How many people have exercise equipment in your homes? Okay, let’s have a quick confession time. How many of you actually use that equipment, like it’s not in a closet or stuffed under your bed or hidden under a pile of clothes, you actually use it? We’re all probably familiar with the phrase gently used. It used to be called just “used”, but now it’s “gently used.” Which means, I bought it brand new, and it’s almost still brand new because I didn’t really use it like I thought I would.
You can save hundreds of dollars on gently used consumer grade fitness equipment, and this stuff is everywhere. When I say gently used, I mean when you see it you ask, “Did anyone ever use this?” And the answer is, no not really. In fact, some of you have sold fitness equipment that was in pristine condition. You just had to clean off the cobwebs and finger prints from your kids who hung and played on it.
So why do we purchase things like this to begin with? Mostly because we’re believers. We believed in fitness, in getting in shape. We believed in good health. But oftentimes when it comes to exercise equipment, people don’t act on what they believe.
But whether it’s nutrition or exercise, believing makes absolutely no difference when it comes to our health. In fact, we probably all believe basically the same thing that nutrition and exercise are good for us. But believing doesn’t make the difference. What makes the difference is actually doing.
How many of you have exercised with a bad attitude? You didn’t want get out of bed to exercise, or head to the gym on your lunch break, or it’s been a long day and you just don’t want to do anything more. The couch looks very inviting. But just believing that exercise is good, isn’t going to do your health a bit of good. Only getting up out of that bed or chair or couch is going to make the difference, right.
This is true in many areas of your life, and we’re going to talk about one specifically today. But first, here’s another thing that makes a big difference – accountability partners.
It’s so much easier to talk yourself out of exercising if no one is waiting on you, right? If you have a friend you exercise with or if you hired a trainer and you’ve made an appointment, then you know the difference it makes. On those mornings when you would probably talk yourself out going to the gym, but you know your friend or trainer is waiting for you, you’re a whole lot more inclined to show up. All because when it comes to exercise and really with everything in life, accountability counts.
These two principles – Doing Makes the Difference and Accountability Counts – hold true in our faith journey as well.
In the New Testament, Christians were often referred to as believers because there was something that they believed that was central to their faith. But we all know well that all believers don’t actually act on what they believe, just like with exercise. We believe what the New Testament teaches, we believe what Jesus taught, and we believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be, but we don’t actually forgive, and we don’t actually love our enemies, many have never been baptized, very few believers actually give generously the way that Jesus talked about being generous. It’s very difficult for us often times to actually put others first. I could go on and on.
But if anybody attacks our faith we’re quick to defend what we believe. However what Jesus says and what the New Testament emphasizes, it that it’s not believing that makes the difference in our lives, it’s what we do with what we believe.
In fact, that is why the Gospels record Jesus saying, “Follow Me” 87 times. He wants you to actually do something when you decide to believe in Him. And as many of us have discovered, it’s actually following Jesus, not simply believing in Jesus, that will make your life better, and it’s following Jesus that will make you better at life.
As we’re going to discover today, you can’t follow Jesus in isolation. You can’t follow Jesus all by yourself. This really is a team sport. In fact, the Apostle Paul who steps on to the pages of history as someone hating Christianity, ends up becoming a Jesus follower and about three to five years after the Resurrection, Paul’s response to his salvation is instead of putting the church out of business, I’m going to assist in building it. So he goes all around the Mediterranean basin, planting a bunch of churches and writes letters to them which make up about half the New Testament.
When the Paul talked to people about what it looks like to follow Jesus practically, he stressed the fact that this is a relational thing, not a solo thing. If you go through all the letters of Paul, he gives us this list of what it looks like to actually act on your faith, to actually follow Jesus. I’ll call it the One-Another List. Things like forgive one another, accept one another, care for one another, encourage one another, submit to one another, restore one another, carry one other’s burdens, bear with one another.
Now look closely at the list. You can’t do those things on your own. Paul makes it very clear that Christianity is not a solo thing. It’s not enough to believe it privately, you have to behave it publicly.
Many of you may be like me and grew up on a version of Christianity that I’ll call a vertical-oriented Christianity where we measure our faith by morality and generosity. We think of being a good Christian as being moral and being generous, thinking as long as I behaved myself and as long as I give my money, God is good with me. My faith is just between me and God.
But what I’ve discovered is that while being moral is very important, while being generous is very important, those things are just not enough. Being very vertical sets us up to become very self-righteous. Think about it, if you know self-righteous Christians, they have a very vertical orientation toward Christianity…it’s just me and God, and we’re good. I don’t need people, and I don’t need the church. To which people and church are the horizonal part.
Being only vertical-oriented sets you up to be extraordinarily self-centered. It leaves you with all kinds of bad attitudes. It’s how we become legalistic. It why we have elitism, judgmentalism, me first-ism, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with this one, God’s gonna get ’em-ism. You know where we’re the Christians and they’re the sinners so God’s gonna get ’em-ism.
