Strengthening Fellowship

Scripture: Ephesians 4:1-3

 

Title: Strengthening Fellowship

 

Members Pledge 5: To do all I can to strengthen the fellowship of the church by developing the spirit of love in the family of Christ’s people.

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • United by Christ, not by likes
  • Strengthening fellowship (Eph. 4:2)
  • The bond of peace (Eph. 4:3)
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

Over the past couple of months we have been journeying through the 23rd Psalm – making reference as we go to the various ways in which this psalm points us to Jesus

  • During May we take a break from Psalm 23 to focus on other things
  • We have a baptismal service next Sunday
  • And for the following three Sundays after that we will give our attention to the annual Tranzsend Prayer & Self Denial campaign
  • We intend to return to Psalm 23 in June.

 

With Ben & Becca Allen being welcomed into membership our message today focuses on one of the members’ pledges…

 

To do all I can to strengthen the fellowship of the Church by developing the spirit of love in the family of Christ’s people.

 

Sometimes people ask me, ‘why do we have membership?’

  • ‘If I become a member of the church universal when I’m baptised then why do I need to become a member of a local church also?’
  • After all salvation is not by local church membership – it’s by faith in Christ
  • Well, joining yourself in membership to a local church is not something you do primarily for yourself
  • It’s something you do for the well-being of the people in the local church

 

From a legal and financial point of view the church needs to differentiate between members and non-members in order to protect itself

  • In our situation the members are the ones charged with the responsibility for decision making
  • If we didn’t have members with voting rights then, in a worse-case scenario, some other larger group could come along to a church meeting and pass a resolution to take over our buildings & programmes for their own nefarious purposes
  • So the people we allow into membership really need to have the best interests of the local church at heart

 

Therefore, when someone becomes a member of Tawa Baptist they pledge…

  • To do all I can to strengthen the fellowship of the Church by developing the spirit of love in the family of Christ’s people.

 

United by Christ, not by likes:

Membership isn’t just about providing a measure of legal and financial protection for the local church

  • More importantly it’s about taking care of Christ’s reputation as well as our relationships with each other

Strengthening the fellowship of the church and developing the spirit of love, is essentially about the quality of our relationships together, as a community of faith

 

The church is not a building

  • The church is a network of relationships – like a family
  • In a general sense, a family shares the same heritage, the same blood, the same DNA
  • As a church family we share Christ’s heritage, His blood and His Spirit
  • It is Jesus who unites us and so the primary criteria for church membership is our relationship with Christ as formalised in baptism

 

The church is not a club either

  • A club is a group of people who are united by a shared liking for something
  • So for example, people who like collecting stamps might form a stamp collecting club
  • And people who like shooting guns might get together to form a gun club
  • And people who like drinking wine might form a wine tasting club

 

But a church is not a group of people united by a shared liking

  • The church is united by Christ
  • Therefore the church brings people of different likings, different cultures, different socio-economic backgrounds, different ages and different personalities together

 

Think about the implications of that for a moment

  • Being united by Christ means we don’t necessarily like the same things
  • For example, we don’t all like the same kind of songs
  • Some prefer hymns while others prefer Hill Song music – some enjoy all styles of music and still others can’t wait till the singing is over
  • Some people like interactive worship services – where you get up and move around – others like to sit still and listen to sermons
  • And others aren’t as interested in the sermon as they are in catching up with people over a cup of tea afterwards

 

The point is we all like different things and that’s okay – that’s as it should be

  • Because we are not a club – we are not united by our likes
  • We are united by Christ

 

The main metaphor for the church in the New Testament is family

  • You can choose your friends based on common interests or shared likes
  • But you can’t choose your family
  • You don’t get to choose who else comes to church here
  • You may like different things from the person sitting next to you
  • But you are still committed to their well-being

 

If you like Hill Song music then you still sing hymns for the sake of the person in the pew opposite you who is helped by singing hymns (& vice versa)

  • Or if you prefer the more interactive stuff to the sermon then you still listen patiently to the sermon for the sake of the person here who is fed by preaching
  • In these sorts of ways we strengthen the fellowship of the Church by developing the spirit of love in the family of Christ’s people

 

C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Screwtape Letters

  • It’s an enjoyable and thoughtful piece of fiction
  • Screwtape is the name of a demon who writes letters to his nephew, Wormwood – Wormwood is an apprentice tempter
  • Screwtape’s letters are full of advice on how the young demon, Wormwood, might turn a human being away from the Christian faith

 

In one of his letters Screwtape writes to Wormwood…

  • “Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.” [1]

 

If you ever manage to find a church which caters for all your likes and avoids your dislikes then you probably aren’t in church – you’re in a club or a bar

  • The opposite is also true
  • When you find yourself not liking something in church then you can probably take it as confirmation that you’re in the right place

 

We are united by Christ, not by our likes

  • And Christ’s Spirit (His DNA) is love
  • Love seeks the well-being of others

 

Strengthening fellowship:

What then does the Bible have to say about strengthening the fellowship of the church?

