Have you ever heard of “Anosmia”? It’s a fancy word describing the inability to smell and thousands of Canadians have this problem. I read a little about it this week and it’s actually a much more serious problem then one would think because our nose is something that keeps us safe. Why do we sniff leftovers or milk when it has been in the fridge for too long? Because our nose is our first line of defence to keep us from getting sick. If it smells bad, then we don’t eat it. Instead, we reject the food and throw it away. People with anosmia can’t smell when their food is bad, or if there’s a gas leak from their stove, or if their house is on fire!
Losing the ability to smell is a huge issue because it’s one way that we can spot dangers in the world and keep ourselves safe. Everyone agrees with this, right? I’m especially thinking of the bad food one. We open the fridge, spot some old guacamole and wonder if it’s any good. Guacamole always looks a little funky, so it’s hard to tell by sight. So we smell it. If it smells good, then get the chips – if not, toss it out. We don’t feel bad about tossing it out because it is dangerous and could make us sick.
Hang on to that principle and open up to Psalm 15.
“O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.”
A few years ago I preached through this psalm over a series of 9 weeks and parked on one phrase in there that needed some explanation. Most people can get behind the rest of the psalm, but usually have a problem with one part. Can you guess which one?
I’ll give you a hint. People have no problem agreeing that God’s people are supposed to do what is right and speak truth. They have no issue with saying God’s people shouldn’t slander others or do evil against their neighbours and friends. They agree that believers should fear the Lord, admit their wrongs, and use their money wisely and generously. What part do people usually have a problem with? “Despising (or rejecting) vile people”.
The concept of believers rejecting or despising someone doesn’t sit well with some people. Most popular images of Jesus argue that He was all about love, acceptance, peace, and openness – that He would never reject or “despise” anyone, and would never call anyone “vile”. This simply isn’t true. While it may be true that Jesus didn’t call anyone “vile”, He did have some other choice words for them. He called some “blind” others “fools”. He called the scribes and Pharisees “whitewashed tombs”, “serpents”, “vipers”, “hypocrites”, “unmarked graves”, “children of hell”, and “murderers” (Matthew 23, Luke 11).
Jesus is the most loving, compassionate, long-suffering, friend that sinners could ever know – but He has no qualms about calling out sinners when He sees them. The most reviled sinners found themselves drawn to Jesus, compelled by his amazing grace, where they found forgiveness and acceptance. But no such softness was found when Jesus saw unrepentant sin and hard hearts. He called it out.
In the same way, Christians are supposed to recognize sin when we see it, recognize a hard, unrepentant heart, and reject the sin along with the sinner. We need to be able to detest what is “vile” for three important reasons. First, so that we, the community, and the unrepentant believer recognizes the seriousness of sin. Second, to compel the sinner to repent. Third, to protect the church from the effects of that sin. We’ve talked about these before.
We talked in the last couple weeks about the importance of recognizing the danger of sin and not tolerating or trivializing it, but instead confronting it. Last week we talked about who we are to judge, that being only our fellow Christians – and by what standards, that being the Bible. Certainly, the Holy Spirit helps us by working within us like a Geiger counter or radar detector that makes us sense when there is sin, but we always, always make sure we check our judgements with what the Bible says.
Going back to the food example: We open the fridge and spot some cheese. It’s covered in blue mold, we press it with our finger and it’s soft and funky, and when we give it the sniff test and it smells TERRIBLE. We immediately feel sick to our stomachs and cry out, “WHO LEFT THIS DISGUISTING CHEESE IN THE FRIDGE! HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN HERE? ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL US?!? I’M THROWING IT OUT! GROSS!” All of our senses are telling us that the cheese is bad for us, but then someone comes running around the corner saying, “No! Don’t throw that out! I just paid some good money for that cheese! It’s called Stilton and it’s delicious! The stinkier the better!”
You see, just because your senses say it’s no good, doesn’t mean it actually isn’t. That’s why we check with the Bible before we make a determination. It’s our standard for faith and life.
But what if something doesn’t pass the sniff test and doesn’t line up with the Bible? Then what ought we to do? How do we balance Jesus’ commands to love our neighbour as ourselves, love our brothers and sisters, bear with their faults, while at the same time “rejecting the vile” and as our passage in 1st Corinthians 5 which we are studying says, “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor 5:13)?
We talked about Step One last week, which was to look inward and evaluate our own sin, motives, and relationship with God, so that we are humbled and prepared, but what comes next?
Turn with me to Matthew 18 and let’s explore there what needs to be done to get this right. This is a very practical model given by Jesus to help us understand how to deal with sin among His people. This isn’t the only place where we can learn about this, but I think it’s the clearest for most situations we will find ourselves in.
Step Two: One on One (Confront & Support)
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matthew 18:15)
When we confront sin, it is to be confronted one on one first. The only exception is when you are confronting a Pastor or Elder in the church – in that case, you skip to the step two where you must bring witnesses. 1 Timothy 5:19-20 says, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” This isn’t about special treatment – far from it considering the major impact it would have – it’s about giving public figures protection from accusations based on how people feel about them, rather than actual sins.
But when it comes to personal confrontation, it’s always one on one first. Now, some people look for the loophole here and say, “Well, if the sin isn’t directly against me, then I don’t have to deal with it.” I’m sure you’ve thought that, right? To you I reference Galatians 6:1-2:
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
In other words, another Christian’s sin is your business. The big idea here is that we are members of the family and we have the right and the responsibility to pull each other away from harm, and to take care of each other. Go to the person privately, quietly, gently, lovingly, patiently, and say, “I’ve been noticing something in your life that is sin. I seen myself or heard from this person (yes, name that person so it’s not gossip) that you have been struggling with this sin.” For example, “I’ve heard that you are angry with someone, that you are harbouring unforgiveness, that you are addicted to something, that there’s something that is separating you from God. I’m here to ask you about it, tell you what God says, and I’m here to help.”
See, we don’t just jump strait to handing them over to Satan. This goes two ways – confrontation and support. Confront the sin gently, and then say, “How can I help you?” Confront, then support. Supporting them could be as simple as telling them how to make it right, and then they go do it and then hold them accountable by making sure they did it. “You took that thing and shouldn’t have. Go give it back. I’ll wait here until you have given it back.”
Or, if it’s something that could take a while like if they struggle with lust, anger, unforgiveness, addiction, foul language, it could mean meeting with them regularly until they get right with it. Sometimes the issue is beyond our ability and we need to help them get into a treatment or counselling program and then talk to them about how that’s going. Whatever it is, we are to lovingly and gently confront sin in our brothers and sisters, support them as they try to get it right, and win them back to God because we love them.
