MARK 5: THE SPIRIT UNITED CHURCH
This morning we continue our sermon series on the 8 Marks of the Church. So far we have looked at the Spirit-filled Church, the Son-confessing Church, the Scripture-keeping Church and the Sacrament Observing Church. Each week we have been focusing on a myth about the church which is perpetuated by the world wanting to twist what the church is, what it has to say and what its purpose is. And by Satan who wants to weaken the church and make it ineffective. We need to be aware of these myths and be united together with the Holy Spirit to continually strengthen the church.
Each week we have talked about an urban legend which are misguided, dangerous or both and the same goes for the myths about the church. Who remembers throwing rice at a newly married couple? You may remember then that the practice was stopped because birds would eat the rice left on the ground and sometime later the rice would expand and the birds would explode. How many people believe that rice is dangerous for birds? How many people believe rice is not dangerous for birds? For some reason, people just can’t get enough of urban legends about food causing living creatures to explode. For years, couples planning their wedding have been warned about not throwing rice at the ceremony because birds will be tempted to eat it, causing them to blow up. Now that can’t actually happen. Rice, whether it’s cooked or uncooked, poses no threat to birds. But Connecticut state legislator Mae Schmidle tried to introduce a bill in 1985 that would ban rice-throwing. She called the bill “An Act Prohibiting the Use of Uncooked Rice at Nuptial Affairs” and insisted birds can’t digest uncooked rice. Schmidle said ministers had told her they found dead birds after weddings, victimized by innocent rice celebrations. This myth was repeated in Ann Landers’ advice column. In 2002, a project conducted by a biology professor at the University of Kentucky tested this theory and found that while rice expands in size by 33 percent when soaked, birdseed expands by 40 percent. Since your bird feeder isn’t surrounded by detonated birds, rice is probably fine. The professor even fed rice to birds and noted no adverse effects.
Today’s mark of the church is the Spirit United Church and the myth is “you can be united by any vision in your church and be a healthy church.” This myth can be dangerous because it can cause professing children of God to be united around a vision for the family of God that is not in line with God’s vision, and it can lead the family of God into a lesser vision than He has for them as their good Father. Also, the vision for the church is made effective by the Holy Spirit and if Satan can get the church to believe that any man-made vision will do then the Holy Spirit is taken out of the equation making the church even weaker and less effective. We know this is a myth because Jesus said a clear mark of a healthy church would be a church filled with people who are united together by the Holy Spirit around the mission that God has given.
Before we study this 5th Mark of the Church, let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we come humbly before you asking to fill us with your Holy Spirit, uniting us together as your church. Unite us to be your witnesses in the world as we pursue, grow and multiply disciples. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Each week we have been looking at the different marks of the church and studying the scriptures about what Jesus taught, the Early Church taught and what the Apostles taught about each one. Let’s first look at what Jesus taught about the Spirit United Church in Acts 1:6-8. This is what God’s Word says, “Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
It is interesting that the disciples thought they knew what their mission was going to be. Like most of the Jewish people, the disciples still believed that the Messiah would usher in the Kingdom of God and that it would be realized by Israel conquering its enemies and being restored to the national prominence it felt was due them by being God’s chosen people. The disciples were probably thinking of the positions of authority that Jesus would give each one in that kingdom. Notice that Jesus doesn’t answer their question but tells his disciples (and I am paraphrasing), “It’s none of your business.” “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” The Greek word for “time” is chronos and the word for “dates” or some versions say “seasons” is kairos. Chronos denotes a duration of time. Kairos is event-oriented time. Chronos marks quanity and kairos marks quality. Jesus wants them to understand that the purposes of God for the world is none of their concern. All time is under God’s authority and his timing is always perfect. Ogilvie says what he senses Jesus saying to the disciples and to us is that the power of the Holy Spirit will be entrusted to people who can accept God’s authority over time.
Jesus then tells his disciples two things. One, they would receive power but not the political power they were thinking of. It would be the same supernatural power that Jesus exhibited while he was on the earth and it would be given to them for a very special purpose. This was the far greater power of the Holy Spirit and it would unite them as they fulfilled that purpose. Zechariah 4:6b says, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Just as Jesus had been anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism his disciples would be similarly anointed to be his witnesses in the world. These ordinary men would do extraordinary things and even greater things than Jesus did while he was on the earth. The Holy Spirit would make their preaching effective, people would be converted and the Kingdom of God would grow exponentially. Wiersbe states, “The ministry of the Holy Spirit is not a luxury it is an absolute necessity.” We can’t fulfill the mission God has given us without the Holy Spirit.
