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Community Life: Relationships in the Church
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.” ()
In this lesson, we will examine a key assumption of New Testament teaching: All of the Christian life takes place in the context of our relationships with other believers within the framework of the local church.
Although we enter into a relationship with God as individuals, we nevertheless enter into something greater than our individuality: the church—the community of God’s people.
We will find that besides being woven into the very fabric of the Christian life, our relationships with other believers are a tremendous means of blessing, both for ourselves and others. God never meant for us to live the
Christian life alone. Instead, He gives us the marvelous privilege of living our lives with other like-minded brothers and sisters.
The Foundation of our Fellowship: God’s Community
God Is Creating a People...Not a Person
Throughout the history of redemption, God has been acting to create “a people for His own possession” (). God promised Abraham that He would make him “a great nation” and through him “all the families on the earth” would be blessed ().
Carrying forth God’s purposes, Abraham’s descendants
were formed into a nation. Their faithfulness to the covenant would result in their peculiar identity as the people of God.
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”” ()
Christ’s finished work not only provided forgiveness of sins, but it also advanced God’s work of creating a people for Himself by bringing the church into existence.
looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” ()
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” (.f., )
Our true nature as the church and as Christians is church-wide. God is saving a people, not an unconnected group of isolated individuals. This is not merely theoretical. Our lives are to give expression to the reality of our existence as the people of God. To deny this by pursuing individualism or independence is to isolate ourselves from the express purpose of God. The local church is God’s appointed context for this to take place.
What does this mean practically? What is God’s intention for our lives together? Is it simply attending the same gathering on a Sunday? Is it merely acknowledging the same body of doctrines?
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” ()
This picture of the early church may seem too good to be true, but in reality it is this kind of community that God desires to create in His church: “a people for His own possession” ().
The Nature of Our Fellowship
Because the Holy Spirit has joined us together as a community, our relationships are to be marked by this reality. We don’t simply attend the same service or enjoy
the same interests—we have been united at the deepest level by the Spirit of God.
The New Testament characterizes our relationships with each other by the word fellowship.
A Definition of Fellowship
The word often translated fellowship in the New Testament (koinonia; c.f., ) is also rendered participation, partnership, and communion. The word expresses the idea of sharing something in common or joining a mutual endeavor (often with sacrifice involved). Biblical writers took up this word to describe the relationship believers have with God through Christ, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” ()
It was also extended to describe the relationship believers have with each other.
Our Fellowship with God
Paul speaks of the work of the cross of Christ as “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (). This “redemption” brings about our “propitiation by his blood” (), which means that the wrath of God has been satisfied in Christ. It was completely poured out upon Him so that we can receive mercy. Further, the righteousness of Christ is attributed to us by the work of “justification” by God
(). We who were sinners can now be declared righteous in the sight of God. This is the grace of the gospel. But it does not stop there! We are told later in Romans that we have also received the gift of “reconciliation” (), a word that refers to the relationship between us and God that is now restored.
Reconciliation is not even the last word, however, for in we are told that we have also received “the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba!
Father!’” This is the glory of our fellowship with God. We go from being enemies of His because of our sin, to being in fellowship with God as His children. Our intimacy with Him is revealed in that great cry, “Abba! Father!” At all times and in all situations, we can cry out to Him and know that He hears us.
that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” ()
Our Fellowship with Believers
Our fellowship with one another is a spiritual relationship--nothing less than our participation together in the very life of God. Our mutual fellowship is made possible by Christ’s work on the cross and brought about by the Holy Spirit.
Such fellowship is exceedingly profound and precious. Biblical fellowship is the deepest possible level of human relationship. Only Christians can hope to experience this type of relationship. The glorious nature of Christian fellowship must inform our relationships with other Christians in the local church.
The Fruit of Our Fellowship
Fellowship that is truly biblical has both profound purposes and rich benefits in our relationships together in the church.
Growth in Godliness
Sanctification is a group project. God never intended it to be accomplished in isolation from other Christians in the local church.
All genuine Christians should have a desire to grow in godliness, and we simply can never progress on our own like we can in close relationships with other believers. We need the consistent encouragement of others.
Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” ()
We need others to help us resist sin and to strengthen our resolve for godliness.
but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” ()
We need the input of others to help us see our sin and repent from it.
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” ()
We need to confess our sins to others so as to weaken sin’s power and invite accountability.
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” ()
Providing Mutual Care
We live in a fallen world, and the effects of sin—our own and others’—are all around us: pain, sorrow, sickness, death. God has promised to care for us, and much of His care comes to us through other believers. Indeed, Christians are to be distinguished by their sacrificial love for one another.
but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” ()
Benefiting from the Diversity of Gifts
The Holy Spirit distributes gifts to build the church. But God has also made us dependent upon one another—no one person has all the gifts necessary. We need one another and the unique gifts each one brings to mature as a body.
from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” ()
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:” ()
Presenting a Compelling Witness
Ultimately, our lives together are intended to present to the world a compelling witness of the grace of God. Our unity and love for one another is one of the most powerful testimonies we can give to unbelievers who are lost, isolated, fragmented, and ultimately without hope.
