MARKS OF AN ENCOURAGING CHURCH – 2

MARKS OF AN ENCOURAGING CHURCH – 2 by Pastor Shah, Clearview, Henderson

Marks of an Encouraging ChurchIn this message we will come face-to-face with many different characters from the early church. They were flesh and blood human beings just like us. But, they were worthy enough to be mentioned in the Bible because they were a great source of encouragement to Paul and to each other. Our generation can definitely learn from these personalities were about to encounter in this passage.

Romans 16:1-5   1 I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea,  2 that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus,  4 who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.  5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who labored much for us.  7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

Overall Background:  Most people, when they come to Romans 16, just skip past the names mentioned by Paul and their description along with it. To them, they are no different than the genealogies that are found in the Old and the New Testaments, just some names that are hard to pronounce. Who cares? Let’s get to the good part. But as one scholar noted, “for those few who are especially interested in the socioeconomic composition of the early church, it is a gold mine.” (Douglas Moo) Meaning: If we want to know what the early church looked like, study these names and their descriptions. In these 16 verses, we come face-to-face with 26 Christians who lived 2000 years ago. These were common people with common problems. They probably had the same struggles we do, same weaknesses we have, and same trials we face. But, there were three things that qualified them to be included in the Bible – first, they knew Jesus Christ as their Savior; second, they were a great source of great encouragement to each other; and three, they were in the business of ministry – reaching people for the kingdom.

We need to hear this message today – many of us have such a distorted view of what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be a member of a church, what it means to serve God as a body. This message teaches us what our church should look like. It teaches that what our focus should be. It teaches us how everyone has something to offer in the church. Let this message be a mirror for you this morning.

Without further due, let’s meet these Christians. There are 7 different personalities.

I. MEET PHOEBE – A SERVANT

1 I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea,

Background: Keep in mind that Phoebe was not from Rome. She was coming to Rome and Paul was writing this letter as a commendation, asking the Roman Christians to help her. For starters, Phoebe was probably a Gentile believer. Her name Phoebe comes from Greek mythology – the goddess of prophecy, who held the oracle at Delphi. We don’t know how she got saved but she did. Paul knew her from Cenchrea. He probably met her when he was in Corinth for 18 months and Cenchrea was was only 8 miles from Corinth. Maybe Paul started the church in Cenchrea and led her to the Lord. We don’t know that for sure. What we do know about her is her reputation. Paul calls her a “servant.” He does not use that term lightly. Several times he used it to refer to himself:

Ephesians 3:7 “…I became a servant according to the gift of the grace of God.”

Colossians 1:25 “…I became a servant according to the stewardship from God…”

He encourages Timothy in 1Timothy 4:6 to be “a good servant of Jesus Christ.”

In Romans 15:8 he even refers to Jesus as a “servant to the circumcision for the truth of God.”

The word servant is not an ordinary title in Paul’s vocabulary. It was someone who gave their life for others. Can you picture Phoebe? If someone is sick, she is the first to bake a casserole or a pie. If there is a fellowship dinner, you can count on Phoebe to cook, to clean, and to wash the dishes. If there is need for helpers in a class or at an outreach ministry, Phoebe will gladly volunteer.

Listen to what else Paul says about her in verse 2 “…receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, (What a great complement! Treat her like you would treat the saints – Moses, David, Peter, James, and the other) and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.” What is amazing to me is that Paul is putting his own credentials on the line for this woman!

Application: What is your reputation? Servant or Helper. Or is it selfish, troublemaker, or gossip. Would someone like Paul put his credentials on the line for you? Praise God for the servants. Our church has many care-givers who work behind the scenes.

II. MEET AQUILA AND PRISCILLA – RISK TAKERS

3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus,

Background: Who were these two? They were a husband-wife missionary team. Paul first met them at Corinth. At that time, they had to leave their home in Rome because the Roman Emperor Claudius had kicked out the Jewish people from the city. They were also tent makers like Paul. They were fellow workers who helped Paul in Corinth and later in Ephesus. They were instrumental in discipling Apollos. They did not do that publicly or proudly but Acts 18:26 notes that “they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” What a beautiful picture of spiritual maturity!

But there’s more – verse 4 who risked their own necks for my life. Meaning: They were not just great Bible teachers and discipleship leaders. They were risk-takers. They were willing to put their lives at risk so that the gospel would go forward. Nothing significant is ever done without a certain amount of risk. Most Christians say “Give me some proof” or “Give me some guarantee.” Clint Eastwood – “If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.” Most churches are like a toaster. You go in fluffy and come out jammed or burnt.

Will Rogers – “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.”

Paul goes on to say, “to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.  5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house.

