Good morning church! Hope you had a good last week but even if you’re here thinking that the last week wasn’t great, I hope you see this as something that will bring rest and refreshment to your heart as you hear from God this morning. If you’ve been tracking with us, you would be aware that we’ve started a new series titled “Why Church?”. And that’s an interesting & challenging question for all of us here. For many of us, we’ve heard the phrase “Go to Church” several times but rarely have we wondered “But why church?” Maybe it’s because that’s all that we’ve done since we were kids. Maybe it’s because that’s a good moral thing to do. And so last week we came down to a definition of “what is a church” and what we learned is that “the church is not a place but a people”. It’s a people who have been radically saved by Jesus Christ & joined to each other so that together they can display who He is to a lost and dying world around them. Today we arrive at the second topic of our series titled “What is a healthy church?” Would you join me as we pray and ask God to speak to us through the Word this morning?
If I were to ask this question – how do you assess if a person is physically healthy or not? Let’s say you didn’t have access to a diagnostic test. What are some health markers that you would look out for? You would probably say someone who eats a balanced diet, someone who exercises regularly, someone who ensures that he/she has proper sleep through the night etc. Similarly, what are some health markers for a church? How can we biblically assess whether a church is healthy or not? It’s a deep question, right? I’m thankful to brothers like Mark Dever who’ve spent a lot studying and writing on this topic of “Healthy Churches”. And so today I’ll be referring to his outline for our time today. There are at least 4 health markers for a church – 2 of which will be covered today and the other 2 will be covered over the next 2 Sundays:
- Priority of Scripture
- Reliability on the Gospel
- Capacity of Elders
- Authority of the Church
- Priority of Scripture
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
In these two verses, it’s so interesting that it tells us that every piece of Scripture – every verse, every chapter, every book, every testament is “God breathed” and “inspired by God”. And since every passage of Scripture is inspired by God, every passage can be used to “teach, reprove, correct and train in righteousness” so that the man of God may be “complete” equipped for every good work. In other words, it tells us that apart from God’s Word (apart from Scripture), man is incomplete (immature) & ill-equipped to carry out what God has called him to do. You see here – there’s a priority that’s been given to Scripture, there’s a very high view of Scripture, and there’s a primacy to Scripture in the life of the believer and also the church.
And so whenever we gather together as a church on Sundays, the preacher is not called to share his opinions on a bible text, the preacher is not called to entertain the church with a bunch of cool stories, the preacher is not called to pump people up with a motivational talk, the preacher is called to preach the Bible faithfully so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
And that’s why expository preaching is important. It is not just a stylistic preference but a necessity for every church that aspires to be healthy. Expository preaching basically means to expose the text / reveal the text / break down the text in accordance with its context and the author’s intent when he wrote that passage of Scripture. And think about this when we read any piece of literature, any normal book – don’t we attempt to read it from cover to cover to understand the main point of the story? We don’t randomly jump to the middle of the book and selectively pick out a quote and figure out our own interpretation through that random quote. That would be taking it out of context. So what we try to do is read the book from cover to cover, understand the author’s intent and through that make sense of the theme of the book. But isn’t it interesting that when it comes to the Bible, we have a tendency to treat it differently & set a different standard? If the Bible is God’s Word with every piece of Scripture that is God-inspired, shouldn’t we be all the more diligent in figuring out the context & author’s intent instead of inserting our own thoughts and opinions into the text?
But some may argue that “this is simply too technical, where is the dependence on the Spirit while preaching then?” Well let me tell you that because expository preaching makes us work through a book verse by verse; chapter by chapter, we are forced to deal with uncomfortable and unfamiliar passages. There’s a great deal of dependence on the Spirit to grapple and wrestle with these uncomfortable and unfamiliar passages before preaching it to people. If we only did topical sermons, we would more or less stick to topics and areas that we as preachers are comfortable with. But the goal is not to make people like us, the goal is to make people more and more like Jesus – which is what expository preaching allows us to do organically.
In the book of Acts, in Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elders, we get a wonderful insight into the content of his preaching ministry. This is what Paul tells them:
27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:27)
What would it mean for us to be a church that “desires the whole counsel of God?” Firstly, I think to pray and ask God to build an appetite in our hearts to eagerly receive the whole counsel of God as revealed in Scripture. So that we may not approach God’s Word as merely something to address a felt need, but God’s Word to shape us into the likeness of Jesus which can come about through uncomfortable, unfamiliar and unsettling passages. (For eg: OT passages) Secondly, pray for us as elders that we seek to faithfully and prayerfully prepare sermons each week. Pray that we don’t grow weary and that we resist the temptation to preach messages that people want to hear and continue to preach the message that they need to hear.
