With Glad and Sincere hearts

Concept # 7: With Glad and Sincere Hearts (Redefining Church)

The earliest believers modelled a way of being church (as opposed to ‘doing’ church) that is, in many ways, far removed from our twenty-first century concepts of church. In this series on ‘Redefining Church’, we come to the seventh concept explained in Acts 2:46: having glad and sincere hearts. It wasn’t just what the early church did, it was the way that they did it. There was a sincerity and gratefulness in the way that they gathered together to break bread and eat in community. Their dedication to their faith was sincere, not superficial, and this is an essential consideration for the modern church. Too much of modern life is superficial, and there is a danger that this superficiality leaks into our faith and into our churches.

Read: Acts 2:46b

They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.

We looked at the importance of the breaking of bread to the early church in Concept #3, but now we turn from the actual practice of breaking of bread to the way in which it was done. Luke tells us in Acts 2:46 that the early church broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. They didn’t just break bread together out of some sense of obligation. They didn’t just do it because that’s what they were meant to do. They shared the Lord’s Supper with gladness and sincerity. They were grateful – not just on the surface, but in their hearts. In the first century, life was much more difficult than it is in the twenty-first century.

When they broke bread together, they were glad in their hearts for all that Jesus had done for them – and their gratefulness was sincere, not superficial.

Breaking bread is still an important part of the modern church, but is it something that we do with glad and sincere hearts? For some churches, communion (another term for the breaking of bread) is a weekly occurrence, whilst for others it is done less frequently. Although Luke doesn’t give us any clues as to how frequently the early church broke bread in their homes, it’s probably safe to say that it was more frequently than most modern churches. Additionally, because communion has become a ritual of the church in modern times, there’s always the danger that it becomes just something that we do because it’s an obligation, rather than something that we do with glad and sincere hearts.

Superficiality is a plague in the twenty-first century. Sincerity – true sincerity – is often hard to find. Although there are Christians who approach the breaking of bread with gladness and sincerity, there will also be a considerable amount who have a superficial faith and a superficial approach to the breaking of bread. Hearts cannot be glad and sincere when people are taking communion whilst mentally planning the rest of their day, wondering about sports results or thinking about next week’s workload. We may not even be aware of our superficiality, because it’s an attitude that has pervaded all areas of our lives, and it seems normal. But held up against the mirror of the early church, would our attitude to the Lord’s Supper match up, or be shown to be lacking?

For the early church, the breaking of bread was not just a ritual practice that had to be done – it was something that was approached with reverence and remembrance, focusing on Jesus with full attention, sincerity and gladness. The modern church has much to learn from this practice. Next time you go to take communion in church, examine your heart to see whether you are fully focused on Jesus’ sacrifice and victory. To Redefine Church, we need to cast aside the superficiality of the modern age and pursue the sincerity and gladness that the early church modelled.

Concept #6: All Encompassing Faith (Redefining Church)

For the early church, faith was not something reserved for Sunday morning services and a home group one night a week – it was at the very center of their lives. In this sixth concept in a series looking at “Redefining Church”, we get a window into the all-encompassing nature of the faith of the first-century church, and what it might mean for the twenty-first century church to have a faith that is more than just a compartmentalised part of our lives. 

Read: Acts 2:46

They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity.

Consistency and dedication were a huge source of strength for the community of believers that we have come to know as the “early church”. Faith was at the very center of everything that they did – rather than being a “part” of their lives, as faith has generally become in the twenty-first century. Even if we think that we’re putting faith high up on our priority list, and object to the idea that it’s just a part of our lives, compartmentalising aspects of our lives is such a “normal” part of modern life that often we’re not even aware that we’re doing it. We may ring-fence time for our family, for our work, for our hobbies, and for church on a Sunday and maybe midweek, too. Faith is important, and we may try to make decisions based on faith, but it’s still not the same as what the early church did.

Acts 2:46 tells us that the early church “worshiped together at the Temple every day, [and] met in homes for the Lord’s Supper”. The key phrase here is “every day”. Church wasn’t just something they did on a Sunday morning, worshiping God together was a part of their daily lives. Nowadays, someone who goes to church every day (if that is even possible, given that many churches only open their doors on Sundays) is regarded as a fanatic – but in the first century, everyone in the community of Christ-followers worshiped together every day. It wasn’t fanaticism then – this kind of dedication and consistency demonstrated the deep, genuine hunger for God that was present in those who came to faith soon after Jesus’ ascension. Maybe it was because they had the opportunity to learn from the apostles who had walked and talked and eaten with Jesus both before and after his crucifixion and resurrection. The stories were fresh and exciting – and because this was before any written New Testament was available, it wasn’t possible for them to sit at home on their own and read their Bibles as part of an obligatory “quiet time”. Is it possible that two millennia of distance from Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have watered down the excitement and the availability of the written Bible has taken away the need to “worship together…every day”?

Why bother going to church when you can worship God at home, with your own Bible and your own worship music? This is very much a modern attitude – and it’s the polar opposite of what the early church modelled. There are so many other demands on our time that faith-based activities often get pushed to the sidelines and we worship in ways that are convenient to us. It’s entirely possible in the twenty-first century to have a “private faith” that means that even if faith is central to our lives, and is all-encompassing, and does guide every decision that we make, it doesn’t have to entail (and probably rarely does) going to church every day to worship with other believers. Private faith is a valid, genuine faith, but in many respects it lacks the power of the corporate faith that the early church modelled. It lacks power because rather than fostering community strength, people gathering together with the same thirst and hunger for God, pulling together, working together, worshiping with one voice, it creates a fragmented community, pulling in different directions, having the same thirst and hunger for God but pursuing Him individually rather than together, and lots of individual voices in isolation. Private faith cannot be all-encompassing in the way that the faith of the early church was.

The early church demonstrated a faith that took center stage in the way that they lived and worshipped together. It was not compartmentalised or fragmented in the way that modern faith often is. In the twenty-first century, private faith is encouraged, but this kind of faith lacks power, and leads us to wonder what impact it would have on our society as a whole and our communities in particular if we were to Redefine Church to reflect the all-encompassing faith that the early church modelled for us. Could this be the transformative power that could change lives not only of the community of believers but of the hurting, broken and desperate people who don’t get to see Jesus when our faith is private?

Sharing Community is based on Micah 6:8, and this is a huge part of Redefining Church

Concept #5: Real Community and Sharing (Redefining Church)

The earliest believers provided us with a model for how “Church” should be done, and it wasn’t based on rules or doctrines, but on a genuine faith in Jesus Christ. The way the early Church lived out their faith is far removed from our modern concepts of church, and at the heart of it is the fifth concept in our series on Redefining Church – “Real community and sharing”. The early church wasn’t just united by their belief, they formed a genuine community of people who looked out for each other in every way, and shared their possessions among each other, so that everyone’s needs were met, and no one had to go without. What would it look like for the twenty-first century church to embrace the practices of the first century church? 

Read: Acts 2:44-45

And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.

When we think of church in the twenty-first century, do we visualise a unified community that shares their possessions among each other so that no one goes without, or do we think about the building that people go to on a Sunday almost as a tick-box exercise? Admittedly, these are extremes, and some degree of community does exist in many modern-day churches, but it’s not quite the close community that Luke describes in Acts 2.

 We may tithe to our church, and get involved with a meal-supply rota for a family with a new baby or an elderly congregant just out of hospital, but sharing everything we have with our church community is a scandalous idea. Heck, there are a lot of people who come to our churches, supposedly a part of our community of believers, who come late and leave early, and we don’t even know their names!

What would change if we were to find a way to adopt the lifestyle of a sharing community that the early church modelled? Would sharing our possessions with others inspire us to get to know them better, to forge relationships that might be otherwise lacking in our churches? We’ve all heard that passage in Micah 6:8

No, Opeople, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.

