Paul’s Instructions for Church

Title: Paul’s Instructions for Church

Text: Romans 1, 2, 3

Time: July 30th, 2006

Paul wrote the Book of Romans in order to instruct the Roman church, to lay a solid foundation for Christianity in that city. Paul hadn’t established the church in Rome, so he felt compelled to give it a good, solid foundation, one that it would need to have if it were to survive in such an influential city such as Rome, the capital of the famous Roman Empire. What a tragedy it would be for the official representation of Christianity in the important city of Rome to go astray, or turn away from the truth of Christ. Paul hadn’t established this church like he had others, such as Corinth and the church at Galatia. He hadn’t trained its leaders in the faith, hadn’t worked with the congregation, or even preached there at all before, so he felt he must do something for Rome in order to satisfy himself that this church would have every advantage as other churches of bearing good fruit for the Lord. We are told that Paul intended to visit the Christians in Rome for a long time, but he was never able to again and again. So he would do the next best thing, write a long, instructional letter outlining his Gospel and Christian teachings that the Roman church would need to establish itself on a solid foundation. So what we have in the Book of Romans is Paul’s instructions to a church that he hadn’t personally supervised from its start. We have Paul’s Gospel message in its essential parts, and the essential elements of church life, as he understood them under inspiration of God. That means we can turn to the Book of Romans in establishing our churches today and find all the essential elements needed to start and maintain a healthy Christian church. What are the basic parts to a Christian church? When we think of a church today we might think first of its building, it’s outer structure, where the people gather on Sunday mornings. But Paul doesn’t mention anything about a facility, so it must not be something essential to the workings of a true Christian church. Yes, there would need to be a place to meet for the people, but it isn’t one of the more important things. Paul describes the spiritual characteristics of a New Testament church, the key elements that Christians would need in order to form and hold together a healthy Christian spiritual community. With that in mind, I’d like to briefly sketch out the basic elements of a healthy church based on the early chapters of the Book of Romans. There are many points that could be made, but today I’ll only cover nine essential points, ones that Paul seems to cover in the first three chapters of Romans. They are 1. praise and thanks, 2. confession and repentance, 3. experiencing God’s presence, 4. learning and applying the knowledge of God, 5. evangelism, 6. discipleship, 7. praying, 8. experiencing fellowship, 9. service to God. There may be more points, but these are the most obvious and ones that are most essential.

First, thanks and praise. Romans 1: 21, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.” One of the messages Paul communicates in the first chapter of Romans is the failure of mankind. But in showing us how mankind fails, he also in a backhand kind of way describes to us how church should be – the very opposite. In verse 21 he describes how unbelievers fail to give God thanks and praise. What that means for the church is that we should in the church, of all places, be a gathering place where God is thanked and praised. If the ungodly world is neglecting giving God praise and thanks, then the church must be a place that truly does give God praise and thanks. We have so much to thank God for, for life, for health, for basic necessities of housing, clothes, food, water, safety, work, etc. Church should be a place where believers gather to thank God for these and other things. And also praise. If the world neglects to praise God for the sun and sky, water and light, for the seasons, for everything wonderful, then the church should be a place to make up for that lack. The world is in denial about God and all things pertaining to God, so then let the church be the place where God is rightly praised and thanked. Believers don’t have to live in denial about God, but instead can acknowledge God properly with praises and thanksgiving. Thanks an essential element of a church.

Second, confession and repentance. Romans 2:4-5, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath.” Christians can stop being defensive about their sins, they can stop denying their sins, and can confess honestly their faults and disobediences to God. The unbelieving world not only denies God but denies God’s law as well. And then by denying God’s law, the sinner denies being a sinner, or is defensive about the whole subject of sin. But Christians don’t have to be in denial about sin, nor defensive about being sinners, but Christians can confess and repent of sin, deal with it properly, and receive forgiveness. The church should be a place where sin can be talked about freely and openly, and dealt with honestly. Christians can learn also proper humility before God, as Romans 3:19 says, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” The church should be a place where sinners can learn about sin, deal with sin humbly in their own life, and receive God’s forgiveness. There is no need to deny sin, no need to suppress sin, or be defensive about it. Regular confession of sin should occur in church, and repentance of sin, renouncement of sin, can and should be a regular feature of a healthy church.

