Broken for His Glory

2 Corinthians 4:7-10(HCSB)Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. 10 We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

In this world, broken things are despised and thrown out. Anything we no longer need, we throw away. Damaged goods are rejected, and that includes people. In marriage, when relationships break down, the tendency is to walk away and find someone new rather than work at reconciliation. The world is full of people with broken hearts, broken spirits and broken relationships. We have to remember that it is God who is sovereign over it all, the good and the seemingly bad. We do not know why God allows certain seemingly bad things to happen to us, but it is for His glory. He is the Potter and we are the clay, He shapes us and molds us into what he wants. Sometimes we try to move His hands to shape ourselves into what we want.

Isaiah 64:6-9(HCSB)All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind. 7  No one calls on Your name, striving to take hold of You. For You have hidden Your face from us and made us melt because of our iniquity. 8  Yet Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we all are the work of Your hands. 9  Lord, do not be terribly angry or remember our iniquity forever. Please look—all of us are Your people!

Romans 9:18-24(HCSB)18 So then, He shows mercy to those He wants to, and He hardens those He wants to harden. 19 You will say to me, therefore, “Why then does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?” 20 But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” 21 Or has the potter no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor? 22 And what if God, desiring to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction? 23 And what if He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory— 24 on us, the ones He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

Jeremiah 18:1-12(HCSB)This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Go down at once to the potter’s house; there I will reveal My words to you.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, working away at the wheel. 4 But the jar that he was making from the clay became flawed in the potter’s hand, so he made it into another jar, as it seemed right for him to do.

5 The word of the Lord came to me: 6 “House of Israel, can I not treat you as this potter treats his clay?”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “Just like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, house of Israel. 7 At one moment I might announce concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will uproot, tear down, and destroy it. 8 However, if that nation I have made an announcement about turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the disaster I had planned to do to it. 9 At another time I announce that I will build and plant a nation or a kingdom. 10 However, if it does what is evil in My sight by not listening to My voice, I will relent concerning the good I had said I would do to it. 11 So now, say to the men of Judah and to the residents of Jerusalem: This is what the Lord says: I am about to bring harm to you and make plans against you. Turn now, each from your evil way, and correct your ways and your deeds. 12 But they will say, ‘It’s hopeless. We will continue to follow our plans, and each of us will continue to act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’”

Although God allows human beings freedom to make moral choices, He demonstrates often that He is still sovereign and in control of His universe. He does whatever He wills with His creation.

Psalm 135:6(HCSB)Yahweh does whatever He pleases in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all the depths.

Psalm 155:3(HCSB)Our God is in heaven and does whatever He pleases.

Daniel 4:35 (HCSB)All the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing, and He does what He wants with the army of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can hold back His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?”

Isaiah 46:9–11(HCSB)Remember what happened long ago, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like Me.10 I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will.11 I call a bird of prey from the east, a man for My purpose from a far country.Yes, I have spoken; so I will also bring it about. I have planned it; I will also do it.

We need frequent reminders that God is over all and can do as He pleases whether we understand His actions or not. Romans 9:20–21(HCSB)20 But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” 21 Or has the potter no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor? He owes us nothing yet chooses to extend to us the utmost patience, kindness, and compassion.Jeremiah 9:24(HCSB)But the one who boasts should boast in this, that he understands and knows Me—that I am Yahweh, showing faithful love,justice, and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things.This is the Lord’s declaration.

Psalm 36:10(HCSB)Spread Your faithful love over those who know You, and Your righteousness over the upright in heart.

Psalm 103:4(HCSB)He redeems your life from the Pit;He crowns you with faithful love and compassion.

The potter working with the clay reminds us that God is at work in us “for His good pleasure” Philippians 2:13(HCSB)13 For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.

Isaiah 45:9(HCSB)“Woe to the one who argues with his Maker—one clay pot among many. Does clay say to the one forming it,‘What are you making?’Or does your work say,‘He has no hands’?

God has created each of us the way He wants us.

Psalm 139:13–16(HCSB)For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.14 I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made.Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well.15 My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth.16  Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.

It is our responsibility to take what He has given us and use it for His glory and pleasure. In doing so, we find our ultimate fulfillment. Rather than live with disappointment and dissatisfaction with what God has or has not given us, we can choose to thank Him in everything. Just as the clay finds its highest purpose when it remains pliable in the hands of the potter, so our lives fulfill their highest purpose when we let our Potter have His way with us.

Psalm 34:18(ESV)“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”. There is something about reaching a breaking point that causes us to seek the Lord more sincerely. King David was once a broken man, and he prayed, Psalm 51:10, 17(ESV)“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me… The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”. There are some things in our lives that need to be broken: pride, self-will, stubbornness, and sinful habits, for example. When we feel our brokenness, God compensates: Isaiah 57:15(ESV)“I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit”.

God Uses Broken People To Share the beautiful message of hope to a broken world Throughout scripture we see God using imperfect broken people for the sake of his mission. He didn’t call the popular, rich or successful to further his ministry, but rather, the poor, broken and faithful. I can only imagine how confused the Pharisees and religious leaders must have been while looking at the team of people the proclaimed Savior had gathered together.

From an outside perspective, we can see that It didn’t matter where people were from, what they had done, or who they use to be; Jesus used all people for the good of His will. Here are some examples of people that were used for the greatness of HIS glory.

Abraham -Was old.

Elijah – Was suicidal.

Joseph – Was abused.

Job – Went bankrupt.

Moses – Had a speech problem.

Gideon – Was afraid.

Samson – Was a womanizer.

Rahab – Was a prostitute.

Samaritan Woman – Divorced.

Noah – Was a Drunk.

Jeremiah – Was young.

