Saturday, November 1, 2014

How God uses church membership to strengthen Christian living

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 than furthering the administration of God which is by faith."

A couple of days ago we considered how God uses church membership to strenghen Christian faith. We saw how church membership is ordained and used by God to stabilize, sweeten and stretch Christian faith. Today we continue on considering the life style that flows from Christian faith. This series of posts on "God's plan for strengthening church membership" are aimed at understanding how Church membership is not only Biblical but necessary for ensuring a stronger Christianity both within the church and outside in the world. 

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. Again our main point of application is: 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 second of these, namely.....

Church membership makes for stronger Christian living. 
Paul writes in 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 to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith." These verses remind us of what we covered the other day with regards to why Paul wanted Timothy and the church at Ephesus to be in a pastor/church relationship - so that competent leadership could strengthen the membership. Clearly there was all kinds of error being promoted at Ephesus in the form of myths (perhaps some sort of paganism, which was prevalent at Ephesus with the cult of Artemis) and endless geneaologies (perhaps some Jewish legalism mixed in with paganism). Regardless of what exactly was happening, the distraction away from strong Christian faith leading to strong Christian living was raising its ugly head. Both pastor and church members needed to band together under the banner of Christ to uphold the doctrine and necessary Christian living that flows from faith in Jesus Christ.

As Paul writes on in the opening of 1 Timothy, we read in 1:5  "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." Clearly this "instruction" is meant to take place in the context of the local church where God's people are gathered together as a unified church membership. Church membership makes for a stronger resolve to live for Jesus Christ. Church membership, properly conceived (regenerate people, scriptural baptized), will function as a three braided cord for the Christian life, as spelled out here in 1 Timothy 1:5.

a. Love from a pure heart
The Christian life begins with a change of mind (repentance) and a simultaneous change of heart (faith). How else can a Christian be expected to have a heart sensitive to the things of God lest they are with other believers. (see hebrews 10:24-25) 

b. Pure conscience
The conscience is the super-highway that runs between the mind and the heart. What makes the conscience most vulnerable to moral and spiritual attack is when the Christian is separated from the flock of the local church. Hearing and heeding God's Word in the context of a local church membership gathered together in fellowship and relationship makes for a purer conscience in the Christian. (see Hebrews 3:12-13) 

c. Sincere Faith
When we speak of "faith" in the Bible, there is my "small 'f' faith" and the overall Christian "capital 'F' Faith". Paul here is speaking of the personal "small 'f' faith" of the individual Christian. When we gather together as church members, should not the net result of our gatherings be the making for a more sincere faith? This is what Paul is urging Timothy to aim for as he begins his preaching and teaching ministry at Ephesus.

Illustration: Coals on a BBQ
To drive home what Paul is emphasizing here in 1 Timothy and what we are aiming to cover in these series of posts, imagine if you will coals in a BBQ. When I cook hamburgers on a grill, I frequently notice how some coals will retain their heat and others will remain colder or even unlit. It won't be until I put those unaffected coals near the hotter ones that they are rekindled. Why? A coal in isolation from the lit flames of the combined coals will be ineffective. However when you put those coals in combination with one another, there is a strengthening of the life of the fire that was begun from the first lighting of the fire. Furthermore, when the coals are together, whether there be a gust of wind or even rain, those coals can withstand the elements.

Paul here in 1 Timothy is warning this pastor and really us of the necessity of church membership in this modern day of ours. The perils of false teaching, godless culture and temptation are swirling all around us. As we strive to live day to day for Jesus, we must realize that the Christian life is not meant to be lived in isolation. Sure there will be those seasons where illness, extreme job circumstances and family emergencies arise. No doubt God can and does give grace in such extenuating circumstances. However the bulk of Christians skipping out on their responsibility of being together with God's people is oftentimes due more to an unwillingness and obedience issue than life's circumstances. 

I have learned over the nearly three decades of being a Christian that time away from my Bible, prayer and the ministry of the local church yields a weakened Christianity 100% of the time. Of course we know that being a church member and even being at church all the time does not render a Christian immune from struggles in their Christian walk. However, the likelihood of having a weakened Christian walk is significantly reduced when we are in fellowship with the membership of our local church. This is God's intended design for strengthening Christian living - the local church.

More tomorrow.... 

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