Summary: God puts people into our lives so that we can share His grace with them.
Several years ago the slogan for American Express was that “membership has it’s privileges.” I can tell you that I had an American Express card back then and I’m still trying to figure out what that privileges were. I say that in jest but when it comes to church membership some people think the same thing. They want to know what church membership is, how to be a member, why the should be a member and when this whole idea of being a member of a church started in the first place.
Let’s look at that last question first because a lot of people in our culture misunderstand the Church in the first century and so they make a mistake about the role of the church and what God wants for them in this century. How many people here know someone who says they are a Christian but they don’t need to go to church? I can just worship God in nature, or on the beach, blah, blah, blah. I had one person tell me well pastor you don’t understand the church in Acts met in people’s homes they didn’t go to church like we do today, that came years late, and we don’t need to do that because it wasn’t part of God’s original plan.
Now usually the response is to point out the verse that tells us not to forsake the gathering of believers, or to point out that in the Old Testament the people were commanded to come and worship. Those arguments and others like them are valid but I prefer to tell people who want to argue from Acts to read the rest of the book of Acts and perhaps pay a little closer attention. See we’ve been going through Acts and when we get back to in We’re going to meet a woman named Lydia in a town called Philippi. Here’s what’s interesting about her story for our context, Acts 16:13, “On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.”
Did you see it? Did you see what was unexpected? If not that’s ok because we wouldn’t see it in our culture. But let’s start with where Paul usually went, he usually went to the synagogue on Sunday. But he doesn’t here, in Philippi he went to the river, why. Simply this, there wasn’t a synagogue in Philippi, they didn’t have enough people to form one, so they went to the river. Why did they go to the river, because they wanted to go tubing? No, because when a city did get enough people to build a synagogue in the gentile cities the usually built them just outside the city gates next to a river, or whatever the water supply was for the town. They used that as a marker. So that’s where Paul and Silas went. There weren’t enough men to form a synagogue but that didn’t stop them they talked to the women who were there and Lydia, who was their leader, was converted. Fast forward a few years, Paul is in prison, he writes one of the most encouraging letters in the Bible to a church that was an encouragement to him. He starts it with these words, Philippians 1:1, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons.” He addressed it to the leaders of the church, you know what it takes to have the leaders of a church? A church, the local church has always been God’s plan, even in the book of Acts.