Thirteen Stops - Series Review
Scripture: Acts 20:28
The beginning of the month is always an exciting time in the life of The Grace Tabernacle. As you know, this is the time that we have set aside to partake in the Lord's Supper corporately as a body. Communion gives us an opportunity to remember the work Christ accomplished on the cross and to proclaim His death until He comes. But it is also a sober time of reflection and self-examination. I trust you have already begun, through the Spirit, to prepare your hearts for the elements that lie ahead. Even now, prior to communion, I'd like to continue that time of self-examination through two avenues. First by reflecting on the past series we have just completed entitled, "Distinctives of a New Testament Church." We'll take a brief tour of all 12 churches. I have intentionally saturated this section with practical application to provide an opportunity for you to observe how your life compares with the Scriptures. Secondly, after the review, I have allotted fifteen minutes for a time of personal testimony. This is a time for you as the congregation to openly share how God has been working in your life. I trust that both of these events will serve as a meaningful forerunner to our time before the Lord's Table.
To begin our time of reflection, I'd like to review our past series by taking a rapid tour of the 12 churches we've studied the past three months. To best present this tour, I have included a map on the back page of your sermon notes. The map identifies all the stops we will be making on the way.
So without further ado, let us load the bus and depart for our first stop in Philippi.
The church in Philippi was identified as the church that rejoices. We noted that the word "joy" appears fifteen times in the short epistle alone! Ironically, the church was experiencing many difficulties, and the author of the letter, Paul, wrote from prison. Nevertheless, the Philippians and their Apostolic founder still rejoiced. However, when we examine what brought this church such great joy, it was not things of the world. Rather, their joy was found in the spiritual disciplines, the same ones we have today to mature in the Christian faith. Ultimately, Paul and the Philippians found their joy in God, but that joy overflowed through the ministries of prayer, the gospel, life and death, righteousness, ministry, fellowship, and giving.
Do we understand the joy that we have in Christ? Do we rejoice in the person and work of God? Do we find our delight in that which God finds His delight?
From Philippi, let's move on to Crete.
The Apostle Paul left Titus in Crete to "set in order what remains." (Tit. 1:5). His directives were to appoint elders, refute false teachers and encourage the flock in righteous conduct. Specifically in chapter 2, Titus was called to instruct specific age and gender groups as to their character and roles: Older men (2:2), older women (2:3), younger women (2:4) and younger men (2:5).
Read that chapter again! Do these character distinctives mark our lives? Primarily, is our motivation for such conduct the desire to "adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ?" Is every thought and action in our life seeking to make the gospel attractive to unbelievers and edifying to believers?
3. Asia Minor
From Crete we will load up and move north Asia Minor.
Asia Minor was the large district that encompassed many Roman provinces. The believers in this region were on the fringe of experiencing tremendous persecution under the hands of Nero. Peter knew it. And to prepare the church he wrote his first letter to these Christians. His bottom line was that they would suffer for claiming the Name of Christ. In 2:21 he said, "For you have been called for this purpose since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps."
Do we believe that according to the Scriptures we have been called to suffer? Are we following the model of suffering, Jesus Christ? Are we suffering for righteousness or unrighteousness? Do we appreciate the benefits of suffering such as divine testing and divine cleansing? Are we thankful for our sufferings, realizing they are from a sovereign and loving God for our good?
On our fourth stop of the tour, we find ourselves in Rome.
Though Paul had yet to visit Rome he wrote one of his most popular letters to the church in the heart of the Mediterranean world. The final chapter of this masterpiece is devoted to greeting 29 common individuals by name. The first three mentioned were Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila. This relatively obscure trio was commended for their service to the church even to the point of (16:4) "risking their own necks." As Christians we too have all been given a blend of spiritual gifts to build up the body for the common good.
Do we see the need to serve others in the body? Are we all serving Christ through an active ministry in the church? Are we personally finding great joy in that ministry?
The Galatian church is the fifth stop on the tour.
They received possibly the harshest rebuke from the apostle Paul. Shortly after his visit to the region, the believers in Galatia began to follow the Judaizers and accept their false doctrines for salvation and spiritual growth based upon work of the law. The Galatians thought they were progressing, Paul said they were backsliding.
Are we aware of our spiritual temperature? Are there any small and subtle signs of backsliding in our lives? Do we understand both the dangers and perplexities of backsliding? Are we willing to confront a brother or sister in love and gentleness when his or her backsliding becomes evident?
