Tuesday, January 30, 2007

God's Search and Rescue Operation

Do you still remember our mission statement? Let us all recite it. “Glorify God by Multiplying Biblical, Committed and Loving Followers of Jesus Christ.” This morning we will look into the “multiplying” aspect of our mission statement.

It is God’s will that we become fruitful. Jesus said in John 15:8, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”[1] Yes, if you would look at the context, the word “fruit” probably refers to “love.” Verse 13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” I like how The Message translated this: “This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.” Would you put your life on the line by joining God’s search and rescue operation?

Let us read the life of one who did join God’s search and rescue operation. Let us look into the encounter of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. Let me give you the background for our passage. Philip was one of the original seven deacons or workers of the early church. Now, persecution broke out due to the stoning of Stephen. As they scattered to escape persecution, Philip as well as the rest of the believers “preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.”[2] Because of Philip’s preaching, many Samaritans became believers also. The apostles Peter and John even visited Philip’s work in Samaria and “When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem...”[3]

One day, “an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’”[4] Remember that Philip went up north from Jerusalem to Samaria. Now the Lord wants Him to “Go south along the desert road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” [5] From Samaria to that desert road is about 50 miles. That’s even longer than his travel from Jerusalem to Samaria! That doesn’t make sense at all. In fact, Philip could have told the Lord that Peter and John were already in Jerusalem. Philip could have reasoned that God could save time and money by sending them instead of him.

Yet, Philip obeyed “and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ Then Philip ran up to the chariot...” Note that the Spirit spoke to Philip and he obeyed. To join God’s search and rescue operation, we must SUBMIT to the Spirit’s direction.

Os Hillman, in one of his devotionals in the Today God is First website,[6] wrote, “God’s ways of determining where we invest our time and energy often has little to do with results. It is not by the success or failure of the events we are involved in. Our plumb line for determining success can be only one thing: obedience to the direction of the Holy Spirit.”

Let us backtrack a little. When the apostles decided to delegate to deacons the work of feeding the widows, they gave this criterion to the church: “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose… Philip”.[7] The fact that Philip was among those chosen by the whole group speaks a lot about him. He was “full of the Spirit”. And we see in the response of Philip that a person full of the Spirit is an obedient person. Charles Stanley wrote in his Timely Testimony article, “Philip wasn’t mighty in spirit because he performed signs and wonders. Rather, he made his mark in simple obedience. Wherever the Spirit led, he followed; whatever the Spirit prompted, he said.” The question now is, “Are you an obedient believer?” Now you may be asking, “How do we know what the Spirit wants?” Well, He revealed it in the Bible. And the word of God says, “Make disciples of all nations”.[8]

That’s brings us to our next point. To join God’s search and rescue operation, we must SHARE the Gospel to seekers. Philip obeyed the prompting of the Spirit and he “ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked. ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”[9]

The Bible describes the eunuch as an important government official, “the chief treasurer for Candace, the Queen of Ethiopia.”[10] He was a Gentile. He was not a Jew. Yet he believed in God. The Bible says he just came from a worship service in Jerusalem. He really sought God for Philip saw him reading the Old Testament on his way home. However, as he admitted to Philip, he did not understand what he was reading. In short, he was a very successful, sincere seeker. In his Be Dynamic, Warren Wiersbe wrote, “This Ethiopian represents many people today who are religious, read the Scriptures, and seek the truth, yet do not have saving faith in Jesus Christ. They are sincere, but they are lost! They need someone to show them the way.”

The eunuch was actually reading from Isaiah 53, which prophesied the death of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” [11] That’s the Gospel, “the good news about Jesus.” Remember that the eunuch just came from Jerusalem. There he must have heard about Jesus. He had a lot of questions. God at the right time sent Philip to share the Gospel to him. What about you? Would you obey the Lord by sharing the Gospel to others? People need the Lord. They are actually looking for Him.

Just imagine. God told Philip to leave a very successful ministry in Samaria where many people accepted the Lord to share the Gospel to only one man. For one soul is very precious to God. “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”[12] Even the whole world is not enough to pay for a soul. Our Lord Jesus died to rescue us from our sins. That’s how precious we are to God.