Third, experience God’s presence. Romans 1:19-20, “Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” A New Testament church should be a place where people can experience the convicting and comforting presence of God. The unbelieving world works hard at denying the presence of God in order to avoid the implications of God’s presence, such as faith and obedience. The unbelievers would prefer that God were not around. But for the Christian church, it’s just the opposite. Christians should welcome the presence of God, both in its comforting aspects as well as convicting aspects. God convicts us of sin by His holy presence, when we get a glimpse of his pure holiness. In contrast to the holiness of God’s pure presence, our sinfulness is underscored and we are humbled into confession through conviction. But not only that, we are comforted by God’s comforting presence, as described in Romans 5:1-2, “Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Church is a place where people should be able to experience God, either his convicting presence or his comforting presence, since we do not have to deny either.

Fourth, learn and apply the knowledge of God. Romans 1:28, “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” But the Christian church should think of the knowledge of God as worthwhile to retain, and consequently it should be a place where truth gets a fair, open, and honest hearing, unlike the denying outside world. The unbelieving world is so busy denying God and denying any truth from God that might convict it of sin and bring guilt or shame upon it, that truth cannot be dealt with in any honest way. But Christians can relax in God’s truth and learn it and apply it to their lives because there is no need to deny it. Paul mentions the word “truth” no less than three times in Romans 2. Verse 2, “Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.” Verse 8, “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” And in verse 20. Nonbelievers are intimidated by truth, especially revealed truth from God, because it spells trouble for them; but for believers in church, truth is welcomed because it doesn’t threaten to condemn us any more, but it instructs us on how to live properly. So church should be a place where truth is valued highly. Christians must never mishandle the truth like the outside world does, but should center everything around it in the church.

Fifth, practice evangelism. Romans 1:15-16, “That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation.” The church should be a place where the gospel is given full expression. The gospel should be presented at least in summary form every meeting so that both those interested in becoming Christians might have an opportunity, and so that those who already believe should never forget it. And the different parts of the gospel should never be omitted for any reason in the church. There is great pressure for many within the church today to tone down the more offensive aspects of the gospel, for example, sin, judgment, condemnation, eternal punishment, etc. The unbelieving world puts pressure on the church to omit parts of the gospel that are offensive to sinful rebels against God. But if these parts are eliminated then there is no gospel, no salvation. The church must be a place, of all places, where the complete and full gospel is proclaimed. While every teaching in the church will not be specifically evangelistic, since there are other important truths God wants us to know, at least some time should be given to invite anyone seeking salvation to repent and believe the good news. This is a major purpose for the Christian church.

Sixth, practice discipleship. Romans 1:5, “Through him and for his name’s sake, we received the grace and apostleship to call people from among the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” The discipleship assignment was given specifically by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The unbelieving world resists God’s will, rebels against God’s instructions, and seeks to deny God and His will altogether; but the Christian church embraces God and His will. Christians are motivated by love of God and love of fellow man to do good. The church’s assignment is to reconcile people to God and out of that new relationship inspire them to follow God’s will from the heart freely. The unbelieving world only knows forced obedience to law through threat of punishment, but the church has a better way, motivation to obedience out of love for God and man. Discipleship is a lifelong process that starts with salvation, continues within the church, and concludes in eternal life. Discipleship is a process in which we unlearn all our selfish ways and relearn life according to God’s will. This process is not a duty to be endured as under law, but it’s a delight to be enjoyed as under grace. Church is where we learn to grow in grace.

Seventh, learn prayer. Romans 1:10, “In my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.” Church should be a place where believers learn to pray. While we learn to confess and repent of our sins, this is prayer; we also learn to pray other prayers as well, such as petitions. The unbelieving world is desperately trying to deny God and everything connected with God, it only makes sense that it would neglect prayer, since prayer would only serve as a reminder of God’s reality. But in the church, prayer is sought after and valued because Christians have no reason to deny God, in fact, have every reason to seek after him in everything, now that there is reconciliation achieved with God. Prayer is one of the most important activities of the church. Jesus himself said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” Whatever a church meeting should be used for, it must include prayer as a key part. While today, we do not have the actual physical presence of God in our midst, we do have his invisible, yet no less real, presence through prayer. With the world in such a desperate shape, as well as the church in such dire need of help, there is much to pray about for Christians today. Of all places, church should be a place where believers gather to pray.

