Why Should I Attend and Be Involved in a Local Church (Part 2)

Please take time to also read Part 1. Here are three more reasons to attend and be involved in a local church:

  1. Many of the books in the New Testament were letters written to individual local churches. Some have indicated the references to church in the New Testament are references to the universal church, not to local assemblies. While Scripture does indicate there is the universal body of Christ, which encompasses all believers everywhere, there is an abundance of evidence indicating the universal church is made up of believers who are a part of local congregations. These local congregations listed in the New Testament were located in the cities of Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, Thessalonica and more. Not one person who studies Scripture with an honest heart can deny the existence of local churches. Here are a few references for further study: I Corinthians 1:2, II Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:2, Philippians 1:1, I Thessalonians 1:1, II Thessalonians 1:1.

 

  1. Spiritual gifts were to be used for the common good of believers. Isolated believers cannot use their gifts toGifts-1024x768 serve others, nor can they benefit from others. Scripture indicates Christ followers have been given spiritual gifts. God does not administer these gifts for selfish purposes. Paul and Peter, both writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, make it clear these gifts are to be used for the benefit of other believers. However, if a believer is not in fellowship with other believers, they will not have the opportunity to benefit the congregation. According to these verses, an isolationist mindset is incompatible with God’s design for believers and their spiritual gifts. Notice the words of Paul and Peter:
    1. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (I Corinthians 12:7, ESV)
    2. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: (I Peter 4:10, ESV)

 

  1. Paul gave Timothy clear instructions about things to be included in the meeting of the local assembly. Timothy was a young preacher of the Gospel and was Paul’s protégé. Paul writes two letters to instruct him about a variety of topics to help him in the ministry. As he concludes his first letter, Paul explains what he expects to be included in the public worship services. Note his admonition, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (I Timothy 4:13, ESV)

Why Should I Attend and Be Involved in a Local Church (Part 1)

I have been involved with ministry through local churches in one form or another since 1996. It has been an honor to serve as a pastor, Christian School Administrator and Evangelist. I am currently a Church Planter and Pastor of Flagship Free Will Baptist Church in Erie, Pennsylvania. I have heard numerous reasons, opinions and even excuses why people do not attend church faithfully. However, I have not heard one legitimate, scriptural reason why people should not attend and be involved in a local, Bible-believing, Christ-honoring church. I believe Scripture gives plenty of reasons why faithful church attendance and involvement should be a “no-brainer” amongst followers of Christ. The following are just a few reasons:

  1. God designed Christ followers to need other Christ followers. God never designed for His children to grow, mature and flourish in isolation. Even Christ Himself, brought a group of men into His daily ministry known as the disciples. Being the God-man, He needed nothing, but He set the example for us. He made it a practice to go the Temple regularly. The Old Testament reveals this truth as recorded for us in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon wrote: Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, HCSB)

Christ-Follower-Logo-for-webAs the Apostle Paul addressed the local church at Corinth, he explained to them that the church was much like a body. In fact, the church is the body of Christ! In this explanation he said, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ ” (I Corinthians 12:21, ESV) A Christ follower may say he/she does not need other Christians, but when they do they contradict the very truth of Scripture. We need other believers in our lives just like our body needs all of our body parts. For a hand to fulfill its function and design it must be attached to the body; therefore, for a Christian to fulfill his/her function or design, they must also be connected to the body of Christ.

  1. After the church was born in the book of Acts, Christ followers gathered together on a regular basis. Acts 2:42 records, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 20:7 records another occasion of believers gathering together, this time to hear the Apostle Paul preach, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” (Acts 20:7, ESV) They did not get together for a one-time event, but rather devoted themselves to learning the Word of God together. They also spent time with one another and prayed together. There is nothing in the New Testament that indicates this should be optional or if there will be a time when this type of gathering would cease. As a matter of fact, other Scriptures indicate this type of gathering and fellowship would become more and more necessary as time went on.

 

  1. Scripture refers to “elders” or “pastors” of specific churches. If local churches were not part of God’s plan then why did God ordain elders/pastors to oversee local congregations? The New Testament repeatedly alludes to this. Here are just a few references that you can turn to for your own personal study: Acts 14:23, 15:2-6, 15:22-23, 16:4, 20:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; I Peter 5:1-5.

What Ray Rice and I Have in Common

By now multiplied millions have seen the infamous Ray Rice video. On the video, he knocks his fiancé out cold and then drags her body out of a casino elevator into the hallway. Many adjectives have been used to describe this despicable act. Horrifying, sickening, brutal . . . just to name a few.

