And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)
Right after the coming of the Holy Spirit, the early church was formed. Even in its infancy, it’s a model with fundamentals that we can follow and emulate – teaching, fellowship, communion, and prayers. What does that look like in the present day church? What can, and what should it look like in ours?
Driving back home after worship with their friends, a young couple were reflecting on the pastor’s sermon message they heard earlier. “Wow, I never thought a historical narrative from the passage could have such deep theology and real life applications! Did you realize…”
A Sunday School teacher referenced the pastor’s sermon points a number of times during class. A class member was busily taking notes while the other shared her takeaways. Looking around the room, all the seats were taken. People loved the word from God here!
The fellowship was engaging and uplifting from the smiles of everyone in the courtyard. Such is the gathering of God’s people at church, across congregations and across generations, sharing lives with each other in between worship services.
“I notice that the singing is quite loud, I can hear it from the hallways!” remarked one of the visitors. “You see, we love to sing with joy and we worship God whenever we’re together,” explained the greeter.
“Can you come in for a few hours to rework the audio system this Thursday evening after work?” a deacon asked. “Yes, we can,” came the replies. The knowledge and experience with one another went so deep that the few hours of work only took one and a half. God blesses faithful work by His faithful people.
The pastor was sharing with a young career small group that the couple’s fellowship was struggling to find suitable child care when they met. “We can help,” came the offer. And the small group would pair up on rotation to care for the young children as their own ministry.
A group of elderlies were meeting for fellowship at the church. One of them lamented over his physical deterioration over the years. Another responded with a word of encouragement, “we can’t run around to serve others much anymore, can we? But we can still pray. And we have lots of time doing that.”
“The prayer chain over text messages just happens whenever there is a prayer need,” an elderly church member explained when asked about the non-stop notifications from her phone, “and we pray for them in our weekly prayer meetings.”
“You see, God doesn’t start anything without His people praying for it,” a reminder shared in a church meeting. “So let us pray first.”
A young child with ADHD had registered for VBS with his grandmother. He couldn’t control all the energy cooped up within, and was running wild during the assembly time. A kind young man came over, took him under his care for the entire week. When VBS was over, he asked if he could give him a hug before leaving. God’s love can reach anybody through His people.
A mother noticed his elementary grade son looked sad when she picked him up from Sunday School. The teacher asked if he could have a word with her. “Ma’am, your son is really blessed by God to be so smart that he constantly needs challenges, including finding creative ways to be disruptive,” the teacher began, “but he is a good natured boy. Let me make some suggestions that you can use at home…”
“Let me help,” one of the young men offered his friend who was helping his grandmother out of his car. “I appreciate how you’re always ready to lend me a hand with my grandma,” was the reply.
These can be our regular experiences at Tri-City Chinese Baptist Church, a church of generations for generations. Let us all pray for God’s will to be done among us, and with us getting a ride on His train to this destination. To Him be all the glory!
All of these stories–all of our attempts to cast vision within these four walls of our church–are connected. What they’re trying to communicate to you, and what I’ve been trying to teach and preach to you over the last year is that no part of God’s house can ever be isolated from the others. Let me just say this straightforwardly: a healthy church is where biblical, gospel-persuading discipleship takes place in every aspect of its existence. We’re meant both from a creational point of view and from a spiritually reborn point of view to build people up not only to know the words of the gospel, but to see the effect of that gospel in one another’s lives, in our hearts, and in our view of the world. A church—our church—is meant to direct the gaze of its people and its onlookers towards a greater vision and image for who Christ is, what he’s done, and what he’s still doing in our midst to mold us as God’s image bearers.
This is precisely what the apostle Paul tells his young protege, Timothy, to do in 2 Timothy 1 and 2. There’s a lot to unpack in these two chapters, and maybe I’ll do it more expositionally for you (cue a Sunday sermon someday!), but let me summarize the salient points here for you. Timothy is a young pastor who has been given charge over a passionate but aging church. It’s likely that he is zealous and knowledgeable, but he doesn’t know what to do about his predicament–what will become of the church when those with wisdom–those who Timothy finds to be reliable and helpful in his pursuits–have returned to be with the Lord?
