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Four Marks of the Healthy Church (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
January 25, 2023 3:00 am

Four Marks of the Healthy Church (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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January 25, 2023 3:00 am

Some attend church out of a sense of duty—but that’s not the model the early church established. Listen to Truth For Life as Alistair Begg explains how Sunday can be a joyful, reverent celebration that sets the tone for the week and points to eternity.



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Some people attend church reluctantly out of a sense of duty. But that's not the picture we have of what happened with the early church. Today on Truth for Life we'll see how to make each Sunday a joyful, reverent celebration that sets the tone for the entire week and that prepares us for eternity. Alistair Begg is teaching from the closing verses of Acts chapter 2. We return to familiar territory for us as a church in the closing verses of Acts chapter 2, seeking to determine the health of our church by asking ourselves, what are the four distinctive marks of the healthy church? Let us consider what it means for this church as we discover it here in Acts to be a learning church.

We're told in verse 42 that they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching. Every so often, people engage in dialogue concerning preaching. It's not uncommon for people to say, preaching is an outmoded means of operation. People have no interest in preaching, therefore you shouldn't preach, you should do other things. Don't you realize what could happen if you gave up on preaching and so on? Why do people not listen to preaching?

Because most of it is no good. Do you understand that I can preach the same sermons if you would pray harder, and they will be ten times more effective? Just the same sermons?

Because for a meaningful preaching event, you need an expectant praying preacher, and you need an expectant praying congregation. And when the expectations meet at the throne of grace, whereby both preacher and listeners are looking to God rather than to one another, then suddenly there's a divine chemistry that takes place there, and everybody's surprised. The preacher says, Listen, and they actually listen. People are going home, and the children are saying, I learned this. And the parents are saying, I can't believe you learned that. They didn't get the whole sermon, but they got enough.

And they knew that God was there, and they knew that the Bible was important, and they knew that their mom and dad were supposed to be learning the Bible so that they could then teach them the Bible. That's where you have a healthy church. And where you go to worship, where the Bible is denigrated, where the sermon lasts for six minutes, where there is no concentration on the apostles' doctrine and teaching, I'm telling you, the church is unhealthy.

And not only unhealthy, it is unbiblical. And people say, Well, why do you make such a pressure of the priority of the pope at a park site? Why do you do what you do? Why are we working our way through the Luke's Gospel?

Why are you doing that? Well, I don't really know any other way to go at it. And also, because if I do that, then the Bible sets the agenda, rather than me setting the agenda. So we looked at the Bible, and the Bible decides what we're going to preach and what we're going to teach. Because last week was verse 21, this week's verse 22.

You don't have to be a genius to figure that out. So nobody can come and say, Oh, I wonder what his hobby horse is this Sunday. And when people don't teach the Bible, then they'll teach their hobby horses. Campbell Morgan, years ago, describing a circumstance concerning a Baptist preacher in London who had a hobby horse in relationship to baptism, he announced this text one morning from Genesis 3. And God said, Adam, where are you? He said, My first point is the nature of where Adam was. My second point is how Adam came to be there. And my third point is a few thoughts on the subject of baptism. And for those of you who are still awake and can understand that, what is happening there is, it's like your screensaver on your computer. If you leave it alone long enough, it defaults to its screensaver page. And when a fellow doesn't teach the Bible, you will discover that along the journey of his attempts, he will default continually to his screensaver. And whatever his gig is—escatology, rock music, the covenant—whatever it is, you'll get it three Sundays out of four.

Why? Because you're not allowing the Bible to establish the agenda. And this is going to be true at every point in our congregation if we're going to be a healthy church. That's why the elders are supposed to be men who are able to teach.

And that's why parents have a responsibility in it. Coming from Scotland, as I did, I have a wonderful heritage in relationship to this. I have a vivid recollection of my father, even when I was a small boy, the age of some of you children here this morning. And although he wasn't sure that I was paying attention, he would always turn the Bible up for me, and he would always hold it in his shaky hand, and he would always point out exactly where we were. When the minister said verse 32, he pointed to it, verse 32. At that point I may have been looking out the door, but he still pointed to it.

And when he said 37, he still pointed to it. And he pointed to it all the way to the bitter end. And many a Sunday I'm sure he must have closed the Bible and said to himself and said to my mother, You know what? I don't even know why I open the Bible and point to it.

