Disciple-Making: Serve the World
DISCIPLE-MAKING: SERVE THE WORLD
If you have a Bible, and I hope you do, let me invite you to open to Acts 17. This is where we’re going to start. The beginning of this year, we started a fast-paced journey through the book of Acts that we come to a conclusion to today. We have seen the gospel go from a small group of 120 people and spread throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and literally, on the way to the ends of the earth. We’ve seen thousands and thousands and thousands of people saved. We’ve seen churches multiply throughout the known world.
This is an amazing story isn’t it? What we’ve been reading is not fiction. This is real. Stories, literally, of thousands and thousands and thousands of people coming to faith in Christ. The church being multiplied throughout the known world, and what’s really exciting is, when you realize this story doesn’t have a conclusion, and this story is intended to be our story...because it’s not just the book of Acts; it’s the church today.
It’s India. I shared a few stories from India a couple of weeks ago. I’ll give you one more. Deepak, the pastor of a small house church in India. This small church, meeting in a home, they get it. They understand. They realize that all of them are...and it’s this basic...they realize they’re all supposed to make disciples. So, they start making disciples, and this one church has now multiplied into 93 different churches.
Along the way, one of these new believers, disciple-makers, goes into a village where there’s no gospel, no church. Goes into this village, meets a woman named Khanti at a well. It’s John 4. This woman at a well, who is a part of the Musahara people group...a little bit about the Musahara. The Musahara are an untouchable people group. That’s the word that’s used in India to describe the lowest caste of people. The people that you just don’t get near, that you don’t rub shoulders with. The Musahara...if you’re born in the Musahara people group, you’re born a servant. From the day you’re born, you belong to an owner to do grunge jobs, cleaning out toilets and such. The Musahara are not even allowed to live in the same village as their owners. They need to live in a separate village by themselves, so that their owners won’t have to rub shoulders with them.
So, Khanti, a woman from the Musahara, she’s getting water from a well. One of these disciple-makers, followers of Christ, comes up to her, shares the gospel. She believes in Christ, receives the gospel, is saved. She goes back to her separate village, just for the Musahara. She shares the gospel. There’s 70 of them. All 70 of them believe. All of them. Everyone who’s of age, able to believe on Christ; they all believe.
Then, the story doesn’t end there. Their owner decides to send this group of 70 Musahara to another area for a bigger job that needed to be worked on, where there’s 190 Musahara, and they need more. So, the owner, coincidentally, happens to send these Musahara to a group of 190. None of them have ever heard the gospel. So, these 70 get there, start sharing the gospel, and all 190 of them come to faith in Christ.
This gospel is good. It was good in Acts, and it’s good today. Story of Acts, the story of today. I read this, and I look at India, and then I’m just...I’m confronted with the question; I want to ask the question, “Can that happen here?” I’m jealous; I’m zealous to see that happen here.
So, here’s what I want to do. As we bring this picture to a conclusion, I want to warn you that what I’m going to leave with you may result in more questions than answers. This is the way God has worked among us, especially over the last four or five years. We’ve not really, necessarily, set out to do anything we’ve ended up doing. The Word has done that work among us. As we’ve studied the Word, God has brought about His work.
We never set out to say, “We’re going to do a big foster care initiative.” Instead, we studied James, and James said, “You need to care of orphans,” and that led to what is happening, really, all over the city right now when it comes to foster care. We never set out and said, “Okay, well, let’s do a radical campaign and have a little orange book that goes along with it. This will be really great.” No, what we did was we studied the Word, and that was just the fruit of the Word among us, this journey that we have been on.
So, I sensed the Lord leading us to study for the first few months of 2011, this book, the book of Acts, to set the stage for I’m not sure exactly what in the days to come. I want to make that clear. I don’t want you to think this is like bait and switch; I have a plan up the sleeve that I’m going to bring out later, and I’m just setting you up.
The Church that Turns the World Upside Down
What I want to do is I want to leave you with three foundational conclusions from our time in the book of Acts that I want us to pray together to the Lord and say, “How is that going to affect us as a church going forward?” I think the potential is huge, but I want to put those foundations before you tonight under the banner of “Thinking About the Church that Turns the World Upside Down.” Immediately, that sounds idealistic to you. I know that. I know some of you are rolling your eyes, “The Church that Turns the World Upside Down.” It’s not idealistic, but don’t roll our eyes. I want to show you why that’s not idealistic.
Here’s how we’re going to do this. As we close out the book of Acts, we’re going to hone in on one church, the Church at Thessalonica. This church, that I think in many ways most clearly portrays, illustrates, displays what we’ve been talking about the last four weeks, especially, when it comes to disciple-making, and the whole picture that we’re seeing in the book of Acts. I want us to hone in on this church.
