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Finding Community Within The Church

Finding Community In Fellowship

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 13, 2002

Selected highlights from this sermon

When the church functions as God intended, it is powerful and unstoppable. If you see a church full of love but with no holiness, the world won’t be convicted of sin. If you see a church with holiness but no love, the world will see us as legalistic, hard, and cold.

In this message, Pastor Lutzer shows us what sincere love looks like and how we, both individually and as a church, can achieve it.

Finding Community in Fellowship

I want you to know today that the Church is the most powerful instrument for good on the face of the earth. There is no other community, there is no other religion, there is no other function or organization that can do what the church can do. The church is a powerful example and a powerful force for reconciliation. First of all, reconciliation with God where people understand the Good News of the Gospel, and they believe in Christ and become reconciled to the God whom we all have offended. And then they become reconciled to one another, and there is no entity on the face of the earth that reaches so far to so many different groups and so many different nations, and so many ethnic backgrounds and racial differences. There is no group like the church anywhere in history or on the face of the earth. And when the church functions the way it should function, it is powerful and it is unstoppable.

Possibly you are saying, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, my experience in the church has been a negative one.” Sometimes the church has been ugly. You read the pages of church history and that’s true. Sometimes the church has been beset by petty differences, by splits that were unnecessary, by egos, by God knows what all. But when the church is all that Jesus wanted it to be, and all that it can be, it is a powerful force in the world with an impact far beyond what you and I are able to calculate.

Now let me ask you a question: If it is true that the world is to see us (and Jesus prayed that indeed when the world saw our unity, for example, that they would believe, and many would believe), what is it that the world is actually supposed to see anyway when they look at us? What is it that is going to impact them? Two things! First of all, our unity, absolutely! Our love! The fact that we love one another!

In the early church one of the great communication efforts that was taking place was that people loved each other across racial lines and differences, and the world took note. But love is only a part of it. The other part is holiness. They have to see both holiness and love together, because if you show me a church that has only love and no holiness, then you see a community of believers who are just accepting of everyone, and the world might kind of like them, but the world is not convicted of their sin.

If you show me a church that is only interested in holiness, what you find is a church that is very legalistic, very hard, very cold, oftentimes very much filled with duty, and there is no love. What we need is both love and holiness together so that when the world sees our holiness they are convicted of their sins. This is one of the reasons that when there was a revival in Canada in the early seventies it began to spill over into the world, because so many Christians were getting right with God they were taking things that they had stolen back to the stores. They were going back to the border between Canada and the United States, and they were confessing the fact that they had merchandise that they did not pay duty on. And so it hit the newspapers because they said, “What is this?” And the world was convicted.

So when the world sees holiness they become convicted, and when the world sees love, they are drawn to us because they know that even though we believe in holiness and a holy God, we also believe in forgiveness and cleansing and reconciliation. And the church must send both messages to the world.

The passage of Scripture that we’re looking at today is Romans 12, and I do encourage you to take your Bibles and turn to it. This passage of Scripture has both topics – love and holiness. And as I think of the church, I think of the responsibility that we have to do something inside these walls that is going to impact the way in which we live outside these walls.

Many years ago Charles Weigle, who is best known for writing the hymn, No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus, was speaking in Pasadena, California, and during the afternoon before he went to his talk, he spent some time in the rose gardens. And then he came back, and a number of people said, “Well, did you enjoy the rose gardens?” And he wondered who had been watching. No one had been watching. But he asked how come they knew that he had been there, and they said, “You brought the smell of the flowers with you.”

Now what I want you to realize is that here at The Moody Church, as we gather together on Sunday, and in other kinds of functions and opportunities, this is, in effect, the rose garden. This is where we draw close to Christ, and then tomorrow – Monday – that’s when we take the smell of the flowers with us. That’s when the love and the compassion of Jesus and all the things that we have learned here and experienced here begin to spill over into the world. But the question is, “What should be happening within the church itself so that it can spill over into the world?”

Romans 12:9 I think gives a beautiful description of what the church should be like, and as I thought about this I realized that it’s really a picture of Jesus, isn’t it? Let’s look at the text. It says in verse 9 (and we’re going to go through these five verses rather carefully): “Let love be without hypocrisy.” Literally the Greek says, “Let love be without a mask.” Let love be without ulterior motives. Let love be without self-interest. Let love be genuine or sincere. That’s what it really means.