Jacob – Was a cheater.

David – Was a murderer.

Jonah – Ran from God.

Naomi – Was a widow.

Peter – Denied Christ three times

Martha – Worried about everything.

Zacchaeus – Was small and money hungry.

The Disciples – Fell asleep while praying.

Paul – A Pharisee who persecuted Christians before becoming one.

To us, broken things are despised as worthless, but God can take what has been broken and remake it into something better, something that He can use for His glory. Broken things and broken people are the result of sin. Yet God sent his Son, who was without sin, to be broken so that we might be healed. On the night before He died, Jesus broke the bread and said, “This is my body, which is broken for you.” He went all the way to the cross to die so that we can live. His death has made it possible for broken, sinful humanity to be reconciled to God and be healed. Without the broken body of Jesus, we could not be made whole. Isaiah 53:5(ESV)“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed”. 

Jesus viewed all things in the light of eternity, and so should we: Hebrews 12:2-3(ESV)“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”.

God draws us, He calls to us. He longs for us to come to Him so He can heal us. Often, we are unable to hear His call because we’re so busy with other things – our lives, our families, our work, our own problems and unhappiness. Sometimes we must be broken before we realize our need. And our deepest need is to be reconciled to God. Only then can we be made whole.

The solution can never come from our own efforts or striving, but comes only from Him. Only when we recognize our need for God are we able to take our eyes off ourselves and focus them on God and Jesus Christ. Only when we stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking about what Jesus did for us can we begin to heal. Only when we admit our need and ask God into our life, can God begin to make us whole. Only when we confess that we are broken can God make us into what He wants us to be. Once we let go of self and place God at the center of our lives, everything else falls into place.

During the final week of Jesus’ life, He was eating a meal, and “a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head” Mark 14:3(HCSB)While He was in Bethany at the house of Simon who had a serious skin disease, as He was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of pure and expensive fragrant oil of nard. She broke the jar and poured it on His head. The woman’s action of breaking the alabaster jar was symbolic of a couple of things: Jesus would soon be “broken” on the cross, and all who follow Him must be willing to be “broken” as well. But the result of such costly brokenness is beautiful, indeed.

Surrender to God and allow Him to make you whole, to give your life meaning, purpose and joy. Trust Him. Romans 8:28(ESV) “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”.

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Philippians Pt 3 Jesus left His throne

“For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6 HCSB

At Christmas, we are confronted with the difficult task of separating the reality of the gospel from the fallacy of Christmas traditions. There is so much confusion that sometimes you feel like the real Christmas story is like a precious diamond lost amongst a bunch of svarsky crystals. It just seems impossible to find.  Christmas has really become a hopeless muddle of confusion.

The humility and the poverty of the stable are somehow confused with the wealth and indulgence and selfishness of gift-giving. The quietness of Bethlehem is mingled with the noise of shopping malls. The soberness of the incarnation is somehow mixed with the drunkenness of this season. Blinking colored lights somehow have some connection to the star of Bethlehem. The room in the inn, so obscure, so dirty, somehow embraces the thought of a warm house, a yule log on the fireplace, and feasting.  Cheap plastic toys for little kids with which to act out their foolishness are mixed with the true value of the gifts given by wise men.  Salesmen somehow get mixed up with shepherds.

The pain of childbirth is mixed with the parties.  The filth of the stable is confounded with the whiteness of fresh snow.  And then there’s Mary, Joseph, A Christmas Story(You’ll shoot your eye out) and Bing Crosby.

The great reality of Christmas, which is the glory of the Lord being revealed, is obscured by so much tinsel, evergreen trees, temporal activity, and commercialism; and I think it’s true that Santa Claus really has become the focus of Christmas for most people.  In fact, it’s amazing, but I think some people have trouble confusing Santa Claus with Jesus,  You better watch out, You better not cry, You better not pout, I’m telling you why:

Santa Claus is coming to town! He’s making a list, And checking it twice, Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town!

He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, So be good for goodness sake!

Matthew 1:18-25(HCSB)18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly. 20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph got up from sleeping, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her 25 but did not know her intimately until she gave birth to a son. And he named Him Jesus.

Luke 2:1-7(HCSB)In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus[a] that the whole empire should be registered. This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him[d] and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough—because there was no room for them at the lodging place.

That first Christmas, earth was not aware to the significance of a simple birth in a quiet town. But heaven wasn’t. The holy angels waited in anticipation to break forth in praise and worship and adoration at the birth of the newborn Christ. This Child’s birth meant deliverance for mankind. The angel told Joseph: Matthew 1:21(HCSB)21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”

Unlike Isaac, who ascended the mountain with Abraham unaware he was to be the sacrifice, Jesus descended from heaven in full awareness of what the Father had in store for Him. Scripture records for us what may have been a farewell message Jesus gave just prior to His incarnation.

When He comes into the world, He says,Hebrews 10:5-7(HCSB)Therefore, as He was coming into the world, He said: You did not want sacrifice and offering, but You prepared a body for Me. 6  You did not delight in whole burnt offerings and sin offerings. 7  Then I said, “See—it is written about Me in the volume of the scroll—I have come to do Your will, God!

That passage of Scripture gives us a remarkable look at the heart of the Savior before His birth. He knew He was entering the world to be the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin. His body had been divinely prepared by God specifically for that purpose. Jesus was going to die for the sins of the world, and He knew it. Moreover, He was doing it willingly. That was the whole point of the incarnation.
John 10:14-18(HCSB)14 “I am the good shepherd. I know My own sheep, and they know Me, 15 as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father. I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 But I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. Then there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father.”