Step Three: Bring Friends
What if that doesn’t work? Jesus says in verse 16,
“But if he 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 that person doesn’t listen, they blow you off, they deny it, they tell you to get lost, that it’s none of your business, that they can handle it, that you can’t judge them… you don’t get to just walk away and say, “Oh well, I tried.” Instead, you get one or two other believers who love that person and want the best for them, who have witnessed and understand the problem and ask them to get involved. This isn’t to embarrass them or bully them, but to show them how serious the sin is. This also shows them that their sin isn’t a secret – that people know about it.
The people you bring isn’t meant to be a pastor or an elder, but friends. This also isn’t your posse. Get a group of Christian friends that they will listen to and invite them over, or invite yourself over. And when you are all together, the group tries again.
If you are someone being asked to be part of this group, after praying about it, I recommend that you do so. If you know about this situation, the person’s struggle, and you haven’t had the courage to confront them – but someone else has and they invite you to come and help – go and help!
After that meeting, you go back to what we talked about with loving support.
Step Four: Call the Elders
But what if bringing the group doesn’t work? This is where we get the elders and the church involved. Verse 17,
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
Even when they’ve told you to get lost, and then told some of their friends to get lost, we still don’t let it go. We still haven’t “handed them over to Satan” or “rejected the vile”. We are still working together as a church to combat this sin, break the hold it has on our brother or sister, and the next step is to get the church leadership involved.
God takes sin very seriously and we want to show this person just how serious it is. Bring yourself and the witnesses to the pastor and the elders of the church. (If you come by yourself, and I don’t know about the problem, chances are I’m going to ask for some witnesses anyway!) Once you are together, we can come up with a plan on how to lovingly confront this person. Sometimes that means the pastor and elders take care of it themselves, other times they need to enlist your help. Be open, be humble, and be ready to help.
Step Five: Lovingly Avoid
And then comes the last step, “…and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
“…and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
This is where the church “turns them over to Satan.” This is not a happy time, but a sad one. If this person is still unrepentant after all of this, then they are not acting like a believer, which means their soul is in jeopardy. Therefore, since they are not acting like a Christian we don’t treat them like one. In fact, if they keep claiming to be a believer and yet stay in their sin after all of this, we are told not to even associate with them. That’s what it means in 1 Corinthians 5:11 when it says “not even to eat with such a one”.
Now, in case you think I’m prooftexting here, I want you to know that despising and rejecting the person who has rejected God is all over the scriptures. Here’s just a few from the New Testament:
“If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thessalonians 3:14)
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)
Now, why do we get to this step?
Reject, Protect, Restore
What most people don’t understand is that this fourth step is actually a process. We don’t just “Reject” – but we also protect and restore. Let me explain.
When a church is faced with an unrepentant Christian who is more committed to their sin than to Jesus, we are commanded by God to reject them. The believers within the church keep their integrity intact by doing what Psalm 15 says – “despising the vile person”. In other words, reject the one who has rejected God. When someone calls themselves a believer and is in flagrant, unrepentant sin – we don’t associate with them because they are a danger to themselves and others. We purposefully make the believer feel badly about themselves and their sin by giving them a taste of life as an unrepentant sinner again. They want to live like a demon so we let them experience a taste of hell. When we hang around with them and pretend nothing is wrong, ignore their sin, we are in some ways saying that we agree with their sin or that their sin is no big deal. We therefore become complicit with their sin – just like the church in Corinth.
The second reason for rejecting them is to protect the integrity of the church and the person who is in sin. We protect our church’s integrity by showing the world that this person doesn’t represent us and by removing the object of temptation from within our midst. When we keep them around us we are in danger of being tempted to sin with them! We protect ourselves from their bad influence and protect them from feeling like their sin is ok. Removing them from membership and refusing to meet with them socially is a measure of protection.
What they need to see is that their behaviour is not acceptable to anyone who calls themselves a Christian, and they are not allowed to be a part of the church. Being rejected by their fellow believers because of their behaviour should cause them to grieve. It gives them a chance to look at their life, to realize that if they are going to claim that Jesus is the Lord of their life but not act like it, then they are a hypocrite. You could also say that this is a way to protect them from self-delusion.
When we refuse to meet with them it also makes it so that we cannot enable them to sin. Think of it this way: If a fellow believer is going out of town so they can sin, and you say that you are happy to pick them up, babysit, watch their house, or whatever – you are enabling their sin. If they give you something to hang on to for a while so they don’t get in trouble, you’re helping them sin. If they want to borrow some money because they have spent all of theirs on sin – no, they can’t have any. Even if that means they can’t pay their rent or their bills, because you will not enable them to sin. We protect our integrity, our church’s integrity, Jesus’ reputation, and even show love to the sinner by our refusing to do these sorts of things for them.
Which leads us to the third reason to reject the person, and the ultimate reason for Church discipline: this sets up the conditions by which we will be able to restore this person back to the fellowship. By God’s grace, when they get a taste of life outside the will of God, outside the people of God, and live as pawns of Satan for a while, they will see their sin and want to be restored back to Jesus.
This is ultimately what this is all about. Not kicking the person out, but doing everything we can to save them from the sin that is entangling them and restoring them back to spiritual health.
Conclusion: This is Hard but Important
I realize that this is hard! Often, the practical working out of these sorts of commands from God is hard. There are some practical questions too: What if we see them in the grocery store? How long do we do this for? If this is all about lovingly restoring them to the fellowship of the church faith in Jesus, then how do we do it? Unfortunately, there is no way to answer every question.
Some people will lean towards “we have to keep showing them love” and keep talking to them in a friendly way while remaining firm on their need for repentance. Other people will lean towards, “I need to avoid this person because they will suck me into their sin” and will avoid them altogether. Still other people will be more confrontational and only talk to the person when they are willing to talk about repentance, reconciliation and fixing their issue.
I don’t think any one of those is necessarily wrong, nor do I think any of them is totally right, nor will any of us will do them perfectly. What is certain is our need for spiritual sensitivity and an abiding desire to do the will of God. I think all of this needs much prayer, study, and godly wisdom. If we are listening to the Holy Spirit, reading His word, and seeking His glory, then I believe God can use us to help those around us grow closer to Him and protect them from sin.
This is something that very few churches do well, and it’s one reason why there are so many problems among groups of believers. They refuse to practice church discipline, they allow sin to fester, and they will not reject those who have rejected God. This is something we have to get right because it is commanded by God, and lets us be a healthy, Christ honouring church.
This is tough stuff and none of us are good at it. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve done it too harshly or have avoided it or been too soft. But that doesn’t excuse us from trying to get this right. It’s too important to ignore. Sin is too dangerous.
If it’s not done well, under the power of God and the instruction of the Word, then the church will be in danger of being overcome by sin. If we do this full of holier-than-thou pride it will be very damaging. The loaf will be ruined with the yeast of sin. But if we pursue Godly Church Discipline out of love and a desire to see sinners restored to the fellowship and to the faith, then it is an act of worship that God will bless.