Social media and news programs erupted into angry tirades against this athlete. ESPN anchors talked for hours about the ramifications of the video and how it would affect Rice as well as the entire NFL. Speculation will likely continue for days on end regarding who knew what and why more wasn’t done to verify the facts.

While the newscasters continue to talk about this problem and speculate regarding what will happen next, many people are using this opportunity to cast stones at this “awful person.” There is no doubt that Rice’s punch was blatant, cruel, and gruesome. However, we must remember Ray Rice is not the standard of righteousness that God will judge us. Jesus Christ, God robed in flesh, is the standard and that is a standard of which we ALL fall short of (see Romans 3:23). James makes it clear that if we are guilty of breaking any part of the law, we are guilty of breaking the law . . . period. Listen to the words of James inspired by the Holy Spirit: For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law (James 2:10-11 ESV, emphasis mine).

The Law rises or falls as a unit. Picture in your mind the Ten Commandments represented by a chain of ten links. Each link represents one of the commandments. The chain is connected to a crane on one end and a 5,000 pound weight hanging over your head on the other end. With this scenario in mind ask yourself a question, “Does it matter which of the ten links are broken?” Absolutely not! If the link labeled “taking God’s name in vain” is broken, the weight comes crashing down. If the link labeled “murder” is broken, the weight comes crashing down just the same! You see God’s standard is perfection. It doesn’t matter how close to perfect you were, if you aren’t perfect, you aren’t perfect!

Let me share one more illustration. Suppose you had to swim a thousand miles in under an hour to win a million dollar prize. Of course this is humanly impossible, but if you can do it you are the winner. Let’s suppose you swam 5 miles in an hour and your competitor swims 7 miles in an hour . . . who wins? Neither of you won! It doesn’t matter who swam the longest distance and who looked good doing it! You both failed. You both lost.

Though you may have never punched a woman and drug her body into a hallway, you have still SINNED and fallen short of the glory of God. You need the same Savior and the same forgiveness that Ray Rice needs. Your sin may look better to society than Ray’s sin, but sin is still sin in God’s eyes. It is a transgression of the Law. It must be punished. The wonderful news is that Jesus Christ came and paid the penalty for your sin, my sin and Ray Rice’s sin. The penalty that we all deserve, which is separation from God, was experienced by Jesus Christ when God’s wrath was poured upon Him while He willingly laid down His life on Calvary.
My lies, my lust, my dishonesty are just as responsible for Jesus being nailed to a tree as Rice’s knockout punch is. We are both guilty and we both deserve to be judged and suffer in Hell as a result. However, God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but He wants us all to repent of our sin and trust Christ for His cleansing and forgiveness.

You have a choice to make if you haven’t already done so. You can compare yourself to Rice and feel pretty good about yourself, or you can compare yourself to Jesus and realize just how far you are from perfection. You can depend upon yourself to make it to Heaven and fail, or you can cast yourself at Jesus’ feet and plead for His mercy and forgiveness. You can continue to point the finger at everyone else’s mistakes and ignore your own and act dignified, or you can admit your own wickedness and rebellious heart and be justified by the blood of Jesus.

I hope Rice, if he hasn’t already done so, will come to Jesus and confess his sins and be forgiven through Christ. We have more in common with him than we would like to admit. We are all sinners in need of a Savior! If Jesus can forgive the murderous Saul of Tarsus, and change him into Paul the Apostle, he can surely forgive you and I. Call on the name of the Lord and be saved today (see Romans 10:9-10, 13).
In conclusion please understand that I am in no way, shape, form or fashion trying to make light of what Ray Rice did to his fiancé. It was truly a despicable act that needs to be repented of and forgiven. My prayer is that we would all recognize our own sinfulness and the consequences that we deserve and plead for the same mercy and grace to be extended to us for our own sins.

Introduction to Ephesians

Introduction to Ephesiansephesians-2-ppt-slide4

The Author

In the opening of Ephesians, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul begins by introducing himself as the author. Paul, who was once known as Saul, was a vehement enemy of Christians and the early church (see Acts 7-8). He had been responsible for the imprisonment and even death of many early Christ followers. At that time he was filled with misplaced religious zeal and truly believed he was doing God a favor by capturing and overseeing the death of believers in Jesus Christ. However, that all changed when Christ revealed Himself on the Damascus Road. Christ confronted Saul of Tarsus with the truth, and that truth forever changed his life (see Acts 9:1-9). After turning to the very One whom he had been persecuting, Paul then began to preach the truth that he once had tried to destroy.

