Trinity Baptist Church October 20, 2002
How Christ builds the Church
Designed to Develop
The US has earned a reputation: the land of lawsuits. Only in America would someone spill hot coffee on herself in the car and decide that someone else is responsible. Only in America would someone sue the owners of the World Trade Center because airplanes flew into them and a relative was killed.
One of the craziest suits ever had to be one by two guys against Sears. Seems they decided to together lift up a running lawn mower and use it to trim a hedge. After they cut off a finger or two, they sued Sears because the instruction manual failed to warn: "Do not use mower as a hedge trimmer!!" Probably to protect themselves, manufacturers of power equipment should just put on something in bold letters that says, "do not buy if stupid!" Some of us are so bad about reading manuals that we even have a saying about it: If all else fails, read the instructions.
When it comes to what we call "doing church" we too often fail to read the directions. We mostly just plot and plan the form and function of the church to suit our needs or desires or tradition. Church becomes whatever will meet the need we identify and it’s often determined by the pastor or the other leaders or the charter members or simply the majority.
If that’s our practice at Trinity, we’re ignoring the intended design of the church?s founder -- Jesus Himself -- Who declared in Matthew, "I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." Did Jesus mean what He said--that HE literally would build His Church? Of course He did. As we saw last time, it really is His Church; by commission and by plan.
So, if we’re biblical, we conclude that the Church isn’t a cozy club or comfortable place we can re-invent or re-define for our generation, the Church is a building work of the Son of God, to which He invites us to participate. And if we’re serious about His work of building the Church in our time and place, then we need to closely and regularly examine and re-examine the NT concept of Church, and how Christ builds it. And, we need to realign with His concept.
Let’s begin by thinking about how the Church is defined. In any study you do, how you define terms is always crucial. How does the NT define Church? There are two key ones: they give us real insight into Christ’s vision for His new community. The first one I’ve given you on your outline is the called out people: the Greek word is ekklesia
When the NT refers to Christ’s Body as the called out people, it refers to the fact that part of Christ’s mission on planet earth was assemble a great and distinct community of worshippers ho would be God’s for all of eternity. There is an eternal calling on your life if you’re part of that company.
It means Jesus staked a claim on our lives -- He transferred us from one loyalty to another. We’re called away from allegiance to the world and all the lifestyle choices that that loyalty entails, and we’re called to allegiance to Jesus and His Kingdom. Jesus calls us to buy into His Kingdom agenda as the mission and priority and purpose of life. The Church becomes the visible expression of Christ’s invisible Kingdom, in which Christians become citizens. On thing is clear, when you read about the church especially in the book of Acts: even though the church was just born, it immediately possessed a distinct identity as Christ’s people. People who were part of the movement knew it, and people who weren’t recognized that there was a clear distinct line between the Christians and the rest of the population. Even though many Jews were religious and both Christians and non-Christians still went to the temple and participated in the temple worship (Acts 3:1), there was a crystal clear difference. One key element was that those who believed in Christ were baptized, marking themselves out. Baptism became a testimony that it was keeping the law or good works, but it was faith in Jesus alone as Messiah that gave them a relationship to God.
Called out also means we were called together. When we come to know Jesus Christ, we can’t operate any longer as independent agents. That’s why the second NT definition is used so much. It’s the community of God’s people The Greek word here is koinonia. Community describes the deeply committed relationships of caring and loving each other; it also pictures the commitment Christians need to spur each other on toward spiritual maturity. We’ll see in our passage today the kind of striking and deep commitment to one another that’s was evident in the first church.
The church’s fellowship is described in several figures of speech. Each one reflects the truth that we are part of a unified Body of which Christ is the Head. The church is called - the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2), meaning we were brought together by Jesus, the Good Shepherd; we are led and nurtured as a body by Him. He’s called the chief shepherd and all the other leaders in the church are called under-shepherds.
The church is also called - the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:9); that metaphor refers to the truth that Christ works to purify us for the day when we join Him for eternity. Our response to Jesus as His bride is to submit to Him and honor Him.
