PAUL TOTHILL

God's Vision For His Church

March 20, 2018

 

NOTE: These are notes from a sermon delivered by Paul at Gateway Church on 3/2/18

 

Vision is very important. It tells us clearly where we are heading, what God is emphasising to us and why we are doing what we do and emphasising what we need to be intentional about in any season. God is working all things together for good for those who love him and called according to his purposes. Romans 8:28

In each season, or year, as a cycle of development and establishing, the Holy Spirit reveals things to the elders of the church and God’s prophets so that God’s community, His church, can continue to move with what God is doing to fulfil His purposes on earth that has generational and present spiritual and practical realities. We are given revelation of both the general and the specific.

 

As elders, we do not believe we have a vision apart from God’s vision for His church. As elders or pastors of God’s community we believe we are meant to co-labour with Christ in God’s vision and what the Holy Spirit is revealing to us, as best we can discern. In this sense, in many ways, our vision takes on the language of Scripture as our guide and blueprint for the church.

 

PROVERBS 29: 18 is often used as foundation for giving vision to the church. Let’s look briefly at three different translations of the same text:

NIV

Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restrain; but blessed is he who keeps the law.

NLT

When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whosoever obeys the law is joyful.

Then we have the Passion translation that seems to bring more certainty and clarity.

The Passion

Where there is no clear prophetic vision people quickly wander astray. But when you follow the revelation of the word heaven’s bliss fills your soul.

 

Drawing from the Hebrew, The Passion suggests that the word revelation or vision refers to “visions of the night”, “dreams”, “oracle” or “revelation’. The Septuagint reads “where there is no prophetic seer (or interpreter).  It seems then, that our vision at Gateway Church, must be what God is revealing to us both by His word as revealed to us by the Holy Spirit and the emphasis that God gives us through prophetic encounters and revelations to those who have been entrusted to bring God’s vision to the church.

 

Whilst we can never develop doctrine based on an encounter, dream or vision, or other spiritual experiences, these experiences do help us to gain insight and revelation of the canons of Scripture- what is recorded in the Bible, as God’s promises towards His people and His purposes in the world in any generation.

 

As I have been gradually unfolding since December last year, we feel that the Holy Spirit is really drawing down on some important issues that are written in the Scriptures that He is giving us new revelation about and giving emphasis to. We believe the Holy Spirit does that, so that we may join with the Holy Spirit in fulfilling the purposes of God and establish a body of believers who are being developed into spiritual maturity. These two pursuits are fundamental to the church.

 

What I have been emphasising is not new. It is actually quite old. I sense that the Holy Spirit is taking us back to gain an understanding of what has been lost in the modern church so that the modern church can move in and perhaps beyond even what the early church moved in, established and fulfilled but in our culture and generation. I have alluded to some of those things last time I preached.

 

This morning I want to cast some vision as revelatory emphasis on one matter in particular that will explain why we do what we do and how we can each give expression to something empowering and powerful into and through our salvation and relationship with God. Let me start where I left off two weeks ago in my message that Jesus develops world changers.

 

 

 

THE COMMISSION AND ITS EXPRESSION WITHIN GOD’S COMMUNITY

 

I want to look at two scriptures. The first is Matthew 28:18. This is God’s purpose for the church as His ecclesia, His called out and set apart community into the world. This is the primary purpose of why the church exists in the world. We are set apart in Christ for the world. Whilst our relationship with God shapes our identity, and our relationship with each other gives expression to that identity, our purpose is beyond ourselves- it is into the world. As a community of believers, as God’s family on earth, we do not exist just for ourselves.

 

Unfortunately, the reduced gospel we have historically heard places the individual at the centre of our salvation experience, not Jesus and God’s purposes into the world. We therefore misunderstand God’s grace towards us and in the language of Dietrich Bonhoeffer we develop a cheap grace teaching and life application.

 

God’s grace is empowering us constantly, however, as the apostles realised and taught, and as numerous others such as Bonhoeffer have realised, God’s grace is costly. God’s grace in salvation that is extended to us empowers us to live as followers of Christ, not those who are saved and continue to follow the world. As Jesus told the apostles you are in the world but you are not of the world.