The important issue of Christmas is not so much that Jesus came, but why He came. There was no salvation in His birth. Nor did the sinless way He lived His life have any redemptive force of its own. His example, as flawless as it was, could not rescue men from their sins. Even His teaching, the greatest truth ever revealed to man, could not save us from our sins. There was a price to be paid for our sins. Someone had to die. Only Jesus could do it.

Jesus came to earth, of course, to reveal God to mankind. He came to teach truth. He came to fulfill the Law. He came to offer His kingdom. He came to show us how to live. He came to reveal God’s love. He came to bring peace. He came to heal the sick. He came to minister to the needy.

Here’s a side to the Christmas story that isn’t often told: Those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, were made so that nails might be driven through them. Those baby feet, pink and unable to walk, would one day stagger up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant’s head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that someday men might force a crown of thorns onto it. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be ripped open by a spear. Jesus was born to die.

Don’t think I’m trying to put a damper on your Christmas spirit. Far from it—for Jesus’ death, though devised and carried out by men with evil intentions, was in no sense a tragedy. In fact, it represents the greatest victory over evil anyone has ever accomplished.

Christ’s Humility and Exaltation

This portion of scripture tells of the descension of the Son of God to earth, to die, and then to return in exaltation to glory. It’s the theology of Christmas, it tells us what happened from the divine side of the story.

Philippians 2:5-11(HCSB)5 Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. 7 Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, 8  He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. 9  For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10  so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow— of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth— 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

He abandoned a sovereign position. Go back to verse 6 and this identifies His person, His nature, His character, His attributes in eternity before He came. In a word, His sovereign position. It says in verse 6 that He existed in the form of God thus He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or seized.

So the story of Christmas begins with the Son of God abandoning a sovereign position. Secondly, He accepted a slave’s place…He accepted a slave’s place. Back to verse 7, “Taking the form of a slave.” It’s doulos, slave and there’s no such word as bondservant in the Greek, it’s the word for slave. He came down. How far down? He came to be a slave. He took off the robes of majesty and put on the apron of a slave. This, of course, is what the Old Testament promises. Regarding Jesus’ birth—Isaiah 7:14(ESV): “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Isaiah 9:6(ESV): “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah 53:6-12(HCSB)We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted,yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth. 8  He was taken away because of oppression and judgment; and who considered His fate? For He was cut off from the land of the living; He was struck because of my people’s rebellion.9 They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man at His death, although He had done no violence and had not spoken deceitfully.10  Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely.When You make Him a restitution offering, He will see His seed, He will prolong His days, and by His hand, the Lord’s pleasure will be accomplished. 11He will see it out of His anguish, and He will be satisfied with His knowledge. My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will carry their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give Him the many as a portion, and He will receive the mighty as spoil, because He submitted Himself to death, and was counted among the rebels; yet He bore the sin of many and interceded for the rebels.

He takes on the attributes, takes on the characteristics of a slave. He literally becomes a slave, a slave of God and a slave of sinners, if you will. He came not to be served, but to serve. Luke 22:27(HCSB)27 For who is greater, the one at the table or the one serving? Isn’t it the one at the table? But I am among you as the One who serves. The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve. And how? By giving His life.

I think the point of Christmas is right here. Christmas, there’s no better time in the year than to teach us the illustration of the lesson of humility. The character of Christ, He was unselfish. He was humble. And Paul is challenging the church to that perspective; an attitude of a willingness to suffer, to be humiliated, to be selfless, to be sacrificing, so that God can lift us up. And the thing we need to learn, people, is not to always be asserting ourselves, defending ourselves, pushing ourselves up, but to be humble and selfless. That is the message of Christmas to us.

Hebrews 2:14-15(HCSB)14 Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death—that is, the Devil— 15 and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.

So we are free from the fear of death. God has justified us. Satan cannot overturn that command. And God means for our ultimate safety to have an immediate effect on our lives. He means for the happy ending to take away the slavery and fear of the Now. If we do not need to fear our last and greatest enemy, death, then we do not need to fear anything. We can be free. Free for joy. Free for others. What a great Christmas present from God to us! And from us to the world!

It’s appropriate to commemorate the birth of Christ. But don’t make the mistake of leaving Him as a baby in a manger. Keep in mind that His birth was just the first step in God’s glorious plan of redemption. Remember that it’s the triumph of Christ’s sacrificial death that gives meaning to His humble birth. You can’t truly celebrate one without the other

We all have sinned, Sinfulness is the general characteristic of all mankind; we are all guilty before God. We are sinners by nature and by our own acts of transgression.

Romans 3:9-10(HCSB)”What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one.”

Romans 3:23(HCSB)for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  

Psalm 14:3(HCSB)All have turned away; all alike have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one.

We are all sinners because Adam passed on his sinful condition that leads inevitably to our personal sin and death.Romans 5:12(HCSB)12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned. All share Adam’s death sentence as an inherited condition (the “sin nature”) that is passed down to and through the human race and that every child brings into the world. Even before a child can be held accountable for personal sin, he or she is naturally prone to disobey, to tell lies, etc. Every child is born with a sin nature.

Titus 3:4-7(HCSB)But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,7 so that having been justified by His grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.

The Atonement of Christ is the sacrificial work of Jesus for sinners. In his death on the cross, Christ atoned for the sins of humanity such that God is satisfied and reconciliation is accomplished for all who will be redeemed.Jesus’ death satisfied and reconciled sinners to God.

1 Timothy 1:15-17(HCSB) 15 This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Philippians Pt2 – Unity

Unity is a misunderstood concept in the modern church, some do not believe we have to be in unity with anyone others believe we have to be in unity with everyone. The call for unity is not “Unity no matter the cost”. Unity is something that is easily destroyed, especially in the body. I have seen best friends now hate each other over church, over a sermon.