I want us to read Acts 17:1-9, which reminds us...and we’ve already read this. We’re going to read it again, and be reminded of how the Church at Thessalonica was started, and then we’re going to go to 1 Thessalonians 1, and we’re going to read what Paul wrote to this church. In that, we’re going to get a glimpse, a deeper glimpse of what was happening in Acts 17:1-9, and what happened as a result of Acts 17:1-9. I want you to see a picture of, not idealistic, but the reality that turned the world upside down.
You know what’s really cool? This Friday at Secret Church simulcast, there is a group of believers in Thessalonica that’s going to be a part of the Secret Church simulcast. I can’t wait to say, “To the Church of God in Thessalonica, we bring you greetings from...”
It’s awesome. So, anyway, all right, Acts 17:1. This is how the church was started.
Now when they passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting,” [here it is, verse 6, so we won’t have to roll our eyes anymore] “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there’s another king, Jesus.” And the people in the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
Okay, so that’s how the church was started. Now, take a right in your New Testament and go to 1 Thessalonians, Paul’s first letter to this church. What happens is, Paul doesn’t stay there in Thessalonica long. He moves on, and then he sends Timothy back to check on the Church at Thessalonica. Timothy goes, checks on them, spends time with them, and comes back to Paul with a report of how they’re doing. Paul, once he receives that report, writes this letter to them. In this letter...what I want to do is I want us to read this letter. Paul, with Timothy and Silas, writes this letter to the church of the Thessalonians, and what I want us to see is a glimpse into what was happening in what we just read, Acts 17, in Paul’s time there. Then, the fruit of what was happening there.
So, start in verse 2. This is what Paul, with Timothy and Silas, writes to the Church at Thessalonica,
We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith, and labor of love, and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for your received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
Okay, based on this picture, the Church of Thessalonica, I want to put before us, as the church, three foundational realities. I want to leave us with these at the end of this journey through Acts, and my prayer is that they would not leave us, that these would drive us, these foundational realities.
We exist to exalt the glory of God.
Number one, the church...we exist to exalt the glory of God. We exist to exalt. We are not here for ourselves. We are here for a king, and for the advancement of a kingdom. It’s the very core...we exist, our being...we have breath for this one thing, for the glory of God. I want to stay here in 1 Thessalonians 1, and follow with me. We’re going to fly through some of this, but I want you to see why it’s a good thing that we have breath for the glory of God, because, first, the gospel is our foundation. This is what was preached in Thessalonica. Acts 17:3, “Jesus who died, who was raised from the dead, He is the Christ.” That was Paul’s message, the gospel; that Jesus has died on the cross for our sins. He’s risen from the grave in victory over sins. He is Christ, Messiah, King. That’s what they were accused of doing, saying, “There’s another king.” Yes, there’s another king. His name is Jesus.
What Paul does in these opening verses in 1 Thessalonians is he recounts in a stunning, beautiful way the application of the gospel to the Church in Thessalonica. Follow this, because what he is saying to them here applies to us in this room. We...follow this...we have been chosen by the Father. Paul says to them in verse 4, “We know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” He has chosen you. I’m not trying to promote a theological agenda here, just trying to read a biblical text.
Paul says to these guys, “It’s clear that the God of the universe has poured out His grace on you.” I would say to us, every follower of Christ, to think that the God of the universe, in His gracious initiative, has reached down into your life, called your name, not because your résumé was shiny and appealing.
Earlier this spring we, Heather and I were signing up Caleb for T-Ball, and I wanted to coach Caleb in T-Ball. So, there’s an application you have to fill out, like a résumé, to coach T-Ball. I just want to coach T-Ball. This application has all these questions, “How many years have you coached?” He’s five; I haven’t coached any years. I don’t have experience in coaching. It asked all these different questions, “How many times have you played fall ball?” I didn’t know there was fall ball. “How many times have you done this?” I had nothing to write down. I was sweating, trying to fill out this application. Heather was looking at me, and she said, “I’ve never seen you struggle with an application like this. Clearly, you have nothing to write down.” That was true; I had nothing to write down. There was nothing. I had nothing; trying to make up stuff. With integrity, of course, but make up stuff.
I had nothing. So, I submitted and then get a call, and the voice on the other line says, “Congratulations. You are going to be the coach of the Pirates.” So, I am the coach of the Pirates. Not because of anything I brought to the table, but because of the gracious initiative of Oak Mountain Youth Baseball League.
Oh, so take it to a much, much deeper, deeper, obviously, grander level. To think there’s nothing in you to draw God to you. Everything on your résumé screams out, “Don’t pick me.” Everything on your résumé screams out, “I’m not picking you, and I don’t want you. I want to run from you.” God, in His mercy, reaches down and says, “You, you’re mine.” You, we, followers of Christ, we have been chosen by the Father.
