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“Community between Churches”

          This week, we move to the third and final area of a vision for our church as adopted by the church leadership several months ago.  We hope to spend only one week here, not because this is not important, but because it is naturally flows out of and builds upon what we have already seen in our previous study on community.  We saw one reason why building authentic community in a local church is so difficult is because it runs absolutely counter to a very strong cultural tsunami.  Individualism is rampant in North America.  It is an insidious characteristic of our culture that strongly tempts us to believe the lie that we don’t really need each other.  It is lethal to building community in the church.  [If you have not done so, please fill out your cell group commitment cards so that we can work against this individualistic pull.] The prideful independence behind individualism however is not only manifest in individuals within a local church. 

This sin also persists on a larger scale.  The same pride that tries to seduce us into buying into the lie that one person in the body doesn’t need another, also works to convince us that one local gospel-preaching church within a city has no need of other gospel-preaching churches.  This sin is rooted in our institutional pride.  It isn’t individualism but is called by other names—parochialism, provincialism or congregationalism. It is just as opposed to the plan and purpose of God as individualism is on a person to person level.  The fact is—if we are to reach the Twin Ports and the surrounding area with the gospel, we obviously DO need other local gospel preaching churches.  No single church, no matter how many churches it plants, could ever fulfill our responsibility to our Jerusalem.   

          We often tend to read the Bible exclusively through only the lens of our personal walk with God, without considering how it applies on another larger scale.  Take Philippians 2:3-4 for example.  Paul writes, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  We apply that almost exclusively to our individual relationships.  But is there any reason why the truth in Philippians 2:3-4 should not be applied to the relationship between gospel preaching churches.   Why would it be wrong to apply that truth on a larger scale within Christ’s church?  Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count other churches more significant than your church.  4Let each church look not only to its own interests, but also to the interests of other churches.”   So many of the verses calling us as individuals to Christ-like character also apply on a broader level from church to church.

          Think about it—if God is calling us as individuals within a local church to live a certain way, then why would God not expect the church filled with individuals to not manifest that character trait as a community?  What is virtuous for a single member of the body of Christ is also something local groupings of Christ’s body should seek after.  What is true on a micro-level as it relates to Christian character must also be true (at least in most instances) on a macro-level. 

          We can see this on a negative level as well.  In the letters to the seven churches in Revelation chapter two and three, Jesus rebukes the churches in those cities for their sins, not the individual believers.  The church in Ephesus had abandoned their first love. The church at Thyratira tolerated the false prophetess Jezebel, the church at Sardis was dead and needed to awaken, the church at Laodicea was lukewarm.  Don’t forget that each of these cities had several house churches.  There were several local churches in each community.  That means that even though each church was distinct, Jesus calls the larger community of churches to repentance of specific sins.  He clearly sees them as a whole in some sense.

          That’s why any vision for the future of Mount of Olives must also include how we relate to other gospel-preaching churches in our area.  I’ve observed this is a missing link in the development of many churches. As a body of local believers begins to repent and more closely align itself to the Scriptures, God honors his word and out of their brokenness, he begins to bless them and lead them into fruitful ministries.  But so often what happens in those instances is this--instead of receiving God’s blessings--what God is teaching and doing among them—and multiplying them within other local churches, the growing church can easily horde God’s blessings and become increasingly self focused.  They begin to compare themselves with other churches and become puffed up because they have more noses and nickels and ministries than other churches do.  They smugly believe that their church is doubtless THE one to attend and if a person happens to be a member of another gospel-preaching church, he/she is doubtless settling for…second best.  In subtle and not so subtle ways, they encourage people in other local bodies to come to their church because, “God is doing something special here.”  Their arrogance often goes unchecked until God in his mercy moves in and humbles them in some way.

If we see ourselves not only as members of a local church community, but also as part of the larger church in the Twin Ports, it will change how we do ministry.  For instance, instead of working only to make our church welcoming to those who are already believers, we will also begin to ask the question, “How can God use us to help struggling churches keep their people?” Instead of only pursuing kingdom growth through conversion growth in our own church, we will also be asking, “Is there anything we can do to help the gospel-preaching church across town be more effective in their outreach?”  This must begin with praying for other like-minded churches, but it can and should extend beyond prayer.
          In light of those truths, our leadership is committed to having an active ministry to other local churches.  We desire to take the blessings God gives to us and use them to bless other gospel-preaching churches that are desirous of any help we can give them.  We hope we are also willing to receive help from other churches that have been blessed in ways that can help us.  One text that provides a Biblical rationale as well as truths to encourage us in this vision is in Second Corinthians chapters eight and nine.  To provide some context, the Jewish believers in Jerusalem during Paul’s ministry are suffering under persecution for their faith.  That has caused some significant financial hardship for them.  In several of Paul’s letters, he speaks of a “collection” he is making among his Gentile churches to help the believing Jews in Jerusalem.  A year earlier, the Corinthians had made a commitment to gather funds for this cause, but had failed to follow through with it. 