The gracious blessing, the gentle encouragement of Christ has so generously been poured out to us. His exhortations to us are so clear and compelling, including His exhortations to unity, that we should respond excitedly to pursue the harmony He desires in His church for the sake of gratitude and love, if for nothing else. The unity of the church is inward not outward.  When the Bible talks about unity it is not talking about some kind of outward unity. It is talking about an inward unity.  It is talking about something that is internally compelling, not externally controlled.  It is more heartfelt than creedal.  It is not particularly verbal as much as it is emotional, spiritual.  It is the union of hearts and minds and souls in common cause.  It’s not people just being united because they’re in the same container. It’s people who are literally attracted to each other because they’re pulled by the same power.
John Macarthur uses this illustration.

If you have a bag filled with marbles you have a certain unity.  You have one bag full of marbles, and all those marbles are pushed against each other, packed together.  But that which binds them into unity is the container.  It’s something on the outside that holds them.  As soon as you tear the bag, the marbles are everywhere because there’s nothing intrinsic or internal to keep them together.  It’s purely the package they’re in, the container.

But on the other hand, if you have a magnet and you put that magnet into some metal shavings, the shavings will all adhere to the magnet.  Not because there is an external container but because there’s an internal force.  And they are pulled to each other because they are all pulled by the same force pulling through each other.  And that’s how the church is to be. It is not a collection of marbles in the same bag. It is people who are pressed against each other because they’re all magnetized by the same force, which is the power of Jesus Christ.  That’s the internal unity of the church.  We are pulled to each other because we are pulled through each other by the power that pulls, which is Christ.

Now what Paul wants to see is not marbles in a bag, people who are all together because the container has brought them together, but he wants to see people who are drawn by the power of Christ to each other because they’re drawn to Christ through each other.  And this is the inward, magnetic unity that is essential to the church’s joy and effectiveness.  This is the true unity of the Spirit.  And it’s very fragile. That’s why in Ephesians 4:1-3(HCSB)Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.  Paul says “diligently,” and he uses the verb spoudazō, which means “to make every constant effort.”  He says, “diligently [or make every constant effort] keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.”  It takes tremendous effort.

And so, as Paul writes the Philippian church as good as it is, as zealous as it is, as loving as it is, as courageous as it is, as passionate as it is, as sympathetic as it is, prayerful as it is, there’s still the lurking danger of discord.  And discord is such a tragedy in the church, such a debilitation in the church that he pleads with them to do all they can to avoid it. In Acts 4:32-35(HCSB)32 Now the large group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. 33 And the apostles were giving testimony with great power to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet. This was then distributed for each person’s basic needs.  The multitude of believers were of one heart and one mind; they had great power and great grace.  Power and blessing are related to unity.

Christian Humility

Philippians 2:1-28(HCSB)1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. 3 Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Christ’s Humility and Exaltation

5 Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. 7 Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man

in His external form, 8 He humbled Himself by becoming obedient

to the point of death—even to death on a cross. 9 For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth—11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Lights in the World

12 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. 14 Do everything without grumbling and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world. 16 Hold firmly to the message of life. Then I can boast in the day of Christ that I didn’t run or labor for nothing. 17 But even if I am poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 In the same way you should also be glad and rejoice with me.

Timothy and Epaphroditus

19 Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I also may be encouraged when I hear news about you. 20 For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; 21 all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father. 23 Therefore, I hope to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 I am convinced in the Lord that I myself will also come quickly. 25 But I considered it necessary to send you Epaphroditus—my brother, coworker, and fellow soldier, as well as your messenger and minister to my need— 26 since he has been longing for all of you and was distressed because you heard that he was sick. 27 Indeed, he was so sick that he nearly died. However, God had mercy on him, and not only on him but also on me, so that I would not have one grief on top of another. 28 For this reason, I am very eager to send him so that you may rejoice when you see him again and I may be less anxious. 29 Therefore, welcome him in the Lord with all joy and hold men like him in honor, 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up what was lacking in your ministry to me.

A passage that has to be considered also in sync with Philippians 2 is Ephesians 4, we can read it as a supporting background to the thoughts that Paul will give us in this section of Philippians. In Ephesians 4:1 he writes, “Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received,”  In other words, he says “act like a Christian, act like a believer.”  How does a believer act?  “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us”  A Christian acts this way toward his fellow Christian: humbly, gently, patiently, accepting and lovingly, and does everything he can to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  That’s how a Christian is to act.

The reason is given in Ephesians 4:4-6(HCSB).  There must be unity because “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” And because of all that inherent supernatural oneness, the church then is to maintain its oneness as the outworking of its very calling.  So we are called to unity, and our unity is based upon a great, profound theological unity within the very Trinity itself.

How are we to have unity? Are we to have unity with people who have different closed handed doctrinal beliefs than us? (Closed-handed doctrines are the core, essential beliefs that must be accepted by all of Christianity. If these doctrines are not believed, then the person denying them is not truly a Christ-follower because he/she has denied beliefs essential to the faith. Examples of closed-handed doctrines are: belief in The Trinity: The father, son and the holy spirit, The Virgin Birth, the complete divinity of Jesus, Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, Jesus sinlessness, the holiness of God, The existence of an eternal Hell, salvation only by grace through faith, The necessity of belief in Jesus Christ ONLY as savior for salvation,Jesus + Nothing= Salvation and the inerrancy of the Bible. In order for a church like ours to be in unity we must rally around a few fundamental beliefs. While we desire to be inclusive and accepting of others and their scriptural beliefs – at some point there has to be a line in the sand that we will not cross.

