Last week I spoke about the love of God. I spoke about the enormous, wonderful unfailing love of God and I implored you to do whatever it takes through prayer, Bible study, Biblical meditation, fellowship and outreach to know the love of God in your life because once we truly know the love of God, our life becomes a love response to that love and our thoughts, our words and our behaviors are shaped by it. God’s love colours our whole world.
Today I would like to speak about the love of people as affected by the Holy Spirit.
I would like to speak of the great love of the body of Christ, not as a concept we read about but as a living breathing reality.
I would like to speak of the love of true Christian, Spirit-filled fellowship that seeks to love others more than itself and to see God glorified.
Today’s text is not from the Bible (not just yet anyway). It is a page taken from the life of this church.
Share my recent tests and possible lymphoma.
Two Sundays ago, late in the evening, I shared this with the church leaders via email. Then, I’m not sure if it was very late Sunday evening or very early Monday morning but Mike instigated a prayer and fasting chain amongst the leaders to pray and beseech God for my healing. By the end of the day, every meal/fasting slot had been filled by 1, 2 or 3 people forming a prayer chain that lasted 10 days until the results of my tests came back on Wednesday of this week just past.
I’m going to let Mike teach about prayer and fasting in a couple of weeks time (15th). My focus today is the love of the body of Christ, the tangible ways in which it’s manifest and the fruit that that produces.
I want to emphasize that the completing of the prayer chain happened within hours. There was no begrudging or sense of reluctance. On the contrary, there was an extraordinary willingness and eagerness to be a part of this love response. Even from those members who didn’t really even know what fasting was or how to fast! there was the desire to learn fast and to love wholeheartedly.
I’d like to tell you about three fruits of this work of the body of Christ.
1. It encouraged and built up me. I have never been more encouraged in my whole life. It’s not often I’m speechless. I was blown away – blown away! – but the love of my brothers and sisters here. Almost embarrassed by the outpouring of love. But strengthened in my faith and thrilled to see Christ in action in our midst. So I have been built up throughout this time.
2. The church leadership has been built up over this period and by extension, the whole church has been built up as well. Virtually every day (if not every day) words from the Bible and the Spirit were mailed backwards and forwards between us. One word added to another. One encouragement added upon the one before. One prayer lifted up after the other. That’s how you build the temple of God!
I think we’ve all grown from this experience. Let me share with you something that is a bit of a struggle for me. I find it relatively easy to minister to people. I enjoy it. To teach people, to pray for people, to visit the sick, to help those in need when I can. For me personally, there’s little sacrifice. I like it. But I find it difficult to be ministered to. I feel like I’m being an enormous burden to others and so my natural tendency is to hold back and gaman. Some time ago Chad lovingly called me on this, telling me that when I do hold back I’m denying others in the congregation an important chance to minister. He’s absolutely right. Even so, in this instance, I still felt reluctant to burden others with my concerns. I’m truly blessed – and have grown in this regard myself – that Mike and the others wouldn’t let me get away with it. The troops were rallied and the outpouring of love was as I described at the start of the sermon. I expect the other leaders who’ve been involved have their own stories of encouragement and growth. Why don’t you ask them to tell you when we fellowship after the service?
3. The third fruit of this work we find not only in the pages of this church but in the pages of scripture: it is the movement of God. God answering our prayers when we come together as one and lift our prayers humbly, in unity to Him. At this stage, the first great answer to prayer is that I don’t have cancer. The other tests remain inconclusive at this point so there is more prayer to be lifted.
Let’s see how the words of scripture should shape our prayers:
18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Compare this with what Jesus said to Peter after Peter made his great confession:
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Mat 16:18-19
This is what Jesus said to Peter. Now (back to Matthew 18) Jesus is talking to all his disciples: “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
This is a promise for us to seize, build our faith and structure our lives on. Whether we’re dealing with sickness, opposition, doubt, temptation, indifference – we are to get together and bind these things in the name of Jesus.
Jesus continues: “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Now, context and a knowledge of the Bible and a knowledge of God is important here. If two or three of us get together and ask that someone be knocked off, obviously God pretty unlikely to listen. If a few of us get together and pray for a win in the lottery, again, not consistent with God’s ways.
But when two or three of us get together and pray in accordance with God’s will, with right motives, no good thing will be held back from us.
Including (and especially) this: If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! Luke 11:13
Again, here is a promise for us to seize, build our faith and structure our lives on.
But there’s something in today’s key text I want to focus on before we finish:
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
This is about presence. When we gather in prayer, as believers and followers of Jesus, we have the presence of the Holy Spirit guaranteed to us. So when we pray together, let’s pray with the passion and faith that comes from knowing that the Holy Spirit Himself is present and active in our midst.
I want to encourage everyone to be fully involved in the body of Christ, not as a mere social thing, not as mere custom or comfort and not necessarily in an intense way but with an ease and joy and willingness – and in a way that allows the love of Christ to bind us together and build each other up. I have experienced this in fresh and powerful ways over the last couple of weeks. I would like us all to experience this.