COMMUNITY by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC
Introduction: The history of our world is littered with countless obsoletes. Think about the technological obsoletes of the past few decades—phone booths, calling cards, pagers, palm pilots, floppy disks, Kodak films, calculator watches, Sony Walkman, etc. Many of the things we use today will probably become obsolete by tomorrow. Lately, in light of the current crisis, some people are claiming that even how we interact with each other (shaking hands, gathering in crowds) is going to become obsolete and they are applying this even to the church. They are claiming that we won’t necessarily come together physically. Instead, we may do all this over technology with small groups of people gathering here and there. Please listen carefully: No matter what will become obsolete in this world with regards to technology and cultural habits, the church of Jesus Christ will never become obsolete. God has said in his word that his church will remain no matter what and the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it. Throughout the history of Christianity, peoples and governments have prognosticated the death of the gathered church. They died but the church still gathers and lives on. Today’s message is heavy on my heart. We’re going back to Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We’ve studied portions of this letter before but now we’re starting a new series titled COMMUNITY.
Philippians 1 1 “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.”
Question: What do you believe about the gathered church? Do you belong to the church of God? Are you saved?
Background: Those of you who’ve been at Clearview for some time may remember that, in 2018, we went through the first chapter of Philippians, and then, last year (2019), we covered the second chapter. That series was called “MIND (RE)SET.” For the benefit of those who weren’t here last year or the year before, I want to quickly mention 2 things as background information:
First, the Philippians were Paul’s pride and joy. He had founded the church in Philippi. If you remember, Paul had come to Philippi in response to the Macedonian Call. Acts 16 tells us of 3 dramatic conversions: first, a business woman named Lydia by the Zygaktis or Krenides River (I’ve been there); second, a slave girl who was demon possessed; and third was the Philippian jailer and his whole family. If you want to know how Paul felt about the Philippian church, listen again to Philippians 1:3 “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…”
Question: Do you thank God every time you think about the church? Do you miss the time we had together? Do people say that about you?
Second, this was not just an ordinary letter. Paul wrote this letter from a prison cell in Rome. How do we know that? Philippians 1:7 “…both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel…” Again, verse 13 “so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ.” More than likely, Paul was in a house arrest situation since he was able to send letters and receive friends. Nonetheless, this was a serious situation. Listen to Philippians 1:20 “…Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.” Meaning: There was a strong possibility that Paul will not make it alive out of this prison. In the midst of such grave uncertainty, Paul took the time to write to the Philippian church. Why? When we read the letter carefully, we find 2 hints that help us understand the purpose for the letter:
- Paul mentions the word “chara” joy about 5 times in various forms:
- Philippians 1:4 “always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy.”
- Philippians 1:25 “…I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith.”
- Philippians 2:2 “…fulfill my joy by being like-minded”
- In Philippians 2:29 Paul wants them to receive Epaphroditus, one of his companions in ministry, with joy.
- Philippians 4:1 Paul calls them, “…my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown…”
Paul also uses the related word “chairo” meaning rejoice about 7 times in various forms. The most famous one being Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” Because of this some people have assumed that Philippians is Paul’s letter to teach us the importance of Joy in the midst of trials. This could’ve been true if it wasn’t for the second hint.
- Paul repeatedly talks about division among the Philippians.
- Philippians 1:27 “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ…stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
- Philippians 2:2 “…fulfill my joy by being like-minded”
- Philippians 2 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
- Philippians 2:14 “Do all things without complaining and disputing.”
- Philippians 3:16 “…let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.”
- Philippians 4:2 “I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.”
What exactly was happening in the Philippian church? There were divisions in the body and because of that joy was leaking out. Please listen very carefully: Nothing will deplete joy in the Christian life faster than division in your life, your marriage, your family, and your church. All it takes is for one divisive person to start something and before you know it, the whole body is infected with a spirit of division.
The current crisis has scattered the church. That doesn’t have to be bad if we try to use it as a limited time opportunity to spread the gospel of God in creative ways. Then, it’s time to come back together as a church. Technology can never be a substitute to the actual gathering of the people of God in a physical location. Pockets of people meeting online or in someone’s home is not church. How about Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them”? Have you read the context? Let me read to you Matthew 18:17 “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” That passage about 2 or 3 is given in the context of church discipline! Don’t get me wrong. We want small groups, Sunday School groups, and inner circles, but they are not to become a substitute for church.
Let me go back to where we began: No matter what will become obsolete in this world with regards to technology and cultural habits, the church of Jesus Christ will never become obsolete. God has said in his word that his church will remain no matter what and the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it.
- Jesus is the founder of the church. Anything he has founded cannot be destroyed. In fact, the church is referred to as the “bride of Christ” (Revelation 19 and 21).
- The church is not just a group hanging out here and there. It refers to the assembly in Jerusalem, Antioch, Derbe, Lystra, Ephesus, Philippi, etc. 1 Corinthians 10:17 “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.”
- When Paul talks about the church, he is referring to the “concrete assembly of those who have been baptized at a specific place.” (J. Roloff) The model were the early synagogues of the Jewish people. Yes, the church are the people primarily but the places they met is also the church. It was a visible representation of their presence in a city or town. That’s why I like the steeple.
- Listen to the imagery of the church in Ephesians 2 19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
The famous theologian John Stott said, “The church lies at the very center of the eternal purpose of God. It is not a divine afterthought. It is not an accident of history.”
Throughout the history of Christianity, peoples and governments have prognosticated the death of the gathered church. They died but the church still gathers and lives on.
Hebrews 10 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhortingone another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Conclusion: What do you believe about the church, the physical gathering of the body of believers in a physical location? Do you think God has stepped away from the church, saying, “this Covid-19 really got me; y’all going to have to figure this one out”? If you care about the Lord, then you will care about his bride, the church. Are you allowing someone to create division in the body? Are you a member of the body of Christ? Are you saved?