Christians are enthralled with Jesus. We love Him. He is merciful, kind, accepting, gracious, glorious, and relatable. He is God. He is also one of us. We are not gods but He came down to us to give us life. Talk about mysteries!
We come together with a purpose. We want to share what Jesus is like--who Jesus is--with others. In doing that we rub up against each other. Sometimes the sparks are good; sometimes off-putting.
Paul had a preaching assignment in Troas, and he went. But when he arrived there, someone was missing. Second Corinthians 2:13a:
But I had no rest in my spirit because I did not find Titus my brother.
Paul had reason to expect Titus would be there. But when he arrived, Titus was not present. We should have a similar care for our fellow believers. If someone is missing, we should notice and have a care for them. Every heart, every soul, is precious. We have all come out from the world to be holy to the Lord. We are none too large a group; we should have a care for every brother, every sister. Church is a family.
We look to the Bible today for insight for living with each other. Congregations face challenges. Everything the church does is voluntary. You are here, you are members because you believe that it is God's purpose for you to be a member. You want to be part of extending His mission.
There are people involved. People sometimes make poor decisions, sometimes individually, sometimes as a group. But we are still engaged in being the people of God. We need forgiving hearts and thick skin. If Christians can't have those attributes, who can? We need to live and think and do church with eternity in view. Hearts are at stake. We need to be gentle with each other. You know--the way Jesus would be were He occupying the seat next to you.
Heaven and angels are watching. Holy beings are here. They are not distracted by mobile phones or thinking about a broken dishwasher machine at home. They are here to worship and shed upon us their sweet influence. Are we really here with our hearts? Are we open to that supernatural influence?
Today we are going to talk about four joys in the church. Then, four sorrows.
We are going to talk about the inconvenient path: being in a church, sticking with a church, that has human members!
Joys of Church
Some wonderful joys go with belonging to a church. Let's start with those.
Discovering Fresh Insight About the Loving Jesus
First, there is the joy of discovering fresh insight about the loving Jesus. We have our own experience, our own personal daily devotional time between us and the Lord at the beginning of each day. But when we come together as a group, at a midweek meeting, in the Sabbath School, or in the Sabbath church worship service, those are all group worship opportunities. Then we are not an army of one but of many. Then we can not only share and bless others with our experience in Jesus that week, but we can hear how the living God has blessed our brothers and sisters in their walk with Jesus in the week that is passed.
There is also the sermon. The pastor or the preacher has been seeking the Holy Spirit for guidance all week, laboring to help members and guide new believers forward. He seeks heaven's light, a message from God and God's Word to meet exactly the needs of the congregation that week.
In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we seek God's help so that our sermons and studies and messages are Bible-based. Turn to 2 Timothy 3:16.
In some churches people come to expect sermons that are mostly stories and anecdotes with a few Scriptures thrown in. It is true there are many ways we can prepare and sort out and deliver a message. But there are too many times when nothing in the message challenges us to come into obedience to God, or that dares us to love better, or that educates us spiritually in the clear, urgent, important, end-time Bible teachings. Rebuke is rare. We might think we are doing wonderfully fine without it.
But hear God's Word on the specific utility and power of God's Word:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
We need all four, don't we: doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in how to do right. All are urgently needed by God's people in every age. And the most potent tool for delivering this from heaven is the Bible itself. So why would we fill our messages, purported to be from heaven, with filler, when we could seek and receive from heaven all the help of His Word?
I did not become a Christian because of pretty stories and nice anecdotes. There is a place for quotes besides the Bible, but if the sermon food given on Sabbath is going to actually have calories, it is going to have to be rooted in the Bible.
When the message delivered at church is rooted in the Bible, then we will always learn something fresh and special about Jesus. Jesus is the center of Christianity. Without Him at the center, it would be something-else-ity. We are Christians, and the ultimate source of accurate information about Jesus is the Word of Jesus, the Bible. The Bible writers all received inspiration from the Holy Spirit and through the heavenly ministry of Jesus.
Again, some of us only turn up on Sabbath. But the midweek services and meetings of the church are planned to be a great spiritual help. Many are missing opportunities. We learn, we share, we talk back and forth about God and the things of God and things pertaining to our best friend Jesus. One of the four joys of church is learning something fresh about Jesus each and every week from our fellow believers.
