Our new series is called “Church on Purpose.” As Christians, we are called by God to be the Church. Which means, we should know the Church God is call us to be and be intentional about being that Church. And if we are truly going to honor God in this new movement He’s doing through the Global Methodist Church that He has allowed us to be a part of, we should fully understand what our roles are and how to be the Church. How to be the Church is one thing I believe that has been left out of church teachings for many years. I believe that’s one reason many have fallen away from the church.
Many believe you can be the Church without going to “church.” That’s a half-true, meaning it’s only partially true. Yes, we should be the church outside the four walls sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and His love, but we all also need the church body to help us grow and continue to be the Christ followers God calls us to be. The journey to grow in Christ is taken through the local church. God’s design.
A few weeks ago, we defined church membership, and I quickly gave you a list of main points of what a church member is and what the expectations are that God designed for us. Over the next several weeks, we’re going to take some time to look at these in more detail.
An Attending Church Member, A Serving Church Member, A Giving Church Member, Praying Church Member, Witnessing Church Member, Unifying Church Member
If you are not currently a member of YSGMC, you may be thinking this isn’t going to have anything to do with you. Or maybe you are a visitor today and you think you came on the wrong Sunday and we’re talking about something that doesn’t involve you. But it absolutely does. If you are a Christ follower, then it involves you. If you haven’t committed to this particular part of the Church, the hope is as you grow in Christ, you will commit to some part of Christ’s body because that is how God designed us.
Church is not an extracurricular activity. It’s not a bonus to your week. Church is an important and vital part of our faith journey. And that’s because the journey to grow in Christ is taken through the local church.
The majority of the New Testament was written about, for and to local churches. From Acts 2 through Revelation 3, that’s 23 books out of 27, it is all about the local church. The book of Acts gives us a glimpse into the Holy Spirit’s work in over 18 towns. The apostle Paul wrote letters to specific local churches or to leaders of local churches. These letters account for nearly half of the New Testament. The final book of the Bible, Revelation, notes the spiritual condition of the seven churches in Asia.
Do you get God’s point? Local churches are important. Being a Christian outside the fellowship of a local church is not a biblical option. There is no biblical plan for growing us as Christians outside of the local church.
I said this last week and want to say it again to emphasize the point. Our main focus in this church is not to build up our membership so it looks good on paper. Although numbers do help to measure if we are healthy church, that is not our main focus. Jesus is. We are way more interested in serving Jesus by making disciples for Him and walking the faith journey together in support and love in honor of Him.
According to scripture, church is a gathering of Christ followers where we worship the One True God, serve each other and those outside the church through Him, where you can be filled and blessed by the gifts of others, and where we discover what gifts the Lord has given us and how you can use those gifts to build His Kingdom.
When we become Christians, when we are born again, we become a part of a great family of believers. We call other Christians our brothers and sisters in Christ because we are in the same family. We’ve become children of God.
We are now members of the universal Church, which includes all believers down through the ages, but our connection to the universal Church is intended to be through a local congregation. We are not “born again” into isolation.
The Christian life is a journey of spiritual growth not taken alone, but in the company of other believers. Sure, we practice some spiritual disciples on our own such as prayer and scripture reading, but the assumption throughout the New Testament, from Jesus and His apostles, is that we will continuously and regularly gather with a local congregation for worship, growth, service, giving, and accountability.
Growing in Christ essentially means growing in our commitment as church members. We are a part of the body of Christ. We cannot separate our connection to the head, Jesus, from our connection to the rest of His body, the church. If we are fully committed to Christ, we will be fully committed to the local church. The moment our commitment to the local church starts to fade, our growth in Christ fades as well.
This week, we begin with looking deeper at unity in the church. Simply put, a unified church is driven by love. Unfortunately, churches can have the wrong definition of love. Churches can be united around the wrong things. Churches can be unloving and defined by disunity. So how do we know if we are unified in Christ and showing love in a way that honors God?
17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus.
In other words, be what you are. The church is most unified when the members live out who they are. If you are a Christian, then you should live and love like a Christian. You are saved, so live like you are saved.
Unity and the message of the gospel are inseparable concepts. The most unified churches are focused on the gospel. The healthiest churches inward are focused outward.
Ephesians 4:2-3 brings out this concept, and the passage records a critical lesson.
2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.
