Pursuing God’s Purposes
August 31, 2003 | Brian Bill
Friends, there are people all around us searching for their significance in life. Sadly, some of those you know aren’t even pondering their purpose because they just don’t care, or they’re afraid to “think of things like that.” They’re just living. Just existing. Just trying to get by. I can’t think of anything sadder than that. Others believe they have it all figured out as they pursue money or material things or leisure time or relationships.
We’re going to learn that we have five purposes in life:
- “WORSHIP: You Were Planned for God’s Pleasure.” Mark 12:30: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
- “FELLOWSHIP: You Were Formed for God’s Family.” Romans 12:5: “So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
- “DISCIPLESHIP: You Were Created to Become Like Christ.” Philippians 2:5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”
- “MINISTRY: You Were Shaped for Serving God.” 1 Peter 4:10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others.”
- “EVANGELISM: You Were Made For a Mission.” Colossians 4:5: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”
These life purposes come right out of Acts 2:42-47. In this passage we will see how the early church focused on pursuing God’s purposes collectively. If the church is to emulate the instructions found in the Book of Acts, then the individuals in the church must lead purpose driven lives. In order for churches to pursue their purposes, Christians must be devoted disciples. And, in order for Christians to live out their purposes, they need churches that embrace God’s instructions. When churches live out their God-given mandate and believers live out their mission empowered by the Holy Spirit, watch out!
Let’s begin by reading Acts 2:42-47: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
As we focus on instruction, ministry, praying, adoration, caring, and telling others the gospel, we will be healthy, and we will grow, both qualitatively and quantitatively
There are a lot of church growth seminars available for pastors, and I’ve attended my share over the years. The longer I’m in ministry however, the more convinced I am that what we really need to focus on is church health, not church growth because it’s the nature of a healthy organism to grow. As we focus on instruction, ministry, praying, adoration, caring, and telling others the gospel, we will be healthy, and we will grow, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The early church was healthy because they knew why they existed and what they were supposed to do.
Look at the first three words of Acts 2:42. This phrase serves as the foundation for everything that comes after: “They devoted themselves.” The NASB renders it “continually devoting themselves.” Literally it means that they “continued steadfastly and were constantly diligent.” It has the idea of “persisting obstinately in” something. Can you say that about yourself this morning? Would others describe you that way?
Friends, the Bible knows no such thing as a casual Christian. These disciples were deeply devoted and completely committed.
Making An I.M.P.A.C.T.
Now, what was it they were devoted to? This passage helps us see that they were steadfastly serious about 6 spiritual standards that saturated this Spirit-filled church. We’ll use the acrostic I.M.P.A.C.T. as an outline.
1. Instructing in God’s Word.
Look at verse 42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” The most basic essential for any healthy church is a commitment to hearing, learning, and applying God’s Word so that we grow as disciples of Christ. Acts 17 gives us a good example of people who were serious about Scripture.
- They Received The Word. Look at verse 11: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness…” They were eagerly open to the Word of God. I wonder how many of us came to church today with the expectation that God was going to speak to us?
- They Researched The Word. Look at the last part of verse 11 “…and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” In the King James, it says they searched the Scriptures. The literal translation of that word is that they sifted through them. Friends, if we don’t do this daily, we’ll either just accept what someone else says is the truth and be led into error, or we won’t hear what God is saying to us, and thereby fail to obey Him.
- They Responded to the Word. Notice verse 12: “Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.” They responded because they were steadfastly devoted to living out what they learned. The Bereans wanted to hear from God so that they could live for God. Remember the key is not to just come and listen but to live it out. Jesus said it best in Matthew 7:26: “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”
I love this quote from Martin Luther: “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” Are you allowing the Bible to lay hold of you?
2. Mobilizing for Ministry.
Drop down to verse 45: “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” The early church was others-centered, not self-centered. When they would see someone in need, they did whatever they could to help out. This word “gave” means “to partition thoroughly.” They valued ministry over money, and people over possessions. Acts 4:32 takes this to the next level: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” The idea here is that you and I have been given time, talents and treasures that are to be used in service of others for the glory of God.
These men and women were mobilized for ministry. They understood that no one could do everything but everyone could do something. Later, in Acts 11:29, in response to a need, we read that the believers did what they could with what they had: “The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea.”
