Sunday, January 31, 2021

“Be the Church” [Matt's Messages]

“Be the Church”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
January 31, 2021 :: 1 Timothy 3:14-16

When I was little tyke going to Sunday School in the preschool room of Trinity Church in Shelby, Ohio, we used to sing this sweet little Christian song all of the time, and at a very young age it really shaped my theology:
“The Church Is Not a Building
The Church Is Not a Steeple
The Church Is Not a Resting Place
The Church Is a People.

I Am the Church.
You Are the Church.
We Are the Church Together.
All Who Follow Jesus, All Around the World,
Yes! We’re the Church Together.”

As you can tell that really stuck with me which I hope is an encouragement to every Christian parent and every children’s ministry worker. They are listening. They are learning.

“The church is not a building." "The church is a people.”

I think one of the things the Lord has been trying to teach us over the last year is to not put too much emphasis on church buildings. 

Buildings are wonderful tools for ministry–and we’ve got a great one for which I am very grateful especially when it’s below freezing outside!–but buildings are not the church and are not even necessary for the church to be the church.

We all do it. I do it all the time. I call this building “the church.” 

“Hey, where are you going? 

Well, I’m headed up to church to go work on the sermon.”

As if these walls were the church.

I’ll show you what the church is. These pictures on the wall here are pictures of the church. The last 22 years of church family photos from 1999 to the weirdest one ever in 2020. That’s the church! “The church is a people.”

The church is not even something you go to.

Like we say, “Where do you go to church.” “Or we really went to church today.”

We all know what we mean, and it’s okay to say it, but don’t let it cloud your vision for what the church really is.

Think about this: In the Bible, no one. ever. goes to church. No one ever goes to church in the Bible. Old or New Testament. That is to say, the Bible never uses that language of “going” to church. And, in fact, there are no church buildings in the Bible!

But the Bible does talk a lot about the church as a people.

And, it actually likens the people to a building!

That’s what Paul does in our passage for today, 1 Timothy chapter 3, verses 14 through 16. Let’s parachute into the middle of Paul’s letter to Timothy and look at this paragraph together. It’s the heart of the letter explaining why Paul wrote it to Timothy in the first place. 1 Timothy 3:14.

“Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”

Did you see how Paul likens the people of the church to a building?

In verse 14, Paul explains that he’s hoping to visit Timothy soon, but he’s sent this letter ahead just in case with instructions for the people to know how to behave themselves in God’s household. Or that could actually translated, “house.” It can be used both ways.

For folks to know how to conduct themselves in God’s house.

But NOT like when your Momma says, “No running in church, young man. You will behave yourself in God’s house.”

No, the “house” here is a metaphor for the household or the family. Like we say the “House of Windsor” to describe the royal family of Windsor not Buckingham Palace.

This is talking about “the family of God.” See how he goes on to define it in verse 15?

“God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

And that word “church” or “assembly” is the Greek word “ekklesia” which is never used in the New Testament to describe a building and always used to describe a group of people.

Paul wrote Timothy to teach people how to be the church not go to church. How to behave as a part of the church of the living God.

So as I was thinking about what I would say as vision to put forward for our church family in 2021, I really struggled.

I mean if we’ve learned anything from the last year, it’s that it’s foolish to pretend that we know the future, amiright?!

“If the Lord wills...”

But we do know what the Lord wants us to do, don’t we, from the Scriptures? We may not know the exact strategies we’ll employ, but we know the outline and main thrust of the Lord’s stated will for the church, and we know our marching orders.

So that’s what I decided to focus on for our 2021 vision: “Be the Church.”

Church, be the church.

Don’t just go to church. (In fact, some of you still shouldn’t “go” to church right now with COVID raging as it is.)

But be the church. Be everything the church is supposed to be.

Now, what is that? What is the church and what should the people of the church be doing?

Well, we don’t have time to study all of 1 Timothy this morning to see all of what Paul wrote Timothy for them to do. And there’s more teaching on church in the Bible than 1 Timothy! But I did want to draw our attention to our church’s purpose statement which the congregation adopted decades ago as a shorthand summary of what things we are called to do as a body.

You might have it memorized. Or you might need a refresher. Or it might be new to you.

When I teach through it at membership seminars, I always say to people, “This is what our church is trying to do to you! If you ever wonder what we’re trying to do to you, this is what we’re trying to do to you.”

“Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God by bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.”

I hope that sounds familiar to most of you. It’s what we’re trying to do.

And that mission has not been stopped by COVID-19. We’re still doing it. We don’t need a building to do it. We will use a building to do it and regularly do. But it does not require a building. If this building burned up or flew away in a tornado tomorrow, it would not change our mission one little bit.

And if you read the annual report, you can get a taste how we tried to accomplish that mission as a church last year. In and out of the building. And we’re get stay at it in 2021.

So if that’s our mission corporately, all together as a church family, then I think it’s also good for every individual in our church family to regularly ask ourselves if we are doing these things ourselves.

Let’s go down through our purpose statement and let me encourage you to do a quick internal audit of yourself. Ask yourself if you are “being the church” in these ways.

“Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God...”

Are you living for the glory of God?

Verse 15 says that this family of Christians is the church “of the living God.”

Not some dead god. Not some lifeless idol. But the living God, the God Who is full of life! The God we’ve been learning about in the Psalms!

