Here is a picture of a church. I’m fond of this picture. This picture captures the quintessential characteristics for a quaint country church building. But I like this picture because I made it. Composed the photo, took the photo, developed the photo in a darkroom, and framed the photo.
This is my picture of a church… building. Thing is, I’m not really into church buildings. I’ve deliberately walked right past countless church buildings all through Europe – they are not really my thing.
But I am into the church, I do love the local church. The gathering of God’s people for God’s glory and their good growth.
But what should that look like? As we take our first deliberate steps together on this new adventure as a growing church what are we aiming for? What should we look like? What’s the snapshot of the quintessential church that should be hanging on our wall? That’s the question I want to answer this morning: What would a snapshot of a gospel centred church look like? Or to make it more personal…
There are lots of theories out there.
But this term we are taking our photographic paper into God’s darkroom, to develop a snapshot from God’s Word, get a true picture of a faithful gospel church.
For our purposes Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a great place to be.
Philippi Presbyterian Church is Paul’s model church. Mitchelton Presbyterian Church would do well to capture their heart, to strike their pose.
So, what does a faithful gospel church look like? Firstly, it has …
A faithful gospel church has the gospel as its foundation. Read v1-2
The gospel is at the very core of its being, the basic building block, the guiding principle. It is gospel centred. It’s a church built by God through his gospel – the good news of Jesus.
Background to the planting of the church at Philippi is Acts 16. It was God’s very clear direction that brought Paul to Philippi. Paul was planning on other mission-fields, however, God directed his mission.
And as his mission unfolded in Philippi he met Lydia, a rich fashionista trying to be right God. A slave girl, with a tormented life. A Jailer – just trying to get by.
Paul did have a missionary strategy but here it’s very quickly derailed. World famous theologian Mike Tyson – everyone has a plan until they get a punch in the face.
But Paul’s punch in the face just meant he had different opportunities to share the same good news of Jesus.
What a wonderful approach to life; wherever I am, whatever is happening, I’ll seek to display and declare Jesus. And I’ll know that God is overseeing the whole process.
The result in Philippi… Different people with different experiences, dealing with different spiritual issues, struggling with different life questions BUT all gratefully saved by the power of Jesus through the gospel declared.
The common thread through this brand new baby church is not people with similar interests or backgrounds but the Gospel DNA, gospel-centredness.
Tour through FBI building in Washington DC… Outside the DNA lab tour guide asked if anyone knew what DNA stood for. I said, National Dyslexics Association. He looked at me with utter contempt and said no! Apparently he had not heard of that Association. A little 12 year old nerd pipped with the boring answer and got a pat on the head. You’ll have to ask one of the 12 year olds in our congregation what DNA stands for, but essentially it is the building block of life and it calls the shots on how things take shape.
That’s the gospel. God pursues his people from all walks of life, from all nations and tongues and peoples. Different people from everywhere and calls them and adopts them into his family through the gospel.
Whatever spiritual experience, or existential angst, or big life questions you are dealing with they are all addressed and answered in the gospel.
A faithful gospel church is committed to faithful gospel proclamation because they know that it is the power of God to save for all who believe, and a powerful testimony to the deep love of God.
God doesn’t need us. He is complete in and of himself; the eternal Father, Son and Spirit living in perfect community. But He seeks us out; due to his love for us he pursues us.
That is evident from the opening lines of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Read v1. V1a he sends his servants out with the gospel. V1b he calls a people by the gospel, to be his precious, set apart (holy) people. V2 recipients of God’s favour, a possessors of great promises.
In his great love God has… Saved His people. They are recipients of his grace by virtue of their relationship with Jesus; that’s what ‘in Christ’ means, signifying their response to the good news of Jesus, the gospel.
In his great love God has… Gathered His people – the church grew. There are elders and deacons, there is a leadership, a structure, among these people who gather.
But this is God’s design for his people – that we would meet as a community with leaders and pastors to equip the members for works of service, and to preach the word so we are not blown by every new theory and every novel idea.
