The Overarching, Unifying Factor in the Community of Faith - Part 1

Series: My Preaching Bucket List

June 17, 2018
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

Last night I was blessed to have all my daughters at home. It was so good to hear them laugh and cut up. We had a blast looking at thousands of old photos going back years. The wonders of technology! We were able to scroll through them on our TV.

I noticed something in all the fun. Two of my three daughters seem to be addicted to taking selfies. Most of them were flattering because all my daughters are beautiful, but a few weren’t. I chose some of their worst to share with you this morning…

Just kidding.

It’s funny how the selfie has become part of our culture, cutting across all generations more or less. The strange thing is, we don’t take selfies for ourselves, to spite the name. We take them for others to see, posting them on social media. I thought I’d help you all this morning with some awesome caption suggestions I found on the web.

  • I don’t always take selfies.
  • Sending my selfie to NASA, because I’m a star.
  • I was born to stand out.
  • Always classy, never trashy, and a little bit sassy.
  • I’m everything you want but can’t have.
  • Oh hey there.
  • Morning boys.
  • Hating me doesn’t make you pretty.
  • You don’t know me.
  • Hey girl.

I double dog dare ya’ll to take a selfie and use one of these captions tomorrow!

There were no cameras, let alone things like Facebook and Instagram, back in Bible times, but, believe it or not, the early church took a selfie. It’s found in a text I refer to often, especially in the 20/20 class I teach…

Acts 2:42–47 (ESV) — 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

This is a selfie with words. The thing about selfies is they almost always show us at our best and almost never show us at our worst. It’s not that we’re intentionally being deceptive or anything; it’s just that behind the perfect lighting and killer smiles everyone is living life. And life gets hard at times. And even ugly. 

Remember that when you are tempted to be jealous of someone whose life seems perfect on Instagram. There’s always more to the story.

We look at this snapshot in Acts and think things were perfect back then. They were not. The world was just as fallen then as it is now, and even the newborn church had its issues.

Don’t believe me? Look at…

Acts 14:24–15:7 (ESV) — 24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples. 1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” 6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up…

That would have been some more business meeting. The word for dissension in 15:2 is from a Greek word that means rioting or insurrection! Can those be the same people pictured in the selfie of chapter 2?

Right after that, another conflict emerged. This time between two heroes of our faith: Barnabas (the encourager) and Paul. Look at…

Acts 15:36–40 (ESV) — 36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.

“Sharp disagreement” means Paul and Barnabas were extremely irritated by each other’s view of John Mark. It’s hard to believe these major players in the early church had a tiff like that. Just like we tend to think the early church was perfect, we tend to think the leaders were as well. They were not. 

And how about this?

Paul wrote to a group of Christians in Galatia who were distancing themselves from the true gospel of grace and freedom and inching ever closer to a false gospel of works and slavery. In his stern and blunt call to turn away from the false teachers, he called out someone for being a hypocrite…

Galatians 2:11–14 (ESV) — 11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Folks, those are just three examples of how the early church and its leaders were not perfect. That selfie in Acts 2 was accurate, but the NT as a whole reveals conflict was and is a reality of church life (just as it is in any relationship). The Bible, unlike social media, shows warts and all and that’s one of the reasons we know it’s true.

If I left things right here, you’d wonder how Christianity took over the world. But there’s more to these stories.

As to the first business meeting about whether Gentiles can be saved apart from keeping the OT Law….

Acts 15:12–13, 19–29 (ESV) — 12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied… 

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” 22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

The church worked through their conflict, staying unified and focused.

As to the row between Paul and Barnabas. They parted ways and ended up doubling the missionary work. But in the end God brought them all back together. Many years later, as Paul was imprisoned by Rome for the second time, just before his death, he wrote a very personal letter to a young pastor name Timothy…

2 Timothy 4:11 (ESV) — 11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.

Paul and Barnabas and John Mark worked through their conflict, staying unified and focused.

What about that confrontation between Peter and Paul? How could they stay friends after that? About 20 years later, by some estimates, Peter wrote this…

2 Peter 3:14–16 (ESV) — 14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

Peter and Paul worked through their conflict, staying unified and focused.

How could this be? What made the difference?

There was an overarching factor that kept the early church unified and focused. And next week I’ll tell you what that was.

Some of you may be wondering why I’m preaching this. Did something happen? Has there been a conflict?

Thankfully, no. In fact, we are unusually blessed in that regard. But just from the example of the early church, we know it’s a part of church life. It’s inevitable. And that’s OK.

Conclusion: All this makes me think of the best car I ever had. I came across her sitting on the lot of Kerley Motor Company in Alexander City, Alabama. She was a tan 1980 Celica, 5-speed, with louvres and a Pioneer radio. It was love at first sight for a 17-year-old boy.

I thought she was out of my league, but one day I walked out of the little gas station my dad and I ran in Equality, Alabama, and there she was sitting in our lot. Dad had bought her for me. I get giddy thinking about.

She was in mint condition, or so I thought. The first time I washed her I noticed a ding or two. The next time I saw a few scratches. After riding in her for a while I noticed the interior had imperfections I hadn’t noticed before. 

The longer I owned her, the more I realized she wasn’t spotless. But those blemishes didn’t diminish my love for her. She wasn’t perfect after all, but her imperfections were mine (until the day I wrecked her!).

The more you get to know something or someone, the more you realize it or they aren’t perfect. 

That applies to marriage by the way! It certainly applies to the community of faith. The longer we are together, the more we’re going to see each other’s imperfections, and the more we uncover each other’s blemishes, the greater the chance of conflict. 

By now you’ve realized I’m not perfect. So have I you. That’s a recipe for trouble if we don’t handle it the way the early church did. As I said, more on that next time when we’ll discover together the overarching, unifying factor that kept them focused and in good fellowship.

You know, there’s only one person this doesn’t apply to: Jesus. The more you get to know him, the more you realize how perfect he is!

Content Copyright Belongs to Pleasant View First Baptist Church