August 12, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 16:40 in the audio file.
Or, It Does the Body of Christ Good
It is always easy to forget why we’re doing what we’re doing. Sometimes we even forget what we’re supposed to do, which, could be sinful, or it could be immature, or it could be because we’re busy trying to do a lot of things. You might forget to put the salt in one of the fourteen dishes you’re making for a big party, not because you’re malicious but because you were stirring a lot of pots.
It’s also easy to forget that we are disciples of Christ, not so much in terms of our identity as disciples but in terms of our mission as disciples, though we should tie our identity to our mission as closely as possible. Our tagline at TEC is “Reformed and still reforming disciples of Christ.” At times we’ve focused on what it means to be Reformed and also why we believe we need to keep reforming. We are gathered in the name of Christ, we confess our faith in Christ, we enjoy communion with Christ. Christ is Lord. And we are His disciples.
Disciples are not less than, but should not be satisfied only as, learners. In Jesus’ day, and as we read the record of His own master plan in the Gospels, disciples were followers. They listened and they watched and they interacted and they imitated and they obeyed. Jesus called men to be “with Him,” and this was not because He just didn’t have the technology available to send them an e-newsletter.
We are followers of Christ, followers of the followers of Christ, that is our identity. And we work, with words and with our lives, to see more people become followers of Christ. That is our mission. We are still called to make disciples. This is the calling of every Christian, not just some. A church is an assembly of disciples, learning how to follow Christ better and being encouraged and equipped to help others follow Christ better. Our discipleship efforts happen within the church, not just getting someone into the church. The goal is not merely conversion to Christ but conformity to Christ, to be “complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Those who are being conformed to Christ are also building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:16).
The following paradigm is simple, but profitable for equipping the saints for the work of ministry. We are all somewhere on the path of Christlikeness, and so we all need encouragement and training for our part of the work. Many of you have seen this target before, a shepherding bull’s-eye.
There are three levels, three general contexts.
The evangel is the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for all who will ever believe. We are, Trinity Evangel Church. Evangelizing is telling others that news. We have a message of forgiveness, a message of reconciliation ultimately with God, but even with other image-bearers of God. Those who hate God hate those who represent God, so relationships are messed up vertically and horizontally. This is the largest, outermost circle on the target because this is where most people in the world are.
The message of disciples is not first a message of culture changing, it is a message of salvation, purchased on a cross. When that message is believed, it turns a person’s life and world upside down.
Evangelism does not require memorizing an outline, but it does require courage to tell others that there is only one way to peace with God. This evangelism, for most of us, happens “as we are going,” with our kids, with our neighbors, with those we befriend as we do our work. It happens even in the church, since not all who profess Christ actually are possessed by Christ.
When a man believes, he is like a newborn baby. This is the Bible’s own vocabulary. He needs to grow, to mature, and to learn to obey all that Christ commanded. One of the favorite words, especially of Paul, is the word edify. It means to build, construct, to strengthen. One must have a foundation to build on, which is belief in Christ, and then one must build the structure.
All Christians need to be edified; no one matures past that. All Christians should be easily edified, though that is often not the case. And all Christians ought to be part of the work of edifying. This is another inescapable principle. It is not whether or not you are edifying others, it is whether you are edifying others well or not. The body imagery in 1 Corinthians 12, that we will get to not too far from now in our study of that epistle, as well as in Ephesians 4, describes the reality that each person is a part of the body, that each part of the body does something different, and that each part of the body is valuable.
Now how do you know how to build up one another? How do you know how to edify another part of the body? I think many disciples don’t even ask the question. If they think about edification at all, they think about being edified by someone else, and if they see a part of the body that is weak(er), they figure someone else, more qualified, will attend to it.
When it comes to weakness, immaturity, foolishness, it is much easier not to see. Just don’t look, then you won’t notice. Noticing inevitably means you’ll have to do something about it, right? Then you’d have to get involved, open yourself up for criticism, possibly waste effort in a time-suck situation. But ignoring a fellow member, or isolating yourself from them, still doesn’t change what disciples do and why disciples do it.
This is the smallest circle, but it is also the center of the target. Equipping can be a part of edifying, but it includes not just strengthening another person for their run of obedience but also giving strategies for the person to strengthen another person.
The shepherds and teachers of a church are given for this purpose: to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). The equipping comes in teaching on the Why and the What, it comes in reminders and accountability, it comes in modeling and in assignments, it comes in handing over and backing off from certain responsibilities.
It also requires knowing where others are at, what they are weak at, what their gifts and interests and capabilities are, and knowing how to send them in the right direction. There are some general tools that everyone needs, and there are always specific applications that need more attention.
