Last week we talked about "The Priority of the Church", and I stated as clearly and as forcibly as I could that the Church's priority, when it is gathered, was to teach the Word of God. Expositing the Word to the saints should be the heart of every church's ministry. If the world looks at the church and sees an entertainment center, we're sending the wrong message. If Christians view the church as an amusement parlor, discipleship will die.
Martin Luther said, "The highest worship of God is the preaching of the Word." That's true because God is revealed through His Word, therefore, preaching His Word is preaching His character and His will, and that defines Him in true terms and exalts Him as He is to be exalted.
The entertainment centered churches may gather a crowd, but they do little to help people build a solid intimate relationship with the Living God. Only the teaching of the Word can do that.
In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul defines the church as "the pillar and ground of the truth." If there should be anything true about the church, it should be it's where you hear the Word of the living God.
Now, this responsibility of teaching the Word of God primary falls upon the elders. The leaders of the church are to make sure that when the church meets that God's Word is proclaimed. But all of you are also responsible for this. You may ask, "How can I make sure the Word is taught when I am not an elder?" You are responsible to be in a church where the Word is taught. Men, it is your responsibility to have your family in an assembly that teaches the Word of God.
So, the priority of the Church when it gathers is to teach the Word of God. With that said, this morning I would like us to examine our priority as individual Christians.
What is our priority, individually, as the Church of Jesus Christ. I'm looking for a one word answer. LOVE!
Matthew 22:36-40 (NKJV) "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" 37 Jesus said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 "This is the first and great commandment. 39 "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
Would you agree with me that the Church's priority is love? Jesus said that love would identify us as His disciples:
John 13:35 (NKJV) "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Please look closely at this verse, is it love that distinguishes us as Christians? That is not what it says. It says that it is love that distinguishes us as disciples.
One of the most important and misunderstood distinctions in the Bible is that of a Christian and a disciple. Many see them as synonymous, but I think the Bible makes a distinction between them.
How does a person become a Christian? What do you have to do to be a Christian? The answer is one word - believe! A person becomes a Christian by faith in Jesus Christ.
John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:36 (NKJV) "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
John 11:25-26 (NKJV) Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
John 20:30-31 (NKJV) And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you maybelieve that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have lifein His name.
A person becomes a Christian when they understand and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. At that moment they are placed into the body of Christ, given Christ's righteousness, indwelt by God, and are as sure of heaven as if they were already there. They are "in Christ".
The Scriptures make it quite clear that salvation is a free gift of God's grace, but the Scriptures also teach that discipleship is costly. Salvation is our birth in the Christian life, and discipleship is our education and maturity in the Christian life. Compare these two texts:
John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Eternal life is a gift of grace to all who believe - do you see any cost involved here? But now notice:
Luke 14:33 (NKJV) "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
Discipleship is a call to forsake all and follow Christ. Can this be talking about the same thing as John in John 3:16? I don't see how. I see discipleship as a conditional relationship that can be interrupted or terminated after it has begun. All Christians are called to be disciples, but not all are. Jesus taught his disciples, all his disciples, that we are to love one another just as he loves us:
John 13:34 (NKJV) "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
I don't think that there should be much argument as to the fact that we are commanded by God to love each other. We know we're suppose to love, but do we know what love is?
Our culture uses the word love to mean just about everything except what the Bible means by it. So Christians are easily misled into thinking love is primarily a feeling, something we fall in or out of. The biblical word used for love is "agape". Agape was used by the New Testament writers to designated a volitional love (as opposed to a purely emotional love), a self-sacrificial love.
Agape love, is a response to someone who is unworthy of love. This concept of love was derived from the cross. God loved the world and gave his son for it. That was a response to unworthy people, to sinners, to those who were his enemies. That is agape. It is a love that proceeds from the nature of the lover, rather than the worth of the person who is loved. It is a love that gives, a love that seeks the best of the object loved. Agape is a commitment of the willto cherish and uphold another person. It is the only word ever used to describe God's love. It is a decision that you make and a commitment that you have launched upon to treat another person with concern, with care, with thoughtfulness, and to work for his or her best interests. That is what love is.
Let's look at a few verses that command us to love:
1 Peter 1:22 (NKJV) Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart,
The Greek word that Peter uses here for "fervently" is ektenos. This Greek word means:"intently". It comes from ektenes, which means: "without ceasing". We are to intently love each other without ceasing.
