In our first lesson of our series, “Don’t Go To Church,” we noticed that the first century Christians did not look at the church as something outside of themselves that they went to for an hour. We saw that Christians are the church. We noticed that the Christians immediately and joyfully joined together, spent time together to the point that Luke records that these thousands of Christians in the Jerusalem church were of “one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). What we see is a picture of being together in the descriptions of the church, such as “the body of Christ” and “the family of Christ.” The scriptures tell us that we are joined together in Christ and we must change our thinking so that we love one another the way we read the first century Christians did. We are not individuals in Christ who on occasion come together for the acts of worship. We are the family of Christ and desire to be joined together at all times and work at all times for one another as family.
Acts 2:42 gives us the direction of our study over the next few weeks. Notice that these thousands of people, because of the radical life transformation found in Jesus, devoted themselves. To devote oneself is to persist in adherence to a thing. It means to constantly attend to something. The church in Jerusalem persisted in adhering to and constantly attended to the word of God (the apostles’ teachings). They were devoted not just to the word of God but the teaching of the word of God from the mouths of the apostles. This is a critical component of the church. We are only as strong as what we are built upon. If we are not gospel-centered and gospel-fueled as a church, then we are nothing more than a social outlet for people and lack the power of the gospel for life transformation. The gospel is what binds us together. How else can natural enemies now love each other for Jesus’ sake? How else can zealots who wanted to see the overthrow of the Roman Empire work with tax collectors who worked for the Roman Empire? The gospel is to be a powerful bond that joins us together like a body and like a family. The gospel connects us as a bunch of messed up people, broken before a holy God, yet rescued and given new life in Christ. This bond is stronger than any differences or divisions that we may have because of our backgrounds, values, cultures, and thoughts. The gospel bond bridges the chasm between races, politics, hatred, wealth, social class, and the like. The gospel is our challenge to be “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27 ESV). The gospel is the basis for our unity. The gospel is what joins us together. The gospel is what causes us to overcome our differences and stand side by side striving for the faith. Without the gospel, we are nothing more than a bunch of people living individual lives, coming together for an hour or two with nothing deeper than being mere acquaintances. What does a gospel-centered church look like? Paul wrote to the Romans and described it to them. Turn to Romans 12:9-18.
Let Love Be Genuine (12:9)
True, gospel-centered community is authentic. Loving one another with hypocrisy. We will be free from pretending or acting. The church is people who are genuinely concerned about each other because they are joined together through the gospel of God’s grace. How can this truly be accomplished? How many people do you truly know in this group? How many people do you truly know what is going on in their lives? Whose fault is it that we hardly know anything about the other? First, we may not be truly trying to know others so that we can show genuine, authentic love. Second, we may not be opening ourselves up so that others can know us. Third, we never can know each other without some kind of time together where we can share our knowledge of the scriptures and apply it to the experiences we are facing in life. In Acts 2:42-47 we are not reading of these Christians devoting themselves as individuals to the apostles’ teaching. Read it again and notice that they are devoting themselves to being together so they can be of one heart and soul in the gospel. We need to consider that this is the primary function of any of our bible classes, whether at the building or in our homes. We are sharing in the study of the scriptures so that we can build our faith together. Our faith is being built not just in knowledge, but what this text looks like in my life with what I am facing. This is why I have tried to share with you from the very beginning of my time here my experiences of my parents’ divorce and the disability with my child. We are trying to share our experiences to teach each other how the gospel affects what we are doing and how we are living. This is especially true in our Bible studies at the building and in homes. This is not the time to blow up other religious groups. This is not the time ride our personal pet peeves and hobby horses. We have so few opportunities to grow in the gospel together and devote ourselves to the word of God together. We must take advantage of the time to talk about word of God and how it affects our lives. Class comments need to be considerate and loving and not detrimental to the learning of others. It is not the time to pick fights, have disagreements, and win battles. Think about how your words are affecting everyone in the room. Let your love be shown for each Christian as you share in our gospel studies together. We must devote our time together in the gospel.