I’ll admit that I used to think this was a huge responsibility that required people to spend a lot of time doing “church” things. I’ve changed my mind somewhat. I now think that it is an even bigger responsibility that requires people to spend some of their time doing “church” things in order to spend a lot time doing “creational” things in Jesus’ name.
For example, being “complete in Christ” does not mean that you can lead a Bible study discussion (though it could include that for some people, of course). Being complete in Christ means that you are ready to apply your reading/study of the Bible no matter where you are or what role you’re fulfilling in that moment. That readiness is never a finished readiness; you don’t become a master without practice. But readiness to apply the Bible, to obey and represent the Lord, requires more encouragement and equipping than what takes place on a Sunday morning alone.
The “church” is not responsible for most things in the world. But the church is responsible to equip disciples for their many responsibilities in the world. So at TEC our shepherds have planned some purposeful path crossings (also known as Meetings), not to fill up your life but as part of your life to support all the other parts in Jesus’ name.
If you want to pick up a large meatball, you need a multi-pronged fork. A small, single-pointed toothpick is good for a mini-meatball, but not the mega-sized. If encouraging and preparing the flock for honoring Jesus as Lord everywhere they go is the mega-sized ministry meatball, we’ve got a multi-pronged set of trellis pieces.
I spend most of my time on this last Lord’s Day, so see there.
Paul talked about his ministry in public and from house to house (Acts 20:20). Undoubtedly he visited with individual families, but sometimes a house had multiple families meeting together.
These small groups allow for us to spread the work of making disciples so that it doesn’t depend on me or any of the pastors. We could illustrate it as the ground war that works together with the air war. The small groups allow for the parts to talk about their difficulties/disagreement in understanding the strategy, to share their challenges, and to be edified more directly. The small groups also provide a place for deeper relationships to develop.
These meetings focus on talking shop. The name “Titus 2” comes right from Titus 2 where Paul urges Titus to make sure that the older women are teaching the younger women, especially related to certain priorities for Christian living in the home (Titus 2:3-5). This training doesn’t require “women’s ministry” meetings, but a regular time of getting together and working through particularly female temptations and opportunities is profitable.
Likewise for the men. It is not really the responsibility of wives to tell their husbands that they are not as mature as they should be. That doesn’t mean a wife can’t say anything, but the way she holds her man accountable is not like the way another man can/should hold him accountable. As men think about all the spheres in which God has given them responsibilities, it is profitable to be together and talk about.
It does not seem as if these meetings are keeping our men or women from fulfilling their duties, but rather training and encouraging and sharpening them for their duties.
We don’t have an official youth ministry, but we do encourage our young adults to get together, and we have some parents and other, older single people who desire to challenge our students to grow up in Christ. The afterglows occur after Sunday evening services, sometimes for serious discussion and sometimes for fun. The retreat happens once a year and provides additional windows into the spiritual state of our students.
We’ve been holding a seminar in the first quarter of the year for four years now, that includes teaching and fellowship (and child care!). We have other events such as an Independence Day Extravaganza, Christmas Morsels, with intentionally silly-names for a serious purpose. We also have organized trips to different conferences, T4G, Grace Agenda. These provide more structured opportunity to be encouraged and be together in our thinking.
We are a body, and God has gifted the world with the tools to connect to some degree even when we can’t be in the same physical location.
Being together, as the body of Christ, with gladness and singleness of heart (Acts 2:42-47). Building together, until the body of Christ is fully grown (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Perhaps some will object.
Objection: “This is the wrong target.” Answer: Even if you use other words, Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 4:11-16, and Colossians 1:28-29 are clear and authoritative. To object to the target is to object to following Jesus. Objecting to the target is objecting to discipleship.
Objection: “We don’t need trellis for this.” Answer: If you were flipping through a garden catalog, you would not find a tall and flourishing and fruitful vine without some sort of supporting trellis. For that matter, flipping through the pages of the New Testament provides us with some examples to apply.
Objection: “I don’t like/prefer this trellis.” And, sure. And also, having a preference doesn’t make all preferences equal. And also, if your preference is better, it is easier to influence, even change, something that you’re invested and involved in. I don’t steer from the sidewalk no matter how loudly I’m yelling.
“Man’s desires are limited by his perceptions; none can desire what he has not perceived” (Buckingham, The One Thing You Need to Know, (loc 391). What is your vision of the vine? Your perception of what it could/should look like? What about just your own health and growth and fruit?
Ministry: “it does the body good.”
You are not likely to outgrow your perception of what it means to be “complete in Christ.” In heaven, we will know not just in part, but we will know fully, and we will be grown up. On earth, the process has begun, this is where God wants us for now, and so we are benefited by the Bible and by the other parts of the body poking at our wee picture of discipleship. Ask a friend to break your small frame so you can see more.
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18, ESV)