The Church: A Christ-Centered Community

A Christ-Centered Community sermon notes

The Church: Called out as a Christ-Centered Community

Passage: Various

Sunday July 16, 2017

Pastor Paul L. Davis

 

Key Goals: (Know) To understand the centrality of Christ in the church. (Feel) To develop a primary love for Christ. (Do) To love the Lord with all of our heart.

Introduction: It begins when we are very young. As children, it looks like snatching a toy away from someone else and saying, “Mine!” Or in elementary school it is when we clamor and fight to be the first in line or the first chosen. In middle school, it often shows up as pouting, sulking, or moodiness. It is the thought behind grabbing the last three pieces of pizza when there are still people in line behind you. In high school, it is revealed through cheating on tests, aggressive driving, and sneaking around in order to sin. It comes out in simple things from being grouchy in the morning to coming home late without calling. As we get older, it often becomes a little subtler, but it is still there: padding a resume, cheating on taxes, and stealing from work. It can look like excess: excess alcohol, buying more than we can afford, pursuing wealth, position, or secret affairs. But it is all fruit of the same problem: putting yourself first. It’s a bigger problem than we often think.

This isn’t a new problem. Putting yourself first began with Lucifer the “shining morning star,” second only to God in his beauty, one of the archangels created for the sole purpose of worshipping God in his holy presence. But he was not content to be second place; he wanted first. So Lucifer said this in his heart, “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high… 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.“ (Isaiah 14:13–14)[1] Discontent with serving God, Lucifer wanted to be the “most high.” Ezekiel 28:17 tells us how God responded to Lucifer’s rebellion. “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground.” God expelled Lucifer from heaven and cast him down to the earth, where he now destroys, deceives, and distracts us from putting God first in our lives.[2] I’ll come back to this problem in a minute.

This morning we are beginning a series on the church. We are going to tackle some tough questions very honestly. Questions like: Are we doing church right? Why do I have to be at church every week? Is church really something you have to join? Can I really trust church leadership? To begin, we need some definitions. What is the church? Well, it is not a denomination, a building, an organization, a club, or even a place of worship. The Greek word used in Scripture for church (Gk: ekklesia) literally means “those called out.” The idea is a group of people that have gathered because they were called to. Definition: Church - a called assembly of believers joined to Christ’s spiritual body by the Holy Spirit at the moment of regeneration, when they individually place their faith in the Lord Jesus as their Savior - who are committed to meet regularly for edification, worship, and participation in the ordinances.[3] We will dive deeper into this definition over the coming weeks, but this morning we are going to focus like a laser on the core of the church: our Lord Jesus Christ.

Nine years ago, the leadership of our church created a mission statement for this ministry. As we worked through the biblical texts for why our local church exists, we created a statement that communicates two purposes wrapped around a core: we exist to “Passionately pursue Christ and lovingly pursue others for Christ.” That’s it; it’s not complicated. Our church has two primary functions: the pursuit of Jesus Christ and the loving pursuit of other people for Jesus Christ. Two functions, but notice those functions revolve around Christ. He is at the core of our mission. He is the focal point of everything we are to be and do.

In Phil 3:7-9, the apostle Paul expressed this when he said, 7“I once thought other things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him.” Paul believed that the infinite value of knowing Christ made everything else in his life seem worthless. For the sake of knowing Christ, he discarded everything else. He counted everything else as garbage (literally excrement) when it was compared to knowing Christ. Is this our mindset? This is such critical thinking, especially when it comes to the church. It is so easy to think of our church in terms of programs, people, ministries, or even responsibility. When we think this way, it is easy to grow bitter, weary, and selfish—especially when we are under appreciated, overlooked, or left out. All of that is garbage compared to knowing Christ.

If you have ever been to a funeral that I have preached, you have heard me talk from Matthew 13. Please turn there for a moment. I go to this passage often, as it acts as a compass in my life, steering my heart in the right direction. Here we see two very short stories with one powerful message. 44 The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Only three verses, so simple you almost want to skim them and move on. Jesus was explaining to those who would follow him what following looks like. The two word pictures are a great pearl and a hidden treasure.