New Human Friendships and Connections
A second joy of the church is the new human friendships and connections we make.
Listen. The epistle to the Hebrews:
Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching (Hebrews 11:24-25).
Going in the way of Jesus is difficult for us. We've spent years going in our own way, cutting our own path. But now we are ging a different way. We have embraced the inconvenient path of being a Jesus follower. That means following Him, imitating Him, and, as He did, combining ourselves together with likeminded fellow believers. We are seeking the kingdom, and the least efficient and least likely way to be successful, is when we attempt to do so alone.
God designed us to be social creatures. It is hard for us to see because we live in the center of a self-serving, hyper-individualistic day when the influences round us urge us onward to self-satisfaction. The path of self-satisfaction is always, ultimately, exclusive. We might get away with self-satisfaction for awhile, but in due course our self-satisfaction will collide with someone else's self-satisfaction. Then boom!
It can be a lonely path following in the footsteps of Jesus. Often one's family or even spouse is not on the team. Children struggle with worldly influences. Parents, more than anyone, are the beneficiaries of the help of Jesus when they get to know each other as church members.
Then there are persons who are alone. Widows, widowers, empty-nest parents, and so on. Our society tends to neglect the aged. The Christian path is to take care of our parents, or, arrange for their care if we cannot care for them directly. We all need the support of others. A person wrapped up in their own package is a very small package. Jesus didn't call His disciples into separate rooms but into His group of disciples. They became a church family. What are the very best things in life? Being a member of God's remnant church is right up there at the top of the list of privileges and blessings.
The Bible says
When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me (Psalm 27:10).
There is where your church family should stand up.
Proclaiming the Gospel
A third joy of the church is proclaiming the gospel. But wait, you say. That is obviously the preacher's job. It is. But also every member's job. We preach in a variety of ways, but let's stick with verbal proclaimation for a moment. And again I say, that is also your job.
Telling lost people that Jesus is Lord and Savior, that He created the world, that He knew them in the womb before they were born, that He has a purpose for them and for their lives, is a privilege. It is fine good news! That does not mean every member has to deliver a 30 minute sermon to a congregation each week. It means that you are an agent of the kingdom and that God will give you opportunities to share with others, to speak encouragement to them when they are in the pit of depression, or whatever other time.
When you join the church you are signing up to tell others about what God wants to do for them.
Let's simplify this. Suppose you are dying of a terrible disease, and your friend Bob comes up with a miracle solution that cures it. When you are cured, you are going to be awfully happy. What are you going to do? You are going to go and tell others about Bob who helped cure you! It is going to be the "Bob is great" show for awhile.
When Jesus gives us eternal life, we will want to share that. We will not be able to help ourselves. Even the shy person will long to tell others all about the goodness of God. It doesn't mean you will necessarily write a book or use a megaphone. It doesn't even mean you'll find it suddenly easy. But you will find you have a strong desire to do that. You realize that you have been given the help that others who are dying need.
You will want to share you faith in some way. It will be a strong desire in you. And when you do that as part of the church, your sharing has an important ring of authenticity to it it would not otherwise have. Because, when you share God's truth as a church member, you are accountable, in a sense, to others, and they are accountable to you. You stand with a group of people who are accountable to each other.
You are not a random independent person, you are part of a global movement! You have a more important mission than saving habitat for a bug or a poisonous toad. You are bringing glad tidings of great joy to the world. At last you are doing something that matters!
Enjoying Lifestyle Benefits of the Gospel
A fourth joy of the church is that as a member you will have embraced quality lifestyle practices. All those benefits are yours.
You can sleep peacefully, trusting in God.
You can face trials with patience, knowing that God will go through them with you, at your side, and that He will strengthen you and lift you up.
You can exercise that self-control you need for life, resisting pornography, liquor, a drug life, or any other vice that used to master you. God equips you to fight it and win!
People in your community will begin to say, "There is something very different about you. Tell me more."
You will look different, feel different, have a brightness about you, a joy that is not of this world. Yes, you will still have trials. But now you will have a whole new set of helps to endure those trials. You will wonder how you ever lived before you had a place among the people of God.