A third word picture is -the temple of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:21-22) Like the OT temple became the place where God by His Spirit dwelt, the Holy Spirit in the Church age lives not only in each but He also lives within the Church as Christ’s Body. That word picture breathes some seriousness into how we relate to each other and treat each other and how we treat the fellowship. He is the Holy Spirit who lives in our fellowship.
By definition then, the church is the body of people Christ works to gather on earth. Their purpose is to represent Him, to worship Him, to fellowship together in Him and to spend eternity with Him. But like we saw last time, the church is also the people whom Jesus uses to advance His Kingdom. In other words, the church is to grow. We’ll see that illustrated in throughout the book of Acts. Let’s begin in our passage for today, in 2:41-47 and look at three ways the church grows.
The Church designed First,
1. Christ intends for His Church to grow deep. (2:42)
Let’s jump in at verse 42: the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, sharing in the breaking of bread and in prayer. The believers gave themselves to two pursuits: the first of them is to the apostles’ teaching. The word that’s translated devoted means they persisted in or they continued steadfastly in. . . . They gave time, effort, attention, consideration, effort to the apostles teaching. That would include both the teaching of OT Scripture and the recounting of Jesus’ teachings which at this early point were still only in oral form. They couldn’t get enough of Scripture; they were consumed with getting more and more.
They recognized that the apostles knew what they did because they had heard Jesus personally -- they had spent time with Him, listening to Him, as He expounded the OT and explained the truth of His life and death and resurrection.
And there in the middle of the supernatural events of Pentecost and what followed, the apostles taught God?s Word; they helped the new converts make sense of what was going on and to get anchored in God’s revelation of Truth. Scripture re-molds our thinking. It’s described as a sharp sword that slices into the thinking and intentions of our hearts. Scripture is what individual Christians need to grow deep and it’s what the church as a whole needs to grow deep. Psalm 1 describes how the people of God grow deep by loving and delighting in God’s Word. They?re like a tree that sinks its roots into the well watered soil near a stream of water.
People say, ’"I can’t teach anyone." Or, "I can’t share Christ, I don’t know enough". The application of this verse is "get devoted to and start soaking in God’s Word."
We’ve got more of it than this first church had. We’ve got the NT in written words. The God of the Universe spoke in human language and we have a record we can read, hear, study, memorize and use for meditation.
At the end of 42, we find them also deeply given to prayer. God was real to them, they saw His work and His will through His Word; it was only natural that they respond to Him in prayer. Prayer is talking with God. The early church engaged God in prayer. They didn’t have a special time reserved for a prayer meeting. They prayed whenever they met. They prayed when a need arose like someone getting tossed into prison for sharing Christ. They prayed before they determined who they should send out as missionaries. They prayed over leadership decisions. They prayed for the advance of the gospel.
The Church grows deep through God’s Word and prayer. If you as a Christian, or we as a body of believers want God to sink us deeply into Christ, we will pursue every avenue we can to grow. A little Scripture exposure and a dab of prayer won’t get us there. An intentional soaking in God’s Word, and being given to prayer will. Bible study, the Discovery Studies, exposure in SS, spending time in prayer whenever you’re together, calling some folks over and praying for a specific ministry; those are the avenues God chooses to drive us into intimacy with Him.
By design His church should grow deep.
Secondly, 2. Christ intends for His Church to grow together. (2:42, 44-46)
The Christians knew that God had done, and was doing a powerful and remarkable thing. These verses tell us they spent huge amount of time together sharing in this amazing time.
Verse 42 says they broke bread together from house to house; this is a daily occurrence in this first church; they gave lots of time to just being together. Breaking bread means they shared common meals together -- these were the very first potlucks! -- but they also celebrated the Lord’s Supper together; and they celebrated it from home to home. I have a feeling they weren’t concerned whether a pastor presided or elders serving. What’s going on here in common meals and in celebrating the Lord’s Supper is a heavy emphasis on fellowship with Jesus Himself and with each other. John wrote in 1 John 1:3, we’re telling you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.
The close relational fellowship God offers us as we grow together is unparalleled in the culture. You will never find elsewhere what God offers you in biblical fellowship and community.
