Friday, September 18, 2015

Walking in the Light (Liar, Liar) - 1 John 1:5-2:6

1 John 1:5-2:6

Of all the insults that can ever be hurled at a person, there is in my experience one that makes people madder, and that term is “liar.”  A lie is a deliberate untruth. If I say something I believe to be true and it turns out to be untrue, then I have not lied. I make a mistake. A lie is told intentionally, to conceal the truth. 

Well, today, I am calling you a liar!

We all by virtue of our sinful human nature are liars.  

 Maybe you don’t usually lie to others. But the definition I just gave of lying does not specify others.  We all are much bigger liars to ourselves. One part of our minds tells lies to the other parts.  We deliberately conceal from ourselves things that we do not want to face. 

1 John 1: 5- 2:6 deals with the lies that keep us from a closer relationship with God, ourselves, and others. In these verses, John advocates, “walking in the light”—what we call transparency.  Transparency is a heart free of the lies and deception.  Transparency is not exhibitionism. We don’t have to go around exposing ourselves. But we live in this world without deception. We are honest first of all to ourselves, then to God, then to others. 

Not walking in the light is being deceptive to God, ourselves or others. Think about a light bulb in a glass globe next to a glass window.  If the bulb is painted black, the light can’t shine. If the glass globe is black, then there’s no light either. If the window is black, then there’s still not light. There must be three levels of transparency for light to shine.  If we lie to ourselves, then there is no light. If we lie to God, then there is no light.  If we lie to others there, then there is no light. Before we can shine in the world, we cannot lie to ourselves.

John deals with four lies which keep us from transparency. The first he discusses in 1: 6-7

First lie — We may have fellowship with Jesus without being honest.

“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”

We convince ourselves that we are better than we really are. We insist that God is speaking, when we are just lying to ourselves.

Make no mistake that God really does speak to us. The Bible is abundantly clear about that. But do not underestimate your capacity for self-deception. We can easily tell ourselves that we’ve had word from God when we’ve actually been listening to our own deceptive hearts. 

We can’t help it if someone else deceives us. Being wrong or being deceived may easily be forgiven. But if we deceive ourselves, then we are in much worse trouble. Self-deception leads to the first sin. Gen 3: 4-6

“The serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

The Devil lied to Eve, but that did not matter, until Eve repeated that lie to herself. Then it was no longer the Devil’s lie but her own. “The tree was desired to make one wise.” She knew this was wrong, but she convinced herself it was right. This self-deception lead to all other sins.

We have an almost endless ability to justify our sins. Adulterers rarely admit their own sins. When they are caught and forced to admit them, then they try to argue it was their jilted spouses’ fault. Lawbreakers blame unjust laws. Liars self-justify their lies. That is what it means to live in the darkness. It means lying to ourselves.

With every lie, John tells us a truth to overcome it. Here’s what he says in verse 7:

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

If we tell the truth to ourselves, then we don’t have to conceal anything from anyone else. Our generous, wonderful God has provided in Jesus Christ a cleansing in His eyes from all sin. 

Sin has consequences, but eternal condemnation is not one of them. God grants a general amnesty in Christ. Those who confess their sins and call upon Christ are walking again in the light.

Second lie — We are not sinning

I John 1: 8:  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

The biggest lie we tell ourselves is that we are not sinning.  We are always sinning somehow! It’s our responsibility to find out where we are sinning and to stop it.   

One of the biggest lies of Satan is that some sins are small, while others are big. Murder is awful; gluttony and gossip are okay. But which sin kills more people in America—murder or obesity?  Alcoholism and cigarettes, which are also manifestations of gluttony.  What tears up more families, breaks up marriages and friendships, and destroys more churches—murder or gossip?  ISIS fighters believe that they have no sin when they behead Christians, yet would wail in remorse to Allah if they accidently ate pork!  It’s what we think of as “little” sins that the Devil uses most. 

God offers us a hopeful alternative to this lie in verse 9,

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Just confess that what we are doing is wrong. Then the blood of Christ covers it and the Holy Spirit works to change us, so we will not repeat the sin.  