  • Well, one key passage which sums it up well is found at the beginning of Ephesians 4
  • While in prison for preaching the gospel of Christ, the apostle Paul wrote to the first Century church in Ephesus saying…

 

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

 

Paul gives us 4 or 5 qualities which are essential to strengthening the fellowship of the church – this is how Christians are to treat each other…

  • With humility
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • Forbearance
  • And love

 

Humility in this context means ‘lowliness of mind’ or thinking low (not being proud or haughty) [2]

  • Being humble is really an attitude
  • It’s about having an accurate awareness of yourself in relation to others – not thinking too much of yourself
  • Being conscious of the fact that without God our life has no meaning and that without Christ we can do nothing
  • Humility is recognising that we need other people and more importantly the wider community of which we are just a small part needs other people
  • We are not the centre – it’s not all about us

 

A humble person does not think, ‘My team needs me to a score try’

  • A truly humble person thinks, ‘How can I best support my team mates to score tries?’

 

The church at Ephesus was a mix of different cultures – some Gentile, some Jewish

  • While humility was a virtue in Jewish culture, it was not valued in Gentile culture at that time

 

But valued or not, humility is primary to strengthening any fellowship or community

  • Humility keeps our ego in check and prevents us from worshipping ourselves
  • Humility also makes gentleness possible

 

If humility was despised in the ancient gentile world then gentleness is surely despised in our contemporary culture

  • Violence, brute force, power – these are the things which are glorified in our day and age
  • Gentleness is misunderstood as weakness when the truth is: gentleness requires a greater strength than brute force or violence
  • Gentleness requires self-control and skill

 

If violence is the hammer, then gentleness is the screw driver

  • If force is the butcher’s cleaver, then gentleness is the surgeon’s scalpel
  • If power is a drone strike, then gentleness is the kind word which turns away wrath
  • You might be tempted to smack your children into submission but you are more likely to take a gentle approach – to remain calm, wait for the tantrum to pass and lead them to better choices
  • You can coerce a person into grudging obedience to God by threatening them with the fires of hell,
  • Or you can gently remind them of God’s goodness and grace so they want to do His will

 

Humility and gentleness – these are two qualities that Jesus embodies in himself

  • In Matthew 11, verse 29, Jesus says…
  • Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

 

Patience is also needed for strengthening the fellowship of the church

  • An ancient Christian preacher by the name of John Chrysostom said,
  • To have patience is to have “…a wide or big soul” [3]

 

Having a ‘wide or big soul’ means having room for other people in our lives

  • Not being so fixated on our own agenda that we don’t have room for interruptions
  • Now it is not appropriate for us to accommodate every interruption
  • It is important to maintain some healthy boundaries
  • But we don’t want to be so tightly scheduled, so tightly managed and focused that we can’t attend to what’s important

 

The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates largeness (and smallness) of soul

  • The priest and the Levite were so fixed on their own little agenda
  • (Must get to church on time – must be seen to do the right thing)
  • That they didn’t have room to care for the wounded stranger on the side of the road
  • By contrast the despised Samaritan had a largeness of soul which made it possible for him to put aside what he had planned to achieve that day, dress the stranger’s wounds and carry him to safety

 

Patience is making room for other people when it matters

 

Strengthening the fellowship of the church requires the patience (or the largeness of soul) to make room for each other

  • To sing each other’s songs,
  • To prefer each other’s needs,
  • To listen to each other’s concerns,
  • To help in practical ways where we can
  • Or perhaps simply to be together without any agenda

 

So then, the fellowship of the church (our relationships together) are strengthened by humility, by gentleness, by patience and by bearing with

one another in love  

 

Bearing with one another means putting up with people

  • And love, in this context, means seeking the other person’s well-being

The reality is that other people can be annoying sometimes – they can get on your wick (often it’s the little things)

  • It’s not that they mean to aggravate you – they are just being themselves and it gets under your skin

