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Instructions for Engagement

I want to begin this morning with a question: What responsibilities come with being in a family? If you’re in a family, what is expected of you? I’m going to give you just a minute or so to discuss this with the people sitting around you and then I want to hear some of your answers.
It’s tough to come up with one conclusive answer because all of us have grown up in different families. And different families do different things. And sometimes they do the same things, but in different ways.

But despite these differences, there are some universal, core responsibilities of a family. For example: A family shares. They share a home together, they share food together, they share money, they share time and experiences. Sharing is a universal, core responsibility of a family. No mom or dad would refuse to share their home with their kids. No mom or dad would refuse to share their food with their kids. Sharing is just part of being a family. It’s one of those universal, core responsibilities that comes with being in a family.

So this morning, I want to look at some of the universal, core responsibilities that come with being part of the family of God. How are we to function as members of the family of God? What is expected of us? Even though different churches do different things in different ways, what are those things that are expected of every person in every church?

So, to find the answer to this question, I decided to do a online search. I went to Biblegateway.com (which is a Bible website that lets you search the Bible in many different translations or even languages). I search for two phrases. The first phrase I searched for was “one another” and the second phrase was “each other”. I wanted to find what instructions the Bible gives us for how we are to live in this family together. And what I found was quite interesting.

In searching for just those two phrases, one another & each other, I found 59 specific instructions in the New Testament regarding how we are to act within our church family. Now of course, some instructions were given more than once. So when you take out the duplicates, you’re left with 32 unique instructions for how God expects us to live in His family.

Now I’m guessing that you really don’t want to sit through a 32-point sermon. So we’re not going to look in detail at each one of these. Instead, we’re going to look at the three that seem to be repeated most often. If we keep getting the same instructions three or five or ten times, it must be important.

So the first frequently repeated instruction for living in the family of God is… To Encourage one another.

“Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” Ephesians 4:29

“So encourage each other and build each other up.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

“Encourage those who are timid.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14

“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25

One of our primary functions in the family of God is to encourage one another.

The word “encourage” is made up of two parts. The first part is simply “en” – which is a prefix that means “to put on” – like a coat or something. The second part is “courage”, but it means much more than just being brave. Originally, back in the Old English, the word courage meant “strength and zeal”. So when you encourage someone, you are literally putting on that person, strength and zeal.

So as a family, we are to put strength and zeal onto each other. But often, we do just the opposite. We tend to discourage – rather than encourage. We tend to strip away strength and zeal from people.

We notice their mistakes, instead of recognizing what they do right.
We point out their short-comings, instead of seeing where they excel.
We focus on their weaknesses, instead of praising their strengths.

But we don’t want to do that in our family. In our family, we want to build up – not tear down. Because encouragement is absolutely invaluable.

My mother tends to save everything. From coupons to  wrapping paper, old magazines & newspapers, birthday cards from years ago, and just everything. Nothing gets thrown away.

I am not like that. I will rarely save a coupon. I will never save wrapping paper. Birthday cards might stick around for a couple weeks. But before long, things like that just get tossed. I don’t want the clutter. However…

One thing that I just won’t throw away, is old notes of encouragement. For example, when I was in my mid-teens, my youth group went on a weekend retreat. And one of the activities was for everyone to write just a one sentence note of encouragement to everyone else. And the notes we wrote were really nothing profound, but I have kept those notes for all these years.

When I was in college, the student council had these little cards printed up that simply said, “Thinking of you” and then had a blank space underneath where students could write some sort of encouraging message to another student and then place the card in their mailbox. Even though we had a student body of only about 65, we gave out thousands of those cards over the course of the year, and I never saw anyone throw them in the garbage.

Why? Because encouragement is invaluable. Every time I read one of those old notes, it’s like putting on a coat of strength and zeal.

Can I encourage you… Let’s be a family that encourages one another. Let’s be a family that builds each other up. Let’s be a family that spurs each other on.