But not only is there a Priority of Scripture, there is also a
2. Reliability on the Gospel
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Rom 1:16)
We show our reliability and dependence on the Gospel by correctly understanding it, living it out and by sharing it.
- Understand the Gospel
If you’ve been around a church or church people, my guess is that you would have definitely heard the word “Gospel” at some point during a church gathering. But if you were to ask people what it means, chances are that you would get a wide variety of answers. Some may say that the Gospel is the message that God is love, some may say that the Gospel is the message that God has a wonderful plan for your life, Some may say that the Gospel is the message to receive Jesus into your heart and pray a prayer, what if I told you that none of these is the true biblical Gospel?
Gospel basically means “good news” – and that should immediately make us think “but why is it good news?”
It’s helpful to understand the gospel through these 4 points
- God: We were all created by God in His image (like a mirror), to reflect His character and His rule to the created world. Like a father’s desire to see his child reflect His character and his work.
- Sin: But instead of reflecting God’s rule, the man wanted to represent His own independent image and independent rule. Man wanted to be his own boss. Man thought that by doing that his life would be more fulfilling, but instead it ended up being tragic and miserable. Why? Because now was going to be punished for His rebellion, he was now going to be separated from a relationship with God, and that image/mirror was terribly shattered and broken. Man thought “let me compensate for this by working harder, doing good things and trying to be better”. But all those efforts to be better were useless because none of that could remove the punishment, none of that could restore the broken relationship and none of it could fix the broken image. It was like humanity hit a dead end with no way out.
- Jesus: But God didn’t leave us there – To save us from our devastating predicament, God sent His own Son Jesus Christ into the world in the form of man. As God’s Son, He perfectly reflected God’s character and rule. He lived the life that we should have lived. And then when He was 33 years old, though innocent He took the punishment that we deserved upon Himself by dying on the cross for our sins. He paid the price for our guilt and rebellion. He was buried in a tomb but on the Third Day, He victoriously rose from the grave defeating sin, Satan and death.
- Response: No matter who you are, no matter what your background is, no matter what your past is, if you turn from your sins, your selfishness and your efforts to make yourself right before God and instead trust in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, then your punishment would be cancelled, your broken relationship with God would be reconciled and your broken image would be restored gradually & one day it will be fully completed when Jesus comes back again – on that day all those who’ve trusted in Him will perfectly reflect God’s character and rule as was God’s design in the first place. It’s the greatest role reversal in history – all because of what Jesus Christ did for us!
That’s good news!
- Live out the Gospel
And this “good news” / “Gospel” now redefines the way we live our lives on this earth until Jesus returns.
14 For the love of Christ controls (compels) us because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Cor 5:14, 15)
Only a person who realizes that he has been rescued from a near-death accident will be grateful enough to owe his life to the one who rescued him. The Gospel compels us to live Holy lives (though not perfectly yet) but there is a pursuit of holiness for every true believer because he or she realizes what was put on the line, the sacrifice which was made to rescue us from sin, Satan and death. Even our DNA groups (GROW) – the end goal is not just to grow in friendship and intimacy with each other (although that is a by-product), the goal is that we may grow in holiness as we are weekly and daily being reminded of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus is an enabler, a fuel to help us live Holy lives.
- Share the Gospel
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling[c] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:18-20)
Firstly, it’s so amazing that God is preaching a message of reconciliation to a lost and dying world through people who have personally firsthand experienced the reconciling work of God through Jesus. The other thing we notice in this verse is that “Gospel sharing” is primarily “verbally declaring the Gospel” to someone else – there’s an appeal which is being made. Inviting someone home for dinner, social justice initiatives, and planning outreaches are all good means to adorn & accompany the Gospel, however, the Gospel needs to be verbally shared because it’s “good news”. Thirdly, we see words like “appeal”, and “implore” being mentioned here – which tells us that there is a passionate persuasion and persistence in Gospel sharing. And that only happens when we are personally convicted about the power of the Gospel and genuinely care for the people we are sharing with (and that I believe happens as we pray for them).
What’s the application? If you’re here today discouraged as you assess your pursuit of holiness and obedience. If you’re here today perplexed and unsure why you’ve not been able to share the Gospel as often and with as many people as you’ve met – it’s probably not because you’ve not been challenged enough or because you’ve not mastered the right methods. It could be because you’ve forgotten how precious and beautiful the Gospel is as revealed in Scripture. Have you been listening to the Gospel enough? Have you been made aware of the bad news? Are you aware of the remarkable role reversal which has taken place in Jesus?