Second, he tells them that they would be his witnesses. What were they going to be witnesses of? They were going to be witnesses to what they saw and heard while with Jesus. They were to be witnesses to who he was and what he came to earth to do. They were to be witnesses to the good news that Jesus Christ came to save the world from their sins. The Greek word for witness is “martus” which means to avow what one has seen, heard or knows. Our word, martyr, comes from the same root, denoting someone who bears testimony for another person, or some cause, with his death. The disciples were going to witness to what they saw and heard from Jesus and they would bear that testimony to the world even if it meant their death. And we know that all of the disciples except for John died a martyr’s death. Lastly, God’s mission for the disciples was going to be organized and global. They would be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
What does this passage mean for us? One, we will be effective witnesses if we witness to our personal experience with Jesus. We can only witness about what Jesus has done for us and our own personal salvation. Two, this witness is a witness of deeds more than words. There was a story in Barclay’s commentary about David Livingstone who was a missionary and explorer in Central Africa. Journalist/explorer H.M. Stanley, who was famous for his search of David Livingstone, said, “If I had been with him any longer I would have been compelled to be a Christian and he never spoke to me about it at all.” The sheer weight of the witness of David Livingstone’s life was irresistible. Could that be said of you or of me? Third, to be a witness means to be loyal no matter the cost even if it means our death. For us it probably means being willing to die to ourselves and give up control of our agenda and our purposes for our lives. But we must be willing to die for the faith if it comes to that.
Four, who are we to be witnesses to and where are we to be witnesses at? Who has the Lord put on your heart to share his good news with and introduce to him? Who in your life may miss out on the abundant life they can have on this earth and the eternal life they can have in heaven if you are silent? We need to be on the lookout for those who need to hear the good news of Jesus. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear God will show us who we need to be witnesses to. We are to be witnesses where God has placed us, starting at where we live, work, play and learn. Our mission to pursue, grow and multiply disciples starts with the most intimate relationships where people really know us and can observe our life and witness. But it also means our nation and the world. We are called to be his witnesses and it is important that we are conduits or channels of Holy Spirit power not reservoirs or holding tanks.
Next, let’s look at what the Early Church taught about the Spirit United Church found in Acts 4:32-35. This is what God’s Word says, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”
In this passage we see both the supernatural and the practical implications of being a Spirit United Church. Imagine this scene: The church was born of people from all walks of life, who were from different countries and spoke different languages. The only way that the early church could function with the kind of unity that was of one heart and one mind was because of the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the only one who could bind the hearts and minds of those new Christians together. There is no way this can be done through human effort. When our hearts and minds are truly transformed by Jesus Christ then the Holy Spirit can make us one unified to fulfill the Great Commission to pursue, grow and multiply disciples. I find it telling that right before our passage we see that the apostles and all the believers were praying and then we are told they were of one heart and mind. If we are truly praying for each other and each other’s needs, disunity can never find a foothold in the church.
This unity of heart and mind was because of the common bond found in Christ. They had been shown grace and mercy by Jesus as he died on the cross for their sins and rose again. They had also been and would continue to be persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Through their struggles in the faith they came to truly know and understand each other’s hearts, minds, goals, desires and personal struggles. The Holy Spirit worked in the lives of these people who were so different from each other and removed all selfishness and self-centeredness from their hearts so they would be unhindered to do the work that they were called to do.
The practical implications of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit was a generosity which flowed out of a love for one another. They realized that their possessions were not their own but were God’s to be used any way he saw fit. They were stewards not owners of what God had given them. They sold their possessions so the community could help anyone who was in need and scripture says there were no needy people among them. Barclay says we can note two things in this passage. “One, they had an intense sense of responsibility for each other. It seemed unthinkable to them that anyone could have too much and someone else could have too little. Two, this awoke in them a real desire to share all they had and it was utterly spontaneous.”