Third lieWe have never sinned 

 1: 10-2:3:  “If we say we have not sinned, then we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

Not only do we fail to admit our sins, but we also convince ourselves that we are not sinners and have never been real sinners.  Most of us have lists in our minds of what “real” sinners are—murderers, rapists, drug addicts, homosexuals,  bigots, religious hypocrites, or criminals. What these “real” sinners are varies according to our personal tastes and political views. Most of us will admit we’re sinners as long as we don’t have to actually name our sins. But in the back of our minds we think we are not “real” sinners. We have never done anything “that” bad to be called a sinner.

Christians are not really by nature judgmental.  The world gets the impression that Christianity is judgmental because our definition of sin is so broad.  We become judgmental when we condemn one kind of sin over all others. Is it right for a Christian to condemn homosexuality while looking at pornography, or to condemn abortion while excusing greed?  Recognizing sin in others isn’t wrong—only our failure to recognize it in ourselves. Our condemnation of other’s sins become a distraction to recognizing our own—a diversion that keeps us from walking in the light. 

Again, John has a message of truth to counteract the lie.

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”

When we have sinned, Jesus covers us. He paid the price not only for ours, but for everyone.

Fourth lie—we know Him but don’t need to obey Him.

2:4:  Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,

How can you “know Jesus” and not walk in the light?  How do you condemn homosexuals and abortionists, yet tolerate sin in your own life? Who’s to say that their sins are worse than yours? There is no excuse for their sins, but if you are going to condemn sin—start with your own.  You cannot insist on righteousness in the world when you do not believe or practice righteousness in yourself.

Again, offers a truthful word in place of the lie.

2:5-6 “Whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him:  whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

I hope by now you realize that we are all self-deceivers.  How do we change?  How do we face the truth? 

We become honest not by looking at the lies but by concentrating on truth. Light casts out darkness. So instead of looking at John’s four lies, look at his four truths:

·         “If we walk in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sins.

·         “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

·         “If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the father—Jesus Christ the righteous.

·         “Whoever keeps his Word, in him truly the Love of God is perfected.  Whoever abides in Him ought to walk in His ways.

We cannot truthfully say that the Love of God is perfected in us. But we can say that where it is not and when we have acted according to our own self-deception, Christ has forgiven us. We can also say that as we walk in his ways we become more like Him. His love is perfected in us. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Do You Know Jesus - 1 John 1: 1-4

Do you know Jesus?

Some people say they know Jesus because they think to know Jesus. They say, “He’s the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity.”  But actually knowing about Jesus is not the same as knowing Him. I know what an elephant is, but I don’t know any elephants. I may know who the president is, but I don’t know Him. Just having a category for someone intellectually is not knowing Jesus. Even if we are correct in our assumptions about presidents and elephants, still we lack the firsthand acquaintance.

Other people feel like they know Jesus. What they really know is how He makes them feel. But having an emotional attachment to a person is not knowing the person. We can see a picture of a beautiful girl, and we may feel attracted to her, but we do not know the girl. We can read about Jesus and have all kinds of admiration for Him. We can even sing in church and shout His praises, but that isn’t the same as knowing Him. We only know His image.  If we watch an actor portraying a famous person, we don’t see the person, we only see the actor’s interpretation. If we hear a sermon about Jesus and like the portrayal the preacher makes of Jesus, it’s not the same as knowing Him. We only know what preachers say about Him.

Other people act like they know Jesus. They may obey Him. They try in every way to do what He wants them to do. But that’s not the same as knowing Jesus either. If I follow the Law of Moses, that doesn’t mean I know Moses. If I believe in the Bill of Rights, I don’t know the people who wrote the Bill of Rights.  Just because we build great charities and churches doesn’t mean we’ve actually met Jesus.

John actually knew Jesus—both physically and spiritually.  He lived with Him for three years.  He was present at His Resurrection. He was there at Pentecost. For the rest of his life, he claimed to keep an intimate relationship with Him.  He was an expert in knowing Jesus. 

