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Building a Community of Grace

February 21, 2010 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Building

Topic: Church Life Passage: Matthew 28:16–28:20

Building a Community of Grace

Intro:

I remember reading a news story many years ago about an elderly gentleman who lived in a crowded neighborhood in Queens but who had passed away. What was sad about the story is that when they discovered him he had been dead for over two years. He had been sitting dead in a chair in his house for over two years in a crowded neighborhood in Queens and no one had missed him, or noticed he was gone.

There’s a big difference between being in a community and being in a crowd. You can be very lonely – and very much alone – while surrounded by a crowd, but there is a sense of belonging and connectedness from being part of a community. The Lord intends the church to be a community, not a crowd. We are currently in a series called building, and this morning we are going to look at our part in building the church as a community of grace.

Let’s begin our journey this morning with the blueprint Jesus gave His church for our mission:

Matt. 28:16-20

As Jesus sends his followers out with what we call the Great Commission, it might evoke images of lone ranger disciples going from city to city convincing other individuals to follow Jesus too. In our individualistic culture it is easy for us to think of a disciple in individualistic, kind of “Jesus and me” terms.

But I want us to turn to another verse that shines light on what it means to obey our Lord’s commandments, and we will see that it is impossible for a Christian to do it alone – impossible not to pursue being an active part of a community.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:34-35

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12

Teaching others to obey all that Jesus commanded needs to include obedience to this command to love one another. This command is central, not optional, for the Christian disciple.

I. Building a community of grace is challenging work

I love this church and I am grateful for the wonderful people that make up this church. Every church has a kind of “atmosphere” and I believe the atmosphere of Grace Community is a grace-filled atmosphere of acceptance and humility and care. I sat with a pastor friend this week and as he described the challenges his church is facing, he described an atmosphere full of power struggles, competition, and unkind, hurtful remarks. Sometimes he sits alone in his office and weeps. As I heard his story I was thankful for this church and the atmosphere of humility, grace and genuine care.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have our struggles or challenges or that we don’t have room to grow. Every church does. And every relationship does. What we find is that relationships, friendships, fellowship doesn’t happen easily or instantly. They take work and time. And for a church to be a healthy, biblical, loving, Christ-centered church, there are certain building blocks that must be central to that church. Let’s consider some of those building blocks.

II. Building a community of grace must be built on the gospel of grace

The church can only be healthy and grace filled if it is built solidly on the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is only one foundation, Jesus Christ, and the community must be built on that rock and that rock alone.

ILL: I am reading a book regarding the economic bubbles that have inflated in our society and are now popping. It’s a little disturbing cause what they’re saying (and they correctly predicted the popping of the housing and stock market bubbles a year before anyone saw it coming), is that people are trying to cheerlead us out of a recession when there are very real underlying economic realities that must be dealt with and all the cheerleading in the world can’t stop the bubbles from popping.

Relationships within the church need to built on something more than cheerleading. They need a deep underlying reality and that reality is the gospel of grace. In His parable of the two houses built on sand and on rock, Jesus in essence says a nice-looking house can be built on sand, but an enduring house must be built on the truth of His words and our obedience to them.

a. The gospel of grace builds our relationships on Christ’s authority

“All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

In this sinful world, and in our sinful hearts, what can truly and deeply motivate us to love one another? I’m not talking about the romanticized idea of loving one another – I’m talking about loving the actual person sitting right behind you right now. You know the one – the one who really annoys you or the one you find unlovely, or just don’t relate to, or who has offended you or hurt you in some way?

 If our love is built on feeling, it is a bubble waiting to pop. We may be able to expand the feeling of love real big, but it will eventually pop. What is the Christian to build our love for one another on?

The answer is the authority of Christ. He commands us to love one another. Our love for one another isn’t built on our feelings or preferences. It’s built on submission to the absolute authority of Christ and yielding our lives to His authority. The gospel of grace builds us together on the strong foundation of the authority of Christ.

b. The gospel of grace builds our relationships on God’s grace to us

The gospel of grace tells us that the only thing we deserved was hell, yet we received grace completely undeserved. When we really believe that we realize that no one has offended God or been forgiven more than we have.

When a church forgets that all we have we have by grace, it’s not long before the air gets toxic. Poisonous fumes like self-righteousness and pride, judgmentalism, critical spirits, gossip and slander, and legalism creep in and the church can become a spiritually deadly place. The church air begins to stink and the only people who don’t know it are the people in it cause they’re used to it. But others can smell it right away and the tragic thing is that it can turn people away from Jesus.

