream.” I don't recall one time asking God, what do you have for me? This was not the mindset of young Timothy. Timothy was not focused on the things of this world; he was focused on the things of God. And when the call came he was ready, and he sacrificed all that he knew and followed Christ right out of his town and into the mission field.
In between that moment of Timothy joining Paul and the writing of this letter to the Philippians approximately 13 years had passed. In those 13 years Timothy was fundamental in the operations of the ministry. He was Paul's apprentice, his right hand man, his apostle in training. Timothy was a crucial part of the planting of numerous Churches, including Philippi. He was regularly used by Paul to strengthen existing Churches, such as Thessalonica. In six of the 13 letters written by Paul, Paul indicates that Timothy is right alongside him in the ministry. This is true as Paul writes the letter to the Philippians. We saw this in the very first line of the letter to the Philippians, “Paul and Timothy, servants [doulos] of Christ Jesus.”
The bond between Paul and Timothy was a beautiful one. You can see it in the words of Paul in our text today. Verse 20 say, “I have no one like him” and in verse 22, “how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.” What amazing complements from the Apostle Paul.
As we have discussed many times before, the Apostle Paul not just anyone, he was the greatest follower of Christ this world has ever seen. He wrote 13 of our New Testament books. He was God’s chosen light to the gentiles and was the first to take the gospel message to the European Continent. He was one of the few people who have ever existed that performed actual miracles, and even raised people from the dead.
For a lot of us, it is hard to relate to Paul. We hear about how God chose him, and used him, and then we look at our lives and they are drastically different. At times, it is hard to relate to Paul. That is not the case for Timothy. He was a young man in a small town, whose mom loved Jesus and wanted the best from him. He read his bible and cried out to Christ for forgiveness of sins. He then plugged into his local church and started to love people with the love of Christ. One “random” day, Paul showed up and invited him on the journey of his life. This is the story that most of us can relate to. Can all of us be Paul's? No, not in one sense. But can we all be Timohty's? You bet.
So what was so great about Timothy? What made him so great in Paul's eyes? Was it his oratory skills? Was it his ability to lead people into powerful worship? Was it his cutting edge church plant strategy? No.
So let us ask the question, what is a drink offering? The first place we see a drink offering mentioned in the Bible is Genesis 35:14 when God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. However, where we see it more prominently is the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. First in Exodus 29, then in Leviticus 23: and again in Numbers 15:1-10.
It is most likely that this is what Jesus was referring to when he implemented the Lord's Supper in Matthew 26:27-28, “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of thec covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Paul was following in the footsteps of his Savior, for he was pouring himself out for many, and Timothy was doing the same. Both of these men were Christ centered, which translated to them being other oriented. They were willing to give up everything, including their own lives so that others would know the wonderful treasure of knowing Jesus Christ. They lived their life poured out, constantly emptying themselves for the faith of others.
How foreign is this concept to many of us. We have turned Christianity into another commodity to be consumed. We walk into Churches demanding a certain level of catering. Each Sunday morning is evaluated in accordance to how well the service fulfilled our needs and desires. Is this the aroma that you want to rise to the nostrils of our God?
Church is about loving God, and loving others. These are the two greatest commands, and Jesus says if we get in line with these two commands, then everything falls into place. Too often we turn our Christian walk into loving ourselves. However this flies in the face of what we are told it means to follow Christ. Jesus tells us that when we choose to follow Him, we are to die to ourselves.
Instead of being self-interested, we should be eagerly pouring ourselves into the lives of others. We shouldn't look at people in this Church as means to ends. We shouldn't see them as an end in themselves. Like Paul and like Timothy, we must be willing to go to them, to encourage them, to love them, and to die for them.
I hate to end on a sour note, but I could not escape feeling the need to call to our attention the words of Jesus when it comes to living selflessly. These are the words of Jesus regarding judgment day.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on February 15, 2015.
Open your Bibles to Philippians 1:1-11. Today the title of my message is “The Joy of Christian Unity.”
As we sit here today, we have an enemy, and not just any enemy, but the most powerful created being in the Universe, Satan. In Isaiah 14:12, Satan is referred to as the Day Star, son of Dawn. In Ezekiel 28 he is described as signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. In Heaven, he was the guardian Cherub before his fall. Because of his great beauty he became prideful and He attempted a coup. His desire was to exult himself above the Sovereign God. For the first time in Heaven, there was a break in harmony.
This obviously did not work out well for Satan, for he was cast out of Heaven by God. Jesus speaks of this in Luke 10:18. With Satan’s fall he took with him 1/3 of the Angels. Once on the Earth, he makes his first appearance in the Garden of Eden. What is he attempting to do? He is attempting to achieve more followers. He is successful in convincing both Adam and Eve to listen to him and not listen to God, and in that moment everything changes. He creates division between God and man and the tranquility of the Garden of Eden is transformed into shame, guilt and separation. And at that moment for the first time on Earth, there is a disruption in the harmony of Creation.