Could it be that the real reason we don’t behave like him is that we don’t really know Him? This summer we talked about the discrepancies between the lives we should be living as followers of Jesus and the lives we actually live.  Maybe the reason we haven’t been changed into His image is because we do not know Him. We can’t imitate Jesus if our relationship with Him is only in our minds and not in reality. If all I ever knew of music was musical notation, then I would know nothing about music. If all I knew of marriage was what I read in books, then I would not know marriage. If all I knew of Jesus was what the church told me, then I would not know Jesus. 

I grew up in the church, listening to stories about Jesus.  But I didn’t know Jesus.  I thought I did, but I only knew about him. Knowing Jesus implies a deeper relationship than mere head knowledge, or emotional reaction.  It involved a life encounter.

John writes of this life encounter in the first part of his letter.  I John 1: 1-4

First, let’s look at John’s introduction.

“That which was from the beginning.”  These words are meant to remind us of two other passages.

The first is the first verse of the Bible. “In the beginning, God--.”  God was here before anything else. The second is the first verse of John’s gospel.  “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the word was God.”  Jesus was God’s eternal expression from the beginning--God’s Word. 

John tells us this because he wants us to know that Jesus was here before us. We did not make Him up, so we can’t define who He is according to who we want Him to be. If we describe a fictional character, we make them the way we want them to be. If we describe someone real, who existed before we met them we don’t dictate who they are. Jesus is who God made Him.

For two thousand years, people have been making up their own versions of Jesus.  He’s been made over to be a warrior, a ruler, an ideal lover, a businessman, a Democrat, or a Republican. But Jesus isn’t any of these things. He’s been the same since the beginning.  He is Jesus.  If we think we know Him, then we may only know the version of Him we want to know. We must accept that we cannot create Him in our own image. He created us in His own image.

Don’t come looking for Jesus with a preset agenda. Don’t even come to Him looking to find peace, happiness, or success. You may well be disappointed. Come to Him is to find reality.  If that brings peace—fine. If who He is makes us uncomfortable—fine, too.  Come looking for Him. He exists and that’s all we need to know.

 Which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. “  John describes the process through which He came to know Jesus.

First, he heard about Him. In John’s case he heard about Jesus through John the Baptist. John was following the Baptist, when Jesus came to visit.  Then he saw him with his own eyes.  Then he walked with Him, studied Him, and analyzed Him. Finally, he actually touched Him. He got involved in Jesus’ life and ministry. Then, he came to love and respect Him.

There’s a parallel to this process in Genesis 3, when Eve ate the forbidden fruit. She heard the testimony of the power of the fruit from the serpent who was Satan. She saw it, she kept looking at it, and she touched it. Then she experienced it by tasting it.  The process of temptation and the process of knowing Jesus are actually very similar. It is the way we learn to commit.

The same process goes on when we meet our life mate. We hear about them, then we see them, then we get to know them, touch them, kiss them, and fall in love. The word “knowledge” in Hebrew is used for a sexual or a romantic relationship. To John, knowing Jesus was falling in love with Him. Jesus is calling us to know him intimately, not in the false knowledge of sexuality, but in the full knowledge of spiritual bonding.  Knowing Jesus is intimacy with Him.

John then goes on to describe what that relationship is like. 

The life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” John uses a new word to describe what knowing Jesus is. He calls it a life. Knowing Jesus is not just a relationship. It is actually a higher order of what it means to be alive.  

 How would you describe a higher order of life to a lower one? Would we describe what life means in a way a rock would understand? Could we describe intelligence to a dog?  Can we explain to someone who has never been in love what it means to be in love? Neither (John believes) can we describe a life in Jesus to someone who does not know Him. They would have to experience it. It is an intimacy with the Spirit which people cannot know without having met Jesus. 

Other religions have reasoned that there is a higher order of life, but to them it is an impossible goal. But when we know Jesus, then we know that experience of a higher order of life becomes ours. To experience Him, is to experience perfection.

This higher order of life, though is not lived in isolation. It requires us being part of a group which knows Him together.

“That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

This higher order of life is like falling in love.  When we meet someone with whom we become romantically involved, our whole world changes. In order for love to be real, it must be shared.