And then you’ll notice that the rest of the passage of Scripture I think (and some of the commentators I consulted agreed with me, and that’s always nice to find somebody who agrees with you) is a description of what this sincere love looks like in practical experience. So I want you to notice that this love, first of all, involves our affections.

Notice what the text says: “Abhor that which is evil. Cling to what is good.” The original language is very strong at this point. You could almost translate it, “Abominate that which is evil. Hate that which is evil.”

Now isn’t it obviously very sensible when you stop to think of it that we should hate the thing that our Heavenly Father hates? If we can look into God’s eyes and we call Him Father, surely we should detest those things that God detests. And I began looking last night in the various passages of Scripture that tell about what God hates. We know, for example, that God hates such things as injustice and racism. That has often been a part of the church, by the way, and God hates that.

God hates injustice in families. He hates it when we take advantage of one another. God hates churches where there is gossiping, and God may love His people to be sure, but He hates those kinds of sins - the people who are angry and resentful. Just last night I was with some people, and I learned that there is a new kind of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s being diagnosed particularly among church members. It’s the kind where you forget everything except the grudges.

And God hates empty religion. He says in the book of Isaiah, “I hate your sacrifices and your feasts.” The emptiness of it all! Doing all those things, you supposedly are honoring God and your heart is far from Him. God hates sensuality. And we think today of our culture and its immorality and all of the things that are available on television and what have you, and God looks down from heaven and He notices that His own people sometimes love what He hates.

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, how can we possibly begin to abhor that which is evil, because by nature we love that which is evil?” How can we hate it?” Well, I think the rest of the text answers that. “Cling to what is good.” And the good replaces the evil, and we begin to build in our lives as we nurture that new nature that has been created within us by the Holy Spirit of God. It is nurtured so that we begin to grow, and we begin to love God more. And the more we begin to love God, the more we begin to hate and abominate sin. And that’s what God wants us to do.

We can’t change our emotions, but God does. When you are born again of the Holy Spirit of God, there is a new nature within us that wasn’t there before we were converted. And that new nature loves righteousness, and it loves truth and it hates that which makes God grieved. And so that’s the way the text of Scripture wants us to understand this. And in the Greek text these are actually participles – these two words. We could translate it, “Abhorring that which is evil, cleaving to that which is good.” It’s a continuous experience. It’s a life style of where we learn to hate what God hates.

Charles (Carlisle) says, “We must see the infinite beauty of holiness and the infinite damnability of sin.” You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, how can we begin to change our affections?” We spend enough time with God until He changes those affections for us.

So first of all, love involves our affections. It involves our attitude. Notice in verses 10 an 11: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Give preference to one another in honor.” The concepts here are that we should cherish one another as members of our own family – our natural family. That’s what brotherly love is. So we begin to take the concentric circles of the nuclear family, and we begin to extend it to all those whom we meet, and we experience that love, because the same concern we have for our own family we now begin to have for the family of God.

I know certainly when our children were younger that their concerns, whatever they were (a problem in school, a health problem, whatever), were always our concerns. And if we could just begin to understand that the concerns of other people become our concerns as we get to know them and as we enter into their lives, that’s what the text means when it speaks about this kind of cherishing, this love, which is combined with humility, because it says, “In honor, preferring one another, give preference to one another in honor.” And so we’re always thinking of the other person, rather than just ourselves.

Now that’s a God thing because all of us are born selfish. And we’re all born very protective of our egos, very protective of who we are, always on the defensive, always thinking of ways to tweak the situation to make ourselves look good. We are basically committed to that, but the blessed Holy Spirit of God comes along and does such a deep work in the lives of God’s people that we begin to prefer others rather than ourselves, and we delight when they receive the credit, even if it is for something we ourselves have done, because we are dead to self. We no longer need all of the self-aggrandizement that you and I were born to want to receive. That’s what the text is talking about – humility, that elusive quality called humility.

I read this past week of a church that gave one of its deacons a medal for humility, and then they took it away when he wore it. (laughter) But this is what God desires along with spiritual fervor, you’ll notice. “Fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” Love involves our affections. Love involves our attitude (verses 10 and 11).

