Church without walls
CHURCH WITHOUT WALLS (Acts 20:1-16)
7 essential characteristics of Christ’s Church
KERK SONDER MURE(ACTS 20:1-16)
This morning we continue with our study of Acts. One of the reasons why Luke was inspired to write his theological history of the early church – was to give Gentile believers assurance that they had believed the same gospel and were part of the same church. One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism – one God and Father who is over all, in all and through all.
Acts clarifies for us the nature of the gospel – Jesus died, Jesus rose, repent for the forgiveness of sin.
And it clarifies for us the nature of the church – a growing, organic, international body of men and women from every culture, race and place – united together by their common faith in the Lord Jesus and submission to His Word.
More than ever, we need to hear what Acts teaches us about the nature of the gospel and the nature of the church.
In March 2017 Barna Research group released research into a growing group of professing Christians who, as they put it, “Love Jesus but not the church.” Among the population as a whole and even among those who claim to be Christians, there is growing scepticism about the church and more and more people are opting for a private faith and withdrawing from recognized communities of faith. It seems that the church has fallen out of fashion, even among so called Christians. In an effort to stem the flood of people leaving the church many have tried to re-invent and repackage the church. The emerging church movement, spearheaded by leaders like Brian McLaren whom Time Magazine labelled as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America, is growing in popularity and influence. The picture of what church is and ought to be is becoming a confusing muddle of colours on the canvas of modern artists and many are opting to try live out their faith without the church.
More than ever we need a divinely inspired picture of what the church should look like, and this morning’s text provides us with just that….
If you’ve become disillusioned with church, if you’re confused about what the church is and why its important, if church has become a spectator sport for you – where you are merely entertained by what is going on, but have no intention of getting involved in the action – then this morning’s passage is for you.
I’ve called this message “Kerk Sonder Mure” (which translated means church without ants)….church without walls – to remind us that the church is not about the buildings or the place.
Acts 20:1-16 –
7 essential characteristics of Christ’s Church
1. Personal (1-2)
2. Practical (3)
3. International (4-5)
4. Sacramental (6-7)
5. Biblical (8-9)
6. Supernatural (10-12)
7. Missional (13-16)
1: Personal (1-2)
Church = the people
The inspired documents which lay the foundation for what the church is to be and do are mostly what? Epistles. Personal letters from people to people. They start with Paul, Peter, Timothy – to the faithful brothers, fellow saints. We are constantly praying for you….And how do they end? This one sends you his greeting, and this one, and so and so has been praying for you and this is how it is going with that one….
The very way God gave New Testament revelation to the church tells us that the church is all about the people and its intensively personal.
· Church is not about the building, or programs or budgets, its not about denominations or rituals and religious practices – the church is the people of God making much of Christ together….
· Look at the list of names in vs 4-5 Sopater, Aristachus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychichus, Trophimus, Secundus. Luke presumably mentions these names because his readers, spread throughout the empire would have known these names. Even we are familiar with some of these names because they keep coming up in the Epistles.
· A growing body of believers who were spread throughout the empire, from many different cultures and places and yet they still knew one another by name….The church is all about the people and personal relationships.
Church = hospitality (3,6,7)
· Vs 3 he spend 3 months in Greece, Macedonia, Philippi vs 6 stayed there 7 days.
· In vs 7 they met to share a meal and worship in someones home. In 16 he decides not to go into Ephesus because he’s in a hurry and he knows if the believers see him, he will be held up another week or two there.
· It doesn’t matter where Paul is going here, he’s got someone to go with. It doesn’t matter where he finds himself, he has got somewhere to stay. It doesn’t matter for how long he stays, someone opens their home to him.
· These relationships are fostered through hospitality. Through opening our homes, sharing meals together, spending time together, sacrificing for one another, serving the Lord together, travelling together.
· No Christian lives in isolation, we live in community, we live out our lives with one another as an extended family – that’s what the church is and what the church does.