The church in Corinth is stop number 6.
This church had much in common with the church in Galatia. Years had passed since Paul established the church, and there was still little fruit in the lives of the believers. Though the apostle desired to feed them meat (after 5 years in existence), the church still required the milk of the Word. Paul was disgusted at their fleshly, carnal and immature walk with the Lord.
Does that characterize us? Are we growing and maturing and bearing fruit for Jesus Christ? Do we hunger for the meat of the Word so that we may grow in respect to our salvation?
From Corinth, we'll load up and travel across the Mediterranean to stop number 7, Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem we sat in during the discussion of the great Council convened in Acts 15. These men of the faith in discussing the means of salvation for a Gentile came to a conclusion based upon God's Word. Their methodology was unlike our society today when everything is relative, experiential and opinionated. Rather as Christians, they sought to pursue God's Word as the only standard of absolute truth.
Do we really believe that the Bible is true and trustworthy? Do we believe the Bible is the final say and ultimate source of authority? Do we adhere to the teachings in the Scriptures because they are written by an omnipotent God to Whom we are accountable?
For stops 8-11 we will be staying at the church in Ephesus.
Initially at stop number 8, we observed the church shortly after they were founded. Ephesus, a city originally noted for its black magic and occult practices, eventually became the superintendent for many biblical books. The church, through the proclamation of the Word, became aware of their sin, confessed their sin and then burned their expensive magic books to do away with their sin forever.
Do we likewise seek repentance out of reverential fear and love for God? Do we eagerly ask the Spirit to show us sin and then turn from that sin with great joy? Does our repentance affect the mind, emotions and will together? Will we, like the Ephesian church, go to any extreme to accomplish a break with sin? Is the goal of our repentance the glory of God?
Paul in Ephesians 2 also reminded the church at Ephesus, stop number 9, as to their unity in Christ. Paul restated that the vertical dividing wall that once separated them from God was abolished. But also abolished was the horizontal dividing wall that separated them from each other. All worldly distinctions were leveled at the cross. Galatians 3:28 says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
Do we believe these dividing walls were abolished, dividing walls that separate gender, race and age, or are we trying to reconstruct them all over again? Are we a church identified by love, unity and peace or do discord, factions and favoritism identify us? Do we view ourselves as God's family composed of brothers and sisters with God Himself being our Father? Do we praise Jesus Christ for being the Prince of Peace, who made all believers into one new man and a holy temple of God's dwelling?
Still at Ephesus, stop number 10, we discovered the need for men to shepherd the church of God as undershepherds for Christ. Their responsibilities as it is outlined in the Scriptures are to: feed the flock the Word of God, lead the flock to righteousness through service and example, and weed the false teachers who arise from both outside and inside the flock.
Do we see a need for a plurality of elders? Are we a church that is committed to praying for and submitting to our leadership? Do we see leadership as an essential ingredient of the church?
In our final stop in Ephesus, number 11, we examined the church some 40 years after her original founding in Acts 19. A new generation had arisen that appeared to be conducting themselves well on the outside. Christ commended them for their toil, perseverance and impatience with evil men. However, they were condemned for losing their first love. All service was meaningless without an affectionate love for Jesus Christ. Our Lord commanded them to remember from where they had fallen, repent and repeat the deeds they once performed out of a spirit of love.
Have we lost our first love? Does Jesus Christ still occupy first-place in our hearts and consume all our religious delight and devotion?
Let's load up on the bus and move to stop number 12 in Greece, Thessalonica.
The missionary party of Paul, Silas and Timothy praised God for the Thessalonian church: their imitating of Christ, evangelistic zeal, righteous conduct, steadfast labor and joyful reception of the Word amid tribulation. All this enabled the missionaries to conclude that God was working in their midst. Could the missionaries have said the same about us?
Is God working in our midst? What tangible evidence do we have of that fact? What spiritual distinctives characterize us?
13. South Belmar
Our final stop on the tour, as we take our bus across the Atlantic Ocean, is South Belmar, New Jersey. Let's fast-forward these biblical instructions to the 21st century. Now that we have concluded this unit, would you say we could be likened to a New Testament church? Better yet, since living stones build the church, are you a New Testament believer? I think the best way to determine this, is to allow you some time for public testimony.