Fellowship and Righteousness

Title: Fellowship and Righteousness

Text: Romans 1:11-12, 17

Time: June 11th, 2006

I’m teaching from the Book of Romans, that great Bible book that explains to us so many things about the Christian life. If you had to choose one book of the Bible, one book that explains the whole of the Christian life, if you took the Book of Romans, you could almost understand it all. Oh don’t get me wrong, I would hate to not have the whole Old Testament. I’m glad the early Christians insisted that our Bibles contain the Old Testament, because it sets the context for everything Jesus does and teaches in the New Testament. I’m glad they insisted on including the Jewish scriptures in with the Christian writings. There was an infamous heretic named Marcion who wanted to leave the whole Old Testament books out. I’m glad he didn’t get his way, and that they included them. But the Book of Romans explains enough of the Old Testament to make it possible to understand the context of the New Testament. So if you had to, by reading Romans, you could understand enough of the Old to appreciate the New. Or if you didn’t have the 4 Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, and didn’t have any of the other books of the New Testament, by just reading the Book of Romans, you could have enough Christianity explained to live the Christian life. Oh you would be missing a lot, especially a lot about the life of Christ, the miracles, teachings, etc. but you could learn enough of the gospel, just by reading the Book of Romans, to know how to be saved from sins, and live the Christian life. That’s amazing, that’s something you can’t say about any other book of the Bible. Romans is almost like a little Bible in itself. The great Reformer Martin Luther said that it would do well for Christians to read the Book of Romans over and over again because you can learn and grow as a Christian every time you read it. The Book of Romans is one of the richest books in the Bible for learning Christianity. I think we’ve already proved that in just three weeks here into it, because we are on our third week and we are still in the introduction and still learning major teachings, just in the introduction! That gives you an idea how rich this book is. Last week I finished up the Apostle Paul’s introduction, the first eighteen verses, but I felt that I didn’t cover a couple of points enough, so I’d like to hit on those two points today, before we continue with the next section of the book next week. Here is the verse for this week. Romans 1:11-12, 17: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gifts to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” And “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘the righteous will live by faith.’” I just couldn’t pass these two things by without spending more time on them.

First, Paul here explains why we gather together for church. Vv. 11-12, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gifts to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” I’m sure all of us have asked the question before, why go to church? After all, I can pray at home. I can sing praise songs at home. I can hear a message at home, either teach myself a message from the Bible, or turn on the radio or television and have someone else preach me a message at home. I can give an offering at home ( I can mail off money to some ministry from my home). I can do so many of the things that I can do at a church in my home. Why then do I need church anyway? But there is one thing that you can’t do alone at home, at least one thing, and that is have fellowship, with just yourself at home. Because true Christian fellowship is giving and receiving help, encouragement and accountability from others. This is what Paul talks about in here in this passage: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gifts to make you strong, that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” That’s true Christian fellowship, and you can’t get it by staying home on Sunday morning. There have been times when as a pastor I was between church ministries, or in other words, I wasn’t preaching every Sunday or obligated to be at a specific church every Sunday to minister, but I always sought out and attended some church every Sunday. Why? Because I knew that I could fulfill almost all the functions of a church on my own during the week, but I couldn’t fulfill on my own the function of fellowship, true Christian fellowship on my own, in my home on Sunday morning. So I always made it a point to be in a church every Sunday morning, and usually Sunday night, and often a mid-week service too. Why? Because you can’t have fellowship with yourself alone, you need others, you need the Body of Christ to experience true Christian fellowship. Now you’ll notice in the passage that the great Apostle Paul at first seems to come across as saying the sole reason he wanted to visit the church in Rome was to help, encourage, and hold them accountable. Or in other words, Paul was stating his main reason for wanting to visit the Roman church, and that was to help them, but at the end of the sentence he changes it and flips it back around to include the reality that they would also be able to help him too, encourage him, etc. The great Apostle new that being a part of a true Christian church isn’t just one way. It isn’t just giving help, it’s also receiving help, even when you don’t think you need help. Paul was a very independent type of guy, but even he needed help in his faith, which going to church would give him.

But imagine the Apostle Paul coming to your church to help your faith! Imagine Paul writing a letter to our church and saying, “You Christians in the Jamestown church, Crosspointe church, I want to come and visit you and spend time with you in order to help you in your faith and ministry.” I would love that, wouldn’t you! What would he do? He would probably come here and preach the gospel, and boy, would he preach the gospel, probably like you’ve never heard it preached before. Better than Billy Graham, better than D.L. Moody, better than Charles Finney, better than John Wesley or George Whitefield, better than Martin Luther, or anybody else. Paul would come to a church and preach the simple yet powerful gospel. He’d make sure that the people of the church had the gospel right. Do you know that you can have everything in your life right, but if you have the gospel wrong you can die and go to eternal hell? Did you know that? And did you also know that you can have everything else wrong in your life (your house burns down, your marriage collapses, you go bankrupt, your dog dies, your car wrecks, your body falls apart, your name is tarnished, you lose your birth certificate so technically you don’t exist), but if you’ve got the gospel right and you trust it, you go to heaven? It’s true. People, don’t make a mistake on the gospel. Make sure you’ve got the gospel right. So the first thing Paul would do if he came here or to any church was to preach the 100% pure and true gospel. Oh there are so many, so many churches that have the gospel wrong, and I’m not just talking about the false cults like Mormons, JWs, Christian Science, etc. I’m talking about otherwise Christian churches that over the years have lost the gospel. I know, I was raised in a main-line, mainstream denominational church that had lost the gospel, that didn’t preach what Paul explains here in Romans as the gospel. This church, and it was a United Methodist, but it could just as easily have been a Presbyterian, or Congregationalist, or Baptist, or any other main-line church that has lost the gospel. But this church was teaching a gospel by works, or in other words, if you are nice and good you can get into heaven, but if you are mean and bad you won’t — that’s what they preached. Righteousness by works, heaven earned by your own goodness. That is not the true gospel, yet thousands of churches, probably many churches here in Jamestown teach that same false gospel because they’ve lost the real gospel of grace. So if Paul were to come to this or any church in Jamestown today, the first thing he’d do is preach the true gospel, just to make sure everyone had it right. And then the next thing he would do is teach the people the basics of discipleship such as prayer, reflecting on scripture (the Old Testament stories and the New Testament writings that were being produced by the Apostles), basic Christian doctrines and moral behavior, ministry and giving, and so forth, the basics of the faith.

