Monday, November 15, 2010

When Christians Gather It's Always Church

What should it look like when Christians gather?  We all have church, family, and friend functions where all or just about all present are Christians.  Unfortunately, so many times, it is just like a gathering of worldly people.  It cheats as as Christians in that we do not have that spiritual growth by challenging and supporting one another and it hurts our witness in that those not Christian among us or those who see us see no difference at all.  Unfortunately, this is an area that I myself have failed at from time to time, but it is also something the Lord is speaking to me strongly about.  When we gather as believers, we should act like we are believers.  Today I want to show what the Bible says in how we should interact with one another.

The first part of this discussion will be to define what church is.  I know that many of the verses in the Bible that I will refer to are generally used in reference to a church service.  But what is church?  We seem to think that if its not Sunday and sometimes Wednesday night, that it is not church.  We seem to think that if there is no teaching or organized worship service, that it is not church.  The Bible is clear, though, that church is really when 2 or more gather in the name of Jesus.  Church is anywhere where Christians are.  I say that because church is not a building, but it is the body of believers.  If the body of believers gather, for any reason, it is church. 
"For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."  Matthew 18:20 NKJV
When we gather as Christians, Jesus is in the midst of us.  You may make the argument that you are not really gathered in His name.  We should not be looking for loopholes in the Word of God.  Even if you are gathered to celebrate someone's birthday, a national holiday, or a sporting event, or even if you are just out to dinner with friends, you should still count yourself gathered in His name.  Do you say grace before you eat?  If so, you just created your own little church service around the dinner table.  Does the Holy Spirit dwell within you?  If so then you are gathered in His name because He lives inside you.  You can not gather NOT in His name when you bring God with you wherever you go.  This passage is not that Jesus magically appears when 2 or more gather, but because Jesus is already present in the hearts of believers through the Holy Spirit.  Even if you do not buy the argument that whenever we gather as Christians, it is in some way a church service, we are commanded to make it one.
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  1 Corinthians 10:31 NKJV
Anything we do in life, we need to do it to the glory of God.  If we gather with family, we need to gather for the glory of God.  If gather as sports fans, we need to be sports fans for the glory of God.  If we go out for dinner, we have to go out for dinner for the glory of God.  When we ask ourselves in all that we do, if we are doing it for the glory of God, it will change our behavior.  If we are gathered for the glory of God, we will not have "men's ministry" services at a bar drinking beer (and yes I have heard of churches doing that).  If we are gathered for the glory of God, we will not have petty arguments.  If we gather for the glory of God, we will encourage one another and lift each other up.  If we gather for the glory of God, we will challenge and help each other in our struggles.  If we gather for the glory of God, we will have a powerful witness to those nonbelievers among us and who witness us. 

So if we are to gather for the glory of God, what should that look like?  Well first of all, we need to see what kinds of things give glory to God.
"By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples." John 15:8 NKJV
God is glorified by the fruit that we bear.  And what kind of fruit are we to bear?  Well there are two kinds of fruits.  There are fruits that you express and fruits that you bear.  First let us talk about the fruit we express as being Christians living under the Holy Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV
If we are living under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we will express His fruit. We see that fruit listed above: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  Those attributes will come to define our lives as we grow in the Spirit.  We need to express those fruits as part of our glorifying God.  God is gloried in the expression of that fruit in that our lives become a testimony to His power.  People will see change in our lives and that change shows the world just how real God is.  

The expression of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives gives us the ability to bear fruit in the lives of others.  The second kind of fruit is the fruit we bear. 
"Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. " John 4:35-36 NKJV
The other fruit is the fruit that we bear.  That fruit is our effect on the other lives for Jesus.  The world is full of souls hungry for the message we have, and it is for us to deliver that message by our words and actions.  The eternal fruit that we are to bear is fruit unto our Lord, that is souls saved for Christ.  We do not save anyone ourselves, but by expressing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and sharing the testimony of Who effected that change, others will be led to Christ.  When we come to Christ, our entire lives need to focus on bringing others to the Lord.  Whether it be living righteously for Christ, training others up in Christ, sharing the gospel of Christ, it all works together to bring others to Christ. 

The eternal fruit borne out of our witness is the fruit that gives glory to God.  If we are to do all for the glory of God, we are to do all for bearing fruit unto Jesus.  If are to do all for the glory of God, we are to do all expressing the fruit of the Spirit that dwells within us.  So what should our gatherings look like?  Again, the answer is in Scripture.
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:24-25 NKJV
When we gather as believers, we should act in such a way to stir up love and good works and exhorting one another.  That means when we meet, we should encourage one another to live righteously.  We are to encourage one another to do good works, not sinful ones.  We also are to exhort one another, that is to challenge on another on bad works.  If makes sense that if we are to encourage one another for good works, that part of that is to discourage one another from bad works.  We are also to stir up love and that love is expressed in encouraging, challenging, and supporting one another.  It is also expressed in praying for one another.   Loving one another is very important.  it is how the world knows we are His. 
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."  John 13:34-35 NKJV
Our love for each other is a sign to the world that we are Christian.  Love is an expression not just a feeling and so when we gather we must not just say we love one another, but act like it.  That love was expressed in the early church and it had a great effect on the world.
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.  Acts 2:44-47 NKJV
The early church expressed that love in that they gave up all their possessions so that the needs of all were met.  In that example, we should be generous with our brothers and sisters so none are in need.  They ate with one another, including the Lord's Supper.  We are great at eating with one another, but how often do we partake of the Lord's Supper outside of church?  This is something not only to be observed in church, but as often as we break bread (or eat) with one another.  They also praised God together.  Worship is not only to be done at church, but is something we can do whenever we gather.  Praising God brings people together.  It puts the focus on the Lord who brought you all together and not any petty differences that may keep you apart.  They lived as though they were one, they loved each other as though they were one, and the effect was a powerful witness.  That small early church was a powerful witness, reaching the ends of the world with their witness. 

When we gather as Christians for any reason, it must be for the glory of God.  God's glory needs to be the center of all that we do.  If we can not do something for the glory of God, we should not do it.  If we meet brothers and sisters in the Lord to go fishing, we should do so for the glory of God.  If we meet for sports, we should do so for the glory of God.  If we meet for meals, we should do so for the glory of God.  If we meet at a bar to drink, we should do that for the glory of God.  I hope that last one caught your attention.  There are some things we can not do for the glory of God.  Going out drinking is one of them.  If all we do needs to be for the glory of God, we need to refrain from things that can not be done for God's glory.  As we get together for the glory of God, God will be the focus of our conversations and of our relationships to one another.  The fruits of the Spirit will be expressed and our love for one another will be a testimony to those who do not believe.  Souls will be reached for Christ.  God will be glorified. 

There is no way around it.  You can not say that as believers you can just not meet in the name of the Lord.  Our faith is not some hat or t-shirt we can take off and put on as the mood fits.  Our faith is our purpose for living. Our faith needs to define who we are.  And with that, our faith needs to define how we meet with other believers whether or not it is Sunday.  If Jesus has the proper place in our lives, that will come naturally.  You are of the elect of God, all you are and even your very life is in the name of the Lord.  It's time we put Jesus on the throne and in that do all things unto Him.  I am, as my custom, to close with a passage from Scripture.  Keep this Word on your hearts as you interact with your brothers and sisters.  Our witness to the world begins with sharing the love Christ has for us with our fellow believers. 
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  Colossians 3:12-17 NKJV

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