Sorrows in the Church
That probably all sounds quite good. But a Christian needs to also be realistic. Satan hates the church with an absolute hatred. So next let's talk about four sorrows in the church.
I need our deacons to come up right now and help me distrbute a couple of one-page handouts. We are going to talk about four sorrows in the church, and how, in many respects, the reason for these sorrows can be boiled down to one thing.
Do you have it?
Don't raise your hand. But let me ask you, do you have it? Because, if you have it you might be contributing to the four sorrows of church. And I just thought I would ask.
These two pages were developed by a friend of mine, a local elder in his church. He has used them for a long time. And I never saw them before yesterday when I was preparing this message. When I saw them, I immediately thought that possibly, they might be useful for us. He uses them for couples. My theory is that it could be useful for a church.
So take a look at the first handout. It is just a list. This is the handout titled, "Identifying Pride." Let's go through. I'll repeat the list. And by the way, you check these off only for one person: yourself. Don't volunteer to fill out another member's list. This is you reviewing you. How are you doing?
- Do you sometimes have a desire to be recognized and appreciated.
- Hurt feelings when others are promoted and I am overlooked.
- A focus on myself instead of others.
- Blaming others for their failures.
- Becoming defensive when criticized.
- Concern what others think of me.
- Difficulty in admitting when I have failed another person.
- View of others as lower than myself.
- Desire for others to meet MY needs.
- Desire for self-advancement.
- Desire to be successful apart from Godm not appreciated.
- Focus on my knowledge and experience.
- Self-sufficient attitude, excluding God and others.
If you circled any of those lines, you might have a problem with pride.
There is a second handout, titled "Biblical consequences of Pride." Look at those:
- Humiliation and God's destruction
- Sense of distance from God
- Loss of one's position
- God will resist you
- No desire to seek God
- Take advantage of others
You see on the sheet a number of texts and passages. Please review them later before your day is ended. I am afraid we will all find ourselves to be suffering from CD. You know what the disease CD is, right? CD = "Compassion Deficit." Why do we suffer from Compassion Deficit? Because we are soaking up this high-fructose corn syrup pride poison. Thankfully, there is a solution for pride. I'll speak to that in the end, but first, and quickly now, let's consider four sorrows in the church.
Criticism and Gossip from other Members
There is gossip and trouble in churches today. There was in Jesus' day too. James saw it in the church. Here's what he says (James 3:6-9).
The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.
Really, James is not talking about just the tongue. He is talking about the fact that the tongue has a wire in it connecting it to the brain. And the brain has a wire in it connecting it to the heart. And if our heart is wrong, our speech will be wrong, and we will spew deadly poison into the room. We will defile ourselves by stating untruths about others.
A church with one person might avoid the gossip issue, but what happens after you add the second member? Things begin to get dicey.
But it is still God's purpose that we combine ourselves together in church membership. This is why the Bible says,
And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:47).
The Bible also says, not that we are to gossip but that we are to
Let the word of God dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Colossians 3:16).
In English we don't see it so clearly, but let me tell you that in the Greek, when Paul says, "Let the word of God dwell in you richly, you is unambiguously plural. Let the word of God dwell in you, you group of persons. What group? In you, you church members! So it says "teaching and admonishing one another," again, because this is not talking about one person all alone in a room, but it is talking about the members of the church interacting with each other.
God wants us to strengtehn each other. The devils want us to frustrate each other. They want us to rub each other raw with gossipy talking, with statements about others which are not truthful, not correct, not fair, not just. He wants to destroy; Jesus wants to preserve. We are always called, no matter how painful, to take a deep breath and go on, even when we have been poorly treated, even in, of all places, the church. Jesus weeps and we weep but it happens. God is not wrong. Others are wrong. If someone treats you unfair, don't slap them, but pray for them. They are losing a battle with devils. Pray for them.
Mistakes Made by the Church
Another sorrow of the church is when the church makes mistakes. In the garden of Eden Adam and Eve were the church. They were the only two members on earth. They were the church board and everything. But they managed to make catastrophic mistakes. The devil deceived Eve and then Adam transgressed as well. Which is just to illustrate that the whole church can make mistakes.
