||2014-06-16 22:23:50, 조회 : 1,633, 추천 : 284
| Hello to another beautiful day to further our study of God’s covenant. We will continue by looking over Chapter 8, “The Church, The Covenant Community.” As usual the author has provided us with verses to begin this chapter from Matthew 16:18. |
“I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”
As we have seen, God’s covenant brings us into being a unique kind of people, the people chosen by God, designed for rule, assembled for worship, and sent into the world to declare His excellence. It is also expressed in His covenant that He is pleased to assemble His people in communities, scattered throughout the world, organized into gatherings large and small, which are the various congregations of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. So we can see that the church itself is unique to the elements of God’s New Covenant. We are actually able to note three characteristics of the covenant community by way of introduction to its unique nature and mission.
First, we observe God’s intention that His community should contrast with the surrounding world. This is not something new to us, this is said all over the Scripture to draw out this message. For example, dark and light, flesh and spirit, self-centeredness and self-denial, death and life. The covenant people are clearly called to be different and to bring out the light of God’s truth and the power of His grace to bear on the darkness and sin of disbelief. We are instructed not to become like the surrounding world, but to be transformed and renewed so that we might shine and become the beacons of newness and be the hope of a dying age.
Secondly, the covenant community is uniquely a community of the Spirit. The church is called into being by God’s Spirit. We are filled and taught by Him and we receive gifts and power from the Spirit. This becomes the very source of our uniqueness as a people. He gives us our new plan and guides our abilities and resources, all at the same time motivating us to service and mission for the glory of God. Our uniqueness comes from the fact that we are a community of the Spirit. We depend upon unseen resources for our calling and hope than on the things and practices of a materialistic age.
Thirdly, the church is a community of wondrous diversity. We are many members in one body, possessing many gifts, yet for one overarching purpose, and know many callings, although we all serve one Lord. But we need to recover our understanding of the unique foundations, missions, and power of the church, which will then help us reclaim some of our distinctiveness as a community. It will enable us to comprehend more fully what it means to live within God’s covenant in today’s world.
Our recovery of distinctiveness must begin at the foundation. We will look at our foundation in four different areas: prayer, The Word, godly leaders, and lastly, responsible members.
Prayer is, without a doubt, necessary in the life of a believer as well as the whole covenant community. Living in God’s covenant demands a life of prayer of every member of the covenant community. Prayer can be seen as one of the most distinctive attribute of one who has entered into covenant relationship with the Lord. The author provides for us some general observations regarding the discipline of prayer as it pertains to the church be looking at the book of Acts.
First, we note that the first community of Christians was founded on and grew by corporate prayer. When we look at Acts 1, we find the people of God united together in prayer for a period of ten days, waiting for the promise of God and the beginning of the new era. Also when we look at Acts 2: 42-46, after the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, the people of God were assembling not only in public but also in private homes for the work of prayer, which is another form of the corporate prayer. Also, as I have mentioned in the last chapter, it was the practice of saints in both the Old and New Testament, to restrict some time during their day to dedicate it to prayer. And doing this will surely set us apart from our contemporaries.
Second, the prayers of God’s people seem to have been focused on the book of Psalms. It was shown in Acts 4:23-31 that these people had led the psalms guide them. Today, we are usually relying on our own devices in our prayer, formulated by other people’s prayer or prayer cards or even a guide. But God has given us His own prayer list to guide our prayers, the psalms, and generations of Christians prior to our own found these to be richer source of guidance and substance in prayer than anything we might have come up of. If we begin to pray the psalms with a greater consistency and power, surely it will show the distinctiveness of our community.
Third, the covenant community of Acts prayed with a great intensity. They were very devoted in their prayers. They were praying from their hearts and with conviction. In troubled times, many of these people would come directly to prayer, to plead with God. And we are also able to see that even without troubled times, the prayers were just as passionate, just as frequent, and just as filled with the promises of God’s Words. But, we will not know any of the power of covenant distinctiveness unless we begin to recover this important part in our foundation. Without more prayer, more passionate and corporate prayer, we cannot hope to regain our distinctiveness as a kingdom of priests unto the Lord.
The second part for our foundation is The Word. The first Christians were very devoted to Scripture and to living out the commands and realizing the promises of God’s covenant Word. They took the Word to heart, thinking it through and embracing it as their very life. They allowed for the Word of God to shape their outlook and transform them increasingly into the very image of Jesus Christ. They looked towards the Word for strength during their time of crises. And not only were they hearing the Word, but they were also proclaiming it. Their approach to the Word of God was not one of seeking some happy or comforting thoughts, but they knew that they had to embrace this Word of God and did so passionately. However, in our time, there goes a famine that people tend to close their ears as well as their hearts. Even some of the people in our very own communities believe it might me “old-news” or “out of date.” It is no wonder that we don’t stand out of their surrounding world, more or less, we are no different. But if we want to regain our distinctiveness, we need to recover our passion for the Scriptures, as well as our determination to live to the fullest within the promises of His covenant Word.
