The following message is based on Galatians 6:1-10 and deals with the subject of church health. It was preached on the occasion of receiving new members on February 24, 2013
For the last several weeks, we have been considering relationships within the church and how those connections contribute to the overall health of our church. We are a family of families. To begin, I’d like to share with you the input contributed by Jeff Ost last week. I read it again with his permission:
“Central is and has been much more than a church to me and my family. It is a COMMUNITY. I live in a nearby development of close to 300 homes and while I know some of my neighbors, it is still just a development. Central is my community, a place where I have made friends, developed social relationships, exchanged ideas and worshipped with people who share my beliefs. I raised my family here and I always felt comfortable when I saw my children talking with other adults and parents, knowing they would get solid advice, even if it wasn’t from me. Our church family, like any family has shared moments of joy and moments of sorrow, even moments of disagreement but in the end, our church family ties have held strong. I thank God for each of you who live in my community and welcome any newcomers to join THIS COMMUNITY.”
These words pleased me so. It reminds me that the church is to be an alternative culture to that of the world. We provide a sense of belonging and family that people cannot get elsewhere, all in the name of Jesus.
Today, I want us to refocus our lives on what we have learned over the last six weeks. In our time together we’ve seen how the body of Christ is one family made of diverse parts. Just as the early church was made of Jew and Gentile, so the church of today spans backgrounds, races, genders and socio-economic classes. The good news of Jesus is for everyone. In the household text, we saw that wives were to respect their husbands and that husbands were to love their wives. Children were to honor their parents and parents were not to provoke their children. We were to operate our homes as small groups that glorified God, just as the larger body is called to the same.
We also learned that the church is a family of families and that there are roles within the church to be fulfilled by everyone. Older men and women are to teach the younger generation. Younger men and women are to live in self-control. We are to look out for each other; hold a sense of responsibility for one another. On another Sunday we studied the qualities of a sound church, that is to have mentors and that discipleship is a lifelong process. Then last week, we talked about priorities such as care of lifestyle and care of community; commitment.
Now having this understanding as our base: mutual responsibility, community, foundation of the truth of Jesus Christ, we turn to the subject of reshaping our lives. What do we do with this information? For that, I have selected our passage of Galatians 6.
The Christians in the Roman province of Galatia were infected by the Judaizers, those that believed that trusting Christ is one thing, but faith must be coupled with adherence to the Old Testament law, in particular the mandate of circumcision as a mark of the people of God. Written in 49 A.D., it functions as a precursor to the Council of Jerusalem, which you can read of in Acts 15:6 and following. Paul goes to great lengths to prove that Christ + anything= nothing. Christ + nothing = everything. This is essentially the doctrine of justification by faith alone, the hallmark of the Protestant Reformation and probably why Luther referred to this book as “my epistle.” It has a lot to teach us about God’s calling of a new life by God’s grace. That, in turn, should cause us to pursue some nonnegotiables. I believe two things. One of which is that…
AS GOD’S PEOPLE, WE MUST PURSUE TRUTH WITH LOVE AND HUMILITY.
One of the means by which people were boasting, was who was truly godly. People were boasting in their Jewish identity or their pursuit of it. For a Gentile, this meant to be circumcised or be left thinking you were not quite good enough; that you were not quite the spiritual make up that was necessary to be a real Christian. It reminds us that those who are seen as spiritual leaders can exert an unhealthy power and influence over others who are impressionable and vulnerable. Paul addresses the pride of the congregations in verse three: “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load.”
It is safe to say that there was a fair amount of legalism and pride operating in the churches of Galatia. This bred jealousy and contempt. They had moved away from the basic and elementary teaching to love their neighbors as themselves. Instead, they were being self-centered and disregarding other church members. Notice what Paul warns earlier in Galatians 5:13: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Human sin brings us to this place of animosity, revenge, spite and a lack of love.
