In this sermon, Brother Dale Heisey of Costa Rica delivers a powerful 21st century message on structure and life. Is kingdom building possible without structure? Is life itself possible without structure? Brother Dale preaches a clear message on a foundational principle every believer should hear and every church cannot live without.
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As I greet you this morning in Jesus’ name, I would just like to say that that beautiful hymn that was sung twice in this assembly: “Lift Your Glad Voices in Triumph on High” probably means something to my wife and I that it might not mean to all of you. So probably the most meaningful singing of that hymn happened at our son’s funeral. It was several weeks after we were in Costa Rica. That service was in Spanish. We did not know Spanish then. Not one of our relatives was at that funeral. Only my wife and I and three of our living children who remained. No relatives there. We knew hardly anybody that was at the funeral, though it was a very large gathering of people. And so now, the body has been put down in the grave, and my two sons and I are shoveling in the soil, and someone starts to sing in English now instead of in Spanish, “Lift Your Glad Voices in Triumph on High.” I looked over with my shovelful of dirt, and saw my wife standing there with tears running down her face, her eyes looking up to heaven, a great big smile on her face, and she was singing at the top of her voice. So if you would allow me to, I remembered that as you were singing.
We have heard that the mystery of life includes more than the biological dimension. Life is a gift from God. Christ is our life. He is known to us as the logos of life. We find that in 1 John 1:1. So we today, even at this weekend gathering for fellowship, can experience spiritual life. Life and light are perhaps alike in this unique way, that both of them happen, both of them are available, both of them take place – as they are traveling. When light does not move, there is no light at all. And life is what it is for us because it’s moving.
Maybe I should explain that to you just a little bit. We have felt life moving into us even this weekend. Yes, even through us. And perhaps from us to others. Virtue flowed from Christ, and the hymn said, “He healed them.” That spiritual power and vitality moves from heart to heart, inspiring and healing and restoring and preparing and anointing all of us. This is life, and it’s moving. It has an eternal Source, and it flows through into this assembly, and to the ones that are guiding this service, and the moderation, and the chorus – these young people who sing. We feel this invigoration, and we know this is not something that McDonalds could do for us nor Starbucks. This is the great purpose and essence of fellowship in the Christian Church.
I’d like to read two texts from your Bible. We’ll start in Acts 2. This is not only a theme, a touchstone, a keystone for Kingdom Fellowship Weekend. It is also a very important theme in this message this morning. This is Acts 2:42.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
I’d like you to turn yet to Romans 6:17-18.
But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
The title they gave me for this morning was “Structure and Life.” The title is short. I added just a little definition to that title by including these five words:
“Structure and Life: Vitality Within the Local Assembly.”
So this is one more of those practical messages about life. Not dealing with our families this time nor with the issues of death that are throughout our communities, but dealing with our local congregations – bringing this life of our Lord Jesus into the local assembly where you and I are committed to the other brothers and sisters, and Christ’s life and love and light are there.
Each of these three words is important: Structure and Life. There is structure. There is life. And the uniting conjunction (in this case, the word and) reminds us that these two elements must be found together. It is quite possible to stress the one at the expense of the other. I realize that. It seems like it could be very possible to stress structure, the formative elements, and maybe miss the life that’s needed there. But it would be equally unwise to expect that we can emphasize life without having a proper Biblical structure. That would be an equal mistake. It is possible to have structure with no life at all. I’m sure most of you are aware of that, and we’ll prove that shortly. But I’m not aware how life can exist anywhere without structure. I don’t know where that would be found. I don’t know where to locate such a thing as life that is not inside a structure.
It is possible to over-structure. I want to say that to you. Business corporations know this. Organizations become top-heavy, cumbersome, expensive, and inefficient. Perhaps you find yourself this morning (this is now very very personal) reacting to the strong emphasis placed on the structural elements of your religious past. And God’s answer for you is not to tear down the structures. We cannot destroy the foundations of the faith without the danger of losing the faith with it. Have not all of us observed this in the lives of many people around us, and in congregations also? Haven’t we seen what happens when structure was considered nonessential, of no importance?
I’d like to give you several natural examples of structure in life before we move then into the Biblical side of it, and what applies to your local assembly, to the congregation, the Church, the body that you’re a part of, that I trust you are committed to.