In Second Corinthians Paul gently reminds them of their commitment and encourages them to give, motivated exclusively by the grace of God.  He cites the wonderful example of the believers in Macedonia and their joyous and sacrificially generous giving to help the Corinthians see what the grace of God looks like in this area.  He tells them that he and some of these Macedonian believers will arrive soon to collect the money they have set aside for the saints in Jerusalem.  Though these verses are often rightly used to teach on grace giving, more broadly applied, they also have much to teach us about inter-church ministry to one another.

          Let’s begin in chapter nine, verse one.  Paul says, “Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints,  2for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them.  3But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove vain in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be.  4Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident.  5So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. 6The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  7Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 

9As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;  his righteousness endures forever."  10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.  12For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.  13By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,  14while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.  15Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”

 The broad truth as it relates to our topic this morning is simply that the apostle actively encourages the believers in Corinth to minister to another church in Jerusalem.  This is church-to-church ministry—“ministry for the saints” he calls it in verse one.  That means that the application of this text should not ONLY be directed toward what grace giving looks like, but should also be mined for its truths about inter-church ministry.  This morning we will see five truths in this text as to how God is honored when one church ministers to another church in tangible ways.  The first way is the most obvious and is in verse 12.  Paul says, “12For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.  Although it is not only about supplying needs, it does in fact supply needs.  God is honored as our church helps other churches by supplying the needs of the saints.  Saints and the churches they attend have needs other churches can help meet.  Seventy five percent of churches in North American are under 100 in attendance.  They often find themselves in need of resources.  This might include short term financial help—to enable them to seize a promising ministry opportunity.  I am not talking about one church indefinitely helping another church meet their basic operating costs.  However, a jump start or a special designated gift can be very helpful.

For example, in this budget year, our church is giving $1800 to help fund a Christ-centered substance abuse recovery ministry at Lincoln Park Community church in the West End.  Several people are being saved and lives changed in this dynamic ministry to the lost and broken.  I have heard some of the testimonies and it is exciting to hear about people literally climbing off West end bar stools to attend a church-based recovery ministry, being saved and set free through the gospel.  We could probably never reach those needy people as a church. But God has strategically placed Lincoln Park Community in that area to reach those people.  The challenge for them is—they have many new converts, most of whom are living in poverty.  Their financial giving isn’t yet able to fully fund this ministry opportunity.  So, God has called us to help fund that ministry and our church is being used to bring the gospel to people in deep bondage in Duluth’s Lincoln Park area.  That’s a wonderful ministry God has given us.  Other churches in the Twin Ports are also struggling. 

But it’s not only or even primarily financial support smaller churches or recent church plants need.  They need sound equipment and overhead projectors and laptops and computer software that we and other larger church no longer use.  They need curriculum and perhaps most of all; they need people and information resources.  For instance, smaller churches may not have all the musical talent required to put together a praise team.  We could send some of our people on temporary loan to those churches to help out and train up others in the church to take their place after a few weeks.  Another example is our AWANA ministry.  Currently, our AWANA ministry is helping other churches by providing a quality club program for many of their kids they are not currently able to resource. We will seek to offer help to some of these churches to start their own club programs, as our leaders consult with and help lay out a vision for AWANA. 

Another example is in the area of new local church plants.  In the past few months, I have been asked by two theologically strong, well-grounded new church planting pastors in Duluth if our church could temporarily loan them families to help them form a core church for their church plant.  The board has granted me permission to speak to those people who have specifically expressed an interest in planting a church.  Finally, a member of our pastoral staff has agreed to consult with another local church to teach a Biblical vision for a particular ministry they are seeking to develop.  What a joy to think that we can multiply the blessings God has given to us into other local churches.  In the past, we as a church have benefited a great deal from other larger churches in the Twin Cities who have given us advice and pointed us toward helpful resources.  Helping other churches is simply an extension of the personal ethic of Jesus, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  As we would want other churches to help us when we are in need, so also should we help them when they are in need.  The golden rule applies to this area as well.  Churches have needs and we can minister to them to help supply those needs.