(indeed, it might well be the only passage from Micah that we know, and probably only because Jesus quoted it) but how might this passage apply to the way that we do church? To love mercy, to act justly, and to be humble – could living this out have a transformative effect on our church community and on our wider society?

Sharing things with one another is an act of mercy. It means that no one is with lack, and therefore no one feels in any way excluded. The societal hierarchies that otherwise afflict us are rendered mute because everyone is in the same position: if everything belongs to the community as a whole, then individuals are equal in that individually they have nothing. Poverty cannot exist in a sharing community. Theft cannot happen because, technically, everything belongs to everyone. Humility comes from the recognition that outside of the community, we have nothing, and we are dependent upon those with whom we have community. Justice comes from the fact that everyone’s needs are being met by the community, and no one is excluded, ostracised or looked down upon. To the outside world, this is a community that is so radically different – so alien – that people cannot help but notice – and perhaps, seeing the benefit of this level of interdependence, the deep relationships that are formed, they start to ask questions and want to be a part of it themselves. We know that more believers joined the early church every day.

Of course, this model of a sharing community-based church reminds us of something else. Something we have, perhaps, forgotten in the twenty-first century church, and that is our dependance upon God for everything.

The early church model of a sharing community that daily walked out the instructions of Micah 6:8 might seem like a radical idea to the modern-day church, but it’s something that we need to give more consideration to. Would it hurt us to make more of an effort to get to know the people in our church community better? Would it hurt us to pull together to help those who are in need? Would it hurt us to take the time to find out what people need, and tear down any shame-based barriers that may exist? Could redefining church be as simple as simply beginning to build relationships that create a greater sense of community?

 

Acts 2 Redefining Church

Concept #4: Togetherness (Redefining Church)

The fourth concept in the model of church that is described in Acts 2 is togetherness. The unity that the early believers built the church upon is far removed from the dissent and disunity that we see in the twenty-first century church. In the aftermath of the Day of Pentecost, the early church was united by an unadulterated, Christ-centred faith. After two millennia of doctrinal debate and division, the modern-day church, although still focused on Christ, is no longer united as one, but divided into dozens of denominations. What impact does that division have, and is it possible to redefine our understanding of church to return to the unity that the early believers thrived within. 

Read: Acts 2:44

And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.

Unity, which refers to “the state of being united or joined as a whole”, is one of the key foundations upon which the early church was built. The earliest believers, in the wake of Pentecost, were united by their shared faith in the risen Christ. Imagine, if you will, what it was like for those who had come to faith following Peter’s first sermon. What was it that drew them together in unity? Likely, it was partly due to the fact that at this point they were a minority. They gathered together because they had their faith in common.

Common ground is one of the foundational principles of unity. But extending that principle to the modern church, we encounter a problem. As Christians, we should gather together as one body, one church, united, as the early believers were, by our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. Instead, although gatherings of Christians take place on Sunday mornings all across the world, we’re not united as one body, as one church. Instead, we have one faith, but dozens of denominations, and instead of unity, there is almost a sense of competition, with different denominations disagreeing over doctrine and each claiming to be the “true” church.

Christians in the twenty-first century can engage in “church shopping”, whereby if one version of church doesn’t fit with your lifestyle, or asks you to agree with doctrine that you don’t like, you can “shop around” for another church that expects less of you, or has a better kids’ ministry, or has a worship style that you prefer. Somewhere, in the midst of two thousand years of doctrinal debating, church has become less about “togetherness” and more about consumerism. Modern preachers can be afraid of preaching the gospel in its entirety because they’re afraid of upsetting the congregation, who have plenty of other churches to choose from. We’ve gone from the togetherness of “church” to the disparity of “churches”.

Jesus once said that a divided house cannot stand. There was no division in the early church, but the modern church has never been more divided than it is now. The early church didn’t even have a written Bible, much less doctrines to debate over, and their faith was clear and uncomplicated. I’m not suggesting that we don’t need doctrine, but there is a sense that too much emphasis on doctrine has taken away some of the transformative power of the gospel message.