Let’s keep seeing soft, repentant hearts towards, but always be willing to do the hard things that He asks us to do. If you know a brother or sister caught in sin, then pray for them, and courageously commit that you will help them see the danger of their sin and repent from it so they can get back to church, back in prayer, back to serving God, back in worship, and back in a loving relationship with Jesus.
When we become Christians we enter into a new family called the Church of Jesus Christ. When we put our faith in Jesus, God takes us out from under the condemnation we find under His Law grants us forgiveness through Jesus, and then makes us a part of His Kingdom.
All believers, everywhere are part of the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ, the Universal Church both living here and in heaven. If you are a Christian you are part of God’s family. The church expresses itself in two ways, the universal church and the local church – and Christians are meant to be a part of both, committing themselves to a local, Christian church. And as part of God’s family, one way you express your love for your Heavenly Father, is to be with His church. And I’m talking about more than just the commands we read. In scripture it says that one of the ways we know we are saved is because our heart changes towards other believers. It says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14)
Growing Christians want to be with fellow believers – backslidden and sinning Christians tend to run away from fellow believers. Those that are working on their sins tend to want to sit under good teaching and share their struggles with others. Those who are full of the unrepentant sins of unforgiveness, bitterness, pride, or greed tend to avoid other believers, avoid coming under the leadership of elders, or try to split up and start their own churches. A Christian full of hate, shame or ungodly fear will find excuses to avoid church and other believers. Growing, humble Christians do the hard, sacrificial work of seeking unity and mutual love.
I love the local church, especially this one. This is a really, really good church. There is much love, care, interest, honesty and joy here. It breaks my heart that more people aren’t part of a good, healthy church, because it is the number one way in the world that God chooses to do His will.
It’s fine to sit at home and listen to sermons or chat with people online, but miracles happen when people choose to get off the couch and spend time with their fellow believers on Sunday and during the week.
I haven’t always loved the church. I grew up in a church and didn’t know any other way, but when I was sent to my first year of post-secondary school at age 17, I didn’t bother going to church. And as a result, it wasn’t long before started suffering with loneliness, depression, anxiety, and fear. I sat alone the basement of my rented home, avoided people, didn’t make any friends, didn’t go to school, lost touch with God, and felt like garbage.
I’m convinced that if I would have gone to church, it would have been different. In fact, I know that’s true because since then I have attended church and, when facing trials and pain, I have been ministered to, held accountable, corrected, befriended, and pointed to Jesus.
This was because there were people in the church that were taking the words of Jesus seriously. Their hearts were full of love for Him and others and they were willing to step into my life and help me. They listened to the voice of God inside them and obeyed, and my life is better because of their obedience.
I want to start this morning, and this year, by reading our church membership covenant, which outlines a lot of ways that we have agreed to help each other here. This is the document that every person who is a voting member of this church has agreed to. If you’re not sure if you are a member, then you probably aren’t, because it requires baptism, meetings, and voting. It’s quite a commitment. Let me read it to you:
The Membership Covenant
Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, in the presence of God, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ.
We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this Church in knowledge, piety and godly living; to promote its spirituality in sustaining its worship, ordinances, discipline and doctrine; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the Church, its work against sin and injustice in the world, the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel throughout all nations.
We agree to promote family worship and maintain private devotions; to educate our children in the teaching and practice of our faith; and to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances. We strive to walk circumspectly in the world, to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements and exemplary in our deportment; to avoid all idle talk, backbiting and unrighteous anger; to practice temperance in all things; and to be zealous in all our efforts to advance the Kingdom of our Saviour.
We agree to strive to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
We covenant to watch over one another in brotherly love, to remember each other in prayer, to aid each other in sickness and distress, to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech, to be slow to take offence, always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the commandments of our Saviour.
Arguments Against Church Covenant
This morning I want to take a look at why it’s important that we have a membership covenant because it’s not without some controversy. There are a lot of people out there that see a church membership covenant as unbiblical. They see it as a way of saying the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God are not enough – that somehow we need a human document, a new “man-made law” to tell people how to behave. And they are right in being concerned.
A lot of abuse has occurred as a result of human documents that go beyond what scripture says. It is from these sorts of documents that we get things like abuse of power, public shunning, excommunication, and all manner of strange cultish practices that manipulate and exploit people.
In true cults you’ll see some horrible things they have to agree to like giving up your money, family and friends, and agreeing to all manner of abusive punishments. But churches aren’t immune to extreme things in their covenants. Even today in some Baptist churches you’ll read things like “no drinking, no smoking, no gambling, no dancing, no R rated movies”. You’ll see punishments for missing church, not tithing, or not following through on areas of service. And a lot of that not only smacks of legalism, but even cultism, and it is certainly unbiblical.
The letter to the Galatians is written to people who were confused about this kind of thing. Teachers had come through to the church and taught that Christians needed to follow the Law of Moses and Jewish traditions in order to be truly saved. (Gal 3:1-14)
This is something the Bible is completely against. Scripture is clear that we are saved by grace through faith, not by anything we can do. It says in 2:21, “…if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2:19-21)
In other words, the very thought that keeping some sort of human law can make you saved, or keep you saved, or get you more saved, in effect, nullifies the work of Jesus on the cross. It’s like saying, “Jesus only died for some of my sins, I have to do the rest. I need to do extra works to make up for what Jesus didn’t do. I need to be extra good because Jesus wasn’t good enough.” What a terrible, ungodly way to live that is, and the scriptures are dead-set against it. Jesus had a lot to say to the Pharisees who cared more about their rules and traditions more than the word of God. He calls it “vain worship”. (Matthew 15:7-9)
And so, rightly, some Christians really shy away from anything that even smacks of that way of thinking.
1. A Set of Standards
That being said, there is certainly a place for covenants between people in this world. The legal world uses them all the time as ways to make sure people follow through on their promises. If you buy a house or car, you’ll sign a legal document. At the bottom of your receipt from many stores you’ll find their return policy. A lot of employers, sports organizations and social clubs make contracts with “moral clauses” which dictate what kind of behaviour is expected of the employee, player, or member even when they are not at work.
One example is in the NHL’s “standard player contract”, which is set by the Players Association and cannot be modified, there is a “morality clause” that states a player must “conduct himself on and off the rink according to the highest standards of honesty, morality, fair play and sportsmanship and refrain from conduct detrimental to the best interest of the Club, the League, or professional hockey generally.”
There have been more than a few players suspended and even terminated from their teams, not because of anything they’ve done during the game, but because of things they have said or done off the ice. Perhaps one of the most famous was when Sean Avery made a rude comment about his ex-girlfriends and was then suspended and kicked off his team.