Let’s suppose you are an enthusiastic sports fan.  Can you be a sports fan and not want to go to a game?  Who can love a sports team and not want to be on the stands cheering them on.

Let’s suppose you have an interest in stamp collecting. Wouldn’t you want to be with other people who collect stamps? 

Let’s suppose you are in love with a girl. Don’t you think you would want to meet her family as well as herself? Of course you would. It is part of the nature of love to share. Our knowledge grows in a community of people who share our interests. 

Knowing Jesus means sharing that knowledge with others. I can usually tell a person’s love of Jesus by the enthusiasm with which they discuss the subject. If a person tries to change the subject every time Jesus enters into a conversation, or if all they can do in a conversation is talk about all the hypocrites in the church, and if they hold themselves aloof from other believers in the sure knowledge that everyone else who knows Jesus must be a fool, and they are the only ones who really understands Him, then I look at them like I would anybody who says they know another person, yet believes no one else does or could know them. I look at them as not really knowing Him at all. If all we want is to have our views confirmed, then we don’t know Him. We may know some piece of Jesus’ shadow, but we have no desire to truly know him accurately.  If we don’t talk about Him with others, we probably don’t really know Him, or want to. We only want to know a part of Him.

God invites us into His family, but not us alone. He invites us all. The more we are together with others who love Him, the more we come to really know Him. God wants each of us to be attached to Him, but he also wants us to be attached to each other. But as we grow towards others, we know Him more through their eyes.

Knowing Jesus in the presence of others produces joy, according to verse 4--“We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

There’s a textual variation in this verse. Ancient manuscripts disagree about whether John wrote “our” joy may be complete or “your” joy may be made complete. It’s found both ways. Some modern translations go one way, some another.  But both are true. Our joy increase when your joy commences.  When we know Jesus, then we are happy when others know Him, too. There is no division between our individual walks in the Lord and our community walks with Him. We can’t have one without the other.

John is clear here that knowing Jesus—hearing about Him, seeing Him, studying Him, finding Him, touching Him, and sharing Him produces life and Joy.

Do you want to know Jesus?  Jeremiah 29: 13 tells us how. “’You will seek me and you will find me, when you search for me with all your heart. And I will be found by you.’ Says the Lord.’”  You have to ask Jesus into your heart, to pray the sinners’ prayer, walk the aisle, and accept Him as your Lord and Savior. But first, you must want to know Him. We can’t take Jesus as we want Him to be, but as He is.  We must be willing with all our hearts to worship at His feet. 

You will know Jesus when you look for Him.  That is when you will find Him.

The Place of Angels - Genesis 28: 10-22

There are lot of bad journeys we make in life. I think of a trip we once made when we were first married back from visiting her folks in Michigan to our home in Georgia in our little white 1971 Toyota Corona—our first car. We spent the night in Indianapolis and had a good time, but were running low on money.  Then the next day we made it to Nashville about four in the afternoon on a Friday. Suddenly on the busiest road in Tennessee, on the inside lane in rush hour, our Toyota died. We backed up traffic for miles until a wrecker came and towed us to the nearest garage. 

The garage had four mechanics looking at the car and decided it needed a new distributer cap assembly. But they could not get one until Monday. We’d have to spend the weekend in Nashville before they could get the parts. But we did not have the money. This vacation had turned into a nightmare.
Have you ever had a trip like that?  Some of us have had lives like that. Just when everything is going well, everything falls apart. At times like this, you wonder if God has forsaken you. 

I didn’t come to tell you about my old car problems, but about Genesis 28: 10-22. Before I discuss it, let me introduce you to one of the most fascinating characters in the Bible—Jacob. He was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham. God gave Abraham a promise that his descendants would one day rule Israel. God took Abraham from one end of the Promised Land to the other. Everywhere they went, God promised them that land. When Abraham had a son—Isaac--God also promised the land to him. This promise was to continue on through the generations until the promise was fulfilled. 
Things got complicated in the next generation. Isaac didn’t have one son, but two—twins. The oldest one by about a minute was Esau, who was big and burly, but dumb as an ox. The younger was Jacob who was the opposite. He wasn’t strong, but he was smart and ambitious.