Today, we show the opposite, as we welcome Gail, B.J. and Heather. What a blessing it is to have them become a part of our fold and identify Central as their spiritual home. We asked them to give themselves unreservedly to Christ’s service, and accept the teachings of and practices of our church as found in Holy Scripture. We asked them to be mindful of our welfare and to walk with us in faithfulness to Christ. This faithfulness begins with attending services and Sunday School, sharing in the work of the church, and supporting our missions. By exercising your spiritual gifts you contribute towards making Central a fruitful body of Christians.
In turn, hopefully we can provide them a place of growth and encouragement. We promised them that we would gladly welcome them to be a part with us in the hopes, the labors, and the joys of our church and to walk with them in Christian love and sympathy, and to promote, as far as in us lies, their growth in the Christian faith and life. In doing so, we fulfill what Paul tells us in Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” What would God have us do? First of all, AS GOD’S PEOPLE, WE MUST PURSUE TRUTH WITH LOVE AND HUMILITY. Secondly…
AS GOD’S PEOPLE, WE MUST ALSO PURSUE GENEROSITY AND SERVICE IN THE NAME OF CHRIST.
If our eyes are open, God will give us opportunities to share our faith with others both within and outside the church family. Notice verse nine: “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” You might ask: “What are some ways to do good to the household of faith?” Consider the following things that are not outside of what you already know. First of all, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. There are times when hearing the voice of another family member is just what is needed.
It might be a word of encouragement or a question of how help might be delivered. While I’m on that subject, don’t be afraid to drop a card in the mail. I have saved mail over the years that has particularly encouraged me. Some of you have received similar things. I even have a folder on my computer labeled: “Cheer up,” which is filled with things sent to me to encourage my spirit.
Another thing we can do for each other is pray. I recently had a person say that she was impressed that our church had a midweek prayer meeting. She was a part of another local congregation and their prayers were limited to the internet. Nothing face-to-face. We need not be timid to pray for and with each other. Marci Shenkle voiced recently that it could be that we are afraid to pray with others for a number of reasons: Fear of sounding stupid; fear that we can’t pray as well as others; fear that we will pray theologically incorrect; and fear that we will be laughed at or judged. But praying aloud for others says to that person, “I do not have the power to heal you. I do not have the answers to solve your problems but I believe in a God who does.” Two men recently prayed with me. I was greatly blessed by it.
Don’t be afraid to share with those in need. God has given you time and resources that are not meant to only be spent on your. You are here to minister to others. You can do this anonymously. Maybe it means picking up a bill for someone in need. Maybe it means buying some groceries. Maybe it is offering to give someone a ride to the doctor.
Don’t be shy in meeting (with) others. It is an opportunity to disciple and be discipled. Giving others a chance to tell their story, to unload their burden. Or maybe it means to take notice of the new faces in our midst. Are we aware of those new to our family? Do we have the wherewithal to make them feel at home? I recently had a retired pastor visit my office. He was commenting how he and his family visited a few local churches that were on the larger scale. He said that at two places, no one came up and introduced themselves. No one asked who they were. No one welcomed them. But when they went to a church down the street, everyone came up to them. The point I am making is this: We cannot be shy when making others feel welcome, or that they matter. We have to step outside our comfort zone to do so.
In conclusion, we have learned two distinguishing characteristics of God’s people. Since we have been given so much in Christ, we are motivated to pursue a couple of things. One, AS GOD’S PEOPLE, WE MUST PURSUE TRUTH WITH LOVE AND HUMILITY; and two: WE MUST ALSO PURSUE GENEROSITY AND SERVICE IN THE NAME OF CHRIST. It is a sense of belonging that we have the opportunity to show our love to God and to others. As a result, we reshape our lives to those things that matter most.
When Wilhemina was crowned Queen of Holland, at the tender age of ten, the happy little girl, too young to realize the gravity of the occasion, with thousands of people cheering her, was unable to take it all in and said, “Mamma, do all these people belong to me?” And the mother smiled and said, “No, my dear child, you belong to all these people.”
 —Gospel Herald, Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations: Signs of the Times.