 

We are not just saved out of the world as such. Instead, we are saved into a Kingdom and a family that gives expression in a community that is set apart from the world for the world. We are delivered from the bondage of the world built on a spiritual system of sin and rescued into the eternal realm and life of Jesus.

 

So, relationships with God and each other shape and give expression to our identity in Christ, and from our identity in Christ with God the Father we all have a purpose to fulfil both individually and as a community

 

The next Scripture I want to draw reference to is Acts 2, where the promised Holy Spirit falls on the Day of Pentecost, gives birth to the Church as an apostolic prophetic community and in the midst of signs and wonders Peter stands up amongst the remaining apostles and preaches the sermon of his life. 3000 people get saved that day.

 

This causes something to happen with those who are brought into God’s promised salvation by faith alone and how a new community is birthed. It is the expression of that community joined in Christ that is important to consider.

 

As an example of the expression of believers giving effect to their salvation, it gives us insight into understanding what Jesus was referring to when He gave the apostles God’s commission in Matthew 28:18. God did not anticipate His commission being fulfilled only by a person, but rather a community that are in relationship with Him, taking on His image and likeness and moving and giving expression to that relationship towards others.

 

As I have said numerous times, and I am not embarrassed to keep repeating it, Matthew 28:18 is a restatement of Genesis 1:28. Jesus as last Adam, Second Man and Everlasting Father, as Isaiah prophesied to Israel- the hope of Israel and therefore the whole world- becomes the genesis of salvation life. Our new life.

 

We are no longer living by our old fallen nature bound to the spiritual forces of habitual sin and a life separated from God, but a new nature found living in or abiding in and following the words and life of Jesus that are working in us.

 

MATTHEW 28:18

 

Then Jesus came close to them and said, “All authority of the universe (heaven and earth) has been given to me. Now go in my authority and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And teach them to faithfully follow all that I have commanded you. And never forget that I am with you every day, even to the completion of this age.”

 

Let me draw out some observations to help create vision and the application of what we need to be doing in this season.

 

First, the church has been given the delegated authority of Jesus as the risen King over His Kingdom realm. Jesus has all authority over all the cosmos, over everything seen and unseen.  In our new identity as the family of God and as the sons and daughters of God, living from Jesus and His words we carry a delegated spiritual authority in our commission. This is fundamental to the very same assignment that Jesus had. “As I was sent I send you.” Therefore, the church is fundamentally an apostolic community.

 

As the church, our sphere of influence in which we are to outwork this spiritual authority is the whole world. God gives us each spheres of influence and as Paul says we should not boast beyond our metron or limit.

 

Gateway as an expression of God’s community in Christ is not separate from other expressions of the body of Christ from God’s point of view. Even so, we must play our part in the context of what God is building in this city and nation. Each expression of the church should ideally be working together not against each other to fulfil God’s vision and purposes on earth.

 

Secondly we are to go. We are a pioneering people. A going people designed to change spiritual landscapes and environments for good where ever we go. That means the church is an outward looking community not an inward looking or self-consumed or self-centred community.

 

Thirdly, and this becomes the key that I want to emphasise is that we are to disciple nations – all kinds of people in the world from the poor to the rich, the acceptable and those that seem least acceptable in society, meeting them in their beliefs, languages, customs and ethnicity.  Jesus began a work in Isaiah 61 we are to continue and complete.

 

This is what we need to understand: As I have explained before, salvation leads us out of the world and into the Kingdom of heaven. We simply don’t lead people out, delivering them through getting them saved from the world and taking them nowhere. That is what happened to the first generation of Hebrews who left Egypt under Pharaoh’s rule. God brought them out, but because of what was in their heart they did not come in to the promised land, a metaphor for the Kingdom of heaven. The first generation of Israel in the desert wanted desperately to come out from the oppression of Pharaoh but they did not want the cost renewing their mind and their hearts necessary for their coming in. They wanted God to bring them out from under Pharaoh only so they could follow the world instead of God. We are told we are to learn from this.

 

The phrase that I can’t shake and it seems the Holy Spirit is emphasising is “baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

 

Whilst we use these words in water baptism, the meaning of the phrase seems to me to be far greater. (We actually water baptize people into the name of Jesus.)  So, what did Jesus mean in that phrase that holds significance for us in our vision for this year and what God wants to establish in us and through us to disciple nations in this season?

