Be The Church: Gathering

We’re going to begin a new series this morning entitled ‘Be the Church’ where we take a look at what church is all about.

What is church?

Church is not a building

Church is not a ritual
Church is not a tradition
Church is not a religion
Church is certainly not salvation
Church is not something where by paper alone you are a member of

Greek:
ekklēsia
ek-klay-see
Compound word meaning to be called by name (kaleō) out from (ek)

Church is: Us! People who are called out from their old lifestyles in Jesus’ name.
It doesn’t matter:

who you are

what your age is
where you came from
what you look like
whether you are rich or poor

What defines us as being part of the church is that we have placed our faith in the testimony given that Jesus was the son of God who lived a perfect life, gave it up for our sins, then rose again becoming the one and only way to the Father. The church is made up of all kinds of different people with all different styles, different interests, different personalities, unique in almost every way except for the fact that they are disciples of Christ.

There are lots of different churches with different styles of worship and personalities which sometimes even focus on different attributes of God. So long as they hold to the same fundamental truths about who God is and what He has done for us, all of these different churches work together to be the body of Christ continuing His works in the world today. We were able to see this throughout our recent community Lenten services as we all gathered together worshiping the same God and preaching the same scriptures, but in different ways.

There are, of course, also many different churches who do not believe and worship the same God whom we do and for that reason are not part of what we’re defining this morning as church.

This Greek word (ekklēsia) that we translate to church that was mentioned earlier appears twice spoken by Jesus in Matthew, then not again until Acts. From Acts on through the New Testament, this word is used frequently describing believers and the assembly of believers.

Matthew 18:15-17
(Go and Show)

Matthew 16:18
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Of course, we know that in Acts 2 following the event during Pentecost where the Holy Spirit was poured out and filled believers, that Peter was the first to speak boldly, explaining what had occurred, and called the people to repentance. This was certainly evidence of a change in Peter caused by the baptism of the Holy Spirit from the same man whom had just recently denied knowing Jesus three times. He now spoke out boldly to the crowds even accusing them of putting Jesus to death. This was this event that basically started the New Testament church that grew from 120 believers to 3,000 on that same day of the outpouring of the Spirit to trillions which continues to grow even to this day as we sit here this morning counting along with them believing the same testimony.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be taking a look at how we are to be the church. This morning, we’re going to focus on gathering together and why this is so critical to being the church.

Since the beginning of our existence, God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, which is why He created woman. At that time, God created marriage and family. We were created with the need for vertical relationship with Him as well as horizontal relationship with each other. When we accept His salvation, scripture says that we are adopted into His family and that we all become brothers and sisters in a spiritual sense – we become family and enjoy the sense of belonging within the community of other believers.

God never meant for us to try and live out our faith on our own.

Hebrews 10:23-25
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

It’s easy to get into a habit, especially a negative one. All of us can come up with excuses to justify ourselves.

There is always an excuse that we can find not to come to church.
There is always an excuse that we can find to not meet together with other believers.
There is always an excuse that we can find to not be loving towards someone.
There is always an excuse that we can find to not do the good deeds that God has called us to.
The excuses may be true and valid, but when brought before God Himself, none of them will hold up and all of us will be forced to give an account for what we have done with our lives. Imagine how foolish it will be to stand before the God of all eternity and try to explain with our excuses why even that one hour a week of our lives was just too much to give up to worship and serve Him.

We meet as a church each week on Sunday as a way to remember the Sabbath, just as God rested on the seventh day of creation, so we rest one day a week. It’s a way for us to create a positive habit where we meet at least one day out of each week with other believers. Not only to worship together, but to spur one one another toward love and good deeds.

We all know ourselves well enough to know that we need spurred on in these areas. We know how easy it can be for any of us to become lazy and give up what God is calling us to; to take the easy way out. We all need a good kick in the pants, umm… I mean encouraged from time to time.  We need one another to encourage each other to step out in faith and see the works of God accomplished and to love others as He does in all of our relationships.

When we look at the first church, we see that they did not just meet together once a week, but that they rather met together every day and not just at ‘church’ in the sense of a physical location, but in each other’s homes. We also see how God blessed it and that every single day people were receiving salvation and being added to the church.