Application: What is your reputation? Firm as a pillar, hard as a rock, favorite song is “I shall not be moved.” Are you the safe player? Or, are you a risk taker?

III. MEET EPAENETUS – SAMPLE

Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.

Background: Some people say “firstfruits” means that Epaenetus was Paul’s “first convert in Acahaia. Could be. But then Paul could have said “first convert.” He specifically uses the term “firstfruits” to refer to Epaenetus. What are “firstfruits?” Before the Israelites harvested the crops, they were supposed to bring a sample to the priest as an offering to the Lord. It was a sample of the greater, fuller harvest to come.

For e.g. When we go to the mall and then go by the food court – they offer you samples. “If you like this, you can have more.”

Epaenetus was a constant reminder of the greater harvest still to come. New converts are a must in every church. They are a reminder that more harvest can come.  tweet this button A church with no firstfruits is a dying, defeated, and discouraging church.

Vance Havner – “We are not going to move this world by criticism of it nor conformity to it, but by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God.”

How is our reputation? Do we have firstfruits? Do we welcome firstfruits? Is this a place where firstfruits are seen as a sign of more to come?

IV. MEET MARY, ANDRONICUS, AND JUNIA – FAITHFUL PARTNERS

6 Greet Mary, who labored much for us.

Background: The Greek word for “labor” is considered by some scholars to be a designation for early missionary enterprise. People like Mary have been in the trenches for a long time. The emphasis is on “much.”

Again verse 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

The emphasis there is on “before me.” There were people like Andronicus and Junia who were tried and true fellow Christians in the church. You can count on them. It’s great to have new people but it’s also beautiful to be around people who have been there through the thick and thin. They don’t bail out, back out, jump ship, walk out, “take their toys and go home.” I tell people who threaten to take their toys and go home, “Your replacement is already in the wings.”

Application: Is this your reputation? Tried and true, consistent, faithful, and trustworthy, dependable, reliable.

V. MEET AMPLIAS, URBANUS, STACHYS, APELLES – VALUABLE

8 Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord.  9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved.  10 Greet Apelles, approved in Christ.

Background: Not much is said about them, just a word on each. Based on their names, more than likely they were either slaves or freedmen. But Paul found it necessary to greet them because they were valuable. Like the description of Apelles – “approved in Christ.” Meaning = they were people who proved their value in time.

There are people in church that are very valuable. If they did not show up, something would be missing. From greeters, to audio-visual, to kitchen, to nursery, they make a difference.

Application: May I ask you a question? – When you miss a Sunday or a Wednesday or another event, are you missed? Or do things go on as usual? People say – “If I knew what to do, I would get involved.” Start showing up. Start reading the bulletin, monthly newsletter, and weekly newsletter. Ask to volunteer. Get started somewhere. It may not be the end ministry but it’s a step in the door. You don’t have to preach, sing, or teach but there’s something you can do that makes all this work.

VI. MEET FAMILIES OF ARISTOBULUS, HERODION, AND NARCISSUS – INFLUENTIAL

10…Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus.

Background: Many scholars have held that this Aristobulus was none other than the grandson of Herod the Great and brother of Herod Agrippa of Judea. This is a very wealthy and influential family. 11 Greet Herodion, my countryman. Meaning: This person was also connected to the family of Herod. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Narcissus was a wealthy and powerful freedman under Emperor Claudius.

Bottom Line – There were wealthy, resourceful, influential people in the church. The church is not just a place for the poor and the downtrodden but also for the wealthy.

Application: Are you using your resources for the Kingdom of God? Are you being a good steward of what God has given to you?

VII. MEET THE REST – SAINTS

I’m going to read the names even though we will not examine them in detail, like the rest. They deserve to be mentioned.

12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord.  13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.  14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them.  15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.

The word that Paul uses in the end to designate all of them is “Saints.” He doesn’t call them laypeople, church folks, or church members but saints, meaning set apart ones.

Invitation:

–       What do you see in the mirror?

–       Did you see yourself in one of those categories?

–       Do you see yourself at all?

If you don’t see yourself, it’s because you are not in Him. You need to be saved.

Maybe, you do see yourself but all you see is someone sitting on the sidelines. You walk in and walk out, no contribution, no ministry, and no service. It’s time to get up and get involved. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in what He wants you to do.

MARKS OF AN ENCOURAGING CHURCH – 1

MARKS OF AN ENCOURAGING CHURCH – 1 by Pastor Shah, Clearview, Henderson

Marks of an Encouraging ChurchThis morning’s message is part one of a two-part miniseries titled “MARKS OF AN ENCOURAGING CHURCH.” Many churches promise the right hand of fellowship but what you end up getting is the right knee of fellowship.

Romans 14:10-13  10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  11 For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.  13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.

