Church unity

SERMON LEFTOVERS 10.17.24

Love the church God established

 

Ephesians 4:1-16

 

God established his Church in loving unity (vs 1-7)

The bonds of our unity are rather extraordinary

1.  The unity of the Church is Trinitarian (v4 one Spirit, v5 one Lord, v6 one Father)

God is a Triune being, and each member is ever working in every believer

God’s greatest intention for us is that we share this unity (John 17:20-23)

2.  The unity of the church flows out of the gospel (v5 one faith, one baptism)

3.  The unity of the church flows into eternity (v4 one body, one hope)

The Church is a forever family

We are all part of the same covenant kingdom

So why do churches often struggle with unity?

(1)  Satan hates God, so he is relentless in attacking the church which is precious to God

(2)  People in the church don’t always understand their own identity. Instead they look at church life through culture rather than Scripture

The application of our unity is in vs 1-3

Paul urges us to live according to the realities of our unity

This requires us to see these realities when we see one another

 

God established structure for his Church

God has given specific practices for every church:

(1)  The church is to gather regularly to be under the ministry of the Word

(2)  The church is to practice community

(3)  The church is to practice the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper

(4)  The church is to protect against sin through church discipline

And in Ephesians 4 we are told God gives leaders to his church (vs 11-12)

Leaders are given by God to organize and lead local churches, so that the practices God has given to the church are maintained

In this passage the emphasis is on their responsibility to “equip” the members of the church

An implication of God’s structure is the importance of membership

The church is not just universal (all believers everywhere), the church is local (specific congregations)

Without the commitment of membership, which church are we responsible to?  

Without the commitment of membership, how do pastors fully know who is under their care?

 

God established the purpose of his Church (vs 13-14)

The great purpose of the church is to make mature Disciples of Christ

We proclaim the gospel to bring people into the church    

We press toward Christ-like maturity, so we actually look like him

God’s purpose must shape how we shape practices of church life

So an important question churches must continually ask: Do our practices bear this fruit?  

 

God established engagement for his Church (vs 15-16)

The existence of church leaders doesn’t minimize the role of church members

v16 the church is held together by “every joint”

v16 the church grows when “each part” is working properly

Churches cannot be healthy unless their members are engaged

This doesn’t mean random volunteering, but a commitment to the life of your church 

v16 also states that members most “work properly”, which means the characteristic of our involvement is not a matter of personal opinion, it is to be shaped by Scripture

A church that places the weight of ministry on its leaders will have a very limited ministry

So it is important that members have clarity about the doctrines of church, otherwise their involvement will be directed by opinion rather than Scripture

When it comes to church life, it is meant to be our life

WISDOM TO STAY UNITED

divided-church

Have you ever disagreed with something done by the leadership of your church?

If you have attended Greentree Church for more than a few weeks, we have probably done something that you questioned, didn’t understand, didn’t like or simply left you scratching your head!

Even though we love our church and we try to be serious about being biblically directed, as leaders we remain flawed and insufficient instruments.

Even when we are acting with correct wisdom, that doesn’t guarantee that every church member is processing their reactions with biblical wisdom.

The church is a gathering of “saints”, but we are all flawed in what we do and how we respond.

For these reasons it is important that in Greentree and every other church, we have a biblical perspective for how to handle questions, conflicts and honest concerns.

Fortunately God “remembers that we are dust”. He gives us grace to work through the struggles we have with one another.

A helpful place to find wisdom for ourselves and life with one another is the Old Testament book of Proverbs.

David Murray offers what he calls two “church transforming” proverbs in this article from the Head, Heart, Hand Blog.

Since we will struggle with one another, it is a wise to know the wisdom God has provided precisely for those moments

BELARUS JOURNAL 2.12.12

Church leaders and their wives at Stolbtsy

Misha Bychko took me to his home church in the town of Stolbtsy, where his father, Michael, is the pastor. I had visited a prayer meeting there a few years ago; this was my first time to preach for them. We had difficulty getting a ride; the temperature was so cold many people could not get their cars started. Finally Misha located a young couple from Bethlehem Church who agreed to drive us the hour each way to Stolbtsy.

Many church services in Belarus have multiple sermons. This comes from Soviet days when churches took full advantage of getting together. During those years it was also the only way to develop younger men to preach. Young men would have shorter sermons followed by the main message. Back then four sermons was not unusual, however 2 is more typical now and many churches have ‘only’ one sermon

Pastor Michael invited me to have the whole service, meaning to preach a couple sermons. I preached my planned sermon from Psalm 27 and turned the service back over, since with translation my sermon was longer than normal. After a few songs Michael asked me to address the congregation about my church if I did not want to preach again.

I decided to share the recent focus at Greentree of wanting to “Always Pursue” – God, those without Christ and each other in the church. To illustrate my thoughts I used some of the stories from my life that I have used in recent sermons as I try to apply the principle of always pursuing.

The heart of this congregation was visible in their eyes as I spoke. What a joy to bring God’s Word to people who embrace it. Preaching to them was comfortable and Misha did a very good job translating for me, he has developed a lot in this area.

After the service and many greetings from the congregation, we went to the Bychko’s home for lunch. Michael has a gift with wood. He looks for odd shaped tree branches and forms them into animal shapes. He does no cutting or chiseling, all of it is by sanding the wood so that the animal is drawn out of it. Their home was filled with these beautiful and unusual pieces of art.

As we spoke over a delicious meal of mashed potatoes, fall off the bone chicken and homemade pickles, Michael described the process their church is walking through which is similar to what has been happening at Greentree over the past year. The leaders of the Stolbtsy Church are working through how to lead their church by becoming better leaders. This is through the humility of their hearts before God as well as how they operate with each other.

After lunch these men came over with their wives and we had a truly wonderful afternoon of discussion. They asked me questions about how we work as a pastoral team; how we care for the congregation; and how we reach out into the community. I let them know that we are struggling through all of these areas with varying degrees of success, but I was glad to share what we have experienced and learned.

When it was time to leave, it felt as if they were old friends. It really was an unusual bonding of heart in a short time. I would have gladly stayed for many more hours or even days with them. The Spirit of God and the Word of God create a bond among believers everywhere in the world. God’s Word gives us common values and principles for life and the Spirit connects in ways that are deeper than is humanly possible.

Pastor Michael’s prayer requests include wisdom for how the leaders of the church work with each other. There is a young man who is being developed in a pastoral role, please pray for his growth. And ask that God will help their whole church to grow deeper in love for God. These are all great requests!

We went straight from Stolbtsy to Bethlehem Church for my final ministry activity of this trip. I gave the ‘second’ sermon in the evening service. My message tonight from Mark 4 also dealt with fear and the doubts we have about God when we are in life’s storms.

The people of Bethlehem Church surrounded me with their love and appreciation. It was very gratifying and a wonderful way to end my time of ministry here. I have come to know many people at Bethlehem, so it took quite awhile to say all our goodbyes. I am especially excited for the wealth of young people in their church who are growing in love for the Lord.

I am READY to go home, but it is never easy to leave, because it involves separation from people I love and ministry that God has imprinted into my heart. Sergei and Zoya drove me to the seminary apartment. There simply are not enough words to express for my gratefulness to God for this privilege to serve together with Sergei. This trip he went out of his way to take care of me.

Now it is 9:30 p.m. I need to finish this blog, pack, shower and try to get some sleep before the alarm goes off at 3:00 a.m. We have to be on our way to the airport by 3:30. Pray for our return home and for my health, my body does need rest. Thank you for supporting us with your prayers and your love. It was a great encouragement to have you with us.