The Gift Of CommunityErwin W. Lutzer | October 7, 2013
Selected highlights from this sermon
By looking at the early church, Pastor Lutzer shows us how the Christians, through the Holy Spirit, lived and spread the good news of the Gospel. Through the unity they all shared in the Spirit, there was a connectedness that gave them power. Their holy living caused the world to feel uncomfortable, and we would do well to follow their example.
The Body of Christ should be filled with people who are mutually dependent on one another.
Would you join me please as we pray together?
Father, we ask very specifically that You will help us to understand what Jesus meant when He said, “I in them and thou in me and they in us”? Help us to understand that terminology in a new way, and we pray that it will be transforming for us as the Holy Spirit of God has His way. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Perhaps you’ve not heard the names Ira and Ann Yates, but they were a couple in the 1920s who lived in West Texas, and they were on a farm that was not doing very well at all. In fact, they wondered whether or not they’d be able to pay their mortgage, and so they were having hard times wondering whether or not they’d have to give up their land because of the financial pressure that they experienced. But on a whim, Mr. Yates decided to invite the Transcontinental Oil Company to come to their farm and drill to see whether or not they had any oil. Well, as it turns out, a thousand feet down under the ground they discovered one of the greatest caches of oil that has ever been found here in the United States. It is my understanding that it is so. Millions and millions of barrels were discovered. In fact, I checked it on Wikipedia this past week, and if I read it correctly, they still are pumping oil out of this gusher. What a marvelous find beneath the soil!
As I think about that I can’t help but think that we are sitting on tremendous wealth, the wealth of the Holy Spirit, and the freedom of His ministry. What a tragedy it is if we find ourselves spiritually poor, unable to function, and not understanding and entering into the blessed work of the Holy Spirit of God, whose intention it is to help us, transform us and make us the kind of people we ought to be.
I’ve been reading the book of Acts this week and I come across phrases like this: “And the early disciples walked in the fear of the Lord, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” I meditated on that phrase, “the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” Or one like this: “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” And of course we know, as we shall discover, that one of the most indisputable marks of the work of the Spirit is joy indeed.
Let me ask you a question, because this series of messages is not intended to simply fill your mind with truth. Let me ask you a question. If you’ve been here before and you’ve been listening to these messages, have you connected with the Holy Spirit of God this week? Is there something that you did this week that is attributable not to your natural talent and ability, but something happened because the Holy Spirit of God worked in you? I like what Jim Cymbala says. “When we walk in the Spirit,” he says, “we are able to do that which is beyond ourselves.” And today we’re going to learn that the Holy Spirit wants to do something in us that is very much beyond ourselves.
The title of this message is actually The Gift of Community, and that might seem like a strange topic in light of the fact that what I want to do is to speak to you today about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but it won’t be long in this message until you will see the direct connection between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and community–community, communing with Christ and with one another. That’s what the baptism is all about, as we shall discover when we open God’s Word.
And I have to say that when I talk about the baptism of the Spirit unfortunately there’s a lot of confusion and a lot of misconceptions in people’s minds about it, and there are two reasons for that. Number one, oftentimes it is confused with the filling of the Holy Spirit, so somebody who really has an experience with God and God’s intimacy is upon them, and they experience the Holy Spirit in a new way, sometimes they talk about it as being the baptism of the Spirit.
I believe that the famous evangelist, Dwight L. Moody, who founded this church so many years ago, used that terminology. Moody said that he was walking one day in New York City and it seemed as if the Holy Spirit came upon him so powerfully that he went to some friends and asked if he could be in a room alone. And he said as a result of that, his ministry was changed as he had unbelievable intimacy with God. And I believe, and I didn’t check it but if I remember correctly, he called it the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I think Moody would have been more accurate if he had called it the filling of the Spirit, or renewing the filling of the Spirit, because the terminology can get a bit confusing.
Then let me say that another reason why people are confused about it is because it is so often associated with tongues, and speaking in tongues. And you can understand why. In Acts 1 Jesus said in verse 5, “The Holy Spirit shall baptize you not many days from now,” and then you read Acts 2 and discover that they are speaking with tongues, and so people say, “Well, it was really the baptism of the Spirit.”
Now in the next few moments please pay very careful attention because we are going to look at this biblically. And you must understand before we get to the implications which are really huge and momentous and involve you and me, we just need to do a little bit of spade work regarding terminology. And if you have your Bibles, would you turn to Acts 2, that remarkable chapter, because we are going to be beginning there? What you must understand even as you turn to it is this, that when the Holy Spirit came at the day of Pentecost, there were many different ministries of the Spirit. The disciples certainly were baptized by the Holy Spirit. They were filled with the Spirit, and no doubt they also received the sealing of the Spirit, which we are going to discuss in another message in this series. They received all of that, so please keep in mind we just must keep the ministries of the Spirit separate and use biblical terminology.
