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Devoted to the Fellowship: The Glory of the Church

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

SERMON POWERPOINT

Stonebrook Pillars:  Devoted to the Fellowship

The Glory of the Church

At age 19 as a sophomore here at Iowa State, I had been a Christian for only a month or so when I met up with the people of Stonebrook.  Overall it was a very young church.  Most people in their 20’s.  Some people were super old:  in their 30’s and married.  Ancient.  At that time, the church wasn’t even called a church.  And they didn’t meet in a traditional building on Sunday mornings.  They met Friday night and Sunday night.  Music, Bible teaching, prayer.  Many of the things we do here at Stonebrook.

But it wasn’t church as I defined church.  So while I planned to continue going Friday and Sunday evenings, for a couple of weeks I visited another church on Sunday mornings.

I told my new friend at Stonebrook I was going on Sunday morning in order to go to church.  He said something very simple yet very profound:  Church is not a building; it’s people.

I had never thought of that.  I had always considered church to be a building and meeting time on Sunday morning.

It occurred to me:  the group of several hundred people meeting on a Friday night and Sunday night WAS a church. 

And as the next few months went along, what I saw in this church impressed me.

The people were serious about God.  Their Christianity was no hobby or an hour-a-week pastime.    They took their faith seriously.  And there was such love.  Such a devotion to one another. 

We are in a series looking at Stonebrook’s Pillars.  These seven Pillars are our core values.  Qualities that we seek to be exemplary in.  That every person here who calls himself or herself a follower of Jesus will be growing in.

Today’s Pillar is “Devoted to the fellowship.”

This phrase is taken from Acts 2:42

Acts 2:42 CSB They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.

I know many of you know this and you believe it.  And you are committed to this.  You actually are devoted to one another.

So to many of you, this topic this morning may seem so obvious and elementary.  Others of you aren’t there yet.

To all of us I would like to spend our short time together this morning looking at why this fellowship called the church is so glorious.  So wonderful and beautiful.  And WHY we ought to be devoted to it. 

The Church is Called

Several words can describe this group of people who love Jesus and walk with him together. 

  1. The Fellowship.  The Greek word here is koinonia.  The sharing of life together.
  2. The church.  The word “church” in the Greek language is ekklesia [ek-klay-SEE-a] and it can also be translated as “the assembly.”   This can mean something as simple as any generic group of people who assemble together.  But almost every use of the word in the NT refers to the assembly of God’s people… all those who believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead to save them from their sins.    
  3. Family (or household) of God.
  4. Body of Christ

The handout in your bulletin is for your use later.  It gives a brief summary of what the church is and what its purpose is. 

In our society, there are many, many types of “assemblies” of people.

  • There are fraternities and sororities in college.
  • There is the Elks Lodge.
  • Professional societies.  I used to be a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
  • Sports teams—at least the successful ones—constantly speak of being like a family.

God has designed us in his image as social beings.  We all want to and need to be with others.  Some of us want that very strongly, some of us less.  But we all want to and need to be with other people.

Called into the Church

But the church is not just another group.  The church—the fellowship—is unique and distinct because it has been established by God himself.  When he saves sinners from his wrath, he adopts them as his children, thus making them part of his family.  He is heavenly Father to his family. 

So far, all this sounds very obvious to many of you.  Nothing new. 

But consider this:  God’s church stands out among all other social groups because God himself has called his children to be a part of it.  God calls his people to join together to live life.

Joining a club or a society is completely optional.  Being in God’s family, the church, and being devoted to it is not an option.  Through faith in Jesus, you are BORN into this family. 

John 1:12–13 CSB But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.

Again, this sounds so obvious to so many of us.  But Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth, has called you into fellowship with one another in his family. 

If you have believed in Jesus, you have been born of God.   Part of his family.  It’s non-negotiable.  You cannot have Jesus and not have his family, too.

He could have saved us and then asked us to walk with him by ourselves.  But he didn’t.  He called us into a community that TOGETHER…together…walks with him. 

This places a weight—a holy weight—on our gathering.

When I was growing up, I attended church.  When God saved me as a 19-year old, that changed.  I met these people at Stonebrook, within about 6 months, I realized I no longer merely attending church, I was a member of the church.  I belonged to something God called me into.  I was part of a family.

Are you persuaded—do you have deep conviction—that as a Jesus follower you have been called by God into this family?  This Body?

This family—the church—is led by the Triune God.

Ephesians 4:4–6 CSB  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

He is Father, we his children.   Jesus is the Head, we are the Body.    The Spirit is our Guide. 

So here is a question for you to consider:  Do I see myself as an attender at a church, or as a member?  A vital participant?