Acts 2:42-47
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

We have to take an honest look at ourselves and question if the degree of our commitment to the Lord and to one another is proportional to the degree of fruits that we see in our lives.

How often do we meet together with one another with glad and sincere hearts?
How often do we meet together to dine?
How often do we step out in faith and expect the miraculous?
How often do we share our possessions with those in need?
How often do we meet together to pray?
When is the last time that we lead someone to Christ?

These questions aren’t just for the corporate church, but for us as individuals – the church.  Are we really being the church in regard to gathering together with one another?

It’s critical for us to consistently be gathering together and fellowshipping. It’s a sacrifice, I know, in these busy times that we live in, but one that God will richly bless. When choosing what things are going to consume our time, we should seek the Lord. Can we expect God’s blessing when we haven’t even considered submitting our plans to Him? Are we perhaps concerned that the Lord might desire us to take a season off from one of our children’s sports this year, maybe a hobby that we enjoy, or maybe even a season off from our favorite TV show? Is it possible that He might rather us invest in someone’s life and care about their eternal welfare and God’s calling in their lives? It’s only when we choose His will over ours that we will begin to see the miraculous and mighty hand of the Lord move along with His many blessings that follow.

Jesus said that we will only find our life when we lose it for His sake – not when we select and define it. Church is not about me, it’s about others.

Every life is valuable and everyone has something to offer to someone else. The truth is that we need each other!

Galatians 6:2
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Life can be difficult and rough times in life are certain. One of the reasons that we are to gather together is so that we can help carry each other’s burdens. The burden by whichone person might be crushed by, three might be able to carry with ease. When gathering together, share your burdens with each other and carry them together because a burden of yours is a burden of mine!

1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

We all get down and get discouraged at times. It’s at these times where it is tempting to just sit down and give up. It’s during these times that we are to encourage each other and to lift up one another to continue running the race that He has called us to. The enemy loves to put us down and to amplify our weaknesses. We need others speaking truth into our lives building us up and helping us to turn our areas of weaknesses into areas of His strength.  This, of course, also requires us to go to our church family when we get down as well and are open and honest with each other.

James 5:16
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Proverbs 28:13
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

Another reason for us to gather together is for accountability. As we confess our sins to one another and pray for each other, the chains of sin are broken and we are able to walk in the freedom that Christ has called us to. When we hide our sins and keep them to ourselves, they are far more difficult to break free from than when we share them with other believers and allow them to hold us accountable. We do need to be discerning in this area in regard to whom we select for this level of accountability. The outcome here should be freedom from sin and not further bondage by judgment, condemnation, and gossip. We know from Romans 8 that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and that as we confess our sins to Him and to each other that we are forgiven.

Colossians 3:13
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Just as much as we need the Lord’s forgiveness,  we need each other’s forgiveness.  As we gather together in fellowship, we will at some point offend each other and even sin against each other.  It’s critical at these times to be quick to show each other and confront these sins as well as to be quick to forgive just as He is quick to forgive us.  This prevents Satan from getting a foothold in the circumstances.  God’s will is that these situations are quickly reconciled and unity kept amongst His church.  In fact, one of Jesus’ last prayers in John 17 was that we would be one even as He and the Father were one.  Satan’s desire is that these situations bring about bitterness and division.  Jesus gave us this guide to follow in order to keep peace and unity amongst us, the church, when we do sin against each other.

Matthew 18:15-17
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.  But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

We commonly refer to this as ‘Go and Show’.   When we are obedient to what Jesus calls us to do here and each remain humble and teachable, sins are quickly dealt with, all are completely forgiven, and relationships reconciled and we are able to continue moving forward in unity leaving no room for the enemy to bring about division.

In closing, we see that the church is us – we are to be the church!  Each of us is a valuable family member who is needed by the other members.
This morning, I also do not want this to just be a bit of knowledge that we walk away with, but rather something that we begin to put into practice.  I want to encourage everyone this morning to go to a church family member that you do not know all that well and meet together with them for a meal over the next few weeks as we begin to be the church.  To be the church, that means that we just don’t meet a few times a week in the same building, but rather that we connect with each other on a deeper and more meaningful level and become the family that we truly are.  It’s not an easy thing for some of us to do, but it’s something that God will richly bless as we are obedient to Him!  It’s one of the first and most critical steps in being the church!