Now with that, notice in Acts 2 it says this: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place, and suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind and filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
Now you’ll notice that, if anything, the filling of the Spirit is what produced the tongues, not the baptism of the Spirit. Now we know that the Spirit of God baptized them at that point, and in a few moments I’ll tell you what that looked like, and what that is, but for now, just notice it says they were filled with the Spirit. So if anything, it isn’t the baptism that produces tongues. It’s the filling that produces tongues – the filling of the Spirit. We must keep these ministries distinct.
Now I referred to this passage in an earlier message, and I don’t want to go over that material again except to say this. Some of you know I believe that we can show from the New Testament that this special gift of tongues was a special gift at that time, showing that from now on the Gospel is going to go to all the different Gentile nations, and that these were actual languages that people spoke. If you read the next few verses in Acts 2 you discover that all the dialects mentioned are actually from the different countries of the world. And so I believe that this gift, which was exercised in this transitional period in the first century, is always connected with showing that the Gospel is going no longer simply to the Jews but to the wider culture, and that was its dramatic purpose. But it is interesting that after the transition was made, the gift of tongues basically dies out all throughout the centuries of Church history, but it reappears early in the twentieth century as something entirely different. Now it isn’t languages that are spoken. It is an ecstatic utterance. It is some kind of heavenly language. It’s not an actual language that linguists could translate. It’s something else, and from there on you have different versions. There are those who say that they go into this trance. They don’t know what they are saying. Others say that it is something else and that they do know what they are saying. That is a huge discussion and whether or not that really is the biblical gift of tongues or something else I’m not prepared at this point to go into that discussion, except to say that the New Testament gift was actual languages. This appears to be something quite different.
So the point is this though (don’t miss it), that at the Day of Pentecost clearly they were baptized by the Spirit, because Jesus predicted they would be, and they were also filled with the Spirit, and as I mentioned, very probably, obviously, also sealed with the Spirit. All those ministries took place on that very, very special day.
Now with that background what we are going to do is to look at the most important verse in the New Testament on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. You know, the book of Acts is a transitional book so you have these various experiences and terms that are perhaps used, and we don’t know exactly what was meant sometimes. And the reason that we turn to the writings of the New Testament by Paul and Peter and James is because they were led of God to explain what otherwise might be left somewhat unclear in a book like Acts. And so we go to the clearest verse, and from there it explains a lot.
The clearest verse in the New Testament regarding the baptism of the Holy Spirit is actually found in 1 Corinthians 12. Now you can turn to that if you wish, but also keep your finger in Acts 2 because we are going to see what the baptism produced, and for that we are going to go to the experience of the early church in Acts 2. But here now we finally understand what the baptism of the Holy Spirit is all about. You’ll notice in 1 Corinthians 12:12 it says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? The baptism of the Spirit is the work of God by which, when we believe on Christ, we become members of the body of Christ. That’s why you’ll notice that the Apostle Paul says that it is true of all Christians who have believed on Christ. Now there were carnal Christians in Corinth, but Paul didn’t say, “Now, the baptism of the Spirit, those of you who are spiritual you have received it, but some of you carnal people haven’t.” No! The point is if they were converted by the Holy Spirit (and by the way, the conviction of the Spirit and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is the next message in this series, so don’t miss it) Paul didn’t say that some of you have the baptism but others of you don’t. No! He says, “In one spirit we were all baptized into one body.” That’s why in the New Testament you never have a command to be baptized by the Spirit.
I said that once to one of my friends who is in the modern tongues movement. I said, “Show me a text where it says I’m to be baptized by the Holy Spirit.” He admitted, of course, that there was no such text. Why? It is because it is a gift that God gives to all who believe and they become members of the body of Jesus Christ. That is the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Now there is a command to be filled with the Spirit. We’ll talk about that at a later time, but there is no command to be baptized by the Spirit. The bottom line is this. Isn’t this beautiful? Jesus said on one occasion (in John 14), “The day is coming when the Spirit of God comes,” and He said, “When that happens I will be in you and you will be in me.” We all know that we are indwelt by the Spirit if we belong to God. That’s the baptism of the Spirit. We are baptized into Christ.
