We’re actually going to be moving fairly quickly this morning. Last week we spent most of our time defending and defining the concept of a church as the Family of Families. We’re not a business, not a political organization, not an entertainment complex, but a family. We defended this logically and scripturally.
Today, we’re going to focus more on implications. Particularly, we’re going to ask the question, “If the church is a family, then how do we get along as a family?”
If any of you come from broken families or families that were less than ideal, you know that this is important, even perhaps the more important question. For there are dysfunctional families, and there are dysfunctional churches. And here’s why this is so important – very rarely (although it does happen) does someone’s experience within a dysfunctional family turn them off to the concept of family in general. For example, it is rare that someone would say I hated my dad, so now I believe that the concept of fatherhood itself is erroneous. It does happen, but it is rare. However, I meet people quite often who had a been experience in a church and now believe that the concept of Jesus is erroneous. So it’s not only important to believe and understand the church as a family, but also to act like one – and not just any family, but a harmonious family that glorifies God.
So how do we get along in God’s household? We’ll start today in the book of the Bible written “so that you may know how to conduct yourselves in the household of God.” Let’s look at how this book starts in 1 Timothy 1:3-7.
1Tim. 1:3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The goal of our instruction is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
The idea in the early church was that you achieved unity in the household of God by laying down a foundation of sound doctrine. The aim or goal of this instruction in sound doctrine, Paul writes, is love. The key to getting along in God’s household, like any other household, is love. But this love does not simply materialize out of thin air. It is cultivated through sincere faith, good consciences and pure hearts. To paraphrase, our ability to get along in God’s house is conditioned by what we believe, how we live, and our heart attitude.
What We Believe
In I Timothy 1:3-8 we are warned of what may happen when a church ceases to center itself on sound doctrine. It seems that teachers were going beyond the core of sound doctrine that was laid down by the apostles, leading to idle theological speculations, which did not build up the church in love. This core of sound doctrine was referred to as the kerygma – the simple proclamation of the Good News of what God has done for us in Jesus. Sadly, in our day Protestant Christianity has been divided by such an emphasis on peripheral matters. This is one of the reasons that you see so many flavors of Christian churches. It’s confusing at times.
In 2006, OCBC joined the Evangelical Free Church of Canada (EFCC) after a meticulous process in which many denominations were considered. Perhaps the most defining distinctive of the Free Church is its emphasis on gathering the core essentials of our faith, while maintaining the autonomy of the local church to decide on matters of secondary importance. You can read of statement of faith in your booklet or on the website. And if you look at our statement of faith, you will see an attempt to define a core kerygma – who is God, who is Jesus, what has he done for us. What are the core essentials of the Christian faith? That is what we focus on.
This focus on core doctrine, allows us to take a charitable stance toward Christians who may disagree with us on secondary issues, without violating our core beliefs. As the EFCC motto puts it: “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, charity. In all things Jesus Christ.” You might say that that we hold some beliefs tightly in a closed hand, while other beliefs we hold an open hand toward. In our own congregation, there are people who hold to different positions regarding spiritual gifts, end-time positions, tithing, etc., but we gather together around the core elements of the gospel and we hold our other convictions in humility. We may still think we’re right, but we try to be humble and non-divisive about it. This allows us to work with and bless other churches that may not hold to every theological particular we do, but still hold to the essentials of the faith.
How We Live
In addition to the core gospel, the churches planted by the apostles were also grounded in a core set of teachings relating to how they were to live out the Gospel in their lives and within the family of God. The early church referred to this as the didache, the instruction. Part of Jesus’ great commission is that we go “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded.” See, we need kerygma and didache, proclamation and instruction, sincere faith and good conscience. If we just had beliefs and not behavior, we're hypocrites and shame the name of Jesus. Yet if we just had a law of how to live, yet no good news of how Jesus conquered our sin and gives us power to change, then we become legalistic moralists, setting ourselves up a self-righteous judges over everyone.
Some of what we’ve already talked about in this course would be considered as part of this teaching. We believe that our vision of the church (the Pauline Cycle) and strategy we laid out (the church as Family of Families) are both part of the apostolic teaching and practice. While we are not able to lay down the entirety of the teaching in this short message, we do want to go over three areas that are especially important for members of our church family: Giftedness, Generosity and Conflict.
Rom. 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
In short, the New Testament teaching is that everyone contributes to the functioning of the body using all of the giftedness, talents, innate abilities and honed skills that they have received from God. Some of us are more capable than others at certain things, we don’t get proud over it, but we use whatever we have to serve all. So you serve. I not very interested in spiritualizing these gifts – maybe its my Irish practicality. I don’t have a lot of patience for people who try to get out of serving because it is not their “gift”. We’re a family – go home and try that with your mom. I can’t take out the garbage because my spiritual gift is not “acts of service”. If you have two capable arms and legs, then guess what, on April 7 one of your spiritual gifts is packing.
2Cor. 9:5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. 6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
There is so much happening in this passage and we can’t get to it all today but here are some principles:
1. The church had collectively set priorities in giving. When they gathered together they took a collection to meet the needs of the saints and contribute to the ongoing mission of the church.
2. Members were not required to give, but encouraged to give.
3. The model was not of a tithe to a temple, but of sowing into a harvest. The harvest being the ongoing expansion of the church.
4. Giving through the church was not to be the sum total of their generosity. God is able to make grace abound to you for every good work.
5. God is our example in giving. The quote is from psalm 102
Conflict: We have to talk about conflict because – here’s a newsflash – families sometimes have conflict.
Matt. 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Again, there’s a lot here and this is not the only passage on conflict in the New Testament, but it provides a start for us.
1. It is your responsibility when offended to do the right thing.
2. The goal is to gain your brother. Not to hurt him, not to get back at him, not to see him squirm, but to restore your relationship.
3. There is a procedure to follow with repentance and forgiveness available at every point along the way – even after the end.
Core Heart Attitude: That last point about repentance and forgiveness brings us to the last component of getting along in God’s household, and we should note that Paul actually lists this one first: a pure heart. See, it is not enough to simply have right beliefs or good behavior; those alone are not sufficient to make a church a family. We need pure hearts – heart forgiven able to extend forgiveness.
Read Philippians 2.