Could we not stop here and just sing for the next few hours? Yes, but we have a long way to go, so we’re going to keep going. Second, we’ve been crucified with the Son. So, here’s what I’m hinting at here. You saw in Acts 17 that when they heard the gospel, they received the Word. I think it’s verse 6 says, “They received the word with much affliction.” It was persecution happening in Thessalonica. It was not easy to come to Christ in Thessalonica. They were identifying with a crucified Christ, and they were, in a sense, being crucified for it, being persecuted for it. They were not following Christ out of self-preservation. They were following Christ in self-denial.
This is key. In this room, though it’s easier to be a follower of Christ in Birmingham than in Thessalonica in many, many ways, to realize that we have lost our lives. We no longer live; Christ lives in us. We’ve been crucified with Christ. So, this is foundational, right? We don’t determine the direction of our lives, and we don’t determine the direction of the church. We’ve been crucified with the Son.
Third, we’ve been changed by the Spirit, “Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” This is what’s happened in our lives. Their lives, our lives, God has been so gracious to us in this room. So, we talk all the time about making disciples and going to the nations, not because we feel guilty. Not because we have to, so, let’s do it. We talk about these things all the time because this is the overflow of grace in the gospel in us. When you’ve received this kind of mercy, you want the world to know this kind of mercy. When you receive grace like this, you want to proclaim this grace to the ends of the earth, this gospel foundation.
Driving us is that the gospel is our motivation. You look at verse 3, you see three phrases back to back to back that show the fruit of the gospel in Thessalonians. As I was looking through it, this clearly illustrates the fruit of the gospel in your life, our life as a church.
So, look at verse 3. He says, “Remembering before our God and Father...” Here’s the three phrases, “...your work of faith labor of love and steadfastness of hope...” So, there it is. Work of faith, number one. Number two, labor of love, and number three, steadfastness of hope. So, see how the gospel was driving them and us. Some of this is review, but it’s important. Our faith is producing work, right? Work flows from faith. Faith works. We’ve seen that. We saw...we walked through James. We see faith works.
Now, we need to make sure we always come back to this reality. We have been saved from work, meaning work that is fueled by the flesh that does not honor God. We’ve been saved from that kind of work. We don’t do what we do, and we don’t read the Bible; we don’t pray; we don’t worship; we don’t move to East Lake and Gate City; we don’t share the gospel; we don’t move into difficult contexts in the world because we’re trying to earn favor before God, or be accepted before God. That’s taken care of. There’s nothing we can do. We’re resting in the righteousness of Christ. We’ve been saved from that kind of work. He is our righteousness, and what He has done is more than sufficient for me to be accepted by God, you to be accepted by God. So, we’re free from any kind of work to try to be accepted before God. Free from that kind of work.
However, that doesn’t mean we’re just sitting back doing nothing then. We’re working because we’ve been saved to work, the kind of work that is fueled by faith that brings great glory to God. Faith fuels work, not flesh. We don’t want flesh-fueled work. We want faith-fueled work.
When you believe this gospel; when you believe that God sent His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins, to save us from ourselves, to save us from eternal damnation, and all who trust in Him will be reconciled to God forever...you believe that, then you live your life with zeal to make that known in the world. We’re not just playing games here, right? It’s not just religious routine for us; it’s the last thing we’re doing here tonight. We believe this, and it incites affectionate worship of God, bold witness for God that’s faith-fueled work. So, our faith is producing work.
Our love is producing labor. Labor of love; love is the foundation. Love is the foundation: love for God, love for neighbor, love for one another, love for enemies. Why are some people from our midst, over the last year...why did they move down to one of the more dangerous areas of our city? Why have some people, that used to sit among us, now moved into some of the most dangerous contexts in the world for a Christian to live? Why? Because of love. Love is the foundation that produces that kind of labor. Along the way, it’s not easy. Our hope is producing endurance. It’s what Paul says, the steadfastness of hope. The gospel is what fuels.
So, it’s foundation, motivation, and the gospel is our ambition. More than anything, more than our own lives, we want this gospel to be known all over the globe. This is it. More than anything. More than our own lives, we want this gospel to be made known all over the globe. We want what was said of the Church at Thessalonica to be said about us, that the Word sounded forth from us everywhere. We want the gospel to be made known all over the globe because, second, we want our Savior to come back for His people. We know that He’s coming back when the Word has gone out to all the globe. Matthew 24:14, we’ve talked about a good bit, “The gospel will be proclaimed as a testimony to all nations, then the end will come.” Christ, our Savior, our King is coming back, and He’s coming back when the Word is made known among all nations. So, we’re giving ourselves to making the Word known in all nations, in part, because we want to see our King. We’re looking forward to His coming.
You look at 1 Thessalonians, every single chapter in this book ends with a reference to the second coming of Christ. It’s beautiful. Let me show it to you. Verse 10, you might just underline it, 1 Thessalonians 1 says, “To wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” We’re waiting for a Son to come from heaven.