Now the implications are huge. When you and I are born, we are born, according to the Bible, in Adam. That is to say that Adam is our father. Adam is the one to whom we have loyalty. It becomes the symbol in the New Testament to the flesh, to the old life, to who we are as sinners. That’s Adam out here. And now the Bible says we are now in Christ. And by the way that little expression “in Christ,” means that we are in Christ. I haven’t counted them but I’ve been told it occurs almost a hundred times in the New Testament. We are in Christ. And that gives us two things. Number one, it gives us an entirely different obligation. We are no longer obligated to serve Adam with all of his desires and sins. You understand the symbolism. We have no longer any obligation to do that. But now we have the privilege of serving Christ because we belong to Christ. But furthermore, belonging to Christ and being in Christ now is the real core of our identity. That’s who you are. You are somebody who belongs to Jesus and you are in Jesus. The difference between being in Adam and being in Christ is huge. If you die in Adam, the Bible says you die in your sins. If you die as a believer, you die in Christ, in the Lord. They are two different life styles and two different eternities all because of Jesus Christ. Wow!
Have you learned to pray before you get out of bed? I hope you do. I have told you before that before I roll out of bed in the morning when I’m just reminding myself that there is a day ahead of me, I try not to think of all the things I have to do. Number one, at my age, I can’t remember them all. I have to look at a list, so there’s no use. But what I do is I do pray as I did this morning, “Lord, glorify yourself in my life today at my expense.” I hope that you pray that every morning.
But secondly, what you should also do is pray and thank God that your core identity is you aren’t a banker, you aren’t a teacher, and you aren’t even a mother or a father. Your core identity is somebody who is in Christ and belongs to Him. That is really who you are, thanks to the baptism of the Holy Spirit who put us into Christ.
So the first thing we learn about the baptism is it unites us with Jesus Christ. And by the way, I made this reference to praying. Do it! Do it! Learn to thank God when you get out of bed as to who you are and say, “I thank you, Lord Jesus, that I belong to You. I thank You that I am in You and that is the core of who I am as a redeemed person,” and begin your day that way. You’ll find out it’ll go much better after that.
So first of all, it unites us to Christ. Secondly, it unites us to each other. You’ll notice what the text says in 1 Corinthians: “We are baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks (It overcomes all racial distinctions; you are no longer fundamentally a Jew or fundamentally a Greek; you belong to Christ), slaves or free.” The slave is just as much a member of Jesus Christ’s body as the free man. The poor is just as much a member of Jesus Christ’s body as the rich. Slave or free, all such distinctions! Later on in the book of Galatians Paul says that thanks to the baptism of the Spirit there is no femininity or masculinity. It’s not a matter of being male or female. We are one in Christ, connected to each other, and understandably so because when you stop to think of it, Jesus is the head of the church. We are members of His body (of His flesh and of His bones) and you’ll notice that my hands are connected to the same life and the same system of life as my head or my toes. We are members of the body of Jesus Christ, therefore of necessity, members one of another. We belong to each other.
You know I’ve noticed this. It’s been my privilege on a couple of occasions to be in different parts of the world, even in places where they speak a different language, and in many instances I have preached through an interpreter. But it’s wonderful to know that when you meet another believer in no matter what part of the world it may be, instantly and intuitively by the Spirit there is a bond that you sense of oneness with this person because we share the same life. Jesus put it this way. He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” There’s connectivity. I don’t know if the word connectivity exists but people are using it, so let’s just say it does. There’s a connectivity–a connection–that we have with Christ, and with one another that is very clear because we have been put into Jesus and share the same life.
Let me emphasize that the thing that draws us together as members and friends of Moody Church and of other churches where the Gospel is preached is not that we are here because we have common interests. That’s not the core of our unity or identity. You know, you can have clubs. For example, you can have a photography club or a health club. Rebecca and I were in Colorado one time staying at this bed and breakfast that is owned by a friend of ours, and there were 20 people who came who belonged to a fly fishing club. Now I appreciated them. They were wonderful people. Could I just simply say, however, that they didn’t sign me up to become a part of that? I mean, you know, fly fishing-what do you do with the flies, and what do you do with the fish? I have no idea, but thank God for fly fishing clubs. Those kinds of things are put together because of a common interest, and you know, friendships develop no doubt, and all those other things. We share a common life. We’re connected to one another in Jesus in ways that you can never be connected with somebody simply because you share a common interest.
Now do you see then what happens? When we are baptized by the Spirit, that is to say converted, we become members of Christ, and we become members of one another, and what does that look like? To understand what that looks like we are going to go back to Acts 2 now. I promised you we’d go back to Acts 2, because in Acts 1 we know that the filling of the Spirit occurred, and the baptism of the Spirit occurred. What did it look like in the early church and what should it look like at The Moody Church or any evangelical church where the Gospel is preached?