I’m going to start with an illustration of a fireplace. Fireplaces have always interested me. My wife’s father specialized in building fireplaces. That was his specialty as a brick layer. So I’ve been around fireplaces. In the colonial home, it provided at least three things for that house: light in the nighttime, warmth when it was chilly, and a means of preparing the food. There was usually an oven in the one side of the fireplace. The heat in there baked that bread. There were kettles that swung out over the flame, and they could be swung back out where the lady could stir that food and add something to it. That’s how the cooking was done – in the fireplace.
So this brick or this stone, (or perhaps in more primitive settings, there was a wooden structure lined with clay) did none of those functions that I just talked about with the life, that is, with the fire within it. And we know what happens with fire that is not contained within a designated structure. You can go to California and talk to Governor Newsom out there and explain to him what takes place when fire rages across the land, and it’s not in a contained structured prepared place to be burning. Fire is a beautiful thing; it has a lot of life in it in that sense, but it needs a structure.
It’s interesting. You can see places where the civil war was fought, and where fires have gone through some of the cities and towns out there in California and Oregon in these days, and the only thing left standing is that brick structure that has a fireplace at the bottom of it. The rest is gone. That structure survived the fire, but it’s as dead as can be. The structure remains, but there’s no life in it.
So that was one example of structure and life. Now I’ll give you another one.
In the same state, if you allow me to go west again, let’s find at least one large Sequoia tree. It’s an imposing structure. These trees are so fascinating. There’s a tree out there named “Moses.” One day, lightning struck Moses, this sequoia tree. It first started up there in the top because of the lightning. It burned for nine days. They tried with helicopters and who knows what all else to put that fire out, but they could not extinguish that flame. That tree burned for nine days! There was a lot of fire up there at the top of that tree; they couldn’t get it out.
That tree is still growing today. The fire damage from that time is pretty well healed over. That tree is just going on as if it didn’t happen. There’s a lot of structure in a sequoia tree, so much structure in fact, that if you take one of those giants, one of the large ones, and measure how much it grows in one year. Compare how big it is now on August 22, 2021, and how bit it is in August 22, 2022, you’ll find that if you took all the structure that was put together into that tree in one year, it would make another sequoia tree standing beside it in perfect proportion standing 60 feet tall. That’s how much one of those giants grows in one year. There is a lot of structure there. But do you know what? There’s life in it. But you won’t find any of that life apart from the structure. It’s always there. That’s the sequoia tree. The life of that tree is virtually indestructible, but it is found only within that structure.
I don’t want this to be a carnal example, but it serves such a useful purpose, I’m going to give you a third example of structure in life. Would you go along with me for a while this morning to a baseball game? Here the structure becomes very defined. I’m not going to take you into all this language and through all these descriptions. There is the decided dimension to the field in which this game is played. There are bases properly located. There are foul lines. There are specific numbers of players for each team, and they each serve in specific locations across that playing field. They have their own functions. The game has quite an elaborate list of predetermined rules, and they have empires present there to govern those. There are uniforms that designate the teams. And even the balls and bats are subject to the norms of the league. And whether this is in Candlestick Park or a sand lot in an empty field, the structure is there. You never saw a ball game properly played without it.
Yet no one comes to the ballpark to observe, to study, and to photograph the structure. No one brings their tape measures along to see if there is exactly 90 feet between the bases. I doubt if anyone comes with an American League Rulebook stuck in their back pocket to make sure it goes all right when they’re in there. And although all those structures are in place, that’s not why they went to the ballfield. They came to see the game.
That’s why I came to Kingdom Fellowship Weekend. Many of you have expressed to me and to others and to each other this weekend your amazement at the effort expended to organize a function so well planned and efficiently organized as what we’ve experienced here this weekend. You have a right to be amazed about that. Some people said, “How can they feed this many people?” And though I’ve worked with these dear brothers for several years, I have no idea what all they do when I’m in Costa Rica and they’re getting ready for this meeting. The structure of KFW has provided for the blessing so very evident here.