You get to the end of 1 Thessalonians 2:19, and we’re going to come back to this verse later, but 1 Thessalonians 2:19 says, “What is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming?” End of 1 Thessalonians 3, “So that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
1 Thessalonians 4...not just one verse, start in verse 15,
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with a voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Is there like an “Amen,” at least under the surface in the room when you hear that? We’re going to meet the Lord in the air and be with the Lord always. Encourage one another with these words. Those are encouraging words. He’s coming back.
You get to 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” We’re waiting on a Son from heaven. That word in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 is a word that describes an expectant anticipation. Our eyes are on the sky, brothers and sisters, and we are living for the day when we’ll see His face. We want our Savior to come back for His people.
So, all this gospel drives this foundation, motivation, ambition, and because of the gospel in our hearts, we know we exist for one thing. It supersedes all things. We exist to exalt the glory of our God. It’s what we want to spend our lives doing.
We live to make disciples.
So, how do we do that? That leads to the second foundation. We live to make disciples. So, this is where we have been honing in on focusing the last four weeks, and the reality that I pray would continually pervade our hearts and minds in this church, is we are a fellowship of disciple-makers, not an audience of spectators.
That is so tough to say in a room like this, and I think it’s tough to believe in a room like this, to really believe that. There’s a lot of you sitting out there, listening to one of me, and besides me, you see the back of everybody else’s heads. It certainly feels like a spectator, doesn’t it? It’s tough to hear this and believe. I could wish for a smaller environment to sit down, where I could look into each of your eyes and say, “You were created, and you are saved to make disciples. You.”
For that really to soak in, to hear you say, “I don’t know. What does that mean?” You say, “I’ve got so many things I need to work on in my life. I’ve got so many things I need to get right. I know that maybe means others, but I just don’t know if that means me.” For me to look at you in the eye and say, “Remember Punja? She came to Christ one afternoon. She came to Christ, and a week later, 24 people were in her home, and she’s sharing the gospel with them, and a week after that, seven of them have come to Christ, and a new church has started in her home. So, you have in you what it takes to start a church in a couple of weeks.” If I was to say that, and for you to believe it. Why not believe that? Same Spirit, same Word, same gospel. To believe this, and anybody, every believer can do this, must do this...that God has put His Spirit in us for this.
So, let’s share the Word so that others will receive it. Now, this is where I want to recap what we’ve been talking about the last four weeks, summarizing disciple-making, sharing the Word. We share the gospel so that others will receive it. I want you to see this. It’s where 1 Thessalonians 1 just comes alive. It brings to light all that we’ve been talking about with disciple-making.
So, maybe you have not bought into this picture of disciple-making: share the Word, show the Word, teach the Word, serve the world. Well, look at 1 Thessalonians 1:5. He says, “Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” That’s where it all started, sharing the gospel. You get down to 1 Thessalonians 2:2, and Paul says, “Though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” We had boldness to share the gospel with you.
You get to 1 Thessalonians 2:9. Look at verse 9, “You remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” Verse 13, “We also thank God constantly for this, that when you receive the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God.”
This is the picture. They came sharing the gospel. This is what we do. It’s what all of us do. We share the gospel. This is how the gospel advances, through all of us sharing the gospel, the power of the Holy Spirit. They will receive it. Now, I know some people in your life you tried to share the gospel with have not received it, but don’t let that destroy your confidence in this gospel. People will receive it. This gospel is good. Share it; they’ll receive it, and we must keep this front and center in our midst, especially as we talk about urgent spiritual and physical need in the world.
As we give ourselves to ministry among urgent physical need, people who are starving, people who are in deep suffering physically, we need to make sure to always remember that as we give them bread, we need to give them the gospel. It’s always easier to give them bread than it is to give them the gospel. You look in the history of the church, there’s always a propensity in caring for physical needs to leave gospel behind. We have to make sure not to leave gospel behind.
We said it before, that Satan, in a sense, would be just fine with us clothing people on their way to hell. So, we don’t want to do that and miss the whole point. So, let’s share the gospel so others receive it, and let’s show the Word so that others will follow it. Now, this is where it gets really good. He says at the end of verse 5, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord.” So, “We proved to be people who are living out the gospel in front of you, and then you began to follow us. You began to imitate us.”
You go over to 1 Thessalonians 2:8, listen to this. It’s a great verse. 1 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul says, “Being affectionately desirous of you,” hear this, “we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” Do you see it? Share the gospel, share life. You get down a couple more verses, in verse 10, it says, “You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct towards you believers.”
This is Paul saying, “You heard the gospel from us, and you saw the gospel...the Word of God alive in us.” That was so key. Here’s an idolatrous people in Acts 17. Thessalonica, idolatrous paganism, haven’t heard the gospel, and the gospel comes to them. How are they going to know how to follow Christ? They hear about Christ. They believe on Christ. How are they going to know how to follow Christ? They needed Paul to show the Word, to bring that front and center in front of them. This is what the Christ-life looks like. This is what we do. It’s why when you lead somebody to Christ, the last thing I would say to you is, “Okay, well, get that new Christian, that new believer, get him in some kind of class; Bible class, really quick.” It’s not that the Bible class would necessarily be bad, but what they need is to see the gospel and the Word of Christ alive in you.
How’s that new believer going to learn to pray? We can stick them in a class on prayer. That’ll go so far, but it’ll be far more valuable for you to invite that new believer into your quiet time, and say, “Here’s how we pray. Let’s pray together, and I want to show you how I keep my mind’s attention on God, how I lift my heart’s affections toward God. Here’s how I pray intentionally in concentrated time with the Lord, and here’s what fuels continual time in prayer with God.”
How’s that new believer going to learn to read and study this Word? Stick him in a class, or even bring him in here? It’s not that that’s bad. Not bad at all, but I believe a new believer is going to know how to study and read the Word when you invite them into your quiet time, you open up the Word and say, “I want to show you how I study God’s Word. I want to show you how I read. I want to show you the questions I ask to understand what’s going on in the Word.”
So, at this point, people say, “Well, ah, I don’t know if I can do that. I don’t know if I’d be ready to do that.” That’s where we realize, remember, God has this whole thing designed not just for others’ sanctification, for others’ growth in Christ, but for our own sanctification, for our own growth in Christ. If you’re going to be teaching somebody else, showing somebody else how to study the Bible, you’ve have got to know how to do what? Study the Bible.
Now, all of a sudden, your Christianity is about to go to new heights that it’s never been before because others are dependent on you for their growth in Christ. “You are a sanctifying influence in my life because you force me, every week, into this Word and into prayer.” When you have people in your life that you are showing how to follow Christ, they become...you’re helping them to grow in Christ, and what happens is, they, unbeknownst to them even, begin to help you to follow Christ.
I’m convinced every Christian in this room, every Christian anywhere, will plateau in our spiritual growth, will hit a ceiling until you give yourself to disciple-making. If it’s all just about you and your own growth in Christ, ceiling. However, when others are dependent on you for your growth in Christ, this is where you start to go to whole new heights because you’re sharing life with others, showing what this looks like to others. This is where we realize...don’t miss this in your notes...their biblical community and biblical mission are inseparable.
Biblical community and biblical mission are inseparable. All this talk about disciple-making, some people start to think we might get so focused on disciple-making that we don’t care for each other. No way, not if we’re doing biblical disciple-making, because biblical disciple-making is caring for each other. It is experiencing community with each other. It’s sharing life with each other. This is why, whenever we take discipleship and limit it to an hour, hour-and-a-half class once a week, we’ve missed the whole point from the start. We have to share life with each other, walk through life together. In the context of life, see the Word in action, and when that’s happening, we experience the depth of community and mission in one.
You ask anybody in this room who’s gone on a short-term mission trip, you ask them, if they’ve gone a short-term mission trip with other people, if they experienced community with those other people in the context of that trip. They will respond and say they experienced community in ways they might not have even wanted to experience community. When you’re on the front lines of mission together, you’re locking arms with the people around you, you need the people around you in a way that you don’t need them when you’re lounging at the pool. When you’re on the front lines of mission together, you’re in the bunker together. You need each other, and that’s the whole design of disciple-making. It is biblical community, biblical mission, inseparable.
We were talking with one pastor in India. He was sharing with us about a couple in his church. They began to catch it, “We are disciple-makers.” So, they make a list of the people they know that they can share the gospel with...50 or 60 people on their list. They start going and sharing the gospel intentionally with those 50 or 60 people. They came back to their pastor, and they said, “We never knew what this would do for our marriage.” They said, “As we started sharing the gospel with these people, we realized that these people needed to see the love of Christ in our love for each other.”
That’s the whole design of marriage, right? Ephesians 5, that our marriages would be a picture of the love of Christ for His church. What they found was, in the process of disciple-making, that they began going to new heights that they needed to love one another. Yes, for the sake of loving one another, but for the sake of the spread of the gospel. God knows what He’s doing when He tells us to make disciples. It is good for others to make disciples, and it is good for us. It’s good for us. Trust the Lord on this one.
So, let’s show the Word to others so they will follow it. Let’s teach the Word so that others will spread it. In verse 6, Paul says, “You received the word...” In 1 Thessalonians 1:6, he said, “You received the word,” and then verse 8...listen to verse 8, “For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” What a great verse.
Paul says, “The word from you has sounded forth everywhere.” Some translations say, “The word has spread abroad.” Some translations say, “To every place, everywhere.” The church that turns the world upside down. The Word sounded forth everywhere. The word he uses there for sounded forth is the only time he ever uses this word in a letter. It’s a word that in that day would be used to describe a trumpet blast being declared so everyone could hear it. It’s a word that would be used to describe how the sound of the rolling thunder.