Eighth, experience fellowship. Romans 1:11-12, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong, that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Paul writes to the Roman Christians and longs to help them spiritually through the use of his many spiritual talents, but then remembers that church is not a one-sided giving by one, but a give and take by the many. Church isn’t the minister teaching and praying and leading, with the people receiving, but true Christian fellowship is giving and receiving of all the people. Even the famous Apostle Paul realized that upon his visit to Rome it would not be simply his giving to them, but him also receiving from them as well. A proper New Testament church is where believers are giving and receiving encouragement from one another, holding each other accountable for living the Christian life, and functioning together. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be designated leadership, but it means everyone should be involved in the life of the church, no one being uninvolved, no one doing all the giving nor all the receiving, but sharing in the community life. Today, we live in a very individualistic society, but church can help correct this imbalance.

Ninth, serving God. Romans 1:25, “They exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator, who is forever praised. Amen.” Now the unbelieving world refuses to serve God because it is too busy serving created things, idols actually of human fabrication. But the church, of all places, should be a place where believers learn how to serve the living God. Before we repented and placed our faith in the Savior, we were self-serving mostly, going from one thing after another, trying to ring as much happiness out of life as we could through our own way. But after our conversion, we begin to learn a new way: service to God. Church is a place where believers find out how to serve God rather than self or the other false idols of life. Church is where believers learn to “seek first the kingdom of God,” where we learn how we can contribute to the overall work of God today. We also learn how to break the bad habits of self-serving, by learning how to serve God by serving others too. A New Testament Church will be a place where service to God and fellow man flourishes. This is a radical break from the selfish world in which we live.

There are other aspects of the Christian Church that Paul teaches, but these are the most obvious aspects from the first few chapters of the Book of Romans. As we know from the Book of Acts, Paul did eventually reach the city of Rome, and probably taught in more detail the outline he gave them in the Book of Romans. We see many of these same themes in the other books that Paul wrote to other churches under his care as a missionary. But for a basic outline of the essential aspects of a healthy church, this list lacks little. If we compare this list of essential aspects of church life with contemporary churches today we find that a few of the points are almost completely missing in churches today. Points two and three are particularly missing in most churches today: confession and repentance of sin, and experiencing God’s presence. As far as point two, confession and repentance of sin, it is as if churches simply dropped this aspect of church life because it is so offensive to most people today. Even though it was the first message of both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ himself, today, most churches omit all talk of confession and repentance of sin. In some churches, confession (acknowledgement of sin) is still mentioned, but repentance (actually turning away from sin) is almost totally eliminated. That is a shame, because it was something that was so much an important part of the ministry of Jesus and the disciples, and of course, Paul, as we see from his instructions to the church at Rome. It’s actually impossible to properly preach or teach the gospel without confession and repentance, which leaves us to wonder just what churches are teaching when they supposedly present the gospel without confession and repentance. What are people supposedly committing to when these essential elements are left out? What does this say about most churches today where these two things are omitted? Now point three, experiencing God’s presence. Many more churches are reporting God’s comforting presence, especially during praise and worship, but what about God’s convicting presence? Again, this would seem to be another major omission, and one connected directly with the absence of confession and repentance. God’s convicting presence is seen largely as a negative aspect, and so it is discouraged within many or most churches. But how can one turn from sin and turn to God without God’s convicting of sin? How can the conversion process even begin without a sense of God’s holiness or holy presence, in contrast with our own very sinfulness? Again, the biggest problems in today’s church seems to spring from our unwillingness to deal with the more negative aspects of God’s truth. If we would yet trust God and teach the “full counsel of God” as Paul says elsewhere, many of the problems churches experience today, such as lack of discipline, would be eliminated.

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