I don't think that kid pays one bit of attention to anything I'm doing with him. And here I am this morning, to bless his memory for pointing to it. Says James Alexander, among the Scottish Presbyterians, every man and every woman, nay, almost every child, carried his pocket Bible to church and not only looked out the text but verified each citation. And as the preaching was in great part of the expository kind, the necessary consequence was that the whole population became intimately acquainted with the Bible.

That's why Scotland was known as the land of the book. Mark 1 is a teaching context. Learning, I should say. Mark 2 is sharing.

Sharing. They devoted themselves to fellowship. The word there is koinonia.

Comes from the noun koinos, which means common. The distinguishing feature of these individuals was that they had a common and a shared understanding and an appreciation for what they shared in. And what they shared in was a fellowship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. When John writes to the folks in 1 John, he says to them concerning the joy that he has for them, We proclaim to you what we've seen and heard, so that you may also have fellowship with us, and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 13, 14, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

What is it, then, that will make for a healthy church? What is the commonality that unites a church? It is a shared experience of God's grace. It is that we share in the fellowship a participation in—which is the significance of communion, incidentally—that we eat into this bread, we drink into this cup.

Is it not a participation, the word that is koinonia? Is it not a fellowship in the body and blood of Jesus Christ? Now, what is that saying? It's saying that this represents to us the wonderful, transforming grace of God. And when we look along the rows as we share together in the Lord's Supper, we are looking along at different faces, and we recognize that our commonality is a commonality of grace. So that the structures that we erect, the human barriers that divide us of age and of sex and of race and interest and intellect and status, are all to be torn down in the healthy church. That is why I covet the times when, across the age ranges of the church, the church is together, in prayer and in praise. It is ultimately not a good thing for the church to constantly break itself up on the basis of age. Because what it is saying is understandable, but what it's saying is that the age affinity is more significant here than the commonality that we share. So that the sixty-eight-year-old man really has got nothing to contribute or to benefit from in the life of the seventeen-year-old boy.

That's bogus! There is more that unites the sixty-eight-year-old man and the seventeen-year-old boy in the fellowship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit than unites the seventeen-year-old boy with his seventeen-year-old peers. But you'll never understand that until you understand the Bible. And you'll never understand the Bible until you learn the Bible. You'll never learn the Bible until you're taught the Bible. If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have koinonia with one another. So that when we sing, how deep the Father's love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that he should give his only Son to make a wretch his treasure.

It is this wonder which unites us. Because you don't feel proud when you read the word wretch, do you? And of course, if I only read the word wretch and apply it to people around me and don't face it for myself, then I'm not taking the matter seriously. Why is it that wretched people don't want to come to the average local church? Because they don't think there are any wretched people there. They think the people that are there are the people who've got it all together. We are the together people.

We've done it, you know. And so the person's frightened to come in and say, I'm a complete mess. I don't know what I believe about sexuality, and I'm frightened to mention it to anyone. But as sure as goodness, couldn't mention it in a local church.

I'm confused about what happens to people when they die. But, you know, I'm afraid to mention it, because I came in here, and it looks like everybody knows everything, and they understand everything. Well, have them talk to me, because I know they don't understand everything. You see, pride distances us from one another. A preoccupation with my stature or my structure or my status or my advancement or my intellect, or all the kind of things that you're taught to lead with in the presentation of yourself on a daily basis. Here, let me give you my card. Look at it.

It says, President, CEO, Chairman. And your wife knows you're the only person in the company. What the stink are you doing with that card? That is ridiculous. Get rid of that card. That is a stupid card. Anybody with half a brain is not impressed with that.

Goodness gracious. Why do people do that? They give it to me all the time. I met a guy the other day, and I said, have your secretary call me. I wanted to kiss him.

He said, I don't have a secretary. I'm the whole thing. I said, hey, you're a first.

Welcome. If there's going to be this kind of sharedness in the body of Christ, there has to be, first of all, humility. Humility. Stop all this fine, fine, fine business when people ask how you are. It breaks down fellowship.

But that's the pressure, isn't it? Sunday morning, here we are. How are you? Fine. The person says, okay, move on. But the people are going around, they're looking for somebody to say, run.

I'm running. I swore 27 times last week, and I've been asking God to help me with my tongue. I said last Sunday that I would never lose my temper again, and I hadn't even had my lunch, and I went totally ballistic.