 

The Hidden Treasure (Matt 13:44)

In biblical times, wealth was troublesome because of its insecurity. Before the days of banks and safety deposit boxes, every man had to devise a way of concealing his wealth, or at least find some place where money, jewels, and other valuables might remain free from thieves and swindlers. Sometimes they would hide their treasures in secret closets in the house or in storage vaults under the house. It was common to have a secret burial spot in a field unknown to everyone except the owner. The best example of this happening is in Joshua 7:21 when Achan, after stealing treasures from Jericho, digs a hole under his tent to conceal them. Sometimes the owner went away and died and his secret died with him. Times of war left many treasures concealed. Even to this day, archeologists find buried treasures that were hidden in the ancient past. This year (2017) on March 19th, construction workers building a highway in Tel Aviv unearthed an ancient home and in a wall was treasure of bronze coins, hidden away for safekeeping.[4]

Jewish law was very clear. If you were the owner of a field with treasure in it, you were the automatic owner of that treasure.[5] In this parable, the man finds a great treasure! This treasure is worth everything. In his joy of finding the treasure, the man sells all that he has to attain the field. There is no halfway commitment. He is not double-minded. He has assessed the value of the treasure and it is more than worth everything he has. So, he sells it all to attain the treasure. Why? Why does he have to sell in order to buy? Jesus put it this way in Luke 16:13. No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

At the very heart of our gathering, serving, teaching, praying, singing, and giving must be a pursuit of the treasure—the treasure of knowing Jesus Christ! When it is your turn to serve in the nursery and you wake up not wanting to do it, do not tell yourself that you “have an obligation.” That’s not the treasure! Remind yourself that your service to children this morning is you counting your comfort as garbage compared to the treasure of Christ. There is nothing more important in this world than us pursuing the treasure of Christ and leading our children to find that same hidden treasure.

 

The Pearl of Great Price (Matt 13:45-46)

This parable is just as simple but with a different nuance. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Every one of us spends our lives “seeking pearls.” I don’t care who you are, we all go through life looking for what is valuable, and we barter and trade for it. We trade time for education, money for homes and cars. We trade singleness for marriage and sometimes we trade our career for the sake of children or family.

In this parable, we are the merchants in search of some of those fine pearls. There are certainly many good and fine pearls in this life to pursue (spouse, children, friendship). But the merchant finds one pearl of great value, Jesus Christ, and he is willing to part with everything to attain it; he again sells all that he has to have this one thing. The question that should come to your mind is, in all our trading as merchants, have we attained the Pearl? We can spend our life trading for trinkets, or we can look for, pursue, go after the pearl of great value. Nothing compares to him. Nothing.

Look, this is a sermon about the church. I am not telling you that “church” has to be the most important thing in your life, but Jesus does. If there is anything in your life that stands in opposition to Christ, sell it! If there is anything in your life in competition with him, sell it! The pattern of passionately pursuing Christ is leaving all and following him.

 

Jesus was very clear with his disciples about who was to be first in their lives.

  • Jesus called his disciples to leave all and follow him (Luke 5:11, 28).
  • Jesus told his disciples that unless their love for him made their love for their father and mother look like hate, they were not worthy of him (Luke 14:26).
  • Jesus sent the rich young ruler away sad because he refused to put Christ above his covetousness (Mk. 10:17-27).

 

Why? Because Jesus is selfish and wants us all to himself? No! Because getting him, knowing him, is of infinite worth! His value is stunning! His beauty and holiness are beyond compare. Everything else is trash and worthless compared to him. 

 

Let me finish very practically. Every Sunday when you wake up, what should your mindset be? How do we practically, as a church, put Christ first? Sunday mornings are a time to savor our treasure. Listen to Eph. 1:4-5. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. God derived “great pleasure” from adopting us into his family. Bringing us to him is his great joy. On Sunday mornings, we have the joy of gathering together as family and enjoying him, savoring him, worshipping him. The Scriptures encourage us to “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps 34:8)

Sunday mornings are a time to sell our selfishness, comfort, and covetousness. I met with a guy not long ago who told me that he honestly struggled being with the church on Sundays. This is what he said, “When I get there, I’m always glad I did, but it is so hard motivating myself to get going in the morning.” I think that is an honest description of what everyone feels from time to time. But—and this is important—fighting our flesh and selfishness early on Sunday mornings is a central piece of living a Christ-centered life.

The community of the church is uniquely designed to help us sell our selfishness. We have to work together, prefer others over ourselves, give up our seat, serve in the nursery, give from our wealth, teach a class, lead a group. All of these acts are unselfish and many times downright uncomfortable. But when you find the treasure, when you find the pearl…you sell everything you have to get it!

 

© Calvary Baptist Church of Holland

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to use and reproduce this material in any format for spiritual, non-commercial purposes. We only ask that you do not alter the content in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. Please include the following statement on any distributed material: by Paul L. Davis. © Calvary Baptist Church of Holland

 

 

[1] Scripture quotations are from the ESV Bible.

[2] M. S. Mills, The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1999), Is 14:12–Eze 28:19.

[3] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Four: Church, Last Things (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2005).

[4] http://hamodia.com/2017/03/19/ancient-buried-treasure-discovered-under-brand-new-highway/

[5] Read more about this in…Freeman, J. M., & Chadwick, H. J. (1998). Manners & customs of the Bible (Rev. ed.].) (438). North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers.