We are preaching through the book of Acts together at Conway Celebration Church. Yesterday we studied Acts 2:42-47, a snapshot of the life of the early church. We took a step back and looked at the grand theme of Community in Scripture. God wants us enjoying community with him and with the saints! You can hear the audio of that teaching HERE (choose the 2010 folder and scroll down to Acts 11 - Community - The Life of the Church).
I. We Are Saved To Enjoy Community: He Brought Us Out To Bring Us In. In Acts 2 we go from Peter calling the crowd to come out of one group (“save yourselves from this crooked generation” v40b) to seeing the new converts come in to another group (“and they devoted themselves…” v42). They come out of the crooked generation headed toward God’s judgment, to a chosen generation in Christ – a devoted church community! We are saved for community, not individualism. God’s plan is not saved individuals (per se) but a redeemed church in the Lord Jesus Christ.
A. God is a Community. The Bible teaches that there is one God who is made up by 3 Persons. Each of these Persons is distinct, and each is God; yet there is one God. This is the mystery of the Trinity. Scripture reveals a loving and joyful relationship between the members of the Godhead, from eternity (John 17:24).
B. Man Was Created for Community. God made man and then said that it is not good for the man to be alone; he created woman, brought her to man and instituted marriage. Then he commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. So man, who was created to show God’s image, was formed for community. When sin entered the picture in Genesis 3, community with God was broken (they hid from God) and community (or communion) with man was broken as well. The first man ever born killed his brother! And this has been the story ever since. While some glimpses of the community we were created to enjoy still exist among fallen men, it is evident that sin has divided mankind and every individual is affected deeply with selfishness and pride (the opposite of community). God’s image in us is marred because of sin and this affects community.
C. God’s Old Covenant Was With a Community. When God began to carry out his plan for redemption, he called Abraham and told him he would make a nation out of him. God took an old man and a barren woman (community was impossible) and miraculously brought the nation of Israel from them! He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt (a redeemed community), gave them his Laws and made them a nation. Israel was to show the image of God and point to his eventual restoration of all things through the promised Messiah. This light would also shine to the Gentiles. God gave this Israelite community his Law, which is summarized in the “community terminology” of (1) Love God and (2) Love your neighbor.
God brought Israel out of slavery to bring them into the promised land where they could fulfill their purpose for the glory of God.
• And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. Deuteronomy 6:23 God built a community – the nation of Israel.
D. God’s New Covenant in Christ is Also With a Community. Jesus the Messiah came as promised, died for his community; his people, the church (Acts 20:28; Eph 5:25), rose from the dead, ascended to the Father, and poured out the Holy Spirit upon his gathered people – all as promised. He sent his people with a mission to preach the gospel to all nations, gathering to himself a church for his glory that will one day live with him forever in glorious, sinless, unhindered community! Until then, he has commanded those in the community of the church to love one another – to enjoy community together in local churches; a restoration of the original design! We have been reconciled to God and to one another in Jesus Christ! God brought us out of the crooked generation headed for judgment and wrath, and has brought us into the church – where we enjoy loving community with God and other believers. Sin’s curse is broken and we are FREE to love God and FREE to love each other!
• that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. …But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:3, 7
• and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all 2 Cor 13:14
II. We Are Sinful and Resist Community. Although the vision for community with each other and God through Jesus Christ sounds wonderful, our flesh resists it. These are the sins of pride, selfishness and individualism. This sinful, anti-community attitude seeks to de-emphasize the church and over emphasize the individual. Though God’s plan is glorious, we still oppose it!
Example (Cain & Abel).
Love is an attempt to build community. (Embraces God’s plan)
Murder (Hate) is an attempt to destroy community. (Rejects God’s plan)
LOVE<- ------------------------------------------------------- -> MURDER (HATE)
Receiving others “stiff-arming” others, anger
A. Privacy Fence Culture. We just don’t like people. When it comes down to it, we just simply don’t have love for others. This is a great sin!
• If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:20-21
We resist and fight against God’s purpose for us when we put up our privacy fences in our hearts – especially in the church! With our fences we try to control who we have community with – but Jesus destroyed this at the cross when he made Jews and Gentiles one through his death! HE chooses who we are in community with! Believers must embrace community with other believers. To resist this is to resist Christ; at best it is to live on earth in a way we will not live in heaven; at worst it shows that we are not truly children of God. If you are a believer who is stiff-arming the church you need to know that this is sin; you need to repent. God can forgive you, heal you and fill you with love for your brothers and sisters!
