Four years ago Rich and I, as elders of Berean Bible Church, developed a mission statement for our church. We wanted to clarify where we were going so we could take the appropriate steps to get there. We boiled it down to twenty two words.
Our Mission: to influence friends who are living in spiritual darkness, that they also may know the joy of loving the Lord Jesus Christ.
We believe that this is why we exist as a church, and this is also why we exist as individual Christians. We believe that if you understand this to be your mission, that you will live in such a way as to carry it out.
Do you live with the awareness that we are on this planet for purposes greater than having a career, paying the bills, loving our families, and fulfilling our role as upstanding citizens? The primary reason we remain on this planet is to help others in their spiritual walk. We see this principle set forth by two passages in Philippians:
Philippians 1:23-25 (NKJV) For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith,
Paul's desire was to depart this planet and be with Christ, but he knew that his remaining here would benefit the Philippians. Thus, he saw that his purpose for living was to help others in their spiritual walk. To live for Christ was to live to help others in their Christian walk. If this is true, are you living for Christ? Who are you helping in their spiritual walk? Who are you ministering to? If a name does not pop into your mind maybe it's because the only one you're ministering to is yourself.
Philippians 2:3-4 (NKJV) Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
We are to esteem others better than ourselves and thus live to see the best interest of others fulfilled. The whole Bible bears out the fact that Christianity is "others" oriented. This is why when people live simply to promote their own interest and desires, they live empty lives, void of any real meaning.
Notice that we said that our influence is to be on those "living in spiritual darkness". This is not simply a reference to the unsaved, "darkness" is used in Scripture in several different ways. It is used to refer to those who don't know God, the lost:
Acts 26:18 (NKJV) 'to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.'
Colossians 1:13 (NKJV) He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love."
1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV) 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;
As believers, we have been delivered from the power of darkness. We are children of light. By our faith in Jesus Christ, we have eternal life.
But the Scripture also uses darkness to refer to believers who are walking in ignorance or disobedience:
Romans 13:11-13 (NKJV) And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.
Paul says, "...let us cast off the works of darkness...." - who is the "us" of this text? It is referring to Paul and the Roman believers. I believe that this is speaking of believers living in disobedience.
Notice what John writes to believers in:
1 John 1:3-7 (NKJV) 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. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. 5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 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 Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
As believers living in the joy of loving the Lord Jesus Christ, we are to be an influence on those who don't know God and those who do know Him but are not walking in obedience to Him.
Believers, we are to be an influence in the world in which we live. This is clearly what Christ meant in:
Matthew 5:13-16 (NKJV) "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14 "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 "Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
When Jesus said, "you are... salt and light", he was speaking to his disciples:
Matthew 5:1-2 (NKJV) And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
The question for us is, "Do these words apply to us as well?" I would say that they definitely do. All through the Scripture, Christians are called "lights." In the book of Revelation, the churches are called "candlesticks". All believers are to be salt and light.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is putting forth principles for living in His kingdom. If we live according to these principles, we will be salt and light.
Salt has a preserving influence against that which, left to itself, would soon putrefy and rot. Light not only reveals the true state of things, it also dispels darkness and illumines. The light of the gospel, as it shines forth in the life of those who follow Christ, dispels spiritual darkness and reveals the true nature of evil.
I think it is obvious that the general tendency of society is to become increasingly morally corrupt and rotten. That is not only true of past generations, it is true of our own present day. Are there definite signs and indications of increasing moral decay in the world in which we live? Indeed there are! Adultery, fornication, perversion, abortion, and lying are pervasive in our day.
This is something which ought to greatly concern those who seek to follow the Lord. When moral decay and spiritual darkness prevail, it is an indication that there is a lack of the presence of salt and light, or that the salt and light are no longer effective. According to Christ, salt that is no longer salty is worthless. Much of today's Christianity is worthless in terms of being salt and light. It has lost its power to restrain evil and to be a source of the true light of the gospel. We need to be praying that God will bring about reformation and revival, so that once again God's people will be salt and light.
Have you ever wondered what the world would be like without light? It's almost impossible to imagine. Years ago New York City had a massive power failure. The whole city shut down. Under the cover of darkness, there was rampant looting and violence and widespread panic ...until the power was restored and the lights came back on. People will do things in the darkness that they would never do in the light.