To be honest, I’m an introvert, I don’t really like people… But in the church I’ve learned to love and be loved by the most diverse and delightful bunch of people you could ever imagine. The most precious thing our family has, is the network of personal, genuine, sacrificial relationships that we’ve developed over the years of being in the church
That is what the church is and that is what the church does.
What word keeps coming up in vs 1-2? Encourage
· The Greek word is “parakaleo” If you had to translate it literally it would mean “to come alongside and speak to.”
· It means to come alongside and support someone who is injured, like a crutch
· To put you arms around someone who is broken and hold them together with your love.
· To enter into the darkest places of someone’s world and to drag them out back into the light.
· Not just to show them the way out, but to walk alongside them until they get out.
This world is not always an easy place to live and sometimes the waves of life knock us completely off our feet and they dunk us under the water and they keep us down so long that we feel like our lungs are going to explode. Sometimes the realities of this life are just too much to handle.
That’s why God gave us the church –To come alongside and give courage – when all courage is gone, hope when all hope is lost, strength when we have none, wisdom when we don’t have any answers, prayer when we don’t have the faith to pray for ourselves…..
This is what the church is and does. 1) Personal
2: Practical (3)
1 Jn 3:18 tells us not to love one another in word only, but in word and deed. The church doesn’t just compose nice poems and mimes for each other and send them via WhatsApp.
In the church we get our hands dirty and we go the extra mile to offer real help where its most needed….
That’s what’s happening here.
· Vs 16 Paul is hastening to get to Jerusalem, but in vs 3 he makes a detour to Mecedonia? Why? What’s happening here?
· Why is Paul on his way to Jerusalem? There has been a famine there and he is collecting money from the Gentile churches in Macedonia and Achaia and sending them up with representatives from the churches to relieve the suffering of the saints in Jerusalem. That is what the list of names and places is all about in vs 4-5. Luke is telling us what regions, what local churches were represented and by who.
2 Cor 8:1-9 Paul writes to encourage them to have their gift ready because he is sending Titus to them to collect it.
· 2 in the midst of their own suffering and hardship
· 3 They gave generously, even beyond their means
· 4 the gave freely, regarding it as a privilege to sacrifice for their brothers
· 5 they did this as an act of worship to God
· 6-8 this is an expression of love and reflective of Christ’s own character and example.
· Believers who probably had never met personally, who were from different cultures, different economic backgrounds – giving sacriically to brothers who were part of a race that still regarded them as dogs and treated them accordingly.
· Now all these brothers are travelling up personally at great cost and inconvenience – to deliver this gift personally on behalf of their respective churches.
This is what the church is and does.
Illustration: kinds of practical help
Over the years I’ve seen fellow believers help each other with moving, with meals, with looking after each others kids, with educating each others kids, with finding jobs, with sickness, with marriage problems and with money…. Just about any and every kind of problem you can imagine I’ve seen fellow believers roll up their sleeves and get busy serving at great cost to themselves.
· One of the members of our church travelled every weekday for a year, from Centurion, to our house, in order to help one of our children with their reading.
· Another member gave us their car…
· Other members looked after our 7 kids, for two weeks while Megan and I went to India on a mission trip.
· I could keep you busy for hours telling you about all the different ways we have been loved and sacrificially served by members of Christ church – not because of anything we have done for them, but because of what Christ has done in them….
But I’m afraid one off you might fall of your chair and I won’t be able to bring you back to life like Paul does here…
This is what the church is and what the church does. Personal, practical.
Look at vs 3-6 at all the places mentioned. Greece, Macedonia, Syria, Thessalonica, Berea, Derbe, Asia, Troas – 9 different places in 4 verses.
What is the key verse in Acts? Acts 1:8 you will receive power….
What do we see here? The church is no longer the church at Jerusalem, the church of this small Jews sect – this is the already becoming the church of all nations and all places.
