Sermon Notes – 2 September 2018 – We Love the Church (Vision Series)

Vision Series 2018
Part 2: We Love the Church
2 September 2018 – West Campus

Audio from this sermon is available here.

Intro:

Morning West family. It is marvelous to be with you today. In week 2 of our vision series… “We are the Austin Stone”. Examining four loves that we want to have out in front of us. Four loves we want to be growing in and moving towards.

Started last week with our first love. WE LOVE GOD.
All of the rest of what we cover will be dependent on that first one. It is the necessary prerequisite in order for us to live out any of the others loves well. And none more so than this week…WE LOVE THE CHURCH.

The truth is that the church can be difficult to love, and I mean that both globally and locally. I mean that on a universal level and on a personal level.
Globally we see scandal after scandal and failure after failure. We see political posturing and alignment that the stark and cold light of history has often revealed as aligning with the wrong side. We see abuse covered up and brushed aside and abusers protected while victims are left uncovered. We see financial folly and mismanagement as Christianity embraces empire and Christian leaders toss aside the Sermon on the Mount in exchange for fat camels that have very little chance of getting though tiny eyes of needles. It is a bit of a mess. Timothy Cho tweeted about this, this week and he got a couple of thousand of retweets and responses. He said,

Many millennials don’t leave the church due to “postmodernism,” “liberalism,” or “progressivism.” They leave because of the hypocrisy, protection of power and authority at whatever cost, bullying tactics, and indifference towards suffering and injustice that run rife in churches.

Locally, many of us have personal experiences with churches and the people in churches that have wounded and scarred and hurt. For many of us, we want to love the church as a concept but we are going to struggle to love the manifestation of that concept in the people that God puts around us, because we struggle to love them. I grew up in a church where my dad served as a lay-elder and it was beautiful and rough to watch that at the same time. I watched him come home exhausted from elder’s meetings and counseling sessions, and I watched him guard us against knowing what was going on because he wanted us to love the church. We saw church discipline cases go wrong, attempted church splits, financial scandals…you name it. We also watched him baptize people and marry people and celebrate salvation with people. Churches are glorious messes most days.

The reason for this global and personal difficulty is that the church is not just some physical structure. We know that here because we are in Westlake High School, and we will need to remember that when we move to our new facility. The church isn’t a building. It isn’t purely an organization, but the church also isn’t an ethereal concept or abstract construct, she is at her simplest definition, a people. The people of God. The ones he has called out and gathered together. And that’s where it gets messy, because people tend to be pretty messy. We have a long history that proves that to be the case. There is a 1:1 correlation between people and mess from the first people. The bible does a good job of telling us why. We sin, against God and against others. And so just as sin is added when you get married and have kids, sin is added when you put a bunch of sinners together in a community. If you think about it that way, we are actually doing remarkably well!

So, what we do with this? How do we love this sometimes “unlovely-acting” thing? Do we just distance ourselves from her? We can’t. Eugene Peterson waded into this ages ago. He said,

“There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian…” – E Peterson.

What Peterson is saying and what he so brilliantly explains in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, is that to be saved by Jesus is to be adopted into his new family, and like all families, we may not get along all the time, but we are in the family. “No Christian is an only child” is one of the helpful things he says, and it’s true.

To be a Christian is to have been called out by God, and he doesn’t just call out individuals, he calls out a people for himself. A church. An ekklesia. God’s called out ones. So…to be a follower of Christ is to be part of the church. That isn’t the difficult part. The difficult part is how do we love the church?

I have three things for us to consider today, and my simple hope is just to move your affections for God’s church. To engage your hearts and hopefully to move them a bit so that we will all leave here loving the church a little more than when we walked in.

1. We love the church because she is precious to Christ
2. We love the church because of her potential to display the love of Christ
3. We love the church because of the power she has through Christ

We love the church because she is precious to Christ

Last week, Matt started us off so well by calling us from the Scriptures back to our first love. To love God. Well, one of the ways we display love for someone is that we love the things that they love. And God loves the church. Look with me quickly at Acts 9, where Jesus appears to Saul and changed his life completely.