What a great image...“God, may it be so in this church,”...sounds forth everywhere. Trumpet blast going out from...it’s like when Paul was speaking to the Thessalonian Christians, he was speaking into a PA system. He speaks the Word to them, and the Word...not just being received...being reproduced from there. So that Paul says, “I don’t even have to say anything. I can just be quiet. You’ve got the Word covered in all these regions. You’re making the Word known.” That’s what we want. “Oh, God, that we would echo the Word like that.” Let’s teach the Word so others will spread it.
Share, show, teach the Word, and let’s serve the world so that together with others, we will eventually reach the world, reach the nations with the gospel. “Not only Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has been made known everywhere.” Thessalonica was a base of ministry to the world. What they did in Thessalonica...don’t miss it; this is the beauty of disciple-making...what they did in Thessalonica, making disciples, reverberated to cities, provinces, around the world. It’s what we’re pressing and praying for, right? That what we do as a church here would reverberate with the Word and the gospel going forth everywhere. So, we live to make disciples. That’s what happens when the church...when we all are making disciples.
You’ve been saved to make disciples. May God lodge that in each one of our hearts. How that plays out...how share the Word, show the Word, teach the Word, serve the world...how that plays out in each of our lives, now that’s where we get into practical...some of you are thinking, “Okay, but what does this look like?” Dive into that with each other. Small groups. Dive into that, say, “How can we best do that in our lives, where we live?” Dive into that.
God wants this mission to happen in your life more than you do. He will lead you, guide you to put that into practice. We are abandoned to that. How can I share the gospel best? How can I show the gospel best? How can I teach others the Word? How can we, together, lock arms in serving the world, resounding the gospel to the nations? We’re not spectators when that begins to take hold.
Now, that leads to one more foundation that, to be honest, this is the foundation that has been most challenging and convicting for me as I’ve been reading through the book of Acts.
We die to multiply churches.
So, we exist to exalt the glory of God, leading us to live to make disciples. The third foundation: we die to multiply churches. We die to multiply churches. You say, “What do you mean by that?”
Here’s what I mean by that. We started this series...if you’ll remember, the first Sunday in Acts, you came in, there was a...if you were here, there was a blank sheet of notes you had. We said, “Let’s just imagine that it was just us. Just people, no building, no programs, no stuff, just us people, people of God, with the Spirit of God in us, and the Word of God in front of us, and we have this charge to make this gospel known to the ends of the earth. We’ve got a little bit of time to do it, just a short time to do it before eternity comes; get this gospel to the ends of the earth. If we had a blank check, blank slate, just us people, Word of God, Spirit of God, how would we go about taking the gospel to the ends of the earth?”
We asked the question, “Would we re-pool together our resources and spend millions on buildings?” We asked, “Would we organize all the programs that are very familiar to us that mostly cater around us? Would we do those things? Would that be our priority?” We said, “Maybe not, probably not.” We’d scatter, together scatter. We would need each other. We’d scatter throughout Birmingham, to the ends of the earth, making this Word known.”
If this is what our lives were about, what would we do if we had a blank check? So, we asked that question. We said, “Okay, it doesn’t mean buildings, programs, stuff, and all the other things are bad, but we need to refocus and ask the question. We have to ask the question.” So, I want to bring it back now, not that there’s a bunch of answers on the table, but I want to bring it back to the blank check.
With a blank check before the Lord as a church, what we’re saying is, “God, we will die to our comforts. We will die to our preferences. We will die to traditions. We will die to the way things have been done, the way we would like to see things done. We’re going to die to all those things. How can we most effectively make this gospel known throughout Birmingham and the ends of the earth? Whatever you say, we’ll do it. Whatever you tell us to let go of, we’ll let go of. Whatever you tell us to do differently, we’ll do differently. Blank check, no strings attached, you tell us what to do.”
So, that’s how we...that’s where we dove into the book of Acts. So, 15 weeks later, where are we? What conclusions have we come to? This morning I want to put before you that I don’t think that Acts has given us exact answers for that, has prescribed exact answers for that. I don’t think there’s a way you could say, “Well, just do these, these, and these things, check off these boxes, then we would be making the gospel known to the ends of the earth.”
However, I do want to put before us four things here that I think Acts has contributed to the conversation in. Again, I don’t have a plan up the sleeve for what that means for us going forward. I want to let these soak in and let this drive our praying from here on. Four things that I want to point out. One, about these early Christians in Acts, their homes were central. Their homes were central. The normal place of meeting for these early Christians was clearly at home.
Now, there were believers in Jerusalem that would meet at the temple, particularly at the time of prayer, but as persecution increased, that became less and less possible. Certainly, they would go to synagogues, to different places in other cities, but it didn’t take long for Paul to be in a synagogue before he got kicked out of the place. So, synagogues weren’t the best places to gather either.
