Wednesday, October 29, 2014

God's plan for strengthening Christian faith is Church Membership

1 Timothy 1:3-4 "As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 4 nor to pay attention tomyths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather thanfurthering the administration of God which is by faith."

Yesterday we considered the Biblical basis for church membership. In the book of 1 Timothy, the question can be raised as to why Paul was so concerned about young Timothy working to establish the leadership and church at Ephesus? One of the main reasons is because he wanted a church membership  that would express a stronger form of Christianity. 

Point of Application:
As you read what Paul would write in the book of 1 Timothy, you discover that one of the central concerns he had was to ensure that both the leadership and membership of the local church were unified and Christ focused against the rising tide of doctrinal and cultural opposition. As we noted yesterday and will note again today, the following main point of application will be: Church membership is necessary for a stronger Christianity in our local churches and outside in the world. In what specific ways does God use the Biblical concept of church membership to underscore a stronger Christianity? Three answers emerge from looking through 1 Timothy 1:1-11:

1. Stronger Christian Faith 1:1-4 
2. Stronger Christian Living 1:5-7 
3. Stronger Christian Witness 1:8-11

We will today consider the first of these, namely.....

God's plan for strengthening Christian Faith is church membership. 1 Timothy 1:1-4
When you and I think of church membership, we must not think of it in terms of belonging to an organization, but rather an organism. As we saw in yesterday's post, the Apostle Paul bears this out in his comparison of the local church to that of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12. The church at Ephesus was among the strongest churches in the New Testament. It was the church that Timothy was to preside over as a pastor in 1 & 2 Timothy. We also see a separate letter that Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, as well as the beginnings of this church in Acts 18-20. As a matter of fact, the Church at Ephesus might be the only church we see in the entire New Testament whose history is portrayed from its inception to its latter years.

Now why bring these facts up? Because what will follow below are quotations of various New Testament scriptures that directly relate to the local church scene at Ephesus. Furthermore, by looking at these quotes, we can see how God ordained church membership in the local church to strengthen the faith of local believers in their dealings with various issues that crop up in the Christian life. In other words, we can note three ways in which church membership can be used by God to strengthen Christian faith.

1. Church membership stabilizes the Christian's faith.
We read in Acts 20:29-30 "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them." Paul would had made that statement to the Ephesian Elders in roughly 55 A.D. When he wrote what he wrote to Timothy in 62 A.D, the prediction had already came true. Paul re-echoed this warning to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1, indicating that this pattern was to be the norm for every church of every age. Christians need the local church to be stabilized in their faith. Paul's establishment of Elders in Acts 20 and exhortations to Timothy in 1 Timothy underscore the need for men who will feed God's people the scriptures. Whenever Christians are in covenant with one another in the membership of the local church, their faith is stabilized. Now notice a second way in which church membership strengthens the Christian's faith...

2. Church Membership Sweetens the Christian's faith. 
We read these words in Ephesians 1:15-16 "For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints,16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers." Have you ever noticed what happens when, if you are a Christian reading this post, you are away from church? The tendency and temptation for bitterness and cynicism increases. This is why the writer of Hebrews in passages such as Hebrews 3:12-13 and 10:24-25 warns his readers to not forsake the gathering of themselves, lest they are hardened by the deceit of sin. When Paul wrote to the Ephesian church the Epistle to the Ephesians, the date would had been roughly 60 A.D, or two years before the composition of 1 Timothy. 

The church at Ephesus was being commended by her sweetness of faith in and among one another.  This is why Paul urges Timothy in his preaching and teaching ministry in 1 Timothy 1:5 "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." Such sweetness not only requires God's people merely gathering together just for the sake of gathering together, but what must also be included is the teaching and preaching of the Word and songs of worship. (Colossians 3:16; 1 Timothy 4:13-16) We come to church to be a blessing to one another and outside the church walls - this much we know. However if we come and mentally check out the moment the sermon begins or the singing starts, then the benefit we gain from church membership will be no better than possessing a bottle of vitamins we never ingest. We must take in Jesus' prescription for sweetening and stabilizing our faith, church membership. Now let's consider one final way in which the Christian's faith is strengthened by Church membership....

3. Church Membership stretches the Christian's faith. 
In Ephesians 4:12-13 we read why God appointed leaders such as pastors:  "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." For anyone who has spent any amount of time in the local church, there are seasons that can be quite stretching. So often people leave over personality conflicts, as well as what can be legitimate doctrinal issues. To be honest, life as a church member can be challenging. Whenever you read Paul's letter to Timothy, his instructions include urging this new pastor to endure the hardships of ministry and to urge the membership to do the same. Pursuing unity as a church body takes work and dependance upon God's Holy Spirit. God appointed men such as pastors, teachers and evangelists to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. 

Church membership aims to stretch our faith. Its easy to criticize the church when you are not regularly in attendance. However what happens when you get involved in praying for the ministry and getting your hands dirty? As Adrian Rogers once noted: The church is not a cruise ship composed of passengers on a lazy voyage but rather the church is a battleship with soldiers ready to fight the fight of faith. 

Closing thoughts:
God's plan for strengthening the Christian faith is Church membership. Whenever a Christian joins a church, they are yielding to a Biblical arrangement that will aim to stabilize, sweeten and stretch their faith. 

This series will continue on Saturday, November 1st. Return tomorrow for a post commemorating a very special day.

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