Sunday, September 18, 2016
Over the last several weeks we have been learning about how to join the most important campaign ever—Jesus’ kingdom-building, gospel sharing, hope inspiring campaign. We have come to understand that for our campaign to be successful here in South Roanoke and around the world, we must KNOW who Christ is, GROW in His likeness, and SHOW Him in winsome ways to those around us. Like knowing a candidate, growing familiar with his/her platform, and stumping on his/her behalf, knowing, growing in, and showing Christ is our responsibility in the kingdom-building effort as we race toward the day of the Lord. However, these very “spiritual” principles and endeavors also require “practical” means.
In the course of any political campaign planes are rented/purchased, security is hired, logos are designed, halls and arenas are booked, and the list goes on and on. There is one thing that all of these other things have in common—they require money and the donation of funds from both groups and individuals! The same is true for so much that the church in general and our church in particular wants to do. For instance, paying the bills associated with this place helps us provide a place for people to come and learn more about God (knowing Christ), investing in personnel and resources (like RightNow Media) helps us provide ways for people to grow in their faith (growing in Christ), and setting aside funds for outreach and missions helps us pay for the events that we host in and around the community so that the gospel message can go out (showing Christ). Therefore, as we prepare for our new fiscal year, I thought I’d share a little about what God has to say about the opportunity He’s given all of us to donate to His campaign here at Crystal Spring Baptist.
A sermon on giving to the church is easily one of the most difficult to sit through and one of the most tedious for which to prepare. However, passages associated with giving and finances are among the most prolific in all of the Scripture and must be addressed by any Bible believing church. With that said, let me immediately set your minds at ease by getting me off the hook. First, in no way am I made aware of who gives or how much any one individual or family has given to this church. Second, I will be using the Bible. In other words, the ideas, principles, and message you will hear are not from my own mind but from the mind of God. This means two things. On the one hand you can rest easy, knowing that I am not targeting any one person in this room with this message. However, on the other hand, whatever challenges or convictions you may or may not receive will most certainly be from God by means of His Word and through the Holy Spirit. In other words, my agenda (as it is every week) is to preach His message. God’s agenda may be to instruct, challenge, and correct as necessary. Therefore, without further ado, let us take a close look at a profound series of principles on giving from 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.
I. PRINCIPLE #1: GODLY GIVERS GIVE AND RCEIVE PROPORTIONALLY-9:6
In giving, the harvest is always in view. In order to illustrate this, Paul asks the Corinthians church to consider a farmer. Although Corinth was not known as a primarily agrarian region, ancient societies like Rome had closer ties to farming than the West today. Their familiarity with the field came also with familiarity with common-sense growing principles. Therefore, the image of a farmer sowing seed in the field, harvesting, and taking his produce to the marketplace would have been easy for the original audience to interpret.
Therefore, with this in mind, Paul presents two scenarios for the church’s evaluation. First, Paul asks his audience to consider the following scenario: “he who sows sparingly, will also reap sparingly” (9:6). To sow sparingly means to sow a limited or even negligible quantity of seed. Regardless of the reason why, those who put little into the ground will only receive a little back.
On the flipside, in scenario #2 Paul states, “he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (9:6). The word “bountifully” actually means “blessing” or “benefit,” suggesting here that those who put lots of seed in the ground are going to take in a huge blessing come harvest time. Such sowing involves great giving and a great reward. These two scenarios work together to give Paul’s first principle for giving, “godly givers give and receive proportionally.”
If you are getting lost in the fields, consider this modern day analogy. In our world of 401K’s, IRA’s, Stocks, etc. people grow wealth by the same general principle. In a perfect world, the more you invest in these different assets or ventures, the more you are going to receive. Giving to anything always takes into consideration the return. The farmer does not plant seed and then walk away, saying, “Well, I’ll never see that again.” Although it is out of sight and given away to the ground, he knows he will someday see the harvest. Similarly, not one contributes to their IRA thinking, “well, there is more money gone,” instead they have the big picture in mind, knowing that one day they are going to receive a big return. Though this might seem overly obvious, people fail to recognize that this same phenomenon exists in the practice of giving to the work of God.