Sometime after his conversion, Paul was commissioned to go on missionary journeys. It is through these endeavors that untold numbers of souls were converted and churches established. Paul’s first recorded trip to the city of Ephesus is found in Acts 18:19-21. While there, he reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue and promised to return if the Lord willed. Though he did not stay, he left behind competent co-laborers named Aquila and Priscilla who continued the ministry there (see Acts 18:26). Acts 19 records Paul’s return to Ephesus and his continued ministry in this metropolitan city. We also find in chapter 19, that the truth Paul was preaching during these months began to change lives and caused a great uproar in the city. When the uproar ceased, Paul made the decision to depart from Ephesus (see Acts 20). He gave a tearful farewell speech to the Ephesian elders and then shared with them that the Holy Spirit had given him insight regarding his impending imprisonment and eventual martyrdom. It was from prison that Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesian church (see Ephesians 3:1, 4:1).

The City of Ephesus

In what type of city did Paul first arrive? There are several important characteristics concerning the city of Ephesus that are important to know.

First of all, Ephesus was a large city of its day. Its population was estimated to be between 250,000-350,000 souls[1] and was the third largest city of the Roman Empire.[2] Ephesus was situated in the region now known as Turkey.[3] Ephesus was not only a port city[4], but was also a place where “east met west…”through a “great arterial Roman road that linked it with the world…”[5] It was also known as the chief banking establishment in Asia Minor.[6] Though the city was quite multi-ethnic, it also had a strong Jewish population.[7]

Secondly, Ephesus was known for its worship of idols. Some estimate up to fifty gods and goddesses were worshipped there. The most famous deity in Ephesus was Artemis, who was also known as Diana.[8] The temple built for Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world![9] The upheaval found in Acts 19 was partly instigated by those who made items for the temple of Artemis. Many of these silversmiths were suffering financially because idolatry was on the decline. The truth was setting people free, and those who had much to gain from the idol business were hurting!

Thirdly, Ephesus was a city known for its magic, shamanism and the occult. New Testament Professor Clinton Arnold notes, “The practice of magic was predicated on an animistic worldview in which good and evil spirits were involved in practically every area of life. Magic represented a means of harnessing spiritual power through rituals, incantations, and invocations.”[10] You may also remember that Acts 19 records the burning of the books from those who had been practicing magical arts. This also took place in Ephesus.

The Church

As mentioned earlier, Paul had travelled to Ephesus on at least two occasions, and on the second occasion had been able to stay for quite some time. For the past two years the people had heard the word of the Lord (Acts 19:10) and many had become believers. These believers were probably as multi-ethnic as the population of Ephesus itself. We know for certain, based on the records found in Acts 19 that some of these new believers had been saved out of the occult and idolatry. “Coming to Christ from a background of animism, goddess worship, magical practices, and a variety of other religions, these people need a more extensive grounding in the gospel and its implications for life.”[11] The church in Ephesus and throughout Asian Minor would benefit greatly from the foundational doctrines and practical Christianity proclaimed throughout this powerful letter.

Themes

Arnold lists important facts that help us understand the themes in and circumstances surrounding the writing of Ephesians. Here is a brief summary:

  1. New believers from various religious, occultic and ethnic backgrounds needed to be grounded in the Gospel of Christ. They needed to understand Christ’s supremacy!
  2. Paul sought to encourage believers to cultivate a distinct, Christian lifestyle.
  3. Paul revealed to these believers, regardless of their ethnic background, that they are part of ONE body (emphasis mine).[12] Christ is the head of this body, and the life blood is the Holy Spirit.[13]

Summarizing the key thought of Ephesians, world renowned Scottish New Testament interpreter William Barclay so beautifully writes:

The key thought of Ephesians is the gathering together of all things in Jesus Christ…In every man there is a tension; every man is a walking civil war, torn between the desire for good and the desire for evil; he hates his sins and loves them at the same time…A cosmic battle is raging between the powers of evil and the powers of good; between God and the demons. Worst of all there is disharmony between God and man. Man, who was meant to be in fellowship with God, is estranged from him.