Look at what the writer of Hebrews told believers:
Hebrews 10:24 (NKJV) And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,
He says, "Let us consider one another." The word "consider" is from the Greek word katanoeo. Katanoeo is a compound word composed of kata, which means: "down" and noeo, which means: "to exercise the mind." It has the idea of: "thoroughly and carefully noticing someone or some thing." A good English equivalent would be "to contemplate." Do you "thoroughly and carefully notice others" in this assembly? I would be willing to bet that very few of you even know the names of everyone here. Why is that? It is simply because we don't love each other.
This exhortation to consider is not given to the church elders - it is given to all believers. We all are to "consider one another". We are to look to the needs, problems, struggles, and temptations of one another. The spirit of rugged individualism so prevalent in America is wholly incompatible with the church of Jesus Christ. American believers think that they have discharged their responsibility to the Lord because they are individually living in holiness, but they are wrong; we are not only to look out for our own lives, but we are to consider others. Christianity is others oriented! But most of us care only about meeting our own needs; we ignore the many instructions in the Bible about our responsibility to others. Do you realize that individually you and I are personally responsible for the physical and spiritual welfare of each other? Do you understand that? Look at just a few of the ways that the Bible says we should be involved in each other's lives:
Colossians 3:16 (NKJV) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing [Greek: noutheteo] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NKJV) Therefore comfort each other and edify [Greek: oikodomeo: to be a house-builder, to construct] one another, just as you also are doing.
Galatians 5:13 (NKJV) For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve [Greek: douleuo: to be a slave to] one another.
The kingdom of God is not designed for believers to exist in isolation from each other; we are interdependent. We need each other if we are truly going to be what God has called us to be. Each believer has unique abilities and insights that are invaluable for ministering to the body of Christ. Christianity is to be lived out in community, and God has created us to be dependant both on Him and on one another. God said in Genesis 2:18, "It is not good for a man to be alone." That principle does not only apply to the marriage relationship; none of us has the spiritual wherewithal to go it alone in our Christian lives:
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NKJV) Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.
We need each other, because that is how the Lord created us. We are to teach, to serve, and to bear the burdens of one another.
I think that the contemporary church is miserably failing to love. We are really not much different than the world. We come to a meeting on Sundays, and we chat with and hang out with our friends. Then we go home and during the week we talk to and hang out with those we are comfortable with. How much time during the week do you spend loving others, besides your friends. Don't the unsaved also love their friends?
We went over this several weeks ago, but I think we need to be reminded of it. Look at what Paul told the believers in Rome:
Romans 15:7 (NKJV) Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
The word "receive" is the Greek word proslambano, which means: "to take to one's self, to take into friendship". It is an intense word, it means: "to grant one access to one's heart, to take into friendship, communion." So Paul is saying, "take intimately to yourself one another," To the glory of God.
Are you doing this in this assembly? Are you granting access to your heart, are you taking others in this assembly into your friendship and communion?
Matthew 10:40 (NKJV) "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.
How you receive another believer is how you receive Christ and the Father. We are to accept our brothers in Christ even though they are different from us. We tend to receive only those who are like us, and we reject or exclude all those who are different.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (NKJV) Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
Christ received us unconditionally. Were we worthy of it? No, not at all. When a believer refuses to accept into his heart another believer, he is saying in effect, "I know Christ has received them, but I require more, I have a higher standard." We're to be like Christ, but are we?
There are many opportunities to really reach out in love in this assembly, but few of us do. Why? It's because we are too wrapped up in ourselves. The big problem is that most people come to church to receive, not to give. Do you look for ministry opportunities or do you seek to be ministered to?
When I talk about ministry, I'm not talking about teaching Sunday school or ushering, I'm talking about reaching out in love to a fellow brother or sister. Let me share with you a few ministry opportunities that I see here.
Right now we have three families here whose spouses have left them. Three individuals whose husband or wife has left them. I would consider that a serious trial. But I wonder how many of you have reached out to them in love. The sovereign God of the universe put them in our assembly for a reason. Have you called them to say, "I'm praying for you" or to encourage them in any way? Have you had them over to your home to attempt to get to know them and minister to their needs? You may be thinking, "I don't really know them and I'm not good with strangers." God has this to say to you:
Hebrews 13:1-2 (NKJV) Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.
