This is the second week of our new series, Rethinking the Church. Last week we saw that Fellowship and Community are two very important roles of the church. This week we explore personal and spiritual growth in the context of that community.
This message is on Philippians 1:12-14. To read now, click here.
This week we are in the second week of our new series, Rethinking the Church. Last week we looked at the importance of Fellowship and Community, that church is as much about fellowship and community as it is worship. Worship is important, but it flows naturally out of our time together, and our time together is our fellowship, our being a part of a community.
We also talked a little about how worship has become the most important thing in many churches, and how so many people in the church only come together for the worship, but the unity, the fellowship, the real community that can come from being a part of the church family, is what should be the most important thing. I hope it was clear that the purposes of the church include fellowship, and being a part of the community of faith.
We’re going to continue our series by building on last week a little bit. Today, we’re looking at personal and spiritual growth, and how to properly deal with conflict in our lives. But as we do, I want to suggest that personal and spiritual growth and properly dealing with the conflict in our lives are both purposes of the church in themselves. Not only that, they are best accomplished within the community of faith, in the church. In other words, the best way to grow personally and spiritually is to be an active part of the church. And the best way to deal with conflict in our lives is in the context of our church family – we share those areas we’re struggling in with others in the church.
That’s why our small groups are so important, that’s where we build relationships, that’s where we grow closer friendships, so that’s where we can share some of the things we’re going through. Now a small group can be any kind of group in the church. Sunday School classes can be small groups, if we have an opportunity to share. Bible Studies can be small groups, Choir, Puppets, Prayer Group, all of these can be opportunities to share what’s going on in our lives, and receive encouragement and support from others in the group.
On Wednesday, I was in Odessa for our Clergy Group Gathering, one of the small groups that I participate in, and one of the clergy said that they were in a church once where their board, they just had one board, they would start every meeting with a time of sharing, to talk about what’s happening in people’s lives. They could share any struggles they were going through, as well as any praises. And if it was a two-hour meeting, and the sharing took an hour and twenty minutes, that was okay – they saw that time of sharing and encouraging each other as a priority of the church, and therefore, the board.
I would suggest that our boards and committees might try a similar format for our meetings. To at least allow some time for sharing at the beginning. This may keep us mindful of what God is doing, and how God might be working in the daily grind of life. It may help the rest of the meeting to go a little better. Our Sunday School classes and Bible Studies can do the same thing, though our Bible Studies already do follow that – we talk informally at the beginning to give people an opportunity to share.
The purpose for this time of sharing is two-fold: First, we can get encouragement and prayers from people who may have been there, other believers who can stand with us in our trials, solid Christians whose opinions we respect and seek after. But second, we can be an encouragement to others. Somebody else may be struggling with the same thing, thinking they’re alone, not know how to move forward, feeling trapped in their situation, or their sin, or their trials. By sharing what you’re going through, you’re showing them they’re not alone, and that others can struggle through the same issues, and still seek God, and still do the right thing.
Essentially, Paul was doing this in Philippians, and in all the so-called prison epistles. He shares some of the trials he is experiencing. And his trials are pretty severe. He’s been persecuted pretty severely at times. But he knows that some of the believers who will be reading his words will be persecuted too, and he wants them to know that they’re not alone, and that they can get through even the worst of persecution, by clinging to Christ.
The church became bolder by hearing of Paul’s persecution, and his time in prison, and his sufferings. He became an example to them. Rome may have wanted to make an example of him, but he became an example to the believers – an example of how to endure sufferings for Christ’s sake.
Our times of sharing in our groups can have the same affect. If we hear of someone suffering for something, when something similar happens to us, it’s a little easier to get through. When we hear how someone else has overcome– it becomes a little easier for us to overcome. That’s what living in a Christian Community is all about, it’s helping each other through the journey. That’s what the church should be all about.
Billy Graham once said, “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” We can see that in the life of Paul, he was a brave man. And the spines of many in the early church were stiffened by his example. Look for opportunities to share with others the trials you are going through. When you do that, you might just find someone who has been there, who can help you navigate through the storms. You might just be stiffening some spines, too.
Next month, I think we decided on the February 25, we’ll be having another dinner and a movie. I think we decided to try to get the film, God’s Not Dead II. Let me suggest that you all should come out for that. And during dinner, instead of the normal questions about the weather, and Super Bowl, and how the kids are doing, that you spend some time trying to get the conversation to go a little deeper, and look to share what the people at your table are really going through. And be an encouragement to the others you’re sitting with, and share from the heart, how God has helped you – that’s how you know that God’s not dead, right, He’s shown himself to you. Maybe somebody else at your table will need to hear that.
Every Christian needs a church family because growing and maturing is a community activity. We do it together. I believe that our experiences in life, good and bad, come to us to help grow us, and to help grow the others we might we meet. Let me give a couple really quick thoughts why I say that.
First, God has a purpose for all the experiences that we have – good and bad. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” If we love God, and we’re called according to His purpose, and I think that means we’re trying to live for Him, we’re doing what He called us to do, then God will work things out for us, if we trust in Him, and let Him work.
Ephesians 1:11 says something very similar, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” Again, I think that’s saying that if we’re following his plan, living according to His purpose, as close as we can discern that, then God will work out everything according to His purposes – nothing is going to happen that’s going to interfere with His plans. Not everything that happens is going to be fun, we can expect a certain amount of suffering and struggling, but even in these, God won’t leave us there. He will work for good.
A second thought is that God uses every experience in the lives of believers for good. So God will work everything you’re dealing with, out for your good. But not just for you. He does it for your Christian brothers and sisters, too. Some examples of how that might look:
A final thought, then, is because God has a purpose for our experiences, and because our experiences benefit others as well, then we should be thankful and trusting for the experiences we might receive. This can be a little more difficult, isn’t it? Can we reach a point in our faith where we are thankful for the bad things that happen, because we know that they are from God, as well? That God will use them to grow us, and to encourage others?
As I close this morning, I want to share a couple things I saw in an article about group exercise classes. Exercise classes may sound totally off topic, but bear with me for a minute. There are certain advantages to group exercise classes as opposed to working one on one with a personal trainer. First, group classes are more affordable because you are splitting the cost of the trainer into several parts.
Some additional benefits, there is camaraderie in a group setting. You make friends in the group, even if it’s just commiserating on the intensity of the workout. We aren’t isolationists for the most part, we look to be around others. These are all benefits available in the church, too, aren’t they. We find camaraderie, we make some of the best friendships in the church, we commiserate on the hardest parts of life together.
There is one other big benefit that I would rather show you, rather than just tell you about, but I’ll need a volunteer again. If I promise not to throw rubber bands at you, can you help me out? (start jogging in place for a minute or so. Now invite the other person to jog in place with you. Pick up the pace a little bit, see if they do, too. Get to where you are really racing, then stop).
Did you see what happened? As I went a little faster, so did they. And then they went little faster yet, so I did too. In this little exercise, we encouraged each other on, without even speaking, doing more together than what we were doing on our own. That’s why we need each other. That’s why we need community. Because together we get more out of each other than we might expect on our own.
Folks, our stories, our testimonies of courage in obeying God, will inspire and challenge others to be a little bolder, to try a little harder, to accomplish a little more for God, when we share, when we live in community. We will grow, and we will deal with the issues of life, and that’s part of why the church exists.