Open-handed doctrines are still extremely important, but Christians can differ on these issues and still claim a true, Christian faith. Examples of open-handed doctrines include: the Bible’s teaching on the extent of man’s will and God’s will in regards to salvation, Child baptism and communion, Cigarettes, End times eschatology, Political party affiliation, Gifts of the spirit (Speaking in Tongues etc.)Unless it is for salvation, what the Bible teaches about issues of conscious such as the consumption of alcohol and which movies we choose to watch, and how we choose to raise our kids We should be encouraged to search the scriptures and come to our own conclusions about them. We should not divide over them as the church and God’s people.

Now you have two possibilities.  You can either think with the Spirit or you can think with the flesh.  If we are to think the same, then we must all think in harmony with the Holy Spirit.  So the first principle is that if we are to be of the same mind we must think on the things of the Spirit of God.  We must have spiritual thoughts. We ascend beyond our own realm, our own agenda, our own flesh, our own unredeemed humanness – that which the Puritans called remaining sin that must be mortified in us. And we must realize that the conflict is between the Spirit and the flesh – note this – never the Spirit and the flesh.You don’t have two people thinking with the mind of the Spirit in conflict.  If there is conflict, somebody is thinking in the mind of the Spirit – or no one is – and someone else is thinking in the flesh.  And so he says if we are according to the Spirit, then we think the things of the Spirit.  So if we’re to have the same mind we must be thinking on the things of the Spirit of God.

Paul says, “Think on the things of the Spirit and think with sound judgment, with God as the source.”  Have not only the mind of the Spirit, if you will, but have the mind of God.  Look at Romans 15:5(HCSB) Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus, – here’s the same term – “to be of the same mind.”  Think the same: have the same disposition and attitude and concern with one another – here it comes – “according to” – Whom? – “Christ Jesus.” Not according to the denomination or religion you in, or from the preacher you listened to, but from Christ Jesus.  We think the things of the Spirit.  We think the things of God, which give sound judgment.  And we think the things of Christ. Discernment – the ability to judge well. (in Christian contexts) perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding.

You see, what we have to do is get lifted out of ourselves.  Let me say it again.  Conflict in most churches is not usually over doctrine or over moral principle. But conflict is always a result of sinful attitude.  It is the collision of the mind in the Spirit of Christ with the mind of the flesh – always.  We are to have the mind of Christ.

You say, “Is that possible?”  In 1 Corinthians 2:16(HCSB)“16 For who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” You have the mind of Christ.  You can think the thoughts of Christ.  You can have a Christ-like attitude.  You can know the will of Christ, the will of God, the will of the Spirit.  You can mind spiritual things.  But Paul says in the very next verse – 1 Corinthians 3:1(HCSB)Brothers, I was not able to speak to you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as babies in Christ. Paul is saying I can’t speak to you as spiritual because you’re so fleshy.” And how does it come out?  “By your divisions and jealousy and strife, and you’re walking like mere humans.”  What does that mean?  “You have the mind of man, not the mind of God, not the mind of the Spirit, not the mind of Christ.  You’re fleshy.”

At the end of 2 Corinthians 13:11(HCSB)11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Become mature, be encouraged, be of the same mind, be at peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you., Paul adds a further plea to the Corinthian church in his last shot in the second letter to them. Paul is enforcing the fact that thinking the same is part of being mature.  He says, “be made mature and think the same thing.”  It’s part of spiritual maturity.  If you’re fleshy, spiritually immature, you’re going to collide with the mind of the Trinity.  No question.

Colossians 3:2(HCSB)Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. Think heavenly, don’t believe this common lie, “Don’t be too heavenly minded that you are no earthly good. Think the Spirit’s thoughts, think the Father’s thoughts, think the Son’s thoughts, think mature thoughts, think spiritual thoughts, think heavenly thoughts.

How can I think heavenly thoughts? Be concerned about the kingdom?  Be concerned about the Trinity? Be concerned about them and not me?  How can I be concerned with sound doctrine?”  And the answer comes while you’re in Colossians 3:12-17(HCSB)12 Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. 14 Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity. 15 And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful. 16 Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Listen, everyone of these things here talks about relationships in the church. That’s all about unity – every bit of it.  All the right attitudes for unity are there.

Light in the Darkness

1 John 4:4-6(HCSB) You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world. Therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Anyone who knows God listens to us; anyone who is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception.

The Christian faith that once existed in the background of American life and culture has diminished to such an extent that America is now a post-Christian nation. “Christians are ostracized. Gay marriage is celebrated. Abortion is literally destroying an entire generation. The culture around us is a Post-Christian Culture where the Christian ideological belief system is frowned upon. This is happening all around us, yet many Christians remain oblivious. “The church is dying, and no one is noticing because we’re wasting time criticizing, taking selfies when we feed the homeless or trying to make club members rather than evangelizing.”

Hell is hot, forever is a long time, and it’s our turn to stop making excuses and start making a difference. This is no time to trade in our combat boots for vacation flip-flops. The days are darker, which means our means of resolution must be stronger and our convictions must be clearer.”

1 Corinthians 9:19-23(HCSB) Although I am a free man and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. 21 To those who are without that law, like one without the law—not being without God’s law but within Christ’s law—to win those without the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. 23 Now I do all this because of the gospel, so I may become a partner in its benefits.

Believers in Jesus Christ are simply in the world—physically present—but not of it, not part of its values John 17:14-19(HCSB)I have given them Your word. The world hated them because they are not of the world, as I am not of the world.15 I am not praying that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one.They are not of the world, as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them by the truth;Your word is truth.18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.19 I sanctify Myself for them, so they also may be sanctified by the truth.

Jesus is not asking his Father for his disciples to be taken out of the world, but he is praying for them as they are “sent into” the world. He begins with them being “not of the world” and prays for them as they are “sent into” the world.