I want you to see that MPC is not an accident. We are a part of something much bigger than us. We share that gospel DNA. No coincidence that you are here today. In Acts 16 God uses all the situations and various means to bring the gospel to people.
Do you think that God had any less of a hand in your salvation? Do you think that God is disinterested or distant in your search which brought you in this building today? Do you think that the gospel is any less able to address your desire to be in good standing with God? Or lacks power to deal with the forces that harass and control and disturb you? Or offers less hope in addressing your sense of meaning and worth? God is at work. He is here among us, He will work in us and God will work through us…
Maybe he is at work to rescue you today. No one is beyond the power of the gospel: Rich and stylish; Poor and tormented; Tough and surly.
We are a community chosen and built by God whose very DNA is the gospel. That means that as a faithful gospel church we are in a…
The Philippi Community Presbyterian Church are a great joy to Paul read v3-4.
There is a real sense of overflowing joy – all, all, all… What affirming words to this church, about ten years after planting. Wouldn’t you love to get a letter like that from Paul? What is it that brings him such joy? Read v5.
Persistent Gospel Partnership… The word for partnership is often translated fellowship. But the church in general has really dropped the ball on that word.
Bit like the word AWESOME. Everything is awesome these days! Look at this awesome meme of a kitten! Originally, if you were confronted by awesome you’d almost melt with fear and fright, face down on the ground wailing out loud that you’re dead! But we’ve managed to tame that word.
Fellowship – much the same. You say the word fellowship and many people are thinking church cordial and stale biscuits and a chat about the weather. Paul would be like … what on earth are you talking about?
Partnership is locker room language. It’s wedding ceremony language; the concept of having skin in the game; being intimately and fundamentally engaged. Where you and a friend are heavily invested in an enterprise and both are working feverishly hard to make sure it succeeds. Sweat, toil, commitment.
Paul’s joy comes from the Philippians persistent (from the first day until now v5) partnership in the gospel – their gospel sweat as they push in the same direction. They have maintained the sense of urgency and primacy for the gospel going out. It’s still their passion. It informs their prayers, directions their decisions, controls their wallets. I wonder … are we gripped by such gospel passion?
Do we reflect deeply and thankfully on the fact that, if you are a follower of Jesus, you were brought from death to life; from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son, an heir of eternal life, through the gospel as others made sure you heard it.
Are we convinced of the urgency of the gospel? That apart from a personal relationship with Jesus; trusting in his work for our forgiveness and standing before God; then people are facing an eternity of death and destruction; of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In Revelation 2:4 we read that Jesus’ assessment of the church at Ephesus is that while they appear very proper they have lost their first love – that heart for the gospel.
Not the Philippians! In 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 we read that they willing gave out of their poverty, and pleaded for the opportunity to give more.
Later in this letter (2:25-27) we read that they sent their best minister, Epaphroditus to help Paul in prison and that they increased their own gospel efforts with the news of his incarceration because of his gospel efforts (1:14).
This is what it means to be on about gospel business. This is what it looks like to be a gospel centred church. Working diligently for the gospel – from the first day until now. Looking for every opportunity – partnership.
For us it will mean that we grow a heart for North Brisbane. But no matter how cleverly or clearly we express our mission statement it has got to be more than spiffy sounding words. It’s got to extend past a trendy sounding tag line and burn in here (chest cavity).
It will extend you … but what other message is there that offers true eternal life? Apostle Peter got it right when he said to Jesus, Where else have we to go, you alone have the words of life. Hope now and assurance in the life to come.
Are you excited by the prospects of how God might use us, our church family here at MPC for the extension of His kingdom?
G.K. Chesterton said,”It’s not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting. It’s that it has been found difficult and not tried.”