Yet not one of you that’s here now inside or outside the tabernacle has come here in order to fill in the map that was back here in this corner of this campus that had 35 black pins fastened onto it, and 35 red ones. (You didn’t even know it was there – many of you, and what purpose is it?) But someone put a tremendous amount of work into that, and it needed to be done. It’s part of the structure, part of the work. We could talk for a long time about things that people have done to make this weekend what it is, to make it possible for us to enjoy it as we are while we are here. You came, (I trust I’m going to finish this sentence correctly) you came to be part of the game. Did you notice how I changed that? Or weren’t you listening? What did I not say? I did not say that you came to see the game. I hope that I’m right about that. You came to be part of the game.
These organized structures are infused with life. That life has melted my heart this weekend; it has brought tears to my eyes. I cried sometimes because you were crying, and the rest of the time because it’s what I needed to do. It has inspired my little faith; it has increased my love for you. This is life, and that’s what life does in the Church. So as we talk about structure and life, I hope this has introduced to you what we’re wanting to do here this morning.
I need to take you on a journey, and I will try to do this without belaboring any of these points. But I’d like to show you something of the structure that our Lord Jesus has built into His New Testament Church. Yes, there is life here, and that life is Himself. He is our life. When I talk about the Church of Jesus Christ, I’m not talking about the meetinghouse. I’m not talking about this tabernacle that we are in this morning. (The first time I was in here was over 65 years ago, shortly after it was built.) I’m not talking about a sanctuary. But the Bible refers to the Church as a body. It also refers to the Church as a building.
Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.
building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.
That’s found right in the same passage in Ephesians 2:20-22. It is the:
habitation of God through the Spirit.
(That’s life, but it’s inside a structure).
Can we notice some of those structural elements of the Church, some of the structures of the local assembly?
I’d like to do that for you, just briefly, if you’ll allow me to. And though we could spend a lot of time looking at Scriptures, and we just cannot do that. I’m going to just let you see these various elements, and we will look at some Scripture maybe, but we’ll try to move through this. (This particular structure that we are in right now includes the many things that help facilitate what happens here, and it includes the clock up there in front of me. Maybe you can’t see it, but I can see it. But it’s part of the structure. We’ll see how much life we can get into that structure. So we’ll work at that.)
1) We have noted already in this building, the Church of Jesus Christ, the foundation.
From Acts 2 until today, there’s a foundation there, and we build upon that. It’s the foundation of the apostles and prophets. I read that to you from Ephesians 2:20. When Roland Allen who was an Episcopal priest wrote his book titled, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? he referred to the body of apostolic tradition that Paul delivered to each church that he established on his missionary journeys. Tradition here does not mean archaic legalistic pharisaical leftover ideas that somehow didn’t evaporate yet. That’s not what tradition means here. Tradition is a very beautiful word in Scripture. We have this word in our [Spanish] Bibles where you do not in English. Tradition here is “teaching” as in “The Didache of the Apostles,” the teaching of the apostles.
Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians – in those sixteen chapters, he mentions five times things that he presents to all the churches wherever he goes. I have those references written here, and we’re not going to look them all up. But it’s in chapter 4; it’s in chapter 7; it’s in chapter 11; it’s in chapter 14; and it’s in chapter 16, where it says, “These things I teach everywhere.” That’s the tradition of the apostles. That is very very foundational to the order of a Christian Church. And when Roland Allen attempted to make a list of those teachings that Paul took with him, and the other apostles to the churches they established, it’s very interesting that this Episcopalian included the Christian woman’s veiling in that list. It’s interesting in chapter 11 at the end of that discussion when Brother Paul is finished presenting that teaching to the Corinthian church, he says that what he’s saying here to the Corinthian church, he does in all the churches. So Roland Allen was right about that. That would be along with baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and many other things that were taken from church to church, including some thoughts about the gatherings of the saints. These are vital and necessary purposeful things, full of meaning. There is structure here. Yet again, as we have used the phrase, they are “infused with life.”
2) But that’s not the only structure we have. The congregation has chosen servants.
