Session Five – John Lin

Sesssion 5

GOSPEL IN BUILDING COMMUNITY

What are some of the barriers for developing richer community? In some ways, many of the questions about groups is a matter of church structure and programs – lots of practical details on how to make it work, challenges to being faithful in caring for people, building community, etc. But what are some of the deeper barriers to building deep and sustaining community?

Galatians 2:11-14. Passage about how Paul confronted Peter. Peter was a Jewish Christian, who had been eating with the Gentiles – in general, in the Bible, eating represented friendship – community – more than just eating in the same area, but they actually celebrated a relational connection, friendship, family through eating together (for instance, David and Mephibosheth who ate together or heaven as described as a banquet). In community with Gentiles, even though he was a Jew. Eventually, what happens is that when Jewish Christian party was around, would separate himself from Gentiles. Ordinarily, might say that he was racist – or that he disliked the Gentiles or was trying to exclude them. Paul says it is something deeper – calls it hypocrisy. V, 14, says that conduct not in step or line with the truth of the gospel. Peter was a Jew but acted like a Gentile, but then asked Gentiles to act like Jews.

In other words, what kept Peter from having deeper community with Gentiles, not just that he despised them or didn’t like them or that he had committed a sin like racism. Reason was that the reality of the gospel had not changed every part of his life – the reality of God’s grace hadn’t changed his life. Very interesting. There is a lifestyle – a certain way of living that comes as a result of really understanding God’s grace – that our faith not that we believe and rely on God’s grace and then later on we do good works – Christianity is that we believe in God’s grace and its believing in God’s grace, that’s what causes us, moment by moment, to do good works (it’s easy to remember this when you come to faith, but not necessarily as you grow in faith). In other words, issue was never just surface sin or his external behavior – issue wasn’t even that he had lingering hatred or dislike towards Gentiles – issue was that he didn’t fully understand God’s grace – that’s what kept him from being close to Gentiles. Peter gloried in something other than the cross – in this case, his public appearance.

Gospel is basically that though we were sinners, Christ died for us – that we now have His perfect approval, in spite of our sin and in spite of all of our good works. This causes deep sense of personal freedom – deep sense of release and comfort with ourselves. All our lives we’ve wanted approval – that we’ve wanted people to think well of us or that we’ve wanted to think well of ourselves. Yet Christ’s approval is what matters. Entire lives we’ve sought recognition, but Christ gave up his approval to give us an approval that we could never earn, and he ate with us. On one hand, because gospel reminds us that we are sinners, it makes us very humble – makes us into servants. On other hand, because gospel reminds us that Christ died for us, we can be bold – we can have courage – if we know that God fully approves of us and that his approval is all that matters, it can radically change our community lives.

How? Why did Paul not fellowship with the Gentiles when the Jews arrived? Wasn’t because he didn’t like Gentiles – after all, he was able to fellowship with them before the Jews arrived. It was because, he didn’t want the Jews to see him with Gentiles – afraid of public perception that he was with the wrong kind of people, or different people. Too concerned with what others thought to do what was right and build community. How is this contrary to the gospel?

Gospel tells us that God ultimately approves of us – his approval more important than the approval of man – and yet what Peter was doing was he was looking for the approval of the Jews. More concerned with what the Jews though of him, or more concerned with what he thought about himself, than he was concerned about God’s approval. If he cared about Jewish approval more than God’s approval, then he basically would do what he did –not eat with Gentiles. If, on other hand, cared more about God’s approval than Jewish approval, then it wouldn’t bother him or trouble him at all to eat with the Gentiles – because He has the most important approval from God. Think about how enslaving this can become – if you care about God’s approval more than man’s approval, then you know that you’ve already been approved and saved – if you care more about man’s approval and forget God’s approval, then you are always trying to do good things to make men approve of you more – always try to please them – a little bit like a very demanding parent – you can spend entire life working to make them happy, and when you love them in return, you never know if its because you really love them or because you’re listening to their demands.

The best part of the gospel is that we forget ourselves – we are no longer the center of everything or are always seeking control, approval, comfort, power, etc. Everyone becomes either a threat or an opportunity and yet the gospel allows us to laugh at ourselves and say, “What a miracle! This is unbelievable!”

In case of pastors, what is it that keeps us from doing something different – taking risks in ministry or trying to do something bold, like fellowship groups?

Often we become inflexible and closed because we care more about external appearance more than faithfulness – concerned with man’s approval – that congregation members won’t respect us, fear that we may fail or look bad before the congregation, keeps us from innovation and from new ideas. Other issues too – sometimes we are afraid of lack of control, concerned that now ministry has to go into hands of others. Feeling that things have always been done a certain way and cannot change – why is that? Is it really because of a biblical principle or is it because we’re afraid to change? At Redeemer, we’re always changing to be faithful to the vision – otherwise, we’ll have an idolatry of tradition and our own customs. We need to model community to others and this means the gospel has to change our pride and make us willing to fail. When understand gospel, will realize that often reason we don’t change is because we’re afraid of loss of control – but Christ has assured us that He is in control and that we are not qualified to be in control – loss of approval, but we have His approval – loss of comfort, but Christ provides us perfect comfort even if we have emotional discomfort. Major one is approval – many ministers go into ministry because they enjoy influence and the approval of people – problem, however, is that this sometimes means we’re afraid to fail. One key lesson people in congregation can learn is that faith means that we may fail – may look silly – but that’s how we grow in faith and wisdom – learning through our failures, allowing God to work through our failure. This is critical in creating community for everyone in our congregations – people have to feel comfortable opening up their lives to others – ministers need to model this – only way we can ever have true community is if we open up our lives to one another and this can be modeled if minister is willing to take some risks – willing to show imperfections – but in the end, this is just the gospel. Perfection is not a model we want to present – redeemed life is model we want to present. This is what true leadership is – every kind of leadership is service – a personal sacrifice for others.

Congregants need to understand that ministers are real people – that we take risks and sometimes make mistakes. I.e. preaching in NYC – very hard – yet what people need to see is not necessarily perfection, but redemption – a gospel changed life. Need this not only as we lead a community, but people need this to be a community in the first place! We need to remind people that we are sinners and therefore need to be humble and yet we are redeemed and therefore can be hopeful.