Maybe you are a bit nervous wondering how all this will work out. I’m a bit nervous too – be in prayer. Heartened by the number of people who have been praying for me as they say grace. Keep praying. Maybe you’re a bit nervous that our adventure together is going to require more than 1 hour every other Sunday. If you are convinced of gospel truth it certainly will.
That will be the challenge issued from the front. But in the end you will need to decide how you will respond to the call. Not from pressure, but from a heart for the gospel.
But let me say there will be very little joy (if any) in your Christian walk, very little fulfilment, very little confidence or experience in the power of the gospel and the work of Jesus if you are not invested. If you’re not invested, if you’re not partnered in the gospel then your faith will be stunted. It will often feel dry and it may cause you to wonder why bother – at which point you will be in danger of drifting off or being lead astray.
But with partnership comes confidence Read v6. One of my favourite verses. God’s power at work in you, God’s grace upon you. God completing what he started in you. You cannot lose!
Will you partner with us in this gospel family business as we seek to grow as a faithful gospel church? As we seek to reach North Brisbane with the good news of Jesus and as we partner with others who are doing this all around the world? Will you partner? In prayer. In engagement. Sometimes it will simply mean just turning up.
Imagine that if in a year’s time (Sunday Feb 12, 2023) we asked for all those who had become followers of Jesus in the past year to put their hand up. What would you like to see? Will you have skin in the game?
As a gospel centred church our desire and goal is…
That’s the focus of Paul’s prayer here at the end of our passage. Read v9-11.
He prays for them and their gospel growth. V9 Love for one another – based on conviction of the Lordship of Christ. V10 A gospel shaped life well lived and commended on the last day. V11 fruitful life – that brings glory to Jesus.
Paul is praying that God’s people would continue to grow in gospel shaped lives. The gospel is not just for the lost.
It is the cross of Christ that shapes our lives – take up your cross and follow me Jesus said. It is the resurrection that gives focus – our goal and direction in this life, our true life is anchored in the life to come. It is the love of God displayed in the gospel message that moulds our lives.
We are aliens and strangers here in this world. Because we are citizens of heaven.
Walking in Spain we kept bumping into this German bloke. He was always giving us stick about being prisoners. You come from Australia, you’re prisoners. Mate we’re not prisoners, we’re convicts! Hand picked by the best British judges. He never really got it. But you see Paul wants us to get it. We are chosen by God in Christ for his glory.
Paul’s prayer is that the weight of this truth would bring to bear lives which reflect Christ, his love for his people and his love for the world. That we would be conformed to the truth of the gospel, that we would be gospel centred people in a gospel centred church living out the gospel in a world that so desperately needs it. Shining like lights in a dark sky.
A few years back Michael Hart wrote a book, “The top 100 most influential people of all time.” Jesus came 3rd – after Muhammad and Isaac Newton. Hart said that Jesus would have easily come first but His people don’t seem to do what he teaches. People it seems, actually notice how followers of Jesus live. God has called us. Jesus is at work in us (v6). But Paul’s prayer reminds us that we are called to be a part of this growth in gospel centredness. It takes some response from us.
Do you realise that a huge part of evangelism, taking the gospel to the world today could be simply through growing in gospel shaped lives? A church community of people who truly love and serve one another is a HUGE witness.
Members of the community who love life and treat others with respect and humility, even when their core beliefs are completely opposite. That takes concentration and self control. But this sort of behaviour will not go unnoticed.
Here’s a suggestion: You’re probably already doing it. Invite our non-church friends around for meals and gatherings and make sure that a few people from our church are there as well. Your non-Christian friends get to know your Christian friends.
Be aware that you might be the only Christian that your neighbours, workmates, school or uni friends, or butcher, gym class, bowls team know. It could be that the most significant evangelistic endeavour you do is invite people over for a BBQ.
I suggested to some of our ministry team the other day that maybe not many people like seeing pictures of themselves. Sam indicated that he does. Let’s be a church who are not ashamed of the picture of Gospel Centred Living that we hold out to each other, to North Brisbane, to the world.