3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. – Acts 9:3-5 (ESV)

I love this text, I love this moment. Jesus says to Saul that he is persecuting him. But who is he persecuting? The church! But Christ doesn’t see a separation between Himself and His family. He takes that persecution personally. We are hidden in Christ the Scriptures will go on to say and so any attack on Christ’s church attacks Christ.
Have you ever felt this for someone you love? I had a prolonged season of dealing with a very difficult church member once. It was pretty brutal, but I was doing my best to push through it. Until he made some comments about my wife. Why? I adore her, and no one gets to have a go at her. Now, you might go, well that is a bit of a stretch of an illustration, but it isn’t. Look at how Paul speaks of how Christ loves the church. Ephesians 5:25.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  – Ephesians 5:25-27

Christ loves the church, and so gives himself up for her, to sanctify her, cleanse and present her (yes that same her that we have said is hard to love) flawless and faultless on that last day. This is an incredible image. Scripture calls us the bride a few times over here and in Isaiah and 2nd Corinthians and Revelation. Christ’s beautiful bride!
Wanna test a friendship? Tell a friend you think he is awesome but that his wife is a hag. Wanna get in a fistfight that goes on Youtube? Try publicly express disappointment in the appearance of a bride on her wedding day. Try. I have conducted dozens of weddings, and I know for sure that you will get taken out.

If we want to love God, we must love what God loves. He loves the church.
Just quickly glance at Acts 20:28. An instruction to elders in a church.

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. – Acts 20:28

The value you have for something can be shown by the price you are willing to pay for it.
Jesus purchased, ransomed, obtained the church … WITH HIS OWN BLOOD! Friends, we must love what God loves. We must value what He values.

We love the church because she is precious to Christ

We love the church because of her potential to display the love of Christ

We have spoken at length about the ways that the church is failing to live out her call, but what if we stopped for a second and asked, “well…what if she did?” What if she just lived out some of the most basic calls of Christian community? According to Ephesians 3, it is one of the most profound things the world ever gets to see. The context of this passage is that Gentiles and Jews are now in the same community. God has broken down a centuries old wall of hostility and made one new community, united under the banner of Christ’s righteousness. And right here as Paul segues into how they can live that out, he first asks them to consider the cosmic potential of them living that out. Look…

8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 3:8-10

I do love the way Eugene Peterson said it in The Message. Don’t get nervous. It’s not my primary study bible. I like to use it as a commentary of sorts from an excellent scholar and it serves me very well in that space.

Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels! (MSG)

Oh man! When a bunch of people who aren’t like each other manage to get together and somehow love each other, and live together in a community of faith even the heavenly beings are like…WHAT??? That’s insane. In church community we have an opportunity to show off the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ to a dying world and to taunting demons and to watching angels. That’s our stage. That’s what’s at stake. It is a magnificent thing to be part of the display of the manifold wisdom of God!!!

How can we do this? Well, quite simply, the New Testament Scriptures have over 40 “one another passages”, texts that speak of how we are called to treat one another in our called-out communities. We don’t have time to examine all of them today, but Dr. Tim Keller breaks them down helpfully into three categories of communal instruction, namely AFFIRM, SHARE and SERVE. Let’s look at them briefly. Remember, this isn’t just a churchy to-do list, but rather this is a way to display God’s wisdom in the world.

Affirm
1. Affirm one another’s strengths, abilities, and gifts.
• Romans 12:10: “Honor one another”
• James 5:9: “Don’t grumble against each other”
• Romans 12:3-8: Confirm the gifts of one another
2. Affirm one another’s equal importance in Christ.
• Romans 15:7: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you”
• 1 Corinthians 12:25: “Have equal concern for each other”
• 1 Peter 5:5: “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another”
• James 2:1: “Don’t show favoritism”
3. Affirm one another through visible affection.
• Romans 16:16: “Greet one another with a holy kiss”
• James 1:19: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak”
• Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another”
• 1 Thessalonians 3:12: “[May] your love increase and overflow for each other”

Sometimes we view Christian communities primarily as agents of critique rather than places of affirmation. Places where we recognize and acknowledge that God is at work in the lives of other people. That is a beautiful and powerful thing. One more quote from Peterson today and then we are done with him, I promise. But this is stunning.

“A community of faith flourishes when we view each other with expectancy, wondering what God will do today in this one, in that one. When we are in a community with those Christ loves and redeems, we are constantly finding out new things about them. They are new persons each morning, endless in their possibilities. We explore the fascinating depths of their friendship, share the secrets of their quest. It is impossible to be bored in such a community, impossible to feel alienated among such people.”