· The list of places is significant because these were the places Paul visited on his first and second mission trips and now we see on his third missionary journey that already the gospel has reaped a great harvest in all these places.
· Paul and Baranabas of the first missionary journey has become Paul and Timothy and Tychicihus, and, and, and.
· As God planned and promised, the church has become global and international.
That is what the church is and what the church does….
We are part of Sola-5 association of churches because we want to give expression to what the church is and what the church does. We are not alone, this local church is not all that the church is and does. We are part of a global, international body with believers from every tribe, language, people and nation, scattered in every place to hold out the light of the gospel.
Every believer should have a big picture of the church and be involved at some level with what the church is doing globally.
Subscribe to the Sola-5 newsletter if you haven’t already. Occasionally visit one of our church plants, or fellow churches to encourage them – Witbank Baptist where Karl is – would love a visit, or 1 Hope, or Moletsane in Soweto or John and Christy down in Richard’s Bay…. When you go on holiday, look up one of these churches and visit them and take our greetings and bring back news.
Personal, practical, international,
In vs 6 Luke mentions that they sailed away from Philippi after the feastival of unleavened bread. That was basically the Passover. Most scholars say it is unlikely that Paul stopped his journey to celebrate a Jewish festival away from Jerusalem with Gentile believers. But because Jesus was crucified during the Passover festival, Christians began celebrating it much like we do Easter. So Paul stayed on in order that he might celebrate Easter with the church at Philippi who was very dear to him.
Then what do we find him doing when he comes to Troas in vs 7? Celebrating communion with the believers over a meal. Jesus didn’t leave the church with a list of religious holidays and festivals comparable to the Jews. He left the church with two sacraments – baptism and communion.
From the beginning of Acts to the end, we find believers participating in these two sacraments.
· Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, when the church was born – what do they do? Baptize the converts and how does it describe their daily habits – they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.
· The term sacrament refers to a ceremony or ritual that Christ left His church to perform. Both of these rituals focus on the person and work of Christ and what it means for the believer.
· In baptism we celebrate the believer dying with Christ, being buried with Christ, being raised to newness of life. We celebrate our sins being washed away through Christ’s death on our behalf.
· In communion, or the breaking of bread, we celebrate the body of Christ broken and the blood of Christ shed for us.
The church really doesn’t have a whole lot of rituals and ceremonies – only 2. We are not primarily a religious institution, but a body of believers. The two rituals we do have remind us that we are a Christ-centered community. We have been brought into existence by the death and resurrection of Christ for sin. We exist to make much of the person and work of Christ. Whatever else we are and do- we are all about making much of Christ together and we are always looking back to what Christ has done and forward to His return.
We are not a club, or a fraternal, or a welfare organization. The church has been created by Christ, for Christ – everything we are and do is all about Christ.
In vs 7-9 we gain some insight into what church gatherings were all about. Sunday worship, or the main gathering on the first day of the week, as its described in vs 7
· Was a gathering together = fellowship
· It was Christ-centered as they broke bread together
· They probably sang and had Scripture readings though Luke doesn’t mention it.
· What was the main emphasis, the main content of what they gathered to do? …to talk about Jesus, to talk about the gospel, to talk about the word of God.
· The Church his a biblical community, a word based community.
· Vs 7 Paul talked or the Greek “dialegomai” where we get the word dialogue from. He dialogued with them
· Later in vs 7 it talks about his “speech” The Greek there is Logos or “word” his discourse, his word.
· The text makes the point that he went on so long, he preached from sunset to midnight until his audience fell so fast asleep that they fell out the window…..I’ve had many falling asleep on me, but none falling over.
· Then after the incident – no worries – he goes back, gets something to eat in vs 11 and carries on until day break! There the Greek word is Homileo from where we get the word Homilee.
So its clear that this teaching included some monologue or sermon like addresses, but it also included dialogue and discussion and debate. The whole community got involved in talking about how the gospel and the Word of God applied to their lives, what it meant and how they were meant to respond.