In our text, Jesus looks at his followers, and he says to them and to us, "You are the salt of the earth..., you are the light of the world!" In other words, "As my followers, I want you to live a distinctively different kind of life in the midst of a dark and decaying world. You are my only strategy for transforming the world!"
This presents quite a challenge. C.S. Lewis was right when he said, "The best argument for Christianity is Christians - their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the best argument against Christianity is also Christians - when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug, when they are narrow and repressive. Then Christianity dies a thousand deaths." How about you? Are you a good argument for or against Christianity?
How do we influence our friends? Two ways; by how we live, and what we say. What is to come first? Example! People aren't interested in committing their lives to Christ unless they observe attractive and consistent patterns of living in the Christians they know. Joe Aldrich, author of the book, Life-Style Evangelism, puts it like this, "Christians are to be good news before they share the good news."
We influence our friends by how we live, and what we say. Having a godly, Christlike example is not enough. We have to articulate the gospel to them. We have to tell them why we live like we do. We must tell them the damage that sin brings, and the joy of living in an obedient relationship with Jesus Christ.
How much influence do you have on others around you? To stress to you the power and responsibility we have to our brothers and sisters in Christ, I want to share with you something that we learned last Wednesday at cell group. We have been studying "grace".
As Christians, we must understand that all of life is a matter of grace. We are brought into God's eternal kingdom by grace; we are positionally and practically sanctified by grace; we are motivated to obedience by grace; we receive strength to live the Christian life by grace; and we receive both temporal and spiritual blessings by grace. The entire Christian life is lived by grace.
Now if that is true, and I believe with all my heart that it is, then we must understand what "grace"is. Can you define it?
Romans 3:24 (NKJV) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
The word "justified" means: "to declare righteous." It is a legal act on the part of God. We see here that we are justified "freely by His grace." The word "freely" is the Greek word dorean. It means: "for nothing, gratuitously, giftwise or with out a cause." The cause of our justification is in God and not in us. The word "grace" means: "free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgement." I would say that most Christians understand this, but what I want you to see is that this is not the only meaning of "grace" in the Scriptures. That meaning doesn't fit:
2 Timothy 2:1 (NKJV) You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
How was Timothy to be strong in the "free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgement"? The verb "be strong" is in the imperative mood; that is, it expresses a command. Paul wanted Timothy to do something to receive this grace, but "grace" by definition is free and unmerited.
We must understand that "grace" is also used in the Bible to mean: "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances." This is how Paul uses "grace" in:
2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV) And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
So, Paul uses "grace" as: "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances."
What I want you to understand this morning is that the Bible teaches that believers are to appropriate God's grace for their daily lives.
2 Timothy 2:1 (NKJV) You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
Paul wanted Timothy to do something; he wanted Timothy to appropriate God's grace and be strong in it. We need grace, enabling power to live our lives. The idea of "appropriating the grace of God" may be a new concept to you. By "appropriating God's grace," I mean to take possession of the divine strength He has made available to us in Christ. We do this by applying the "means of grace". Now, the million dollar question is: What are these means that bring us God's grace? What is it that we can do to bring God's grace into our lives? Do you see the importance of this question? Do you need God's grace? I can't live without it, so we must know how to appropriate it.
At the cell group, Rich defined "means of grace" as: 1. Something that takes human effort (example - manna). 2. Something outlined in God's Word as a means of grace. We saw in our study at cell group that there are only three things that fit this description: 1 Word of God; 2 Prayer; 3. Ministry of others.
1. Word of God:
Why is it important for us as Christians to read and study the Bible? It is important because the Bible is a means of appropriating God's grace-- His enabling power.
Acts 20:32 (NKJV) "So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
The reference here is to the ongoing use of Scripture in our daily lives to build us up in the Christian faith. Paul calls it, "The word of His grace," the word through which we come to understand and appropriate God's grace in our daily lives.
The Bible is the only source of truth we have about God.
2 Timothy 3:16 (NKJV) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
Paul is saying to Timothy that the Bible comes from God. He is its ultimate author. The Bible provides information that is not available anywhere else. The Bible is divine self-disclosure. In it the mind of God is revealed on many matters. With a knowledge of Scripture, we do not have to rely on secondhand information or bare speculation to learn who God is and what he values. In the Bible, God reveals himself.
If we are to appropriate the grace of God, then, we must spend time in our Bibles. We must seek to know and understand the great truths of Scripture.