Jacob realized that Esau was going to get the birthright to the Promised Land, but thought he didn’t deserve it. Why should the land go to someone too dumb to care about it? So Jacob connived to steal it from his brother. He even got their mother on his side. He started on a series of deceptions and maneuvers aimed at stealing the birthright from Esau. 

One day, Esau came in from hunting—hot, tired, and hungry. Esau said to his brother, “Hey, how about making me some of that red stew you’re so famous for making.” So Jacob cooked his brother some stew, served it up to him, and said, “Wait, before you eat, you’ve got to swear over your birthright.” Esau probably thought he wasn’t serious. “Sure, anything—just give me that stew!”  So he did.  Esau had signed over his birthright for a bowl of stew. 
I’m sure he regretted it. But then he probably thought it didn’t matter. It was their dad who decided who got the blessing. Now Jacob had to convince Dad to give him the blessing. 

His chance came when Isaac was old, blind, and about to die. He called for Esau to give him the blessing. Esau was a hunter, so he was out in the field killing animals. Jacob put a fleece over his arms to make him feel hairy, and went in to his father. Dad felt Jacob’s arm, and heard him say he was Esau, so he gave his blessing.  Jacob’s trick worked, now he was going to be heir to everything. He had beaten his brother out of the birthright. 

There’s a point in life where things are looking good.  You’ve accomplished what you set out to do. You’ve bought a house, you’ve gotten married, got a dream job, have kids, and are now on your way to a healthy and prosperous retirement. Everyone’s happy—everything’s fine. In the back of your mind, you’re saying, “This is how life is supposed to be. This is the Promised Land. Things are finally going well.”
But alas, for Jacob that time was short-lived. It lasted until Esau got home. Esau went into his father’s tent, expecting to hear his Dad’s blessing. What he heard instead was “Oops! I gave it to Jacob.” Esau swore that when his father was dead, and the days of mourning were over, he would kill Jacob. Esau was a hunter—his job was to kill. He knew how to do it!

When the news of this got back to Jacob and his mother, she sent him away with Uncle Laban in Syria, as far away as he possibly could get. Before Esau could get his hands on Jacob, Jacob was gone.  Not only was he not to be the ruler of the Promised Land, he was not allowed to live in it.
Jacob had just won everything he wanted in life and lost it all—all in about a day’s time. First he gets the blessing and the birthright; then he gets run out of the Promised Land, seemingly forever.

The Promised Land is very symbolic in the Bible. It symbolizes the favor of God.  We use it as a metaphor today. When someone succeeds we say they made it to the Promised Land. Jacob had made it and lost it—all in about a day.

This is what happens to us, too. We get married and we spend the rest of our days happy, but then our spouse kicks us out. We have kids but they turn out to be a mess, and we spend the rest of our days taking care of them. We get that dream job but we get fired. Life is a series of victories and disasters. What we think was the Promised Land turns out to be a spot between the mountains and the swamp.  Before we know it, we’re back in the swamp again.
What must have gone through Jacob’s mind while he was trudging up the road out of the Promised Land, into an uncertain fate?  If you were Jacob, what do you think you would have thought? Would it occur to you to doubt God’s love, maybe even His very existence?  I know, that I would have.

Then Jacob had a dream while he was traveling through “a certain place.” He was in the wilderness near a place the Canaanites called Luz—not really a town, but a wide spot in the road.  It was so small it didn’t have an inn, so Jacob had to sleep outside with a rock for a pillow. 
Jacob dreamed he saw a ladder to heaven, and that the place was filled with angels. Did you know that this is the only place where a person in the Old Testament records seeing a multitude of angels? The angels are going up and coming down, spreading out over the four corners of the earth. Jacob names the place Bethel, the house of God, because he thinks that this place must be the center of all communication with God. In some insignificant place no one ever heard of, in his time of utter discouragement, he stumbled on Angel Central Station. Think of it!  Jacob thought he had left God’s county, exiled forever. Yet this place was not really the center of all blessings.