After baptizing the eunuch, “the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.”[13] Again, the Spirit led Philip to his next assignment. God brought him about 30 miles away from Gaza. Then, he traveled another 30 miles from where the Spirit brought him. “He went from town to town, all the way to Caesarea, telling people about Jesus.”[14] He faithfully shared the Gospel from one place to another. From here, the book of Acts leaves Philip. Then, 20 years later or 13 chapters later, we read that Paul visited Philip. “Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.”[15] No doubt we are talking about the same person and not just a namesake for he was described as being in Caesarea and “one of the Seven”, which refers to the original seven guys who became the first deacons of the church. But now, notice that he was now called “the evangelist.” There are times we feel threatened with big ministries for God. But all of those whom God mightily used started small. Luke 16:10 says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.” Philip was faithful in little. So, God trusted him with much. You don’t even have to start with sharing the Gospel with others. You can begin with inviting people to attend our worship service. Then you can get trained to evangelize. Thus, to join God’s search and rescue operation, we must SEEK to be more fruitful for Him.

Brethren, would you obey the Spirit by sharing the Gospel one person at a time?

Let me close with the “Parable of the Lighthouse.”[16] Once there was a crude, little lighthouse that serves also as a lifesaving station on a dangerous seacoast notorious for shipwrecks. The few volunteers would risk life and limb just to save those who are in danger. Because of their faithful efforts, they saved many, many lives. Soon, the lighthouse became famous.

They purchased new boats. They trained new crews. They also constructed a new building. The once unattractive and poorly equipped rescue station became a very comfortable, popular gathering place. It is now an attractive clubhouse.

But since few people volunteer on lifesaving missions, they hired professional crews to do this work. They claim they haven’t forgotten their mission. They even have a sign that says they were lifesavers. Yet they are not really that involved as before in saving lives.

One day a large ship sank near that seacoast. The rescuers brought in loads of wet and dirty people. The beautiful clubhouse suddenly became messy and cluttered. The members complained. So they had an emergency meeting where they had a debate. Some insisted on saving lives as the reason why the lighthouse was there in the first place. But most of the members voted to stop the rescue activities for it affected their schedule and activities. They told those few to start their own lifesaving station if they want to continue saving lives.
As the years passed, people built many rescue stations along that seacoast. But the cycle went on. Now, you’ll find a lot of exclusive, impressive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks still occur in those waters. But now most of the victims drowned. Every day people drown at sea, and so few seem to care... so very few.

Are we a lifesaving station or an exclusive club? Brothers and sisters, we are called to multiply.

Let us pray...

[1]All Bible verses are from the New International Version, unless otherwise noted.
[2]Acts 8:4a-5.
[5]Contemporary English Version (CEV).
[7]Acts 6:3a, 5a.
[8]Matthew 28:18-20.
[9]Acts 8:30-31.
[10]8:27, CEV.
[12]Matthew 16:26.
[13]Acts 8:39-40.
[15]Acts 21:8-9.
[16]Adapted from the Everyday Commission by Sonlife Ministries

NOTE: This was the message Pastor Cortez preached last Sunday, February 28, 2006, in the English Worship Service of MGC.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Create a Thirst

One young salesman was so disappointed when he lost a big sale. He complained to his sales manager, “I guess it just shows that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” The manager wisely answered, “Your job is not to make it drink. Your job is to make it thirsty.” (Adapted from Preaching magazine, November-December 1985.)

It’s the same with evangelism. During the first two years after receiving the Lord, a believer experiences “evangelism explosion.” He shares the good news of salvation left and right. But it’s sad that, after two years, he experiences “evangelism erosion.” He rarely reaches out to others, if ever he does it again. Like the young salesman, we excuse it by saying that it’s hard to convert a person.

Why do we lose the passion for evangelism? Because we forgot what’s our job really is. When we share the Gospel, our job is not to convert. Our job is to make him or her thirsty for God. That’s why Jesus called us the salt of the earth: “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.” (Matthew 5:13, The Message) Our lives should create a thirst for God in people’s hearts.