And this isn’t just a Stonebrook thing, by the way.  Whatever local church a follower of Jesus ends up at, he or she needs to answer this question. 

We are to be devoted to the fellowship because we are called by God through his Son into his eternal family.

The Church is Glorious

And this takes us into a second reason why we should be devoted to God’s people.  There is a glory to the church.

Something beautiful and spiritual and heavenly. 

In addition to the passages we’ve already looked at, here’s another verse that declares the glory of the church: 

1 Peter 2:9 CSB  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

You are a special people.

Chosen by God.

A royal “kingly” priesthood.  A royal family of princes and princesses.  And you serve as priests to God, servants of God.

Holy.  Like a holy nation.  Israel under the Old Covenant was to be a holy nation unto God, but they didn’t typically live like it.

The church is to be like a holy nation.

A people belonging to God.

And we are to declare the praises of God who snatched us out of eternal darkness into the light of his glorious kingdom. 

This verse describes the foundation of what I want to communicate this morning.

There is something glorious about God’s people assembled together.

And it’s not simply Stonebrook.  It’s all of God’s people gathered in homes and buildings all over the world.

Look to your left.   Look to your right.   Behind you.  Ahead of you.

(Now that that awkward moment is over with….)  J  …..Each person who knows Jesus is part of something grand and glorious.

These are people that God calls you to be devoted to.  To love.  To worship with.  To share life together.

These people are your heavenly family.  A glorious community. 

But timeout.  Timeout.  We have to stop right here.  There are two glaring problems with this whole point.  Two problems.  Two great challenges.

The first is Me.

And can you guess the second problem?

The second is You.

Just two problems.  Me and you.  Other than that, Stonebrook has no problems!  J

You see, if you are perceptive, an objection has already entered your mind. 

The objection goes like this:  “The people in my row don’t LOOK so glorious.  That guy up on the stage definitely doesn’t look so glorious.   In fact, every single person I know here don’t seem very glorious at all.  They sin.  They have flaws.  They are selfish at times.  Even proud.  Occasionally rude.  And I’ve been hurt.  What is so glorious about that?”

And also if we’re completely honest, we ourselves don’t look so glorious either.  I can come here selfish.  Irritable.   I can say hurtful things to you.  I can be neglectful of you. 

But when I say the “Church is glorious,” what do I really mean?  I mean that ultimately it’s not that we are so glorious in and of ourselves.  It’s that Christ in us is glorious.

I love this passage, and I think of it often. 

2 Corinthians 4:5–7 CSB For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake. 6 For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us.

God’s glory is on display in us.  In the church.

We live in these clay jars.  Earthen, fragile bodies.  But in us is a treasure:  the light of the knowledge of the glory of God through Jesus.  Somehow, through all of our sins and flaws and brokenness and our frailty and our weakness, somehow Jesus shines out in our lives.

As in John 15, we abide in Jesus and we will bear fruit.  The fruit of Christ will come out. 

So the glory that is on display in the church is really like this:

Christ in me.

Christ in you. 

So here is a question for you to consider:  Do I see the church as an eternal, glorious people belonging to God, or just another group I join?

So we are devoted to the fellowship because:

–the Church is glorious

–the Church is called.

The Church is on Display

And third, related to the other two:  We are to be devoted to the fellowship because the Church is on Display to the world.

The world is watching us, and we hope they see Jesus, the Savior of the world. 

In John 17, Jesus offers up one of the longest recorded prayers in the Scriptures.  And he prays for some very specific things for us.  

John 17:23 CSB  I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.

There is a oneness, a unity between the Father and the Son.  It is beautiful, glorious, and heavenly.

Jesus prays that we the Church—the people sitting in this room—would have the same kind of oneness.

A like-mindedness.  A love for each other. 

Like a great orchestra.  Each instrument plays a different part with unique notes.  But they play one piece with one purpose:  to make beautiful music.

When the church lives like this, the world notices.  And they get a glimpse of God.

So here is a question for you to consider:

Is my membership in God’s family ultimately about glorifying him and displaying him, or more about glorifying me:  seeking my preferences and my comfort?

The world is watching.  What do they see?

In the past few years, many of you have been so good to my wife and me.  Helping us.  Serving us.  Caring for us.  It’s been astounding.  Our neighbors have noticed.  One of them said to us, “You have quite the faith community at Stonebrook.”

We were able to testify to the power of Jesus in you.  You are on display, and the world is watching. 

After my freshman year at Iowa State, I spent the summer in Loveland, Colorado, where my parents had recently moved.