There are elders, deacons, perhaps evangelists, and there may be other ways to designate these servants of the Lord in His body. So there are ministers and/or pastors. Not all churches use exactly the same organizational structure when it comes to the servant body of the church, and I think there’s probably room for some variation there. I just came from a congregation a little over a week ago here in the states where their structure is a little bit different from what we have in Costa Rica. Their structure might be better than ours. I appreciate what they’re doing there. Yet we know that having a bishop in the church, though that is part of designated structure in Scripture, does not guarantee life in a church. You know, Diotrephes might still love to have the preeminence. There’s no spiritual life there if that’s the way things are. At least the spiritual life is not coming from him. And so, though we have this element of structure in the church, it’s up to those called to these places and areas of responsibility and function, to be sure that they are united with Christ, filled with love, knowing the sheep, filled with life. Though structure is important, the life that comes from that servant of the Lord is more important.
3) We have mentioned some of the brotherhood symbols that the Bible gives to us, that Christ gives to us, that the Holy Spirit inspired to put into and build into the structure of our local assemblies and our “church life,” as we call it. The Supper, the basin, the kiss of peace and love, the right hand of fellowship, the waters of baptism. And there is much to observe, much to officiate here. None of us deny that these are very very distinctive Christian elements, and we have them in our congregations. They are structures; they are forms; they are things that we can do. But they have life in them if there’s life in me.
Maybe I’ll just pause here to give you a break. My wife’s sister (and, of course, my wife herself) did not come from churches that have ever observed a physical practice of John 13 in their church services. A lot of congregations do not. My wife did not have that practice until after we joined the Mennonite congregation in the state of Vermont after we were married. Suzanne’s younger sister is 7 years younger, and it was quite a few years after that when she had her first feet washing experience in the Church of God on Main Street in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. Her husband had just started going to that congregation; they washed feet in that church. And Cindy had never seen this practiced ever before in her life, and she sat there and saw these ladies washing each other’s feet, and she didn’t know what to do. It looked so beautiful to her, but it was something she had never seen. She sat there and cried.
Maybe you never cried when you saw people washing feet. But I will tell you this, that when she was doing that in that particular moment in her life, there was life going into that basin and life going on with that towel, and life going into that feet washing experience that maybe the rest of us ought to ask God to put into us as we do it. Did you follow that? See, there’s a structure. You’re not going to neglect the basin. You’re going to wrap the towel around you. That part will all be taken care of, but the life part, dear brothers and sisters, did you get that?
4.) The apostolic tradition – going on here to more structure in the Church – you see, we’re going down through here. We’re adding to this. This church building is growing. This habitation is receiving more elements, more functional and structural elements into this spiritual building.
The apostolic tradition includes instruction for the gathered assembly. We saw that even in our text that we read. 1 Corinthians 14 is very pertinent here. I’m not going to read that chapter to you, but there is specific instruction there for conduct and order in the local assembly. There’s quite a variation in singing – the music that we use from one country to another, from one geographical location to another, from one climate area to another. Songs change, music is different from one place to another. We are a Latin congregation at home. Latins normally enjoy a kind of music that’s a bit different from what northern Europeans maybe would have espoused, although at our congregation at home, there’s a very fervent appreciation for the deepest hymns of the faith. They are probably sung the most often in our congregation. We have some very very deep and meaningful and moving hymns in our Spanish language. They also sing some of those choruses by memory that are a bit more lilting and a bit more repetitive and maybe Suzanne and I just have to surrender a little bit of preference when we join in with some of that.
There’s instruction there concerning lifting of an offering. There’s instruction concerning the participation of those who are present in the service. Some are told to remain quiet and do their speaking elsewhere. Some are told when to remain quiet to allow others to take their turn. There’s a lot of instruction there. This provides order for the service.
Sunday School, as you probably know in your communities, is a relatively new innovation. There were no Bibles at the beginning in those early services back there in the book of Acts. No printing house prepared Sunday School booklets. There was the weekly agape perhaps. And I’ll just say this, that interesting term for the place where they met: “House of Prayer” – that term still survives today in Latin America. Many congregations call their place of meeting, “House of Prayer.” Others call it “House of Worship.”
5.) But there is more than corporate worship – moving on here again. There’s a mission purpose.