Abhor What Is Evil; Hold Fast To What Is Good (12:9)
A gospel driven church hates evil. We will hate evil. The severity of our sins can never be reduced. Too many churches reduce the gravity and severity of sin. This cannot ever happen and still belong to Christ. We must be honest about our condition and our sinfulness but we must never excuse our sins. It is so sad to see so many churches be unconcerned about sins. The attitude all too often is that we are all sinners, we are all human, and so participating in sin is not a big deal. So who cares if you have been divorced and remarried against the laws of God. Who cares if you are involved in repeated sexual sins. Nothing will be done to those who openly rebel against God’s laws. As the apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome he tells them to hate what is evil. We should shutter at anything that goes against God’s revealed will, things that are harmful to ourselves and others. We are honest about our sins and confess our sins one to another (James 5:16) not to excuse our sins or justify our sins, but to pray for one another and encourage each other to be healed from these sinful behaviors. We are nudging each other toward regular repentance of sins and continual sanctification (holy living). When God saves us our attitude toward sin radically changes. Now sin is not easier to commit nor do we desire to commit it. Rather, sin becomes more despicable to us than ever. We will abhor sin. Further, we are encouraging each other toward righteousness.
Love One Another With Brotherly Affection (12:10)
I find it interesting and powerful that Paul returns to a thought that he seemed to already address. He just said to love without hypocrisy. Now he says to love one another with brotherly love. In our last lesson we noted that the scriptures describe us joined together as family in Christ. Paul amplifies this very thought by commanding us to love one another with a family kind of love. This is not optional. This is not a mere suggestion. This is not some sort of ideal that few churches can become. Have you thought about how this can be possible? How is it possible to come to a kind of affection for one another than is family affection? I believe there is only one way to do this and that is to be gospel driven.
The only way for us to have a true, genuine, non-hypocritical love for one another is to have a deeper understanding of God’s love for us in Christ. Our understanding of God’s love for us, in spite of our mistakes, deficiencies, and sinfulness, enables us to love others in spite of themselves. It is only when I truly see God’s love for me through Christ that I can love others in this manner. I can’t love you rightly when I’m not looking at God’s love for me through the cross of Jesus. I am going to think about all the things I need to do. I will think about my own schedule, comfort, and conveniences. I think selfishly. I think about my own interests. It is only when I have my eyes on the cross that I will stop thinking about myself and see my identity in Christ being joined to his body that must love others of this body as Christ has loved me. Our lack of sacrifice for one another, lack of time together, lack of unity and harmony, and lack of desire for the best in one another shows we have taken our eyes off of Christ. Listen to how the apostle John worded this idea:
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:12 ESV)
To state this point by John in the negative: if we are not loving one another, not only is God not with us but his love is not working in our lives. Our selfishness is working in our lives and we have lost the gospel. The gospel, the good news of God’s love for us through Jesus, drives us to love each other. This is how we will outdo each other in showing each other honor (12:10). This is how we will not become lazy with our zeal (12:11). This is how we will remain fervent in spirit and not grow slack (12:11). We will be fully focused on meeting each other’s needs and doing whatever it takes to help each other grow in the gospel.
What does all of this mean for us? What are we seeing in these Christians in the first century that we need to consider? What we are seeing in the scriptures are Christians living ordinary, gospel driven lives with gospel intentionality. Here is what I mean by this: they did not go out of their way to do something for Christ. Living for Christ together was the ordinary life. It goes back to us changing our thinking about what we are doing and what this is all about. We have a new identity in Christ. I am not longer living for myself and my desires but for the gospel. The gospel is now the ordinary life. Rather than the gospel being the unusual thing, that is living like the world except that we have added God to our lives like a hobby and go to worship once a week, now the gospel is the only thing and it is unusual for us not to be doing something gospel related. If we have learned anything from studying the life of Jesus in Luke’s gospel and learned anything from the resurrection driven life, then we immediately grasp that life is not ours but Christ’s who has called us into this body. Therefore, serving one another is the norm, not the unusual. Spending time with Christians is the norm, not the unusual. Joining together with Christians in the gospel is the norm, not the unusual. Reaching the lost is the norm, not the unusual because these things comprise the new gospel life in Christ. There are no compartments in our lives now. There is no such thing as “church time,” “work time,” “family time,” and the like. All time is gospel time. The gospel is the basis for all our “times” and relationships. We have been given a mission by God to act like Christ’s body together. Devotion to God’s word does not merely mean reading our Bibles but living transformed lives for each other based on God’s word. How are we doing in living gospel driven lives?