MORE ABOUT JESUS — GIVING NOT GETTING
by Pastor Mike Fortune
June 6, 2007
The church can be defined in at least three ways. The most common way to think of church is as a building. Acts 17:24 says “ 24"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” But nonetheless, that’s what people built for him. A building. Some are simple like a stable. Others are magnificent like St.Peters in the Vatican in Rome. And while its important to recognize that wherever 2 or 3 are gathered, God is there so that it is also appropriate to say that church has left the building, we shouldn’t be too quick to demolish the buildings. After all, Jesus said in John 2:16 “16To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!” Obviously, Jesus placed great value on the temple. The building. Why? Because it was His Father’s house. And of course we dedicate buildings still today.
But sometimes people get nervous about the amount of money people spend on a building. We forget that the sanctuary in the wilderness, God’s first mobile home, represented a great of expense. Solomon’s temple, which God blessed, represented far more than what people lived in. So maybe that’s a good rule of thumb. Before we start criticizing the Catholics for building St.Peters Basilica, maybe we should remember that God’s house should at least be better than the house we live in. Is anything too good for God?
So the church has traditionally been thought of as primarily a building. Simple or grand. Whatever. But the second definition of what a church also is called the organized church. Some call it a denomination today. And that’s okay. These days, denominations are getting beat up. For being sectarian. And divisive. And supposedly an example of all that is evil with the church. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair because the church that began in the New Testament was also an organized church. They even had a General Conference headquarters. Not in Silver Spring, but in Jerusalem. Where decisions were made that effected everybody else.
The first 3 chapters of the book of Revelation describe local congregations in those days and apparently those congregations represented churches in periods of church history to the day Jesus returns. We know this is true because the last of those churches is described as lukewarm. Which can’t possibly apply to everyone that loves Jesus. Otherwise you’d have to say that everyone is lukewarm. Right? So Laodicea is an example of an organized church that has lost their fire for God.
But the third type of church is the mystical church. Some people call it the universal church or the universal body of Christ. Many people because they’ve been hurt or are frustrated or angry with the organized church have a very strong commitment to the mystical church. They don’t care if they’re members anywhere on earth as it long as they’re members of God’s universal church. And to tell you the truth, they’ve got a point. We’ve vastly over emphasized the significance of having one’s name written down on some list of members in church. Jesus said in Luke 17:20 “20However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” But the curious thing is it’s harder to find Biblical evidence substantiating the existence of the universal church than there is either the church as a building or the church as a organized denomination.
One example about the mystical universal church of Christ could be John 10:16, he said, “16I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” But other than that I haven’t found a whole lot on that. Let me know if you do.
But there is evidence to suggest that Jesus placed a great deal of value upon the church organized. We know this is true because in Matthew 18:17, Jesus said if that you if have a conflict with someone and they won’t listen, take it to the church. He couldn’t have been referring to a bunch of walls and stones right? That wouldn’t make any sense. And He couldn’t be talking about the mystical universal flock of people that know Jesus because we wouldn’t know who to take the problem to or where. It’s obvious I think that Jesus meant we’re to take our conflict to an organized group of people called the church.
Paul also saw the value of an organized church. He told the young pastor Timothy all about the leaders of the church. If the church was only mystical or universal, and no one could perceive where it is and who the members are, then how could it have leaders? What would be the purpose of leadership and of Paul telling them what kind of leaders they should be?
Apparently, whether we like the organized church or not, it is able to do things that an individual cannot do. Such as mediating conflicts and initiating reconciliation. Organized churches can also pool their resources and make a larger impact in the world for Christ’s sake. Whether we’re talking about Mission Trips to Toledo or building hospitals or orphanages or rebuilding homes devastated by earthquakes. The organized church is the single most capable tool that can transform the world. In fact it already has. It is the hope of the world. Long after social security runs out. Long after medicare stops covering you. Long after the rubber hits the road, the organized church steps in and fills the void. So what is the purpose of the church. Why bother going? Especially if you’ve been hurt in the past? Is the primary purpose of church attendance?
Don’t get me wrong, I love to see a full church praising God and giving Him the glory. If you’ve never been in a stadium with 90K people cheering on their favorite team, you may not know what a large crowd feels like. But it’s exhilarating. And to be honest, I get the same feeling cheering the Washington Redskins on in a stadium with 90K as I do in a packed room with 90 people singing their lungs out praying their hearts out and encouraging one another. And while this next text doesn’t say attendance in a building called church is important to God, what it does suggest is that attendance in a organized group giving praise and honor to God is important to God. Hebrews 10:23-25 says attendance in that kind of organized church is important to God. “23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
God’s idea is that we should not forsake the organized meeting together. Why? Because we can’t live without each other? Actually, that’s one point. Each of one us literally begins to spiritually die when we neglect organized meetings together. We’ll talk about that in a minute. But before we do, let me suggest to you a very simple reason why God says we shouldn’t criticize and forsake the organized body of Christ. The main reason is because the primary purpose for attending church is to give not get.