But it wouldn’t all just be Paul imparting, he would also be receiving too. What, the great Apostle Paul needed something from these new Christians, what could that possibly be? Encouragement, accountability, comfort, sympathy, prayer, counsel, inspiration, etc. Now we are getting at the heart of true Christian fellowship. And it isn’t just coffee time after church. It isn’t just cookie time after the service. It isn’t just chitchat, small talk, “How’s the weather at your house” kind of stuff. True Christian fellowship is you being there for me and I being there for you. It’s you helping me when I am in need and I helping you when you are in need. That’s why whenever someone says, “I don’t get anything out of church” it’s a selfish statement because it’s not all about whether you get something out of it, it’s also whether anyone else gets something out of you. Some people say, “I’m not going to church because I don’t get fed enough,” or “I don’t like the music they play” or “I don’t like the pastor preaches too long.” But these are all selfish things; they are all centered on me, me, me. But that isn’t true Christian fellowship. Fellowship is a two-way street, you get helped sometimes and you give help other times. Or like what Paul says, “So that we might be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Sometime you’ll go to church strong in order to help someone else, but other times you go to church weak needing someone else’s help. Some people get into the bad habit of just going to church for themselves. They are consumers; they are takers. Give to me this, give to me that. If you don’t give to me, I’ll leave and go to another church that lets me take, take, take. They are religious consumers, always looking for what they can get, not what they can give. But true Christian fellowship is give and take. Now some people have the opposite problem. I think the Apostle Paul might have had to battle with the opposite problem, that is, never wanting to admit or acknowledge he needed help himself. I think that’s why he added that last part of the verse, because he caught himself on seeing how one-sided what he wrote, at first, sounded. He may have already written the letter and then added to it just before he mailed it. So that we both might be mutually helped by one another. But some people struggle with receiving help, pastors and people in church ministry often fall into that category. They don’t like to admit that they have doubts, they struggle, they get frustrated, and they have questions too. That’s why every Christian needs the church, because there are times when every Christian needs the help of other Christians. It’s hard to always know exactly what everyone needs on Sunday, but the Holy Spirit knows, and he’ll guide and direct Christians to each other if they’ll take the time to be led. That’s why it’s important to not rush in and out of church like a train station.

Church is not just one hour on Sunday, it’s suppose to be all week long, except on Sunday morning everyone meets together all at once. But that is not only what church is, church is 24/7, people meeting together during the week, talking and praying with each other, helping each other, encouraging each other. Some people have the mistaken view that church is one hour every Sunday — that you just run in at 10am and leave promptly when it’s over. No, that’s not what church is. That’s not even what Sunday church is supposed to be. It’s coming early so that you can talk to a few people to find out how everyone is doing, and then staying later in order to be available to help anyone who may need some encouragement or prayer or something. If you just run in and run out how can you receive help, how can you give help? How can you be a part of fellowship if you do that? I remember once in college I attended a church near Wheaton College in Illinois. I went to this church with a friend who lived in the same apartment as I, and at the end of the service they were praying for people with different needs, so I went up for prayer, and this friend went up to pray for me and found out I was praying for enough money to pay my rent at the apartment, the same place he lived. So he found out he could help by loaning me enough to pay the rent, which I paid back as soon as I could. But he helped me because he stayed long enough learn of my needs and to offer to pray. If he had run in and out he wouldn’t have known my needs and couldn’t have offered to help. In true Christian fellowship, Christians pray for one another and help one another as they can. Here at the church here we’ve prayed for people at the prayer meeting for financial needs and other things, and then sometimes someone hears a prayer request and feels they can help answer that prayer. But you never learn how you can help, or you never learn how to get help if you don’t participate in fellowship. I have to say this is one of the biggest needs among Christians today — true Christian fellowship. Many, maybe most Christians still see church as a consumer sees shopping, they go to church to get things rather than to give and get things. It’s ok to want to get something out of church, that’s ok, that’s legit. But if that’s all you come to church for, is to get, that’s selfish, plain and simple. You have the consumer mind-set, which you need to repent of. This is not Wal-Mart, this is not K-Mart, where you come in to shop. This is church, where sometimes you’ll need encouragement in your faith, and sometimes you’ll need to encourage someone else in his or her faith. Or, sometimes you’ll need to be held accountable for some bad habit you’ve picked up, and sometimes you’ll need to confront someone else for their bad habit they’ve picked up. But in the end, everybody gets helped. That is what true Christian fellowship is, and that is what Paul is talking about here in Romans 1:11-12.

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