Overall Background:  We have come to the final pages of Paul’s letter to the Romans. He began this letter with doctrine and then transitioned into application but he is not through. There’s something else on his heart. Just like a father writing to his children on his deathbed, Paul’s last words are not just fillers but I think they are some of the most important words in the letter. Paul through the Holy Spirit is reminded the Christians to be steadfast in unity and love towards each other. A church can be orthodox, gifted, and financially stable, but without love, it will fall apart. tweet this button

Both the OT and the NT emphasize unity and love among God’s people:

–       David wrote in Psalm 133:1 “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”

–       II Chronicles 30:12 “…the hand of God was on Judah to give them singleness of heart to obey the command of the king and the leaders, at the word of the LORD.”

–       Jesus told his disciples in John 13:34-34   34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

–       Jesus prayed for His disciples – John 17:21 “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. The proof of the incarnation of Jesus is unity!

Sadly, many churches are straight in doctrine, loaded in gifts and talents, and abundant in financial resources but have failed in love. By our lack of unity and love we are destroying our witness and failing the Great Commission.

This morning we will learn 4 important marks of an encouraging church:

I. NONJUDGMENTAL OVER PERSONAL CONVICTIONS

Romans 14:1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. There are some things over which the Bible is clear and straightforward. Then there are some things where the Bible leaves room for interpretation. There we shouldn’t get into heated debates. Augustine once said – “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Sadly in many churches the nonessentials become the focus.

Background: Among the Roman Christians, there were 2 groups of people: those who were ‘weak in faith’ and those who were ‘strong in faith.’ The weak were those Jewish Christians who felt that they had to refrain from certain foods and observe certain days out of loyalty to the Law of Moses. There were 2 questions that divided them – First, should we eat meat? Romans 14:2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Isn’t that amazing that most church conflicts happen over food?!! “Who brought the food? Who didn’t bring the food? Who got in line first? Who stayed around and helped clean up?

Second, should we celebrate the Jewish holy days? Romans 14:5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Again, isn’t that amazing that not much has changed today?!! What day is sacred? Sunday or Saturday. My answer – Everyday!

How should we respond to these differences? Recognize that there is a difference between biblical convictions and personal convictions. Romans 14:3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.  4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. Meaning: I’m not called to sit in judgment over your convictions and you are not called to sit in judgment over my convictions. Keep in mind – this is not regarding sin. Paul covered that already when he said in Romans 13:13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.

For e.g. Some people think that social media like Facebook and Twitter are of the Devil. That’s your personal conviction. Just like when radio first came, some people opposed it saying, “Satan is the prince of the power of the air.”

Romans 14:10 10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  11 For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.

II. NON-OFFENSIVE TOWARDS THOSE WHO STRUGGLE.

Romans 14:13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.

Background: Just because you are entitled to live by your personal convictions or the lack thereof, you are still obligated to be sensitive to those who are weaker. Don’t put a stumbling block and cause your brother or sister to fall.

Romans 14:14-18  14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.  15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.  16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil;

I often hear – I can do this because the Bible doesn’t say anything against it or I can do this because David did this or Jesus did that. We can argue ad infinitum and it doesn’t matter. Is it going to make you son or daughter stumble in their spiritual life? Is going to make a weak brother/sister fall in their spiritual growth? Then you are obligated to stop.

Someone might say – “Well, that’s his or her problem. I am not responsible for their actions and choices.” The last time someone said that was in Genesis 4:9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Romans 14:17-18  17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Paul is talking to those with personal convictions – don’t put others in a bind by your personal convictions because of your preferences. It’s not about food and drink anyways.

18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.

Bottom Line: Christian life is not about my rights. It is about my obligations.

III. BUILDING ONE ANOTHER LIKE JESUS

Rom. 14:19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. 

Background: The word for edify is the Greek word ‘oikadomei’ which is literally ‘building something.’ Meaning: We are God’s co-laborers in building each other spiritually.

Now, Paul is talking to both the ‘weak in faith’ and ‘strong in faith.’ Romans 14:20-21  20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. 21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.

Romans 15:1 We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.  3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.”

Meaning: Our example in all this is Jesus Himself. Just like He gave His life for His sheep, we are to lay down our lives for each other.

Application: Whose example are you emulating this morning? It should be Jesus.

What will be the result? Romans 15:5-6  5 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus,  6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.”

IV. FILLED WITH HOPE BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Romans 15:13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Hope means something better is on the way. Don’t get caught up in the here and now but realize that we are simply passing through. Only the Holy Spirit can help us see that.

Do you have Him? Through Jesus as your Savior you can.

Does He have you? Let Him control your life completely.

Does our church have Him? We have constantly pray for that.

%d bloggers like this: