You Were Formed For God’s Family
October 25, 2003 | Brian Bill
Note: This sermon is based on a message idea by Rick Warren and is used by permission as part of the 40 Days of Purpose Journey.
Have you heard about the young girl who attended church for the first time and was asked how it went? She replied, “The music was nice but the commercial was too long!” One day a pastor asked a little boy if he knew why they always served coffee after the service was over. The boy responded, “I think I know. It’s to wake the people up before they drive home!”
On the opposite extreme, a young father heard a commotion out in his backyard one afternoon. As he ran to the door he saw that his daughter and several of her friends were in a heated argument. When he intervened, his daughter called out, “Don’t worry, dad. We’re just playing church!”
Some people today flee fellowship either because they think church is too boring or because they believe it to be too bombastic. Instead of plugging in, many are checking out. A recent poll asked Americans how they escape boredom in their lives. Forty percent said they manage monotony by staying away from church (Rev Magazine, November/December 2003, Page 19). Instead of experiencing intimacy, some just opt for isolation.
I’ve watched with interest the story about the guy in London who tried to completely disengage from the world. His name is David Blaine, and he hung suspended from a glass box that was just seven feet deep, seven feet long, and three feet wide for 44 days.
The idea was that he would have no communication with anyone. This is what he said when he started, “I believe it is completely possible to exist peacefully with absolutely nothing, as it was in the beginning and as it will be in the end.” Interestingly, his “44 Days of Purposelessness” (as I call it), was anything but peaceful as people pelted him with eggs, golf balls and fish and chips (it was London, after all).
People were angry about his supposed seclusion. I’d like to suggest that it was because of their innate understanding that we are created to be in community. Interestingly, when Blaine was finally done with his isolation escapade, and he came out of his box last Sunday, the first thing he did was cry…and then he reached out for someone’s shoulder to lean on!
Friends, you and I were created to be in community with one another. If Blaine really wanted to go back to the way it was in the beginning, he’d have to go back to the “Book of Beginnings” and admit that God doesn’t want us to do life as lone rangers. God put it this way in Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Adam was in a perfect world, had an exalted position, was intimate with God, and yet God said that he needed to be in community with someone.
We’ve been designed to have both the vertical and the horizontal dimensions in our lives. Last week, we looked at the first purpose of life, which is to get to know God and to love Him back. That’s the vertical relationship. The Bible calls that worship, as we love Him with our hearts, our heads, and our hands because we were planned for God’s pleasure. Jesus summarized Scripture in Mark 12:30, when He said, (and this was our memory verse from last week): “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Today we’re going to look at the second purpose, the horizontal element, which is really part two of Jesus’ answer in Mark 12:31: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We are created for community and formed for His family. I like Ephesians 1:5 in the New Living Translation: “His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ.” The entire Bible is the story of God building a family of faith.
1 Peter 2:17 says that God wants us to “Love the brotherhood of believers.” Why does He want us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ? First, it makes us more like God, because God is love. Second, he wants His children to learn to get along together. We can’t love from a distance or in isolation. And third, it’s practice for eternity, as we will love God and believers forever in heaven. God wants us to practice here what we will be doing there. God’s purpose was not just to bring you into relationship with Himself; but also to bring you into relationship with the redeemed.
Our second purpose is fellowship. While worship is misunderstood, fellowship is also misused. The word literally means, “to participate in a common cause” and is used to describe shared lives. It also refers to a new community in which individuals willingly covenant to share in common and to support one another in love. It’s more than just hanging out over coffee and donuts. 1 John 4:21: “And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” We’re to be devoted to other disciples. The church is a family. It is not a building, an institution, or a club. It’s an organism, not an organization. Church is not a place you go to; it is a family you belong to. The church is an assembly of “called-out” Christians who make up the family of faith.
In God’s family there are four levels of fellowship. It’s impossible to fulfill all the other purposes God has for your life without a connection to the Christian community. You were not meant to go through life on your own.
#1: Commitment: Choosing to Connect
This is the most basic level. That means you find a church family and you choose to get connected to it.
The Christian life is not just a matter of believing.
Look at Ephesians 2:19: “You are members of God’s very own family and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.” The Christian life is not just a matter of believing. It’s a matter of belonging. God wants you to make the choice to link up with a local body of believers.
When you were born, you became a part of the human race. When you were born again, you became a member of God’s family, in the universal sense. What is not automatic is the choice you and I must make to commit to a local church family. Warren puts it this way: “We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship, and formed for a family, and none of us can fulfill God’s purposes by ourselves…while your relationship to Christ is personal, God never intends for it to be private” (“Purpose Driven Life,” Page 130).
