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.

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.

Perception

Too many times we are consumed with perception. Don’t get me wrong. The way people perceive us is important. After all, as Christ followers we are the ambassadors of Christ and His representatives to a lost and sin sick world. Therefore, it is important to let our light shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in Heaven (see Matthew 5:14-16).

However, there is a difference between letting our light shine through our good works and putting on a show. If we are really surrendered to Christ and are walking in the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) there will be a natural overflow of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24). When we walk by faith and in humility, surrendered to God’s Word, then what God is doing in us will be reflected through us!

We need to keep in mind that even in the Christian the flesh is still driven to perform. The flesh produces jealously (Galatians 5:17-20) and pride. As a matter of fact Paul asks the Galatians in chapter three “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3). Sometimes we are erroneously convinced that God’s power saves us by grace through faith, but somehow we then are to live the victorious Christian life through our flesh and “trying harder.” Our flesh may be jealous of the Spirit’s power and capability and the great deceiver plays upon that weakness, encouraging us to live the Christian life in our own power. After all we’ve got to keep up the perception that we are good Christians.

This is exactly what we see happening in Acts 5. Ananias and Sapphira were very interested in being perceived as dedicated, sacrificial Christ followers. They obviously had close ties to the church because they were aware that others were selling their possessions and giving to the church and others in need (see Acts 4:34-37). They decided to come up with a scheme to be perceived as a part of this generous group. They decided they would sell a portion of their property, bring a portion of it to the church and secretly keep a portion for themselves. They did not have to sell their land (Acts 5:4a). The problem was not they kept a portion for themselves (Acts 5:4b). The problem was they wanted to be perceived as a Christ follower who had given it all even though they had not!

Christians still have a battle with the flesh. We no longer have to be controlled by the flesh and we can reckon our flesh to be dead through the power of Christ, but if we are not extremely careful it will raise its ugly head time and time again to trip us up. It will even lead us to do the right thing for the wrong reason or seek to get us to try to do the right thing in our own power and energy. The enemy knows this leads to failure and frustration and may eventually lead us down a road of such despondent failure that we just walk out on the possibility of living in victory at all.

Yes, we should want to be perceived as people who bring God the glory. However, we all need to understand how God is brought the glory! He is not brought the glory by anything we can accomplish in the power and the energy of the flesh. Our righteousness adds up to nothing but filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). We bring God the glory when we let His supernatural power work in and through us to do things that point others to how awesome He is!

Jesus went on to remind His followers in John 15:5 that the key to producing fruit was not in “trying harder” or “doing better” but rather was simply found in abiding in Him. If we want to give the perception that we are Christ followers, then through His grace and power of the Holy Spirit we must simply follow Him. If we want to produce fruit, then we must simply through His grace rest in and abide in Him and His power. If we want to be perceived as Spirit-filled people then we must through His grace walk in His Spirit step by step.

Your flesh will always be there to try to trip you up. It will always seek to get you to live the Christian life in your own strength. It will lead you to depend upon the arm of the flesh, but the arm of the flesh will always fail!

I’m not sure what the Holy Spirit would have led Ananias and Sapphira to do had they been following His leadership. But whatever it was, it would have been something that glorified God, not Ananias and Sapphira! It would have been something that said, “Look at what GOD is doing in and through their life,” rather than, “Look at what they are doing for God.”

Yes, perception is important. But the right perception can only be produced through following and being surrendered to the leading of the Holy Spirit through His Word and the power of the Holy Spirit working within.

Is Anything Too Hard for God?

The atmosphere was electric. Herod was being praised, the unbelieving Jews were thirsty for more blood and Peter happened to be a convenient scapegoat. This is the summary of Acts 12:1-4. Peter has been arrested, and he is surrounded by 16 well trained soldiers in a locked prison behind a locked gate. Surely his destiny is sealed and all hope is gone. It would take a miracle…it would take divine intervention for Peter to walk out of this prison a free man. However, that’s exactly what happened. Notice verse 5 of Acts 12 and notice the word “but”-

So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.

The word “but” in the preceding verse is a word of contrast. It links the impossible situation to the improbable solution. That solution is prayer to God! Notice several things with me today:

What Did They Do–They Prayed!

There are many things they could have done. They could have went to Herod’s palace and tried to come up with a solution. They could have tried some type of attack on the prison to set Peter free. They could have given up hope and just walked away. However they chose to PRAY!

Secondly notice:

How Did They Pray–They Prayed Earnestly!

The word “earnest” is an adjective that means “stretched out.” The KJV translates this word “without ceasing.” However, it means more than just a prayer that is stretched out in length. It is a prayer that is stretched out in intensity and earnestness.

Picture a family surrounding the bed of an accident victim and they have just been told their loved one will not make it through the night unless a miracle takes place. Imagine the “intense and earnest prayer” that may go on as a result. This is the picture we have here. They did not recite a meaningless prayer, but they cried out to God with a broken heart.

Thirdly:

Who Did They Pray For–They Prayed for Peter!

They were interceding on Peter’s behalf. They realized he was in prison and realized that in a matter of hours he would probably be dead. However, we understand that because of Peter’s faith in Christ, his execution would only land him in Heaven.

We all know of people who are in far worse prisons than what Peter found himself in. They are in a spiritual prison. They may be in a prison of drugs, alcohol, greed or some other thing that Satan is using to blind them to the Truth of the Gospel.

If the early church was willing to have a passionate prayer meeting for a Christian, how much more should we pray for those who do not know the hope they can have in Christ.

We also see:

Who They Prayed To-They Prayed to God

They did not pray to Herod.

They did not pray to saints.

They prayed directly to God.

They did not go to God as a last resort, but rather a first resort!

Finally:

Who Prayed–The Church Prayed

The church is not brick, mortar, pews or windows. The church are those who have placed their faith in Christ and have been adopted into the family of God.

Because of sin we cannot expect God to hear our prayers (Isaiah 59:1-2). However, when we trust Christ to forgive us and cleanse us of our sin we have access to God through prayer! The reason we have this access is because of our mediator–Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5).

If you read the rest of the story you find out that God did intervene on Peter’s behalf. God opened the door to Peter’s freedom and allowed him to continue to live.

I do not know what type of prison you or your loved ones may be facing today. However, I know that Jesus Christ holds the keys and can set you free to enjoy the life He has planned for you!