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Small Groups

A GPCVision Sermon by Pastor Jack Lash

The Bible (e.g. 1Cor.12:4ff.) tells us that each one of us is a unique and essential part of Christ’s body. Eph.4:16 tells us that the various parts of Christ’s body are held together by ligaments or joints. This reference to joints or ligaments he must be referring to the relationships which exist between different members of His body. It is not enough to have a heap of detached body parts. The body parts must be connected to one another and to the head, or there cannot be life.

If a church’s body life only exists on Sunday, it’s not much of a body. The early Christians had frequent — even daily — contact with one another. In Acts 2:42-47 we are told that "they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved."

Here we see people close enough to each other to know when another had need. People are giving away their possessions to take care of people they just met. Possessions and material goods took a back seat to love and fellowship. People's schedules are transformed. The church began to function like a family. They are eating meals with each other. They are worshiping daily together. They are talking to other people about Christ. People's whole emotional pattern is transformed. People who have been depressed for years are living in gladness. People who were big fakes are living lives of sincerity.

This doesn't happen lightly. These are very big things. They could only happen as a result of a major life-shaking reality. This kind of living can only take place when people are deeply gripped by the reality of Christ.

Do we believe that the power of God is still available for this kind of living? Face it, just because people are Christians doesn't mean that they're going to live this way. Most Christians' lives are a far cry from this lifestyle here. Our lives, our church, is a far cry from this kind of living. There is some of this, there are many ways that we live differently from the world. But we're certainly not living the kind of radical Christian lifestyle that they were. May the Lord produce this kind of life and love at GPC! May He never allow us to fall into the trap of superficial, artificial, showy religion which Jesus hates!

It may be somewhat unfair to compare ourselves to the church in Acts 2. The nature of things is different when they are new as opposed to when they are old. By and large the church wasn't even like this (Acts 2:42-47) at the end of the book of Acts! But was this spirit of love and community just for them and not for us also? We must strive to maintain our first love, and remember that the gospel is perpetually new, but we must also not expect things to be today as they were then. We must avoid two traps:

Having such high expectations of the church that unless it is like these early days there is nothing but criticism and grumbling, and

Forgetting the newness, the dynamism and the transforming power of the gospel, and not expecting any life in the church, only the maintenance of a tradition and an institution for stability's sake.

Listen to what it says in Hebrews 3:12-13 "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."

This Hebrews passage reminds us that we are in a spiritual battle and that each of us has an urgent role to play in the faith battle of others."Take care!" isn’t just watching out for my own soul! My soul is not the only soul in serious danger here. Each of us has a responsibility to minister to the others to help keep their hearts from being "hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."

We can't reduce the body of Christ down to what a few professionals do in a very limited number of formal contexts. God is calling us to a lifestyle of ministry, to LIVE redemptively. In order to fulfill this command, you need to be regularly and intimately involved in the lives of other believers. In order for this kind of mutual support to take place, people have to have a network of other Christians around them who are involved in their lives and who know what is happening. Do we want to be known by others? Close enough that they see past our Sunday best and beneath the smiley surface?

Relationships can be hard, and therefore for some of us easy to avoid. They need a lot of effort to establish and constant work to maintain. People are different from one another. They see things differently. And these differences make it difficult. But 1Cor.12:4-7 tells us that God made us different for a purpose. We're not supposed to all be the same. We need each others’ differences. So many of the lessons we need to learn need to be learned from those who are different from us. Do we want to know others? Do we believe we need them? 1Cor.12:21-22 tells us that "The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable."

There are many obstacles to intimacy, most of which we are probably unaware of. (Most Americans are independent types, especially those who move out away from the city.) But determination will eventually expose and destroy the obstacles.

One of the best ways to cultivate and maintain regular and close connections in the church body is by being part of a small group.

Did you know that the twelve disciples were split into small groups? We can tell this from comparing the four lists of the disciples in Scripture:

MATTHEW 10

first, Simon Peter

Andrew his brother

James the son of Zebedee

John his brother

Philip

Bartholomew

Thomas

Matthew the tax collector

James son of Alphaeus

Thaddaeus

Simon the Cananaean

Judas Iscariot, betrayer

MARK 3

Simon Peter

James son of Zebedee

John his brother

Andrew

Philip

Bartholomew

Matthew

Thomas

James son of Alphaeus

Thaddaeus

Simon the Cananaean

Judas Iscariot, betrayer

LUKE 6

Simon Peter

Andrew his brother

James

John

Philip

Bartholomew

Matthew

Thomas

James son of Alphaeus

Simon the Zealot

Judas son of James

Judas Iscariot, traitor

ACTS 1

Peter

John

James

Andrew

Philip

Thomas

Bartholomew

Matthew

James son of Alphaeus

Simon the Zealot

Judas son of James

(Judas Iscariot left off because at this point in the story he had betrayed Jesus and killed himself)

Notice that though the order of the disciples on each list is different, there are two intriguing similarities. First, the first, fifth and ninth names are the same on each list (in italics). And second, the three names that follow each of these names are the same, though in different order. Doesn’t this seem to imply that the twelve disciples were in three groups of four, each group having a leader: Peter, Philip or James the son of Alphaeus? It probably also implies that these groups were assigned by Jesus. Are we willing to be assigned to a group by Jesus? Remember, small groups can’t be just to teach, nor to comfort, but also to transform. And small groups cannot just be for me! They are for giving and serving as well as for receiving and being helped. Yes, there is a cost, but it is well worth it. Please prayerfully consider making the sacrifice to be in a small group. Jesus Christ is worthy of the kind of living described in Acts 2:42-47 and Hebrews 3:12-13.