You see them meeting at points in public halls, the hall of Tyrannus in Acts 19, and a couple of other places like that, but what you see from the very beginning and throughout the rest of the New Testament, is that homes were a central gathering place for Christians. From the very beginning, Acts 1, they gathered together in an upper room, the chamber of Mary, mother of John and Mark’s house. In Acts 2, the church explodes. Verse 46 says they were meeting from house to house. Then, you go on, and you begin to see in Acts and in these letters, you see all these different homes. You see...just list them, Phillip’s home in Caesarea, Philemon’s house, Jason’s house in Thessalonica that we read just a second ago, the house of Titus, house of Stephanas, Lydia’s house, house of the Philippian jailer, Nympha, Aquila, Priscilla, all these homes were strategic centers for the gathering of Christians. What we’ve read through Acts, you never see a church building.
It begs the question, why not? We don’t really know the answer to that question, to be fair. We don’t know why not. Some people said, “Well, it’s because they didn’t have enough resources.” Obviously, the church had some resources, some wealthy members of the church, but maybe they didn’t have enough resources. Maybe, in some places, it wasn’t possible because of the persecution they were experiencing. Yet, there were also places that were friendly to Christianity. No buildings there either.
So, we don’t know for sure, but it does make you wonder. It makes me wonder...makes me wonder if they didn’t think it would be necessary. As we look in this book, to see a gospel that is so continually multiplying that they never thought it was necessary to build a building, and they could get along fine just for that...just fine without them. What more natural place for them to share the gospel with people they knew, to show the gospel to each other as a family, to teach the Word in the context relationships with each other...what more natural place to do that than in a home? So, their homes were central, just plainly put.
Second, their strategy was simple. Their strategy was simple. Now, by simple, I don’t mean easy. I don’t mean easy. We’ll get to that in a second, but I want you to think about it. Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas, they...I think it’s verse 23, but they’re making disciples, and then they form those disciples into a church, and then they appoint elders, pastors, and then they leave, and all they left behind were disciples, pastors, and the Word of God, although they didn’t even have the full Word, like we’ve got the Word. They had the Old Testament, and the teaching of the apostles. They didn’t have the full New Testament. We’ve got the advantage on Paul and these early churches on this one, and they left.
Ten years Paul goes around doing this in these different places; making disciples, churches planted, the pastor, then he leaves. He does this for ten years, and after ten years of doing that, he concludes at the end of Romans, “Well, my work here is done.” That’s all he’d done. He left behind people, pastors, the Word of God, Spirit of God, and that was it. That’s what I mean by simple.
Roland Allen, early 20th century...1920 or so...he had been orphaned early in life. Went as a missionary from England to North China, and he began to write two different books that really rocked the missions landscape. One of the things he said was,
We cannot imagine any Christianity existing without all the elaborate machinery that we have invented, but Paul seems to have left his newly found churches with a simple system of gospel teaching, two sacraments, i.e., the Lord’s Supper and baptism, a tradition of the main fact of the death and resurrection, and the Old Testament.
That’s all. This seems to us remarkably little. We can hardly believe that a church could be founded on so slight a basis. We add so much, but do we need so much if our goal is urgent reproducible spread of the gospel? We want thousands and thousands in Birmingham and the ends of the earth to know the gospel. Clearly, we won’t be able to reproduce this whole picture here rapidly, urgently, but do we need to? Clearly, the Word...pastor, people, Word, Spirit...that was enough for Paul. It was enough for these early Christians. It’s enough for many of our brothers and sisters in the world. I guess the question is, “Is that enough for us?”
You take everything else away; are pastors, people, Word, and Spirit enough for us? His strategy was simple. Not easy, because third, their cost was steep. Obviously, we could dive into specifics here, but I think it’s clear from cover to cover in this book, that persecution and suffering abounded for these early followers of Christ. This was not a path of security and comfort. This was a path of suffering and cost.
They didn’t ask...here’s the deal, they didn’t ask from the very beginning...their first question wasn’t, “What is best for me, and let’s organize around that.” Their first question was, “What is best for the spread of the gospel?” They believed that was best for them. That’s key. They didn’t start with, “What’s best for me?” They started with, “What’s best for the spread of the gospel,” and they believed that was best for them because they believed that it was best to bring glory to God. What’s best for us is what brings glory to God.
So, it was costly. You hear Paul say in Acts 20:24, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race, complete the tasks the Lord Jesus has given me, the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” My life is worth nothing to me. It counts for one thing. Our lives count for one thing: testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. The cost was steep, but their reward was great.
That’s the last place I want to show you. 1 Thessalonians 2:19, and we read it earlier. I want to bring back in here 1 Thessalonians 2:19. Let’s listen to this. Paul suffered. Paul was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked. He went to Thessalonica...persecution, lashing out against him. Stoned in different places. I mean, he suffered. Paul, was it worth...what was the point, Paul? Listen to 1 Thessalonians 2:19, he says, “What is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.”