But what about a church? Just because lots of people in the world do it, doesn’t necessarily make it appropriate for Christians. Well, one reason that these companies and organizations put dress and morality codes into their contracts is because they want to emphasize the importance of making sure the public image of the group is represented by its members.
If we use Christianese terms, a church would do it to promote Christlikeness and avoid hypocrisy. There is a great importance in making sure who we say we are, who we identify with, and how we live, are all in alignment. We need to practice what we preach.
- James 1:26 says, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
- 1 John 5:2-3a says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.”
- When Jesus was talking to those Pharisees He called them “hypocrites” saying, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me…” (Matthew 15:8)
- When Jesus is teaching us how to tell a good teacher from a bad teacher, His answer is, “… you will recognize them by their fruits.”, meaning their deeds. (Matthew 7:16)
- He says later that we can know what is in a person’s heart by their words, “…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” (Matthew 12:34-35)
The Bible is clear that how we live matters a great deal. If we profess to be a Christian, but our life doesn’t change, then that likely means that we don’t really have the faith we say we do. If we say we have repented from our sin and want to follow God, but continue to look the same, sound the same, do the same things, enjoy commit the same sins and refuse to submit our lives to God, then we shouldn’t take much comfort in our faith, because it’s not real.
A good church covenant gives reminders of some of the ways the Bible tells us that our lives are supposed to change in order to line up with our new faith. It is not a list of dos and don’ts that change with culture and are meant to micromanage people’s behaviour, but a general document meant to give an outline of what a godly life looks like. When we sign a church membership covenant, we are saying that we agree to seek to live by not a bunch of man-made, but the standards of what the Bible says.
You might think, why can’t we just say, “Why can’t we all just agree to do what the Bible says?” Well, we are. The covenant is a summary of some of those things. It’s not exhaustive, but is a general outline that makes it easier for everyone to look at and understand, but leaves room for individual differences.
A good church covenant should be general enough that every believer could sign it, regardless of their work, family, or cultural situation. Whether you are a farmer or an astronaut, have children or don’t, are a young, single man, or a widowed, senior citizen, the covenant should be something you can agree to. It tells everyone who reads it what kind of ethics we believe in. Just as our Statement of Faith tells people what we believe, our Membership Covenant tells them how we live.
So, the first thing a good church covenant does is give a brief summary of the sorts of standards that God has set for His people. The second thing it does is allow us to obey the command to hold each other accountable.
A lot of people inside and outside the church can quote Matthew 7:1, even though they don’t know it comes from there. It says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Some can even go a bit further: “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” And they stop there thinking that it says that no one is allowed to call out anyone else on their issues. We use it as a defense against anyone getting into our business and an excuse not to have to deal with anyone else’s. But we need to keep reading!
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
Is Jesus telling us to ignore each other and never make a judgement as to the rightness or wrongness a person’s choices? No. It says, “Be careful how you judge! Don’t be a hypocrite. Examine yourself so that when you go to your brother or sister who is in error you will see clearly enough to help them.”
Let me lay down a few more scriptures about the importance of judging others and holding each other accountable, just so we can understand this better:
- Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” How can we restore someone caught in sin unless we make the judgement that they are sinning? How can we rescue them if we don’t get involved? How can we each other’s burdens, if we don’t judge them to be burdonsome?
- James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” The Bible says we should share our sins with one another so we can pray for help and be healed. We can’t do that if we ignore one another six-and-a-half days a week.
Here’s some from the positive side:
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up….”
- Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
- Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Each of these are encouragements to get proactive. It’s not just about waiting for someone to mess up so we can fix them, but proactively encouraging, sharpening, and stirring each other up as we meet together regularly. “Hey, are you reading your bible? Are you praying? How’s your marriage? Are you resting? Are you working hard? Are you serving others? What are your needs? I’m learning this about myself, or God, or my family, and it has helped me; let me tell you about it.”
How about: “Hey man, you’re thinking some wrong things about God and we need to work on that.” Or “You haven’t been to church in a while, and you’re not giving or serving, and that’s not spiritual healthy – God’s Word says you need to come back.” Or “Hey, you are stealing – not doing your taxes honestly, taking cable from the neighbours, illegally copying music or movies, ripping people off – and God’s Word says you need to stop.”
The second thing a good membership covenant do is give us permission to each other accountable.
3. Church Discipline
These two things together, standards and accountability, give the church a way to engage in what we call “church discipline”.
God has given a governing structure to His church and calls some people to be leaders and elders who are meant to be examples, protectors, overseers and teachers to their fellow believers. Many churches call them “elders”, but they are also called “bishops” or “presbyters” or “pastors”. To become one means meeting a long list of biblical qualifications (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9) and taking on the very difficult task of shepherding a group of people.
In Ephesians 4:11-14 it says that God,
“…gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
In Acts 20:28-30 Paul tells the Ephesian elders,
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
In 1 Peter 5:2-3 the elders are told to
“…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; 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.’”
On that note of being “subject to the elders”, Hebrews 13:17 tells Christians to
“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.”
You see, it’s a two-way street. The elders of the church are given the responsibility to live exemplary lives worthy of imitation and stick close to Jesus. With the grace God gives them they are to protect and guard the church from false teachers, false practices, and spiritual dangers, knowing that will be held to account for how they lead.
But, unlike the laws of Israel, a Christian elder has no physical influence – no police force, no military, no weapons – with which to do their job. The history of the church is replete with examples of elders who got this terribly wrong.
The only way for elders to do what God has asked of us is for those who are part of the church, who have committed themselves to worshipping, serving, giving, and caring for a local body of believers, to accept that discipline willingly. Becoming a member and agreeing to the membership covenant is a way of giving permission to the elders to do that.
It might sound harsh, but it is intended to be a wake-up call for someone whose heart is growing far from God, who is falling for dangerous temptations, is filling with bitterness, is creating a split in the congregation, or whose soul is in danger.
Signing the membership covenant allows the elders to follow the scriptures which tell us to get involved in these sorts of issues. Just so you know I’m not making this up, I want you to see it in scripture.
- Matthew 18:17 Jesus says that if you have a problem with someone and it’s not getting any better, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
- 1 Timothy 5:20 tells elders, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”
- Titus 3:10 tells elders, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him…”
And there’s more.
Of course we can’t bar the doors, tie them to a chair, or lock them up. The whole point is that we trust in God’s power, not our own. Agreeing to a membership covenant not only allows each person in the church to hold each other to account, but gives permission to the elders to do church discipline if they must.
That’s enough for one day. Let me conclude with this: At our church, one tool we use to try to help each other follow God is our membership covenant. Is it perfect? No. Is it biblical, God honouring and helpful? Yes, I believe so. And I think it’s something we should be looking at more often so we can grow closer to God and each other, and more closely follow His word.
