Tue November 7th, 2017
This could be a ‘how long is a piece of string?’ type of question, so we need to define what we mean.
We could talk for hours about social responsibility and the expectation that God has of us to stand up for justice, truth and the proclamation of the gospel, but what is expected of you in the church?
So, you have decided to follow Jesus and you are committed to a local body of the church – so what next?
God expects us to love one another as Jesus loved us. This love is not sloppy, or romantic, but selfless, kind and generous.
John 13:34 "I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Distinctively. This is how people will recognise that we are disciples of Jesus by the way we demonstrate our love for each other. You may have come from a ‘loveless’ home, may not have had a role model for caring for others, but as you receive forgiveness from Jesus and start to walk with him, it is reasonable for God to expect to start to see love in your heart and actions. Even people that get up your nose can be loved! Just start praying for them every day and believe me -you will find over time that your heart goes out to them.
As well as showing love to the church, the responsibility of being there for your relatives, especially your immediate family ought to rise up within you. Again, you may not have had a great family life, but of all people God expects his church to care for their immediate family. As much as my mother made life very difficult for Pauline and I, when she needed me I was always there as a dutiful son and Pauline as a dutiful daughter.
1 Tim 5:8 Now if anyone does not provide for his own relatives, and especially for his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
You are now members of the church and God expects you to fellowship with the rest of the body. It says this of the early church:
Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. ….46 And every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house.
‘Devoted’ may sound a bit too much of a commitment to you, but in a sense, nothing has changed – if we are committed to walking with Jesus there also has to be a commitment to walking with the rest of the body of Christ – the church.
The scripture warns us of the approaching ‘Day of the Lord’ (when time will be wound up and all accounts settled) this way:
Heb 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
In a work driven society, where more and more is expected of us, where pressures are on us that affect our mental health, and where the family itself is under attack, God does not expect you to be at every meeting organised by the local church, but he does expect you to be there when you can. At one point in my pre-church career I was not able to make midweek meetings on time, but I always turned up, even to the extent that I arrived once in the closing song… It is amazing how God will meet with you in that last song, or in the conversations afterwards.
If you were to watch some Christian TV shows you might be forgiven for thinking that the only requirement on Christians is that they give money.
God is more concerned with our level of sacrifice than our level of giving. Jesus observed and commented on this event:
Luke 21:2 He also saw a poor widow dropping in two tiny coins. 3 "I tell you the truth," He said. "This poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For all these people have put in gifts out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on."
Sometimes we have much and sometimes we have little. There is no subscription to the church, only a call for generosity:
2 Cor 9:6 Remember this: the person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not out of regret or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work. 9 As it is written:
He has scattered; He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.
10 Now the One who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness, 11 as you are enriched in every way for all generosity, which produces thanksgiving to God through us. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving to God.
Someone who is wealthy by this worlds standard may give a thousand pounds to the church but that might be nothing to them, whereas a widow on benefits might give ten pounds and be regarded as generous. God sees our hearts and he recognises our generosity – don’t give to be seen by others, but give out of the generosity of your heart and God will see.
Your commitment and your giving may also be visible in your volunteering – being part of the set up team or the welcome team. Whatever aspect of church life you are involved in remember the woman who poured perfume on Jesus:
Mark 14:6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
She did what she could! That is all that God is expecting of you too! No one should be expected to do what they can’t do – the example in Mark 14 is one of a heart that wanted to bless and did so. May our hearts also want to bless and if we do we can be sure that we will also reap a blessing.
Why haven’t we mentioned behaviour? Aren’t certain standards expected, nay, required? The reality is that in church belonging is our priority – you don’t have to behave a certain way before you can ‘join’. We are all ‘sinners saved by grace’ and none of us are more special to God. Good behaviour comes with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and isn’t a prerequisite to membership.
Does God expect that you will begin to live differently – with a thought of what might please Him? – Yes, but there is much grace and God wants you in His church first. If God required certain standards of behaviour before membership was confirmed, then His church would be empty! God expects that we will allow Him access to our thoughts and actions and welcome His Holy Spirit in, who will bring us to the point of decision to change our behaviour.
God is good: He loves us first and as a result we learn to love Him. This gospel is a very good deal indeed!