However, how do we know Paul is talking about money and giving to the church? At the beginning of this chapter, Paul mentions an anticipated gift. This gift would be used for the ministry of spreading the gospel message and was expected to be big, “So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness” (9:5). Therefore, in order to encourage the biggest and best financial gift possible, Paul provides these principles to the church for guidance.
Studies reveal that the average church attendee gives 2.56% of their income. That is not a whole lot of seed going in the ground. That not lot a whole lot invested. What we are going to experience at the end of this year, next year, and ten years down the line is going to be a direct reflection of what we are giving today. If everyone gave the same percent you did to your church, could the church expect great things? Godly givers give and receive proportionally. The more we invest, the more God will accomplish. It is that simple.
II. PRINCIPLE #2: GODLY GIVERS GIVE WITH INTEGRITY AND CHEER-9:7
The second principle Paul gives concerning gifts involves integrity and cheer. Though Paul desired a “bountiful gift” (9:5) (i.e. a big check), what was more important to Paul was an honest and willing heart. Honesty in giving begins with being honest with oneself. People ought not give out of compulsion, obligation, manipulation, or guilt. Instead, they must give in compliance with the will of God in their lives. They should not give more because their proverbial arm is being twisted. They should not give less because they are holding back and lacking faith for God to provide. How much should people give? Exactly as much as God wants them to and in keeping with the Spirit’s leading in their lives.
With that said, the Bible does provide some guidelines for godly giving elsewhere. The Old Testament is clear that a tithe (that is 10% of one’s income) is an acceptable gift to God (see Gen. 14:20; Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:28-29; Deut. 12:11). But wait, some might say, “if tithing is such a big deal in the church today, why didn’t Jesus have much to say about it. I thought we were free from the Law?” However, the New Testament confirms that Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to dismiss it (Matt. 5:17-19).
Matthew 23:23-“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these (tithes) are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
In this verse, Jesus addresses tithing as something so understood that it’s almost unworthy of a mention. Yes, we are free from the law, but we have been called to live by the higher standard of grace. A tithe was considered a starting point not an end goal. If anger was taught to be on the same level of murder and lust equal to adultery in Jesus’ eyes (raising the bar in these areas), does it not stand to reason that the tithe is now considered a base-level command—a minimum expectation.
“I never would have been able to tithe the first million dollars I ever made if I had not tithed my first salary, which was $1.50 per week.” –J.D. Rockefeller
Under the grace that we enjoy, the average, modern-day Christian gives only 2.5 percent of his or her income (not even a tithe). In Money, Possession, and Eternity, Randy Alcorn writes, “When we as New Testament believers, living in a far more affluent society than ancient Israel, give only a fraction of that given by the poorest Old Testament believers, we surely must reevaluate our concept of …giving.”
Not only must a believer give with integrity, he or she must give cheerfully, “God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7). Motives play absolutely no role in the farming analogy Paul used earlier. It does not matter what kind of attitude the farmer had while he was sowing seed. If he sows good seed and has good weather, he will reap a harvest whether he is working for profit, pleasure, or pride. It makes no difference how he plans to use the money that he earns; the harvest will probably come just the same (Wiersbe).
This is not so with giving in the church. Motives matter to God. As one commentator says, we must not be “sad givers” who cry as they see the money leaving our hands or “mad givers” who give because we feel like we have to. Instead, believers ought to be “glad givers” who cheerfully share what they have because all that they have is a demonstration of God’s grace. God loves a cheerful giver.
Ask yourself these questions. How much do you give? Is it consistent with God’s will as expressed in His Word and according to His leadership in your life? Also, how do you give? Is it with great joy for your Creator and eagerness to participate with Him or is it grudgingly? Godly givers give with integrity and cheer.
“Giving should be an outward, material expression of a deep, spiritual commitment…an indication of a willing and obedient heart.” –Larry Burkett
III. PRINCIPLE #3: GODLY GIVERS GIVE OUT OF ABUNDANCE AND BLESSING-9:8
The third and final principle provided in these verses reflects Paul’s understanding of God’s grace. Ultimately, Christians can only dispense of what they have received. All that the believer has received is a gift from God, who, is capable of making every grace available to the believer at all times. The universals of verse 8 are incredible. First, “God is able to make ALL grace abound to you” (9:8). Every grace of God is available to be afforded to the believer. This speaks not only to the grace afforded to the believer at salvation, but the grace that is afforded to the believer for his/her everyday needs. This first universal reveals the potentiality of God’s giving capacity to the godly giver.