“Make disciples of all nations,” we heard this weekend. So we have evangelism and church extension, discipling of new believers, as in Antioch. Discipling includes discipline at times. And Matthew 18 speaks of this, as does Galatians 6:1, your only way in which we deal with transgressions or errant behavior or wayward footsteps. And when someone has gone away, someone is obedient, unfaithful, losing faith, losing their commitment, we seek to “restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.” What does that mean? Restore that person. We consider ourselves lest we be tempted. And when that 1955 Chevy is restored, though it is the same block in there, and the same carburetor it had when it was built by General Motors in 1955, it has more horsepower now; it is more fuel-efficient. It goes further miles on a gallon of fuel than it did when it was first built because of the improved fuels and oils and rubber on the tires that we have these days. Restored to full usefulness. This is the goal. And the Bible shows us how to do that. At times, one is severed from the body. And perhaps more important than how this is done, is the spirit with which it is done. It is the spirit that giveth life, the Bible tells us. (See 2 Corinthians 3:6.)
We noticed this weekend that discipleship is maybe a bit weak as an element in our congregations and our churches, in our understanding of how congregations should function. We need to examine the structure here, and maybe the Lord will give us, as a result of this weekend together, an opportunity to grow in this area of discipling men and women, new believers, for Christ Jesus in our church services and in our communities.
6.) And the Church is one.
United, in one accord. “Unanimous,” the Bible says in Spanish. Where your Bible says, “one accord,” the word “unanimous” is there every time in Spanish. That Greek word from which “one accord” comes in your language, Greek would say it like this – they take three words and put them together into one: “breathing heavily together.” A church that is “all with one accord and one place” is there “breathing heavily together.” A church that is with one accord praying is “breathing heavily together.”
We have that in Acts 4 when those two were sent back from the Sanhedrin, the counsel, and they came to their own company (verse 23-24) and they “breathed heavily together.” And something happened there. That place started to shake before that prayer meeting was over. When we get together to pray, that’s structure. When the place starts to shake, that’s something else! And the Spirit and the presence and the evident worship with Christ in the midst puts life into the structure.
7) So they were one. And being in agreement, they were able to come to agreements.
They well understood the word, “canon.” I’m not going to take a lot of time to describe that word for you. It’s a Greek word. It’s translated in your King James Version Bibles several ways, several times. With time, that word “canon” came to include the body of Scriptures that you hold in your hand. Someone decided on those 39 books [in the Old Testament] and those 27 in the New Testament. There were decisions made there, decisions that we still honor and respect and thank God for today. And I don’t think they were carelessly done, and we should honor what was done by other people that went before us, in putting that Bible together that we now have bound and in our laps.
But to the early Christians, “canon” referred to their walk – how they lived, their testimony, their practice of life. And the gentleman that wrote for us Strong’s Concordance tells us in his Greek dictionary at the back: “The canon is a standard for faith and practice.”
My Bible is open here. I’ll just read this verse to you in Galatians 6:16. It says, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” The word “rule” there is “canon.” You walk according to it. There’s a way to walk. It affects how we walk.
We have that same thought and same word in Phil. 3:16 where it says, “Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.” That unity there keeps us very very much alike.
There’s a canon in the Christian Church. So if we’re not going to walk by that rule, then we’re “unruly.” We certainly wouldn’t want to be that. What does “unruly” mean? Insubordinate. Literally, in Greek, it means, “to march out of step.” Here’s the army moving along, and they’re going toward a destined location, and someone is just completely out of sync with what the rest are doing. Not marching in step. Unruly. So there is order in marching in order. There’s order there, and there’s structure there in the way that marches forward. And so it is in the Church. It certainly was that way in the early Church.
I know there’s a lot of controversy these days about the place of “brotherhood agreements” in a congregation. I would just say a brief word about that. Too many congregations have a procedure for making decisions but do not know how to come to agreement. (I don’t know if you understood that sentence or if you even heard it.) They know how to vote, but they do not know how to come to consensus. And that is why though they’ve decided things, and they’re moving forward with the decisions they made, there’s disunity within the congregation, and a lack of peace. Because they learned how through parliamentary procedure or some democratic way how to make decisions, but they did not learn how to make agreements. There are still disagreed people when it’s all over. They have not learned how to “follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another” (Romans 14:19).
