Discipleship and the Local Church
Topic: Discipleship Passage: 1 Peter 2:4–2:10
When postal worker Gregory I. Armstrong received a warning from his supervisor to improve his attendance or receive disciplinary action, he sued his supervisor one million dollars for the unauthorized use of his name. According to the suit, Armstrong claimed to be a self-ruled sovereign – a nation of one – whose permission needed to be granted for the use of his name. The grand jury hearing the case dismissed it when it became clear to them that Armstrong was not his own country. They cited as proof of their conclusion that he was not a member of the United Nations. Whatever Armstrong may have thought, it turns out he was not a nation of one. He was, after all was said and done, simply a postal worker who missed too much work.
Obviously Armstrong is an extreme case of individualism (and an extreme case of inflated ego), but a significant number of Christians are doing a similar thing when it comes to the church – disillusioned with the church (sometimes for legitimate reasons) and influenced by the individualism that permeates all of American culture, many Christians have decided that they love Jesus, it’s the church they can do without. And so, withdrawing from any meaningful connection to a local church they begin thinking of themselves as a church of one. And the tragedy is that they are missing an aspect of Christian life that is, according to the NT, as essential to our growth as reading the Bible, praying, or witnessing.
We are in a series called following Jesus: a call to biblical discipleship and this morning we are going to consider the vital link between discipleship and the church. A lot of times we can think of discipleship in terms of an individual’s journey with Jesus and miss the context that the NT tells us discipleship takes place in. So this morning we are going to look at discipleship and the local church, and then I’m really excited about the next two messages as Matt and I share on discipleship and our local church and we look at both the purpose and the process of discipleship we feel the Lord is developing here in Grace Community Church.
If you are visiting us and attend another church, I hope that you leave here with a renewed sense of commitment and faith for your local church, and a fresh sense of enthusiasm to be involved in what God is doing in your church home. If you are looking for a church home, and considering Grace Community as a possibility, I think the next several messages will be very helpful for you to get to know what our vision for discipleship is.
Discipleship and the local church
Discipleship is not a solo act. When Jesus called a man to follow him, it was never a call to follow him alone, but it was also a call to walk with all the others who were following Jesus. Peter rubbed shoulders with Matthew who rubbed shoulders with James, who rubbed shoulders with Philip, who rubbed shoulders with John. In the book of Acts on the day of Pentecost, the day the church was created, all the disciples were together in one accord, as Jesus had commanded them, when the Holy Spirit fell on them in power.
Most of the NT is written for and to the church. The book of Acts is a record of the church in its first days. Most of the letters are written to local churches. Those letters that aren’t written to local churches were written almost entirely to pastors and leaders about how to serve and care for the church. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, was written to the seven churches of Asia. There is simply no escaping the essential role of the church in the NT.
We are going to use 1 Peter 2:4-10 as our primary passage, but we are going to be doing more of an overview of what the NT says about the church, so we will be introducing other verses from other books as we go.
1 Peter 2:4-10
I. We come to Christ as a person, but we are made into a people (vs. 5, 9)
We all must come to Christ individually and when we come to Jesus by faith we enter a very personal and intimate relationship with him. A child can’t be saved by the faith of a strong Christian parent. A husband can’t be saved by the faith of a strong Christian wife. Each of us must come to Christ individually if we are to be saved.
But Peter writes, as you come to him (that is Christ), a believer is joined together as a living stone with other believers, with Christ as the chief cornerstone, and together we rise together as a kind of living house of worship to God.
And we are made into a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people. These are all entities that are comprised of many making one. No one can be a race of one. Or a priesthood of one. Or a nation of one. Or a people of one. When we come to Christ, we are bound not only to him, but we are also bound inseparably to one another.
And what binds us together isn’t that we have common interests or similar personalities or like the same football team or share the same political views. What binds us together is deeper than having the same nationality or speaking the same language or having the same color skin. Verse 10 tells us that what binds us together as a people is that we have all received mercy. Once we were not a people, once we were far from God and hated God. But God had mercy on us, and made us alive in Christ through faith, and by His mercy we are now a people. That is what the church is! And so when we come to Christ, we are bound inseparably to one another. And that’s why there are so many one another’s in the NT, and that brings me to my second point.
II. Christian discipleship is filled with “one anothering” – and it’s really hard to do that alone
Look with me just a few verses back (1:22-23) – being born again by the imperishable seed of the word of God will lead to a sincere brotherly love for one another – and as disciples that love is to be growing. Vs. 22 tells us it’s not based on feeling, it’s based on obedience.