So, then, in this world without Christ, there is nothing but disunity…The central thought of Ephesians is the realization of the disunity in the universe and the conviction that it can become unity only when everything is united in Christ.[14]

In conclusion, the letter to the Ephesians can be subdivided into two distinct sections. The first three chapters deal with doctrine, and the last three chapters demonstrate how doctrine is to be lived out in the Christ follower’s life. The doctrines and admonitions found in the book of Ephesians are timeless. You will find food for your soul and helps to enable you to live out “Practical Christianity.” I am grateful that you have chosen to join me on this journey.


[1] This estimate varies depending upon who you read after. Clinton Arnold estimates 250,000 while John Phillips estimates 350,000.

[2] Clinton E. Arnold, “Ephesians: Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), 3.

[3] “The NIV Study Bible,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), 1790. Though I do not endorse the NIV because of its “dynamic equivalence” form of translation, I have found many of the study notes in this Study Bible helpful. Referencing various authors or Study Bible does not mean a blanket endorsement of either.

[4] Arnold, 3.

[5] John Phillips, “Exploring Ephesians,” (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1993), 21.

[6] Spiros Zodhiates, “The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bbile,” (Chattanooga, Tennessee: AMG Publishers, 1996), 1368.

[7] Arnold, 3.

[8] For more information about these gods and goddesses you may refer to both Arnold and Phillips’ work.

[9] John MacArthur, “The MacArthur Study Bible,” (Word Publishing, 1997), 1801.

[10] Arnold, 5.

[11] Arnold, 6.

[12] Arnold, 3.

[13] MacArthur, 1802.

[14] William Barclay, “The Daily Study Bible: The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians,” (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Westminister Press, 1976), 66.

“Unplugged”

Unplugged 

by Guest Columnist Marie Drakulic

     A very dear friend of mine does not own a cellphone.  She has a landline.  Remember those?  It is the kind of phone that you have to plug into the wall and have to stay in the house to use!  She says cellphones drain too much energy.  Crazy, right?  Well, maybe she isn’t so far off base.

I should have known I had a problem when my email stopped working on my phone.  I actually had to go to the computer to bring it up and read it.  Oh no!  Perish the thought!  It was only a glitch in the server, and a couple days later it was fixed.  Yet, I wasted a lot of time fussing over the minor issue.  Shortly after that, this verse from 1 Corinthians started rolling around in my mind:

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV)

“I will not be dominated by anything.”  Another translation uses the word “mastered.”  I came to realize that I was being mastered by my smart phone.  Not so smart, huh?!  It was practically glued to me 24-7.  At home, it would follow me to every room in the house.  When I went out, it was either in my hand, my purse (attached to my shoulder), or in one of my pockets.  It even ended up in my bed next to my pillow sometimes at night!  As I prepared to listen to my pastor’s Sunday sermon on fasting, I knew that I needed to spend some time “unplugged.”

As I write this, I am in the middle of a week away from my phone.  Sure, I have used it to make ordinary phone calls, and a few times I have used my “smart apps,” but I have, in the Lord’s strength, denied myself the ease and dependability of using it every waking moment.  Here are a few things I have learned:

  1. My smart phone CAN’T do everything, and I CAN function without it.
  2. Some people really do appreciate a phone call rather than a text message.
  3. It is more important for me to enjoy spending with my kids than making sure I post about them.
  4. I don’t need to reach for my phone before I reach for my Bible or bow my head in prayer in the morning.
  5. My iPhone is not I AM.

Please do not misunderstand me; I am not saying that smart phones, tablets or advances in technology are bad.  I am only saying that, for me, my iPhone had become a god in my life.  Wow, that was hard to write . . . and hard to admit.  How could something so material, so breakable ever become greater than He?  There are many beneficial uses of a smart phone, but they had become a weight in my spiritual walk with the Lord.

Is there something weighing you down today?  Maybe you don’t struggle with smart phone overuse like I do.  Maybe your struggle is with food or the TV or work.  None of those things are wrong on their own, but when they become distractions from time with the Lord, when they become little ‘g’ gods in our lives, then we have a problem.  Take a look at what the writer of Hebrews said:

. . . let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us . . . (Hebrews 12:1 ESV)

In a few days, my phone will become smart again, and I will plug back in.  Yet, I pray that I have learned to reap its benefits without letting it master me.  God is God alone.  May I always recognize that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (see James 1:17) and meant for use to His glory.  And just maybe, I can convince my friend to at least get an iPod so she can have all those “really cool” apps, too! 😉