The second “all” statement suggests the following, “so that ALWAYS have ALL sufficiency in EVERYTHING…” (9:8). Here, Paul communicates that the Christian who practices godly giving will have what he or she needs when he or she needs it. This does not mean that God awards giving with wealth and material possessions. Instead, it means that God blesses those who give with what they need to do what He’s called them to do! No one who gives to the Lord in a godly way is lacking anything to do all that God desires of them.
Finally, Paul concludes by saying, “you may have an abundance for EVERY good deed.” God’s grace seen in the time, talent, and treasure He has bestowed on His people do not exist for the benefit of those who already have much. Instead, they are to be used to do good works for others. In other words, the reason God has been so generous with us is so that we might be generous with others for His kingdom-building work!
Our church is all about doing the best work that there is, seeing people come to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to others! God’s grace will provide all that is necessary for us to be effective in seeing this happen in our city. However, we have some needs that need to be addressed in order for this good work to be made manifest. The good news is this—we have all of the money necessary to do all that God has called us to do. We have all the funds necessary for a successful campaign in this next year. There is just one issue. We must be willing to give it!
Godly givers will always give and receive proportionally, give with integrity and cheer, and give for good. What do we do in response to a message like this? Malachi 3:10 might have an answer.
“’Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’”
By way of application consider the following in this upcoming fiscal year—when it comes to what you give, test God! That’s right! (Don’t worry, the Bible gives permission). Test God and see how He will bless you and this church because of your godly gifts. If you have not been tithing, I challenge to test God by giving a tithe. If you have been faithfully tithing, I challenge you to test God by giving an offering (beyond a tithe). If you have been giving an offering, I invite you to test God by giving even more so that we can do more for the cause of Christ in our context! Donate Here! Donate often, and stand amazed at what God will do!
Sunday, September 11, 2016
As we have observed over the last couple of weeks, knowing one’s candidate and growing more familiar with his/her platform is absolutely essential to any campaign. The same is true for the ongoing mission of God that we are called to as believers (to know and grow in Christ). However, these two elements to the campaign make very little difference to the world if/when people fail to keep the third and final part of the mission—Showing Christ to others.
In every presidential campaign, there are opportunities for candidates to show what they bring to the table. Whether in stump speeches, press conferences, or especially in the debates, the candidate must show well in order to convince others to join his/her efforts. This is where our analogy between our campaign and political campaigns breaks down, for, in the mission we are called to, God has asked us to do His bidding! We are the ones who have been asked to stump on Christ’s behalf, present His case, and, when necessary, make a defense for HIs record and the future hope that He promises. What an awesome responsibility!
Therefore, in an effort to demonstrate how we can successfully accomplish this third and final element of our ongoing movement, we are going to take a look at one of Paul’s many encouragements to the church of Colossae in Colossians 4:2-6. Colossae was a thriving city 100 miles east of Ephesus. Although Colossae’s population was primarily Gentile, there was a large Jewish settlement there. Colossae’s mixed population of Jews and Gentiles manifested itself both in the composition of the church and in the heresy that plagued it, which contained elements of both Jewish legalism, pagan mysticism, and early Gnosticism. After Paul greets the church at the beginning of this letter, he thanks them for their service and prays that the church will grow in wisdom, especially concerning what they know about the person of Christ. Next, Paul begins to describe Christ as the head of the church, Redeemer, Reconciler, and Sacrifice. After defending Christ’s personhood, Paul delves into the implications that go along with a sophisticated Christology. He shows how believers ought to join His campaign over inferior movement connected to the flesh and this world. Finally, toward the end of this rally, Paul begins to give encouragements to the church. Three of these commands are presented in chapter 4 verses 2-6. All of them, interestingly enough, identify how to campaign well for Jesus by showing Christ to a world that desperately needs him.
I. COMMAND #1: PRAY PURPOSEFULLY-4:2-4
As Paul draws his letter to a close, he calls upon the church in Colossae to first devote themselves to prayer (with consistent and constant intensity with the possible implication of difficulty), “devote yourselves to prayer” (4:2a). In light of all that Paul has taught in the beginning of his letter, Paul’s first encouragement to the church is to commit themselves to a life of fervent prayer. Why? Because showing Christ to others is predicated on one’s prayer life. One’s ability to demonstrate Christ to others is in direct proportion to his/her personal prayer life.
The Colossians were instructed to pray in a specific manner, with “alertness” or “watchfulness” and “with an attitude of thanksgiving,” (4:2b). Although prayers do require the individual to be awake, when Paul says “keeping alert,” he is talking about praying with an acute awareness of whatever affects the spread of the gospel. This becomes exceedingly obvious as Paul will soon
Notice also that prayer is supposed to take place in the context of thanksgiving (1 Thess. 5:17).
Thankfulness provides the proper context for good praying. No one depended on this context of thanksgiving more than Paul whose own circumstances were often anything but something for which to be thankful—he was writing this from a prison cell for crying out loud! However, to ensure a proper perspective in the midst of tribulation, Paul both modeled and urged that prayer be offered in an attitude of thanks. This kind of prayer sees clearly the obstacles and difficulties but recognizes that in spite of all of them, God is able to work.
The construction of these two verses may suggest a three-fold pattern in prayer life. First, an individual prays fervently, second, an individual watches or waits for a response, “keeping alert in it,” and third, the individual responds with thanksgiving upon answered prayer. The first requires obedience, as a believer takes on the command to pray. The second requires faith as the believer anxiously awaits the fulfillment of the answer, and third, it requires praise and adoration to God for having answered the prayer offered. While the world sleeps in their disbelief and ignorance, Paul calls Christians to keep awake and devoted to regular and steady prayer. Our campaign cannot be caught without a strong connection to the candidate!
In repeating the word “prayer” in verse 3, Paul emphasizes its importance, “praying at the same time for us as well” (4:3). In the spirit of being devotedly specific in their prayer lives, Paul gives them some specific requests of his.
First, Paul requested that the church in Colossae pray for an open door for the gospel, “that God will open up to us a door for the word so that we may speak for the mystery of Christ for which I have been imprisoned…” (4:3). Paul always looked for ways to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ. No one had better skills to turn any situation into an opportunity for witnessing. His success was, in part due to the many prayers offered on his behalf for wisdom and opportunity. You want to spread the opportunity to spread the gospel successfully? Pray for it! That is what Paul did and look how God used him! Paul instructs the Colossians to pray that he would find an open door. The apostle lived for such opportunities and realized that God alone provided these divine appointments, often, in response to the prayers offered.
However, What is this mystery Paul is sharing? The answer is found in Colossians 1:26-27 which says “ the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The substance of Paul’s message, the mystery that he longed more than anything to solve for people was that by grace through faith, anyone can have Christ in them, the hope of glory. This was the kernel of truth that Paul hoped to share with those who were lost. This is the campaign slogan of the saints!
Paul’s second request was that he may proclaim the gospel as he should, “That I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (4:4). Paul not only looked for new doors to walk through but he also looked for ways to make the gospel known. He did not pray for a specific method of spreading the gospel, but for the wisdom to know what to say in specific situations, all the while doing justice to the gospel.
In this first command given in this passage, Paul reveals that to show Christ adequately, one must adopt a dynamic prayer life which includes: praying for the lost, praying for opportunities to share Christ with the lost, and praying for wisdom so that the sharing done may be appropriate and winsome. However, prayers are only the first step in campaigning well for Jesus.
II. COMMAND #2: ACT ACCORDINGLY-4:5
Paul’s second command is to live out the gist of what they are praying, “conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders” (4:5a). The Colossians were to ensure that their lives, speech, and appearance reflected Christ in them (the mystery in them). To “conduct yourselves with wisdom” means to follow Christ as God’s pattern for full and authentic living. Paul knew all too well the importance of giving the world no reason to criticize the behavior of Christians. Blameless living alongside a dynamic prayer life are two cornerstones of a good witness. Why?
A blameless walk naturally affords a believer the ability to make the most of every opportunity given to him/her to show Christ, “making the most of the opportunity” (4:5b). Just as presidential candidates are believed to score points among independents by acting “presidential” Christians “make the most” of their witness to the lost of this world when they conduct themselves with wisdom, love, and righteousness. The word for “making the most” insinuates that every opportunity you have to spread the seed or water on planted ground needs to be snapped up, lest it be lost to something or someone else.