Are you doing what you can with what you have? Your responsibility is always tied to your ability. In 1 Corinthians 3:5 we read, “…As the Lord has assigned to each his task.” It’s our job to be faithful to what He has given us to do. We have been saved to serve and mobilized for ministry.
As I look at that first church in Jerusalem, I see four serving suggestions for each of us:
- Serve whenever you can.
- Serve wherever you can.
- Serve whoever is in need.
- Be willing to do whatever it takes.
This church is filled to the brim with servants who are mobilized for ministry! I have never been around a church with so many serving saints, and I have never been part of a church that has the potential to do so much more!
The list of loving servants gets longer each day.
The list goes on and on. And, many of you are serving without any recognition or platitudes. But God sees what you’re doing and one day you will hear from the hallways of heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
3. Praying with Faith.
We see the third distinctive in verse 42: “They devoted themselves to…prayer.” Since prayer permeated the early church, and we need to learn how to become more devoted to prayer ourselves, we’re going to take the entire service two weeks from today to focus on the primacy, power, and practice of prayer.
4. Adoring God in Worship.
The next focus of the fully devoted church is found in verse 43: “Everyone was filled with awe,” and in the first part of verse 47: “praising God.” One way this word awe can be translated is fear. To be filled with awe means that we are filled with a reverential fear before the presence of the Almighty. This could also be translated, “Everyone kept on feeling a sense of awe.” To be in awe conveys a sense of holy terror. It’s what should happen when we come into the very presence of the Thrice-Holy God. This sense of awe pulsates through the book of Acts…
Acts 3:10: “They were filled with wonder and amazement.”
Acts 5:11: “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”
Acts 9:31: “…It grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.
Acts 19:17: “…They were all seized with fear, and the NAME OF THE LORD JESUS WAS HELD IN HIGH HONOR.”
Let me ask you a question. Do you hold the name of Jesus in high honor? Are you seized by the splendor of a Holy God? Are you in awe of Him? It was A.W. Tozer who said that what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. If we viewed God with awe and with holy fear, we would respond as the Apostle John did on the island of Patmos, when he came face to face with the Almighty. Listen to what he writes in Revelation 1:17: “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet, as though dead.”
In a major study that was published in Leadership Journal, the authors discovered that of the 75 million Americans who attend church on a weekly basis, fewer than 1/3 say that they feel God’s presence there. That makes me sad – and it no doubt grieves God. This is so far removed from Psalm 16:11 which says that, “In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Try not to think of worship only in terms of what happens here on a Sunday morning. Remember that the early church’s worship was both formal and informal – they met in the “Temple Courts” and in their “homes.” That’s large group celebration and small group study.
5. Caring for One Another.
This indispensable ingredient is found initially in the middle of verse 42: “They devoted themselves…to the fellowship.” This is also fleshed out in verses 44-46: “All the believers were together and had everything in common…every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”
The Greek word fellowship means to “share something in common” or “to strive for a common goal.” We learn that they were “all together” (verse 44), they met together in the temple courts (verse 46), and they ate together (verse 46). Shared meals played an important role in the life of the early church. As we learned at our church picnic last week, the First Rule of Church Growth is this: “If you feed them, they will come.” When they met to eat, they also celebrated the Lord’s Supper. We’re going to learn more about this next week.
Real community is hanging out with others for a spiritual purpose
You and I were created for community. You were made to have intimate relationships, to serve people lavishly, to share the stuff that you have, to build into the lives of the people around you, to have people to whom you can entrust the secrets of your heart and to laugh, praise, pray and cry with other human beings. Many of you are experiencing that every week in your small group. Let me give you a definition of fellowship that I think captures the essence of what God longs for us to experience: Real community is hanging out with others for a spiritual purpose.
And yet, while we long for community, we also run from it. That’s why Hebrews 10:25 challenges disconnected disciples to stop living in isolation: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” It has been said that when humankind fell from grace, we inherited not only a tendency to hide from God, but a tendency to hide from one another as well. Suspicion has to be replaced with openness; uncertainty has to be replaced with willingness; and fear has to be replaced with love. On the day of Pentecost, that is precisely what happened. The Holy Spirit of God moved in and produced a wonderful unity in that first group of believers.