 

Can I suggest the phrase must be understood from a uniquely Hebraic perspective and the history of Israel as God’s covenant people? I have said previously that I believe it takes its context in the well-known Sh’ma and daily prayer. “Hear O’Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The reference was to YHWH of course, one of the many names of God and YHWH is described in Genesis 1:1 as Elohim, a plural form, meaning gods. This is further echoed through the creation narrative. “Let us make man in our (plural) image”.

 

Nowhere is the word trinity used in the Bible. It is a construction so as to make sense of the plurality of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit acting as if they were only one God.  So, we have a triune God. The God head as we sometimes call it. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

 

Therefore, God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the eternal expression and heavenly proto-type of community, family and relationship. Every single believer when they come to Jesus, and enter into eternal life through their faith in Jesus Christ, also enter into relationship with the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In Jesus, we are placed in the Father, and join into the relationship enjoyed between each member of the Godhead. We are loved by the Father with the same love God the Father has for His son Jesus.

 

This is so breath taking! This is our new spiritual reality that we are to give expression to by faith. Our dwelling place for new life is fully immersed in the Godhead and this relational environment of perfect love, eternal truth and purpose. We are invited into God’s fullness and to live from this reality by faith and love.

 

This satisfies and perfects every human condition- relationship- receiving and expressing love; identity- who we are- worth, and purpose for our lives. That is now our place of influence and perspective in how we live into the world.

This is the very emphasis of Paul’s letters to the church in particular his letter in Ephesians:

 

Be imitators of God in everything you do, for then you will re-present your Father as his beloved sons and daughters. Continue to walk surrendered to the extravagant love of Christ, for he surrendered his life as a sacrifice for us. His great love for us was so pleasing to God- like an aroma of adoration- a sweet healing fragrance. Ephesians 5:1-2

 

We are no longer to re-present the world, whose spiritual father is Satan through our old sin-life, but we are to re-present God the Father through our Christ life in the Spirit in all that we do everywhere we go.

 

The Triune God or God head behaves and interacts and relates to each other in a certain kind of way, which is very important for us to understand in the sense of the phrase we are considering in the context of the commission the church has been given to disciple nations.

 

The essential Biblical eternal truth is that God is love. When the Bible declares this of God, and the Godhead, it is not referring to modern western ideas and expressions of love. It is referring to a particular kind of love, and in particular, divine love, or agape love. Agape love has been described in various ways but a suitable construction is the kind of love that God has for us whilst we were still sinners. As Paul teaches in Romans 5:7 Now who of us would dare to die for the sake of a wicked person? We can all understand if someone was willing to die for a truly noble person. But Christ proved God’s passionate love for us by dying in our place while we were still lost and ungodly.” (Sinners).

 

When Jesus died on the cross for us He possessed unsurpassable worth to the Father. As Boyd suggests, the Father gave His son unsurpassable worth on behalf of people who had no apparent worth. Agape love is the act of unconditionally ascribing worth to another at a cost to oneself. Hence we are to even love our enemies. It is the kind of unconditional love that produces a commitment to live a certain way towards someone else even if we do not like the way they behave, or are not deep friends with them, or romantically involved. It is the willingness to see people with the worth that God ascribes to himself and to them demonstrated by the sacrificial work of Jesus.

 

When God is love each member of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are love. In fact, the fruit of the Spirit are the expressions of God’s love in various virtues and reveal God’s true character and works alongside the life of Jesus in us as it was revealed perfectly in Jesus on earth. God is the perfect expression of love and displays His love first and foremost relationally as an expression of divine order from which all authority and power flows. If we are going to carry Christ’s delegated authority and the power of the Holy Spirit we need to do so by also carrying God’s heart, His love, just as Jesus did.

 

So, we are immersed in the Godhead as one with God and join into their continual expressions of love towards each other and towards us. This is what God intends will form the foundation to all discipleship and His household, the church.

 

Hence the Holy Spirit is given to us as a witness to this reality and from that witness we cry Abba Father.  We are joined into Elohim, the triune creator God as His children and from whom we gain our true identity through perfect love and from which we establish God’s purposes in life.

 

Each of the members of the Godhead perfectly reflect love towards one another in their relationship with each other, even as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit carry very separate functions to fulfil. This is sometimes known as the dance of the triune God that we are actually saved into. The point is each member of the Godhead submits to the other in love despite the diversity of function and the order in which they function.