It wasn’t a 15 minutes devotion followed by fun and fellowship and vibrant worship music until the early hours of the morning – the teaching went on and on and on…..
· Euthucus in vs 9 is called a young man – a term used of boys between 12-14 years of age. So he’s barely a teenager and he’s sitting through 12 hours of Apostlic teaching and doctrinal discussion – just thought I would highlight that for some of our youth….
· When you get saved, the Word of God becomes a very exciting enjoyable thing – discussions about the Bible until midnight are nicer than night-clubs and video binges….
· He was falling asleep though – so maybe he wasn’t saved….
The church is Biblical – it is supremely word cenetred. Our fellowship should be saturated and characterized by discussions about the Bible and what it means and how we should apply it. The Word of God is the power of God to minister to our souls.
Personal, practical, international, sacramental, biblical.
The text doesn’t comment on Paul going on for so long, or the young man falling asleep during the sermon.
The incident is not given to tell us how we should or shouldn’t preach or listen to sermons. It’s included because again, Luke is drawing a parallel between Jesus and Peter and Paul and their respective ministries. As Jesus demonstrated the power of God, even to raise the dead, so Peter demonstrated the power of God to raise the dead in …. To Paul had the power of God, even to raise the dead.
Luke as a physician, was well qualified to conclude as he does in vs 9 – the young man was dead. He was there personally, as can we seen by the “we” pronouns in this section of Acts (vs 7).
Again this is not given to tell us how to conduct a healing ministry. But we do see here, the same pattern we see throughout the book of Acts – God is powerfully at work among this community. The stuff that goes on in the church community is not just natural. We are a supernatural community and God’s power should be seen working amongst us. Not always in miraculous resurrections – that’s not even the norm in the book of Acts – but I think we would be amiss if we no longer expected to see the power of God at work among us in extra-ordinary ways. That’s the key verse in Acts – you will receive power.....
This healing was in no way expected or planned, this was not a healing service – but it was the compassion of God on this body of believers to do something for them that they neither deserved nor expected. This was not the product of their faith or their gifts, or faithful service – this was God’s sovereign grace at work showing them His great power and compassion – and surely God is still doing that for His church today…. and from time to time we will see it and celebrate it.
What do you see in this last paragraph? We went there and the next day there and the next day there and vs 16 Paul didn’t even go into Ephesus because He was on a mission and had a duty to perform in Jerusalem and was eager to discharge it.
The church is not just about us getting together and enjoying each other. We have a job to do and at times Paul forsakes the pleasure and comfort of fellowship for the progress of the mission.
As John Stott puts it, the church is the only organization that exists for the benefit of its non-members. We are here not just for one another, but to be messengers of the gospel, to be God’s witnesses to the ends of the world. We have a duty to perform which will sometimes drag us away from the sweetness of fellowship…
But that is what the church is and what the church does. We should not be only focussed on ourselves and our own personal growth and our own programs – we need to always be missional – to look to the harvest field and pray that the Lord of the harvest raise up workers amongst us that we can send out and serve alongside.
Wow – what an incredible things to be a part of – the Church!
1. Personal = it’s all about the people, the relationships among us
2. Practical = we love one another in real tangible ways as we get our hands dirty in helping each other.
3. International – we are one body with believers from all races and cultures and places
4. Sacramental = we are a community that has come into existence by Christ and we exist for Christ
5. Biblical – we are a word saturated community
6. Supernatural = this is the place where God’s power can be actively ad tangible seen at work
7. Missional = we have a mission to preach Christ to all nations and in every place to shine the light of His glory
Nothing like the church has ever existed and nothing else will enjoy such eternal privileges and prestige as the church. A people called out from every nation to become the body and bride of Christ – the saviour and ruler of the universe.
Have you committed yourself to this body? Are you making it a priority to be church and to do church with other members of His body?... Are you getting your wounds healed and getting your hands dirty?....