Did you hear that? “What’s your joy, Paul? What’s the point?” “My joy,” Paul says, “a crown of boasting before Christ at His coming is people.” People who trusted in Christ as a result of suffering. People have come to Christ. They’re walking with Christ. You get down further in 1 Thessalonians 3:6, it says, “Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you - for this reason, brothers,” listen to this, “in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.” “In all our suffering, we’ve been comforted.” Why? Verse 8, “For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.” He lived when he saw others standing fast in the Lord.
I pray that that’s what would drive our life. You know, this in your kids’ lives, right? If you’re a parent, you see your kids’ lives...when you see your kid excel, your child thriving, you’re living to see that across the board. When you see people in Birmingham coming to Christ and walking with Christ, this is life. When you see people in the nations coming to Christ and walking with Christ, this is what we live for. We live when they’re standing firm, walking with the Lord. No matter what suffering it is; it’s worth it. It’s worth it.
So, based on this picture, home is central; strategy is simple; cost steep; reward great. Based on Acts, here’s what I would say; there’s not specifics here. This is general, but this is what I would say. First, let’s go everywhere. Church, walking out of the book of Acts, let’s resolve to go everywhere, aggressively everywhere, to unreached areas overseas: East Asia, North Africa, Central Asia, let’s go. Under-reached areas in North America: Seattle, New York, Midwest, let’s go. Throughout metro Birmingham, for that matter. There’s people all throughout this city. We want to see thousands of people coming to Christ in this city. So, let’s go everywhere.
Let’s involve everyone. Here’s something to think about. When you read the book of Acts, like we have, I think you begin to realize that God has designed all of us to be a part of church planting, and all of us to be a part of church multiplication. It only makes sense...follow in your notes...if we are all involved in making disciples...if we’re all doing that, we will necessarily, automatically, all be involved in multiplying churches.
You think about it. If we are all making disciples, all of us, everybody in this room, the next year, or two, or three, making disciples, the Spirit of God, gospel of God...His gospel works. People come to Christ. We’ll double in a year, or two, or three, if we’re all making disciples. Maybe I’m underestimating. I don’t know, probably.
If we’re all doing that, what we’ve been talking about, we’ll double, and this building, as great as it is, will not be able to hold the people that are coming to Christ. That’s good. That’s good. That’s what we’re after. Maybe that’s part of the reason they didn’t have a building here in Acts. Maybe it wasn’t even just the stewardship or resource issue. Maybe it was because buildings couldn’t contain what was happening. That’s what we want. We don’t want to design something, we don’t want to give ourselves to something that a building can contain. We want to give ourselves to something that you can’t stop. That’s the whole picture here.
So, if we’re all making disciples, if we’re all doing this, the reality is, we’re not all going to be able to stay in the seats where we’re at right now. This church is going to be spreading all over the city. It’s what we want. So, what is the goal of your Christian life? What if the goal of your Christian life is not to spend the next 30 years in this building, surrounded by these programs? What if the goal of your Christian life is not to spend the next five years in this building, surrounded by these programs? What if the goal of your Christian life is to be a part of making disciples and multiplying churches and be a part of a spreading church, less like a pool, more like a river that’s going everywhere?
We’re not just church planters, or church-finding residents, but we’re all involved in the multiplication of the church. “God, give us the grace to die to our need for stuff and comforts and preferences and traditions. God, give us the grace to say, ‘Okay, well, after this journey, blank check; Lord whatever you want us to do, we’ll do it.’” Let’s pray; let’s press in together and pray and say, “God, what do you want us to do? How can we most effectively spread this gospel urgently in Birmingham and to the ends of the earth?” Let’s ask Him, and let’s ask Him willing to do whatever He says.
The Bottom Line …
God is sovereign over the Great Commission.
Bottom line, God is sovereign over the Great Commission. He will finish it. He’ll finish it. He’s going to get it done.
We are responsible for the Great Commission.
We are responsible for the Great Commission. He has entrusted it to us, to you and to me...us. So, let’s give Him a blank check with our lives. All across this room, your life, your family, blank check, no strings attached, to say on a daily basis, “However you want to use me, lead me and my family, I’ll go. I’ll do whatever, blank check.”
Let’s give him a blank check with our church. Let’s say in the days to come, “We’ll do whatever, however crazy it might seem, we’ll do whatever. We want...more than we want breath, we want this gospel to spread through us, and we’ll do whatever.” Let’s lose our lives accomplishing this mission. Let’s lose our lives accomplishing this mission. I don’t know all that means, but this...
World evangelization...is a divinely-ordered goal for every Christian. Not only is it attainable; it is inevitable. Whether or not we believe it, some day the gospel of the Kingdom will be heard to the ends of the earth (Mt. 24:14). The God of the universe will not be defeated in His purpose. Any activity not in step with His design for human destiny is an exercise in futility. The sooner we realize this and align our way with His, the sooner we will be relevant to eternity.
I want my life, we want our church, to be relevant to eternity.
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