Today we are in week three of our five-week series walking through our church mission statement, which explains our identity as a church. That statement says: "Shaped by the gospel, and for God's glory, we are a family of disciple-making worshipers." Two weeks ago we discussed what it means to be shaped by the gospel, and why that's such an important foundation for us. Last week Lyndon showed us the great purpose we have, of living for the glory of God in all things. Now today, we begin diving into three specific roles that we as a church, we as individual church members, are biblically mandated with. Those roles are: that we are to be family, disciple-makers, and worshipers. If we are following God's call for us, then these three roles will mark us as a people.
Our subject matter for today is the first of these three. We are family. We're to live as family. Acts 2 shows us how we're to live as family. But before we get into all that, first off I just want to say that we all need other people. Now, I know that all of us have differing personalities, and thus different preferences regarding how much or how little time we spend with others. But at the end of the day, all of us still need each other. We were designed to find happiness, at least in part, through relationships with other people. We all have a longing in us to, to some extent, be known and loved by others. To be a husband or wife, to be a friend, a parent, a family member, to be something to someone else. And to have them be something to us.
God is a relational being. The Father, Son and Spirit have delighted in each other, they have enjoyed relationship with each other, from eternity past. And we, as those made in God's image, we were made to delight in Him, and in other people, in the same way. There's just something special about having a common bond with others, having shared interests, or views of life, or even shared struggles. And what greater bond is there than being brothers and sisters in Christ? Scripture says that everyone who puts their faith in Christ becomes a member of the household of God. Christians are family members forever.
Now, if we're honest, we have to confess that we don't always want to be active members of the family. What I mean is, we may agree that we need relationships, we may have some desire to be known and loved, but at the same time...we may also just want our independence, right? Maybe like a young adult who's still living in their parents' home, we just want to do our own thing. Close relationships with others can be a threat to our independence. So, while we may want friendships with others, we want them on our own terms. We want them as long as don't cost us too much, as long as they're convenient for us, as long as we're clearly benefiting from them. But this type of selfish approach to relationships, this kind of self-focused "what's in it for me" approach, is incompatible with the type of community, the type of family, that God made us for.
We were made for relationships that involve self-sacrifice. That may sound off-putting at first, but I say that because we were made for relationships built on love. And love costs something. It costs time, it costs other resources. It involves sacrifice. And so, while we may not like the fact that there is a cost, the important thing to remember about loving self-sacrifice is that it is not a net loss, but a net gain. Yes, we sacrifice for those we love, but those losses are so minuscule compared to what we ultimately gain. We gain the joy of loving, of giving, the joy of knowing, and being known by, another person. And we gain the joy of walking the way God made us to walk. We were created for this. Created for committed relationships with others. This is true in all areas of life, but it certainly includes our relationships with each other, as a church.
That's why church membership is so important; it's us committing to each other. It's why we have things like small groups, so we can get to know a smaller group of people more closely. That's why we have fellowship meals, and men's and women's dinners. You have to spend time together to operate as a family. Serving together, and serving each other, is another way we operate as a family. Church is not just about Sunday mornings. If you stay on the periphery of church life, you'll be missing out on what God wants for you. Missing out on what you need, and what each of us needs.
So, I want us to look at Acts 2 together, to help us see what it should look like for our church to function as a family. In Acts 2 the church is just getting started, and we see a beautiful snapshot of what their life together as a family was like. I'm going to read verses 42-47. It says:
Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
There are three sections this passage can be broken into:
- Family Practices
- Family Resources
- Family Growth
Starting off: family practices. We all, in our own families, have a set of practices and traditions that are unique to our family. And we see here what some of those practices are to be for members of God's family. Verses 42-43 say:
Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.
So, what should some of our family practices be? Devotion to the Word, to fellowship, and to prayer. Verse 42 mentions the apostles' teaching, and for us that is preserved in the Scriptures. As a family, we are to be devoted to the Word of God. It's not something that we treat lightly, we can't just take or leave it; instead, we cling to it – it's our foundation, it's the lamp that guides us in all of life. We're devoted to the Word.