Look at what happened. I’m going to pick it up at verse 44 of Acts 2: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
Number one, they were united economically. Now there have been those throughout history who have tried to attempt to do actually what the early church did. In our economy and situation that would not work out very well where everybody sold everything and gave it to the apostles or the leadership of the church. You know, it is indeed a different day, and interestingly this is never repeated in the New Testament, nor is there ever a command that we should sell everything and give it to the leaders of the church. I think that that would be a wrong move to make, but let’s not miss the point. These people were so filled with the Spirit that spontaneously and voluntarily they said, “Everything I have I’m going to sell because there are some people who need my resources and I want them to have it.”
I’ll tell you that when a church is filled with the blessed Holy Spirit of God (understanding the baptism of the Spirit, which makes us one) when the Spirit has His way, there is always a spirit of generosity that is so great that people are looking for opportunities to help others. It is the Spirit of God that enables us to break out of our selfish way of living to suddenly begin to look at other people’s needs as if they were our own. That’s what the Holy Spirit is like when He is unleashed in the lives of believers who have become one in Christ. And you can see that economically, generously they became one and they lived out the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Could I say also socially? You’ll notice that it says, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes….” And by the way, that’s not a reference to communion. That’s the fact that they ate together.
I have a friend who wrote a book on hospitality, and he claims that the reason that the early church was the powerhouse that they were is because of hospitality. You know, there’s something about eating together. There’s something about the deep connection that takes place when we fellowship with other people. And this became so attractive to the pagan world. Remember in the pagan world everybody is out for himself or herself. They really don’t care as long as their needs and maybe the needs of their family are looked after. That’s why people can win the lottery–a hundred million dollars–and immediately they think of how they can squander it by themselves. They never sit down, except in one or two instances that I’ve known, and said, “Look at all this money. How can we give it away to the people who need it most?” There are people who die without a will to give to the ministry of the church and missions because they hang on to their wealth and their own concerns. Here the people were so generous. “We can eat together. We invite the pagans to eat together. We build the friendships and we have an opportunity to show the authenticity of the Christian faith.”
And so they were united economically, socially and joyfully. Don’t you like this? And then it says in verse 46, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day, those who were being saved.” What a remarkable thing. Here’s what happened. When the Holy Spirit of God came on that day of Pentecost, the Spirit took these individual selfish believers, with the same hearts that all of us have, and made them one with Jesus Christ. Now they become one with one another, and they were so counter-cultural in a pagan world that was so cruel and selfish that they began to attract the attention of others. Did not Jesus say, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you have love one to another?”
And an indisputable mark of the Holy Spirit is joy. Joy can’t be produced. It can’t be manufactured. It can’t be circumstances. Circumstances can maybe make you happy, but joyful, genuine, free non-guilt joy is a mark of the Holy Spirit of God. And the question is whether or not we are a joyful people because the Spirit produces that in our hearts. Well, you say, “Why is there so little joy?” I’m sorry, folks, but I can tell you that exactly. It’s because sin causes the cup of joy to spring a leak, and there are many Christians who are like a cup half full, and they are trying desperately to spill over, but they’ve got nothing to spill over to anybody because they are so into themselves, and their needs. They are first. The Spirit of God comes and breaks through all of that when He has His way.
Well, they were also united missionally. That’s a contemporary term that talks about the mission of the church. They were united missionally. The Lord was adding people daily to the body of Christ as they witnessed. They were united for mission. Do you know what is interesting in the early church? You have two reactions to the church. On the one hand there were those who feared the church because they feared the holiness of the church. That’s what the Bible says. People didn’t join the church because they feared. There was such a sense of awe. We don’t have that today, but in the early church there was. So on the one hand you have holiness. Holy living really causes the world to be uncomfortable. I mean, if we began to live holy, and if we began to have people who have cheated others give the money back, and make things right and confess their faults one to another, it’s intimidating because all of us desire self-protection.
So on the one hand you have that response. On the other hand, people were attracted to the church because of the love that the early church showed. So on the one hand you have the fear. On the other hand, you have the love, and love won out so many times in the early church. Perhaps you’ve heard me say it before, but the world can outnumber us. The world can out-finance us. The world can out-entertain us, but let it never be said that they can out-love us because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given unto us. It is the ministry and the work of the blessed Holy Spirit of God making us one.