But read the New Testament, and you’ll discovered that’s not true at all. Jesus didn’t say stay away from people cause God’s gonna get ’em-ism. Jesus said I want you to live your life among people in such a way that they look at you and go, “Wow, look at how they love one another. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that.”
Today, I want to take you to a passage of scripture in the book of Hebrews found in the New Testament. We don’t know exactly who wrote this book. In fact, it’s not even a book. It’s more like a long sermon written to Jews who had converted to Christianity in the first century. And because it’s so loaded with good stuff, it was included in the documents that make up the New Testament.
What I want you to look at in these verses is how the author of Hebrews, someone living in the first century, possibly a follower of Jesus, or maybe a follower of someone who knew Jesus personally, is quickly able to pivot back and forth from a vertical-oriented faith to a horizontal-oriented faith. He moves from belief to practice. This isn’t an “either/or” like you pick one or the other. It’s a “both/and” approach. Here’s what he says.
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body…
Keep in mind, the Jews he’s writing to know exactly what he’s talking about with this terminology. The Most Holy Place was the Holy of Holies at the center of the Temple Mount where God was and where only the high priest was allowed to go, no one else. There was a huge curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the outer courts that was split straight down the middle when Christ died.
Meaning now that Jesus has come to replace the entire temple system and we’re His followers, we now have direct access to God without a priest and temple. The new and living way means the old way, which was to sacrifice animals to make peace with God, is no longer needed since Jesus was the ultimate and final sacrifice. Now we have a new and living way opened for us to get to God by Christ. He goes on.
21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
Draw near to God with confidence, and have our hearts cleansed by Jesus’ blood. Very vertical/ Then he pivots…
23 Let us hold unswervingly (meaning unwavering) to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider (meaning give careful attention to) how we may spur (meaning to stir or provoke) one another on toward love and good deeds,
First, the author’s like eye to the sky. We have direct access to God. We can pray to God. We don’t need a high priest. It’s a new day. Praise the Lord! Then he pivots from vertical to horizontal. It’s great that we don’t need a high priest or a temple to pray to God, but that’s not everything. There is a horizontal piece of this that is absolutely critical to our faith – we need one another.
So he’s says let’s make sure we are faithful to the things that God has called us to do. Let’s be unwavering in our hope and consider how we may spur each other on. Here’s Paul’s ‘one another’ phrase. And this term spur is so interesting. He says in your relationships with other believers, in your relationship within the church, I want you to stir each other up, provoke each other, to be in each other’s lives to the point where when you see a friend drifting, you have access to that friend, when you see that couple struggling, you have access to that couple.
And to what end does he say we go? Toward something very practical, towards love and good deeds. This is belief in action. It’s actually getting on the stair climber or stationary bike and turning it on. It’s actually forgiving, apologizing, and putting others first.
This is what makes all the difference. But chances are you’re not going to do very much of this if you don’t have someone in your life spurring you on and encouraging you to do so.
And then the author of Hebrews gets way up in our business. And when you read this part, it’s sort of like how did he know? But he’s not just reading the minds of today because this is what was going on in the first century as well.
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…
Some preachers use this verse to say you need to come to church. But I don’t think that’s exactly what the author is talking about based on what he’s already said, and what he’s going to say next.
The author is saying that you can’t afford to stop meeting together in such a way that you’re able to spur each other on because if you’re not in community with other believers, where you’re in each other’s lives and encouraging each other, there’s something missing and it may eventually impact your faith in God.
This is a one-another thing. You don’t mature past the point of needing one another. And by the way, there’s someone that needs you. There is a divinely designed correlation between community and faithfulness to God for a couple of reasons. One, we already know. In fact, for some of you, you know this personally. In the past, you’ve drifted away from faith, and if you were to tell your story of how you drifted away from faith, isn’t it true that it all started when you drifted away from people of faith? Suddenly they either got on your nerves or you moved to a new town and you didn’t find a church, you were not surrounded by people of faith, and you began to drift.
And at first, you thought it was okay. I’m going to read my Bible, I can watch YouTube videos of sermons. But over time, your lack of relational connection to other believers began to impact what you believe. It’s a slow drift that slowly takes you away from God. We’ll talk more about that in the third week of this series.
There’s another thing going on here as well. At the end of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus is in the upper room with His disciples having what we call the Lord’s Supper. He’s giving them all this information, truly an overload, but Jesus is running out of time and has so much to say. He’s talking about how He’s leaving and going to prepare a place for them, and they’ll know where to find Him, yet they can’t be there now. And the guys are all very confused, just as you and I would be if we were in their shoes. So Phillip, one of Jesus’ disciples, interrupts Jesus and basically says, “Wait, Jesus would you just show us the Father and that’ll be enough.”
In other words, I don’t know what you’re talking about. We rarely understand what you’re saying, so just show us the Father, that’ll be good. And Jesus looks at Philip and says “Phillip, have I not been with you long enough that you’re able to recognize who I am? Cause if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”
Jesus is saying, I am as clear a picture as you will ever get of seeing and understanding the Father. Then Jesus is crucified. He rises from the dead. He commissions the Church, and He leaves. And the Apostle Paul comes along saying, “Oh yeah, by the way, the actual physical body of Jesus is gone, now Church you are the body of Christ.” Not just Phillip, not just Peter, not just me, not just you. We collectively together are the body of Christ.
