Community – Loving Our Neighbor

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Community – Loving Our Neighbor
[audio:02 Community-Love.mp3]
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Matthew 9:36; Luke 10:27; John 20:21
John 13:34,35
Ephesians 4:1-3
Ephesians 4:7-16; 1 Corinthians 12

INTRODUCTION: Last week we started a new message series called Church on Purpose. Why does the church exist? What is our purpose? What is our mission? We must be able to answer these questions biblically if we are to fulfill what God wants us to be doing as a church.

One of the tools we use here at Agawam Church of the Bible to help us with this is our church purpose statement:

The mission of Agawam Church of the Bible is to glorify God by worshiping Him (Celebration), loving our neighbor (Community), sharing the gospel (Communication) and growing in Christ-likeness (Cultivation).

This statement draws from various biblical commands, and gives us the big picture of what we are supposed to be doing as a church. Last week, we looked at the first purpose which is Celebration, or worshiping God. This week we will look at the second purpose, which is Community, or loving our neighbor.

What do you first think of when you hear the word “church?” Most people immediately think of a building, often with stained glass or a steeple. But we must understand that the church is not a building. The early church didn’t have any buildings to meet in. Even today there are many churches around the world that don’t meet in buildings. Some of these churches meet outside. Look at us – we meet in a Jr. High School!

The church is not a building. The church is the people. In fact, that’s what the word church means. The word “church” in the New Testament actually means an “assembly or meeting of people.” But church is more than just a group of people together in one place. For example, if you go to the mall this weekend, there will be a whole lot of people gathered together in one place, but that is not a church.

The church is more than a gathering. It is more than just an organization of people. It is not a business or a club. The church is a community of believers in Jesus Christ who partner together to fulfill God’s purposes for his people. And I want you to focus on that word “community” for a minute, because that is the second of the four purposes in our purpose statement.

In the Great Commandment Jesus said you should love God with all your heart and you should love your neighbor as yourself. The church is a community, and we practice community by loving our neighbor. This morning we will look at four things from the Bible that will help us better understand what it means to love our neighbor.

I. Reaching out with compassion to those who do not know Christ (Matthew 9:36; Luke 10:27; John 20:21)

First of all, love for our neighbor involves reaching out with loving compassion to those who do not know Christ. This is an important place to start because it reminds us that the church is not meant to be an inward or a closed community, but one that reaches out to other people. We are called to love our neighbor, not just ourselves. As soon as the church stops reaching out, it ceases to be a healthy community.

This love for others was modeled for us by Jesus himself. We read in Matthew 9:36 that “when [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’”; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

The church should not act or feel superior towards those outside the community of believers. We should not be angry, abusive or unkind. Rather, we should be loving toward those outside of Christ. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) We must follow Christ’s example and reach out with compassion to those outside the church community. Some of these may come to Christ, and some may not. Either way, love for our neighbor involves reaching out with loving compassion to those who do not know Christ.

II. Loving one another with the love Jesus had for his disciples (John 13:34-35)

Secondly, love for our neighbor involves loving one another with the love Jesus had for his disciples. The night before Jesus died on the cross, he told his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

One of the things Jesus did that night was he washed each of his disciples’ feet. This was dirty, smelly work usually reserved for household servants and slaves. But Jesus got down from the table and washed each of his disciples’ feet. When he had finished, he asked them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:12-15)

Jesus was saying we should have such a love for each other in the body of Christ that we would do anything for each other. We should be willing to humble ourselves and seek what is best for each other regardless of personal cost. A healthy community not only reaches out in love to others but also takes care of its own.

This aspect of community, loving each other as Jesus loved his disciples, will never take place by simply attending church one hour a week on Sundays. No, this type of community requires commitment and care and getting involved in each other’s lives. That’s why we do so much more at Agawam Church of the Bible than simply getting together on Sundays. We have home groups and Bible studies. We get together with friends during the week. We have fellowship events just for fun. We have a softball team. We provide meals during times of crisis. We pray for each other and look for practical ways to help each other during times of need.

This is one of the reasons why God has given us the church. This is one of God’s purposes. God is building together a people who love each other and live in community with each other the way he originally designed human beings to live. Jesus said that our love for each other then becomes a witness to the world. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) Love for our neighbor involves loving one another with the love Jesus had for his disciples.