2nd and 3rd John are like fraternal twins: similar, but different. They have similar language and concerns, but have their own uniqueness that makes them important for the church today.
Those who were here last week remember that 2nd John primarily focused on how we should be treating missionaries and Bible teachers – that we need to be careful to support those who teach and preach the truth, but condemn, remove and unfriend those who don’t preach the truth.
3rd John is a fascinating little book that follows up on that theme, but introduces some characters that provide a case study for how this works out practically in the church. It does what we all want a good teacher to do: give us examples so we can see what it looks like in real life. Let’s read it together and then we’ll talk about what’s going on:
“The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.
I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.
Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.
I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name.” (3 John ESV)
Both of these little letters are concerned about the same theme. The “elder”, John, is writing to people who “love the truth”. These faithful ones who are keeping the faith causes him “great rejoicing” and he’s pleased about the reports he’s getting about them all the way over from where he’s writing in Ephesus. However, the occasion of these letters isn’t just for praise, but also for warning. The warnings from both are similar: watch out for people who are having a very bad influence on the church.
The difference between the two comes in that in 2nd John he warned about what the bad-guys were teaching, and in this one, he speaks more about how they are living.
If I had to pick a key-verse for today’s sermon, I would pick verse 11:
“Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.”
I would choose that verse because it epitomizes what John is talking about in this letter: the contrast of good and evil, and the importance of seeing the good or evil in a person’s actions. He says “whoever does good is from God… whoever does evil [is not]”.
False teachers and destructive leaders aren’t merely known by their teaching and theology, but more by how they live their life and practice their faith. We don’t just discover a bad teacher by their words (though words are important), but by their reputation. Some bad-guys, false teachers, destructive leaders, may sound great… but scripture warns us to pay attention to their lives as well.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Why? Because people are natural imitators. You’ve heard the phrase, “monkey See, monkey do”, right? We say that to describe people who imitate others without thinking – especially children. But it’s not just children who do this – everyone does. People are natural imitators, so we need to be very careful whom we choose to imitate.
This concept is all over scripture.
- “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)
- Peter tells the leaders of the church to be “examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3)
- To the Thessalonians who were struggling with laziness Paul said, “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you…” (2 Thessalonians 3:7)
- He writes to the Corinthians: “I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Corinthians 5:11)
- Why? He says later, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33)
- “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)
- “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…” (Psalm 1:1)
All through scripture, from the Garden of Eden to The Book of Revelation we are told to be very careful who we associate with and who we call our friends, mentors, leaders and teachers… because consciously or unconsciously we will become like them. This especially applies to our lives today because we have more access to more influences than any other time in history.
- Be careful where you get your news from, because they will colour your view of the world.
- Be careful of the types of TV shows and movies you watch, because their values will become your values, their language will become your language, their normal will become your normal.
- Be careful of the people you follow on your Facebook feed, because their attitude will affect your attitude – if they are complaining, argumentative, selfish, prideful, consumer minded – then you risk becoming like them. If they are positive, helpful, informed, kind, peaceable, and faithful – then you risk becoming like them!
- Be careful what sports figures you admire and what players and coaches you allow on your team.
- Be careful what men and women you elect into office.
- Be careful of the church you choose to worship
- Be careful in how you choose your Pastor, Elders and Deacons.
So John writes to the church and says, “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” and gives an example of both sides.
On one side we have Gaius and on the other we have Diotrephes. Both of these men have risen to become leaders in the church, both are men of great influence and authority. Gaius is the one that the letter was sent and is commended as a good friend, a man of truth, hospitality and a good example for the church to follow. He’s kind, loving, generous and stands up for the Gospel. The other is Diotrepehes, whom John sees as such a threat that he needed to send a letter warning the church about him.
I want to say again that both of these men were leaders, elders and perhaps even teachers in the church. They had both risen to prominent positions, and at some point, were chosen – perhaps even John himself – to be key leaders in that local body. Notice in verse 10 that Diotrephes has the authority to excommunicate people from the church!
This isn’t the same as 2nd John which spoke of travelling teachers who wander into town and need to be examined and scrutinized before being supported, but about local leaders in the church. One of whom is a good guy to be imitated and followed, and the other is corrupt and should be removed.
The Fruit of Reputation
I want to read a scripture that I read last week, and then keep reading the next verses. Jesus says in Matthew 7:15-20:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
Do you remember reading that last week? We talked a lot about false teachers and prophets. The natural question is “Ok, how can we know the good ones from the bad ones?”
The answer last week was to get to know your Bible really well so that you can pick out the most obvious false teachers. But another answer, which comes this week, is to watch their life and their reputation.
“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
What is the “fruit” Jesus speaks of? Their actions, their deeds, their reputation, their influence on others. The life of a Christian is seen in their fruits. Watching a person’s life is the best way we’ve got in order to discern whether a person truly believes what they claim. Is their life consistent with their beliefs? Is their walk consistent with their talk? If you don’t know if they are a “thornbush” or a “fig-tree”, check the fruit.
The Reputation of an Elder
That’s one of the most important things that we can do when we are choosing the people we want to have relationships with, whether that’s a friend, a future spouse, a teacher or a pastor. We need to look past their words and examine their life. A great example of this is when a church chooses an elder.
The qualifications of an elder are very well spelled out in 1st Timothy 3:1-7 and it might surprise you that they have very little to do with bible-knowledge and speaking ability, but are overwhelmingly based on reputation and lifestyle. Turn with me there and let’s take a look at what the Bible says about how we are to pick the elders of the church, because it is a great example of the importance of having someone’s walk line up with their talk:
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer [or bishop, or pastor, or elder – it’s all the same position], he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach…”
“Above reproach” literally means “not open to attack”, “blameless”. It describes a person who has a good reputation. Some scholars say that the Greek word comes from wrestling or boxing, describing a fighter who leaves no part of his body exposed to attack by an adversary. So before we give this person influence in our lives and our church, we must ask, do they have a clean reputation, or do they have a bunch of skeletons in their closet that are going to come out and bite him and the church?
“…the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable…”
Nothing in there about their bible-knowledge, charisma in the pulpit, or business and marketing skills. It’s all about character and reputation. Is he a one-woman-man, or does he have the reputation of being a flirt or a philanderer? Is he a man who is blessing his wife and they are growing together, or has he left a wake of pain and heartache in his relationships?
“…sober minded and self-controlled…”
Is he addicted to food, drink, or other substances that cloud his judgement and make him unstable? Does he fly off the handle or can he keep it together when the going gets rough? What’s he like when the pressure is on?
How do we judge that? Not by a bible-knowledge test. That comes after years of watching them. It is literally talking about their outward presentation and behaviour: how they speak, walk, dress, and treat people. Are they worthy of other people’s respect – worthy of imitating? Or are they someone you have to make excuses for because they lack respectability?