So maybe it would serve us better — at least in light of John 17 — to revise the popular phrase “in, but not of” in this way: “not of, but sent into.” The beginning place is being “not of the world,” and the movement is toward being “sent into” the world. The accent falls on being sent, with a mission, to the world — not being mainly on a mission to disassociate from this world.

Jesus’s assumption in John 17 is that those who have embraced him, and identified with him, are indeed not of the world. And now his summons is our sending — we are sent into the world on mission for gospel advance through disciplemaking.

Jesus’s true followers have not only been crucified to the world, but also raised to new life and sent back in to free others. We’ve been rescued from the darkness and given the Light not merely to flee the darkness, but to guide our steps as we go back in to rescue others.

As believers, we should be set apart from the world. This is the meaning of being holy and living a holy, righteous life—to be set apart. We are not to engage in the sinful activities the world promotes, nor are we to retain the apathetic, corrupt mind that the world creates. Rather, we are to conform ourselves, and our minds, to that of Jesus Christ.

Romans 12:1-2(HCSB)Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. This is a daily activity and commitment.

We must also understand that being in the world, but not of it, is necessary if we are to be a light to those who are in spiritual darkness. We are to live in such a way that those outside the faith see our good deeds and our manner and know that there is something “different” about us. Christians who make every effort to live, think and act like those who do not know Christ do Him a great disservice. Even the heathen knows that “by their fruits you shall know them,” and as Christians, we should exhibit the fruit of the Spirit within us.

1 Peter 2:1-10 HCSB “So rid yourselves of all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, desire the pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow by it for your salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good. Coming to Him, a living stone — rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God — you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it is contained in Scripture: Look! I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and honored cornerstone, and the one who believes in Him will never be put to shame! So honor will come to you who believe, but for the unbelieving, The stone that the builders rejected — this One has become the cornerstone, and A stone to stumble over, and a rock to trip over. They stumble because they disobey the message; they were destined for this. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

The darkness does not get darker, it does not get an adjective, only the light gets an adjective. It doesn’t matter how dark the darkness was in your life. It could be sexual darkness, anger darkness, addiction dark, when you shine the light, the wonderful light of Jesus the darkness has to flee. Darkness is just regular darkness we can try to magnify the degree of darkness or celebrate the wonderful light! 

The degree of the darkness has no effect on the degree of the light.

No matter how dark a room is the smallest amount of light illuminates it. It can’t be so dark that light doesn’t work. The reason the world is so dark is not the degree of darkness but the absence of the flame in the heart of the believer. When there is an explosion of the flame in the heart of the believer you will see the driving out of darkness.

Philippians Pt 1 The Letter of Joy

The epistle to the Philippians is the last of the four “prison epistles” of Paul. This letter was not written for one single purpose. Paul had a number of reasons for writing. Paul wanted to:

1. to thank the Christians at Philippi for the gifts that they had sent him by Epaphroditus.

2. to inform the Christians at Philippi about his own circumstances. He also wanted to tell them that Epaphroditus had recovered from his dangerous illness. He was returning to Philippi.

3. to appeal for unity and for the end of quarrels in the church.

4. to warn them about false *doctrine, especially that of *Jewish Christians who insisted on *circumcision for *Gentiles.

5. to urge them to remain loyal to their *faith and to stand firm against *opponents.

He wanted to update the church about his situation. He wanted to thank them for a gift they had sent. He wanted to give them information about Epaphroditus. He wanted to warn them about false teachers and encourage them to remain steadfast in the truth. He wanted to encourage unity in the church, and he wanted to exhort them to rejoice. Most of all, however, he wrote to them because he had a deep care and affection for them.

Luke described the city called Philippi as a Roman colony (Acts 16:12(HCSB)12 and from there to Philippi, a Roman colony, which is a leading city of that district of Macedonia. We stayed in that city for a number of days. The *emperor Augustus allowed retired soldiers to live there after they had supported him in a battle in 31BC. As a Roman colony, its citizens possessed the same rights and laws as those who lived in Italy. Paul and Silas, with Timothy and Luke, established the church there after they crossed from Asia into Europe (Acts 16:12-40). Paul visited Philippi again on his third journey (Acts 20:1-6). It was a group of Christians of whom Paul was very fond. He called its members his ‘joy and crown’ (Philippians 4:1(HCSB)So then, my brothers, you are dearly loved and longed for—my joy and crown. In this manner stand firm in the Lord, dear friends.) The Christians in Philippi were not rich, but they supported Paul with more than one gift of money. They also gave money for the poor Christians in Jerusalem.
2 Corinthians 8:1-5(HCSB)We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God granted to the churches of Macedonia: During a severe testing by affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity. I testify that, on their own, according to their ability and beyond their ability, they begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints, and not just as we had hoped. Instead, they gave themselves especially to the Lord, then to us by God’s will.

Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. He was not sure of the result of a *trial. Some writers suggest that the prison was in Ephesus or Caesarea. But it is more likely that he was in Rome. He probably wrote this letter at the end of the two years that we read about in Acts 28:30-31(HCSB)30 Then he stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with full boldness and without hindrance..

Philippians 1:1-30(HCSB)

Greeting

Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus:

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel. For God is my witness, how deeply I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, 10 so that you can approve the things that are superior and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Advance of the Gospel

12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is in the cause of Christ. 14 Most of the brothers in the Lord have gained confidence from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the message fearlessly. 15 To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and strife, but others out of good will. 16 These do so out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, seeking to cause me anxiety in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Just that in every way, whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed. And in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice 19 because I know this will lead to my deliverance through your prayers and help from the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 20 My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

Living Is Christ

21 For me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don’t know which one I should choose. 23 I am pressured by both. I have the desire to depart and be with Christ—which is far better— 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25 Since I am persuaded of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that, because of me, your confidence may grow in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

27 Just one thing: Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind,[j] working side by side for the faith that comes from the gospel, 28 not being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of destruction for them, but of your deliverance—and this is from God. 29 For it has been given to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, 30 having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I have.