A recent respondent to a Gallup poll replied, “I am my own church.” That just doesn’t make sense. The church is where you live out what it means to be a Christian. A soldier without a platoon is a sitting duck. A Christian without a church family is an orphan. That’s like saying, “I’m a football player, but I don’t want to be a part of a team.” It doesn’t work that way. Can you imagine a tuba player saying, “I don’t want to be part of a band”?
Our memory verse for this week is Romans 12:5. Let’s read it together: “In Christ we who are many form one Body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Did you know that the word “membership” was originally a Christian word? It’s only in America that we have “floating believers” who drift from church to church. In this month’s issue of Christianity Today, I read about a man named Dave Hemstreet, who was vice-president of financial operations at the magazine, before he was struck down by cancer earlier this year. Listen to part of this editorial eulogy: “In our highly mobile society, Dave was a member of one church for 51 years. I’m sure there’s a special place in God’s heart for those who anchor themselves in congregational life that way…” (“Christianity Today,” November 2003, page 11).
I believe there is a special place in God’s heart for those who stay connected to a church through the good times and the bad times. If you want to see God at work in your life, then commit to a church and stay there! Kenneth Boa writes: “We come to faith as individuals, but we grow in community. Life in Jesus is not meant to be solitary and individualistic but shared and collective” (“Conformed to His Image,” Page 419).
#2: Friendship: Learning to Share
While its important to make a commitment to connect, the only way to experience fellowship is to form friendships. And, in order to build friendships, we must share our lives with others. Boa writes: “Authentic community in Christ is not created by attempts to make it happen, instead it is a by-product of others-centeredness” (Page 424). We must dare to share in at least four ways.
- We Share Our Time. Acts 2:44: “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” You can’t develop friendships without taking the time to be together. And, the more frequently you get together, the closer you’re going to get. As you continue to read the “Purpose Driven Life” book this week, you’ll come across a great statement in chapter 16: “The best use of life is love. The best expression of love is time. The best time to love is now.”
- We Share Our Experiences. Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Have you ever heard of that phrase “its wise to learn from experience?” It makes sense to learn from the experiences of other people, because you don’t have time to make all the mistakes yourself. If you learn by trial and error, you’re going to go through a lot of problems unnecessarily. Think of the wealth of knowledge in this church family, and how much we could learn if we just lean on each other. I like what Robert Mulholland says, “When we don’t feel like worshipping, the community should carry us along in it’s worship. When we can’t seem to pray, community prayer should enfold us. When the Scripture seems closed for us, the community should keep on reading, affirming and incarnating it around us” (“Invitation to a Journey”).
- We Share Our Homes. 1 Peter 4:9: “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Did you know in the first 300 years of Christianity, there were no church buildings? All church meetings were held in homes. One of the reasons we keep challenging everyone to plug into a small group is because that’s a Biblical principle. Christians are supposed to meet in homes. How many of you are in a 40 Days of Purpose group? Can I see your hands? Look at that. If you are a host, would you stand and let us just appreciate you right now? I hope that after the 40 Days of Purpose is over you’ll continue in your commitment to a small group community.
- We Share Our Problems. We’re not meant to face our problems alone. Did you know that when you share a joy, it’s doubled; and when you share a problem, it’s cut in half? Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Larry Crabb writes, “A central task of community is to create a place that is safe enough for the walls to be torn down, safe enough, for each of us to reveal our brokenness” (“The Safest Place on Earth,” page 11). A young mother from Oklahoma recounts one of the worst days of her life. The washing machine broke down, the telephone wouldn’t stop ringing, she had a headache, and the mailman brought a bill she had no money to pay. As she started to fall apart, she put her one-year-old in the high chair, leaned her head against the tray, and began to cry. Without a word, her son took the pacifier out of his mouth and put it in hers. Sometimes that’s what we need to do for each other!
#3: Partnership: Doing My Part
At the third level I realize that I’ve got a contribution to make; that the family of God needs me, and I need them.
We’re to meet with the Lord privately before we connect with others corporately so that we can minister in tandem. In a series called, “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry,” Henry Nuewen uses Luke 6:12-19 to illustrate how Jesus spent the night in solitude with God, in the morning he formed community by gathering the disciples around Him, then in the afternoon they partnered together to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of those around them. As Boa states, “We are allies on the journey rather than independent agents” (Page 431). God brought you here so that you can become a partner in accomplishing His purposes.