They not only shared their homes and their time and their food. Verses 44-45 say they shared their means. This is right after Pentecost; there were thousands of pilgrims in Jerusalem who had come for the feast; lots of them became Christians -- and they wanted to stay and learn more and grow in the new faith; but they had no means to eat, no means to live. So brand-new Christians who lived in or near Jerusalem, those who owned property, or other pilgrims who maybe had carried valuables with them, willing sold whatever they possessed and they gave it to meet the need.
It’s not socialism or communism, this was completely voluntary. It wasn’t socialistic equality, the proceeds got distributed to whoever had needs. The point of the passage is, Christ was at work drawing people not only to Himself, but to each other. He?s forging a new community that exhibits its identity by it loves and cares for its members. Jesus never said, they’ll know you’re my followers if you speak in tongues or preach great sermons. But He did say, they will know you belong to Me by the love you have for one another.
Christ’s church is designed to grow together. The call of Christ on you and on me, and on us as a church is to the kind of community that the culture will notice. Mark it down; you can measure the health of any church anywhere by how well it operates as a family and community. Is the church known by its connectedness? Do people see our hospitality and commitment to spend time with each other? Do people see us doing ministry in and out of our homes? Do we operate like a bunch of independent sales reps who come together for a Sunday pep rally? Or do we exhibit strong ties to each other that reach through every day of the week?
A third aspect of Jesus’ design for His Church:
3. Christ intends for His Church to grow larger. (2:47)
Verse 47: All the while, praising God and enjoying the good will of all the people. And each day, the Lord added to their group those who were being saved. The first two aspects we’ve looked at are a description of health. A healthy body that grows deep in its nourishment; a truth relationship wit Christ, which builds it in strength and health. And a healthy body whose members love and care for each other--that too maintains health in the body.
Healthy bodies reproduce. Verse 47 isn’t a prescription for every church in every place. Every church, even every healthy church, at every time period isn’t going to experience great and phenomenal growth. But there’s a principle here we ignore and overlook. Healthy churches grow larger. People come to know Christ, as the did in verse 47. Healthy Christians reach out, share life with each other, in full view of unbelievers. And unbelievers respond to both the message of Christ and the testimony of community. They want what they see in Christians. And they’re saved. And the body grows larger. Is that just a phenomenon that occurred right after Pentecost, right after all the miracles?
Jump over to Acts 6:7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
Jump on to Acts 9:31 Then the church through Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.
Acts 12:24 But the word of God continued to increase and spread.
Then, Acts 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.
Acts 19:20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
Even a casual reader of Acts concludes that when Jesus unleashed His church in the first century, He designed it to multiply. As we saw last week, He wants more disciples. He wants more followers. Healthy bodies reproduce themselves. A young couple gets married. A couple of years, or 3 or 4 pass and even if you’re not one of their parents you start thinking: when are we going to see a new life? You bring a baby home from the hospital: 21 inches. 10 pounds. Wow, a whopper! But no parent in their right mind would be content if six months later that infant still measure 21 inches and weighed 10 pounds.
But if a Christian never shares his faith we don’t think there’s anything wrong. And if a church doesn’t see anyone come to Christ, we don’t call a church doctor. Christ’s design is more disciples. Disciples in every nation and people group. It’s more small groups. More leaders. More disciplers. More teachers. More of every kind of person and structure that supports healthy growth. Because the founder designed His church to grow.
These are not just basic issues that we can review and then file away for another year or two. If we’re part of the company of the called out ones, we need to get serious with the Designer of the Church and the Designer and Leader of our church. As a Body, we must hear Him. Align with His plan and purpose. And members of a body Jesus is in the process of building, we are invited to join Him. Will you devote yourself to His Word, and to prayer? And to spending quality and spiritual time with others in the Body?
Finally, will you allow Christ to do His work in making Trinity larger? In expanding our vision and our borders? That means He will use us to share Christ. He will use some who have not led a Discovery group or Bible study to do so. It means additional leaders and elders and staff. This issue is not numbers. It’s never a numbers game. It is about Christ right here, right now, building up and building outwardly through a healthy body named Trinity. That’s where we’re headed. Will you join Him?