Share
4. Share one another’s space, goods, and time.
• Romans 12:10: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love”
• 1 Peter 4:9: “Offer hospitality to one another”
• Galatians 6:10: “As we have opportunity, let us do good”
5. Share one another’s needs and problems.
• Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other’s burdens”
• 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Encourage one another”
• Hebrews 3:13: “Encourage one another daily”
6. Share one another’s beliefs, thinking, and spirituality.
• Colossians 3:16: “Teach and admonish one another”
• Ephesians 5:19: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”
• Romans 12:16: “Live in harmony with one another”
• 1 Corinthians 1:10: “Agree with one another”

Serve
7. Serve one another through accountability.
• James 5:16: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other”
• Romans 15:14: “Instruct one another”
• Ephesians 4:25: “Speak truthfully”
8. Serve one another through forgiveness and reconciliation.
• Ephesians 4:2: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love”
• Colossians 3:13: “Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another”
• Galatians 5:25: Don’t provoke or envy one another
• James 4:11: “Do not slander one another”
• Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15: Reestablish broken relationships with one another
9. Serve one another’s interests rather than our own.
• Hebrews 10:24: “spur one another on toward love and good deeds”
• Romans 15:1-2: Don’t please yourself but please others
• Galatians 5:13: “Serve one another”

I honestly don’t know what this little congregation could accomplish in worldly success terms. But I do know that we have the potential to confound the heavenly beings in the way we love one another in community.

Okay…

We love the church because she is precious to Christ

We love the church because of her potential to display the love of Christ

We love the church because of the power she has through Christ

You might be looking around at this point thinking…um, I was with you in all the parts when you spoke about how unimpressive this group is. What do you mean powerful?
God in His wisdom and grace has placed significant power through Christ as the head for significant causes in the hands of the church, both local and global. What kind of power?

1. The power to reach the nations
In Matthew 28, the marching orders of the church were given. Go, to all the nations.
In Matthew 24, Christ promised that will be effective. It will go. Friends, as we grow to love the church, we don’t just mean this community of faith but the billions of believers gathered around the globe today. There is such power in that. Just in our global family of Acts 29, there are over 700 churches spread out across the world celebrating today, praying today, teaching the word today, sharing the gospel with their neighbors today. Doesn’t that stiffen your spine? It does for me. You don’t just have this family. There are billions of us. If that doesn’t embolden you, then I don’t know.

2. The power to push back darkness

We quote it often, but it is worth remembering.

18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

We get to be “colonies of heaven in countries of death”, okay I lied about the last Peterson quote. The gates of hell are doing all they can to keep out the children of light but those rickety gates won’t hold. We are the ones humbly moving forward, making communities better, setting the captives free, bringing light to dark spaces.

3. The power to be part of Christ’s perfecting work
The church is given to us as a gift of God’s sanctifying and protecting work, and it is supposed to be an agent of change and godliness in our lives. That is part of why we do the “one anothers” because they change us and mold us. That is what there is discipline, and doctrine, and community, and accountability. As we live out this way, we grow up and become more like Christ. Look at Ephesians 4.

15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

4. The power to prevail to the end
The gates of hell don’t prevail, but the church will. As frail as this thing has appeared to be through the ages, it just keeps going. Why? It’s Christ’s.

I wanna finish with a prayer that Paul prayed for the church in Corinth. A mess of a church, to be sure, but a manifestation of Christ’s bride. This prayer can be an anchor for us if you are in the church, if you are part of that bride. It is for believers. If you aren’t one, you can become one today. Look at Paul’s certainty.

4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – 1 Cor 1:4-9

One thought on “Sermon Notes – 2 September 2018 – We Love the Church (Vision Series)

  1. Nice one. I’ve started a small church now in Plett, and we’re living this out. It is beautiful.

    Matt 24 is an interesting one to highlight the victory of the saints, but you err by ignoring the “love of many growing cold”, victory is not guaranteed. That said, you may not have had time here or left it out of the notes, it’s been a while since I listened to you speak in real life.

    It’s our 10 year anniversary on 17 Jan, what a testimony to God’s faithfulness. And yes, my wife did look smashing a decade ago, and I’m still a fan today. 😎😊

    I facebook stalk you guys and pray for you often. God bless 👍🏻

    Like

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