Becoming a Christian will change your life, not only your inner spiritual life, but your external, relational life as well. Not only are you joined to Jesus when you believe, but you become joined to His people. This doesnt mean you stop loving your own natural family, but it does mean you start feeling that same kind of love for those who are your spiritual family. You become committed to them as if they were your own flesh and blood. Jesus actually said that the spiritual bond formed between Him and us, and between those who believe with each other, would be closer than the deep ties we have with natural family members. Listen: Matthew 12:46-50. He isnt trying to tear us away from our natural families. He wants us to love them, but sometimes knowing Jesus divides people, and He warned us that might even happen in our families: Matthew 10:32-39.
Jesus unites those of us who love Him, and tends to separate from us those who dont, which can leave us feeling very alone, which is why Hes given us to each other and commanded us to love each other. Hes placing us into His family. He said: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this, all men will know you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (Jn 13:34, 35)
New Eyes (2Co 5:16)
When Jesus rose from the dead a new, eternal, spiritual family was begun. He is now the firstborn, the eldest Son of a new race of humans, whom the Father has adopted as His children (Ps 2:7). Right now that reality is hidden from sight, but the day will come when we will be revealed in our resurrected bodies and share His glory. Yet, here and now, while still living in this present age, He asks us to look at each other with new eyes, to look past the natural, the superficial, and recognize a beloved child of God (2 Co 5:16).
If we will put aside old prejudices and fears and begin to see one another differently, and choose to love one another genuinely, He says we will become a powerful prophetic voice to our community. They will observe in us a level of love and grace they do not see anywhere else, and they will know that Jesus must be real.
After the earthquake (Ac 16:33-17:1)
Becoming a church
Please notice: Paul did not just make converts in Philippi, and then leave. He baptized them and organized them into a church. All of them! And when he had to move on he left Luke to pastor them, because there was no one mature enough for that role yet, though in time there would be many in that city (Php 1:1). If these tender young believers were to survive in that hostile Roman colony, they had to be drawn together into a strong community. It was essential that they learn to function as a group, as a team, as family. If they stayed separated from each other, trying to live out their Christian lives by themselves, only the strongest would survive. But they didnt, they came together and stayed together. Judging from Pauls letters, they became the healthiest church he founded. They, beyond anyone else, continued for the rest of his life to pray for him, to send workers to help him, and to give sacrificially to support him as a missionary and to care for the poor in Jerusalem.
Picture that rag-tag, diverse group of people meeting in Lydias home to say goodbye to Paul: a business woman from Asia Minor, possibly a slave girl, now in her right mind, the city jailer and his family and servants, and whoever else may have come to the Lord during those services down at the riverbank. It all had happened in such a short period of time, weeks, or at the most months. And then Paul, Silas and Timothy were gone, leaving them to discover how to live out their discipleship in a dangerous city. But it worked. They made it. The church grew, and in time became multiple churches
in spite of being openly persecuted.
How did they do it? Why did they develop so well when today so many who make decisions for Christ fall away, or become Christian in name only, or live wildly hypocritical lives? There are a number of answers to this question. First of all, these missionaries laid a solid foundation for their faith. They presented them with the real gospel which included repentance, faith in Christs finished work on the cross, and his physical resurrection. They properly water baptized them, allowing them to openly confess their faith. And it isnt mentioned, but there can be no doubt, Paul saw to it they were all baptized in the Holy Spirit (Ac 19:1-7). He would never have left believers without that, because he knew how much they would need that inner power to overcome the flesh, and to minister as Jesus did.
But there was one more essential building block that made this church successful. They were willing to have their lives joined together, to become one, a new spiritual family, and to keep meeting and serving and giving together for the rest of their lives. Together they could stand against anything
and they did. Listen to these words Paul wrote to them about 10 years later:
conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Whether I come and see you or remain absent (he was in prison in Rome), I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel, in no way alarmed by your opponents
for to you it has been granted for Christs sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. (Php 1:27-30)
Then he went on to plead with them to keep loving each other, to keep working together in harmony, to stay focused on a common goal, and to refuse to become conceited and look down on other believers, in fact, to regard one another as more important than yourselves. (Php 2:1-4).
Facing the future (Mt 24:4-35)
When asked to explain the signs of His return, Jesus gave His disciples a brief checklist of things to watch for, and in that list He made it clear that as the end drew near, His people would face fierce persecution. Of course, we dont know where we are on Gods time line, whether were near the end or not, but we do know that over the past 2000 years persecution has repeatedly arisen in waves, and its hard to ignore the fact that our own culture, which once considered itself Christian, is beginning to turn against the church. Many individuals arent, many are coming to Christ, but the media, the academic world, and the government seem to be. The Christian moral consensus that once governed us is being removed as fast as possible, and a subtle hostility is growing. We find ourselves asking Where is all this going? How aggressive is this going to become? And none of us knows. There are events that could push this tide back, at least for a season. But given the direction of things, it seems that we would be wise to learn how to care for one another, to meet in small groups where we study the Word together and pray for each other. And if we learn to do that, nothing can stop us. The city of Philippi couldnt stop that rag-tag group that met in Lydias home, and today, governments all over the world cant stop the explosive growth of the church, because in much of the world believers still act just like those Philippians. New believers are still welcomed into a new family when they receive Christ. They dont need big buildings. They meet in homes, on riverbanks, or sidewalk cafés. They study the Word together, eat together, and pray together (Ac 2:41-47). And if 2000 years of history has proven anything, its proven that nothing can stop the church of Jesus Christ from advancing. We just keep growing. The only time churches die is when they stop being the true church, meaning they stop preaching the gospel, stop baptizing believers, stop ministering the baptism in the Holy Spirit, stop meeting together, stop studying the Word, stop praying for the lost and sick, stop delivering those who are tormented by demons, stop believing in the resurrection of the dead and the physical return of Jesus Christ. In other words, they stop being a real church, and they simply collapse.
Its amazing that the church in Philippi succeeded. Its a miracle! Such an unlikely group of people against such overwhelming opposition, but they stood firm, because they stood together. You know they must have faced the same divisive issues that we face today, but they refused to be controlled by them. They chose to come together and refused to abandon one another, so nothing could stop them.
Now you and I, facing the changing culture we face, need to decide to do the same.
1) You and I need to decide where God has called us to be part of His family. Which imperfect group of people has God given to me to be my brothers and sisters?
2) You and I need to decide to learn how to be the church in our own living rooms, and in coffee shops and on park benches, to go beyond only attending large gatherings.
3) You and I need to see each other with Gods eyes, to look past the superficial and recognize the eternal.
As we close, listen to how Paul felt about the church in Philippi:
Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. (Php 4:1).
1) If you were struggling with your faith, who would you turn to for help? Why?
2) Name someone you have prayed for or comforted or encouraged. If you can, tell us when and how this happened. How did they respond?