Carefully consider the words you say. Are they “good and helpful” as Ephesians 4:29 say “so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them?” Hearing people complain or talking negatively about others is not an encouragement. So be carefully how you talk.

Watch for opportunities to be an encourager. Look for ways that you can carry one another’s burdens. Few things are more encouraging than having a friend come along side you when you’re struggling. Let’s be a family that puts strength and zeal onto each other. Let’s be a family that encourages.

So that’s the first frequently repeated instruction for how to live in God’s family – Encourage One Another.

The second most repeated instruction for how to live in God’s family is: Live in Harmony with Each Other.

“Live in harmony with one another.” Romans 12:16

“I appeal to you…to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” 1 Corinthians 1:10

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.” Colossians 3:13

“Live in peace with each other.” 1 Thessalonians 5:13

And the list could go on. This is just a sampling. Time and time again we are urged to live in harmony with each other. And I think we’re reminded to live in harmony so often, because it’s difficult!

It’s not easy to forgive someone who has wronged you.
It’s not easy to get along with people who are different from you.
It’s not easy to give up your rights for the sake of unity.
It’s not easy to work with people that tend to grate against you.

But that’s exactly what we are called to do. I think Colossians 3:13 sums it up really well: “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.”

Do you do that? Do you make allowance for other people’s faults? For myself, too often I demand perfection of other people. And if they’re not perfect, I look down on them. Or I think less of them. Or I start to grow little grudges in my heart against them. And that’s wrong. That’s sin. That destroys unity and harmony.

I need to make allowance for other people’s faults – because God has certainly made a lot of allowance for mine.

And besides, don’t forget that we are going to spend eternity with these people, so we might as well start to get along now!

When Jesus was praying for his disciples and for everyone who would one day become a  believer, He prayed,

“May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” John 17:23

When we live in unity and in harmony with one another, that is proof to the world that the Good News that we claim we believe is really real. That there is a God and that He really does love us and that He really does make a difference in our lives.

So what message do we send the world when they see division in the church? Or when they hear us talking down about the people in our church? Or about the people in other churches? What messages are you sending?

“I appeal to you…to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” 1 Corinthians 1:10

So that’s the second most repeated instruction for living in the family of God. Now here’s the big one. This one is mentioned probably more than twice as many times as any other instruction in the New Testament. You can probably guess what it is: Love Each Other.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” 1 John 3:18

And I guess this is really a summary of everything we’ve talked about this morning. Living in harmony will not happen without love. True encouragement will not happen without love. We can not function as a family without love.

And I’m not talking about a lovey feeling. I’m talking about a self-sacrificing, putting others first, meeting other people’s needs kind of love. Love that has action behind it.

Our words can say that we love each other – but do our actions say that we love each other? Think about for a minute. What have your actions said to the people in this room this week? Have you put your love into action?

Or has your lack of actions said “I don’t care about you – You’re not important.”

As a Dad, I have to be careful not to get to busy for my kids. I can tell my kids that I love them all I want, but if I spend all day every day in the office or out and about away from them, then my lack of actions them tells them “I don’t care about you – You’re not important.” So I must back up my words with my actions.

And we must do that in the church as well. Don’t just tell people that you love them and that you care about them – prove it. Put some actions behind those words. Buy them a coffee, weed their garden, give them a phone call, invite them to diner – but do something.

Jesus didn’t just come to tell people how much God loves them – He showed them by serving the people around Him and ultimately by dying on the cross in their place.

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

Our actions speak louder than words. So what have you been saying?

This week you will have many opportunities to show your church family how much you love them. As part of our whole church initiative, we’ve provided a few opportunities for you – Burger for a Buck tonight, Engagement parties this week – But you will also have all kinds of other opportunities to encourage one another, to live in harmony with each other and to truly love each other throughout your regular week. So let’s make the most of these opportunities. Let’s live like the family of God.

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