ILL: Jenn came home the other night and had the opportunity to talk to some students, and what struck me as she shared was that many of those who argue against faith in Christ were brought up in church-going homes. Churches where rules were emphasized: don’t wear ear rings, don’t get tattoos, don’t smoke, don’t do this, don’t do that. So these young people have this image in their minds and want nothing to do with it. And I don’t blame them. But that’s not what the church is.

We aren’t saved because of what we do or don’t do. We aren’t saved because we are better people, or more moral people. We are sinners saved by amazing grace and we should be the first people to rush to give grace to other sinners. How can we think we are better than someone else when we are wretches saved by grace? How can we criticize and slander when we stand only by the mercy of God? Because we have received grace, we should be quick to give grace.

c. The gospel of grace builds our relationships on the work of grace

Tim Laniak is accurate when he writes; I’ve noticed that the most demanding work often becomes a forge for life’s deepest friendships. Being co-workers through crises and transitions – along with the daily grind – creates a bond as close as family ties.

The Lord calls His disciples to work together in the cause of the gospel. Paul would often speak of those who were fellow-workers with him in the cause of the gospel, and writes to the church in Philippi:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Philip. 1:3-5

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephes. 4:15-16

So working together is a vital part of our building a community of grace (and growing in relationships). Let’s give ourselves to the vision of serving Christ together in this local church and this local community. As we give ourselves to the work, friendships will deepen and grow.

III. Practical building blocks for building a community of grace

Let’s admit it, for many of us deep relationships don’t come easy. Connecting deeply, feeling a part of a community, sharing honestly and openly, and growing in biblical fellowship are not things that come quickly or easily to us. Here are three practical and vital building blocks for us as a local church seeking to build a community of grace.

a. Building block #1:  genuine love.

Jesus commands us to love one another and Romans 12 tells us that that love is to be genuine love. Real and authentic. That love isn’t primarily a feeling, but a commitment to the other person’s good, even at great personal cost. And love will have a cost. It will involve pain and risk and disappointment. CS Lewis writes:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” – CS Lewis

It reminds me of the picture of our poor friend who died alone in Queens. Others didn’t reach out to him or get to know him or care, but it’s possible that he shut the door on others, that he had spent his life wrapping his heart carefully around little hobbies and locked his love up in the coffin of his selfishness. Don’t know, but it’s possible. Love means risk and pain and being vulnerable. Our selfishness will be put to death; our fear of being hurt or exposed will be sacrificed on the altar of love. But it is worth the risk and it is what Jesus commands.

b. Building block #2: time

Recently I read about the different views that different cultures have of time. There is the monochronic view of time - looks at time as a limited and valuable resource. Time is money. Daytimers and ipods dictate our schedules. Getting through the to do list is of the highest priority. Relationships tend to take a back seat to the task list.

The other view of time is the polychromic view. Much of the world has this view: time is a somewhat unlimited resource. There’s always more time. Schedules and plans are just guidelines to get us in the ballpark. Tasks take a backseat to relationships.

There are strengths and weaknesses to both views. We get things done and can be frustrated with their lack of productivity or efficiency. They have a strong and deep sense of community and look at our relationships as shallow and superficial.

The bottom line is relationships do take time. Setting aside time, prioritizing people, not allowing the calendar to get so full with “stuff to do” that we don’t make time for one another. In reality, to make time for it is to make it a priority. We will always give time to what is a priority to us.

c. Building block #3: intentionality

Rarely do relationships “just happen”. And please don’t look at it as “the church’s” responsibility to make it happen. We do want to provide some contexts to help that. Care group is one context. I have been purposely letting our CG start a little later so that folks can just talk and mingle for a while. That’s an important part of what care group is for.

But ultimately it’s your responsibility and it’s my responsibility to intentionally invite people into our lives. Invite people over for dinner, dessert, coffee, whatever. Push past the superficial topics to share fellowship on a deeper level.

Conclusion:

Jesus gives us the command to love one another. Will it be easy? No, not always. Will there be challenges? Yes. But as we obey this command, God will build us into a people who truly magnify His name, not in word only but by our love and commitment to one another.

Let’s stand. I want us to close by reading our Lord’s command over us one more time, and then praying that He will give us grace to keep them.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:34-35

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12

 Let's pray.