And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24, 25
Fostering community by guiding people into Christ-centered fellowship.
Have you ever worked diligently on a puzzle, only to find out toward the end of completion that you’re missing a piece of the puzzle? Can anything in life be more aggravating than that? It’s disappointing because you’ve worked diligently and see the potential of a completed picture, but know it will never happen because a piece is missing.
In our culture, we have warped the idea of Christianity so much so that we often believe that we can follow Christ alone, and separated from a local church. Now…this misunderstanding displays itself in a variety of ways in our Christian culture. All of these end up making the body of Christ weaker than it should be.
On the far end of the spectrum, we meet people who claim to love Christ and follow Him, yet see absolutely no need in any type of “formalized religion”. In other words, the need for church attendance is not seen and the need to be involved in a local church isn’t deemed necessary. They may attend a church occasionally, but it doesn’t have to be the same one. Or, they may watch a church service on the internet and consider themselves to have “gone to church”.
Some see the meeting together of believers in small groups or Sunday School as unnecessary for them to follow Jesus. They value a worship service and attend in a consistent manner, but never see the need for personal involvement in a small group. Christianity is an individualized process in their thinking. We often call these people silos because they exist out on their own.
More close to home, we have many that see Sunday School as optional. It isn’t necessary for them, or their family. They come when it is convenient, but any excuse not to come is valid. (As Bro. Tom used to say, “Any excuse will do, if you’re looking for one.) Let me touch on this very quickly in an area that has become increasingly problematic at our church – and that is the time in which we arrive for Connect Groups. Some of us get here so late that we’re not late for Connect Groups, we’re just early for worship. This causes big problems in our children’s classes. They are much more structured than the youth and adult classes and when a little one arrives late, they’ve missed the Bible bucks store, and now they’re sad and they take out their frustration on the coloring sheet of their neighbor and then chaos ensues. It also affects our ability to begin worship on time. Because Connect Groups are starting late, they often finish late and that makes our choir late in preparing for worship and it makes us late in picking up our children from their groups. Let me be clear on our schedule. Connect Groups begin at 9 am. From 9-9:15 is a period in which you can fellowship a bit and take prayer requests. It’s also a time where your group can look around and see who might need an encouraging message or call this week. From 9:15-10 you should be in some type of biblical discussion and conversation about what God is doing in your life and how you might apply that day’s subject matter to your life. But listen, I don’t want you on time because it keeps kids more peaceful and I don’t want you here on time because of logistics. I want you here because what we do in our Connect Groups is a vital part of your spiritual health and your friends spiritual health.
All of these result in the weakening of the church’s ability to accomplish ministry and missions and hinder the sanctification of every believer in the church.
My goal for us is to realize:
A. That you are a valuable piece of the puzzle here at our church.
B. Being spiritually and relationally connected to others at our church are both needed and beneficial for you.
Let me lay out a few preliminary beliefs that I have concerning our topic today.
I. Small groups provide a great foundation where God moves among his people and grows His Kingdom.
Acts 2:1-6 – Notice the context in which this amazing outpouring of the Spirit and this great movement of God occurs.
ALL of them TOGETHER and…
IN ONE PLACE (physically & spiritually).
Some didn’t stay home because they viewed meeting together as unnecessary or optional. Some didn’t stay home to watch on the internet. They realized the importance of being together.
This isn’t saying that God can’t work on a one on one basis. Sometimes He does. In Acts 8, we see an Ethiopian eunuch’s conversion through Philip being obedient to heed the call of God, but His purposes often have the most influence, when done in a group context.
Think of it this way. Can a builder build a bigger, stronger building on a foundation that is 10’x10’ or one that is 200’x200’? Listen to this sentence from Rick Warren’s famous book, The Purpose-Driven Church, “The foundation determines both the size and the strength of a building. You can never build larger than the foundation can handle. The same is true for churches” (p. 86).
What provides the best foundation for growth and spiritual strength in your life?
I think it’s a combination of two things: 1. God’s Word, which is an obvious answer, 2. it is being deeply connected to others within the church.
II. Small groups provide the best environment and resources to help you accomplish God’s agenda.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
The portrait of the church in Acts 2:42-47 is one of a (1) healthy and (2) growing church. Students have long agreed that the church is healthy and growing because of what they are accomplishing – TOGETHER.
In Acts 2:42-47 these five facets of health are mentioned: They fellowshipped, edified each other, worshipped, ministered, and evangelized. As a result, verse 47 says, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Church growth is the natural result of church health. But church health can only occur when our foundation is correctly built. The place in our church where all 5 of these aspects can happen most effectively is in the midst of a small group that desires to be all that it can be.
III. There is danger in spiritual isolation.
I like the verses in Proverbs 27:17 and Ecclesiastes 4:12 that says respectively, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” And, “though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Small groups provide us with the place where we can grow healthy together and accomplish God’s Kingdom work.
I love to watch nature shows. You know the ones where the lion is attacking a baby antelope or sickly water buffalo. A gruesome picture, but very entertaining. The bible uses the same metaphor to warn believers about Satan’s attacks on us.
1 Peter 5:8
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
Peter is telling us several spiritual concerns in this verse. Some of these are obvious…Be spiritually diligent and alert…Satan is our adversary…Satan is a schemer…He’s seeking to destroy the people of God… However, there is something here in this verse that is a little more subtle, but is a grave warning for the people of God. Satan, much like a lion, picks off the weakest of the herd. Believers who are isolated. The word “someone” is a singular word. It refers to an individual. A silo.
Let’s turn our attention to Hebrews 10.19-24…
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
As we look into these verses I want you to notice a subtle detail that may not seem important at first glance, but becomes crucial as we think on these verses a bit longer. All the pronouns are second person and plural.
Second person plural verbs occur 11 times in Heb 1:1–10:18, but they occur 26 times in 10:19–13:25. Second person plural imperatives occur 7 times in 1:1–10:18, but they occur 18 times in 10:19–13:25.” – D. Allen. Hebrews: NAC
So what does this mean, why is this significant? I think what the author is telling us here is that the truths of this passage are best realized when we learn them and practice them together. WHAT DO WE GET MORE OF SPIRITUALLY TOGETHER, THAN WE GET SPIRITUALLY ALONE?
INTIMACY WITH GOD – (10.19-22) Being connected to other believers should help us, above all things cherish the gospel and know truth.
ILL: A recent conversation on Wed. night in the parking lot. When someone speaks in Connect Groups or Life Groups with a perspective I hadn’t considered.
IMMOVABLE FAITH – (Heb. 10:22-23) should encourage us from “wavering” in our faith, because 1) Christ is faithful and 2) We see through the lives of other believers that “he who promised is faithful.”.
EDIFICATION – (10.24) “stir up” means to push someone towards a goal.
ILL: As in a team workout at the gym.
INFLUENTIAL WORLDVIEW – (10.25) It is when we continually meet with others who share our worldview, that we are encouraged to keep an eternal focus.
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
2. ENCOURAGEMENT FOR OUR SANCTIFICATION – It aids our sanctification to keep us from “sinning deliberately”. (Heb. 10:26). Other believers serve as an encouragement but also as a warning sign. To help us pursue the things of God.