June 23, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 14:50 in the audio file.
Or, Looking at an Assembly Living Godly in the Present Age
Series: The Marks of a Maturing Church – Redux (Part 3)
Life would be different if God had no goals. Life would be different if we had no goals as well, but God Himself has a perfect telos, an aim, a glory point. Unlike ours, God’s goals are not uncertain; He always accomplishes His intentions. So just as His ways are higher than our ways, so His sovereign goals are more sure than ours.
God clearly loves getting toward those goals via patient process rather than immediate accomplishment. It doesn’t take too much looking around to see that He enjoys the process of smaller becoming larger, of fewer becoming many, of weaker becoming stronger, of immature becoming mature. We are born babies who grow into adults. We are spiritually born as babies, too, and must grow into the fulness of the stature of Christ. God has goals for each of His kids: to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). God has goals for the Bride of Christ, all the family considered collectively: mature manhood and the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).
So it is not man’s idea for a church to be growing. It is not a standard of modernity that says we must be maturing. God reveals where He wants us to go and we can see some of the benchmarks along the way that help us to know if we are maturing.
You can tell if a church is maturing by looking at how they look at different things. So far in our series on the marks of a maturing church redux we’ve considered that a maturing church looks at her leaders with high expectations for ongoing and obvious progress. A maturing church looks at God in worship with humble expectations of blessing. A maturing church looks at Scripture with a submissive hunger. A maturing church looks at the responsibility of each individual member, especially when it comes to take responsibility for sin.
There are three more marks to mention today.
We spent a lot of time going through 1 Corinthians 12-14 a few months ago. It has been a theme that I’ve tried to emphasize since last September: you are the body of Christ. It is inescapable, not a whether or not question, but how so? Together we are a local body and each believer is a part, are we a maturing body or not?
Each part is different, but we each must do our part. No part can say to another part, “I don’t need you.” Likewise, no part can say to another part, “You don’t need me.” More specifically, one part ought not be envious of another part, as if the foot threw a fit because it’s not a hand (1 Corinthians 12:15); that’s just another face of pride. And no part ought to exalt itself over another part, as if the eye could hear or hold our coffee or walk for us.
We are connected, like it or not. You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your eternal family. It’s why we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), because in a spiritual sense we are joined together. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
This is not just how God has arranged us, which is true. It is also how God arranged for our growth.
Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16).
My wife has a genetic defect known as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. It affects the collagen in her joints (along with other connective tissues in the body) and keeps the joints from doing their part to hold the other parts together. When a person with EDS is younger they often don’t have pain symptoms, they are just overly flexible, hyper-mobile. The muscles are strong and can compensate at the joints. But if there is an extended time of sickness, or an accident, that causes the muscles to weaken, things really start to get out of joint, and the whole body suffers.
In the body of Christ, He not only makes us different parts, but He makes it so that when we do our part we are helping to hold the body together: “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped.” And our getting stronger, our maturing toward “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (verse 13) depends on a joint effort. It depends on each of you.
We have more in common than we don’t. We are the people who live by grace, who eat God’s promises like food for sustenance, who pray to Him because we have to give thanks and because we know we can’t do it on our own. We do not all do the same things, and we certainly do not do them the same ways. Some are more quiet, some can’t hold much in at all. Some are faster, some are more nervous but hang on for the ride. Some are more awkward yet connected, some are socially smooth and yet more disconnected. None of this surprises, and thankfulness should color all of it.
A church will not be maturing if she is made up of isolated believers, like bricks on the floor rather than mortared together in a wall. The world will know that we are disciples by our love for one another, and that witness depends on seeing ourselves as one body.
The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said that if you took the Old Testament laws and summarized them, you could boil them all down to love Goa and love your neighbor as yourself.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37–40)
The parable of the Good Samaritan is entirely about identifying who your neighbor is because what we don’t like is needing to love the person we see right in front of us.
This is another way of saying that we must love our people, and that our people are the ones who are probably annoying us the most. We are less likely to have trouble “loving” those who don’t get on our nerves. We don’t have arguments with them, we don’t want the same things as them, or at least we’re not competing over those things in the same space. They aren’t leaving their trash for us to pick up, they aren’t making us a mess for us to clean up, they aren’t watching us in our worst moments.
“Oh, I wish I could help you but I live five time-zones away.” Here is where an offer is not as good as a body. It’s why wisdom says that a friend who is near is better than a brother who isn’t (“Better is a neighbor who is near / than a brother who is far away” Proverbs 27:10). Loving our neighbors means putting pants on our ideals. It may mean washing the dishes. (“Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.” —P.J. O’Rourke)
The word “neighbor” is an ambiguous word, meaning that it has a number of definitions. It’s part of the reason that a lawyer could ask (“desiring to justify himself, ‘Who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29). Jesus stipulated the definition in such a way as to keep us on the hook.
You have neighbors who live in the house next to your house, neighbors who live in the other houses on your street, neighbors who live in your city, neighbors who live in your county, and even to some extent neighbors who live in your state and country. But the principle starts with loving the person who can see who is right in front of you, which means that your first neighbor is your spouse, and also your kids/grandkids.
Love the ones you’re with. Love them in truth, love them in sacrifice, love them in helping them to grow. Love your wife. Love your daughters. Love your sons. Love your city.
The last part of our mission statement is that we would have worshipping, maturing disciples “who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord over all the world.” This is easier said than understood.
The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
We are stewards. God created the world, and all things in it. Not anything that was created was not made by Him (John 1:3). From the beginning He kept calling it, and continues to sustain it, good. When He made mankind He gave them a mandate to receive His gifts with thanks and then to do something with His gifts. This economy of gifts, this management of resources, is His assignment.
But we are also soldiers. Because Adam and Eve fell, we who fear the Lord are in a global and spiritual battle against the seed of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). Everything that God made, while good in itself, can be abused and used against God. The love of the world, identified not as loving ice cream but as loving the flesh (1 John 2:15-17), is opposed to Him, and so we must be vigilant to guard our hearts.
And we are also sojourners. This world is not our final resting place (1 Peter 2:11). We are in our seed-body forms, and will be raised to glorified, powerful, imperishable bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Creation will be delivered from its bondage to futility and groaning (Romans 8:20-22), a new heaven and a new earth will be made (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1), and we will have new capabilities and work and responsibilities. That does not make what we’re doing now worthless. We are learning how to live and how to not lose heart that eternal things are around us but not always the countable, measurable things.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11–14)
A maturing church will not try to be the boss of the world, but will recognize that the world is gift, that the world is full of sinners, and that Jesus will return to Lord over all of it and we will reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6).
The final three marks of a maturing church seem especially profitable for us as salt and light in the world. A loving body = witness (they will know we are disciples of Jesus by our love for one another, John 13:35). Happy families = witness (in both Ephesians and Colossians the sections on interacting with outsiders come after the sections on family). Blessed workers = witness (the fruit of our hands, as blessed by God in Deuteronomic and Psalmic ways makes the Jews jealous).
You can tell a church is maturing by how they:
By God’s great grace, TEC is a maturing church. May we excel still more and more.
Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1, NASB)
God promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18) and we are not who we were. Give thanks. God promised to finish what He started and we are not who we will be. Give thanks. Let us pursue maturity because He promised it. And let us give thanks in the maturing process because He commands it.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11–12, ESV)