Whenever I ask those who stopped sharing the Gospel, I usually hear them saying that people question the way they are living. So what’s the solution? Stop evangelizing? No! Instead, work on the problem areas of our lives that are hindering us from sharing the Gospel. “Honor Christ and let him be the Lord of your life. Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope. Give a kind and respectful answer and keep your conscience clear. This way you will make people ashamed for saying bad things about your good conduct as a follower of Christ.” (1 Peter 3:15-16, CEV) We need not be perfect to evangelize. But we need to reinforce our words with our works.

Brethren, let us walk our talk and talk our walk!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Are you really growing?

I came across an article in the Discipleship Journal about “10 Questions To Ask To Make Sure You’re Still Growing” by Donald Whitney. (If you want a copy, just e-mail me.) Basically, Whitney helps us answer the question, “Are you more like Jesus than you were a year ago?”

Allow me to share two of the ten benchmarks. One of them is, Are you more and more loving?” A sign that we are truly believers is our love for others especially for the brethren. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7, NIV) We can say a person is growing spiritually if he is growing in love. So, Whitney encourages us to ask these questions:
“Can you recall recent instances of Christlike love in your life? Have there been occasions when you’ve sacrificed your own preferences, plans, or rights for those of others?”

Corollary to that is: “Are you more and more willing to forgive others?” Whitney wrote, “
The more we become like Jesus, who forgave even those who nailed Him on the cross, the more we will be willing to forgive... Have you forgiven any longtime hurts during the past year? ...Are you bitter at someone you were bitter toward six months ago? If so, then regardless of all your Christian activities, you have deceived yourself about having made any real spiritual progress during that time.”

Remember that one of the proofs that we are Christ’s disciples would be our love for one another.
It is heartbreaking that we withhold forgiveness because we claim we are teaching the person a lesson. It is miserable that we refuse to extend our hand in fellowship with another for we justify it by saying we are right and they are wrong. Do you know that it is possible that your heart can be wrong even if you are right in your stance?

This Sunday, Rev. Philip Tarroja will talk about the “loving” part of our mission statement (“Glorify God by Multiplying Biblical, Committed and Loving Followers of Jesus Christ”.) I pray that we will respond by obeying Ephesians 4:31-32, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)

Brethren, are we really growing in love?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Cat in the Worship Service

I heard about the story (fictitious, I hope) of a missionary-church planter who had a pet cat. The cat was very restless. In fact, it annoyed people by repeatedly rubbing its body on their legs while they worshipped during their services. So the missionary decided to put an end to it by carrying the cat whenever he would go up the pulpit to preach. Then he would tie that cat to the pulpit. After the benediction he would untie the cat. It was a very practical solution to a very simple problem. Or so he thought.

Well, after a long, fruitful ministry the missionary died. The cat also died (Apparently it used up its nine lives!) However, generations after generations, that church would always have its pastor carry a cat and tie it up in the pulpit. It became a beloved part of their worship tradition! The church even almost had a split when they debated on the breed of the cat to use for the service. But they never thought of removing the cat. For since they have been doing it for a long time, they thought it must be the proper way to worship.

Such example shows the folly of worshipping without really knowing whom you are worshipping. Jesus declared, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24, NIV) To worship in the spirit means to “do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” (The Message) In short, it means to be sincere in worship. But sincerity is not enough. The church with the cat in their order of worship was sincere. Yet, they were sincerely wrong. We must also worship in truth. The Contemporary English Version goes like this: “those who worship God must be led by the Spirit to worship him according to the truth.” Everything we do must be according to the Word of God, not according to any tradition even if we grew up doing it. For then and only then we can “worship [God] as he really is.” (Good News Bible).

This Sunday morning, January 14, 2007, Rev. Harg Ang, will talk about “A Heart of Worship.” What a fitting topic for us as we look every Sunday into a facet of our mission statement: “Glorify God by Multiplying Biblical, Committed and Loving Followers of Jesus Christ.” His talk will deal with the phrase
“Glorify God...”

Brethren, let us learn how to truly worship God!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

On A Mission For God

We are facing a new year with lots of challenges ahead of us. Personally and corporately, we are on a mission for God. Our mission statement in Makati Gospel Church is “Glorify God by Multiplying Biblical, Committed and Loving Followers of Jesus Christ.” This defines our church.