We're also devoted to fellowship, to sharing life together. Rather than scheduling our lives such that we mostly avoid each other, or are too busy for each other, we choose to schedule our lives in a way that prioritizes time together – time in the Word together, time serving together, and also just time enjoying being with each other, in whatever form that takes.
R. C. Sproul said regarding this verse - “You might have heard the saying, “The family that prays together, stays together.” I like to change it a bit and say: “The family that prays and plays together, stays together.”
In our own individual families, the joy of playing together, laughing together, is so important. And the same is true for a church family. The small group that Jess and I are a part of, we have a game night every other time that we meet. And that's been such a great way for everyone in the group to just settle in and be more at home with each other. It's been a huge blessing to us. We're to be devoted to fellowship.
Next, we're to be devoted to prayer. We so need each other's prayers. Sometimes we struggle with things that no one can really help that much with. But our Father can help, so we go to Him in prayer. This devotion doesn't just refer to praying for each other though, it also simply speaks of communing with God. We're to be a people devoted to communing with God in prayer, praying through all of life.
Verse 43 mentions an awe of God that came upon every soul, and wonders and signs that were being done. We are to be marked by our awe of God, and one of the ways that happens is as we occupy a front row seat in other people's lives, and we see how God is at work, not just in me, not just in you, but in other people as well.
When I struggle with doubts regarding my faith, questioning whether all that I believe is really true, one of the things that helps anchor me is the evidence of God I've seen in the lives of others. This has been especially true through our counseling ministry. Through that ministry, I've been given an up-close look into other people's lives – people who come in hurting, devastated by sin and hardship – and I've gotten to see how God has brought about miraculous change in those people's lives, change that only He can accomplish. And that is an amazing testimony.
We may not be privy to many of the signs and wonders that the apostles were performing in Acts 2, but our God is still working wonders every day in this world. And when we lean in to the lives of others, we'll get to see that as we walk together.
The next section of the passage is another type of family practice, but I like to call it family resources.
Acts 2:44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts
Members of God's family recognize that everything we have, has been given by God, and joy comes in using those things for God. When you're in a family, you look out for the needs of your family members. You give to your family freely as needs arise – give of your time, your finances, your talents and service. And the early church did this beautifully. They had all things in common, selling possessions and giving to those who had need. This wasn't a communistic system; giving wasn't forced, but it was compelled by the love of Christ. It was joyful, and voluntary. The early church found contentment in God's provision for them, and they found contentment in trusting that His call to generosity was for their joy.
I listened to a song recently that spoke of kingdom living. It said: "We are not free if we can’t give freely, if we live to have, we don’t have anything." These ideas make no sense to our natural way of thinking. But in the kingdom of God, the family of God, they ring true. We delight to, as we can, meet the needs of others as an overflow of Christ's love and provision for us.
Now, the final section of this passage has to do with one verse, verse 47, and I call this section: family growth.
Acts 2:47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Generally speaking, families reproduce, they grow. That's not true in all cases, for various reasons, but in general, most families grow over time. I want to highlight this because being a family does not mean that we become inward-focused to the detriment of outreach, to the detriment of loving, and sharing the the gospel with, those who are outside our church family.
According to our church mission statement, we are not a family period. The statement doesn't go, "Shaped by the gospel, and for God's glory, we are a family" period. No, we're a family of disciple-making worshipers. When we get too inward focused rather than upward focused, outward focused, we will fail to be the people God designed us to be.
Now, let me be clear what I'm not saying. I'm not saying that we are going to make church growth happen on our own, make salvation happen for other people. The passage is very clear that it was "the Lord [who] added to their number...those who were being saved." God does it. It's His work. But He has given us a part to play in that.
I don't want to spend much time talking through this, because disciple-making will be the focus of next week's message. But one thing I do want to highlight is how the early church, this verse says, was "praising God and having favor with all the people." That may seem odd to us. We may be thinking, "But didn't Jesus say the world would hate us?" Yes, He certainly did. If we're living like Christ, some people will certainly hate us, as they hated Him. But some people will also be drawn to God through us, just as they were drawn to Christ in His time on earth.