Scripture is called the "word of His grace". God uses Scripture to mediate His grace to us. R.C.H. Lenski said, "God and the Word of his grace always go together; God lets his grace flow out through that Word."
If we are to appropriate the grace of God, then, we must regularly expose ourselves directly to the word of God. We don't earn God's blessing by reading His word. But a regular intake of God's word is necessary to sustain a healthy spiritual life and to appropriate His grace.
Prayer is another means of grace. Please look at:
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NKJV) For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
This is a call to prayer. We obtain grace to help in time of need, that is God's enabling power through prayer. We are to ask for grace, that is the power to deal with life's circumstances. The disciples went to God's throne of grace in prayer when they had been commanded by the Jewish rulers not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus:
Acts 4:29 (NKJV) "Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word,
The NIV puts it this way:
Acts 4:29 (NIV) Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.
They went to God in prayer for the enabling power, grace, to be able to speak boldly for Christ in the midst of great opposition. Remember, we said that grace was: "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances." Their circumstances were more than they could handle, so, they went to God in prayer for grace. They appropriated God's grace through prayer.
Most of you are probably familiar with the idea that we appropriate God's grace through Bible study and prayer, but I don't think too many people understand the third one;
3. The Ministry of Others:
Ephesians 4:29 (NKJV) Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.
What is the means of grace here? The ministry of other believers. God uses us as ministers of grace. Are you aware that you can be a means of grace in another believer's life? That is a very sobering thought. I can impart grace to a fellow believer! Peter put it this way:
1 Peter 4:10 (NKJV) As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
The Greek word for "gift" here is charisma, it has the idea of: "grace." We have received grace, and we are to minister grace to each other. Think about this for a minute. How important is God's grace to you? We can't make it through one day apart from the grace of God. We need God's enabling power to live our lives, and this power, this grace can come to us through the ministry of others.
Now you might be thinking, "How is this possible?" Have you ever been in the pit of despair, being overcome by your circumstances? I have. And in those times, God uses His word to strengthen me, and He uses prayer. But He also uses "my friends." When I think of times of trial, I remember the comfort that I received from my friends. Friends who gave me encouraging words, words of support, words of comfort. My friends reminded me of what I knew the scripture said, and reminded me of God's faithfulness. My friends ministered grace to me. They were used of God as a means of grace. And my best friend is my wife. God often uses her to minister grace to me. Ministering to one another in time of need is an important means by which the Lord mediates His grace to us.
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.
When you live independent of the corporate community, when you don't spend time with other believers, you cut off a means of the grace of God. How sad it is for the person who has no one to minister grace to them in their time of need.
During the time David was hiding from Saul, who was trying to kill him, he fled to the cave Adullam. While in that cave, he wrote Psalm 142, a cry of distress to God. Notice verse 4:
Psalms 142:4 (NKJV) Look on my right hand and see, For there is no one who acknowledges me; Refuge has failed me; No one cares for my soul.
How sad to think that no one cares for your soul. How sad to have no one to minister God's grace to you.
Our mission statement says that we are to be an influence. Talk about influence! How much more influential could we be than to be a means of grace - to be a means of God's enabling power to someone?
Grace is available to meet our every need, to get us through every circumstance, to empower us for every task. But we must appropriate it. We must spend time in God's Word, and in prayer, and we must spend time with each other.
Let me give you some practical suggestions and some specific activities that will help us minister grace to one another.
1. Share biblical truth with one another. Most of the time when we get together, we talk about everything except the Scriptures and our God. We talk about our jobs, favorite sports, hobbies, and the weather. We talk about everything except what God is teaching us from His Word and through His providential working in our lives. In my experience, I haven't found many believers who are willing to have true fellowship. But when I have found it, it has been refreshing and joyous.
When I was in England for a week, I met some Christians, and we had a great time sharing together the things of God. One afternoon we got together with folks from England, Ireland, and Scotland and had a time of worship and fellowship together. Though we had many differences, we had a common bond in the Lord, we were all relatives, we had the same Father.
Several years ago I was sitting at my kitchen table discussing the Bible with a lady who was visiting from out of town. She commented on how much she had enjoyed our time of fellowship. She attends a very large, very active church in her home town. I asked her how much time she spends with friends from her church talking about the Bible and what God is doing in their lives. She said, "None." So many people are involved in church but not in fellowship with their God or other believers.