The Early Church was united, unselfish and unafraid. Their prayer in verse 24 was answered as they were given power to testify to the resurrection of their Lord and Savior. They knew their identity and exactly what God expected from them. As believers draw closer to God and to each other and are of one heart and mind through the Holy Spirit they became a powerful force proclaiming the good news of Jesus with boldness. God’s people allowed God’s Spirit to make them one in heart and mind. There was an unlimited commitment to Christ and to each other and it was expressed by unrestrained loyalty to one another.
How can we tell if Idaville Church is filled with the Spirit and is of one heart and one mind? First, we will truly want to know and care about what is happening in each other’s lives. We will want to know and care about each other’s burdens, struggles and needs. We will pray for each other and we will know when and how to help in a specific or tangible way. Like the early church who valued each other more than they valued possessions, we will truly value one another above the things of the world. We will see the Holy Spirit work in us to remove selfishness and self-centeredness from our hearts. Second, we will be unified by the Holy Spirit to accomplish our God-given mission to pursue, grow and multiply disciples. This happens when we boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ where we live, work, play and learn. If we are a Spirit United church, the Holy Spirit will be at work daily in our lives. We will see the evidence of that as we are filled with the Spirit, as we confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as we keep and obey God’s Word and as we observe the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion.
Next, let’s look at what the Apostles taught about the Spirit United Church in Ephesians 4:4-6. This is what God’s Word says, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Paul spends the first three chapters of Ephesians laying the doctrinal foundation of Christianity. Then in chapter 4 he begins discussing spiritual unity. He did it this way because our unity must be built on the solid foundation of God, the Father, Jesus, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our unity must be built on the truths of God’s Word first and then it grows when we love one another and work together to live out the Great Commission.
Paul relates seven basic spiritual realities that unite all true Christians. First, there is one body. We are many parts, in many places, speaking different languages and having different cultures but we are one body. We see this in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. Christ is the head and the church is the body. There must be unity for the work of the church to be accomplished and this unity is founded on a common love for Jesus and for each other. Second, there is one Spirit. The Greek word, “pneuma” means spirit and breath. Just like a human body is dead without breath, the church would be dead without the Holy Spirit. Third, there is one hope. We are all called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost world. We all have the same goal which is a world redeemed in Christ and this is accomplished as we pursue, grow and multiply disciples. Four, there is one Lord. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except through Him. Christ died and rose again for the entire world and for the church and he is the only one we should be worshiping and obeying. The Greek word for “Lord” is “kurios” which means “master” and was the title of the Roman Emperor. Paul is saying that Christians are united together because they are Jesus’ possession and are in the service of one master and king.
Next, there is one faith. Romans 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that Jesus raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Our faith is in Jesus Christ alone and no one or anything else. This confession identifies and unifies the church. Next, there is one baptism. In the early church baptism was a public confession of faith. Membership in the church comes through baptism and identifies a person as belonging to Christ. Baptism is the unifying mark of all believers. Lastly, there is one God and he is our Father. As Christians we are all God’s children in the same family, worshiping, loving and serving the same Father, and because of this we should be able to walk together in unity. Paul ends with three statements about God. God is over all meaning that he is in control of all things. God is through all meaning he created the world and is still actively and powerfully working in the world and in us guiding, directing, sustaining, upholding and loving. And God is in all which talks about the presence of God being in his children. It means we live in a God created, controlled, sustained and filled world.
So, we not only see this mark proclaimed to us through teaching, but through the picture or the metaphor of the Household of God in Ephesians 2:19-22. This is what God’s Word says, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
Paul gives us a picture of a building made with stones. This building is made of people who used to be strangers and foreigners but now are citizens and members of God’s household. The foundation of this building is the apostles and prophets and the chief cornerstone is none other than Jesus Christ, himself. The key of course to this building is Jesus Christ because he is the one who gives life and through his Spirit comes unity in the household of God. All the pieces of this building join together and rise to become a holy temple in the Lord. This living temple is holy, set apart for God and made to glorify the Lord. In this temple God is worshiped and receives glory, honor, and praise. Christ dwells in the hearts of his people and the heart is the basic worship place in God’s kingdom on earth. This is important because if you are just coming to this building on a Sunday morning and going through the motions and not worshiping God in your heart, your worship will be weak and meaningless. Barclay says, “The church will only realize her unity when she realizes that she exists to give a home and a dwelling place where the Spirit of Christ can dwell and where all people who love Christ can meet in that Spirit.”