Do they open their home, take care of others, meet people’s needs, show love with their belongings? Or are they rude, unsociable, ungenerous, unkind, unwelcoming? That tells a great deal about a person’s character, doesn’t it? See how all of this is based on reputation and not merely knowledge.
“…able to teach [there’s the only knowledge based qualification], not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
Elders, leaders, and teachers in the church are meant to be imitated in their beliefs and their lifestyle. We can’t say, “They teach well, but they’re kind of a jerk. They can really bring in a crowd, but they can’t keep their marriage together. They can really raise lots of money, but their children are a mess. They are amazing at business, but I’m not sure I like them or trust them.” We are warned in scripture to look beyond the surface. We must look at the whole package.
The Trouble With Diotrephes
The church John is writing to had made a mistake by keeping Diotrephes around because he didn’t qualify anymore. Maybe he did once, but he’d lost it. Turn back to 3rd John and look at what Diotrephes was up to, starting in verse 9:
“I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.”
There’s the first red flag. Diotrephes “likes to put himself first”. Other translations say, “Diotrephes, who loves to be the leader.” Or “who loveth to have the preemenence among them”. Or “who loves to be in charge.” That’s a problem. This guy isn’t humble, but proud. He is like the hypocritical Pharisees that Jesus describes in His Seven Woes:
“…they love the place of honour at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.” (Matthew 23:6-7)
They exalt themselves instead of God, use others to climb the ladder, exploit their position so they look good. And yes, that can and does happen in the church. Far too much.
Verse 9 also says that Diotrephes “does not acknowledge our authority”. He looks at John the Apostle, Author of five books of the Bible and says, “that guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” There’s another red flag. Don’t trust someone that thinks they know better than scripture. Don’t trust someone that thinks that their knowledge is above that of God’s revealed word. We get that a lot these days as people talk about “new interpretations” of the Bible. These are the people that that argue that the Bible is an old, irrelevant book that needs to be changed and updated to be relevant for today. That’s a red flag for any friend, business partner, church or leader – that they are so proud that they think they know better than anyone else, even what God says in scripture.
In verse 10 John says, “So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us.” There’s another red flag that disqualifies him from leadership in the church. He “talks wicked nonsense”, or uses “malicious gossip”, to hurt and malign the people he doesn’t agree with. He spreads lies, makes false accusations and unjustified charges. He throws strong language around and can’t substantiate his claims – but it sure does get people stirred up. He’s a divisive influence (Titus 3:10). He doesn’t unite people as a Godly peacemaker (as he’s supposed to) but creates factions and arguments among the brothers and sisters in the church. He is literally doing the work of Satan.
It doesn’t matter how great a person is at their job, how many resources they have, or how long they’ve been there. If they are malicious gossipers, talking wicked nonsense about others, they are going to ruin whatever environment they are in. They are toxic. Sometimes they are very sneaky about it, phrasing it as a warning or cozying up to you as a friend – but bear in mind if they are talking smack to you about someone else, they are talking smack about you behind your back. They are a cancer that needs to be removed or it will spread. Be careful when choosing your friends and teachers that they aren’t malicious, wicked gossipers.
Keep going in verse 10: “And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.” In other words, when good teachers come to town, he not only badmouths them, but refuses to let them come into the church. Then he uses his authority to get rid of anyone that doesn’t agree with him. This guy is a real snake. Beware those who, instead of working with people and trying to lovingly unite them, he forces out anyone with a different opinion than theirs and won’t listen to anyone in authority. If you date, marry, befriend, work with or nominate these people for any kind of position, you are setting yourself up for trouble.
How Does This Happen?
You may wonder how this person ever got to be in influence in the church at all. Well, often these kinds of people are often very charismatic, very persuasive, and very opinionated. They may come across like a breath of fresh air to people who are tired of wishy-washy politics – but they won’t unite people in love, they’ll divide and destroy in order to build their own empire. They often look great on the outside and attract a nice crowd of followers. They know how to grease all the right palms and get the influencers on their side.
Anyone who has ever dated or befriended someone like this knows that they can hold it together long enough to fool some, but even then it requires people to look the other way when they start to see warning signs.
“Maybe it’s a one off. Maybe they’re just stressed out. Maybe they’re having a bad day. They’re usually so nice. They do such good work, I guess we’ll have to put up with their personality.” Overlooking their character and refusing to listen to the warning in their Spirits about what this person is really like is what allows people like this to grow in their influence.
We must be very, very careful to listen to their words, and to watch their lifestyle or we risk allowing them to destroy us, our relationships, our community and our church.
Application and Illustration
So, let’s talk application: why is this important to us today? Because, as I said last week and already today, we must be very careful who we allow to influence us. We must be very careful in how we pick our friends. We need to be very careful which church we choose, what place we choose to work, what organizations we support, what people we listen to.
- This applies to the people you work with and work for. Do they have a good reputation, or are you working with scoundrels? That will affect you, your faith, your family, and the rest of your relationships.
- This applies to how you choose what to read and watch.
- It applies to who you marry.
- It applies to where you go on a Friday night.
- The voices we let into our life will affect us.
The only exception I can think of is when we are going somewhere to be a missionary of the Gospel. Sometimes we befriend people and join organizations specifically so we can be a godly influence there. But even then, scripture tells us to be very careful that we go full of the Holy Spirit, keeping watch over ourselves, lets we fall into the same temptations as those we’re trying to minister to and save (Galatians 6:1)
I saw a great illustration from a mother whose daughter was just starting out in the dating world – but it applies to all of us too. This mother said that when her daughter had a crush on a boy, she asked her to place his name in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6. That’s the verses that say,
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
This mother told the girl to put the boy’s name in there: “Sean is patient and kind; Sean does not envy or boast; Sean is not arrogant or rude…” and the young girl frowned and said, “Yeah, I saw him picking on another boy in the hallway. He wasn’t very kind.” The girl started to rethink her interest in him.
The mother showed great wisdom and essentially separated infatuation by talking about with reputation. What’s he really like? Look past his appearance, his coolness, the things you find attractive, and go deeper – what’s he really like.
Another illustration is the country song “Voices” by Chris Young. I really like this song because it speaks of the importance of the influence of the closest people in our life. I’m going to read the whole thing since it’s so good:
“You could say I’m a little bit crazy, You could call me insane, Walkin’ ’round with all these whispers, Runnin’ ’round here in my brain. I just can’t help but hear ’em, Man, I can’t avoid it, I hear voices, I hear voices like:
My dad sayin’,’”Work that job But don’t work your life away’, And mama tellin’ me to drop some cash in the offerin’ plate on Sunday. And granddad sayin’, ‘You can have a few
But don’t ever cross that line’, Yeah, I hear voices all the time
Turns out I’m pretty dang lucky for all that good advice. Those hard-to-find words of wisdom hold up here in my mind. And just when I’ve lost my way or I’ve got too many choices, I hear voices, I hear voices like
My dad sayin’, ‘Quit that team And you’d be a quitter for the rest of your life’. And mama tellin’ me to say a prayer every time I lay down at night. And grandma sayin’, ‘If you find the one You better treat her right’. Yeah, I hear voices all the time.
