Monday, February 3, 2014

An Individual Church

                I have always told my children that if they want a situation to change, they have to be the first one’s willing to change. Almost every one of us has issues with someone we know, someone we work with, and even those who we go to church with. It is normal to have issues with other people because we are all sinners in desperate need of a Savior. We have different personalities that will clash; we have different ideas and opinions that will cause differences. This is just a fact. But, the difference is supposed to be in us, and the change that we desire is supposed to start with us.

                Lately, I have been pondering on the church as a whole. I have been thinking about the early church, since we are studying the book of Acts. Through this all I have been praying and seeking the Lord to speak to me about what I am seeing today compared to what I see in the book of Acts. Yesterday, His words hit me, and I am beginning to see what He wants from me, as well as the church as a whole. He said to me, “It is individual.” After I thought about that, I realized that when we think of church, we think of a body of believers gathered together praising, worshiping and sharing God’s love with one another. We pray, we fellowship, we laugh, we cry, we do all these things together. But, I believe the Lord wants us to see that church begins with the individual. It has to start with you. We are the church, we are all members of one body- but we are all individual members. Therefore, the church begins with the individual person. This truth was brought home to me this morning as I opened my Bible and read these words.
                “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13
                Paul writes to the Philippians in regards to the obedience of Christ. How He took off His heavenly to take upon Himself the earthly sin of all mankind and to die, in surrendered obedience to the Father’s will. Jesus’ only thought was you, and your salvation. Paul states that now, we as children of God, are to have this same mind, and that we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. If we are children of God then we are already saved, so why would Paul tell us to continue to work at it? We know that we cannot earn salvation, for it is a free gift given to us through the obedient death of Jesus Christ. So why would Paul now tell us to work it out?
                Paul is not telling us that we have to work for our salvation, but instead is telling us to keep working out and growing in our salvation. The salvation that Paul is referring to is not the salvation that you obtained when you were saved, but is the present experience of sanctification. It is the process that we all go through to obtain personal growth in our relationship to God the Father. It is us, working out, striving to achieve a personal, individual peace with God and with others. Through which we experience the power of God who is working in us and through us according to His good pleasure. Nothing should concern us more than our own salvation.
                But so many times I find myself focusing on others, looking at their walks instead of my own. Being the church begins with us, individual members of the body of Christ. If I am always looking at my sister and who she is, who she isn’t or what I think she needs to be doing, then I am not working on my own salvation, instead I am focused on hers. Charles Spurgeon says it best, “You may be tempted to-day, and very likely you are to forget your own salvation by thoughts of other people. We are all so apt to look abroad in this matter, and not to look at home. Let me pray you to reverse the process, and let everything which has made you neglect your own vineyard be turned to the opposite account, and lead you to begin at home, and see to "your own salvation." (A Sermon (No. 1003) Delivered on Lord's-day Morning, July 30th, 1871) Being the church means that we, as individual members of Christ work on and work out our own selves before we try to fix everyone else.

                What God is working in my life cannot and should not be compared to what God is doing in yours. I think the reason why so many of us are caught in strife and dissensions in our churches is because we have taken our eyes off our own home and focused too much on the homes of others. Who you are in Christ is not who I am, and we should not be comparing ourselves with one another. We should be comparing ourselves to Christ.
                Paul tells the Philippians that their obedience should be like the obedience of Christ. If we want to compare ourselves, then let us turn our attention onto ourselves and compare our hearts with Christ. Are we obedient to the point of death? Are we willing to put the needs of others above our own- even if it means we will die? Do we make ourselves of no reputation? Are we bondservants towards Christ? We are too eager I think to look at the church as a whole and point out its faults, but are not willing to take a look at our own hearts.
                We pray for revival, we pray for change, yet I ask - are we, as individuals, willing to change first. After the resurrection, Jesus met the disciples on the shore line (John 21) and ate with them, talked with them and forgave Peter. After this, Peter, John and Jesus are walking along the beach. Peter looks back at John and remembers that John was the one who leaned on Jesus’ breast at dinner, and also was the one who asked Jesus who would betray Him?(John 21:20)  Now, Peter had betrayed Jesus three times. Even though Jesus had forgiven and restored Peter a few verses earlier, (John 21:13-18) Peter must have still felt some remorse because he reacts John following them. Peter looks and Jesus and says, “But Lord, what about this man?” (John 21:20) Jesus looks at Peter and replies, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” (John 21:21)
              
  Our Lord speaks some wise words for all of us to follow and to remember when we find ourselves trying to work out someone else’s salvation instead of our own. What is it to us if the Lord works in the lives of others? We are to follow Jesus and Him alone. Paul states the same thing to us when he tells us to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling. What I do, how I do it, when I do it and why I do it is between me and the Lord Jesus Christ. As a child of God I will be rewarded, reproved, disciplined and humbled by the same God who does the same to you. My walk before Christ is my walk- just as your walk before Christ is your walk.

                The need I see the most in the church today, and I speak of my own self as an individual member, is to focus on my own salvation and let God deal with the rest. As David Guziak writes, “Sometimes we show great concern for the work of God in others, and not enough for His work in us. We should care about the souls of others, but this care must begin with our own soul.” (Commentary on Philippians 2:11-12, blueletterbible.org) If we want to see changes in our church, or in our lives, then we need to be the ones willing to do the changing first, in whatever capacity God is calling us to. We will never see change unless we are the first ones willing to change. Church begins with the individual lives of its members, and through the changes God works in us, the rest of the body is blessed. Church is not just a building of people gathered together to praise God, church is you, and church is me. Let us work out our own salvation, and let our God do the rest. In Jesus name, Amen and Amen.