 

Therefore, God perfectly loves himself and perfectly loves each other member of the Godhead thus exemplifying the teaching of Jesus which sums up the whole of the law, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and with all your mind and to love your neighbour as yourself.  God the Father loves the Son and the Holy Spirit the way He loves Himself and vice a versa. God loves us as He loves himself.

 

This is the very fabric of the oneness of the Godhead that we are now seated with and in, In Christ. We as a community are to express this reality by faith and immerse disciples- followers of Jesus into the fabric and expression of this communal life.

 

Paul teaches the church that we are to submit to one another in God’s divine love, effectively ascribing unsurpassable worth to one another even as God does, therefore living on earth as God lives in community as a Triune God in heaven. This underpins, and provides the very foundation for a culture of honour in our relationship with God and one another and the fundamental foundation for heaven to invade earth!

 

Notice loving God in the New Testament is our response from living immersed in God’s love towards us, demonstrated at the Cross and where God ascribed unsurpassable worth to all humanity. Similarly, loving others is a supernatural response as the expression of us being immersed in the God head.

 

As a spiritual community and God’s community, our responsibility, in growing maturity, is to give expression to this kind of love. This creates the kind of environment and atmosphere for God’s love to manifest in relationships, serving, hospitality, prayer, praise and other such expressions as well as His authority and demonstrations of power which becomes evident to outsiders.

 

This kind of love therefore becomes the foundation and alignment of all other expressions of God’s love. Agape love therefore leads us to brotherly love and deep friendships and what in ancient culture is known as covenant relationships. God’s agape love, selfless unconditional love towards the world and even His disciples also brought the disciples into friendship with God. It also meant that Jesus would take us from great faith to God’s love, and that His love would empower us to obey. Jesus makes this clear in John 14 and 15.

 

THE SECOND TEXT TO CONSIDER - ACTS 2

 

So, let’s now turn and take a glimpse of what the Holy Spirit was building in the community set out in Acts 2 that seems to reflect, perhaps imperfectly, the reality of immersing disciples in the Father, The son and Holy Spirit.  Let me set the scene. Each person that had joined the community had entered into salvation, had been baptised into Christ and the Holy Spirit as best as we can tell from Peter’s instruction to them in Acts 2:38.

Peter replied, Repent[i] and return to God and each one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus, the Anointed One, to have your sins removed. Then you may take hold of the gift of the Holy Spirit. For God’s promise of the Holy Spirit is for you and your families, for those yet to be born and for everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. Peter preached to them and warned them with these words, “Be rescued from the wayward and perverse culture of this world.”

 

In short, now you are in Christ, get off the sin grid for life and live fully immersed in your Christ life!

 

It is clear the 3000 saved had been deeply moved in their heart about the reality of Jesus as the promised hope of Israel and now they were living in the times of God’s prophetic fulfilment as prophesied in Joel.

 

ACTS 2:42

Every believer was faithfully devoted to following the teaching the apostles.

 

This looks like a discipleship community based on the model of Jesus and previously Elijah and Elisha. It was not an attending only community as the modern church has largely developed in the western world.

 

Their hearts were mutually linked to one another, sharing communion and coming together regularly for prayer. A deep sense of holy awe swept over everyone, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.

 

Let’s look at this as an expression of a revival culture. They were devoted to Jesus, moving in the Holy Spirit, they followed Jesus’ teaching, meaning they lived out the teaching of the Apostles which was the teaching of Jesus- this sounds a lot like Matthew 28:18 being given expression-  and were praying regularly together and ascribing God unsurpassable worth in humility as a Holy awe came upon everyone. This was not some casual experience. This was a community it would seem that was immersing itself in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as in Matthew 28:18 just as Jesus had commissioned the apostles to do! Let’s continue with the description of the expression of this community.

 

All believers were in fellowship as one body and they shared with one another what they had. Out of generosity they even sold their assets to distribute to the proceeds to those who were in need among them. Daily they met together in the temple courts and in one another’s homes to celebrate communion. They shared meals together with joyful hearts and tender humility. They were continually filled with praises to God, enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord kept adding to their number daily those who were coming to life (or being saved).