Sometimes I try to ignore ’em but I thank God for ’em Cause they made me who I am.”
There’s a lot of wisdom in that country song. The voices in our head really do make us who we are – which is why we need to be so careful as to what voices we allow in our heads.
The lesson of 2nd John was to that we need to make sure that these voices are telling us the truth, but the lesson of 3rd John is that it’s more than just what they say – it’s about how they live their lives. We need to pay close attention to their reputation and lifestyle to see if they are worth imitating – because “monkey see, monkey do”, consciously or unconsciously, we will become like them.
That’s why the most important, most consistent voice in our life needs to be the voice of God from His Word and His Spirit.
“I Need a New Seven-Hundred-and-Ten”
A man walks into a car dealership. He’s not fond of being there, because he knows that some of these places are famous for ripping people off, so his plan is to not let on that he has no idea what he’s talking about. He gets into the long line and patiently waits his turn until he can get to the counter. The mechanic behind the desk looks up from the computer and asks him what he needs and he says in his most confident voice, “I need a new seven-hundred-and-ten”.
The mechanic is puzzled and asks again “What is it you need?” He replies, with even more confidence, “Oh, I just need a new seven-hundred-and-ten.” Some of the other mechanics around the shop hear this exchange and start to wonder over – some hoping to help, others wondering about this part they’ve never heard of.
The man at the computer says, “Hold on, let me gets the parts manager.” So, out comes the parts manager and says, “We’d love to get you a new one… but what exactly is a seven-hundred-ten?” By now the man was starting to feel a little frustrated, and replies, “You’re the mechanics. C’mon! You know, the little piece in the middle of the engine? I was working on my car, lost it and need a new one. It had always been there and I clearly need to replace it…”
By now all of the mechanics were huddled together wondering about this mysterious piece, when one of them had a great idea. He gave the customer a piece of paper and a pen and asked him to draw what the piece looked like. Maybe that would help them figure it out. He grabs the pen, frustrated with how a shop full of mechanics couldn’t give him a simple part, and drew a circle with a few bumps around it – it looked like a flower – and in the middle of it wrote the number 710. Each mechanic, in turn, took a look at the paper and scratched their head. They had no clue what a flower with the words 710 could possibly be.
Finally, one of the other mechanics had another idea and said, “Do you think you could point it out if we opened up one of the cars in the showroom?” “Of course I can!”, the man replied. They walked over to another car, similar to his own, which had the hood up and asked, “Is there a 710 on this car?” Immediately he pointed and said, “Of course, it’s right there!”
Beliefs Drive Our Mission
We’re talking about vision today – another word could be perspective. Our very first question that we must ask ourselves is “What do we believe?” and that outlines the most fundamental, bedrock beliefs about God, Jesus, Scripture and the Church.
Jesus is Lord of all and a member of the Holy Trinity. He came to us, born of a virgin, and it is only through Him that we can be saved. One day He will come again to judge the living and the dead. Satan is a real person and Hell is real place. The Word of God is our highest authority. Every believer has the right to deal directly with God because Jesus is their mediator. The church consists only of people who believe in Jesus as their savior and Lord. Baptism is the first significant act through which a believer proclaims their faith, and therefore baptism is for believers only. These are our non-negotiables, our bedrock beliefs.
Why A Church Needs a Mission Statement
After answering “What do we believe?”, it’s natural to ask the question, “What is God asking us to do?” On top of the bedrock of our common faith we build the framework of how that faith will be expressed in our own local context.
It’s true, and important for us to remember, that Jesus gave all Christians a mission statement in Matthew 28:18-20:
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
That is most definitely applicable to our individual lives and our church – but when we gather as a group, our question is, “What does that look like in Lanark County, in Beckwith, on the corner of Tennyson and 7th Line? If Jesus put us here, in this place, then how do we ‘go and make disciples’ where we are?” That’s what a mission statement is for. It tells us what we believe God wants from us in our local context. Mission statements aren’t only used by Christians, but by companies, charities, schools, and even individuals. It is an important way for a group of people to define our priorities, make our decisions, and set our ministry strategies.
Our Mission Statement
The mission statement we chose as a congregation is “We exist to inspire and equip our community to share the love of Jesus through Biblical teaching and loving relationships.” That’s a very complex and meaningful sentence.
When we asked ourselves, “Why does Beckwith Baptist Church exist? What’s it here for? What should we be doing? Why did God put us here? What’s His mission for us?”, that sentence is the answer we came up with. We sat together, prayed together, talked to God, read through the scriptures, and carefully crafted every word of that sentence. The whole leadership team, elected by the congregation, was in agreement that this was why God placed us here.
Then we brought it to the congregation. We printed out a bunch of copies, passed them out to everyone who we could find and said, “Ok, this is what we think God is saying. Please look at this, pray about this, and then get back to us with what you think God is saying.” Everyone had a chance to read it and comment. We took those comments back and did our best to incorporate everyone’s take on God’s plan for our church.
Then we had a vote. We sat together in a room, prayed for God’s guidance and wisdom, and then covenanted together to make this our Mission Statement. We all asked God, “Why do we exist and what do you want us to do?” and then we listened. And after listening we said, altogether, “We exist to inspire and equip our community to share the love of Jesus through Biblical teaching and loving relationships.” That was such a good thing and an important day in the life of our church.
Each one of the words in that statement was carefully chosen and is significant to us in our context, and so, as we kick off our September ministry season, I want to go through them together to remind us of what God told us last year. Today we’re going to talk about the first word — “We”.
The Priority of “We”
The first word is “We”. It’s a word which word that reflects the high priority God has placed, in scripture, on us working together.
It’s not “I… ”, or “They… ”, or “The Leadership Team…”, or “The Pastor…”, or “The Deacons…”, or “The people who have the time…”. It’s “We”. We together will do this thing that God has asked us to do. Philippians 2:1-2 says,
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
Read it this way — “If Jesus is an encouragement to you… if the love of Jesus comforts you… if the Holy Spirit is fellowshipping with you… if you know the friendship of Jesus and the comfort from Jesus during times of trial and struggle… let that flow out of you from Jesus into one another.”
