Over the next few weeks we are exploring the Biblical basis
for the Network Course. This is in preparation for next Spring when we will
be running the course again. I believe Network to be the most effective means
of our becoming the Church God intends us to be. I hope this series of studies
which David initiated last week will help us find out why. I'd like to commend
the book that best explains Network - "What You do Best in the Body of Christ"
by Bruce Bugbee. There are copies on the bookstall. If they are all gone by
the time you get there you can order one from Janet Smith. I invite you to read
it to get the most our of these sermons and to motivate you to do the Network
Course in the Spring. In our gospel reading Jesus uses a vivid image to describe
the relationship between Himself and the Church.
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."
We have here a Great Picture - Jesus & the Believer:
We also see a Glorious Partnership - Jesus and the Church: (15:9-17)
Too often Christianity is seen in terms of an individualistic relationship with God rather than a corporate relationship as the Body of Christ. The consequence is that many Christians never really get fully involved in a Church, but remain in spiritual nappies, are permanently unemployed or semi-retired. They may attend regularly but equate their offering with putting money in the collection. In reality God wants us to put ourselves in the offering plate. Why do we make this mistake and lose out of so much blessing? It may be through insecurity or lack of confidence.
When the topic of spiritual gifts comes up, some Christians
get nervous because they think they are just for Charismatics. I am excited
about Network because it reminds us that the Bible teaches that we are all significant.
That God has given each one of us unique and valuable gifts and abilities to
serve one another and be a blessing to others. But Network does more than that,
it also shows us how to discover and confirm those talents. It provides the
motivation and the process whereby we can find out the resources God has given
each one of us and learn how to use them for the common good. Lets look at the
way Jesus introduced the first Network Course with His disciples. Three things
stand out. How the Church is Described. The How the Church is Defined. Finally
How the Church is Delighted
1. Notice How the Church is Described (15:14-15)
Rightly and properly the relationship between Creator and Created is one of Lord and Servant. Obedience is the only condition of service. But notice that Jesus takes them on from that status. Here Biblical Christianity rises above the other world's religions. A servant, says Jesus, does not know all that is in His Master's heart and mind, but His disciples now do, therefore they are no longer just servants. Does it surprise you that Jesus conferred on the disciples the title "friends"? How did they become friends of Jesus? = Because of their obedience 15:14. Why does Jesus call them friends? = Because of His self-revelation 15:15. By communicating His passion, his heart's desire to his disciples they became friends. Do you see Jesus as your Lord and Master? That is the first step in the Christian faith. Do you see Jesus as your friend? For that is what He wants to be. Its not either or, but both and. The status of a servant but the intimacy of a friend. How can we be both? In one word "Adoption". Jesus calls us the "Chosen Ones" (John 15:16). We read about it further in Paul's Epistle's to the Galatians and Ephesians. "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir."
From our perspective we become Christians because we believe in Jesus. John 1:12 "But as many as received Him, who believed in His name He gave them the right to become children of God." From God's perspective however, it is all because He has chosen us. Read 15:16. Jesus made the first choice to love and die for us, and to invite us to live with Him forever. We make the next choice, to accept or reject His offer, only to discover when we do, that it was God who chose us from the very beginning. Without His choosing we would have no choice at all. "Friends", "chosen". That is why we can always turn to Jesus not only as our Lord but also as our friend. One who knows us intimately, who accepts us unconditionally, who reveals His heart and will, who shares His talents and resources, who gives His Spirit to be with us. So this is how the Church is described. "Friends".
2. Notice How
the Church is Distinguished
How can you tell a group of Christians from non-Christians? Certainly not by the presence or absence of the gifts of the Spirit. Its so easy to judge other Christians in this way. But maturity or immaturity have nothing to do with spiritual gifts. The Corinthian church was the most charismatic and at the same time the most immature in the NT. The reason is because spiritual gifts are so easily confused with the counterfeit, with earthly abilities. What about tongues? Tongues are common to many pagan religions. What about worship & singing? Go to Wembley and here the football fans sing at the top of their voices. What about great preaching & oratory skills? Adolf Hitler was a brilliant speaker. Then what about words of knowledge, dreams, visions? These are common to spiritualism & the occult. What about compassionate service? Consider the many vital humanitarian organisations and charities. No, none of these things, in and of themselves, distinguish Christians from pagans. What is it that marks out the mature Christian? The way we treat each other. Agape - God's Love. Read 15:12. The first thing to notice about this love is that it is..