From that point on Satan wonders the Earth like prowling lion looking for people to devour; whether that be Job, Israel, Jesus, the Aposltes, the early Church or Cornerstone Church. Prior to Jesus’ crucifixion Jesus spoke to this reality. Jesus prays this:
From the beginning of the Church, Satan has hated its existence. He hates Christ, he hates his bride, he hates its mission, he hates its harmony, and he will do anything and everything to create discord. Cornerstone Church is not immune to Satan's attacks. In fact, I believe we are actually at high risk of attack. Why? Because we are a threat. As I stood here a few weeks ago, I rejoiced in the prayers that I heard come from our congregation, prayers of gospel orientation, Satan fumed. He hated every prayer request that came out of your mouths. Not only that but he hates mission trips, Bible studies, and discipleship classes called multiply. And don't think for one minute that he is not looking for a foothold for division.
And Satan will do it like he always does, with whispers of temptation. He will appeal to your selfish desires and your self interests. Perhaps you will start to be bothered by certain people, certain songs, certain decisions, certain conversations. As God told Cain before he killed his brother Abel, “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you,“ the same is true for all of us. So the question I have is when that day comes, if it is not already here, will we follow Cain's lead and throw stones at our brothers and sisters, or will we head God's warning that he gives us today in his Word?
What is Christian Unity?
Let us now turn our attention to the question, what is true Christian unity? Let's start with what Paul and Jesus are definitely, not talking about. The unity we find in John 17 and the unity we find in the letter to the Philippians is not the same unity that we see in the fallen World. They are diametrically opposed to each other. The Unity of the World is a unity of rebellion, a rebellion against God.
If I were to chose a word for our generation, I would chose the word of tolerance. The way in which this word is being used and understood in our current culture is to advocate the acceptance of another sin. It is the “don't judge me” mentality that has infected the minds of our messed up western culture. It is a cry not to interfere with my transgressions. It is a mantra of “you sin they way you want to, and I will sin the way I want to, and we will be unified in our desire to sin without boarders.” It is a unity that we find in Sodom and Gomorrah. Were those two towns unified? Absolutely, the were unified in their wretchedness. This is not the unity of the Bible.
What is the unity we find in the Bible? The unity we find in the Bible is not a unity of self interest, it is a unity of self-sacrifice. It is not a unity of rebellion, it is a unity of obedience. Let us look at verse 3 in our text.
The greatest picture of this self-sacrifice is non other than Jesus. Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. This sacrifice was more than just death, for everyone dies, and some even die for others in a heroic manner. Jesus' sacrifice was far greater, for He is far greater. Jesus gave up the Glory of God and came to Earth. His stepping down into the story was an infinite step. His humiliation of taking on the form of man is something we will never know the depth of, because there is no depth. His sacrifice is literally immeasurable. Jesus said it well when he said that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. This is infinitely true with this life that is laid down if the Author of Life. Why did he do this? For two reasons, so that you will be forgiven and because His Father asked him.
And this unity of self-sacrifice, obedience and love is a unity that God draws us into, and Christ achieves for us. Don't forget what Jesus prays to His Father in John 17:
Standing Firm and Participating in the Spirit
How on earth are we to achieve this? Is it simply a sermon? Let us look at two verses.
We are commanded to be one. This command is out of our reach, at least on our own. This request can only be achieved supernaturally, specifically by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us. We must be swept up into the Trinity and participate in the Unity that already exists. There is only one way to achieve oneness and that is through the One Spirit. The spirit who, also perfectly sacrifices, perfectly obeys, and perfectly loves.
As I was preparing this week to preach this text, John MacAruthur provided a good picture of Unity in relationship to the Holy Spirit. He said there are two ways to attempt to achieve unity, I would actually argue there are three. The first way we have already discussed, it is the unity of inclusion, no borders, no rules.
The second way is a unity of external pressures. It is the unity of hallow religion. The unity that focuses on works. It is a unity of the Pharisees. It attempts to place everyone inside a predefined box, whether they want to be in the box or not. It is the unity of Islam, Mormonism, and unfortunately Roman Catholicism. This is not true unity, it is a mirage of unity. Not a unity of love, but a unity of burden. No one wants to be in the box, but they feel like they have to.
True unity is not a box you are thrown into. True unity is a force you are drawn to. True unity is like a magnet. Something inside of you is drawn to this magnet. The magnet is Christ and the force inside of us is the Holy Spirit. Each one of us drawn to the same Person, Jesus, by the same force, the Holy Spirit. True unity is not religion, it is a loving relationship with Christ. Our oneness is a product of Christ in us, and for that we rejoice.
This sermon was supposed to be preached two weeks ago, but because of the snow it is today's message. This delay has turned out to be a great blessing to me, for I was able to experience a unity in India that was breathtaking. They did not have logos, t-shirts, mission statements, or statements of faith, etc. They had one thing, an intense love for Jesus Christ. It was this love for Christ that was the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and it was what touched our heart the deepest.
We have the same Holy Spirit inside of us, therefore, let us then lay aside our sin and our flesh and lay down our lives for each other, so that we can display the harmony of Heaven to the ears of this World is discord.