My kids are driving me to the point of total insanity. But apart from that, I'm fine. You say, hey, I'm glad to talk to you. Let's go sit down and have a coffee, because we got a few points of identification here. What is our commonality? Our success quotient?

No! That he makes a wretch his treasure. Humility. Honesty. Reality. Authenticity. The ring of truth. The people look in one another's eyes and say, this isn't a bunch of baloney that I'm getting from this character.

This is the straight shot. And that, you see, is one of the distinguishing marks of a healthy church. That sense of commonality, that sense of sharing, which then allows them to regard nothing as their own. This is not communism. The tenses that are used here are imperfect tenses. They were giving, they were selling. They're not aorist tenses. An aorist tense would be an action that took place at one moment in time with abiding significance for the rest of time.

These are imperfect tenses. So when the circumstances arose, they were prepared to sell stuff in order to help somebody else out. When the circumstances arose, they were prepared to give generously in order to help with them. But clearly, they were not giving everything away, because otherwise, none of them would have had homes to hold the communion services in. And it says that they gathered in their homes.

Because if they all gave their homes away, then they wouldn't have any homes, then they wouldn't have any place for the church to gather. So you have to read the Bible and read it carefully. Our time is almost gone.

Someone said the time has gone. Well, let me just give you the last two. Worshiping. Worshiping. Mark 1, learning.

Mark 2, sharing. Mark 3, worshiping. You just take this passage and look at it and analyze it carefully when you're sitting down this afternoon.

And what do you discover? You discover that everybody was filled with awe. In other words, God's power was made known.

And as his power was made known in the miracles and wonders which were the signs of the apostles, these foundational marks, there was a sense amongst the people that God was actually present in what was taking place. There was a reverence. But the reverence was not at the expense of gladness. Because although it says in verse 43 that everyone was filled with awe, it also says in verse 47 that they were praising God, and they were doing so, verse 46, with glad and sincere hearts. The fruit of the Spirit is love and joy. And every time the people of God gather for worship, it should be a joyful celebration of the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ—a joy that does not negate reverence and a reverence that does not diminish gladness.

The fact of the matter is we find this balance very difficult to affect, don't we? I know I do. When I read certain books, I'm reading in the Puritans, and I look at some of the pen-ink sketches of these men, and I think, Oh, I'm being very privileged. I must try and be more serious and reverential. And then I go and read someone else, and the person says, You need to lighten up a bit. You know, you're a gloomy person, and so you don't know where you are. One minute you're over here being very reverential, the minute you're over here, then ha-ha-ha-ha! And the people don't know what to do.

Well, what do you do? You go to some churches like a crematorium. They're not a living person in sight. It's death. Even the organist is like, Nobody sings.

Men don't sing. Nothing happens. You go to another church like a carnival. You expect monkeys to come out anytime, throwing bags of peanuts to everybody in the group.

It's just a complete fiasco. That's why I have friends across the country. They think we're in the … they think that we're in the carnival over here, because we're not going, you know, We don't do that. You're in the carnival. But I got other friends who think I'm in the crematorium, because we're not going, Hey, hey, you know, charging all around and running around. So where are we? Halfway between the crematorium and the carnival, just where we want to be. Every so often, some of you are going, Whoa, we're going in the carnival direction.

Get that back. And then others are going, Oh, we were in the crematorium direction this morning. Reverence and awe, formal in the temple, informal in the home, structured in the temple, unstructured in the home. Reverence with an understanding of the majesty and greatness of God and joy that he should invade our time-space capsule and incarnate himself and live amongst men and show the actuality of his humanity in a way that is just absolutely genuine. And if preaching is truth through personality, then there is no question but that worship is in a very real sense also truth through personality. And congregations will take on in their worship style, if I may say so, very much the personality of who and what they are.

And that is why you can never stamp it out and make it the same from place to place. When David understood this, he established four thousand Levites who were to do nothing else but to praise the Lord, and they're to stand every morning and every night and make much of God. Lastly, and just a word, four marks of the healthy church. Mark 1, learning.

Mark 2, sharing. Mark 3, worshipping. You remember, worship has to be… You've got to be spiritually alive to worship.

Dead women don't sing. You've got to be spiritually assisted. You need to be full of the Holy Spirit, and you need to be spiritually active. You've got to be engaged in the thing. You've got to make a commitment to it. It's rational. It engages your mind.