Some sports you can play alone, some sports you simply can’t. You can play golf alone, you can’t play football alone. No one can be a quarterback and a receiver at the same time. It is a team sport and you go out there and win or lose as a team. You can be religious alone, you can’t be a disciple alone. There are dozens and dozens of commands for how we are to treat one another – and you can’t obey them alone. I’m not going to read each passage for time’s sake but I will give the reference verse if you’re taking notes.
Accept one another (Rom. 15:7)
Admonish one another (Col. 3:16)
Bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2)
Bear with one another (that means putting up with each other’s stupidity) (Eph. 4:2)
Build up one another (Rom. 14:19)
Care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25)
Confess faults to one another (Jas 5:16)
Be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10a)
Encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11)
Forgive one another (Eph. 4:32)
Greet one another (Rom. 16:16)
Be Honest with one another (Col. 3:9)
Honor one another (Rom. 12:10b)
Be Hospitable to one another (1 Pet. 4:9)
Be Kind to one another (Eph. 4:32)
Love one another (Rom. 13:8)
Members one of another (Rom. 12:5)
Pray for one another (James 5:16)
Be of the Same Mind with one another (Phil 2:2)
Serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
Provoke one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24)
Submit to one another (Eph. 5:21)
One another after one another. Discipleship takes place in the context of relationships and relationships in the context of the local church. Just like I am to love all families, but God has placed me in the context of one family, so we are to love all churches but God will place us (or join us) in the context of one local church. The reason is because we need one another.
1. We need one another to move us past concept and into reality
It is easy for us to know with our heads that we are to love one another. We can so easily be deceived into thinking because we know something, we’re actually doing it. In more charismatic circles they talk about seeing in the Spirit, well, I think there are some people who think of themselves as really spiritually mature, if we could see in the Spirit, we’d see this picture of them wearing these big diapers with a giant safety pin holding them – cause the reality is they’re spiritual babies!
Why? Because they know a lot of concept but they’re not living it out. Oh, but it’s not “them” – it’s us far more than we’d like to admit. We need one another to move us past concept and into reality. Concept: no problem. Reality: big problem. You know what makes it so hard to love you? You do! And I do!
And how about humility? Humility is easy until someone comes along and criticizes you. Or brings you “an observation”. “Would you mind if I brought you an observation?” “Not at all. Would you mind if I never spoke to you ever again and slandered your name everywhere I go?”
But as we rub shoulders and give each other plenty of reason to forbear and forgive and be patient and use self-control and humble ourselves and forgive again, real love, real character, real Christlikeness is being forged in us. It’s slow, but it’s real. It’s imperfect, but it’s genuine. We need one another to move us past concept and into reality. The context where that happens is the local church.
2. We need one another because the work Christ has given us is too great for any of us to do alone
Peter says that when we come to Christ we are built up together as a spiritual house but Paul lets us know that it doesn’t just happen by itself but only as “each part does its part.” God has given the five fold ministry of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher not to monopolize the work of the ministry but to multiply the work of ministry by equipping the saints to do it, and as each member contributes his or her part, the body (the building) is built up in maturity.
No one has ever walked the earth who had all the spiritual gifts resident in them except Jesus Christ. None of us have the full package – not even close. God has given each of us a spiritual gift, not for our own benefit but for the common good. We need each other and we need the context of the local church.
Sometimes people want to disconnect evangelism from the local church – I don’t need to be involved in the church, I’m called to win the lost to Christ. My answer to that is “yes you do, and no you’re not.” You do need the church and you’re not called to win the lost to Christ. You’re called to make disciples, not people who pray prayers. And making disciples needs to happen in the context of the local church. You might have a big part in discipling someone, but can you be prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher, exhorter, encourager, administrator, older brother and younger brother, and all that they need from the body? That’s just weird. Creepy. Don’t even try: if you want to disciple someone, connect them to a local church. We need each other because the work Christ has given us is too big for any one of us to do alone.
3. We need one another because the witness Christ calls us to have is too glorious for any of us to do alone
Don’t have time to unpack this a whole lot, but Peter says in 2:9 that God has made us a people that we might “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Paul says the same thing in Romans 15: 5-7
5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
There is no perfect church. But there is a proclaiming church. Together our voices and our lives rise as a testimony to the world of the reality and the glory of Christ. No church is perfect, but in our imperfection, Christ is still glorified. In our sin and failure, Christ’s mercy is proclaimed. In our weakness, Christ’s power is made perfect.
We need each other and we need to be connected in a local church. God calls us to be disciples, and disciples are forged in the furnace of the local church. He uses the blessings, and He uses the gifts, and He uses the hardships, and He uses the disappointments, and He uses the people who are sooo hard to love, and He uses the people who are so easy to love, all to make disciples who are, not perfect, but genuine. And He makes disciples who make disciples.
It’s called the Great Commission. And it’s walked out in the local church and by the local church. And that’s where we’ll be going in the next two messages. Let's pray.