This leads us to the question: How will we know if this mark of The Church marks Idaville Church? First, our church will feel like a loving family. The household of God, with God as Father is a place where loving one another is a dominant feature. Next, our church will look like a good marriage. Ephesians 5:31-32 talks about two becoming one and that is what the church and Christ should be, united as one. Next, our church will feel like a healthy body. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 talks about being one body with many parts unified by one Spirit. There is unity and diversity in the Body of Christ. Next, our church will look like a united nation. 1 Peter 2:9 talks about us being a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s special possession. We are called by God and set apart to do his will in the world. Lastly, our church will have theological, philosophical, relational & missional unity. We will be unified together in every way.
Our desire as a body of believers is to have a church filled with people who are united together by the Holy Spirit around the mission that God has given the church in the world. Looking back at the survey questions pertaining to this mark all five questions were in the most difficult for us. The second most difficult of all the questions for us as a church was the people in our church know their specific role in helping to accomplish the mission and vision of our church and desire to do so. The third most difficult question was whether the people in our church know the mission and vision of our church and are fully supportive of it. The seventh most difficult question was whether the people in our church know the core values of our church and consistently live out those values with each other and those outside our church. The ninth most difficult question was it is clear that our church is united by the Spirit of God and not just good ideas. And lastly, the seventeenth most difficult question for us as a church was the leaders of our church are clearly united by the Spirit as they lead our church.
So let me start with knowing the mission and vision of Idaville Church. Our mission to pursue, grow and multiply disciples is in many different places to remind us of it. It is on the banners up here. It is on the front of your bulletin and on page 3 of the 2022 Yearbook among other places. The vision “We are preparing for company” is new for 2022 and came out of the Board’s Dream Retreat. You can find it on the top of the front page of the bulletin and also on page 3 of the Yearbook. Our Core Values are also new this year and came out of the Board’s Dream Retreat. You can find them on the front of your bulletin. We will brainstorm other places in the church building to put them so we can all be reminded of them.
How can we live these core values out with each other and those outside the church? I would suggest we could all pick one or two and be intentional about living them out in our daily lives. One that I would suggest is number 2: We are a family that is loving, caring and welcoming. This will go a long way in living out our 2022 theme of “Love One Another.” It would also fulfill our vision of “we are preparing for company” and being ready when company shows up to Idaville Church. Another one would be number 4: We are a church that reaches out, spreading God’s Word, God’s glory and God’s promises to those who do not know them. We can live this out with those who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card: Pick one or two of our Core Values and live them out in our church and outside of our church.
Next, knowing our specific role in helping to accomplish the mission and vision of our church and desire to do so. First, I hope we all have a desire to live out God’s mission for the church to pursue, grow and multiply disciples. The vision “we are preparing for company” is the way we want to act as a body of believers in order to accomplish the mission. Our themes of Unity, Holiness, and Love One Another, are ways we can live out that vision. If we are unified, pursuing holiness and loving one another we will be prepared for company and will be better equipped to accomplish the mission. The best way that we can know our specific roles is by taking the Spiritual Gifts Survey and then serving in the ways God has gifted you. Again, one of our goals this year is a 20% increase in volunteers on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening but it can also include serving at other times and events outside those days. That brings us to the second next step which is to Take the Spiritual Gift Survey if I haven’t already done so in the past quarter. You can see me to get your survey. If you took your survey home to complete, please bring them back when you are finished filling them out so I can record your results. I will then give them back to you to keep.
The last two questions talked about it being clear that our church is united by the Spirit and that the leaders of our church are clearly united by the Spirit as they lead our church. This is something we all need to evaluate for ourselves by searching our hearts to see if we are Spirit United people. As we become more and more a Spirit United people we will then become a Spirit United Church that is united together by the Holy Spirit around the mission that God has given the church. That is what I want for myself and for Idaville Church and I hope you do too. That brings us to the last next step this morning to Search my heart to see if I am united with the Spirit of God around God’s mission for the Church.
As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, as we leave your house to go out into the world, help us to be more loving and united together as one, as we are to be united with you. Help us to be a healthy body unified by your Spirit and help us to be a united nation, holy and set apart to do your will in the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.