In the 21st century, the church has a mixed reputation, sometimes tainted, sometimes falsely accused, but unfortunately sometimes deserved. As a result, many have grown cynical about one of God's divine institutions.
So where do you stand? How do you feel about your church? Today on Insight for Living, Chuck Swindoll teaches from Philippians Chapter 1. His message will help you restore your respect for what God designed the church to be.
Be thinking about ways you can uplift your pastor as you hear Chuck deliver what he calls three cheers for the church. When the pulpit mentions sin, the church stands against it. When the pulpit declares moral issues, the church cuts right through the fog of society. The church for many many years in our nation was its conscience.
How about the community? Philippians 1.15 reads, Why is the church significant in the community? First of all, because churches offer an availability of variety. But secondly, because the churches offer a singularity of message.
Here's what I'm saying. In fact, here's what this passage is saying. There will be churches of all different kinds. Churches that are worth attending have the same pivot point and that's Jesus Christ. Christ is proclaimed. Christ is declared.
The last thing you need to think of is that we have the corner on truth and that this pastor has the answers for life. No. No.
A thousand times no. It is very easy in our zeal for doing what is right to think we've got the church with the answers. I regularly am grateful that I am not the only little fish in the pond. What an awesome responsibility. That's Christ's role. I look back and some of the things I have said and I have given wrong counsel. I listen on occasion to some things I preached and I no more agree with that today than the man in the moon. That's the awful part of a tape ministry.
He just comes back to haunt you every once in a while because I do not speak ex cathedra and after a few years I see it in a little different light and I'm so grateful not everybody believed my stuff way back then just like now. And I'm thankful that even when I preached with the wrong motive as I have on a few occasions, I say to my shame, God honored his message as he later rebuked me. You see, in the community there is a variety of churches available but praise God, you listen close enough, you're going to hear Christ preached. Stop exalting this church as if it were the only place to attend. It is not.
It is not. How about for the Christian? Well, go over to verse 23 while we're at it in Philippians.
I'm hard pressed from both directions. I had the desire to depart and be with Christ. In other words, I'd love to die and go to heaven and that's very much better. Yet, verse 24, to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.
So that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. Now he says something that the Masonic Lodge will never tell you. He says something the school board will never tell you. He says something here that the city council will never tell you. The church tells you this. Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. You won't hear that from some other organization.
No one will push hard against your breastbone and say, shape up your life. Get with it. You say you're a Christian?
Walk like it. You've done wrong? Confess it.
No one else does that. The church does. Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ and those who continue faithfully in the attendance of church services will hear reproof and exhortation and encouragement and rebuke and a whole balance of things to keep their lives in line. In fact, I made a list of four specific benefits in church attendance. One, accountability. Two, consistency. Three, unity.
Four, stability under pressure. I won't take the time to develop each one, but they are all in verses 27 to 30. What I've observed is that Christians who lose faith in a local church and say, no thanks, brother.
I don't need it. Without exception have struggles in these four areas. They lose accountability. They lack consistency in their walk. They cultivate an independent spirit rather than an interdependence of love and concern.
I hope you're hearing these. An independent spirit is marked by those who care little about the church. And that's most unwise. That's most immature. There needs to be an interdependence.
And fourth, when pressure strikes, they lack stability. Well, there's no family around. Just think for a moment, if tragedy struck, let's say calamity struck you, your place, your life, your home, and just cut the heart out of what gives you motivation and zeal for living. Just took away the fun and joy of living. How would you hold up without a church family around you?
Well, I couldn't. And I'm pretty strong personally. I'm fairly mature in my walk with Christ. I have great gaps at times that embarrass me, but even though I am growing and imperfect in many ways, I think I'm rather strong emotionally, but I often lean on members of the family, God's family. I often call out for help. I often need prayer.
Often. Who else would pray if it weren't for the church? Who would care for me if I lost my wife, my family, the church? On occasion, it has been my experience to bury individuals who have long since left the church, but because they wanted a church service, they asked me or a couple of our staff members to be a part of it, and I have had them say through embarrassment and trembling lips, you know, we didn't realize how far we've drifted without the family around us. And occasionally it takes a tragedy like that to bring them to the realization that this local assembly is a place for nurture and for consistent intake and growth. Now in this wonderful place called the church, God has given two very unique celebrations.
In no other place will you find such things. One is called the Lord's table, or your church may call it communion, or simply the table, and the other ordinance is baptism. The Lord's table is a memorial of remembrance. Both are sermons without words. They're pantomimes, I call them.
They're a Christian pantomimes. The Lord's table is saying he died for me. The baptismal celebration is saying he lives in me.
Without ever saying a word, those are the declarations of those ordinances. He died for me. He lives in me. He died for me.
He lives in me. And what a strange way we go about celebrating these things. You ever stop to think a little bit of pastry and a swig of liquid?