Remember, this is just a dream, and dreams are symbolic. They are God’s way of revealing to us something our conscious minds cannot accept. This dream is a revelation to him of God’s way of dealing with us, when we feel lonely and exiled from Him.  God had not abandoned us.  Bethel was not a place of exile but of new blessing.  It is not the end but the beginning. It’s in these kinds of desert places in our lives that we stumble on God’s greatest revelations.
When we look at our church, it’s easy to become discouraged. Over the past few months we’ve had two members go to assisted living. That’s a hard place to be, even when you have to go there.  We have one family moving out of town to be with their children. Over the past three years, we’ve had people leave the church, and about a dozen of us die. We’ve had at least three marriages end in divorce. We’ve had some in our church who have fallen into sinful behavior, who now feel that God has abandoned them. 

But God has not abandoned us. Even on those days when we are stuck in a place that seems so far from the Promised Land that we can never find it again, God is still there.
The Jacob’s ladder story does not tell us that angels are to be found only in Bethel. It is symbolic, letting   us know that angels are abundant in a land where we never expected to be. Jacob’s ladder is not found in one place, but in all places. Wherever we look up to God, and have our eyes opened, God’s help is already descending upon us.

Let me finish the story about that terrible journey from Michigan. While the mechanics were pouring over our car, Joy and I went next door to a little diner to eat. We bowed our heads and prayed over our meal. The manager saw it and came over to us. “Not many people say grace over a meal these days,” he said.  He was a Christian, and he prayed with us and encouraged us. After dinner we went back and looked at the mechanics. The owner of the shop came over and looked at the distributer cap of the car, the very cap the other mechanics said we needed to replace. He moved one clip on the distributor, and the car suddenly started working perfectly. The bill was about ten dollars. Joy and I were able to drive home without incident.  
There’s one more part to the story. A couple of months after we arrived him, Joy announced she was expecting our first baby. That was one of the happiest moments of my life. When we went back and counted the weeks, we decided that it seemed to have happened on that very trip. It may have been a terrible trip, but one of the most wonderful things we ever received began on that trip. 

Don’t be so sure when bad things happen, that you are completely out of the Promised Land. The boundaries of the Promised Land may extend much farther than you think. Wherever you are in life, God’s angels are still visiting you, and you can see them, if only you have eyes to look. 

The Power of Being Together


When people talk about America, they see many things to admire. But they usually offer three criticisms. The first is that we are materialistic. The second is that we are fearful. The third is our individualism. We lack the same sense of community that other nations have.

Our individualism is something we cherish. But it is also our greatest weakness. Very little is accomplished through one person alone. We need to cooperate to build a successful life or society.            

Robert Putnam wrote about our growing social isolation in his book, Bowling Alone. The title comes from an advertisement he saw at a bowling alley in the Midwest. Bowling is a sport that people do in groups. But with the decline in bowling leagues, alleys have tried to promote individual bowling. Fewer people today want to join social organizations.   

All kinds of group activities are declining—especially churches. American churches have responded by promoting “bowling alone” Christianity. Church has become a place where people come to meet individual needs, a feeding station for the faithful instead of a family of God. It never even occurs to us to question whether we have any responsibility to other people in church.    

We’re fond in America of saying that denominations don’t matter, churches don’t matter, but all that matters is our individual relationship with Jesus. We never stop to question whether that is what the Bible is really saying.  We must be personally saved, but we are not just saved alone. We are saved to be part of a community of faith. The New Testament church was a place where individuals were not only committed to Jesus, but to each other.  

Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Our commitment to each other is one of the marks of the true church. The community of faith is indispensable to His plan and to our witness in the world.

Peter says in 1 Peter 2:9,  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

Peter calls us a holy nation, a chosen race, and a royal priesthood. To join a church is to join a family, a nation, and a union. This relationship to one another in the church takes precedence over all other allegiances. 

In the early church, they actually lived that way.  Look at Acts 2:42-47

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Acts 4:32-36 repeats the same idea.