By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”” ()
The Substance of our Fellowship
These benefits and more are to be the fruit of genuine biblical fellowship. However, to enjoy these benefits we must recognize our responsibilities as members of the body and position ourselves to serve others. In short, we must give ourselves to purposeful involvement in each others’ lives.
“Those first Christians of were not devoting themselves to social activities but to a relationship….They understood that they had entered this relationship by faith in Jesus Christ, not by joining an organization. And they realized that their fellowship with God logically brought them into fellowship with one another. Through their union with Christ they were formed into a spiritually organic community….
We must grasp the idea that fellowship means belonging to one another in the Body of Christ, with all the privileges and responsibilities that such a relationship entails.” – Jerry Bridges, True Fellowship
The Bible is filled with things we are to do “to,” “with,” or “for one another.” Here is just a sampling of how we are to position ourselves to experience true fellowship.
Worship God Together
Our fellowship with and worship of God is both the foundation and catalyst for fellowship with others.
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” ()
Pray for One Another
Few things draw us closer together than entering God’s presence together.
praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—” ()
Carry One Another’s Burdens
This requires that we know others and share with others—don’t expect people to perceive your burdens through divine revelation!
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” ()
Encourage One Another
Consistent, intentional, and specific encouragement is to be a mark of those who serve “the God of encouragement” ().
Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” ()
Confess Our Sins to One Another
Few things are more effective in cultivating humility, weakening sin, and promoting fellowship than confessing our sins and pursuing other’s evaluation and perspective. Thankfully, God doesn’t leave us on our own in our fight against sin!
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” ()
Correct One Another
When we fail to recognize and take responsibility for our sin, we desperately need the correction of others. This requires humility and examined motives but, done in a godly way, is a true expression of biblical love and one of the most effective ways we can help each other grow.
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” ()
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” ()
Serve One Another
Effective serving requires knowing the needs of others. Fellowship will both reveal these needs and provide opportunities to meet them.
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” ()
Invite Others into Our Walk with God
This, perhaps, sums up what biblical fellowship is all about. C. J. Mahaney defines fellowship as the communication of our current “relationship with and experience of God.”
Biblical fellowship is not merely “socializing”—it is sharing our common life in Christ: life that is rich, enduring, and eternal.
A Means of Our Fellowship at First Baptist Church of Roselawn: Home Groups
One of the primary means of building relationships and cultivating fellowship with each other at FBCR is through our network of small groups— what we call home groups. While we are joined to all believers in the local church,
home groups allow us to relate more deeply with a smaller number of people.
Home groups are not a passing fad at FBCR; they have been a part of our church since its inception, and they provide an important context for accomplishing a number of essential biblical priorities.
“The value of the small group is that it can become a community of related persons; and in it the benefit of relatedness cannot be missed, nor its challenge evaded… I do not think it is an exaggeration to say, therefore, that small groups…are indispensable for our growth into
spiritual maturity.” - John Stott, One People
The Purpose of Home Groups
Merely hearing God’s Word is insufficient; we must apply it to our lives for there to be fruit. Home groups enable us to do this together. We seek to apply the Bible’s teaching, worship, share our testimonies, review Sunday messages, discuss Christian books, pray, and use a variety of other resources with the intention of growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Genuine fellowship isn’t practical in a large crowd. Home groups provide a place where we can build intimate relationships, care for one another, and help each other grow in our relationship with God.
God has made us dependent on each other, and home groups provide a context where we can minister to each other with the gifts that God has given us. Meetings
often include times of prayer for one another and opportunities for individuals to exercise spiritual gifts for the edification of others.
Our Responsibilities within Home Groups
Each member is important to the group and should seek to contribute to the group’s health and success. We each have the responsibility in our group to:
Faithfully Attend Meetings and Functions
We’re much more likely to benefit if we are actually present!
Willingly Participate
Come ready to contribute, to serve, to share, and to open yourself to others. When the group has an assignment, diligently complete it. Both you and others will benefit from your participation.
Build Relationships with Each Other Outside the Meeting
Don’t confine your investment to the home group meeting—let this be the springboard to rich enduring relationships.
Reach Out to New People
The Home Group can be a wonderful setting in which to introduce others to the gospel, the church, and other believers.
The Christian Life: A Life to Be Shared
The Christian life is not a matter of privatized belief. Jesus described the existence of believers in astonishing terms: ““Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” ()
As we see in the New Testament, this life is one that is to be shared with others. Just as the Holy Spirit is a foretaste of our eternal life in heaven ( 22), so is the life of the church—with all its imperfections—to be a foretaste of our fellowship with the saints in heaven (). May this amazing privilege be our ongoing experience in the local church.
“By his grace, together we are being changed into the image of Jesus Christ through progressive sanctification. Together we are experiencing mutual care, genuine fellowship, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We no longer just see—we observe. We no longer simply attend—we participate. We no longer selfishly consume— instead we are carrying out God’s purpose for our lives as we contribute to the building of the local church.” – C. J. Mahaney, Why Small Groups?
Key Concepts and Terms from this Session:
Biblical Fellowship
Sanctification
Edification
"One Anothers"
Home Groups
Pray
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