A Community Who Serves
Big Idea: Love is not a black hole. Love gives even when it has nothing. A heart that has been transformed by the gospel is followed by a life that gives itself away to the everyone around it. This type of love truly has no limits to what it will do in giving itself away. It is unconditional and without limits…something that the rest of the world simply cannot say.
The American Dream - Explain “conflated”
Hollywood - service - bus ticket - family needing gas
How dare we be known as the church where we people have their needs met!
Social media - people know that we are supposed to the place where needs are met…we know this too…any Christian could verbalize this and yet many churches (as a result of its individual members) fail to live this out…so:
How does the Gospel shape us into a community who serves?
Briefly recap…we are in the rhythms that the early church engaged in as a response to the gospel working in their lives that produced a healthy and missional minded church full of growing and maturing disciples. This week we are looking at the component of their service.
Here we go...
And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;
and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
Transition from chapter two to the more expanded detailing of this phenomenon.
And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul;...
Unity is the precursor to service.
and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. -Acts 2:32
And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.
We can think that because this was like 2000 years ago that this was somehow more normal or not as radical as it would be today. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. So where in the world did this framework come from? What prompted such a radically generous service from the early church? Where did they get this idea?
Well…there are several places in the gospel that we could go to see where they would have got the idea to live like this but perhaps one of the clearest comes in the Gospel of Mark.
Talk about James and John coming to ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left hands in the kingdom. They were asking for positions of prominence and power. In their mind (and I believe this is a framework we often share with them) following Jesus somehow meant that they got something (either money, an easy life, good circumstances, positions of power or favor) but Jesus tells them that’s not how Kingdom economy works. Here is what he says:
Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. “But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Jesus recognizes our propensity to take what we have, be that money, power, recognition, or other and use it primarily for our advantage but Jesus is essentially telling his disciples that:
Love is not a black hole.
1 Cor. Says it this way.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,
Love is more like a sun that is perpetually giving itself away for the sake of others.
Explain the difference between the black hole person and the sun person.
That is the what...
Now we need the how…the sun doesn’t just magically create energy…it has a fuel source.
We don’t have any issues recognizing that we all have issues with this in our own lives in certain places. Remember what i said earlier…even the rest of the world knows WHAT we are supposed to be…the real question is:
What changes us from being a black hole to being a sun that perpetually gives itself away for the sake of meeting the needs of others? What is the fuel source that allows us to love and serve others this way?
The answer lies in the gospel.
I don’t know if you remember or not, but at the beginning of this series I made this statement about the gospel. I said that the gospel is not just the power of God for salvation but it is also the power that transforms us as well.
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Talk about what Jesus gave up by taking on flesh in the incarnation…
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Jesus made possible a life defined by this self giving love by the ultimate act of love giving itself away by His actions on the cross. If you have chosen to follow Him and have submitted to His rule in your life this love now lives in you and we are called to follow in Jesus’ same example in giving it away for the sake of others.
Talk about the needs in our homes, on our streets, and within our own church that we are called to meet. I am not going to tell you what those are because the second I do that I would restrict the creativity and vision that each one of you uniquely brings to the table that will serve needs that I (or someone else might never see). I could give you a list of no less than fifty needs within our own church (both for service in ministry and in the lives of our members that need each one of our attentions).
God promises that He will provide for us over and over again in scripture…how do you think He does this? With you and me. We are His ultimate plan of provision.
We love the stories about when God steps in to do something that only He can do but I would submit that the most amazing stories happen when people, who have been made fully alive by the power of the Gospel, go out to serve because the love of Jesus within them can’t help but give itself away.
So that is at the individual level…but what about at the level of the entire church? That is what the story is about in fact...
I want to read you a story of what this looks like when an entire church begins to live out this principle of service today…Read Greears story.
We have the opportunity to be this kind of church.
We can be a church filled with a bunch of black holes and fill the stereotypes of every unbelieving person in Yelm. This is what the unchurched community we exist in expects from us. Or we can be a church that has been transformed by the power of the gospel to be a collection of people who love generously and meet the needs all around us. This requires all of us.
So the question is:
Will you commit to serve wherever there is a need?
I want to close on somewhat of a serious note here. The story here in Acts 4 actually comes with a very stern warning showing us that God takes this topic deadly seriously.
We meet a man named...
Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement),
and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
He is recognized for what he did but it is super obvious that he didn’t serve the community of believers for recognition because his story is superimposed against another story immediately following where we meet...
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,
and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.
But there was something different about what they had done because...
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?
He explains what he means here...
“While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it.
It wasn’t that he didn’t give all that he had made from the sale of the land (I actually heard a preacher give a sermon once about why we should give as much as we possibly can financially to the church). That’s not at all what is going on here though.
Ananias and Sapphira misrepresented themselves before the church. They were black holes in disguise that had infiltrated the body. They were seeking to gain recognition like Barnabas through their gift. Their motivation wasn’t gospel driven love giving itself away but was instead seeking to get.