As a campaign nears the end of its season, it is an all-out blitz for airtime, votes, and turnout. Every committed volunteer and staff member works with increased urgency so that every vote that can be retrieved will be retrieved, lest it be granted to the opposing campaign. The same must be true of the opportunities we have for our superior campaign, for, we don’t just have votes on the line and four years of implications on the line, people’s eternal lives are at stake, and the opposing campaign of sin and this world would love to add to its ranks.
You may say to yourself, “Well, I have very little if any opportunities to share the gospel.” However, the very fact that you are left on this earth and here today suggests that your opportunities have not run out. (Perhaps you do not recognize the myriad of opportunities around you or aren’t being given more explicit opportunities because you have failed to pray for them). Time itself is an opportunity to seize for the kingdom of God. What are you going to do with it? Decide today to snap it up for all its worth for the glory of God. The time is near! Jesus could return at any moment!
Matthew 24:36ff- 36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. 37 For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.42 “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.”
One way to be ready is to be about the campaign we are called to by praying for an opportunity to share the gospel and ceasing every opportunity to make the most of it by acting accordingly.
III. COMMAND #3: SPEAK SWEETLY-4:6
Paul’s final command in this passage reflects both the content of words spoken and the manner of speaking any matter, “Let your speech always be with grace as though seasoned with salt…”(4:6a). Here, two statements illustrate the nature of Christian speech, “in grace” and “with salt.” “In grace” may reflect an idiom used in that day which described charm or charisma. However, Paul wants it to mean more than just tactfulness. Ultimately, Paul is trying to get the Colossians to speak with grace as those who live in grace or speak in a distinctly Christian way. While the world slanders and bludgeons people with their sharp rhetoric of negativity and deception, a Christian’s words are to stand in contrast as a presentation given with grace.
1 Peter 3:15-“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
Salt was used in three different ways in those days. It could preserve a food, sterilize a food, or season a food. Here Paul is talking about the latter. Conversations are to be seasoned in such a way that they bring life and richness. Paul knew that a lengthy and laborious monologue is often useless in evangelism. Rather, Christians are to work at making their witness lively and colorful while at the same time making sure they stay true to the gospel.
This kind of speech is required “so that” as Paul says “you will know how you should respond to each person” (4:6c). Respond to what? Well If verses 4 and 5 are being carried out properly (that is we are engaged in prayer and living rightly), outsiders will begin to ask Christians about their new life and its source. Although many questions are predictable, each questioner is an individual and must be respected, loved, and responded to as such. One technique or approach may not be suitable to each and every person you meet. Instead, each outsider must be given special and customized attention.
In this passage we’ve observed the unmistakable priority of prayer, the need for an authentic lifestyle, and a proper and gracious presentation. Paul in his encouragements to Colossae desired for that church to join Jesus’ campaign in this way: showing Christ to others. We must also take on the charge in our own lives. We too must devote ourselves to prayer in eager anticipation of an answer for those we know and for this community. We too must strive to live blameless lives in order to provide the kind of example that will make people stop and ask us what is different about ourselves and make the most of every opportunity to share Jesus Christ. Thirdly, we must speak boldly and graciously with those around communicate the flavorful truths of God’s Word. These three commands of Paul are paramount if we are going to adequately show Christ to others around us as individuals and as a church. May we not be caught hesitant are unwilling to make that call, knock on that door, or engage those around us for Jesus. May we instead choose to live with open eyes and ears, aware of those in need around us and dive into their lives with the saving knowledge of Christ. Our campaign depends on it! It is crunch time! His return is near!
Monday, September 5, 2016
Any successful campaign requires that each and every team member understand what his/her role is in the effort. Many on presidential campaigns grow into new roles as the campaign progresses while others are fired for missteps or proving unproductive on the campaign trail. We see this playing out in the news in the current political race on both sides. However, as we made the case last week, believers are involved in a far more important campaign with far greater implications—God’s kingdom-building movement. Last week, we learned who our candidate is—Jesus Christ—and why He is qualified to run our lives on into eternity. This week, we are going to take a look at our role in the effort, thereby satisfying the second part of our mission statement—“to Know Christ, GROW in Christ, and Show Christ to the world.” Grow is essential to any movement and the growth of any campaign is contingent on the growth of its individual members. This is no different when it comes to our responsibility in our God-given mission. To this end, we are going to ask two questions that deal with the personal and corporate growth that are answered in Philippians 2:12b-13.