And Paul’s response to Timothy is simple: look at your past to solve the predicament of your future. Look at the patterns given to you as the means of setting a pattern for others. Look at your mother, Eunice, and your grandmother, Lois. Look at the time you’ve spent with me and all that the three of us have invested into your life, and follow that pattern (1:13). Why? Because this method is the precise means by which God instills a faith in his gospel within us. Timothy is the perfect example of this. The faith that he now possesses with every sincerity just like his mother, grandmother, and spiritual father (the apostle) is a direct result of their constant, relentless, and zealous witness to him. Paul is telling Timothy to fan the flame of his faith, which God gave to him through the influence of those whom he had once placed over him (1:6).
The problem of course is that fire is quite hot, and sometimes fanning that flame may be dangerous, taxing, and endless work (someone’s got to keep the fire going!). When work is dangerous, taxing, and seemingly endless, it’s very easy to lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. See, Timothy may have been weary of the task he’d been given. It seems like these Ephesians were not always responsive with what he was teaching them. But Paul reminds his young protege in 2 Tim 1:8-14 that your motivation is not grounded in the people he serves. They are important, but they are not his base. Nor are the examples of his mother, grandmother, or the apostle. The base is the gospel of the suffering, murdered, and resurrected Christ. And not just Christ, but also the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, testifies to us, safeguards us, and illuminates the immense life and immortality that comes to us through the gospel.
That dangerous, taxing, endless work of the gospel becomes something that is not so dangerous, taxing, or endless because you’ve been given the greatest help! Not only do you have prime examples to draw from in your physical and spiritual parents, and not only do you have a congregation that loves you and that you love, but you have a God who sent his Son into the world to establish your calling, and who affirms it by giving you his Spirit of power and love. So, you can persevere. You won’t lose sight. You can flourish in those difficult, painful work weeks because the danger was borne for us, the tax has been paid for what we owed through the righteous deposit of blood, the endless work has been put to an end when our Saviour was crucified upon a tree.
And who is he to fan this flame of faith to? Paul tells him in the clearest possible terms in 2 Tim 2:2: faithful men who are able to teach others (about these things imparted to Timothy by Eunice, Lois, and Paul) also. He’s to impart the wisdom of the gospel with the full zeal of its effect to the next generation, and he is to do it as one following the pattern of the very people from whom he’s inherited his own faith.
What does this have to do with us, TCCBC? It has everything to do with us. Roddy has painted us a broad picture through snippets of what a church functioning together in covenant community looks like–what breaking bread, fellowshipping, dedicating ourselves to the teaching of the apostles, and praying together looks like on a regular basis. But to achieve that image where we might expect it whenever we walk through the doors of our building or into the home of a covenant brother or sister will take every ounce of our individual and collective effort. Praise the Lord, then, that we’re not left to ourselves.
Paul isn’t writing to Timothy to remind him about what he already knows. Timothy already knows that the way to save his church is by training and raising up the next generation. We all already know this! Paul is telling Timothy what he and all of us are prone to forget–that the work will be dangerous, taxing, and potentially endless. And yet, Paul is trying also to say to Timothy that the exceeding difficulty that lies before him ought to be the very reason why he should strive so hard—why we all must strive so hard. Because by doing so, we draw nearer to our Christ. The mark of the Christian man and woman is not the effort he or she expends in doing things, like raising up the next generation, but in the desire he or she possesses to reveal Christ’s life lived out through him or her.
It’s about exalting and extolling our Saviour. That’s what we want to take place inside these four walls we call “Church.” We want to lift high the name of Christ and glorify him as our Creator and Sustainer—not only in our words or in our programs—but in the way we intentionally give our whole lives to this end. And the main way we’re called to do that is to train up young men and women to receive the mantle of the Spirit who dwells within us and to help them see that there is nothing sweeter, nothing brighter, nothing more significant than knowing a Christ who comes both to give us an eternal life and an eternally purposeful life—a life that magnifies his radiance, satisfies our every longing, and perseveres us to the task until he calls us home. Don’t waste your years. Don’t waste your wisdom.
The glory and effect of the gospel was not meant to be kept to ourselves individually at any point in our lives just like it isn’t meant to be kept to ourselves corporately as a church in our evangelism. The way we grow outwardly as individuals covenanted together directly affects how we grow outwardly as a corporate entity. The latter will never eclipse the former. Let’s be a church that disciples intentionally and constantly. These four walls should not be able to contain what we possess within it, so don’t let them.