God is deadly serious about this issue and so should we be.
There is no faking this…there is no room for a black hole in the body of Christ.
This ups the stakes big time in what it requires of us.
The question isn’t ultimatley how much can you serve.
The question is whether your service is rooted in a heart transformed by the gospel.
Because anything else won’t last and will ultimatley feed the black hole that naturally exists within every one of us.
We have an entire community overrun with needs. We have homeless families, poverty, sickness, mental illness, teen mothers, strained marriages, and parents struggling to survive in this current season. We have some of those same needs within our own church. We have areas of service within our church that directly support the body and the mission of Jesus. Here in about 5-7 weeks we are going to be open Sunday mornings and have like 50 little ones running around who we want to nourish with the Word and disciple and that will require us serving a population that we can get nothing from (hence why it is one of the most under served populations both inside and out of the church).
The issue isn’t typically in knowing where to serve…it is in getting involved and actually doing the work of being the hands and feet of Jesus.
Will you go back to the gospel this week and remember how, because of his self giving love, Jesus gave all of himself for you?
If you have chosen to follow Him, it means that we are to do the same.
Will you serve with me?
** Expedition: Help people think through how doing a pumpkin thing actually can meet some tangible needs within our community. Get people to begin thinking through the needs in our community.
Think back to a time where someone served or blessed you. How did that blessing affect you? Can you think of a time where someone’s blessing came and it was an answered prayer? Explain
This is pretty straight forward. I just want people to think through the different ways they have been blessed by others. It would be good if you could get a wide array of answers: For instance…if people bring up financial blessing try and coax out other types of blessings people have given. Maybe of their time, or watching their kids, or bringing food, or encouraging words, etc.
Spend some time in your group listing some of the known needs in our community. What have you seen or experienced personally with people? How has this season of COVID driven new needs? What are the solutions beyond just financial need?
Make a comprehensive list of things that our community needs. Make this list visible (maybe bring a whiteboard or stop by my house and pick up one of the large post-it note pads) and post it up for the remainder of your conversation.
What are some of the needs we have within our church right now? If this is personal keep it vague so as not to potentially embarrass anyone. How about needs of service that will ensure the gospel ministry flourishes at The Outpost Church?
You know the needs in our church right now. Kids ministry. Greeter. Cleanup teams. Data entry and fiscal ministries. A/V teams. Construction work down at the building as well as a host of other things. This is our time to ensure that all of the work does not fall on us. Make it known that it isn’t because we are lazy that we want them to help but because we can’t do everything on our own and because we are robbing them of living the life of service that Jesus has intended for them if we don’t give them opportunity to serve. If we do everything we will only perpetuate a culture of consumer christianity…and we are not doing that...
Read Acts 6:1-7 in your group.
The Hellenistic Jews were seen as a lower class of citizen than the Native Hebrews and widows were one of the most socially and economically disadvantaged groups. Not only were these women (seen as a lower class of citizen) but these women didn’t even have a husband to provide for them (women were not typically workers outside of the home capable of bringing in income to support themselves or their families in the absence of a husband). This group had seemingly nothing to offer society and because of this were not offered any form of relief. Knowing all of this, who are the disadvantaged groups in our culture…specifically in our town of Yelm?
It will be interesting how the conversation goes on this one. There is a good chance they will struggle with this question but that’s actually a good thing. If they can’t pinpoint any particular groups that means they’ve not really left their circle of comfort to experience what others face. How is this an opportunity to begin engaging in new circles to learn what life is like in someone else’s shoes? Where can we begin engaging to learn what groups might exist in our city that typically get overlooked or that there aren’t any services provided for?
What do you think the ‘twelve’ meant when they said: “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.”?
Much like our conversation about mission, each individual member of our church has been gifted in a way that allows them to serve others. I call this the concept of highest use. For instance…(and you should definitely take the time to think of an example from your own life to share) I can do electrical work but its slow and there is a good chance whatever I touch is going to burn to the ground. I am more suited to plumbing work. Would it be good for me to neglect the very important issues of plumbing to do the very time-costly task of electrical work that is probably going to burn the building down? Probably not…especially not if there are people on our work crew who are particularly inclined towards electrical work. This works the same way in the church. It isn’t that I refuse to do electrical or never do electrical because sometimes in serving you just fill the need at hand (we shouldn’t wait to only serve in the areas we are gifted in) but we should attempt to work in the areas we are most inclined in. This is great because (going back to the electrical example) there are people who see electrical needs that I never will and can then step in to meet the need. This is why it is supremely important to have a heart transformed by the gospel; because it keeps our eyes continually outward focused in how we can show the love of Jesus.
What was the outcome when everyone served in the capacity of their highest use?
Look at verse seven.
