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Saturday, 23 January 2016

Acts part 19: Partnership in the gospel.

Building the right foundation part 19

Acts 9: 26-31 “Partnership in the gospel.”

When Paul came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

New International Version - UK (NIVUK)

This will be the last of our studies in Acts as related to our theme of “Building the right foundation.” The purpose of our series is to consider how we as the church here in East Cornwall operate in the 21st century. The church was established here in the 1960's and has been blessed over the years. There have of course been times of great blessing and as we know there have also been times of disappointment and problems. It is not our purpose to dwell either on the good or the bad times but we have the opportunity to draw a line in the sand on all that has gone before and to start with a new beginning. The church must never stand still because gospel witness is organic, it is alive and is the responsibility of the church. It is through our gospel witness that we make disciples of men, women, boys and girls.
Some have asked when we are going to re-start toddlers, Sunday school and a whole host of other activities. My simple answer to those questions is that we are not doing so at this moment because there are some fundamental issues that we have to concern ourselves with first. I deliberately put out my little motto card before Christmas which simply quoted Jesus' command to come aside and rest a while. The church needs to rest in the assurance that Jesus is in control of all that we are. He has allowed all that has gone before and therefore has brought us to the point that we find ourselves in today.
In fact where we are today is a similar situation that the church in Jerusalem and Saul of Tarsus were experiencing in our reading. By this time Saul had been a witnessing believer for quite a while as we discovered in our last study. The one thing that was missing was his fellowship in the gospel with the church in Jerusalem and so Paul was keen to join the church. The church was understandably suspicious of Saul's motives and so the leaders had rejected his advances. There was then logically a confusion and a stand off between the church and Saul. Their situation and ours is not the same but of similar order in that before the church in Jerusalem could advance and move on into the next phase of it's ministry, reconciliation had to take place. God had to do something to resolve the difference.
Similarly I believe that God has to resolve a number of issues in the church here in Callington before we can progress to the next phase of our gospel ministry together. For this reason over the next few weeks our ministry will be applied to the church covenant document that all members agree to before they join the church. You should all have received a copy of this document as you arrived this morning. The first point in the covenant is:
In the name of The Lord Jesus Christ. On the basis of his gospel and the written Word, and in humble reliance on his saving grace in our lives, we covenant together to be a congregation of believers, part of the global and eternal people of God, the body or Christ and the fellowship of the Spirit. We gather to encourage one another to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, by seeking the continual filling of the Holy Spirit for holiness and by exercising the gifts of the Holy Spirit in ministry.
The promise we make as members of the church is to support and encourage each other to grow together and to encourage one another in the gospel. This then leads to our joint ministry as led by the Holy Spirit of God. When all of this is in place then we can develop the work of the church together as directed by God's Spirit. It is not about starting things but getting a secure foundation in place before activity. It would be ludicrous to think that Roger would put the lift in first before he has done all of the foundational work that he is currently working on. There currently needs to be a supporting beam put in place that is strong enough to take the weight of the lift. That takes careful calculation and the correct purchase. Equally the foundation of the church must be in place first for the ministry of the church to develop. That is exactly what we see in the passage before us.
For the church in Jerusalem the last Apostle needed to be in place. How did that work out? There needed to be a son of encouragement to bring the two opposing factions together.
This morning we will briefly consider:
  1. Saul's desire.
  2. The church's fear.
  3. Barnabas' ministry.