          Two more ways this ministry of helping other churches honors God are found in verse 10.  There Paul says, “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.”  A second way this ministry honors God is as we give to other churches, God shows his faithful provision to meet our own needs.  One obvious question raised by this ministry of helping churches is, “What about us?” “How can we afford to loan our people and equipment—how can we afford to give money to other churches and still maintain our own ministry?”  It’s a good question and the first answer is—we must give wisely and be led by the Holy Spirit.  We must be selective about who we help and how we help them in the same way we are careful about what missionaries we support as a church.  We do not support every missionary who asks for help.  The ministry in question must be consistent with our vision of God, the church and our ministry to the Twin Ports.  But as we pray and seek God and give sacrificially to help other churches, we have this promise from Paul that God will take care of us. 

Paul assures the Corinthians that God would supply their needs as they help the Jerusalem church.  Paul uses the agricultural metaphor of sowing seed in a field.  God has promised to both supply and multiply to us the seed—the money, equipment and personnel resources so that we can sow it into other churches.  This ministry will not be a budget buster as we seek God and give wisely.  It will give us the opportunity to honor God as we show forth his faithful provision.  What a great testimony for God it will be as people from the community and other churches ask, “How do you folks manage to do all you do for other churches?” We will be able to respond with, “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing…”  As we supply seed to other churches and they plant that seed into ministries, it will bear fruit and we will know the blessing of praising God that he provided the seed through us.

A third way this inter-church ministry honors God is in the last phrase of verse 10.  Paul addresses the Corinthians about their ministry to the church in Jerusalem and says that as they give to other churches God will “increase the harvest of your righteousness.”  Paul is speaking of the righteousness we have in Christ.  Romans four teaches that God counts our faith in Christ as righteousness [4:22].  That is, when we place our trust in Christ to save us, God takes the perfect righteousness of Christ and legally declares that it is now our righteousness.  We are given Christ’s perfect righteousness, which makes us approved in the sight of a holy God, sin-hating God.  That is something God does legally—he legally declares it to be true of us.  We call this justification.  Justification is a legal status conferred on us by God, but it results in a change of life that is far more than legal in nature.  Although our justification is purely legal, Mike Bullmore is right when he says that “justification is pregnant with sanctification.”  In other words, God’s legal declaration of us in justification is the nuclear fuel rod that results in the amazing power of God seen in a changed life.

That is what Paul is speaking of in verse ten.  He is saying that as the Corinthians joyfully give to the saints in Jerusalem, the harvest of their righteousness will be increased.  God is honored in this ministry because it increases the fruit that gives evidence of the fact that God has legally declared us righteous.  This is an illustration as to why it is so foolish to think you can be legally acceptable to God without living a changed, increasingly holy life.  Paul here says, the harvest of a changed life points back to the reality of a person’s justification.  He tells these Corinthians that this kind of grace-giving to other churches increases the harvest of the righteousness that comes as a result of their justification.  The same is true for us as a church.  As we joyfully give to other churches, that bears testimony to the awesome reality of God’s justifying work in us.  The glory of God’s saving work in us is seen as we give to other churches.

A fourth way God is honored through this ministry to other churches is in verse 14.  Paul is speaking about the Jewish believers’ response to the Corinthians generosity.  He says, “while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.”  Paul says that as we give to churches, a strong bond is created between the helping church and the church being helped.  As we help other churches, there is a longing—a strong yearning for our church that is created by that ministry.  In a day where the evangelical church is too often marked by local churches that covertly compete against each other, steal sheep, wage turf wars and engage in heated debates about worship styles and philosophies of ministries, what a cup of cold water this is.  God is much honored as the world sees one church showing deep affection for another church and praying for them in response to the ministry they have received from that church.  This vision of inter-church affection should excite all of us who live in a community where there has been so little church unity in the past.

Finally, God is honored through this church-to-church ministry as we see in verses 11-12.  Paul says, “You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.  12For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.”  Not only does this ministry supply the needs of the saints, but it honors God because it overflows in many thanksgivings to God.  The church or churches that receive our ministry to them will energetically thank God for it.  God is praised and given the glory for his provision through churches.  What a joy it is for us to know that we as a church can be used by God to spur other churches onto thanksgiving for his provision.  There are few higher privileges in the kingdom than to be the conduit through which people give thanks to God for his goodness.

What a wonderful vision for our church.  Instead of parasitically sucking resources away from smaller churches, as larger churches can easily do—we can reach out and out of the abundant blessing we have received, bless other churches.  What a glorious truth--to know that God can take what he is doing in our church and our church plants and multiply those blessings to other churches toward the goal of reaching the Twin Ports for Christ.  May God give us the grace to get behind this and honor God in our relationships with other gospel preaching churches.


Page last modified on 7/29/2007

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