That’s why we will focus on an aspect of our mission statement in our Sunday messages starting today until February. Allow me to explain what I call the “M=GC3 Strategy.”

First, let me share Our Mission: MASTER’S GREAT COMMISSION. We read this in Matthew 28:18-20, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”[1]

Here it’s clear that the Lord promised us His power (“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”) and His presence (“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”) if, and only if, we fulfill His great commission. Now what’s the Great Commission? People think that the words “Go,” “make disciples,” “baptizing,” and “teaching” are four commands. But, in the Greek, the only command is “make disciples.” “Go,” “baptizing,” and “teaching” are participles or the means to make disciples. In short, “Matthew 28:18-20 has just one command with three supporting action words which explain how to accomplish the command.”[2]

Basically, a disciple is a follower. “In the NT this term becomes almost a technical term for the followers of Jesus...”[3] In the Greek, “make disciples” is an active, imperative verb. Imperative means it is a command. So, we are disobedient if we are not leading people to become followers of the Lord. It is in the active voice which means that we do the work of disciplemaking. God will not do it for us.

Was this command limited to the original Apostles? Acts 14:21 says that in the city of Derbe Paul and his companions “proclaimed the good news... and made many disciples”.
[4] And Paul commanded Timothy: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”[5] Thus, the Great Commission applies to all of us.

Now, “going” has to do with winning or sharing the Good News to people. That’s how we start making disciples. Jesus did not command us to make converts. It’s God’s responsibility to convert or open up a person’s heart to Him. He commanded us to go and reach out to people with the Gospel. But, once the person accepts the Lord Jesus as Savior, it’s our responsibility to lead that person to grow as a follower of the Lord. That is why we are to make disciples, not converts. We are to lead the convert to become a committed follower. We baptize the person. Baptism means “pledging submission to His lordship.”[6] Then we build him up to maturity and teach him “to obey everything [Christ] have commanded [us].” Colossians 1:28 says, “We announce the message about Christ, and we use all our wisdom to warn and teach everyone, so that all of Christ’s followers will grow and become mature.”[7] We are to equip people to make disciples who will make disciples who will in turn make disciples. So our mission is the Master’s Great Commission.

Second, let’s look at Our Motive: MASTER’S GREAT COMMANDMENT. When asked what the greatest commandment is, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”[8] Though we have two commands here, note that Jesus said that “the second is like it”. That shows these commands are a unit. We cannot have one without the other. We love God and people. We love God by loving people. 1 John 4:20-21 says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

The Great Commission is the “what.” We are to make disciples. The Great Commandment is the “why.” We are to love God and people. We pursue the Great Commission because of the Great Commandment. We glorify God when we fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

Third, let’s look at Our Ministry: MULTIPLY GODLY CO-WORKERS. Here in our church, we believe that every member is a minister. Every worshipper is a worker. God called and gifted all of us to serve Him. The Lord had set the benchmarks for His followers.

God called us to multiply. The Great Commission made that very clear to us. We are to be fruitful followers for the Lord. Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”[9] If we do a study of the word “fruit” in the New Testament, we see that it does not only refer to character such as “the fruit of the Spirit [which] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control[10] but also to “converts as the results of ministry”.[11] In Romans 1:13 Paul expressed his desire to visit Rome and preach the Gospel there “so that [he] may have some fruit even among [the Romans], just as [he] already have among the rest of the Gentiles.”[12]

God also called us to be Biblical. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.”
[13] To hold on to His teachings means to obey them. A true follower of the Lord is an obedient follower. That’s why in the Great Commission Jesus said we are to teach people to obey everything He has commanded us. For us, we teach the Bible not just to increase our knowledge but to change our lives. The Bible is for transformation, not just information.

God also called us to be committed. Jesus said, “If any man come to me, and shall not hate his own father and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yea, and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple; and whoever does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”[14] That’s shocking! You may be saying, “Wait a minute! What does it mean to hate everyone I love including myself?” I like how the Good News Bible clarifies it for us: “Those who come to me cannot be my disciples unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and themselves as well.” That means that if our love for others and ourselves would look like hate when compared with our love for God.