How strange. In places all around the world, there are little pieces of pastry and there are little cups of wine or juice. You know churches split over whether it ought to be leavened or unleavened or whole loaf or crackers or salted or unsalted or small or large or wafers, thick or thin, or homemade or made elsewhere, or whether it ought to be wine or juice or whatever.
I mean it makes you laugh. But you see how the enemy has come in and has ripped us off? I've said often publicly that the finest Lord's table that I can ever remember takes me back to the early 1960s when I was with a group of collegians up on the northern California coast. And we were sitting on a shoreline and all we had were chips and Pepsi. And it was marvelous. I have never before or since served chips and Pepsi at the Lord's table.
But the elements were insignificant. Our Lord's presence was there in the sunset, in the rolling of the surf, in the faces of the believers, in the tears that fell, in the testimonies that were given. And we worshiped our God as we met at this strange place. Sand between our toes, swimming suits on, towels wrapped around us as we shivered around this fire and passed the Doritos and passed the Pepsi around among us. Well, you know, churches split over whether you baptize by immersion or sprinkle or three times or twice forward and three backwards or eight down and seven up. They split over that. And as a result, nobody's baptized in some families and we stopped going when they started doing three back and two forward.
Didn't hold it outside or in a river or in the surf. I want to tell you that our Lord is grieved because his family has taken the most serious and significant ordinances of worship and has dinked around with the details to such a point that offense has led people away rather than drawn them in. These elements are meant to be strange. That tank is a strange tank. If you don't think so, you ask some child. You can't believe the children before we baptize who were given a little tour. You can't believe the questions they ask and the look they give when they take a look at the water.
That's it. You can't believe how strange they feel. People do strange things when they walk into warm water in front of a crowd.
It's an unusual feeling, unusual sense of presence. I mean, where else do you before a whole group of strangers get totally wet? Where else before a whole group of people, many of whom you don't know, eat a little cracker and drink a little juice? I love it because it's ours. I like the strangeness of it. Why, you can eat big meals anywhere.
You can swim in wonderful pools and marvelous surfs all around the world. But in no other place can you take a piece of bread and a cup and can you stand with a pastor you love and have the ordinance of baptism administered declaring, he lives in me. Just as at the table, he died for me. Only the church. And the world knows it's ours and they don't even attempt to duplicate it.
It's ours. Let me show you how significant. 1 Corinthians 11. Quickly now, 1 Corinthians 11. Both of these ordinances require just few words.
They are full of symbolism in their simplicity. Both of them make wonderful statements regarding our faith. Neither is essential for salvation. Listen to that. Neither one is a means to salvation.
Both are the result of neither is to be treated lightly, though they are simple. I remember, frankly, way back when I was just a young adolescent singing in a choir in a church in the city of Houston and two of the fellows in the back row, for a change it wasn't me this time, but two fellows in the back row were cutting up. I will never forget the look of our choir director who turned and looked at those two fellows and said, see me after the service.
I mean, it was like the voice of God. And they were absent from our choir for weeks until they learned the significance and seriousness of this table. Look at verse 23. I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, the Lord Jesus, and the night in which he was betrayed took bread.
And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and he said, this is my body which is for you. Command, do this in remembrance of me. Don't tell me that it's optional.
That's a command. If you miss the Lord's table, you're missing part of your obedience. Don't look upon the Lord's table as an optional service. You are assigned by God to do it continually.
In fact, it's the present tense command. Keep on doing this in remembrance of me. Some do it once a week. Some observe it every other week. Some do this once a month.
It seems unwise to make it less than once a month. It is to be a regular observance as we say again without words, he died for me, he died for me. I take this in remembrance of him. He died for me. I drink this in remembrance of him. He died for me. See, it's a continual declaration to the world around us.
Verse 25, in the same way the cup after supper saying, the cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me. Do it. Don't leave it as an option.
Do it. As often as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you keep on declaring the Lord's death until he comes. We'll be eating at this strange table until he comes. It'll regularly be observed by the church in thatch roof, places of worship are halfway around the world. In beautiful tall ceiling cathedrals lined by stained glass, they'll observe the Lord's table. In brand new places of worship, only a week or two old, they'll observe the Lord's table. In places two, three, five hundred years old, they'll still be observing the Lord's table.
That's the church's ordinance. And every time you take that piece of bread, you first realize my heart has to be right. Before you ever drink that cup, you say, is there anything between my Father and me?
Is my heart clean? Look at verse 27. Whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself and let him eat of the bread and let him drink of the cup. Why, he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he doesn't judge the body rightly. For this reason, many are weak and sick and some of you have died.
The Corinthians came and turned it into a drunken brawl. It was a joke, a sick joke, and God came in with the scythe and cut them down to size. You won't make light of my table. You won't take this in an unworthy manner. This is a symbol of my son's body and blood.
Judge yourself before you eat and drink. Finally, Romans chapter 6. Romans 6. Even though the passage refers to that which took place in the spiritual realm, even though this has reference to what I call a dry baptism rather than a wet one, the picture is still the same.
Verse 3 of chapter 6 of Romans. Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death? In those days, baptism meant identification. In fact, it was a fuller's term.
