God is building a global community for the restoration and revelation of His love.
At our physical birth, we are born into a family. This is a good thing because we need a family in order to grow and develop as human beings. The same is true when we are spiritually reborn. We are born again into spiritual family of God in order for our spiritual growth to be facilitated.
As we discovered in study guide 2, God is a communitarian being, and other-centered friendship of three who are one. Then, we discovered in study guide 3 that God made humanity in His own image. We logically deduce from these two foundational truths that human being exist for fellowship, that we are social creatures, psychologically, emotionally, and biologically engineered for self-giving relationships. In study guide 4 we discovered that the sin problem resulted in fractured relationships between humans and their Creator, and between ourselves as fellow human beings. Sin, we learned, is relational violation that leads to the relational discord. The plan of salvation, which we explored in study guides 6 through 15, is about restoring those relationships. In this lesson, we will discover that God is building a global community for the restoration and revelation of His love. The bible calls this community, “the church.”
Let’s begin with I John 1:1-4.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our yes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father was manifested to us – that which we have seen and heard we declare to you that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that you joy may be full.
In verses 1 and 2 John testifies that he and others had an encounter with the “Word of Life, Jesus Christ. Then, in verse 3 and 4 he comes to the incredible point of it all:
“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have _____________ with us; and truly our _____________ is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your _______ may be _________.”
The word here translated “fellowship” is Noinonia in Greek, and it means community, intimacy, shared life, connected living. John is telling us that koinonia with one another in the context of koinonia with God leads to fullness of joy, or off-the-charts happiness. So our first point regarding the church is simply this: it is a community of believes who have fellowship with one another and with God.
Now let’s go a little deeper and discover the practical aspects of the church’s fellowship. Read and discuss Acts 2;40-47 and notice four key actions of the early church:
And with many other words he testified and exhorted them saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation. Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them and they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship in the breaking of bread, and the prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles now all who believed were together and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart. Praising god and having favor with all the people, and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
- Those who come into the fellowship of the church are being “saved” (verses 40 and 47). The Greek word here is sozo, which as we discovered in study guide 14, literally means to heal, restore, make whole. So the church is a fellowship in which human beings are undergoing a healing process and becoming whole.
- Those who come into the fellowship of the church “continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and in fellowship, in the breaking of break, and in the prayers.” The church is a fellowship in which the truths of Scripture are studied and taught, and the people spend time together and pray together.
- Those who come into fellowship of the church deal in a benevolent manner with their material “possessions,” They live this way in order to help those in “need.”
- As a result of this kind of fellowship, the early church had “favor with all the people.” The church was attractive. Its fellowship revealed to the world a way of life that was characterized by love for God and love for people.
The church does not exist for itself. It is called to “proclaim” a message – not a mere recitation of theological facts, but a living message that is informed and formed by its Koinonia with God”
“You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people that you may __________ the ___________ of _________ who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9).
Notice that the message of the church is a positive proclamation of God’s “praises.” In other words, the message is about Him – the attractive loveliness of His good character – and it has the effect of awakening praise in human hearts as they come to know Him as He really is. The truths the church holds and proclaims are not abstract ideas, academic theories, or creedal tenets to be argued and debated, but rather a composite picture of God’s praise-worthy character, each doctrine contributing to the portrait. Paul agrees with Peter regarding the content of the church’s message, defining it as “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God . . . the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:4, 6). Said another way, the message the church is called to proclaim is the beauty of God’s character of self-giving love as revealed in Christ Jesus.
It follows, then that the Spirit with which church members relate to one another, and the attitude with which they speak the truth to the world, is of crucial importance. Ephesians 4:1-16 makes clear this. Move through the passage verse by verse, then after reading the passage, answer the questions.
Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord beloved. I implore Eurodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness by known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there be any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. But I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last, your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry. Both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel. When I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.