The words "entertain strangers" are from the Greek word philonexia, It comes from philos, which means: "love", and xenos, which means: "stranger". It means: "loving strangers or a fondness, affection to strangers, hospitableness, hospitality".
He goes on to say, "...for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels" The word "angel" may refer to superhuman beings, or it may refer to human beings who are messengers from God. Angel is from the Greek word aggelos, which means: "to bring tidings; a messenger". I think the point here is that we can never know how important and far reaching a simple act of love may be.
Laura is a part of this fellowship, but how many of you really know her? She would love to get out of the house and go anywhere that you would be willing to take her - to the mall, a movie, the park.
Several families here have husbands who are out to sea with the military. Have you called them to see how they are doing? Or to see if they need anything? Have you prayed for them? Recently a family left our church. Do you even know who? Have you called them? Do you care?
Are you thoroughly and carefully noticing others in this assembly? Are you "receiving" others in this assembly, granting them access to your heart, taking them into friendship, communion? If you are not, you are living in disobedience.
You may be saying to yourself, "I just don't have time for others, I'm so busy taking care of me and my responsibilities." I'm sure many of you feel that way, but I don't feel that it is a legitimate excuse for not ministering to others. We all have our own stuff to deal with, but notice what Paul told the Philippians:
Philippians 2:4 (NKJV) Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
The word "look" is from the Greek word skopeo, it means: " to fix the attention upon with desire for, and interest in." We are to be looking out for others. Looking to meet the interests of others and not just our self. We need to hear this, we are so consumed with ourselves that we have no time for others.
Timothy fleshed this out Paul said this of him in:
Philippians 2:20-21 (NKJV) For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.
Notice that he doesn't say that others care for themselves and not you, but others care for themselves and not for Christ. To be concerned for other Christians is to be concerned for Christ; to love Christ is to love his people.
If we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we don't have time for others, we are failing to love. And if we fail to love, we are failing to do that which is most important. We all want to be loved and cared for, but few of us want to get out of our comfort zone and expend the effort it takes to love others.
1 John 4:21 (NKJV) And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
We cannot truly love God without loving one another. To recognize that there is someone I do not love is to say to God, "I do not love you enough to love that person." To not be a loving person is not some small character flaw, it is to break the greatest commandment, it is to not love God.
Agape love is a love that gives, a love that seeks the best of the object loved. Agape is a commitment of the will to cherish and uphold another person. It is a decision that you make and a commitment that you have to treat another person with concern, with care, with thoughtfulness, and to work for his or her best interests. That is what love is.
You can know your Bible from cover to cover, you can seek to live a life of holiness and personal piety, you can attend every meeting of the church, and you can give a large portion of your income to the Lord's work, but Jesus said, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Paul put it this way:
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NNAS) If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Paul also said:
2 Corinthians 13:5 (NKJV) Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?; unless indeed you are disqualified.
The word "disqualified" is from the Greek word adokimos, which means: "unapproved, rejected; by implication worthless (literally or morally); castaway, reprobate." This same word is used in the stringent warning to believers in Hebrews 6:
Hebrews 6:7-8 (NKJV) "For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected [adokimos] and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned."
The Hebrew's passage pictures believers as a plot of ground that belongs to God. God has poured out upon us the blessings of His grace like rain from heaven and has the right to expect that our lives will be fruitful, productive, and useful to men. When believers are fruitful, He blesses them. But, if after the rain has fallen upon a believer's life, if after he has received the blessings of His matchless grace, the believer produces briars and thorns which are the fruit of a sin-cursed world, then God rejects his life. It falls under his temporal judgement, and its destiny is to suffer the fire of discipline and chastisement, (Fire generally pictures the temporal judgement of God rather than the eternal judgement of hell).
To be disqualified or castaway has nothing to do with salvation; rather disqualification refers to temporal judgement and loss of rewards.
We are to be intently loving each other without ceasing (1 Peter 1:22). We are to thoroughly and carefully notice others in this assembly (Hebrews 10:24). We are to be granting access to our heart, to be taking into our friendship and communion others in this assembly (Romans 15:7). We are to be loving strangers or having a fondness, affection to strangers, showing them hospitality (Hebrews 13:2).
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