Also supporting the foundation of the covenant community in the New Covenant is godly leaders. These are men who are bold in the Lord, trust Him to guide and care for His People, and labored sacrificially to ground the community in the promises of God’s Word. When we look at Acts 2, we see clearly that this is the work of the Holy Spirit. A great example is the apostles; they were teaching and caring for the community, making sure that all are grounded as fully as possible in prayer and the teaching of the Word. They were unwilling to let anything distract them from this central calling. The apostles clearly understood the promises of God’s covenant, and they were not shy about imposing the demands of the lifestyle of faith on the people under their care. They were focused on Christ and were determined to strengthen and expand the church, no matter the cost to them personally. These were single-minded, courageous, creative, and self-sacrificing men, and God honored their faithfulness.
The fourth foundation is actually led up by the other three, or the result of the other three, responsible members. Those in the first century Christians knew that when they entered this covenant community, they would play an important role in the realization of God. As we see in Acts 2:44-45, and Acts 4:32-35, these members cared for one another in sacrificial ways. They would freely give their possessions in order to meet the needs that were becoming apparent. They also encouraged one another in the life of faith, in prayer and attendance on the Word and worship of God. They stood ready to carry the message of the gospel wherever God might send them, and did all this faithfully when the door of opportunity was opened to them. They became the joy of those around them and carried the Word of God to their neighbors with such conviction that many came up to the House of the Lord to learn from Him. If we want to build a covenant community such as we have seen in the first chapters of the books of Acts, we must do so intentionally, making certain that at every step and in the life of each member, the foundations of covenant living are clearly and firmly laid upon them.
As for our missions, we should see to it that it has two directions. One of inward focus and the community itself, and outward, on the world. The inward focus of the mission of the church was designed to ensure that churches would grow in strength and purity for the long term. This requires for church members to take seriously their callings as active members of a growing body, that they recognize and begin to develop their gifts for ministry, and that they seek intensely and earnestly to serve others in the body as expressions of their love. So readily were the first Christians to put aside their differences and give up their comfortable lives in order to work together to build the church of God. This also led to their gathering for the purity of the church. Many of the times they would not allow for their petty disputes to disrupt the purity of the church. And they submitted to leaders for the sake of unity, purity, and growth of the entire community.
The outward focus of the mission of the covenant community relates to its calling to take the gospel to the world. The first Christians understood that this required for them be ready to bear witness of the Lord. Not only did they take up the responsibility for being witnesses for Christ, but also they eagerly supported the work of carrying the gospel to far places, places not direct to their own community. They would go to far away lands, and a keen supporter as well as a missioner was Apostle Paul. Many times he ventured off to foreign lands and invited these Christians to join with him to spread the Good News.
Unfortunately, this is not of the many churches today. We have lost the true definition of “mission” and rather just raise money for ourselves, and the little left over goes to other distant land. We have failed to see that we have been blessed of God so that we might be a blessing to all the families of the earth. Most importantly, we cannot expect to realize more of the glory of God’s covenant promises until we begin to remove the urgency of missions that characterizes the first covenant communities.
Many of the covenant communities today will never be able to be a force for change or a power with our course of self-interest and indifference. The church of Jesus Christ is called to nurture a oneness that will declare to the watching world the reality of the Spirit power and the Savior’s love. For this to occur within our community today, we need to reassess our priorities and commitments. We need to return to our true foundations, rediscover Christ’s mission, and work together to demonstrate the power of love in more energetic and creative ways. Only then will we be able to persuade the world around us that the new life in Christ is true.
To conclude, I hope that you have been able to see the important connection between the covenant and our community. I also hope for you to see this connection, place it in your heart, and for you to be the starting point for your own community and bring the ones around you ever so much closer to God. Thank you!
Something a bit from my other chapters, there will be proceeding questions that are based on the summary as well as your very stand point.
1) How would you assess the state of the spiritual foundations of your church - prayer, the priority of the Word, etc.? On what do you base your assessment? How would you describe the state of these things in your own life?
2) In what ways is your church involved in the mission of the Lord? What does that involvement require of the members of your church? Would you describe their participation as active, spontaneous, a first priority, and effective? Why or Why not?
3) What kinds of the things tend to get in the way of Christians making the pursuit of Christ's mission their first priority? Why do we allow this to happen? How can we begin to recover the priority of mission in our churches?
4) What about the churches in your community? Do they express the oneness of Christ in any way? Why or why not?
5) It seems clear that the world around us is not becoming more and more "Christian." Why do you think this is so? What would it take for the churches in your community to become the "joy of the whole earth" to your lost neighbors and friends? What should your role be in helping to encourage that?
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