Practical Sacrifice James 5:13-16 Philippians 2:1-14
God’s Word tells us in Ephesians 5, that, “Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for it...” And in our Lesson from Philippians we’re told that Jesus took on “the very nature of a servant... becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross!”
I’ve always been fascinated by such phrases in scripture... and the meaning, the purpose that such words hold for you and me.
I mean... I would definitely say that I love the church (and I’m sure you would say the same!). But do I love the church enough to sacrifice everything for it? To “give myself up for it?” or “to become obedient unto death?” - like Jesus did.
And just to be clear this morning: I’m not talking about a building or and institution here... I’m talking about the people who make up the church, the Body of Christ. I hope that NONE of us are willing to sacrifice everything for a building, or an institution. That would be idolatry.
But, IF by sacrifice we mean giving “some of everything” - like a tenth, or a percentage (a portion) of my time, talent and treasure - I’d say, “sure... I can do that! I do that all they time!” It’s not a problem to share... to offer some of what I’ve been given... to sacrifice part of my blessings! But Jesus didn’t sacrifice part - he gave ALL. And I’m not so sure about giving all... all sounds, well, like all!
This idea of “ALL” comes up a lot in the bible.
+ Romans 3:23... “For ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
+ Or Luke 10:27... “Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, with ALL you mind, with ALL of your soul, and with ALL your strength.”
+ 1 Cor. 5:15... “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for ALL, therefore ALL died. And He died for ALL, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”
So where does all this lead? What does it mean for us? We know, that Biblical, New Testament sacrifice equates to surrendering self... so to love the church of Christ - the body of Christ - is to love and serve the One who died for ALL - and to remember that we’re not Him. I’m not Jesus, nor are you. We haven’t been set apart by God to give our lives as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. You and I have been called to live... and to share our life & faith with others through the grace of Christ.
We talked last week about the foundational underpinnings of the church... the basic reasons we exists... teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer... and how those 4 things are foundational to our life together as the Body of Christ. Of course, they’re actually acts of stewardship... these 4 things are expression of our offering of self to God.
And building on that foundation, as stewards of the Body of Christ... How do we love Christ and our fellow believers... and in the process become productive and encouraging members of that body? What are some practical, effective actions, we can ALL take, in order to be more faithful to the church of Christ?
1. Well, first of all, we can Pray... we can pray for our Church, and for one another.
When was the last time you prayed for your Elders, the Session? YOU are the people who chose these men and women to lead you... YOU elected them... and YOU ordained them to the office they hold. Without good Elders, the church will not be able to function properly... therefore, it’s vitally important for you and for me to pray for the Elders of the church.
When was the last time you prayed for the person who worships beside you... for me (your pastor, I need the prayers and you need the practice.)? For your Sunday School teachers... for the Church Staff... Church officers (treasurer and clerk), the Music Leaders and musicians... the Ushers... the Sexton.
In the early days of the Church, we find the people of God praying together and for one another. Just think of all of the “love one another” verses in the Bible and how they center on the intentional care/love/devotion that the church is called to have for one another. At the center of that intentional and sacrificial love... is prayer. It’s far more difficult to be divided (or upset, be hurt) when you spend time praying for one another.
James 5:16 reminds us, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another...” WHY? Because, “The prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective.”
So the first (and best) thing you and I can do to be a productive and encouraging participant in the body of Christ, is to pray.
2. The second practical thing we can all do to become productive and encouraging members of that body of Christ is: Participate by giving.
We live busy, hectic, overwhelming lives... filled with responsibilities & obligations... And because of that “busyness” we’re sometimes tempted to see Christ’s Church as optional. After all, the secular world around us has zero commitment to the church—and it seems that more & more things compete to push the church further down the priority list. How we use our time, our talents, and our treasure speaks volumes about the priority the church and the mission of Christ has in our own life.
And I’m not just talking about money! There are multiple ways to make a real contribution to the work of God’s Kingdom!
For example: When was the last time you were thankful for the person/persons who arrive early to turn on the lights or stay late to lock up the building? That’s just an example of many things that are necessary on a weekly basis to benefit the gathering of the church. It’s more than just showing up. If everyone just showed up at 11:00 am on Sunday morning, the church would be shallow and disorganized.
Have you considered the volunteers who work with children or teachers who lead Sunday school? What about those who keep the church yard clean, the grass cut? What about the sound system? Who orders the supplies... and cleans the kitchen?
And YES: What about the finances? How does the church pay the bills, meet budget, pay salaries, do ministry, engage in missions, and reach a fallen world with the gospel? Where do all of these needs land on your priority list? The degree to which we/you/I am willing to participate defines how productive and encouraging we are as members of the Body of Christ.
3. The third practical thing we can all do to become productive and encouraging members of that body of Christ is surely the most difficult: Forgive One Another.
I’ve been in vocational ministry for 29 years. And throughout those years, I’ve witnessed numerous families and individuals struggle with bitterness and division within the church. They’ve harbored thoughts, feelings, and ideas in their heart against other individuals or families within the church. Not only does this harm that particular family (or individuals involved), but it harms the entire church as a whole.
When you and I fail to express genuine Christian love and forgiveness - to every member of our church - we’re in disobedience to God and we’re hindering the ability of the church to share the Good News of Christ!
The calling of every follower of Christ is the pursuit of unity. The Apostle Paul said in Colossians 3:14, “And above (everything else) put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Ephesians 4:3 tells us, as Christians, we’re to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The word “maintain” is taken from a Greek term meaning, “To retain in custody, keep watch over, guard. It can be defined as, causing a state, condition, or activity to continue.”
In other words, as followers of Christ, we’re called to strive with great intentionality and purpose to maintain unity and peace, within the church. Lord knows... we spend more time maintaining our cars, and computers and air conditioning units in our homes... than we do striving to maintain unity within our church.
1 John 4:7-8... (look it up!) reminds us that the proof of our love for God is found in our love for one another.
Paul was emphatic about the place of forgiveness in the Body of Christ - Ephesians 4:29-32:
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
How serious do you and I, as followers of Christ, strive to live these three practical, essential things? Do we pray, earnestly pray, for our church and it’s leadership? Do we participate in giving, financially and through our abilities and talents and attendance. And do we intentionally seek to forgive, to maintain unity in the Body of Christ?
One way to measure... or to evaluate whether or not we’re productive and encouraging members of the body of Christ is to ask ourselves:
If every member in the church was just like me, would our church be healthy, thriving community of faith?
My prayer is that we’ll all be able to answer “yes” to that question! We’re not Jesus! We’ve never been singled out to give up our lives for the Church... but we have been called upon to make practical sacrifices... that make a difference... that enable ministry and strengthen the Church... for the work of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.