We need to let God shape our hearts and our lives and our attitudes through this expositional sermon series on the book of Philippians.  Four short chapters.  The theme of these chapters is joy; Paul mentions it at least 16 times in these four chapters.  He also mentions Christ 50 times.  And that is because his joy is found in Christ, and so is our joy.

We live in a somewhat sad world, a world that knows despair, depression, unfulfillment, dissatisfaction; longing for things that never come to pass.  It’s kind of a sad reality, with an even sadder future, because we have a world of sadness with no hope that anything should necessarily change.  The long years of life inevitably become long years of sorrow punctuated by moments of happiness, which moments become less and less frequent as aging takes place.  And that’s probably why the highest percentage rate of suicide is among those who are over 65, as the length of years and the decreasing moments of happiness bring about a morbid sadness and lack of satisfaction with life.

People talk about happiness, and perhaps we ought to define happiness. Happiness is an attitude of satisfaction or delight based upon some present circumstance. Happiness is related to happenings.  Happiness is related to happenstance. Happiness is related to hap, which is a word that basically conveys the idea of chance. Happiness is that which you really can’t plan and program; it may happen, it may not happen, and it seems so elusive.  But it is related to the delight or the satisfaction that is tied to an occasional happening, a chance circumstance. And that’s the best that men can do. On the other hand, when we talk about joy, we’re not talking about something that’s related to chance at all. We’re not talking about something that’s related to circumstances at all. We’re talking about a deep down confidence that all is well, no matter what the circumstance, no matter what the difficulty, no matter what the problem. And that’s very different from happiness.

Joy, to be understood in a biblical sense, must be understood to be related to God.  It must be understood to be that which becomes yours in Christ.  It must be understood to be a permanent possession of every believer, not some whimsical delight that comes and goes as chance may offer it opportunity.  We’re talking about joy; much, much different than happiness.  John Macarthur’s definition of joy is this: joy is the flag that flies on the castle of the heart when the King is in residence there.  Joy is the flag that flies on the castle of the heart when the King is in residence there. I believe that only Christians know true and lasting joy.  The verb “to rejoice” appears 74 times in the New Testament.  The noun “joy” appears 59 times in the New Testament. It’s part and parcel of Christian experience.

First of all, joy comes from God.  It is a gift of God. Psalms 4:7-8(HCSB)You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and new wine abound.8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, Lord, make me live in safety.

Psalms 16:11(HCSB)You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures.

Joy is a gift from God to those who believe the gospel.  On that great and marvelous day in the Galilean countryside, when the angel appeared to announce the arrival of the birth of a Savior.

Luke 2:9-12(HCSB)9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11 Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”

It is the gospel that brings that joy, or that conveys that joy to the human heart.

Joy is a gift from God to those who believe the gospel, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

True joy is a gift from God that comes to those who believe the gospel, being produced in them by the Holy Spirit as the believer receives and obeys the Word – as the believer receives and obeys the Word.  Jeremiah 15:16(HCSB)Your words were found, and I ate them.Your words became a delight to me and the joy of my heart, for I am called by Your name, Yahweh God of Hosts.

Church Membership

In a day when commitment is a rare commodity, it should come as no surprise that church membership is such a low priority to so many believers. Sadly, it is not uncommon for Christians to move from church to church, never submitting themselves to the care of pastors and never committing themselves to a group of fellow believers.

To neglect—or to refuse—to join a church as a formal member, however, reflects a misunderstanding of the believer’s responsibility to the body of Christ. And it also cuts one off from the many blessings and opportunities that flow from this commitment. It is essential for every Christian to understand what church membership is and why it matters.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31 HCSB “For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body — so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. So the body is not one part but many. If the foot should say, “Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” in spite of this it still belongs to the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,” in spite of this it still belongs to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted. And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? Now there are many parts, yet one body. So the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you! ” Or again, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you! ” But even more, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary. And those parts of the body that we think to be less honorable, we clothe these with greater honor, and our unpresentable parts have a better presentation. But our presentable parts have no need of clothing. Instead, God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the less honorable, so that there would be no division in the body, but that the members would have the same concern for each other. So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it. And God has placed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, next miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, managing, various kinds of languages. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all do miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in other languages? Do all interpret? But desire the greater gifts. And I will show you an even better way.”

The Definition of Church Membership

When an individual is saved, he becomes a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Because he is united to Christ and the other members of the body in this way, he is therefore qualified to become member of a local expression of that body.

To become a member of a church is to formally commit oneself to an identifiable, local body of believers who have joined together for specific, divinely ordained purposes. These purposes include receiving instruction from God’s Word (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:2), serving and edifying one another through the proper use of spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; 1 Pet. 4:10-11), participating in the ordinances (Luke 22:19; Acts 2:38-42), and proclaiming the gospel to those who are lost (Matt. 28:18- 20). In addition, when one becomes a member of a church, he submits himself to the care and the authority of the biblically qualified elders that God has placed in that assembly.

THE BENEFITS OF CHURCH MEMBERSHIP

Establishing formal membership provides at least three benefits for a new church:

1.Membership Calls Attenders to Ramp up their Commitment.

First, establishing church membership calls regular attenders to ramp up their commitment to the church.