So what’s the bottom line? First of all, in the body of Christ there should be mutual dependence. You know that some of you aren’t finding the Christian life very fulfilling and we all go through periods of dryness like that. Do you know what you need to do? Are you a member of the TMC communities (TMC standing for The Moody Church) communities? If not, you should join. I’ll tell you why you should. This is what Paul says in Colossians: “Being knit together in love to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding in the knowledge of God’s mystery, etc.” What Paul is saying is you can’t enter into the knowledge of Christ and all that God has for you unless you are knit together. The power of the early Church was the connectedness, and in a large church it’s so easy to be disconnected. But it’s terrible to be cut off from the Body.
Remember that story I told you years ago about the doctor friend in Canada? I mean it’s a true story. He had guests staying over at his place and he said to them, “I have to go. I’m on call, but you can have anything to eat that you want in the refrigerator.” And the guests opened the refrigerator door and there wrapped in a plastic bag was a man’s hand. Now according to this guy, he said that he didn’t feel hungry after that. (laughter) He didn’t eat anything. What’s the problem? The hand is actually quite beautiful. Just take a look. Look at my two hands. I brought both of them with me this morning. The problem is that the hand is beautiful, but cut off from the body it’s pretty gruesome. And if you are a Christian, listening to this message, and you are not part of connectedness with other believers, it’s amazing how you cannot attain to what Paul says comes to us through Christ.
And there’s mutual dependence and mutual concern. You know sometimes I have stumbled walking, and I have to walk very carefully because you know at certain ages you have to make sure that you go down the stairs correctly, but if I were to stumble going down these stairs (as I did once or twice) my hands would reach out and they would prevent my head or any other parts of the body from getting hurt. They are willing to take the blow. They say, “We’d rather have broken fingers than for you to hit your head.” Could you imagine a church where we had that kind of protectiveness and that kind of concern for one another? Let me take the fall for you. Let me bear your burden as if it is mine. That’s the way the early church functioned. Why? It was because the Spirit was within them, but also they were in Christ. The Spirit is in me for power-Christ in me for power. I am in Christ for my position and privilege. That is my identity. I am in Christ. “For by one Spirit have you all been baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greek, whether rich or free, whether black or white, whether rich or poor.” Whatever–we are united, and that’s what the Spirit does to all who believe.
Remember that you are baptized by the Spirit when you receive Christ as Savior and you become members of the Body of Christ. It’s a gift given by the Spirit. You enter into a new community, and please keep that in mind. It is through faith in Christ alone.
Yesterday I was flying back from Minneapolis and I was sitting beside a man, and I sat there only a few minutes because the seat on the other side of me was free, and you know the elbowroom thing, so I did move over. But I talked to him for about ten or fifteen minutes. The bottom line was he was raised in a Christian church, but he pretty well turned against it because he said that all that this church had were rules, rules, rules. And then he made this statement, which I wrote down in my notes this morning. He said (and now I am quoting), “They were so full of rules they found so many different ways to go to hell.”
The only thing I said to him, and I didn’t really spend a lot of time witnessing to him, and I should have but I thought, “Well, he does know the Gospel.” So that was my fault, but I thought that was an interesting statement. The only thing I told him was that it’s a matter of relationship; it’s not a matter of rules. I said, “What people forget is it’s your relationship with Christ,” but that was his perception of the Church. There are so many different ways to go to hell.
This morning as I was reflecting on it I thought actually another response might have been that there’s only one way to go to hell and that is to just be who you are, period, because you are born in Adam, and you die in your sin. If you don’t receive Jesus Christ as your Savior, that is ultimately the only way for you to be lost forever because salvation is in Christ. As I mentioned a moment ago, you either die in Adam and you die in your sin, or you die in Christ and you are welcomed into heaven as if you were Jesus.
But the bottom line is this: Do we understand what the Holy Spirit did when He baptized us into the Body? In a moment we are going to be singing Make Us One, Lord and as I was thinking about that I thought, “You know, we are already one." We really are. What we are doing as we sing is we are saying, “Lord, make it a reality. Let us show it through our generosity, through our commitment to each other, through bearing other people’s burdens.” You’d be surprised what would happen if the Spirit had His way. Are you ready for that? Is your life open to the ministry of the Spirit to fundamentally change your attitude about others, about your priorities? Look at the early church. It’s there, transforming community.
Let’s pray together.
Our Father we want to thank You today that we are joined to Jesus and that we share His life, and the very life of Christ is within us. We thank you, Father, that we are joined to Him, and that in grace He is even within us. Lord, we’re sitting on all of this power, and all of these possibilities. Would you open the life and the hearts of this congregation and my heart that we might understand what would happen if the Spirit truly had His way? We ask that you will help us to demonstrate the oneness that we have in Him. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.