Did you know that there are 58 different times the Bible says that we are to be involved with “one another”? We’re to serve one another, and love one another, and pray with one another. The Bible even says we have to put up with one another. That’s love in action. Not just in words. You see, it is great to share your heart, that’s level two. But it’s even better to do your part.
This is My Church
It is composed of people just like me.
It will be friendly if I am.
It will do great work if I work.
It will make generous gifts to many causes if I’m generous.
It will bring others into the fellowship if I bring them.
Therefore, with God’s help, I dedicate myself to the task of being
All these things I want my church to be. (Anonymous)
1 Corinthians 3:9 in Today’s English Version says this: “We are partners working together for God.” When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he celebrated the partnership he had with them in the proclamation of the good news. Philippians 1:4-5: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” The word “fellowship” is often translated “partnership” or “participation.”
But in order to participate as a partner, you’ve got to find your niche. Look what Ephesians 4:16 says: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
That’s you and that’s me. The church is a corporate reality rather than a collection of separate individuals. We are a part of the Father’s family and things get done only as each of us does our part. No one can do everything but everyone can do something. And when we cooperate, we get more done together than we can do alone. We’re going to talk more about this in two weeks when we focus on the fact that we are shaped for serving God. We’re even going to have a “ministry fair” so you can find out what ministry God wants you to participate in.
We all need somebody to be accountable to. We need a partner. Moses had Aaron, Elijah had Elisha, Hezekiah had Isaiah, and Daniel had Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. David had Jonathan. Interestingly, when Jonathan was alive there is no recorded sin in David’s life. It was after Jonathan left the scene that David went south spiritually. Both Saul and Samson went solo and eventually imploded. We are designed to do life and ministry together. It’s no accident in Luke 10 that Jesus sent out the 70 missionaries in groups of two.
Do you have a partner? Are you connected with the community so that you can serve the Savior and be kept on the right path in the process?
#4: Kinship: Loving Believers Like Family
Kinship is an old term that isn’t used very much anymore. Some of you are thinking of the “Beverly Hillbillies” right now. Kinship literally refers to your closest relationships. We are called to love believers and to do good to them because we’re in the same family. Galatians 6:10: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” This fourth stage isn’t really a separate level, but the end result of all the others. As we commit to a family of faith, and share with one another, and serve where we can, we will naturally love each other more deeply.
Warren writes, “When we place our faith in Christ, God becomes our Father, we become His children, other believers become our brothers and sisters, and the church becomes our spiritual family” (Page 118). Romans 12:10: “Be devoted to each other like a loving family.” One of my favorite things is to hear about people who choose to not move because of their connection to a church family or about those who move to a specific area because of a church they want to plug into.
The basic meaning of fellowship is to be as committed to each other as we are to Jesus Christ. That is family relationship. Many of us know John 3:16: “God so loved the world,” but we don’t know First John 3:16 as well: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” This is the deepest level of fellowship, where we sacrifice for each other. In effect, God is saying, “If you love me you will love the people I love.”
But, here’s a weird truth about human beings. While we long for community, we also run from it. 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. We struggle with conflicting desires. We desire to be in tune and in touch with one another, and we hold people at arm’s length. These barriers effectively insulate us from one another, and become an impediment to true community in the Church.
Jesus prayed, in John 17:22-23, that we might be one, even as He and the Father are one: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Acts 4:32 gives us an inside look at how the first church fleshed out this unity as they cared for each other: “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 diverse multitude that had gathered from all nations and tongues had been melted together by divine love into an unbreakable union. Jesus didn’t march around backed by hundreds of followers. John Eldredge points out that He had twelve men, “knuckleheads every last one of them, but they were a band of brothers. This is the way of the kingdom of God. Though we are part of a great company, we are meant to live in little platoons” (“Waking the Dead,” Page 190).