Want more examples?
How about when Moses struck the rock? God held both Moses and Aaron accountable. Numbers 20.
How about when Peter said Jesus would pay the foreigner's tax in Matthew 17:25?
How about the leaders of the church counselled Paul to participate in the vow and headshaving ritual, and it backfired and Paul was later executed in Rome. Acts 21. That might have been a mistake.
Then there were disagreements about mission, like when Paul and Barnabas argued about whether to include Mark in a missionary journey (Acts 15:37-40), or, disagreement about when Apollos should travel (Acts 16:12).
Sometimes we have this idea that the church cannot err. But the Bible doesn't hide warts. God's people have sometomes made mistakes. But God works for them and brings them, as long as they are willing, into the right place. We should not lose faith in God or His leading His church. But we should expect that, hey, it is composed of people. And if it was perfect before you and I joined, I have some bad news...
Still, God will successfully have His pure church. Sometimes we learn better when God allows us to hit our thumb with the hammer.
Disrespect for the Decisions of the Church (Locally or Globally)
Once in awhile there is a time when the world church makes a decision and somewhere there is resistance to that decision. It may take awhile for the church to settle that problem. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is in 209 countries officially, and I think in several others in some less organized form. But the church is duty-bound to accept the voted decisions at General Conference Sessions every five years.
Ours is a representative system. God distributes His authority throughout the church to every member, and representatives are elected from every part of the field across the world. They meet together every five years. Their prayerful, Spirit-led decisions are our prayerful, Spirit-led decisions. We are duty-bound to follow those decisions.
The correction for pride, is humility. God designed His church so that we would submit to one another. If we do that, if we submit to God ad His Word and to each other, we will all be blessed. God will have His way in the end. We need to be faithful, be patient, and trust in God.
Martin Luther's hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" describes the correct position to take:
The body they may kill, God's truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.
Fellow Members Who Disregard Jesus' Bible Standards
A fourth sorrow of the church is something that happens from time to time in every local congregation. It is when someone in the church's own members doesn't appreciate the benefits of the Bible's lifestyle standards, and they dishoner Jesus by disregarding them.
It might be by appearance; they do not dress modestly. Or it might be by behavior, like disregarding the holy Sabbath. Or, it might be by how they speak, what they say.
We should not be distracted by those errors. One person's mistake is not license for you to do the wrong thing. Who is our pattern? Jesus is. Our part is to learn what is the will of God through His Word, and then do that. We shouldn't embarrass ourselves by leaning on the child's argument, that "Well, Billy did it."
When you see an inconsistency in someone, don't pattern after them. Instead, pray for God's help for them. And you yourself follow in the Bible path, the inconvenient path. Always remember the Bible directive found in Exodus 23:2:
You shall not follow a crowd to do evil.
There are sorrows and failures in church life. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Set the Bible example for your brothers and sisters. Don't by your behavior be a decoy to them to misrepresent the faith of Jesus. Make the Bible your guide always. Seek to copy Jesus.
The Inconvenient Path
The inconvenient path is to follow Jesus the way He says to follow Him, and that is in covenant connection to each other and to His church. The inconveninet path is the path of humility. There are joys in church life, and they are really wonderful. And, there are sorrows in church life.
Look what Jesus did. This is the very definition of humility (Philippians 2:1-11):
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
There are two paths. A path of pride and a path of humility. Pride is the convenient path. Humility is the inconvenient path.
There are joys in the church. The joys come when we as members take the path of humility. There are sorrows in the church. the sorrows come when we take the path of pride.
What will you do? What will I do?
The pattern is always, always, always, Jesus.
The standard is always, always always, His Word.
And His truth is always, always, always, His truth.
As members of His church, it is our privelege to make His truth our truth. Our life is the laboratory to show the world what is a person like who follows Jesus. We make a lot of mistakes doing that. But God will purify us if we cling to Him. And God will be glorified.
Yes, there are humans involved, and so there are glorious days in the church and sad days too. We don't quit. We ask Jesus and He helps us.
Let's pray together now, because we are determined to walk together, the inconvenient path. Jesus is on that path. If it is you purpose to join Him there, join me by standing as we pray.
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