Unity is something that we have to seek, but it really should come naturally if we are all focused on the gospel. Uniformity is forced upon you. It’s like when a private school requires all students to wear the same uniforms, this uniformity doesn’t necessarily produce unity. The same is true for sport teams. The uniform is a good reminder of being on the same team, but the uniform alone cannot produce unity. The team has to put effort into working well together, being unified. I don’t know of a church that has a specific dress code, nor would I want to. We are not all going to start dressing alike. You are made to be the unique you and God expects you to be you, but God also demands unity in the church.
God’s Word and God’s mission should be the unifying force of every church. Seeking unity is critically important. Seeking unity is an act of love. I realize not everyone is easy to love. The toughest people to love are the best opportunities to love like Jesus.
I recently heard a story on a podcast from Church Answers. The pastor was sitting at the bedside of a church member who was dying. He stayed with the man for hours until he passed, singing hymns and reading scripture. Afterward, the man’s son pulled the pastor to the side and asked him why he did it; how could he do it. Why did he sit with this man and help him through this part of life when this man treated the pastor so terrible? He talked poorly about pastor, criticized him immensely, made life hard for him, yet the pastor was there for him in his time of need. The pastor replied by saying, “I am honored to serve Jesus through serving this man.”
That’s the kind of love we are supposed to have in the church. You’ve likely heard of the Golden Rule found in Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” Church members are to treat others the way they want to be treated. I know unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
But if you were an unbeliever looking at God’s people in the church, what would you expect a Christ-follower to do? Based on what we hear and learn from in scripture, it would be love! This love we are required to do is impossible without Jesus. To show it, we must die to ourselves and take on Christ. And in this way, church members are unified in self-denial.
Don’t just desire unity, seek it. Look for it. Work for it. And let me just say, what often gets passed of as charity really isn’t. We often will do good when we know we will get something in return. But anyone can return love for love. Our goal, as Christians, is a deeper love and a much stronger love.
Remember out call: To love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-40)
Are you familiar with 1 Corinthians 13? We often call it the love chapter. The beautiful words conclude with, “Three things will last forever: faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13
You’ve very likely heard this read at a wedding as it fits well with the theme of a wedding. There’s certainly nothing wrong with including these words in a wedding ceremony, however when Paul wrote these words he was not at a wedding. He was addressing conflict and selfishness in the church at Corinth. The issues were disorderly worship and confusion, claims of spiritual superior over one another, abuse of the Holy Communion meal, sexual misconduct, and even church members suing one another.
Paul addressed each issue specifically, and then wrote the 13th chapter to establish how church members should relate to one another. They must demonstrate love by putting others before themselves, have great faith, be abundant givers, even sacrifice their lives. He says all of it amounts to nothing without love. You have been called to be a unifying member of the church putting yourself last instead of first.
The very first church that was started in Jerusalem was a church of unity.
32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had.
However, Paul had to plead with the church at Corinth for unity.
1 Corinthians 1:10
10 I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.
You have a responsibility as a church member. You are to be a source of unity. You are never to be a divisive force. You are to love your fellow church members unconditionally. And while that doesn’t mean that you will agree with everyone all the time, it does mean you are willing to sacrifice your own preferences to keep unity in the church.
There are a couple of things we should be on the watch for that will absolutely divide and break up unity in the church fast. One is gossip. Gossip is extremely destructive in the church. Now let’s be clear, we all have to process things that happen, leadership vision, decisions, etc. I expect you to talk about church things with each other. It’s how we process.
Gossip is defined more by intent than content. Gossip has a selfish motive. Most everyone needs information to think through an event. So, people ask questions. They call their friends. They talk to other leaders. If they want to gain this information for malicious motives, then it’s gossip.
A unified church is powerful. Gossip tears apart that unity and renders a church powerless.
So be careful you are not the source of gossip. If you ever question whether what you are about to say is gossip or not, just don’t share it. And if someone in the church begins to share gossip with you, gently rebuke him or her. Be kind and say you would rather not hear any gossip and that you would hope it wouldn’t continue to spread. By doing this, you can be a unifier and stop the devil from sneaking in the back door to divide us.
Another thing that can quickly tear apart unity is unforgiveness. Unity in the church will not happen if members have unforgiving hearts. Too many times members have anger or hurt because of something another member or the pastor has said or done or failed to do.
Every church is made up of imperfect people. We all sin. We will all make mistakes. That’s where Paul’s words in Colossians comes in again.
12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.
Christ loved us so much that He was willing to die for us and did. He forgave us, so we must forgive others. Paul says above all. Meaning it’s that important. Unity and love will naturally happen when we determine, that in God’s power, we will put others before ourselves. And when we do, we imitate the greatest servant of all, Jesus.