Now, what does it mean to “carry one’s cross”? The death penalty at that time is by crucifixion. If their mode of death penalty was by electrocution, Jesus would have said, “Carry your own electric chair.” It means we are to deny ourselves and to die to ourselves in order to obey God.

Thomas Constable wrote, “Jesus mentioned two qualifications for being His disciple. First, one must be willing to give up his or her primary allegiance to family and self. Second, a disciple must bear the burden of public identification with Jesus even to death if necessary”.[15] We are to love and obey God in everything and above everyone. Following Christ calls for our utmost commitment.

Lastly, God called us to become loving followers. Jesus said, “And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”[16] Here’s another way how we can express our love for God. It is by loving each other. This is the best testimony we could give the world. As I’ve said last week, though doctrine is important, the world does not care if we have the right doctrine. What they cared about is how we relate to each other as a church. That’s the challenge. We must live out the truth by loving each other. People come to our church with problems. Now if they see us quarrelling, then they not join us. They would say, “I have enough problems of my own. I will not add to it by becoming a member of your church.” Jesus prayed the night before He was arrested, “I want all of them to be one with each other, just as I am one with you and you are one with me. I also want them to be one with us. Then the people of this world will believe that you sent me.”[17]

If we put all these points together, we will come up with our mission statement: “Glorify God by Multiplying Biblical, Committed and Loving Followers of Jesus Christ.”

Someone wrote, “We go where our vision leads us.” I call upon each one of you to join us in fulfilling our mission statement because all of us are on a mission for God.

Let us pray...

[1]Bible verses are from the New International Version, unless otherwise noted.
[2]Dr. Dann Spader, The Everyday Commission.
[3]Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.
[4]NET (New English Translation) Bible.
[5]2 Timothy 2:2.
[6]Dr. Thomas Constable, Notes on Matthew 2000 Edition.
[7]Contemporary English Version (CEV).
[8]Matthew 22:37-39.
[9]John 15:8
[10]Galatians 5:22-23.
[12]NET Bible.
[13]John 8:31.
[14]Luke 14:26-27.
[15]Dr. Thomas Constable, Notes on Luke 2000 Edition.
[16]John 13:14-35.

Note: Pastor Cortez delivered this message last Sunday, January 7, 2007, at the English Service and the Mandarin Service of Makati Gospel Church.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Keep Pursuin' Ahead

A blessed new year to all of you! Someone said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” With the year 2007 ahead of us, let me remind you of the main thing that we are to pursue. Let us see how the early church did it in Acts 2:41-47...

“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”[1]

Keep in mind that in verses 1 to 40 we see that the Holy Spirit just came down upon the early church. Dr. John Stott wrote that, “As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead. There can be no life without the life-giver and no effective witness without His power.” The passage we will be studying is the result of the empowering of the Spirit. So we can say that Acts 2:41-47 gives us the marks of a Spirit-filled church. Let me ask you, “If the Holy Spirit withholds His power in our church, would there be a marked difference in what we are doing? Or would it be ‘business as usual’?” If we as a church are filled with the Spirit, then let us pursue the main things.

First, let us PROCLAIM the Gospel together.

Verse 41 says, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” The Apostle Peter just preached the Gospel to them and there was an overwhelming response. But don’t think that sharing the Good News of salvation is limited to mass evangelism. Note in verses 46 and 47 that as the believers met in the temple or as a group and in different houses in small groups, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” So both publicly and personally, the early church proclaimed the Gospel. God gave our church the privilege of joining the Franklin Graham festival early this year and the My Hope Philippines this December. But that is to supplement personal evangelism, not to replace it. Yes, we have Gospel Sundays. But that is to stimulate us to share the Good News one-on-one. Verse 47 says that the early believers enjoyed “the favor of all the people.” In other words, people liked them. Let us ask ourselves, “If I am a first-time visitor of Makati Gospel Church, what would be my first impression?” Do people feel so welcome or they feel snubbed? Our day-to-day dealing with our loved ones and with people we worked with will determine if they will be attracted to our church. For some of us who are a little timid to invite or to share the Gospel with others, I hope that the only reason is that we are just shy, not because we are ashamed of the way we lived before our peers. We are to proclaim the Gospel both in our words and in our works.