III. Experiencing the fellowship of a united body (Ephesians 4:1-3)

Thirdly, love for our neighbor involves experiencing the fellowship of a united body. In the book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul wrote: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

Unity in the body of Christ is essential to a loving community. Now unity in the church does not mean that we all look the same, talk the same, think the same, or even believe the same on every single issue. It does mean that when we hurt each other, we forgive; when we misunderstand each other, we believe the best; when we disagree with each other, we are humble and gentle, bearing with one another in love.

Unity in the church does not mean that anything goes. The Bible is our ultimate source of authority, and most things in the Bible are crystal clear. We must stand strong on the foundational truths of the Bible – things such as the deity of Christ and salvation by faith in Christ alone. But when we come to those areas where good Christians disagree, we must make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

That means we should get rid of all malice, bitterness, anger and rage. We should let go of ambition, envy and pride. We must realize that we can only fulfill God’s purposes for community in the church when we live in unity with each other. Love for our neighbor involves experiencing the fellowship of a united body.

IV. Serving others with our God-given spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:7-16; 1 Corinthians 12)

And then, fourthly, love for our neighbor involves serving others with our God-given spiritual gifts. Ephesians chapter four says, “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” (Ephesians 4:7) Paul goes on in the same chapter to say that Christ “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)

Did you notice why God gave these leaders to the church? It was not so that the pastors or elders would do all the ministry in the church, but rather that they would prepare God’s people for works of service. I like telling people at our new partners’ classes that our church has several elders but many ministers. Every Christian is a minister. Every Christian is called to serve others with their gifts.

The church body only works as God intended when everyone does their part. Paul goes on to say in Ephesians, “From him [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16) Just like the human body works best when every part does what it’s supposed to, so also the church can only fulfill God’s purposes when each part does its work.

If you are a Christian, then you are a part of the body of Christ. Are you fulfilling your part in the body? Are you serving others with your God-given gifts? You might wonder, “What are my God-given gifts?” Well, first there are the gifts of time, energy and resources that God gives to all of us. Sometimes just giving of your time to a project or opening up your home can be a way of serving. Are you using your time, energy and resources to serve others?

Then there are those particular talents or skills that God has given you where you can serve others in unique ways. Some people can teach; others work with their hands; some have computer skills; others have artistic abilities. Are you using and developing your specific talents and skills to serve others?

And then the Bible also talks about spiritual gifts. You find examples of these gifts in various lists in Scripture, such as in Romans 12 or 1 Corinthians 12. These gifts include such things as service, teaching, encouragement, giving, leadership, mercy, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, helping, administration and others.

Spiritual gifts are given to believers through the Holy Spirit in order to build up others in the body of Christ. The Bible says that every believer has at least one spiritual gift. So if you are a Christian, then that means God has gifted you by the Holy Spirit for service in the body. I would encourage you to study the various passages in the Bible that speak about spiritual gifts and then ask God, “What spiritual gift have you given me to serve in the body of Christ? How would you have me serve in the church?”

People who grow dissatisfied with church are usually people who are not serving. When you are serving others, when you are giving of your time and energy to the community of believers, you will rarely feel disconnected. Love for your neighbor involves serving others with your God-given spiritual gifts.

CONCLUSION: So what do you think about this second purpose of: Community – Loving Your Neighbor? Are your reaching out with loving compassion to those who do not know Christ? Do you love other people in the church with the love Jesus had for his disciples? Are you doing your part to maintain the unity of the body? Are you serving others with your time, talents and gifts? Or are you just coming to church?

This second purpose of Community is essential to fulfilling God’s purpose for us as a church. We are not just a group of people who attend church together on Sunday mornings. Church is not a place you go to. It is a community to which you belong. We are a community of believers drawn together by our common love for Jesus Christ. We are a church family who looks out for each other’s needs. We are the body of Christ where every person matters, every individual counts, and every member has a part to play. I don’t want to just go to church. I want to be part of a family, part of a community. That is what the second purpose is all about. That is one of the main reasons why we are here.

© Ray Fowler

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