I was not a Christian and had no interest in anything religious.  But I was surrounded by believers.  My parents were new to the faith, having believed in Christ only 6 months before.  Their church walked in the gospel.  Their good friends, Pete and Mar, were loving, godly examples.  And three men I worked with that summer, Dennis, Mark, and Steve, were believers who befriended me.

In all of them, I could see Jesus.  I resisted their message for the entire summer, but I respected them and watched them all.  I couldn’t deny the reality of Jesus in their lives.  Together they were displaying Jesus to me.

And God used them to draw me to himself in late August.

We are to be devoted to the fellowship of God’s people because together we are on display to the world. 

Example from Acts

The Book of Acts gives us the immediate look into this new entity called the church.  They model for us the kind of lifestyle of devotion and love and obedience that God’s people ought to have. 

Acts 2:37–47 CSB

When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!”  So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added to them.

The people were saved OUT of something—a corrupt generation (vs. 40). 

And they were saved INTO something—a devoted assembly under the risen Christ (vs. 42-47).

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles.  Now all the believers were together and held all things in common.  They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need.

Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house.  They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Such devotion and loyalty!

Lest we think they were a perfect church, we can read also in Acts chapters 5 and 6 of some of the problems they had.

But they do serve as an example to us of what Jesus intended his people to live like.  The spirit he wanted them to have:  a devotion to one another. 

Then as the next 30 years progressed, we get more glimpses into the church, both in Acts and in the Epistles, especially in some of the more personal and intimate letters.

  • Corinth—in 1 Corinthians, much of the glimpse is negative, i.e., what they should stop doing.
  • Thessalonica—Paul was very intimate with this church, and they were examples in many ways.
  • Philippians—Similar to Paul in Thessalonica, we see an intimacy here. 

In the coming days, as you read the entire NT, you can get a fuller picture of what the church is to be about. 

Application

Let me offer a few steps we can take.

Pray. 

Pray for an increasing oneness and devotion to one another.

I mean this earnestly.  Perhaps you don’t feel devoted.  Perhaps you feel others around you aren’t devoted.

Let’s simply pray.  The Lord hears us and he cares.  It is his will that we grow in our love and devotion.

Pray like Jesus prayed in John 17 for a oneness.  Pray for your own heart.  Pray regularly—daily or weekly—for your friends in your Life Group.

Pray for other things:  Are there burdens others are carrying that God wants you to help with?

Galatians 6:2 CSB  Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

And also, do you need to open up to others about your burdens?  Are you in pride trying to be self-sufficient and independent, when the Lord would want you to humble yourself and let the members of the Body help?

Pray:  Is there honor you should give to others?

Romans 12:10 CSB  Outdo one another in showing honor.

Perhaps you have been dishonoring someone.  You need to repent and start honoring them.

Perhaps you simply haven’t been doing anything.  Somewhat neutral.  But honor needs to be given.

Ask the Lord:  Is there someone you could share in their joy or in their sorrow?

Romans 12:15 CSB  Rejoice with those who rejoice;  weep with those who weep.

Grieve with someone.  Celebrate with someone.

We must pray over all these commands because we need the power of God to live this way.

Lean on the Lord.  And abide in him. 

Reconcile.

Is there anyone you have sinned against and haven’t yet done your part to get it right?

Matthew 5:23–24 CSB So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

If you come here on a Sunday or you attend your Life Group on a Tuesday evening, and the Spirit brings to mind an offense of yours, don’t do anything else before taking necessary steps.

This is so important that Jesus tells the Jews listening to him that even if they are ready to worship the Lord, repentance and seeking forgiveness needs to happen first. 

Seek.

Seek to utilize your gifts, abilities, and experiences to serve God’s people.

As with our physical bodies, every part has value.  Every part is necessary.  Are you engaged enough to utilize what God has given you?  Pray.  Get advice.  Ask, “Am I doing your will?  Am I missing something?”  Seek to utilize your gifts to help God’s people.

Conclusion

Let me finish with a final word.  One of the most beautiful reasons we are to love one another and be devoted to one another is because of God’s plan for his eternal family in the age to come.  In the new heaven and new earth.

If you know Jesus, here is what is in store for you.  And it is absolutely beautiful. 

Revelation 21:1–4 CSB  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:  Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them.  They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.

God has called us.

God has made us glorious in his Son.

God has put us on display to the world.

And some day very soon, we his people will be overwhelmed with the grace and loving-kindness of God to dwell right among us.  He will be our God forever.  We will be his people forever.

You and I, if we know Jesus, are part of something even more glorious than we know. 

May we live in devotion to this eternal, heavenly family even today.