Paul says that if the church does that it will “complete [his] joy”. There is no greater joy for a pastor than to see the people he is equipping for ministry actually doing it. Watching and participating in a church full of people who are “of the same mind” (agreeing on their faith and their ministries), “have the same love” (a love for Jesus and for one another that they sacrifice willingly to meeting each other’s needs), and in “full accord” (not fighting, not gossiping, not bickering, not complaining, no one feeling they are better than another, no one feeling left out, no one forgotten, united in spirit), brings great “joy” to the elders, pastors and missionaries who have been chosen by God to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph 4:12). And it makes God happy to. When a minister sees his church being “we”, he knows that God is being glorified, the Gospel is being lived out, Jesus is being honoured, and the Holy Spirit has room to move wherever He wants.
I can tell you that’s absolutely true in my case. When we are being “we”, and not “I”, it makes my heart smile. And it does that – and this is going to sound a little selfish – because it means you’re doing your job and I’m doing mine.
An Elder (Pastor) Has A Special Job
A great summary of my job description, as your pastor, is found in Ephesians 4:11-16. It says that when Jesus was designing the church, after He had ascended into heaven, He
“gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…”
These are people with specialized jobs, given to them by Jesus. We read what that is in verse 12:
“…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”
Do you see that? The leaders of the church, appointed by Jesus, have been given the important job of equipping the people in the church to do the work God has given them to do. Their job is to work to build up the people that God calls into the church. To disciple them, challenge them, help them improve their skills, support them and teach them how to listen to and obey God. And while they are doing this, they need to maintain “unity of the faith” and “knowledge of the Son of God”. In other words – step in and be peacemakers and disciplinarians when there’s a problem and ensure that Jesus is being preached and taught everywhere, all the time. That’s a big, important job.
But why? Why did Jesus appoint special leaders to that task? Shouldn’t everyone be doing that? Sort of. Yes, everyone has a responsibility to pray and learn and be peace makers, but God appointed special people to make sure it happens. Look at verse 14 to see why.
“…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
If “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” aren’t doing their job, there is a danger that all kinds of things will go wrong. The people may remain immature in the faith – it’s these special people’s job to make sure that the congregation grows in maturity. And without those God appointed leaders there’s a danger that cunning humans (elsewhere in scripture called “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 5:17)) will come in and deceive people. So God gave certain people the job to dedicate their whole lives to praying through, studying and teaching the scriptures, so they can be sensitive to what’s God wants and contradict error when it comes. They are the sheriffs, the guardians, the firefighters, the police, the under-shepherds who work with Jesus to keep the church strong and safe.
One Body Many Parts
It’s important to know how Jesus put His church together. The church, in scripture, is likened to a human body – one being with many parts. Not all the parts are meant to be the same, and by necessity they need to be different. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 12:14-19,
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”
People who do crafts or have a hobby where they build things, or has built their own home understand this. Jesus picks the parts He wants, designs how He wants them to look, and then joins us together in the shape He wants. He has a plan. Jesus is the head, and then He appoints certain people to be leaders and equippers, and then he appoints the people who are to be led and equipped by them to be the rest of the body. And, under Him, they work together in love to grow. We don’t get to pick which part of the body we are. And we don’t get to pick which part of the body someone else is. It is Jesus who designs and gifts people to be what He wants them to be.
Therefore, I need you, you need me, and you need the person sitting next to you and in the rows behind and in front of you. We need the people who decided not to come today. I need you to do your job and you need me to do mine, and we both need them to do theirs. I have been appointed by God and so have you. If you’re doing my job instead of yours, you’re in sin. If I’m doing your job instead of mine, I’m in sin.
We Have Different Jobs
We’ve read this before, but it’s important that we remember it, so we understand that though we are all part of the same church, serving the same community, with the same faith and the same Lord – we don’t all have the same job.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)
Now look at Romans 12:4-8,
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 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.”
Do you see the balancing act in both of these sections of scripture? We have the same Lord, same Saviour, same Spirit inside of us, same mission – but very different functions.
Listen: Some Christians are built and designed by God to be especially wise and knowledgeable people who are very discerning and want to make sure the church is listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. They sniff out wolves and keep the church from sin.
But we can’t all be that so God designs other Christians to be prophets and teachers who study and concentrate and agonize to make sure that the Word of God is properly proclaimed and fully obeyed. They are the megaphones God uses to tell people things.
Some Christians are designed by God to be passionate about mercy and love and healing people and wanting to perform miracles of God. They love to visit people, and open shelters, and get involved in all the messy stuff in the world.
And all of those Christians need the folks who designed by God to be generous and give resources and funding to their ministries. We are all supposed to be generous, but God gives some people the amazing ability to make money and equip ministries. That’s their job.
And all of those people need the people who are specially gifted by God to be exhorters and encouragers to stand around everyone else and shake their pom-poms and yell “Go Team Jesus!” and “You’re doing a great job!” and “Wow! You’re awesome at that!” “Great sermon pastor!” “Nice job on the potluck!” “This place is decorated so great!” “Loved that song today, singers!” “You’re such a great listener!” “I’m so glad you’re here!” “Keep trying, you’ll get it right eventually!” The encouragers keep the wise from getting discouraged by all the fools around them. They help the prophets to have the energy and motivation to come back week after week when it seems that no one is listening to them. They help people stuck in sin to keep trying. They make the tired servants feel appreciated. The exhorters and encouragers are just as important as the preachers and ministry leaders!
From “We” to “I”
But you know what happens? (And I know you’ve experienced this.) The prophets and teachers start to get prideful and think their job is the most important because they spend all their time in the Bible and start to look down on people who spend so much time just talking to people or just giving away their money. They look at the cheerleaders and call them shallow. They look at the healing ministry and criticize them for not doing enough bible-study.
The wisdom and knowledge people start thinking that they should be in charge of everything. So they start messing with the ministries, telling them how to help people better and the right way to perform miracles. They start telling the encouragers how they are supposed to encourage people. Their not healers, their not encouragers… but they think they know more.
Then the people in the healing and mercy ministries can’t understand why the prophets and teachers spend so much time studying. Don’t they know that God wants them out from behind their books! They accuse the teachers of not loving people and not loving God properly because they aren’t doing the ministries that they think are most important.
And so the church, instead of acting like a “We”, starts to thinking about themselves as a group of “I’s” and they break apart. One church is full of Prophets and Teachers who love to read the Bible and hear sermons – but no one does anything helpful, no one gives generously, and no one is encouraged.
And another church starts that’s full of healing and mercy people who are amazing at meeting the needs of their community, and loving the poor – but they start to do goofy things with the money because they have no Godly wisdom people, and they become heretics because they have no Godly prophets and teachers.
And all the encouragers stay home because they can’t stand watching people fight. Right?
I know we’ve only covered one word of our Mission Statement today, but it’s an important word. God built the church so that we would work as a “We”. That word has a lot of implications. We work a community. We serve as a group. We respect each other’s differences and we are thankful for how God built each one of us. We are only truly the church of Jesus Christ when we are working together. “…of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”