If this church is going to have unity of purpose, then we need everyone on board, pulling together, sharing the load. We have to decide that the overall purpose for which we are shooting is important enough to give ourselves in more than a casual way. We must decide to do so. It really goes back to the word devoted in Acts 2:42. We need to be completely committed and sold-out to the fellowship. We must decide that we are going to give more than our spare time to the endeavor, that we will be supportive, involved, active participants in the task God has called us to, that we will “hang out with each other for spiritual purposes.”
In a book by Miraslav Volk called “Exclusion and Embrace,” he argues that there are really only two options available to us in relationships. We can embrace people by taking them by the hand and opening our heart to them. Or, we can exclude people, as we grow cold and distant, shutting others out of our life. Brothers and Sisters, are you doing life with others by embracing them – or are you intentionally, or unintentionally excluding those around you? If we want to be a caring community, we need embracers, not excluders.
6. Telling Others the Gospel.
In verse 47, we see how they were energized to be involved in evangelism: “…enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” I have two quick thoughts here.
- How people respond to the gospel is God’s responsibility. Remember this truth: The Lord is the one who saves people. It’s God who brings people to Himself.
- How I reflect God is my responsibility. I’m struck by the fact that my responsibility is to become completely committed and totally sold-out to Christ. These Christians enjoyed the “favor” of all the people. That reminds me of what was said about Jesus in Luke 2:52: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and men.” Jesus was attractive to people! They wanted to be around Him. That leads to a question: “Do lost people like to be around me? Do I attract people because I’m gracious or do I repel them because I’m judgmental?” I’m convinced of this: As we devote ourselves to these 6 standards as a church, we will become an IMPACT CHURCH and God will bring people to Himself. The order here is significant. The people enjoyed favor and then the Lord brought people to faith. The linkage here is love. If people see that you love them they will want to learn more about the God who loves them.
Bob Russell said it this way, “The church exploded in growth because the people loved being together. When you get a group of people together who genuinely believe something and who really enjoy each other, it’s such a contagious atmosphere that you can’t keep people away from it. People assume that smaller churches have better fellowship and stronger relationships because everybody knows everybody. But churches that genuinely love one another don’t stay small very long.”
- Prayer. Pray for people as you walk around and drive through your neighborhood. Pray for your co-workers and family members by name.
- Care. Seek ways to show people you care and offer to pray for their needs. When they’re hurting, send them a card or make a meal or visit them. Reach out with random acts of kindness. Pick up trash. Put your neighbor’s paper by the front door. Follow-up when you see a need. Work at enjoying the “favor” of people.
- Share. Look for natural opportunities to tell your story and His story. Invite people to join us. Give them a bookmark and make sure they get a free book. Direct them to our web site. Tell them about our Saturday night service.
If someone came up to you and asked you the question, “What is the point of life?” would you be able to tell them? If your co-worker wondered about the purpose of Pontiac Bible Church, would you be able to explain that we are enthusiastic about making an IMPACT through Instruction, Ministry, Prayer, Adoration, Caring, and Telling?
The extent to which we will make an impact in this community and county is largely dependent on the degree of our devotion. George Barna recently released a study in which he noted that nonbelievers are seeking evidence that Christianity is truly life transforming. Sadly, according to Barna, since the lifestyles of many believers are not that much different from non-Christians, people don’t really want we have because we are not really living out what we have. Friends, we must allow God to change us, and our church, so that we will substantiate the difference that following Christ makes.
In his book called, “Acts 29,” Terry Teykl tells the story of two workers who were doing something rather unusual. One of them was digging a hole in the ground and the other was filling it back up. After watching them dig and fill several holes in this manner, a bystander came up and asked them what was going on. The first guy said, “Our job is to plant trees and usually there are three of us – one to dig the hole, one to plant the tree, and one to cover it up. The guy who plants the tree called in sick today…but we’re here and we’re doing our jobs anyway.”
Don’t fall into the trap of just going through the motions of ministry so that you end up losing sight of the meaning of life itself. We are called to a mission of eternal consequences and there are people all around us who are living without purpose and will die without the promise of forgiveness. It’s time to pursue God’s purposes like you never have before!
Are you a fully devoted disciple? It was D.L. Moody who said, “The world has yet to see what a man or woman totally devoted to Christ can do.” Do you want to be that student? Do you want to be that man? Do you want to be that woman?