What our Bible calls “ordinances,” in one reference, your Bible calls that “decrees for to keep” (Acts 16:4). Would you go to Acts 15? I want to show you that, and we’ll just briefly notice a couple of things here. So we have authority here, “decrees for to keep,” but there’s also life. I’d like for you to notice the life, not only the structure, that came out of this meeting in Jerusalem in Acts 15. I’d like you to notice the life that came out of it. Would you allow me to read from verses 25-29?
25 It seemed good unto us,
(That’s more than just a vote. That’s more than just a decision.)
being assembled with one accord,
(We were assembled, breathing heavily together. There were difficult things we had to work on, and our hearts were just like that team of horses, breathing heavily together all in the harness hauling that big load up the hill.)
to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
26 Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.
28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us . . .
And then it gives here the instruction that they had prepared to send out to those Gentile churches.
I want to show you the life that was in those decisions, the life that was in those agreements, the life that were in those “decrees for to keep.” Would you look at verse 29.
So they’re going to:
abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication
(which is a wise thing to do, of course),
from which if you keep yourselves,
(look what this says)
ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
So it seemed good to them (there’s certainly life there) and to the Holy Ghost. Someone besides just James the brother of Jesus was in charge of this meeting; there’s a Holy Spirit here, giving direction. Ye shall do well. You will find approval and acceptance. This is the right thing to do. Do it together.
Verse 31 says that when they received this word and had it read to them, “they rejoiced for the consolation.” It shouldn’t be hard for you to imagine the blessing that that would have been for those churches, to know that now it’s clear. It was unclear, but now it’s clear. It was undefined; now we know. We didn’t know how it was supposed to be, but now we can understand that, and we can do it together. “They rejoiced for the consolation.”
In Acts 16:5, it says, “And so were the churches established in the faith.” I’d love to be at a place like that. There’s power there; there’s life there. That’s not just structure. Yes, these decisions, these four or so points – that looks structural there. And maybe in your time and place where you live, those items would look a bit different than what they looked here, but they met the needs that there were and solved the problem that they faced. But look at the result in verse 5. They were “established in the faith.” And that’s not all: they “increased in number daily.” There’s life here!
So I don’t want you to look disparagingly upon the agreements of a congregation. You sought the face of the Lord. You looked at Scripture. You wanted God’s will to be done. You realized that there were issues here that you needed to address. There were [guides?] [newly risen? need to be loosened?] up. You want to maintain peace in the brotherhood. You want to make sure you’re honoring the conscience of the assembled body. You want to be sure that you’re willing to surrender your thought for that of another, and your preference you can yield to somebody else. There’s life here. And we come to some decisions. But look at these holy consequences, the spiritual results in the Church! And then there is a functioning brotherhood.
There’s a method for reaching the consensus. There’s a method for choosing the servants. There’s a method for extending the witness, for solving problems, for receiving new disciples into the body. There’s a method used. There’s a way to relate to sister congregations. We see all of this in the New Testament model, especially the one at Antioch. And as it has been mentioned several times in this meeting, I want to refer to it again. We read it here in this passage.
8) At Antioch, the Holy Spirit of God was a vital part of that church.
It would never have worked without it.
It started in the very beginning when the apostles in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch when they heard about these converts among the Gentiles that were there. So these Jewish apostles stayed where they were, and they sent Barnabas. (He was a Jew, too, but they sent him over there.) The Bible says this about Barnabas: “He was filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 11:24). That would be the right man to send to a church like that. After he was there for a while, he brought Paul down there, and assembled with the Church for a year (in Acts 11:26) and taught the people from what little bit of Scripture they had and from their knowledge that they had from the apostles of the life of Christ. (I don’t know if Barnabas ever saw Jesus. He meets all the qualifications for a deacon. He was not chosen when they looked for another apostle. It might be that he was not there with the other eleven as they ministered and lived with Jesus. He was not chosen either as a deacon when the seven were chosen though he met those qualifications.) But we have the Holy Ghost there. And after this work was done, this church was established, and the neighbors around looked at this newly formed body, they said these people are Christians, and they called them that. That’s quite a name to be called by your neighbors!
Then the Holy Spirit through a prophet stood up and said there’s going to be a great dearth. There were going to be problems in Jerusalem. Maybe we should do something about that. And everyone with one mind agreed to do something: Let’s send some funds over there.