We need to get into the word of God and then share with others what God is teaching us. I really enjoy and look forward to our testimony times, because I love hearing you share what God is teaching you. We all face the same struggles, and as you share your victories, I am encouraged.
As we share biblical truth with each other, we minister grace to each other:
Hebrews 3:12-13 (NKJV) Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
Here we see that an important, no, a vital means of withstanding the enticement to apostasy is that of mutual exhortation - "...exhort one another daily...." The word "exhort" is parakaleo, which means: " to encourage, comfort, beseech, to beg." It's the same word used for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is not a negative warning but a positive encouragement.
How often are we to exhort each other? "Daily" exhortation is required because the fight of faith is "daily." Temptation is "daily." The influence the world has upon us is experienced "daily." Our need for spiritual sustenance is "daily." All of this assumes frequent contact with the people of God. Thus, the Holy Spirit reminds us to prod one another heavenward every day. Let our speech and our manners be such toward each other as to minister grace.
What is the alternative to daily exhortation in the Lord? "So that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." The person that chooses to avoid daily exhortation, allowing his mind to be unaffected by the truth of God, will soon be living in sin. It may be what men call "respectable sin", but it will still be sin. What is more, sin HARDENS the heart. The more we are exposed to it, the more apt we are to be hardened against God.
Calvin said, "As by nature we are prone to fall into evil, we have need of various helps to help us in the fear of God. Unless our faith is repeatedly encouraged, it lies dormant; unless it is warmed, it grows cold; unless it is aroused, it gets numb."
The duty of exhorting one another is neglected by most of us. We're faithful to judge and criticize others, but we're not so faithful to encourage them. One of the best ways we can encourage one another is with the Scriptures. We are to share biblical truth with each other.
Proverbs 27:17 (NKJV) As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.
As we share Scripture with each other, we are sharpened and encouraged. We need each other, we need encouragement as we face trials. An encouraging word can give us the strength we need to stand.
J.I. Packer said, "We should not think of our fellowship with other Christians as a spiritual luxury, an optional addition to the exercises of private devotion. We should recognize rather that such fellowship is a spiritual necessity; for God has made us In such a way that our fellowship with himself is fed by our fellowship with fellow-Christians, and requires to be so fed constantly for its own deepening and enrichment."
Another way in which we minister grace to one another is by:
2. Sharing our sins, failures, and discouragements.
James 5:16 (NKJV) 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.
We hesitate to share our sins and our failures with each other, don't we? Why? I guess we want people to think well of us, and we don't want them to know that we fail. That is just our pride. We forget the truth of:
1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV) No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
We are not going through any experience that is new or unique, we all face common trials, and we all fail. Sharing our failures can help others to see that they aren't alone in their failures.
A third way in which we minister grace is through our giving. Speaking of giving Paul said:
2 Corinthians 8:7 (NKJV) But as you abound in everything; in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us; see that you abound in this grace also.
Here we see that our giving is a means of grace. Giving is an aspect of our ministering grace to each other.
Believers, understand this, your giving is a ministry of grace to other believers. As a small church, God has given us many opportunities to minister grace to the Body of Christ. Through our tapes and the web site we have been able to minister to many people around the globe. As we join together to serve and give financially here we are able to "minister grace" to many of God's people. Let me share with you some excerpts of letters I received this week, so you can see how your giving has ministered grace to others in the body of Christ:
Greetings! We received the latest shipment of taped messages today & we just have to let you know what a blessing they are to us. It's like opening a Christmas package when they arrive! We appreciate all your hard work to put the messages together and Sheryl's efforts to send the tapes out. My husband is still using printouts of your sermons to lead our church services. The adults & kids who come are eager to hear & happy to participate as we read & study God's word.
You've caused us to grow so much in such a short time. We can't thank you enough for leading us to where we are in our spiritual walk. You've helped to make clear so many things that in the past had been confusing because of bad teaching. Our church prays for you and your congregation faithfully...
Another man writes: "Greetings, brother! Hope all is going well with you and BBC these days. I have reaped a great deal of benefit from the tapes. Thanks again."
Another man writes: "Thank you so much for posting the studies from your fellowship on the Web.... May God continue to bless you and your fellowship with the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Believers, I think we all understand how important God's grace is to our lives. What I want you to see today is that YOU are a minister of that grace! I want each of you to think of yourselves as "ministers of grace". What an influence we could have if we all lived in light of the fact that we are to be ministering grace to each other.