I. QUESTION #1: WHAT IS MAN’S ROLE IN SANCTIFICATION?-2:12b-d
When we pick up the statement in 12b, Paul says to the church in Philippi, “work out your salvation…”. The present tense of this verb suggests that what Paul is trying to communicate is not to be put off but should characterize the life of the Philippians now. In other words, it should be a consistent practice so that this church might be set apart from the world around them. The verb used here also suggests that it cannot be done for them but must be accomplished within their own ranks. In other words, they are to take an active role in seeing growth take place in their lives. The statement that Paul offers in the first part of this verse also reveals that this is not a suggestion or a recommendation of sorts. Rather, Paul is commanding his readers to do this and carry it out in their own Christian walk. It isn’t “I would suggest working out your salvation” but “work it out.” Chrysostom explains this imperative verb, “work,” as indicating “with great effort, with great care.” Bauer states that this verb describes the idea of “achieving or accomplishing.” Therefore, it is impossible to tone down the force with which Paul here points to our conscious activity in sanctification.
These emphatic attitudes within the first part of Paul’s command are reiterated as the verse continues, “with fear and trembling” (2:12c). “Fear” describes a healthy anxiety of offending God by doing things against His will or nature. It is a respect for His holiness and purity that is in view. This is one motivating attitude behind the growth process. However, growth also takes effort, “…and trembling.”
Unfortunately, few want to work hard at anything these days. The very word “work” carries with it a negative connotation. Terms like “effort” and “sweat” and “difficulty” don’t really appeal to our fast, comfortable, spoon fed entitlement society. Sadly, this attitude has infiltrated the Christian faith and permeated the church. However, we aren’t given a picture here of something that is easy, or handed to us on a silver plate. Perhaps this is one reason why we are where we are today in Christian America: we are afraid of chipping our proverbial nails or skinning our knees in sanctification.
The success of any political campaign is dependent on how hard the team is willing to work and put in the long hours of research, door-knocking, phone-calling, fundraising, etc. Successful campaigns and the growth of movements do not happen by accident—they are the result hard work performed by a growing team. Just imagine what the church would look like if the majority of its members were willing to work as hard and with the same veracity as some of the people working for the presidential campaigns!
You might ask, “What is to be done with fear and trembling?” The disciples answer this question in their activities performed in Acts 2:42.
Acts 2:42-“…They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship to the breaking of bread,…”
The first direction of this intense effort and focus is on the apostles teaching. For those in the book of Acts, these were the words preached and spoken of by the twelve who ministered with Jesus. However, for you and me, the teaching that God decided to preserve in the Bible is the primary source of information that leads to growth and development in Christ. The teaching of the apostles for these new believers provided the nourishment and nutrition these people needed to mature and grow in their understanding. Much like a playbook informs a player as to what he or she should do, the teaching of the apostles informed the hearts of their audience. To this teaching believers “continually devoted themselves.” This literally means to do something with intense effort, with the possible implication of difficulty. The tense and form of this verb suggest that Luke is talking about a devotion that becomes a part of someone’s character and takes place continuously. This word does not describe a passive activity (i.e. sitting in a service of some kind and listening to what is being presented and leaving unchanged). Instead, it describes vigorous. Activity that leads to growth. The growth of the church or the individual believer is not the responsibility of some third party like a pastor or priest, it is ultimately predicated on one’s personal devotion and familiarity with God’s talking points, policies, and agenda.
The second direction of intense devotion according to Acts 2:42 is toward fellowship. Fellowship is an association involving close mutual relations and involvement. We read about this type of association in the remainder of Acts 2.
It is this type of fellowship that warms the heart of each believer and allows one to grow by association. Much as the teamwork is vital to the success of the team, fellowship involves the cooperation of individuals who meet together to encourage, and love each other in a way that fosters growth and leads to success in the Christian life.