That’s whom the whole church belongs to, and that’s whom every part of the church belongs to. We belong to Him. Are we living for Him and for His glory? 

Who is the most important Person in your life? Does it show?

The next phrase of our purpose statement says the main way that we as a church glorify the Lord is:

“ bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ...”

Another name for that is “disciple-making,” making followers of Jesus.

That’s what our church as a whole exists to do. And we should all be doing it as well.

Are you bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ?

Starting with yourself?

Are you following Jesus?
And are you making followers of Jesus?

Be the church.

And then at the end of our purpose statement we listed 5 main tools in our toolbox for being and making disciples, 5 summary categories drawn from all over the Bible.

"...through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.”                

How are you doing on those?

WORSHIP. Are you engaged in daily personal worship of Jesus and at least weekly corporate worship? I know it’s really hard right now. But we’re trying as church leaders to provide lots of options and ways to engage in worship.

I’ve been so encouraged by many of the young families our church who have been  figuring out how to get it done during this weird time. And doing whatever it takes to get their kids engaged in Christian worship:

Some are gathering the family in the living room and using the worship at home resources.

Some are masking up and occupying the end of a pew on campus. And if little kids can do it?

Others are bringing the kids in the mini-van and running the heater for 45 minutes and singing with the radio in the parking lot. WLFC 89.5 FM!

It’s not the same. It’s not as good. I hope we get to be all together again in one room at one time in 2021 without masks. But, regardless, we all need to worship. Don’t stop worship. Be the church.

INSTRUCTION. Are you reading your Bible? Are your studying your Bible? Are you reading books about your faith? Are you teaching others about the faith?

Are you a learner? That’s part of what it means to be the church.

Verse 15 says that the church of the living God is the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” Do you know the truth? 

This week is “Stay Sharp,” our district theology conference, and since it’s virtual this year, even more of us can participate. Let me know if you are interested, and I’ll get you the link so that you can log on to the national EFCA Theology Conference and be instructed more deeply in the theology of the Psalms.

Worship, Instruction...

FELLOWSHIP. That’s been the hardest one for us all since COVID hit, hasn’t it? How do you maintain close fellowship when you are distancing from others out of love for them?

I can’t hardly wait to return to handshakes and hugs and holding babies in the worship auditorium! And eating together in the “Fellowship Hall.” This would be a Sunday for deviled eggs and taco salads and soup and sandwiches and Texas Sheetcake!

I can’t hardly wait. But even while we do wait, we still need fellowship. We need each other.

So get out you directory again.
Get out your phone.
Get on Messenger.
Pull on your mask and pull into someone’s driveway.
When you can, if you’re willing, get your vaccination. When I get mine and you get yours, I’ll come right over to visit you!
Get on Zoom.

We need each other.

Don’t just think, “I’m good. I can be isolated and still be the church.”

No. You need others. And maybe more importantly, others need you.

Worship, Instruction, Fellowship...

EVANGELISM. That was the big one I wanted us to focus on last year. And we didn’t get to do it the way I had envisioned. We didn’t have our big evangelistic events: Wild Game Dinner, Good News Cruise, etc.

But you don’t have to have a big event to share the gospel!

You just have to have the gospel and then share it with an unbeliever.

When was the last time you told someone about Jesus?
When was the last time you gave your testimony?
When was the last time you raised the subject?

Be the church.

Pastor Kerry Doyal has chosen a theme for our district churches to rally around in 2021 from Colossians 1:28. It’s very simple, “We Proclaim Him.”

We don’t proclaim ourselves or some worldly leader.
We don’t even mainly invite people to come “to our church.”
We invite people to come to our Savior.

“We Proclaim Him.”

That’s evangelism. More on that in a second.

The last word in our purpose statement is:

SERVICE. Using our gifts to serve the church in its mission.

And that’s not something that just some of us do. That’s for everybody.

Everybody has a role (or roles) to play in ministry.

What is your ministry?

See how this isn’t just for some Christians?

This is for everybody. Worship, Instruction, Fellowship, Evangelism, and Service.

From little kids to senior citizens, married and single, new and old, men and women every one of us is called to be the church of the living God.

And to be the (v.15 again) “pillar and foundation of the truth.”

Now, that might sound a little wrong. Isn’t the truth the foundation of the church? Isn’t the church built on the truth? 

Yes, it is. But we then are the pillar and foundation of the truth to the world.

You see how he likens us to a building again?

We are the pillar and the foundation of the truth to the world.

We hold up the truth and show it to the world.

And it’s the truth of the gospel. V.16.

“Beyond all question [undeniably, we can all agree!], the mystery of godliness is great [that means the great revelation of the gospel, what was mysteriously hidden about godliness is now revealed in Jesus Christ...] He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”

That’s probably an early Christian worship song that celebrates the great news about what Jesus did for us.

And it’s what we call “the main thing.”

Around here we always say, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” And the main thing is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We proclaim Him!

We hold Him up and hold Him out, telling the world what He has done for us by appearing in the flesh (and dying on the Cross) in His resurrection (vindicated by the Spirit and seen by angels). In His ascension and return (taken up in glory).

We preach Him among the nations so that He is believed on in the world.

We proclaim Him.

“I Am the Church.
You Are the Church.
We Are the Church Together.
All Who Follow Jesus, All Around the World,
Yes! We’re the Church Together.” 

Church, let’s be the church in 2021.