The old dry cleaner. When he would take a white garment and dip it into a dye and it would come out dark blue or a crimson red, he was said to have baptized or baptized the garment, changed its identity. That's the word used here. Don't you realize that those of you who have been identified with Christ Jesus have identified with his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him through baptism into death in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Did you ever know that in baptism the water was a picture of death? Have you ever been told that when a person goes under the water or has the water sprinkled over them, when the water comes over them, it is a picture of their identification with the death of Christ?
And as the water runs off or as the person is brought up out of the water, it is a picture of the resurrection of Christ out of death so that he will or she will walk in a new kind of life? And you're telling me that that's optional? You're telling me that that really is, if you'd like to be baptized, you may? This sort of, you know, take it or leave it?
No, no. It isn't optional, I mean it isn't essential for salvation, but it is certainly expected of the believer. It's a picture of our being united with him in the same likeness. I have discovered in my travels outside the United States that baptism is the point of change. The world believes that the believer is indeed a Christian when he steps into the baptismal waters. He's publicly declaring, I belong to Jesus Christ. I identify with his death for me and I now, raised from the water, identify with a new kind of life that I've never lived before.
I've been born again and that's why I want to display what has happened to me already in my life. I love the words that Philip Henry, father of Matthew Henry, wrote for his children, sort of a baptismal statement. I take God to be my chief end and highest good. I take God the son to be my prince and savior. I take God the Holy Spirit to be my sanctifier, teacher, guide and comforter. I take the word of God to be my rule in all my actions and the people of God to be my people under all conditions. I do hereby dedicate and devote to the Lord all I am, all I have and all I can do.
This I do deliberately, freely and forever. I call that significant. No, I understand we're not in charge of our world, but we are in charge of our thoughts. I want you to take charge of your thoughts for the next few minutes and I want you to address the hard question, where do I really stand regarding the work of a local church? Does my walk reflect its purity? Does my giving reflect its generosity? Ask yourself that.
Have I taken the ordinance seriously as he has planned them to be taken? Have I prayed for its ministry? Do I support it in service, not simply in presence? Would people know by my involvement in a church if I belong to Jesus Christ or not?
May we bow together. Those are serious questions. Only you can answer them.
Those are the kind of questions that we're supposed to struggle with. It may be that you're among that group that has become jaundiced regarding the church. I had a man say to me not long ago, what you said about the church is true, Chuck. When my wife walked out of my life, it was the church that held me up and gave me dignity. That's why I wanted you to reflect on what God has been doing over the ages in the church. I want you to value it, not to exalt it, but to exalt the person of the church, Jesus Christ. Maybe this is a good time to just vow before God that your criticism of other churches will cease, that you'll pray for them rather than criticize them.
You may choose not to worship there, but this is the time to say, Lord, from now on, if it's a church and if it's preaching Christ, I'm going to rejoice in it. Perhaps for some of you it's time to say, Christ needs to take over my life. I've called the shots alone long enough. I give him my life.
I trust him now as my Savior. Lord God, forgive us for living so many days of our lives as though we are in charge of the world. Remind us that we are stewards of the living God, that we are called upon to respond and not to direct our lives or to respond to your leading. Cause those words that have been idle words and negative words and thoughts that have been needless thoughts of negativism and decisions we've made because of an offense or some person who's gossiped about us, clear our minds of those things that we might worship in purity and simplicity and truth rather than grudgingly.
If it's tightened the wallet or the purse in our lives so that we've ceased to give as you would have us give, break us free from that restraint. And if prejudice has caused us to reject Christ Jesus, oh God, remove it so we may believe and have our lives nurtured and strengthened because of the local church. We thank you for the place of worship in Jesus' wonderful name. Amen.
Visit us online at insightworld.org. And while you're there, you can share the message that Chuck titled Three Cheers for the Church with a Friend. A long time ago, Chuck made a statement and a message that's been quoted over and over again.
In fact, it's possible you've seen these words in a wall frame. He said, I'm convinced that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react. This brief statement is actually connected to a much longer message and I'm pleased to say it's included in a brand new book. Chuck's statement, of course, is not his personal opinion. Every piece of wisdom in Chuck's book is derived from the Bible, and we'd love to send you a copy today. The book's title, Life is 10% What Happens to You and 90% How You React. To purchase a copy right now, call us.
If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888 or go online to insight.org slash store. Chuck's personal mission on these programs is to help you align your attitude with the truth of scripture. And these daily visits are made possible, of course, because people just like you give voluntary donations. We're especially grateful for our regular monthly givers. We call them monthly companions of grace. Through your gifts, you're providing a constant source of reliable Bible teaching for people who've come to rely on Chuck's daily presence. To provide for someone else what was once provided to you, we invite you to become a monthly companion right now by calling us. If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888 or you can sign up online at insight.org. I'm Bill Meyer. Chuck Swindoll's classic series growing deep in the Christian life continues next time on Insight for Living. you
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