 

I find it impossible to not consider that this early community was the kind of community that revealed perhaps imperfectly and developmentally what Jesus was describing in the Commission of Matthew 28:18. The expression of God’s love is evident in this kind of unity of the heart, humility, devotion, spiritual activity, hospitality and reverence and praise, ascribing to God unsurpassable worth, mirroring what was in their hearts.

 

It was also a spiritual atmosphere were God’s presence was manifest and the Kingdom through signs wonders and miracles were constantly breaking in. Again this seems to be the fruit of being fully immersed in the Godhead, even as Jesus lived as one with the Father in the Holy Spirit.

 

God was doing the addition as they started to develop the reality of a community that was immersed in the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

We are to find the same heart of God in a community that draws from Jesus’ life and teaching into this world in our cultural context. Some basic expressions continue beyond the generations and cultural influences that no doubt underpinned the early church’s approach to community.

 

I believe they were living in the Holy Spirit immersed in the Father and the Son.  What they were living was the kind of expression that the Holy Spirit is putting His finger on in this season as Jesus steps into His body to develop mature sons and daughter of God who know how to live in Him and from Him into the world. It is these people as the bride of Christ who will carry a greater level of intimacy, consecration, love, authority and power into the world as John 14 anticipates.

 

CONCLUSION

 

We do not pray and worship on a Wednesday night because it is convenient. We do so because it is needed and a spiritual and practical expression and response to the life we now lead. This is an expression of us being immersed in the love of God.  We fundamentally need to be found together gathering around the teaching of Jesus, worshipping together and praising God and praying to God with all kinds of prayers. This is simply foundational.

 

We do not encourage people to worship because of ourselves. But instead, as the first response, of reflecting to God His immeasurable love towards us and ascribing to Him His unsurpassable worth.

 

A community that worships God in this way with all their hearts, all their mind and all their soul concerned only with giving God honour to God, will enter into their priestly function and into the transforming power of God in their lives. They will also produce a culture of thanks giving to God and produce in themselves humble teachable hearts. Friends we are transformed when we worship God in Spirit and truth. Again, this is foundational.

 

This is the atmosphere that the glory of God becomes manifest and manifestations of God’s grace take place. We are each called to participate in this reality from our life found in the love of God that He has poured into our hearts.

 

We do not have you serve for the sake of it, but rather to have you give expression to your true identity in God, as God’s sons and daughters carrying God’s heart and love in you and the desire to cause your life to develop something greater than yourself that allows people to see the life of God in Jesus Christ made manifest.

 

Jesus demonstrated serving in God’s house reveals our heart towards God and towards others. Of course, we are not meant to build God’s community with one or two people with the rest being spectators. We are not volunteers either, although this language is often used. We are all children of God. Consistent with our new identity with God’s love in our hearts we want be like our King and showing ourselves as sons and daughters of God, carry His heart to serve and help develop God’s community. We serve with the heart of a King to reveal our life that is immersed in the Godhead.

 

And we could go on. Each activity we engage in has a purpose and gives us an opportunity to grow and give expression to the Christ life we are now living as maturing sons and daughters of God. This is the environment we are to bring people into. This is the atmosphere and culture that we are to teach the people to live as we disciple them as followers of Jesus.

 

So, we intend to be intentional about equipping you to be participants, so that you can experience and give expression to your life that is immersed in the Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

We need to invite you to change your idea about how church can look and how you can live empowered in Christ in this world. We want to teach you how to understand and apply the teaching of Jesus to your life and we want to encourage you to submit to one another in love and learn how to display unsurpassable worth to one another.

 

We want people to experience Jesus in you in such a way that together we can create an atmosphere every time we get together that the eternal Kingdom realm is made manifest in our consideration for one another, our generosity towards one another, our hospitality to one another, our patience towards one another and our desire to serve one another. We want to be authentic followers of Jesus fully immersed in the Father the son and the Holy Spirit. This is the reality the world is longing to experience. And we are permitted to be very excited about it!

 

 

 

[i] By definition to repent means to acknowledge and confess that you are going the wrong way. Confession and repentance are mutual concepts. You can’t change your mind and the direction of your life if you do not acknowledge you are engaged in wrong thinking and a corresponding wrong path for your life.

 

 

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