Notice the three words mentioned in the first part of this verse: “believers,” “heart,” and “mind.” They experienced a unity of faith, a unity of emotions, and a unity of will. First, the believers were one. They had placed their faith in Jesus and now were attempting to live out that faith. There can be no fellowship without correct belief. 1 John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”
They were not only united by their faith, they were also united in heart. Their faith had brought them together and now their desire was to follow Jesus Christ. They wanted to express His love and to share that love with every human being they met. Did you know that the word “brother” occurs over 200 times in the New Testament? When the church was launched, terms like brother and sister were used because they were the best expressions to describe the new relationships that now existed among believers. Maybe we should start using these terms more often.
if we want to experience what the early church did, then we must commit to community over isolation and ministry over materialism
And they were also one in mind. The mind has to do with our decision-making processes. If we, as the Church of Jesus Christ, are ever going to express the unity of the Spirit, we must not only desire to do so, we must decide to do so. Amazingly, they were able to say, “What’s mine is yours; what’s yours is mine. We’re together in this thing.” That is a powerful kind of kinship. Friends, if we want to experience what the early church did, then we must commit to community over isolation and ministry over materialism.
This is what life is all about, loving God and learning to love each other. If we miss this, we’ve missed the first two explanations for our existence. Life is not about accomplishments. It’s about relationships. Mother Teresa said it best: “It’s not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters.”
We want this church to be known not for our size, not our sermons, not our singing, not our strategy, not our buildings, but our love. We long for people to say, “That’s the place where they love each other,” because that’s what Christianity is all about.
Now, you may wonder how you can know if you’re in God’s family. Here are three challenging tests:
- 1 John 3:10: “Anyone who does not love other Christians does not belong to God.”
- 1 John 3:14: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.”
- 1 John 4:20: “For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”
The greatest privilege we will ever be offered is to become a part of God’s family. You see, God’s family is a laboratory for learning to love. Some of us grew up in homes that didn’t have a lot of love. And, honestly, we don’t know how to love. So we have to be taught, and the church (the family of God) is where we learn to love real people, not ideal people. As someone has said, the church is a “messy grace.” Chuck Colson says that the church is “an organic body made up of strange and broken people—dirty people who need to be cleansed, sweaty soldiers who need to be equipped for spiritual battle. The church is not a club for perfect people…” (“Being the Body,” Page 26).
Mavis Williams wrote a catchy article called, “The Perfect Church.”
If you should find the perfect church
Without one fault or smear,
For goodness sake!
Don’t’ join that church;
You’d spoil the atmosphere.
But since no perfect church exists
Made up of imperfect men,
Then let’s cease looking for that church
And love the church we’re in.
As we’ve explained the four levels of fellowship, which stage best describes where you’re at today? Are you ready to take the next step?
- If you believe, then it’s time to belong. Are you still floating around from church to church and attend here and attend there? You need to choose a faith community or love the church you’re in right now.
- Share your heart with others. Get connected with some Christians. Join a small group. If you’re in a group, take a risk and share your heart with your fellow platoon members.
- Participate as a partner with others. If you’re in the family of God, then you have some family responsibilities. It’s more than just sharing your heart; you must do your part.
- Develop a devotion to the family of faith. Are there any other believers that know you are devoted to them? Who do you need to call this week? What is God prompting you to do?
Let me give you give you 7 possible ways you can apply this message. Just pick one or two that resonate with you.
- Learn the names of as many people as you can. If you see someone you don’t know, take the initiative and introduce yourself.
- Notice the cares and joys of others and respond accordingly.
- Invite someone over to your house this week.
- Look for a specific way to partner with others in ministry.
- Call each other “brother” or “sister.”
- Develop an approachable personality.
- Take a risk and be transparent with others.
In some churches in China, they welcome new believers by saying, “Jesus now has a new pair of eyes to see with, new ears to listen with, new hands to help with, and a new heart to love others with” (Purpose Driven Life, Pages 229-230). Will you offer yourself to Jesus and to His church right now?
An even more basic question is this: Are you a member of the family of God? You say, “Well, isn’t everybody a part of the family of God?” No. Everyone is created by God, but not everybody is a child of God. You have to choose to be a part of God’s family. The Bible gives us one condition in Galatians 3:26: “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” You can become a child of God right now by putting your faith and trust in Jesus.
“Dear God, next to salvation, the greatest gift you have ever given us is the opportunity to be a part of your family. Thank you that we don’t have to go through life disconnected and isolated. Thank you for creating the PBC family for us, and the other church families that are represented here right now. I want to be a part of your family and I want to learn to love my spiritual family just like you do. Forgive me for taking it casually. I want to grow in the levels of fellowship, so today I’m choosing to commit. I’m not going to float around anymore. I want to learn to share and make time to develop real friendships. I want to do my part in the family of God. I want to learn to love other believers like brothers and sisters. Teach me the meaning of real love. Thank you that you have formed me to have fellowship with you and with others. In your name I pray, Amen.”