It also involves our actions, and here we have a whole list of things that we should be doing. And the attitudes continue on in this list, but let’s look at them. It says, “Joyful in hope.” Rejoicing in hope! We live in anticipation of the future. We are eternal optimists because we believe that no matter how bad things get here, we know there is a new world coming when things are going to be different. And so we continue to rejoice, not because we are naive, not because our heads are in the sand, but because we’re convinced that God is in control. Someone has said that there are no hopeless situations. There are only people who have grown hopeless about them, so we continue to hope and hope and hope, not just about our salvation which is secure, and that we know about, but we also keep believing God even against incredible odds.

Notice it says, “Patient in affliction (or in tribulation),” because we believe that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. And therefore we go on believing and we go on trusting in the midst of tribulation. We do believe that God is there. Some of you who are listening have perhaps given up on God at this point. You’ve become cynical because you have cried to God for a situation, and God has not intervened. And I ask you: Don’t allow your heart to go there. Keep your heart fresh before God. Keep believing, keep trusting and knowing that our heavenly Father knows what is best.

Someone says, “Suffering colors all of life,” and it does, but someone else said, “I get to choose the color,” and you do. Notice it says, “Faithful in prayer,” which is really the bottom line of all, isn’t it? We persevere in prayer.

Yesterday we had a day of prayer and fasting, and I can’t even begin to communicate to those of you who were not there the blessing that God gave to us. Woolley Hall was filled for most of the day from about 8:30 to about 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon as the Holy Spirit of God enabled us to pray with fervency and unity and a sense of camaraderie and an understanding of what fellowship is. And the Bible says that we should persevere in that because without prayer we have lost God’s power, we have lost God’s perspective, and we no longer remember who we are in His presence. So it says, “devoted in prayer.”

“Giving with the saints!” You become a partner with the saints, and you look upon the needs of the saints as if those needs were your own. And therefore we become a very generous people because we understand now that we are part of the Body. And one part of the Body cannot suffer unless the other part recognizes that it is suffering and it enters in, in sympathy in that suffering experience. And that’s what God is calling us to as members of the Body of Jesus Christ. Next week’s message is going to be on how the Body heals itself as we rejoice with those who rejoice, and we weep with those who weep.

Next is hospitality. Hospitality binds people together. There is that sense of unity. Christianity is known as the religion of the open hand, the open heart and the open door. And so this is what we’re called to, folks, as a community of believers here at The Moody Church. This is what God is asking us to do.

Now, as we look at this text of Scripture, one of the observations we have to make about it is this: It is not possible for us to experience what Paul is talking about simply by coming to a worship service. This is something that can only be practiced in a small group. It can only be experienced among believers who know each other, who have the opportunity of acting out the things that are listed in this text, and in that way we grow, one life next to another.

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, I don’t need the Body. I like to come into a worship service and then I go my way, and I am able to do that, and then I come back next week.” But listen very carefully. If that’s your experience of the Christian life, you have deep needs that you might not know about because there are some things that God can only do with fellowship within the Body of Jesus Christ. And the kind of community that we’re talking about is one of them.

Richard Halvorson made the remark that many Christians see the Body of Christ this way. It’s like a barrel of marbles that come together and they ricochet one off another, and they are in this barrel together on Sunday morning, and then after the benediction the barrel is turned over and they spill out and they go back to all of their various homes and so forth, and that’s it. That’s a bad image of the Christian church. “A much better image is to see us,” he says, “as grapes that are squashed into this barrel. They are squished together. There is no way just one can run away without affecting one another. They are all together in the Body of Jesus Christ, in unity, in commitment.”

Now as I look at this congregation, I need to tell you very candidly that if you are with a congregation of two thousand people, you can worship the Lord. We thank God so much that that happened already this morning as we gave praise to God together, as we directed our thoughts toward the Lord, to our unity that has been created in us by the Holy Spirit. We worshipped.

It’s possible for us to sing together, and certainly we did that. It’s possible for us to be blessed together as we heard the special music this morning. It’s possible for us to learn together as members of the Body of Jesus Christ. We can take notes. We can leave with new insights in Scripture. But there’s one thing we cannot do among two thousand people, and that is to have fellowship. That can only happen in a small group. And your small group here at The Moody Church may be the choir, because that’s where you begin to bond. It may be a Sunday school class. It may be the women’s ministry. It may be the men’s ministry. It may be the children’s ministry, as you work together with other teachers and with other leaders. But somewhere along the line what we need to do is to bond together.