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

This passage is the New Testament model. We study the Word together, pray together and work together, but we also hold all things in common. The early church was so close that they did not regard what they had as their own, but shared their worldly goods with each other. They were not tithers, but went far beyond tithing in their generosity.

Why is community so important?  Three reasons:

First, because community is how we show Jesus to the world. We are a community, whether we feel it or not. Our unity is not based on our personal sense of belonging, but on God’s decree according to His grace. We are family, even if we want to disown each other. Nevertheless, our unity should be lived out on earth.  Let’s ask ourselves some questions.

·         Do we seek out one another’s company? Are we socializing with each other?

·         Do we seek out the help or advice of others in the church? Are we comfortable asking for help?

·         Do we trust each other enough to be honest?  Are we comfortable stating our opinion in church?

·         Do we believe that if we needed help, the church would give it, both emotionally, personally, and financially? Nothing drives people away from the church more than the perception that the church is disinterested in helping during some personal crisis.

·         Do we know the other people in this church and what they are struggling with?

·         Do we enjoy coming to church and meeting friends? It’s not essential that we like the people in church, but it helps.

·         Do we feel a common sense of purpose? When we come together, do we see the whole as something greater than ourselves, the manifestation of Jesus?

If someone comes into this church looking for Jesus, they don’t see Him in the music or in the preaching. We most clearly see Jesus in the behavior of the church community. We see Him most clearly in the way we treat each other.

Second, we need community to fully know what God intended us to be. Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Our interaction makes us greater than the whole.

This part of community makes us the most uncomfortable. When Iron and iron clash, sparks fly, but both irons gets sharper. It’s the only way to sharpen iron. We can be good alone, but we can’t be great without someone’s help. Only through interaction do we become complete.

Third we need community to make positive changes. In these passages we read about community, we read of signs and wonders. Community brings power. Without community we are just individuals working in an uncoordinated way. With community, we become an army, a force, and a power.

Church leadership experts define five ways of influencing—coercion, persuasion, being a good example, and nurture. But the greatest is cooperation.  Cooperation multiplies power and influence. When we join others, we become greater than the sum of all the individual members.

We are not just any community, but we are a community in Christ. We come together to worship God, and to become united with Him. We are more than just the sum of our parts—more even than a group of people who cooperate. We also are unite with the source of all power, the Spirit of God almighty. If we are willing as a group to surrender our will, our pride, and individualism to His will and His purposes, then the Spirit of God will give us all power in Him.

There are two errors we commit in community. The first error is isolation. Community makes us uncomfortable so we withdraw. Many of us are by nature people avoiders. Our culture makes this easy. God help us, though, if we don’t overcome this. We must not run from community just because of potential conflicts.   

The other error is domination. This happens when people seek their will above the group as a whole. People who do this are often unaware they are doing it. They do not listen to what others are saying.  We must be humble in all relationships, encouraging other people to criticize us and to act upon our ideas. Diversity in a group is a strength, not a weakness. A domineering person wants to sharpen others, but seeks to avoid sharpening himself. Being a part of a community is necessarily submitting our will to the whole.

 Last week Joy and I saw some wonderful sights in Ireland. One of those was the great library at Trinity College. There is a room there, as long as a football field and two and a half stories high, filled with antique, leather bound books. What a magnificent sight! Consider, though, what went into the building of that room. First, thousands of people over many ages had to write the books. Second, bookbinders with great skill had to bind the books, so they could last the ages. Third, librarians had to painstakingly categorize and collect the books.  Fourth, architects, carpenters, stonemasons, painters, electricians, and air conditioner servicemen had to build and maintain the climate controlled hall to house those books. Without any of those people, the collected knowledge of the ages in that library would be lost. Any one person or one group of people working alone would make this collection impossible, but working together all this was possible. Without the individual bricks in the stone wall, the library would be useful, but when they are all put together, and each takes its place cooperatively, then they produce a wonder.

You are an important person in the world. But you are only important when you cooperate with others. Without others, your work is incomplete. But when the church comes together and the Spirit of God blesses, there is no end to what we can accomplish together in Christ.