The early church was so in awe of God, they lived lives of such praise and worship to God, and love for each other, that people outside the church admired the people in the church. God's people lived in a way that was attractive to the outside world. They found favor with unbelievers, and that favor was used by God to help bring about the salvation of many. Do our lives do this? Do they show a watching world that we have something they don't? Do others see something in us that's attractive? A joy, a peace, a love, a hope. Or even just a humility that we can admit we're mess-ups, because we have a Savior who isn't?
One last thing from verse 47 that I wanted to note, is that the church found favor with "all the people." Meaning, not just one particular group of people. Christianity is for all kinds of people. Not just people who are like you, or like me. If we're being faithful disciple-makers, then the church will be full of people who have many differences, yet who are united in Christ. So let us be sure that we don't set up barriers to Christ, barriers to the gospel, that God Himself doesn't set. The family of God is for all who would trust in Christ.
So we've seen and we know what practices we're to have as a family, how we're to use the resources God has trusted us with, and we know the importance of family growth. But how do we get to this point? With any instruction or commandment we see in Scripture, is the answer simply, "Just do it"? Are we to follow the Nike motto here and just do it? Well, partly, yes. We do have to do things. We do have to take action, to make changes in our lives so that we can be this kind of family. But what is supposed to drive and motivate that for us? What drove the early church to this kind of living? How did they get to this place?
If you're still in Acts 2, I want to point out what happened immediately before verses 42-47. Peter has been giving a sermon, sharing the gospel, and his message concludes in this way, starting in verse 36. He says:
Acts 2:36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What's going on here is that the people were cut to the heart by the gospel. They were confronted with their sinfulness, and they recognized their responsibility for the wrongful death of Jesus Christ. But you know what else they recognized? That this same Jesus, whom they crucified, He went to the cross by choice, in love, so that they could be saved. Jesus voluntarily entered into that suffering, at their own hands, so that they could be brought into the family of God, so that they could experience the bliss of being with Christ forever. That was their story, and that is our story as well.
What we find in the gospel is a truth so powerful that it cuts to our hearts – it changes us. The truth of the gospel is that we are both fully known and fully loved by Jesus. Fully known means He knows that we're sinners, He knows how often our hearts and minds are just consumed by selfishness, by evil. There's nothing hidden from Him. And yet, still He loves us dearly. Still He loves us with all His heart.
It is because of Jesus' love that we are then free to love one another. We're free to love even if we're not being very well loved by someone in return, because we get that love from Christ. Because of His love, we're no longer always, as Matt Chandler likes to say, "navel-gazing." Meaning, just looking at ourselves all the time, focused on ourselves. Instead, we are captivated by and driven by the glory of our Lover, the Lord Jesus Christ. As those who are known and loved by Jesus, we, like the early church, then move out into knowing and loving our brothers and sisters. And we let them know us – the true us, not some fake versions of us who have it all together. We let our brothers and sisters know and love us, and we know and love them, following in the footsteps of our Savior. That is family living. That's being a family who is shaped by the gospel.
And don't get me wrong, our family living won't be perfect. It will never be perfect on this earth. Even the early church, they had their highs, yes. But we also see in the rest of the New Testament that they had a whole bunch of lows. Much of the New Testament was written because the church had issues, and it needed help to fix those issues.
I mention that because, if our experiences with the church, or our experiences with family, have been filled with pain and brokenness, with that which is not in line with God's design for the church, for family, then it can be really hard for us to accept God's vision for a biblical church family. If we're really going to commit to each other, then it will take faith that our Father knows what's best, that His plan for us is best.
Ephesians 2:22 says that in Christ we "are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." That verse is saying that we, as a family, are under construction - we're a work in progress. We live in the DFW area, most of us are in Collin County, so we know what it's like to live in a construction zone. It's messy! It's inconvenient. There are traffic delays. Construction is a mess. But the end result is something beautiful.
None of us have this all figured out. All of us are sinners in need of grace. Sinners who fail, to varying degrees, to live as loving members of God's family. But the good news is that we have a Savior. We have an Elder Brother who loves us at our worst, and faithfully sticks with us through thick and thin. Christ is our Rock, He is our Refuge, and He is growing us more and more into that dwelling place of God that we were made to be. All praise to His name.