We also have a small group ministry. Sometimes I tease Pastor Milco and say that he keeps it well hidden. Well, if you are interested in joining one of the small groups, we have forty throughout the city of Chicago and Chicagoland. You simply call Pastor Milco this week, and you let him know that, and he’ll know exactly where they are meeting, who the leader is and how you can get involved. All of that has been organized and worked out. Why? It’s because we recognize that there are so many who may come Sunday morning that need to plug in somewhere. Maybe it’s that adult Bible fellowship. You just have to get up early in the morning. I know it begins early in the morning for some of you, but you just have to prove the power of mind over mattress, and you have to say to yourself, “I’m going to be there for the benefit of the Body, but I’m going to be there for my own benefit, because I cannot live the Christian life alone.

These virtues that we’ve talked about that are to become a part of this community that we speak of can only be exercised in the life and the experience of other believers, living together, sharing together, bearing together, praying together and committed together for the glory of God.

Let me mention one other quality that I think is so important within the church, and that is loyalty. This past Friday we paid tribute to Bernie and Norma Elafros who have been at Moody Church for many, many years and we, as elders and pastoral staff, met to honor them. One of their great qualities is loyalty. Here’s a couple that was in the church when things were going well. They’ve been in the church when things were going better. They were in the church when things were going very well. They were in the church many years ago when financially there were needs, and they have just simply stuck here, year after year after year, week by week. And they have become models to younger people who oftentimes are not loyal. Our generation tends to go around trying to find out exactly where we are blessed and where we can get the greatest bang for our buck, and then there is no loyalty. Loyalty within the members of the Body of Jesus Christ is essential to its strength and to its ability to be able to impact the world, because remember that within here we are in the rose garden, but when we leave and we go outside and we begin to minister to the world, we take the scent of the flowers with us.

But I need to say also this morning that this all begins, of course, with friendship with Jesus Christ. It begins when we have a personal relationship with Him, and that personal relationship then begins to spill over. If we think of Jesus as the hub, and we are spokes, the closer we get to Jesus, the more intimate our relationship with Him, and the closer we get to one another. And we can’t help then but become members of the fellowship, and committed and loyal members to a new community of believers. Because we love Him, therefore we love His people. And we cannot ignore His people.

I’m reminded of the song that all of us have sung that was written by Joseph Scriven. He lived from 1819 to 1886 in Ireland, and the night before he was to be married, his fiancé drowned. You can imagine the great sadness in his heart. In fact, he never really got over it. He never did marry. He left Ireland. He came to Canada, and there he began to minister in a place called Port Hope. He became known as the Good Samaritan of Port Hope, because he basically gave his life to the poor and serving them. But one day when he wrote his mother, he sent a poem along, which he had composed. And later on, someone asked him, “Who wrote that poem?” And he said, “You know, actually that was written between Jesus and me.” And we’ve sung it often, haven’t we?

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
And as a result of that friendship that he had, he touched the lives of so many other people.

Now friends, God has placed us in the midst of a great and wonderful world-class city. It’s our opportunity to touch so many different areas through all the different ministries of Moody Church that you read about in the bulletin. But I also need to tell you that I’m asking you today to commit yourself to where we’re going, what our goals are, and the ministries that God has very graciously given to us, because if we are what Paul spoke about here in Romans 9 (this wonderful description of what love is about, it’s affections, its actions, its attitudes), we can transform this city for the glory of God, and for the honor of His name. But we need you to help us do it. My question is, “Are you willing?”

Let’s pray.

Our Father, today we do want to thank You for Your goodness to us. Thank You that we have the opportunity of becoming a part of something that is so much bigger than any one of us. Thank You that in Your grace we have the privilege of being a part of the Body of Christ. And then, not just the invisible Body, but the visible Body that meets right here at LaSalle and North Avenue.

Thank You for the many new people that You are bringing to us. We ask in the name of Christ that You will draw them to us like a magnet, that they will become a part of what we are doing, and that as a result of that, we shall be strengthened for the work that God has given us to do.

And for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior, who do not know the warmth of the Father’s House, who do not know what a friend we have in Jesus, we ask, oh Lord, that today You will grant them the ability to believe, that they, too, shall be saved.

And now before I close this prayer, what is it that You need to say to God today? Whatever it is, you simply tell Him. You respond to what the Holy Spirit has been saying to you.

Our Father, we ask that whatever work You have done in our lives today that You might continue it for the glory of Jesus, because we seek only that He be magnified. In His name we pray, Amen.

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