I hope you have been blessed this week. Seasonal blahs has made it hard for me to stay positive, but I am encouraged in the Word and so we press on. Today we are picking up in Part II: Living as the Church: Session 1: Life in the Church. I hope you will follow along: https://www.multiplymovement.com/material
So far we have looked at what a disciple is, why we should make disciples, and our heart motives for doing so. Today, we look at the support we will need to receive and give to make disciples. In today’s time, particularly in the Western world, we value individuality. For someone to “go it alone” is looked upon as strength. This is not God’s design. “While every individual needs to obey Jesus’s call to follow, we cannot follow as individuals” (51). Disciples belong in a community, a church. “…The New Testament is full of commands to do this or that for ‘one another’. Love one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, etc.”(51). We cannot follow Christ and ignore these teachings. We are meant to be “intertwin[ed]… with the Christians around us” (52). This unity is important for both living as a disciple and making more disciples. We can find this in the church.
Committing Your Life to the Church
First let’s define the church. It is not a building, a club, or an option. It is God’s plan for reaching the world. “The church is a group of redeemed people that live and serve together in such a way that their lives and communities are transformed” (52-53). God wants us to be a part of this kind of group for fellowship, for community, for fulfilling His mission. There are many verses in the Bible which addresses the church:
“But the Bible says the local church is important. God has entrusted local churches with godly leaders who teach us His Word and care for our souls (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1–8; 1 Tim. 3:1–13; 5:17; Titus 1:5–9). God has united us together in local churches to keep one another from sinning and straying from Christ (Gal. 6:1–5; Matt. 18:15–20). God has commanded us to gather together in local assemblies where we preach God’s Word, celebrate the Lord’s Supper, baptize new believers, and pray for and encourage one another (Acts 2:42; Heb. 10:24–25). Then we scatter to care for believers and to share the gospel with unbelievers (Acts 2:43–47). Clearly, being a disciple and making disciples involves committing your life to a local church where you are joined together with other believers under biblical leadership to grow in the likeness of Christ and to express the love of Christ to the world around you” (53-54).
Discussion Question #1: Why do you think the New Testament places such a high priority on Christians being committed members (or parts) of local churches? How can this priority best be reflected in your life?
Discussion Question #2: Read Ephesians 4:1-16. How should this passage affect the way you view your responsibility to other Christians in the church?
Bearing One Another’s Burdens
It has been stated that every Christian disciple is a minister, so who should we be ministering to and how? Paul gives us a hint:
“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2 NASB).
Ministry is simply helping those around you: bearing one another’s burdens, helping those struggling with sin. We are often tempted to bear our burdens alone, we think our problems are our own. When we are disciples of Christ, part of His church, our problems belong to the church. Your fellow Christians are called to encourage and to help you, just as you are called to help them. The benefit? “…our own sanctification happens as we minister to others” (56).
Discussion Question #3: Think about your unique setting and identify a few opportunities that God has given you to minister to the people around you.Have you taken advantage of these opportunities?
Discussion Question #4: Take a few minutes to meditate on Galatians 6:1-2. What would it look like to help bear someone else’s burden? Is there anyone in your life right now whom you should be helping in this way?
Getting Beneath the Surface
What does bearing burdens look like? Sometimes helping others means not just changing external situations, sometimes, it means helping them to change their hearts. We need to get to the heart of the matter, literally. Jesus says out of the heart come all the things which defile a man:
“And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:18-23 NASB).
“Whatever help we can offer people who are struggling with sin has to be aimed at transforming hearts, not behavior” (58).
Discussion Question #5: Why do you think we tend to focus on the external circumstances and behavior when we try to help people change?
Discussion Question #6: Using your own words, try to explain why it is essential to get to the heart of the problem rather than merely addressing the circumstances and behavior.
Transformed by the Gospel
So we know we have to change the heart to change the behavior, how do we do that? Well… we can’t. Only God can:
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezek. 26:26-27 NASB).
We can help encourage change, but the change itself comes from God. “‘Getting saved’ is not about praying a prayer and then continuing to live our lives as though nothing happened. No, when God enters our lives, we are changed from the inside out” (59-60, emphasis added). We must remember where our power for change comes from. “The power to transform hearts and change lives comes from the Holy Spirit (John 6:63), through the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16–17), and through prayer (James 5:16–20)” (60).
Discussion Question #7: How should the truth of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit affect the way we approach helping people change?
Bearing one another’s burdens is SO important. A church who does not bear each other’s burdens is a defeated church, a joyless church. This was never God’s intention. “If the church is going to fulfill its God-given mission in our modern world, we are going to have to take our responsibility to one another seriously. We will have to accept His call to bear one another’s burdens—even when it’s messy, even when we find ourselves in over our heads” (61).
Discussion Question #8: Would you say that your church body is characterized more by defeat and isolation or by the power and transformation of the Holy Spirit? Why do you say that?
Discussion Question #9: What steps can you take right away to help your church function more like God intended?
Every Member Doing Its Part
Did you know that you, personally, have the power to help your church or harm your church? If you are sitting on the sidelines, your church is not functioning as God intended it to. You have work to do. You have people to minister to. “God placed you in your unique situation because He wants you to minister to and with the other Christians He has placed around you” (62).
“…We are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16 NASB).
“The goal of the church is to grow up in every way into the likeness of Christ. But the church will never reach this goal unless ‘each part is working properly'” (63). We all have a responsibility, and if you are not doing your part, you may actually be hurting your brothers and sisters. “Helping people change is what discipleship is all about” (63).
Discussion Question #10: Would you say that you have been playing your part in the body of Christ? If so, how might you still need to grow in this? If not, are you ready to get involved? What steps might you need to take?
Discussion Question #11: Spend some time in prayer. Ask God to give you confidence in the Spirit’s power to use you in ministering to other people. Ask Him for the wisdom to know what to do and the discernment to recognize people who need help. Pray that God would use you and your church to continue His plan of redemption in your unique setting.
I hope this lesson has given you plenty to think about as it has me. God bless you in the week to come.