Saul's desire:
Saul's greatest desire was to belong, he had been commissioned by the Lord to take the gospel to the Gentiles but he knew that he could not do that in isolation. He needed to be a part of the church. He needed to belong in the same way that he had always needed to belong to Judaism. God set a pattern of belonging to each other as His people when He called Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees. He promised that through Abraham He would bring about a family of faith. A people who belong together as brothers and sisters. We see that family come into being through Isaac and then Jacob who were the forefathers of the family nation of Israel. The fulfilment of Israel is realised by the church which Jesus calls His family and also His body. The reality is that Christians belong together in Christ and in covenant to each other. I am so pleased that the church here has a covenant and that we all as members agree to adhere to it. The only problem with it is that we do not focus on it enough. For that reason we will be affirming our commitment to our covenant in our next church members meeting. For this reason we will consider the implications of the covenant over the next few weeks.
The first point of our covenant is how we belong to each other. Saul had a great desire to belong to the church in Jerusalem, he wanted to be a member of their congregation and also to be in free fellowship with them. Church membership as many believe is not something of a modern invention it is evident throughout scripture this passage being a classic example. Saul set the pattern for the ongoing church and so like him we must belong to each other but:
Do we?
If you are not a member of the church I would ask why not? We can have all sorts of theological and practical ideals as to why not but they will not stand up to the scrutiny of scripture. Saul desperately wanted to join the church in Jerusalem and therefore he made every effort to join them. So far he had failed because the church was unwilling to accept him.
Why not take Saul's example and join us in covenanted fellowship?
The Church's fear:
We fully understand the fear of the church, Saul had done them so much harm but he was now a changed man and he belonged with them. In fact God had appointed him to be an Apostle and a leader in the church. The church at that time did not appreciate that and so they had to learn to discern and submit to God's leading in this matter.
But it is so hard.
Accepting the unlovely into the church has always been a great difficulty. Peter and James interviewed Saul and were not convinced. It is always right that the leaders interview those who wish to join and for the leaders to make a decision. The example we have before us shows that leaders can make mistakes. I am grateful that the church at that time was open enough for the issue to be raised again after they had initially made a big mistake. They could not believe and trust Saul's testimony and therefore they acted by their conscience. In turn Saul did not go off in a huff as some might but he waited for God to lead in a different way and to resolve the issue.
At times we are bound to make decisions that are wrong. We are likely to accept some who are not yet converted and may reject others who are. Just as the great Apostle Peter got it wrong then we are equally likely to so. This proves that local church membership does not guarantee the salvation of all members.
This is where our covenant comes in once again.
We should regularly confirm together that we agree with all that it says and so from now on it will become a vital part of our members meetings. It is then up to each member to honestly take stock of their situation and to either agree to adhere to it or to absent yourself from membership.
Saul knew that he belonged and greatly desired to be an active member of the church. The church could not see that and so they needed a moderator. Enter Barnabas:

Barnabas' ministry:
See what happened next; Barnabas took Saul to the leaders. Barnabas could see the problem, he knew that Saul was a converted man and he that he could do something to bring him into fellowship with the church.
What a man!
How we need men and women of wisdom like Barnabas who are moderators within the church today. Our church so needs members who are so committed to the fellowship and to each other that they are willing to put themselves on the line in order to bring about a right change. Barnabas was committed to the needs of the church in Jerusalem. He had a reputation of encouraging the church. Remember it was he who earlier had sold a piece of land for the benefit of needy Christians, now he is responsible for bringing Saul into fellowship. His greatest desire was for the greater good of all the church.
That is what church membership is all about.
I get angry when people tell me that church membership is a closed society akin to the Mason's. If that is your view then you must repent of it immediately. Church membership is here in the Mustard Seed is open to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and are living by faith in Him. If we as leaders believe that to be the case for anybody then the church will accept them as part of us, whoever and whatever they are. We are to encourage them into fellowship and to help them to growth in grace, faith and witness. We work together to encourage and build each other up. That is what our covenant demands of us and that is exactly what we intend to do together.
There is also another side to the coin. Christians who are not members are putting themselves outside of the fellowship, they are not covenanted to us and so therefore how can we care for them properly. If you are one of these I urge you to deal with it today. What is it that really prevents you from joining. The scripture does not allow lone ranger Christians, your own personal preference may do so but where personal preference is at odds with scripture then it is sin and needs to be repented of.
If we want to move forward as the Mustard Seed then we must first of all bring this most important issue to the fore and deal with it. It is vital for us both as individuals and corporately as the church. God has set us in this place in order that we make disciples of people, we cannot do that if we are disunited. This does not leave room for carping, unfair criticism, gossip and slander. If you have something to say about a brother or sister if you have not told them first do not dare tell others. Fellowship is all about caring for each other which means that if another believer has done something to offend you then you are duty bound to tell them first. Then if that does not have the required effect then and only then it is right to go elsewhere, not for gossip but to rightly deal with the problem.
It is amazing that I so often hear about the things I say, or write wrongly through a third person and often weeks after the original error. If I spell something wrong or say or do something wrong please do not tut in your pew and talk to your neighbour about it without first telling me. Honesty will be build me up, gossip will destroy me. It is the same for all of us let us put aside petty squabbles and do what our covenant demands:
In the name of The Lord Jesus Christ. On the basis of his gospel and the written Word, and in humble reliance on his saving grace in our lives, we covenant together to be a congregation of believers, part of the global and eternal people of God, the body or Christ and the fellowship of the Spirit. We gather to encourage one another to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, by seeking the continual filling of the Holy Spirit for holiness and by exercising the gifts of the Holy Spirit in ministry.

One final observation: As soon as Saul joined the church, he was about his gospel ministry in and around Jerusalem and then when things became difficult for him the church cared for him and supported him. An amazing turn around! From a position of stalemate to clear gospel progress. That is what we need to aim for as the church here. Who knows what the next new church member might bring or do to the church!

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