God created us to be in community—beginning “in the beginning with Adam and Eve”. The Old Testament is the story of God interacting with the people of Israel, a community united by genetics and a special relationship with God. When Jesus comes, to this community, He selects the twelve disciples to be His primary community. And as He comes to the night before His crucifixion, He prays for them:
He not only prayed for those twelve, He prayed for those who believe because of the message of those twelve. He prayed for the community of believers down through the ages. He prayed for you and for me.
The apostle Paul teaches much about living in community.
Paul teaches that we are connected to one another through our relationship with Christ. We belong to one another. We are linked together.
1) What God is looking for?
When God looks at us, as His community, what does He hope to see?
1. Love for God
God is looking for people who have their hearts prepared to make room for Him to live, through our faith in Him. Because of our faith, we have the Holy Spirit, God-in-us, giving us the power to grasp, together in community, how big God’s love actually is. He is looking for people who are open to receiving the love that God has—this immense, immeasurable love.
What can be our natural response to that knowledge but to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and strength?
2. Love for one another
If this is who God is looking for—this is how He wants us to live:
Live a life worthy of the calling we have received. That is demonstrated through humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love. All of these are characterized by a unity of the Spirit of God that is living within us. Unity doesn’t mean “same”. “ keep the harmony and oneness of [and produced by] the Spirit” Amplified Bible. So we can, as a community, disagree humbly, disagree gently, disagree patiently because we are united in the Spirit, and we have the love of Christ at work in us.
1 John 3: 11 ~ talk about how we need to love one another. This is the sign that we are alive in Christ. If we don’t demonstrate Christ’s love through love for one another, then John asks in verse 17 if God’s love can actually be in him. Love for one another is not just words, but actions.
3. Image of a body, working together
So how does a community of believers demonstrate our love for God and our love for one another?
- Draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, being forgiven!
- Hold on to the hope we have in Christ.
- And spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
- Keep on meeting with one another, to encourage one another.
a. All are important
Paul uses the image of a body in three different passages, to describe how we work together in community.
Just as our physical bodies have different parts or members, but work together to make a working “us” so the community of believers, the church has different parts or members who function doing what they do best so that the whole body works together.
b. Not all are the same
We have different parts, but one body.
Paul elaborates on this in 1 Corinthians 12.
We can go into a study of what are called “spiritual gifts” here, but that will have to happen in the New Year. As a sampler, though, here are a list of what people have summarized as gifts the Holy Spirit gives the different parts of the body to contribute to the working of the whole community—
Look for the List in this passage...
Paul says in Romans 12:6, we have different gifts, according to the grace given us. And the following verses show that if you have a certain gift, use it as a service to the Lord.
4. Heart for the world.
In Jesus’ prayer for his disciples (John 17:23), the reason Jesus prayed that we would live in unity was so that the world would know that God had sent Him.
2) How do we measure up?
As we look around at each other, how do we measure up?
1. How is our relationship with God?
Are we as a community grasping the extent of God’s love for us? Are we being rooted and established in the love of Christ? What do we do to nurture that relationship in community?
2. Do we know one another?
Look around you in your worshiping community. How many of you know everyone’s name? This is the reason for the name tags on covered dish Sundays. Is there one other person in our community you know well enough to share a personal concern and receive prayer? Are there people in the community who you could call in if you needed help?
3. How do we show love for one another?
How do we demonstrate love for one another?
This gives a great overview of what our life should be like in the community, in the body of Christ. How much of this is at work in the life of the ICCS Community?
4. How do we work together as a body?
I realize that some might wonder why I chose to talk on this today. Stan and I recently looked at some demographic data on ICCS. We were looking for some trends, and for the answers to a couple of questions we get from people outside of this fellowship, such as “what proportion of your congregation is Japanese?” We discovered that our off the top, ball-park figure of 1/3 is actually correct!
One of the last things we looked at was how many of our people are involved in the ministry at ICCS in one way or another. This encompasses anything from leadership and teaching, to helping with the coffee. I have read that in most churches, 10% of the people do most of the work. But at ICCS, we found that 65% of our people are doing something to contribute to the community! I praise God for His work in this community, this body!
This is a great piece of news, but you know, I think we can do better! Some of us are not using the gifts and abilities God has given us for the ministry at ICCS. Some of us are doing too many jobs—working in and out of our gifting in order to cover things that need to be done. And then some of us have held off from getting involved, for whatever reasons. As you looked at the photos from years at ICCS, one thing you will notice is that you didn’t know a lot of those people. Turnover is a big part of an International fellowship. Yet whether you are a part of our community for a long time or a short time, God wants you to function in your part of the body!
3) Personal inventory
I want to close with a few personal questions. I don’t expect you to verbalize the answers to me, but I want you to think about and pray about what God wants to do in your life as you grow to know and love Him more in this community of believers.
2. Who do I need to get to know here?
3. Where do I fit in the life of this community?
a. Do I need help finding a place?
4. Who do I know that needs to find Christ?
a. Am I praying for them?
If you are interested in finding a place to serve, please let Stan or me know. We want to help you grow in your understanding of how God has made you and where you fit into the body. It is possible that in the New Year we will have a “gifted to serve”.
Ephesians 4:13 says that we exercise the gifts God has given us so to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ might be built up until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God; and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. V 16 From [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
I think this is a lifetime process—and at ICCS we’re well on the way, but we need to continue to build one another up in love, exercising our gifts, doing our part.
Ephesians 3:20, 21 as closing prayer.
We have several opportunities coming up to function as a community—
Next Sunday we have scheduled a Cleaning Day after church of the worship hall and classrooms. Not only do we all need to come prepared to do our share, we need to develop a plan for the ongoing upkeep of the chapel. Stan has mentioned before that we do not have a custodial staff—and if you’ve used the toilets in the past few months, or looked at the kitchen floor recently, you will recognize that! Come next week prepared to pitch in. We all have our specialties—some like windows, some of you may have looked at the toys upstairs and thought, these should be sorted, cleaned and some need to be tossed…where you have thought “this should be done” — perhaps next Sunday is the time to do it.
On December 4 we are hosting a Gospel Choir Workshop. This is an excellent time for our community to invite family and friends to a delightful evening of practice. Will those we invite see that we love Christ and one another? I hope so! Do you want to help in some way, in addition to bringing someone? See Fumi or Yumi. Do you think we could fill the room?
Christmas Outreaches, including Christmas Eve
There are always many concerts scheduled throughout this time of year. The Charity concert at the Muse is on the 6th, and we have tickets here that can be purchased ahead of time.
Our church has become known as a Caroling Church…and last year we were able to greet friends in the neighborhood on Christmas Eve with Christmas Carols after our Candlelight service. This year we are again going caroling, but this time we’re offering a pre-caroling practice! The date is still not clear, but it will be announced so please check again.
Christmas Eve is a night when we have many neighborhood people come. There have been many Christmas Eve services where there has been almost no one from the ICCS community here, though. Consider putting this into your calendar for December 24. And if you want to be a part of putting together the cookies and hot drinks reception after the caroling that evening, let me know.
Now, let's be thankful for ALL the Lord has both given to us and provided for us IN CHRIST JESUS. Apart from Him, we would have a huge need. He cares for us and loves us deeply!