Now you may not like this and you may not even believe this, but read the New Testament and you’ll see collectively, we are as close as we get to our Father in Heaven when we are together. In fact, Jesus said in one of His incredible parables that there’s going to be a time when you are going to have an opportunity to take care of each other, and those of you who take care of each other, it’s going to be like you took care of me.
But the disciples are like, “Wait a minute, Jesus. When did we see you in prison? When did we see you naked and when did we see you needing food?” And Jesus said, “As you did to each of these, my brothers and sisters, it’s like you were doing it to me.”
“Oh, you mean the way we treat each other is an indicator of how we relate and how we treat you.” And Jesus says “yes, because you’re my body.”
So here’s the moral of the story for us. If you isolate yourself from the body of Christ, if you isolate yourself from the church, you will eventually feel isolated from the Father. And this is why some of you left church and this is why some of you are coming back after being away for a long time. Your story is a story of isolation. You slowly got isolated from the body of Christ thinking, I can continue to believe what I believe even though I’m not around believers. And lo and behold time went by, and you stopped believing and there’s no logical explanation.
But your Father in heaven says, I can explain it because when you isolate yourself from the body, you begin to isolate yourself from the potential of faithfulness to me because I can be found where two or more are gathered in my name.
So this is a big deal. If you abandon community, if you abandon the one another, chances are you’ll eventually abandon your faith because faith comes alive in community. Community is where you see it working, and where you are challenged to work it. And if you are not in intentional community with other believers, you will become self-centered, self-focused, and short-sighted.
Now isn’t this true, the people who think they’re better than other people, haven’t taken the time to hear the stories of the people they think they’re better than.
In other words, as soon as you get into relationship with someone and you hear their story, if you’re dialed in emotionally you think to yourself, “If I had grown up there, if I was taught that, if I had experienced that, I would probably be just like them.” Hearing a person’s story is what brings people together and is what community is. It’s what the body of Christ is.
In the first century, it was amazing because men, women, children, slaves and slave owners, rich and poor, would all come together in these little ecclesias. And what they had in common wasn’t money, or wealth, or power, or social rank. What they had in common was Jesus. That was it! It was so unusual, yet so powerful, and it so pleased our Father in heaven. And that hasn’t changed. Faith was divinely designed to be a one-another thing.
Back to the author of Hebrews. Here’s how he concludes at this passage.
25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day (of Christ’s return) approaching.
He says every single believer no matter how strongly you believe, you need to be in relationships where you are encouraged and you are encouraging other people. What does it mean to encourage? To encourage simply means to instill courage in someone. Why? Because it takes courage to live out your faith in the marketplace, in your neighborhood, at school, at family gatherings. You need courage to do the right thing, to do the hard thing, to do the selfless thing, to do the generous thing.
If you’re going to follow Jesus, it’s about being in community with other believers so that you have an opportunity to be encouraged when you need it and even when you don’t even want it, and so you can encourage other believers. So let me just put all these verses together, real quick.
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
In Christ, we are part of a body, and we are to take care of one another, and part of taking care of one another is spurring one another on to love and good deeds. So here’s my question for us as we begin another Lenten season together.
Is anyone outside of your family spurring you on to live out your faith?
Is there a group of people in your life that are spurring you on, that are encouraging you?
Is there a setting where these kinds of things come up naturally and comfortably?
Have you perhaps, like some of the people in the first century, given up meeting together? Or has your entire Christian experience pretty much been never sitting in circles. Cause you know, circles are better than rows. I absolutely believe that because of what can happen in circles are things that can’t happen in rows. You can’t dive into scripture or the message or what’s happening in your own lives here in worship like you can in a small group.
Speaking on God’s behalf here, I am not content for you to just believe. I want you to act on what you believe in small groups because there you will really be challenged and encouraged to act on what you believe. It’s kind of where the rubber meets the road. You walk out of here, and forget what I said, but to sit down with a group of people that’s where life change happens. Circles are better than rows.
I know you may think you don’t have time for that. But you don’t have time to exercise either, do you? And how’s that going for you? But you wish you did, and you know you would be better off if you did. And for those of you who’ve prioritize exercise, you know you had to give up some things in order to exercise.
Add up in your mind all the things that you did instead of exercising over the past 12 months. What does it come out to? Likely nothing. Because you know if you had exercised you could have had more energy and got more done.
The same is true for small groups. If you add up all things that you did instead of committing some time every month to meeting in a small group, you would have virtually nothing to show for it.
But if you will commit to a circle, a small group, if you will take a risk, take a chance meet some new people, be a little bit vulnerable and tell your story, in the end you will have something to show for it. You’ll have deeper understandings of the bible, you’ll have new friends you can rely on, you’ll have a support group, people who know you well and care about you anyways. What the Holy Spirit can do in circles is unlimited.