That's why you have to think. It's volitional. It demands your will. That's why you have to participate. It's emotional. It stirs your heart.

That's why you can't really simply stand on the sidelines and observe. And when you have that learning, sharing, worshipping community, then you will find that it is growing. And so we're told, and it ends there, verse 47, that the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. The congregation had had the gospel preached to them, and the congregation could then go out and preach the gospel to others.

They understood that only God can change a heart, only God can change a life. See, I can ask you to stand up, and you can stand up. And you may actually confuse that with being converted. Because I said, Stand up. So you stood up. But standing up only takes guts. So you've got enough in you to stand up, but you don't have enough in you to be saved.

Because only God can save you. I can encourage you to stand up. So in other words, the danger is—and I received a letter this week from somebody who said to me, You know, if you really want to see Parkside grow, then you've got to ask everybody to stand up.

You've got to ask everyone to come forward, because you've got the whole thing bottlenecked up. Mm-mm. Sorry, I beg to differ. We can do that any day you want. And sometimes we choose to do so, but by and large, we don't.

And I'll tell you why. Because I don't want anybody to confuse the issue, the distinction between what God does in conversion and what a man or a woman may do in response. If I ask people to stand up at the end of the baptismal service tonight, it only takes Dutch courage for them to get up on their feet. And they may think that because they managed to get over the hurdle of staying in their seat that they were actually converted.

But in fact, God never did anything. They just responded to human exhortation. And the Lord added to their number. It is the Lord who adds. He adds. We don't add.

We don't need to worry. We preach. We worship. We share.

We grow. And loved ones, people are out there today. And I think, quite honestly, that those who have any kind of spiritual hunger at all are looking for the kind of context in which there is biblical teaching, loving fellowship, living worship, and ongoing, outgoing evangelism.

You get that? biblical teaching, loving fellowship, living worship, and ongoing, outgoing evangelism. Four marks of the healthy church.

You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life, and Alistair will be back in just a minute. If you are not currently attending a local church, maybe you've moved recently and you're searching for a church home, you'll be helped by Alistair's blog on what to look for in a church. You'll find it on our website at truthforlife.org slash find. We think you'll also be helped by reading a book we're recommending titled Corporate Worship, How the Church Gathers as God's People. It's the perfect supplement for our current series, What is the Church? It describes the important features of a Christ-centered, God-honoring worship service. It also explains why community worship is essential for every believer. The book is written by well-known hymn writer Matt Merker.

He wrote the music to the song, He Will Hold Me Fast. When you read corporate worship, you'll learn how to stay focused on the gospel as you lead or participate in a God-glorifying worship service. You'll even find some sample orders of service from congregations around the globe to help you shape your church's gatherings. Request your copy of Corporate Worship today when you give a donation online at truthforlife.org slash donate or you can call us at 888-588-7884. In today's message, we learned what to look for in a healthy church, but how can we be sure that we're growing in our faith individually? How do we reflect God in our lives? Well, Truth for Life has a brand new study guide that can be used as a supplement to Alistair's teaching through the fruit of the spirit. There are nine messages in this study. It's perfect for your small group or for you to do on your own.

You can download the free study guide. Again, the topic is the fruit of the spirit, or if you'd prefer to receive it in booklet form, you can purchase it for just $2 at truthforlife.org slash store. Now here's Alistair to close with prayer. Father, I pray that you will fulfill the promises of your Word this morning. Our confidence is in you and in your Spirit, for the Spirit of God brings the Word of God to the people of God in order that we might be conformed to the image of the Son of God. I pray for those who are on the outside looking in, thinking that what they need is something to help them just with their felt needs, and all of a sudden, they're considering this historical Jesus who died in order that sin might be forgiven, and they're trying to immediately figure out how do they fit in this picture. I pray that you will take the plugs from our ears and the blinders from our eyes, and that you will turn the key to our hearts, and grant that you will be adding continually those who are being saved. And grant that in your goodness we may become that kind of church that is marked by biblical teaching and by loving fellowship, by meaningful worship, and by ongoing, outgoing evangelism. And may the grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God, our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one of us today, and forevermore. Amen.

I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening today. You may regularly take part in communion, but what does this expression of faith actually mean? Join us tomorrow as we take a closer look at the Lord's Supper. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-25 05:16:52 / 2023-01-25 05:26:39 / 10

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