Our greatest example of this is Jesus Himself. What did Jesus get when He went to church? He got led out of the church. We might say disfellowshipped. Today we say removed from membership. And in His day, it wasn’t just a little piece of paper and a committee. The entire church rose up and literally tried to throw him out of the church and off a cliff. If anyone had a good excuse to stay away from organized church it would be Jesus. But instead, we find that His custom was not only going to church, it was actually participating in church.
Luke 4:14-30 describes this episode. Let’s read it. “14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. 20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked. 23Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.' " 24"I tell you the truth," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian." 28All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”
Is it ever good to go to church out of custom? I don’t think so. And I don’t think that’s the point of this passage. The point is Jesus went to church to participate. To give not to get. He didn’t come like an empty sponge waiting to soak up enough spiritual water of life to allow Himself to wander back into the world to barely survive another week. He went to church to give God glory! To give not get. So if it’s your custom to go to church whatever day it happens to be and you’re going only because you feel its your obligation. Or because your spouse is forcing you to. You’re going for the wrong reason! You’re playing games with God. You going to get not give. And the only one you’re fooling is yourself.
But you may ask: What can I give when I go to church? I’m not the preacher. Sabbath School teacher. Or worship leader. You can give praise. From your heart. You can participate. Cheerfully. You can come prepared to give God glory and listen well. These are all ways to give instead of get in church. But even after reading Luke 4, sometimes I find some folks who say to me that they give God more glory in nature than in church. Alone at the beach instead of in a pew. So there has to be something more to church than just giving or getting. And thankfully there is.
Because the organized church is a body. 1 Corinthians 12:13-21 describes this body. “13For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!"
Why not? Because they’d die without it! Any part of the body not connected to the body dies. If you cut off the hand, its going to die. If you cut off the foot and send it for a walk in the woods on Sabbath, it’s going to die. We aren’t like those lizards that grow another tail. Spiritually, you’re going to die. It’s like that old story of a husband that tells his wife he can’t remember one single meal she ever made, but he knows that he was fed. You may not be able to remember one single sermon you ever heard, but because you were there to give not, get you know along the way that you got fed. Which reminds me that the organized body provides 3 things even when you’re not there to give or get. First, a body eats. The whole body eats. It’s not just the mouth. Or the esophogas. Or the stomach. And that’s the limit to what I remember from biology 101. But you get the point right? I don’t know what part of the body you find yourself to be. Maybe you think you’re the liver removing the bodies toxins. Maybe you think you’re the ear. Listening to all gossip. Hopefully you’re not the mouth repeating what the ear has shared! Maybe you feel that you are dispensable. You’re not. The body eats together. We get together to eat the bread of life and John 6:35 says that Jesus is the Bread of Life. 1 Corinthians 10:16 says, “16Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” You see, I’m not making this up! The body eats.
A second thing the body does is breathe. Lamentations 3:55-56 [KJV] says, “ 55I called upon thy name, O LORD, out of the low dungeon. 56Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry.” We’ve talked about how important prayer is. That it is as important to our spiritual lives as breathing is to our physical lives. But again, it’s the whole body that breathes. When we gather on a weeknight, together as a body, as a group, we are not only encouraging one another, we are together spiritually breathing. Depending on God to be God. We are giving Him the glory on one hand. And specifically asking Him for things on the other. Remember how to pray with both hands?
The last thing that a healthy body does is exercise. I just got a new treadmill. My old one broke. Not because I used it too much. But because the kids jumped on the motor. But this one, I hope it breaks because its being used! Paul said something similar in 1 Timothy 4:7 [NKJV] says, “7 But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness.” If the body doesn’t know who its members are, how is it supposed to exercise together? The organized body should then spend some significant time exercising together. And what better time and place could there be than the anniversary of our creation and recreation? Rightly understood, when we gather to give God glory, we’re doing so on the day He created and uses to remind us of our recreation in Him. Just as He finished creation and rested on the 7 th day, now our Creator is inviting us to rest in His finished work on the cross. Remember we talked about that last time? So gathering to give and not get is important not only because it helps the body eat, breathe, and exercise, but because it also helps us remember that our job is not to do the Lord’s work. Our job is to get to know Jesus. Which is something weakest Christian can do. And joyfully proclaim His finished work. God is still worthy. He deserves our praise. God is still worthy. He deserves our part. God is still worthy. He deserves our participation. And if you come to church determined to give it, the funny thing is you will get more out of it than ever before. That’s how it works.