B. Individualism Theology – “Personal Relationship with Jesus.”
After Rene Descartes began his defense of God with the word I, one of the great hallmarks of the modern era was its radical commitment to the individual. While not a concept in either the Old or New Testament, the idea that people stand alone as isolated individuals wove its way into the modern era, especially in the American consciousness where the rugged individual is the hero in virtually all of our great cultural narratives. As a result, during the modern era the focus shifted from the church to the individual. On this point the historian Mark Noll says, ‘Up to the early 1700s British Protestants preached on God’s plan for the church. From the mid-1700s, however, evangelicals emphasized God’s plans for the individual.’ From the declaration by God in the garden to our first parents – that it is not good to be alone – to the example of the one true God who himself exists in Trinitarian community as Father, Son, and Spirit, the emphasis of Scripture is that while we are individuals insofar as there is distinction between us, through the reconciling work of Jesus there should not be division but loving relational community as the church. The Bible is clear that every Christian is a part of the larger church body and is expected to participate in the life of a local church with the gift(s) God has given him or her. This is so God may be glorified and so his people may be built up through their service to one another (1 Cor 12:1-31). It is therefore a sin for someone who claims to be a Christian not to be actively loving his or her Christian brothers and sisters (1 John 1:7; 3:17-18; 4:21) and seeking to build up the church as faithful members of a church (1 Cor 12:7; 14:6, 12, 26b). (Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Vintage Church; pgs 50-51)
How prideful for us to make it all about ourselves! We have cut the rest of the body out of the picture and made it all about the leg (or whichever part we are in the body!). Over and over in the New Testament we are exhorted to love one another. We are more than redeemed individuals – we are a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9), a body made up of many members (1 Cor 12; Romans 12:4), a kingdom (Revelation 1:6), a family(Hebrews 2:11), the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2). We must reject overly individualistic minds and love the brothers!
• Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart 1 Peter 1:22
C. Pitfalls and Extremes to Avoid.
1. Some over-emphasize the individual (me and Jesus). “I don’t need the church; I AM the church.” The word for church means gathering, or assembly of called-out ones! (Mounce)
2. Some over-emphasize their family (my family and Jesus). “My family is the church.”
3. Some over-emphasize the universal church to the exclusion of the local church (me and all believers of all time and Jesus). “I don’t need to be in a local church. I’m at church whenever I’m with other believers.”
4. The Bible teaches and portrays the local church as a visible expression of the universal church (me and other “devoted” believers and Jesus). “Individually I am part of the church; my family is a part of the church; all saved people are part of the universal church, but I am committed and connected to local believers in order to obey Jesus’ commands together and have community.”
(For More Study)
Local Church in Scripture (Matt 18:17; Acts 15:41; Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 4:17; 7:17; 14:33; Col 4:15)
Universal Church in Scripture (Matt 16:18; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 12:28; 15:9; Eph 1:22)
Local Church Commitment in Scripture. The New Testament shows believers connected to other believers with devotion: Much of the NT is written to local churches; The NT records the formation and life of local churches; The NT’s instructions can only be obeyed by believers who are connected to a local church – who know each other, and who know who is a part of their local fellowship and who is not.
Here are some examples:
Pastors cannot obey the command to take heed to the flock they oversee [Acts 20:28] unless they know who is in that local flock
Church members cannot obey the command to obey their leaders and submit to them [Heb 13:17] unless they know who their local leaders are (they have connected to a local church under particular leaders/elders)
Churches cannot obey the command to exercise church discipline by removing someone from fellowship [1 Cor 5:5, 7, 11, 13] if there is not an implied foundation of devoted fellowship and an understanding of who is in that local fellowship
The church cannot obey the command to ‘judge’ those who are ‘inside the church’ and leave those ‘outside’ for God to judge [1 Cor 5:12-13] if they do not know who is inside [devoted, connected] and who is outside
The church cannot obey the command to restore a repentant brother to fellowship who has been punished ‘by the majority’ [2 Cor 2:2] if no one knows who is devoted to that local fellowship [and therefore part of the ‘majority’]
The ‘one another’ commands of the New Testament [I counted 38] imply committed connection – doing life together.
So, are you embracing and building community, or rejecting God's plan and keeping people (and therefore God) at arm's length? Respond to God’s call to leave selfishness behind and embrace the community of the redeemed in Jesus Christ! Repent of your sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; Save yourselves from this crooked generation and devote yourself to Christ and his people and his mission for his glory!