I want to introduce our people to the concept of Look Listen Pray Do. You will need to explain this to them before the next question. This is a practical application of what we have been talking about this week and will be a challenge you will give and will need to do some follow-up next week with them over. Here is the concept:
Look - We often get caught up in our own little world because, if your family is normal, you probably have enough needs of your own and little fires to put out in your daily life. The only problem with this is that we can become so consumed with this that we feed the black hole that exists in all of us through our sinful nature. We have to look beyond our own circles for the needs that exist around us. We can look across the street at our neighbors. We can look across our city for demographics radically different than the one we fit into and the ever present needs of those communities. We can look into the lives of those believers in our own church. We have to know those people before we can do that though; so…are we spending the time necessary to be able to see those needs? We can look at the service needs that exist within our church (much like the disciples did that prompted the creation of the deacon ministry).
Listen - This is where we have to practice incarnation. Jesus walked with and was present with people and could see beyond the immediate outward appearance to what people really needed. He fed the five thousand as a service but did this because it ultimately allowed him to serve a much greater need that they had. Christians and honestly the entire western world gets a bad rap because we like to simply throw money at problems that we perceive without actually listening to the people in need. We go into third world countries and solve problems they don’t actually have and create whole other issues by serving them in the wrong way. Get your group to answer this question: “What might a lonely widow in your neighborhood really need?” Is it money…perhaps. More likely, it is companionship. It is someone who takes time out of their busy schedule to spend time simply listening to and being with them to show them that they really matter and have value (something that community really struggles with but gets neglected by the groups that often come to offer ‘help’). Listening takes time. Listening takes relationship. Are we putting in the time it takes to truly listen? Have your group answer this question: “How does listening pull against the black hole urge that exists within us to speak first?”
Pray - This is not a step I have added just because I wanted four steps or because I think it needed spiritually dressing up. Look back at verse six of the Acts 6 passage. There is a divine partnership between how we serve and what God might be trying to administrate in the lives of others and we have to be sensitive to it. Jesus regularly got away to pray and it was always around major interactions where He was serving and giving of himself to others…this is not coincidence. We need direct guidance from the Father and to be fully submitted to His will in every circumstance. Now…that is the first thing we are to pray about. The second thing we should be praying about is that God would do a work in us as we return to the gospel for that fuel we talked about in the sermon. If we fail to be motivated and moved to service by the gospel we will burn out. We can quickly become overwhelmed by the needs we see and listen to if we are not constantly drawing near to God and His gospel. Galatians 6:9-10 says: Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, awhile we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. We must connect with God through prayer regularly if we are have longevity and effectiveness that brings a bountiful harvest in our lives and in the lives of those we are serving.
Do - This is simultaneously the simplest yet the most difficult step of the four. If you have done the difficult work looking and listening and have sought God in prayer, all that is left is to do. Knowing what to do (if you have done the aforementioned steps is incredibly simple). It is difficult in that (if done correctly) this step is going to cost you. It is going to cost you time, money, energy, emotions, and will potentially open you up to the risks of heartache and being taken advantage of…BUT… “love does not seek its own 1 Cor 13:5.” It is in the doing that you are changed and grown as a disciple. It is in the doing that you display the love of Jesus and who ultimately has your allegiance. We must safeguard ourselves, however, from doing in order to get. Just do. That’s it. Just do. The battle at this point comes with that black hole that exists in each of us that begins to ask questions like: How much is too much? Am I hurting my family or taking on too much risk? How will we meet our needs if we do this? Here is the awesome news: If an entire community (a gospel community) is living out this ethic of serving then in the process of this, your needs will be met as well.
Now comes the challenge: Your group is going to do this this week. What you have to realize is that everyone in this group is starting at a different starting line. This is radically revolutionary for some and for others, they already have a long history of serving others both within and outside of the church. What we want is a step forward…a step of progress from every single person in our groups. Some people have never looked beyond their own circle in their life and so just looking outward (across their street, in their city, at our church) is a major first step that we have to celebrate in a big way. Others have looked but have never listened while still others may serve regularly but have never connected it to their identity rooted in the gospel. You are challenging each person to take a step this week (two if they can) further than they did last week. They need to record this and be ready to discuss briefly next week.
How will you begin to implement the rhythm of Look Listen Pray Do this week? Record your interactions in a journal and come ready to share next week.
For your eyes only: Our follow-up will be incredibly important here. If nobody does anything…well…that tells us something. That tells us the type of church we are becoming. That tells us that rebuke or further explanation or more equipping needs to take place. We CANNOT however, leave inaction in this domain unaddressed. WE WILL NOT PERPETUATE A CONSUMER CHRISTIAN CULTURE IN OUR CHURCH! I will literally stop the series and we will go back to the Bible and dive in again to find out what we missed if we can’t make forward progress here. The burden lies on us this week to drive this point home very clearly and concisely. We have to do. We are not hearers of the word only.