The breaking of bread and prayer that follows fellowship renames or defines what the fellowship is/consists of. It was customary for New Testament believers to gather together and eat a meal. This was their primary means of entertaining and experiencing life together. One thing that often accompanied such meetings was the sharing of the Lord’s Supper. Ultimately, fellowship meant doing life together in spiritual community. Association in such environments is crucial for proper spiritual growth.
Along with doing life together, prayer was understood to be an essential element to corporate meetings and integral to Spiritual growth (as Acts 2:42 suggests). If the Word is the policy agenda, and fellowship is the networking, then prayer involves the all important communication with the candidate. According to John Wesley, this (prayer) is “where the action is.” And as in any successful campaign, communication with the candidate so that everyone is on the same page is perhaps what is most important, “The most important thing a born again Christian can do is pray” (Chuck Colson).
In Acts 2:42, commitment to the word of God, community, and prayer, were seen as the only proper response to Knowing Christ. Also, the picture of growth portrayed in this passage is spiritual and relational. All of these considerations make up the second phase our mission of growing in Him.
However, us playing a part in the growing campaign, as Acts 2:42 suggests, should give us pause. Our salvation, which we confess to be God’s from beginning to end, is here described as something that we must bring about. However, as we will next see, our dependence on divine activity for growth is nowhere else mad more explicit as in the next verse.
II. QUESTION #2: WHAT IS GOD’S ROLE IN SANCTIFICATION?-2:13
Paul continues in his comments to the church in Philippi by saying, “For it is God who is at work in you” (2:13a). Just as the command in verse 12 is a present reality, so is the presence of God at work within the believer. God is presently within His children working within them. Likewise, it is He that is doing the work. He isn’t just within them; He is also working to continue the growing process. This process doesn’t slow down, take breaks, or finish until our ultimate end. However, for the time being, the work of God within the believer to make them more like Himself is a continuous action that is ongoing. Paul already mentioned this in Philippians 1:6.
Philippians 1:6- “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
No doubt, Paul was alluding to this idea and the concepts around it in this verse which involve the total work of salvation.
Some commentators believe that there is a play on words in this passage. Paul compels his audience to “work out” only because God “works in.” Both actions rely on God—who is emphasized in the passage.
What is God bringing out in this work?--“both to will and to work for His good pleasure…” (2:13b).
Good candidates get involved with their teams. Often times they demonstrate that they hope to see on the campaign or how they want a something to be run. They are intimately aware and actively involved in the campaign, leading their surrogates on to victory. It is ultimately the candidate’s will that decides what shape the platform will take and it is the hard work that the candidate puts in that ultimately leads the movement. In the same way, God is actively involved in the Christian life, in their personal growth. He is the one who calls the shots; He is the one who decides what is best for those on His team. However, it is only when the team is submitted to the cause that they do their best. In the same way, it is only when believers submit to their God and His leadership that they are at their best.
The result is the joy of God, “…for His good pleasure.” This is also translated “His good purpose” and is a term that generally relates to the ultimate will of His own glory. In this turn of phrase, Paul reinforces the believer’s dependence on God’s sovereignty. If it is good for God it is good for His children. God, in fact is good, and the sanctification process is about Him working with us to make us good, like Him. In this, He finds delight.
By way of concluding, I want us to answer this, who/what makes for a successful campaign, the candidate, or the team behind him/her? I believe it is both the candidate’s leadership along with the full commitment of his team that wins any election. In the same way, we’ve examined that both man and God play a part in this thing called sanctification or growth. In fact, in light of our salvation (which is totally by the grace of God) the Lord invites us to journey with him in order to become more like Him. While He is ultimately in control and it is His grace that allows for the growth, the efficiency of the process is in some ways dependent on man’s submission to God.
By way of application may I suggest that we not take a passive role in our own sanctification. May we be willing to work hard and get off our duffs to be men and women who take our spiritual lives seriously. May we adopt a fearful reverence for those activities that we see the disciples yielding themselves over to (meeting together, breaking bread, praying, etc.) while at the same time relying on the same grace that saved us to grow us. We cannot afford to be caught ignorant policy agendas. We must study the platform that is the Word of God, show up for conferences in our small groups and prayer meetings, and communicate regularly with greatest of all candidates. The growth of our campaign depends on it.