Stewardship as Evangelism Acts 2:37-42
37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
[Believers who share a common geographical location are to share a common religious life.]
What happens in this passage:
~ Inspired by the Holy Spirit Peter gives a compelling witnesses to the people about the character and nature of Jesus… (Peter’s words and passion but the Holy Spirit’s power)
~ The Holy Spirit convicted them (they were cut to the heart) and they wanted to know how to have their most fundamental need fulfilled (be reconciled to God… be restored in their relationship with God) “Brothers what should we do?!”
~ Peter tells them: turn away from the attitudes and actions that separate you from God; be baptized; put your trust in Jesus
~ Those that welcomed his message did just that (which means not all did)
~ Their life began to focus on several things: the apostles teaching (the Word); prayer; breaking of bread (and this is not communion but it can symbolize communion); AND fellowship
Stewardship is about trust… God trusting us more than our trust in God; Stewardship is about meeting our most fundamental need… a restored relationship with God… it is a way that God transforms us into the character and nature of Jesus; Stewardship frees us… from the things that separate us from God (greed, fear, worry, etc.); Stewardship is about investing in what is important to God… God’s creative purpose… redemption of creation.
Link between Stewardship, Discipleship, Evangelism and Membership:
God entrusts us with a gift of incalculable value… the gift of himself through faith in Jesus. He also provides us with the means to invest that gift effectively in ourselves and in others… one expression of that (the means by which we do that) is Discipleship. Another is Evangelism; sharing the gift of God with others… last week we spoke of it in terms of sharing the invitation that God has entrusted us with… giving people who have not been considered acceptable (in a lot of different ways) compelling reasons to accept God’s radical hospitality. And how effectively we use and give these gifts is stewardship of the gift… and both are means by which we grow into the character and nature of Jesus—they themselves (Discipleship and Evangelism) are not the goal.
God entrusts us with another aspect of who God is in which we are to live out our lives of discipleship and evangelism… God entrusts us with each other the church… the community of faith… because God exists in community (communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) we are called to live in communion (community)
Which is consistent with what we’ve been talking about… because earlier we talked about stewardship in terms of God entrusting us with people… with relationships
So this week we are going to be looking at membership in the church as another expression of stewardship.
What is it that is common to all human beings? What is it that we all long for… to know that we are loved and accepted… we want to belong… we want to receive love and give love… we want to have people committed to us and we really want to be committed to people… we long for meaningful relationships… we want to be part of something that makes a difference… all of this is a reflection of or based upon our need to be reconciled to and restored in our relationship with God. Our human relationships are an expression of our need for a healthy relationship with God because God is relational… God wants us to know Him in the way he knows us…
From God’s perspective the church is the best place to do that… that’s why he established it. Jesus in response to Simon Peter’s revelation that Jesus was the Messiah… the Christ said, “And I tell you, you are Petra, and on this rock I will build my church.”
The passage from Acts can helps us look at why and how being a member of the church is a part of our living a life of faithful stewardship.
So what takes place? What do we see?
First of all Peter’s being a good steward… he is investing what God has entrusted to him and the other disciples by sharing a compelling witness about the character and nature of Jesus and what his death and resurrection can mean to the folks and the Holy Spirit convinces them of the truth of the message.
Then he responds to their question of, “OK, so what do we do now?” by saying, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus” so that: sins will be forgiven and; they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit… or another way to understand it… they too will be entrusted with the living and abiding presence of God… God will entrust them with himself.
Need to be clear here that it isn’t the act of baptism that does this… it is our conscious act of faith—empowered by God, to place our trust in God—by which God gives the gift of the Person of the Holy Spirit as the seal of that trust. The act of putting water on a head in no way obligates God… The water is a sign of our desire to be part of God’s family… to be a part of God’s household…
It is important however because it points to the covenant promises or commitments that we say that we are making and there are several: The promise between the parents of a child or the person themselves with God to commit to a life of nurturing their faith as part of the church; The promise of the church to be there to support the individual and/or the family in their life of faith together; And last but certainly not least, God’s promise to all to accept them into his family.
One more word about baptism and how it relates to membership in the church… There is the church universal… The larger body of Christ, the saints that have come before and all believers around the world… we become a part of that family in our baptism… but then there’s the local church family.
Rick Warren gives what I think is a great example of why membership is an important choice to make he writes, “Whenever a child is born, he or she automatically becomes part of the universal [biological] family of human beings. But that child also needs to become a member of a specific family to receive nurture and care and grow up healthy and strong. The same is true spiritually. When you were born again, you automatically became part of God’s universal family, but you also need to become a member of a local expression of God’s family.” (The Purpose Driven Life, 2002) What Warren leaves unsaid is that that is necessary to receive nurture and care and grow up healthy and strong spiritually.
Baptism is a sacred gift... we are entrusted with the gift of baptism… it is a sign of our adoption into the family of God… we are not family because the law says we are family… we are family because the law of love says we are family. So baptism is not to be used indiscriminately or off hand… Baptism is a sign of commitment to each other… that we take this trust that God has given us seriously. It should also remind us that membership is accepting responsibility not only for nurturing your own life of faith but also for helping others nurture theirs. So, membership is a commitment to a life of discipleship… a commitment to a particular community of faith.
Many of you have heard me say I would rather have someone be active in the life of the church (the life of fellowship, study, discipleship, mission) and not be an “official” member than have them be an “official” member and only participate in Sunday morning worship. I still believe that. But let me also say this… at some time that level of involvement should translate into the same level of commitment. Membership in a particular church is a seal or sign of a person’s commitment. I would argue that it is similar to the sign of water at baptism.
So membership is important but like discipleship or evangelism it is not the goal… it is a means to the goal.
So, what happened next? The people repented or their sins, they turned back toward God, were baptized and God entrusted them with the gift of the Holy Spirit… what was life like for them?
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
They began to fellowship together as they devoted themselves to the Word of God, to prayer, and the breaking of bread...
For me the key here is fellowship… they didn’t do it on their own… they did it together. We don’t understand this immediately from this passage but it is made clear as we read through the rest of Acts that, in the words of one Biblical Scholar, “Believers who share a common geographical location are to share a common religious life.”
Rick Warren in his book the Purpose Driven Life lists some reasons why he thinks that membership is important to us and I’d like to briefly share those; some of which we’ve already talked about: identifies us as a genuine believer; a means to help make us less self-centered; helps us focus on the needs of others; can help us understand, nurture and develop our faith… as each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love (Eph 4:16); God has a unique role for each of us in the church… A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church (1 Cor 12:7); It will help us share in Christ’s mission in the world… He created each of us… to join him in the work he does… (Eph 2:10); Can help keep us on track… Encourage one another daily… so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Heb 3:13).
As we look at that list we should notice something… we should notice that each one of the things there are to help us invest what God has entrusted us with… At the risk of sounding like a detective in a bad mystery movie… we have the means; the motive; and the opportunity… all we need to do now is act… to put it into practice.
A couple of weeks ago I said that faith is not what we believe as much as its what we do… in other words our actions witness to what we really believe… our actions are our investment of what God has entrusted us with…
My prayer for us is that we will continue to grow in our commitment to invest more of ourselves in each other as Christ’s church… as His people… that we as his visible body can grow more and more into His likeness so others can receive what God has entrusted us to share with them and join us… in this church, the church universal and the church eternal…
As we grow in this way then we will be able to hear our Master say, Well done good and faithful servant, come and enter into the joy of your master.