2.1 This Love
is Obligatory John 15:12, 17
We may choose our friends. We may like people for many different reasons. But that is not what Jesus is talking about here. The word is not 'phileo' = friendship. We cannot choose whom we will like in Church. We may be strongly attracted to certain people because of affinity, personality, looks, gender. But that is not what Jesus is talking about here either. The word is not 'eros' = physical love either. We are commanded to love one another as God loves us. Agape. That means negative criticism is out. Rudeness is out. Gossip is out. Slander is out. Bitterness is out. Negative criticism is out. They have no place in the Church. Our Church, any Church. Christ Church is a condemnation free zone. Because we serve Jesus we have obligations to serve within His Body the Church. This love is obligatory. Notice also,
2.2 This Love is Sacrificial John 15:13
Quite simply we are to love one another as Jesus loved us, and He loved us enough to give His life for us. We may not have to die for someone, but there are plenty of opportunities to live for each other. How can I practice sacrificial love? Listening, observing, encouraging, giving. Think of someone right now who you know who needs this kind of love today. I'll let you into a secret. The person sitting next to you needs this kind of love, because you do too if you are honest. There is no higher goal to which you can aspire than to reflect the self-sacrificing nature of Jesus love. A friend of Jesus, someone who spends time with Jesus, will exhibit his peace, his joy and above all his sacrificial love. A love that is commanded, a love that is sacrificial.
2.3 This Love is Reciprocal John 15:12
It is not all one way, which is one of the joys of belonging to God's family. The more you give the more you receive. It is as unbelievers see this quality of commitment, this kind of relationship among us that the hidden Jesus becomes visible and very, very attractive. I was speaking to someone this week whose wife is having a difficult time. They have few friends and many problems. The wife has started going to a mums and toddlers group connected to another local church and has found many of the ladies very helpful and caring. The husband who is a Christian pointed out to his wife that all her friends, the ones that were most helpful, were Christians. In contrast her own family had threatened to reject her unless she did as they wanted. Two families. Natural and Supernatural. What a contrast. How the Church is Described. "Friends". How the Church is Distinguished. "Love". Commanded, sacrificial, reciprocal.
3. Notice How
the Church is Delighted
Read 15:11, 16. It comes as a shock to hear Jesus speaking of "my joy". This was the eve of his crucifixion. Without a doubt his arrest and possibly theirs, was uppermost in the disciples mind. Here they were with their beloved Master and friend, approaching the hour he had often alluded to. Which they now somehow, though not completely, understood would be an hour of death and suffering, and Jesus speaks of his joy? What is that joy? The joy that Jesus experienced came from doing the job the Father had sent him to do. He trusted His Father implicitly, unconditionally, and He knew He was doing His Father's will. God has called each one of us with the same passion and intensity, the same high calling to serve Him. The more we use the gifts and talents he has given us for the common good, the more we trust him, the greater the joy in serving him. When things are going well we feel elated and its easy to praise God. When hardship comes, we often slide into depression and its difficult to praise. The joy of Jesus transcends the rolling waves of circumstances. This joy comes from a consistent relationship with Jesus, where our lives are intertwined with His. He keeps us level headed, no matter how high or low our circumstances take us. Read 15:16. The blessing of obedience goes further. It is not only that we experience His joy, but that our Father in heaven deems to answer our prayers. The Father answers our prayers when our desires are in tune with Christ. How did the hearts of the disciples respond to this revelation of intimacy? I believe they began to search their innermost feelings as the spotlight of Jesus love shone upon them. To be called the friend of Jesus is no small matter. Intentionally Jesus reminds them that he is their friend. Soon they will know the enmity of the world; many of their former friends would desert them. In all the dark days that would surely follow, they would never need to say "I have no friend to turn to."
Do you take comfort in the fact of Jesus friendship? Our earthly friends may fail, but Jesus is the dearest and most faithful friend who will never forsake us. We have seen how the Church is Described - "friends" How the Church is Defined - by "love" How the Church is Delighted - with "joy" Serving within the Body of Christ as friends of Jesus, with love and with joy. Close with illustration about church statue with no hands...