Verse 1. As members of God’s church, how should we “walk” or live our lives? ____________________________
Verse 2-3. How should we relate to one another within the church? __________________________________________
Verse 7, 11-12. To how many of us has God given special grace in the form of spiritual gifts and how many of us are called to be engaged in “the work of ministry?” ___________
Verse 13. What is the grand goal to which God is growing His church? ______________________________________________________________________________________________
Verse 15-16. With what attitude and to what end is the truth to be spoken? ______________________________________________________________________________________________
It is clear then that the message the church preaches is only as believable as it is made beautiful with love, which brings us to the church’s calling to serve the world’s practical needs.
Isaiah 58:1-11 is an extremely enlightening segment of Scripture regarding the purpose for which the church exists and how its witness to the world is to be made attractive and believable. The historical setting, of course, is ancient Israel. But this passage is also a prophecy in which God envisions what He wants His church to look like today, and what He does not want it to look like. Read and discuss the entire passage.
Cry aloud, spare not: Lift up your voice like a trumpet; Tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, As a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of Justice; They take delight in approaching God. Why have we fasted, they say, and you have not seen? Why have we afflicted out souls, and You take no notice? In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers. Indeed you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is this not the fat I have chosen: to lose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out: When you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, Here I am. If you take away the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
Is it possible for religion to become arrogant, ingrown and self-servicing? ______________________________________________________________________________________________
Verse 3-5. What does god think when we “find Pleasure” in religious practices (like fating_ while at the same time engaging in the business dealing that “exploit” people for financial advantage? ______________________________________________________________________
Verse 4. Does God approve of or reprove religious strife and debate? _________________________________________
Verse 6-7. What kinds of social actions does God long to see His people performing? ____________________________________________________________________________________________
Verse 8-11. When god’s people minister to the world around them in these kinds of ways, what will the effect be? ___________________________________________________________________
Verse 9. What does God think of religious finer-pointing? ____________________________________________________________________________________________
Read and discuss the following scriptures regarding God’s call for the church to be engaged in meeting people’s practical needs and in the advancement of social justice causes: Proverbs 31:8-9; Isaiah 1:15-17; Jeremiah 22:3 Ezekiel 16:49-50: Zechariah 7:9-10; Luke 10:30-37; Romans 12:15-18; Matthew 7:12.
Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8, 9
When you spread out your hands, I will hike My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow. Isaiah 1:15-17
Thus says the LORD: Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor. Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless or the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. Jeremiah 22:3
Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abominations before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit. Ezekiel 16:49-50
Thus says the LORD of hosts: Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother. Zechariah 7:9, 10
Then Jesus answered and said: A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper and said to him, take care of him and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you. So which of these three to do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves? And he said, He who showed mercy him. Then Jesus said to him Go and do likewise. Then Jesus said to him, Go and do likewise also. Luke 10:30-37
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Romans 12:15-18
Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also them, for this is the Law of the Prophets. Matthew 7:12
Consider an insightful summary of why the church exists from a book that tells the story of the apostolic church:
“The church is god’s appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for serve, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world . . . The church is the repository of the riches of the grace of Christ; and through the church will eventually be made manifest . . . the final and full display of the love of God.” (E. G. White. The Acts of the Apostles, P. 9).
The church should be known for the love that exists among its members, for the self-giving service it renders to the world, and for its proclamation for God’s good character.
Love cannot occur in isolation: each of us needs to be in the corporate fellowship with God’s church in order to grow in our capacity for loving like God loves, for giving and receiving love is an integral part of the circle of benevolence. Nor can love be sustained without action. The whole point of the church’s existence is to serve the world with practical, helping, healing ministry. This is why Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Loving one another in the church and serving with love outside the church is the powerful combination of factors that will give credibility to the message the church proclaims. But this, Jesus said, “All will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). This love will result in others being born again, joining the family, and growing together in the nurturing care of those more mature in the faith.
I would love to be a part of a community of believers who endeavor, by God’s grace, to mobilize their collective energy, talents, and resources to impact the world with the good news of God’s love.
Lord, bring me into fellowship0 with your Church and show me how I can serve the world around me. Through connection with the fellow believers teach me how to love like You love. Reveal to me the special gifts you have given me for ministry. May people come to know You through the good that I do in Your name.