When a pastor begins a new work, a number of people will likely begin to attend in order to check out what’s going on. But it can be difficult to know whether those people can be counted on to take part in the life of the church.

Establishing church membership gives those people a “crap or get off the pot” moment. It removes uncertainty about their relationship to the congregation. And it calls them to commit fully to the work of the church.

2. Membership Increases Accountability.

Second, establishing church membership increases the accountability among the congregation and between the congregation and the leadership.

Membership requires commitment, and it clarifies in biblical terms what it means to be a part of the church. When someone moves from being a visitor to a member, they are promising to love and care and pray for the other people in the church.

Membership also enables pastors to know who they are responsible to care for and oversee. And it enables pastors to hold people accountable to their commitments. Membership also helps with church discipline. There are times when you have to exert some church discipline.

Galatians 2:11-13(NLT)11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. 13 As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

Paul says that he had delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander “to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:18-20(HCSB)18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies previously made about you, so that by them you may strongly engage in battle, 19 having faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and have suffered the shipwreck of their faith. 20 Hymenaeus and Alexander are among them, and I have delivered them to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme. There is one other time when Paul had delivered a person to Satan: a man who professed to believe in Jesus but simultaneously living an immoral lifestyle was delivered “over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:1-5(HCSB)It is widely reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and the kind of sexual immorality that is not even tolerated among the Gentiles—a man is living with his father’s wife. 2 And you are inflated with pride, instead of filled with grief so that he who has committed this act might be removed from your congregation. 3 For though I am absent in body but present in spirit, I have already decided about the one who has done this thing as though I were present. 4 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus with my spirit and with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 turn that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord. Note that the reason Paul dishes out such a harsh apostolic judgment is the benefit of all those involved. The church would be purified, and the erring individuals would be brought to repentance. The goal for the man in Corinth was that he would submit to God and be saved from spiritual ruin. The goal for Hymenaeus and Alexander was that they “be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20). Hymenaeus and Alexander are examples of those who reject the true doctrine and follow the false. Later, Hymenaeus is mentioned with Philetus, another false teacher.

2 Timothy 2:15-17(HCSB)15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent, empty speech, for this will produce an even greater measure of godlessness. 17 And their word will spread like gangrene; Hymenaeus and Philetus are among them.

An opponent of Paul named Alexander the metalworker is mentioned in
2 Timothy 4:14-15(HCSB)14 Alexander the coppersmith did great harm to me. The Lord will repay him according to his works. 15 Watch out for him yourself because he strongly opposed our words., but whether or not this is the same Alexander mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:19 is unknown.

3. Membership Enables the Church to Fulfill its Biblical Responsibilities.

Third, establishing church membership enables the church to fulfill all its biblical responsibilities.

Without church membership, baptism and the Lord’s Supper lose an important part of their meaning (baptism as the means of entrance into the covenant community and the Lord’s Supper as the sign of ongoing participation in that community). In addition, commands like in these next scriptures can only be obeyed when the “you” of the church is clearly defined. Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (ESV)12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

Two questions occurred to me. First, if there is no biblical requirement to belong a local church, then which leaders should an individual Christian obey and submit to? Second, and more personally, who will I as a pastor give an account for?

These two questions started my search for a biblical understanding of the local church, and they began around the ideas of authority and submission.

Regarding the first question, the Scriptures clearly command Christians to submit to and honor an elder body (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Timothy 5:17(ESV) Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.. If there is no understanding of local church membership, then who are we to submit to and obey? Is it anyone with the title “elder” from any church? Should you as a Christian obey and submit to those loons at Westboro Baptist?

Regarding the second question, the Scriptures clearly command an elder body to care for specific people (1 Peter 5:1-5(ESV)So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,[a] not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;[b] not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Acts 20:29-30(ESV)29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.

Will I as a pastor be held accountable for all the Christians in the Houma area? There are many churches in Houma that I have strong theological and philosophical differences with. Will I give account for what they teach in their church, how they spend their money, and what they do concerning international missions?

There are other evidences to support local church membership in the Scriptures.

We see in Acts 2 that there is a numerical record of those who have professed Christ and been filled with the Holy Spirit and an acknowledgement that the church was tracking the growth. Acts 2:37-47(ESV)37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

In Acts 6:1-6(ESV)Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them., we  We see the election of deacons take place in order to address a specific problem and accusation.

In 1 Timothy 5:3-16(ESV), we see a clear teaching on how to handle widows in the church Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.

In this text we see criteria for who would or would not qualify for Ephesus’s widow care program. The local church in Ephesus is organized, and they are working out a plan to take care of the widows.

We could go on and on here, asking questions about how we could be obedient to the commands of God in 1 Corinthians 12 or Romans 12 if we aren’t connected to a local covenant community of faith.

GOD’S PLAN IS THAT WE WOULD BELONG TO LOCAL CHURCHES

When you begin to look at these texts it becomes clear that God’s plan for his church is that we would belong to a local covenant community of faith. This is for our own protection and maturation, and for the good of others.

If you view church as some sort of buffet, then you severely limit the likelihood of you growing into maturity. Growth into godliness can hurt. For instance, as I interact with others in our church, my own slothfulness in zeal is exposed, as is my lack of patience, my prayerlessness, and my hesitancy to associate with the lowly (Romans 12:11-16(ESV)11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,[a] serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.. Yet this interaction also gives me the opportunity to be lovingly confronted by brothers and sisters who are in the trenches with me, as well as a safe place to confess and repent. But when church is just a place you attend without ever joining, like a buffet, you just might consider whether you’re always leaving whenever your heart begins to be exposed by the Spirit, and the real work is beginning to happen.

What’s the bottom line? Local church membership is a question of biblical obedience, not personal preference.