Second, let us PERSEVERE in the faith together.

After accepting the message, verse 42 says “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching...” The word “devoted” means they committed themselves not only to spend time in the Bible but to obey it. One time an issue came up in the Jerusalem church. Before, other than their pastoral duties, the apostles took charge in distributing funds among the widows in the church. But since the church was growing, some people felt neglected and the apostles felt pulled in different directions with all the demands for their attention. They said, “It is not right for us to neglect the preaching of God’s word in order to handle finances.”[2] They were so busy that they neglected their main responsibility. Don’t get them wrong. The needs of the widows were legitimate. But they have to keep the main thing the main thing. So they decided to delegate the food distribution to others so that they can “give [their] full time to prayer and the work of preaching.”[3] Like them, we your pastors are to give emphasis to prayer and preaching. The Apostle Paul said to the church in Ephesus, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house... I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.”[4] We your pastors are not here to entertain or even to educate you. We are here to edify you with the Word of God. Of course, we are responsible not to bore you with the Bible. But we are to build you up in the faith. Our aim is not just to inform you but to transform you with the Bible. Dr. John Stott wrote, “The Spirit of God leads the people of God to submit to the Word of God.” The Lord Jesus said, “If you obey my teaching, you are really my disciples”.[5] Let us devote ourselves to obey God’s Word.

Third, let us PARTNER with each other.

Verse 42 says, “They devoted themselves... to the fellowship...” Remember that after Peter’s preaching, God added 3,000 to the church. Most if not all of those people were not from Jerusalem. Now, if you are on vacation for only a week, you won’t make preparations for board and lodging for a month. That’s the situation of these new Christians. Supposedly they were there only for the Feast of Pentecost. But they became believers. As young believers, they have to grow first in the faith before going back to their homes. So they stayed in Jerusalem. Soon, their funds got depleted. What did the Jerusalem church do? Acts 2:44-45 says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” Remember that the apostles did not require them. They did it voluntarily. That’s why don’t ask what the church can do for you. But rather ask what you can do for the church. And, more than their belongings, they shared their lives. One translation of verse 42 says “they were like family to each other.”[6] Another translation says that “They committed themselves to… life together…”[7] Is our church fellowship a burden or a blessing to you? Dr. Charles Swindoll wrote, “Fellowship occurs, I believe, when there are expressions of genuine Christianity freely shared among God’s family members. First, to share something with someone something tangible. To help him meet a need. And second, to share in something with someone else. Our time together becomes so much more valuable when our lives become entwined with one another, moving closer together, feeling each other strain and struggles, deeply caring for one another.” That is why we are commanded in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Lastly, let us PRAISE God together.

The early believers “devoted themselves… to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe… praising God…”[8] The early church was a great church because they saw how great God is. Worship is not limited to the program but it was their way of life. In fact, that shows that the Spirit is moving in our lives and in our church. Ephesians 5:18-20 says “be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s why we are encouraging you to join us not only in our worship services but also in our prayer meetings. According to the Natural Church Development Institute, “One of the marks of a healthy church is passionate spirituality. The church enjoys prayer as an inspiring experience.” They have a deep love not only for each other but for God. I believe that’s the reason why “many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles...”[9] Now, we may not experience sensational miracles. But when we worship God, I believe people’s lives will be changed.

Brethren, let us proclaim the Gospel, persevere in the faith, partner with each other and praise God together. Those are the main things that we are to keep the main thing. Let’s keep on pursuing ahead!

Let us pray...

Note: Pastor Cortez preached this message last December 31, 2005 in the Joint Worship Service of Makati Gospel Church.

[1]All Bible verses are from the New International Version, unless otherwise noted.
[2]Good News Bible (GNB)
[4]Acts 20:20, 27
[5]John 8:32, GNB
[6]Contemporary English Version
[7]The Message
[8]Acts 2:42-43a, 47a
[9]Acts 2:23b