 

Paul is saying, don’t sweat the small stuff

  • Don’t walk away from the church over some trifle
  • Put up with the little things for the sake of love – that is for the well-being of the whole community

 

I remember the pastor who married us said, “Don’t worry about a bit of poop in the stable – poop is a sign of life”

 

Yea – people will annoy you sometimes but don’t lose sight of the fact they also have qualities which are good and which the rest of the church needs

  • Besides, we all have things about us which annoy others
  • You might think you are being very gracious in putting up with someone
  • But they probably think the same thing about you
  • What we realise as we get older is that we are all difficult in our own way
  • So we all need to show each other grace
  • And we need to learn to laugh at ourselves too

Now this exhortation to ‘bear with one another in love’ needs to be held in balance with verse 15 of Ephesians 4, where Paul talks about…

  • Speaking the truth in love so that we will grow up into Christ

 

There is a time to bear with difficult behaviour and a time to speak the truth

  • If we always graciously tolerate things we don’t like then the other person never really learns or improves and resentment grows
  • The trick is speaking the truth with humility and gentleness
  • Not being too quick in speaking the truth – but checking ourselves first to make sure we have removed the plank from our own eye before pointing out the speck in theirs
  • Making sure that we are motivated by what’s best for others and not just our own comfort or convenience

 

The bond of peace:

It’s been a dry summer and autumn here in Wellington – the weather’s been lovely

  • We’ve had to water our gardens more than we’re used to lately
  • Sometimes when you water the garden you get a kink in the hose and the water flow slows down to a trickle
  • If that happens, what do you do?
  • Do you throw the hose away or do you fix the problem by taking the kink out of the hose?     [Wait for response]
  • Yes, that’s right you straighten the hose to take the kink out – then the water flows properly again

 

 

Paul continues his exhortation to the Ephesians in verse 3 saying…

 

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

 

I’m not sure I fully understand this verse but I’ll share with you what I know

 

Firstly, the Spirit of Christ creates unity in the church

  • We don’t create unity, the Holy Spirit does
  • However, we are responsible for maintaining the unity
  • And we maintain unity through the bond of peace

 

Peace (in the Bible) isn’t just the absence of conflict

  • It’s shalom, it’s abundant life, joy and right relationship in community with others

 

The bond of peace, therefore, is not a bond which stops us from doing things

  • It’s not like hand cuffs or shackles or a leash or a tie
  • The bond of peace is something which connects us to each other in positive ways
  • It is like a hose with water flowing through it – it is life-giving

 

Sometimes the bond of peace gets a kink in it

  • Sometimes our relationships get a bit twisted
  • People misunderstand each other or have expectations which are disappointed, then one thing leads to another and before you know it they’re not talking – the life-giving flow of water slows to a dribble
  • When our relationships get a kink in them we don’t throw the relationship out – we don’t say, ‘Well stuff you – I’m out of here’
  • No – we find a suitable time when we are calm and unhurried to talk it through – we straighten the kink out – we forgive each other

 

We don’t create the unity but we do need to maintain it by taking care of our relationships, by taking the kink out of the hose

 

Jesus encouraged his disciples to maintain the bond of peace with each other by teaching them to pray…

  • “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

 

You see Jesus establishes a bond of peace between us and God

  • He gives us a brand new hose with water running through it
  • Because of Jesus, God forgives us up front and in advance
  • We get given that forgiveness, that bond of peace, for free
  • But we still have to maintain it
  • And we maintain the bond of peace by paying it forward – by forgiving others, just as God forgave us in Christ

 

Conclusion:

This morning we have explored what it means to strengthen the fellowship of the Church by developing the spirit of love in the family of Christ’s people

 

In short we are to relate with one another in an attitude of humility,

  • With gentleness and with patience (or largeness of soul)
  • We are to bear with one another in love – not sweating the small stuff but at the same time not ignoring those things that need to be addressed

 

In a few minutes we will share communion together

  • Communion is a time when we remember (and celebrate) the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace established by Jesus

 

Now though let’s stand and sing…

 

♫       Brother, Sister, let me serve you…

[1] C.S. Lewis, ‘The Screwtape Letters’, page 81

[2] Klyne Snodgrass, The NIVAC on Ephesians, page 196.

[3] From Chrysostom’s homily on 1 Corinthians 13:4 – referenced in Klyne Snodgrass, The NIVAC on Ephesians, page 197.

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