It was the Holy Spirit again, in that same church in Antioch that said, “Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2). Then it says they laid hands on them and prayed with them, and they were sent forth by the Holy Spirit. It’s from this same church that the idea came from to go to Jerusalem and solve this problem about the Judaisers’ influence of circumcising the Gentile believers, and when they got to Jerusalem and met with the Church, with the elders and the apostles concerning this matter, then we read these words that you heard this morning: “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us . . .” (Acts 15:28). That’s a vital model right there, and you see a lot of structure in what we’ve covered this morning, but there’s life there.
I close then with these words: There’s abundant life in this structure!
It is not a valley of dry bones, nor a collection of restored bodies with no breath in them like Ezekiel saw in chapter 37. “Prophesy to the wind.” “Breathe on me, breath of God.” Did you hear that already this morning? Did you sing it?
I think of the newly erected tabernacle that we have at the end of the book of Exodus. You may turn to Exodus 40. Moses had received this model up in the mount. He obeyed the Lord, and he built this with the help of very very skilled artisans. The Bible says in verse 33 of the last chapter of Exodus that Moses finished the work. And now I want to read verse 34-38.
34 Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
35 And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
36 And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys:
37 But if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up.
38 For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.
There was a lot of structure to the building of the tabernacle. Details beyond imagination. But it needed to be filled with life! — as you and I also need to be, and so do our congregations at home.
Listen to these words. After Jesus gave four steps to take to restore a brother who was taken in a trespass or a fault, He added these words at the end of that instruction in Matthew 18.
In verses 18-20, He says,
18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
That brings a lot of life into the structure.
Why is it alive?
Why is this not just dead works? Why is this not simply empty tradition? Why were these things they were doing filled with joy and blessing? Why is it working so well in some congregations? It’s interesting to me to notice – I’ve observed congregations with a more defined position of structure than what others have, and yet more unity and more souls coming into those congregations from an unconverted background than in places where it seems like things kind of accommodate. Why is that? Well, there are several reasons. But with these I close:
- We are volunteers. “If any man WILL come after Me” (Matthew 16:24). In Costa Rica, none of our people have to do it. The only members we have in our congregations are the ones that wanted to do it. They wanted to be allowed to do it. They’re glad they can do it. They want to be part of it. And whatever it takes to do that, that’s what they want to do. The Bible says, “Of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them” (Acts 5:13). So there were those who were and those who were not; those who were committed and those who were not; those who were volunteers and those who were not. It was clearly defined and understood there. It still is today. So we’re committed.
- It says, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
- They were “with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1).
- Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye . . . love one another, as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35). This might be one of the most disobeyed teachings within the Anabaptist world. I don’t know how we can divide from each other, learn to do without each other, brothers that we needed and loved, and worked with and labored with, and prayed with, and visited with, and evangelized with, — and then now we walk away from them, never to get back together again. How can we do that, brothers, if we love one another as Christ loved us? He leaves ninety and nine, and He goes to find that which is lost. How can we do that to each other, brothers?
- We are filled with that same Spirit of God, that same spirit of life. That same spirit that’s within the Son is now sent forth into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which He has given us. (See Romans 5:5.) We have that same spirit of life and love within us. That’s why it works, dear brothers. That’s where the life comes from.
- We do not love in word, but in deed and in truth. (See 1 John 3:18.)
- We lay down our lives for our brothers. (See 1 John 3:16.) We are willing to submit, to consider the conscience of another, to weep with those who weep, to bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfil the law of Christ. (See Gal. 6:2.)
- With one heart and one voice, we glorify God. (See Romans 15:6.)
- We “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2).
- The light shines before men and they see those works and that life, and they know that we have been with Jesus.
- We have fallen into the ground and died. So we don’t abide alone, but life comes forth, and with it much fruit. (See John 12:24.)
- The life of Jesus is evident and manifest in this mortal flesh. (See 2 Cor. 4:11.)
I would just like to invite the Holy Spirit of God to come upon this assembly, to fill this place, that everyone that’s here would know that Christ is here, that God is here, the Spirit of God is here. It’s safe to be here. You can tell the truth here. You can open your life here. You can find someone to take care of you here. You can have your needs met here – because God is here! And Christ is in the midst. And there’s structure here. This weekend we have found life here. May God bless you.