What would it look like for the twenty-first century churches to embrace the unity that the early church had? Is it even possible for us to get past the doctrinal division that has blighted the modern church? In what ways could a united church reach the world that a divided church can’t? None of these are easy questions to answer, but they’re ones that we need to give careful consideration to. The early church grew rapidly – could that be in any way related to their togetherness? 

Devoted to the Gospel

Concept #3: Devotion to Breaking of Bread and Prayer (Redefining Church)

In this series focusing on the model of church demonstrated by the earliest group of Christians, based on Acts 2:42-47, we come to the third of eight key concepts: the way in which the early church devoted themselves to the breaking of bread and to prayer. These were solid foundations upon which the faith of these new believers was built – and are foundations that should be (but not necessarily are) at the centre of the 21st Century church. Was the early church’s concept of the breaking of bread the same as our 21st Century interpretation, or are there lessons to be learned about the way we approach the “Lord’s Supper”? What does it really mean to be devoted to prayer, and what does that mean for how we view prayer? 

Read: Acts 2:42-43:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

As we’ve seen so far in this series, the way that we “do church” in the 21st Century doesn’t always match up with the model of the church that the first believers, following the Day of Pentecost, lived out. The modern-day church has, in many ways, lost some of the intensity and community that the early church thrived on.

Our version of church might be considered to be a watered-down version of the Acts 2 model, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

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 In the same way that the church has evolved over the last two thousand years, it’s possible to make changes now that could redefine the way we think about “the church”.

The third key principle that the early church modelled from the very start was their devotion “to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The breaking of bread that Luke documents here was the sacrament that Jesus taught to His disciples the evening before His crucifixion. Depending on your church tradition, it might be referred to as “communion”, “the Lord’s supper” or “breaking bread”. The passage doesn’t tell us how frequently the believers broke bread together, but in the context of Acts 2:42-47, there is a suggestion that these first Christ-followers met frequently (every day, even – see Acts 2:46), and presumably broke bread together on these occasions. Modern church traditions vary in how often they have “communion” or “breaking bread” as part of their worship services – for some it is weekly, others monthly, and some much more infrequently. Certainly our 21st Century interpretation of the importance of the breaking of bread is somewhat diluted compared to the 1st Century church. That’s not to say that the breaking of bread isn’t important to modern-day churches – for the majority of traditions, the importance is emphasised each time communion is taken – but this is more of a symptom of the general dilution of the model of church outlined in Acts 2 that has taken place over the last two millennia.

What impact did a greater frequency of the breaking of bread have on the early church? Not only did it emphasise the community spirit (see Concept #2) of the fellowship of believers, but it focused the new believers’ attention on Jesus. Everything about the breaking of bread ritual focuses on Jesus. Indeed, that is its purpose. “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19, my italics), Jesus said when He taught His disciples the ritual of communion during “the Last Supper”. The breaking of bread forces us to remember the enormity of what Jesus did for us on the cross. And being frequently reminded of what Jesus did for us cannot ever be a bad thing. How frequently does your church break bread together? The model of the early church suggests that perhaps even weekly isn’t often enough.

The second aspect of this third key concept is prayer. What does it mean to be devoted to prayer? In order to get back to the bones of what it originally meant to be a fellowship of believers, we have to start to question our modern-day understanding of devotion to prayer, and examine whether our modern-day understanding is comparable to that of the early church. People, and church traditions, have a wide range of approaches to prayer, and some may be closer to the early church model than others. What is important is to look at ways that we can move closer to the 1st Century model of prayer. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach that we can take, but every approach starts with questioning ourselves about how important prayer is in our lives, and then looking at ways to make it more important.

Prayer and the breaking of bread jointly serve to keep our focus on Jesus, and it was this intense focus that gave the early church a firm foundation in their faith. In our modern, busy lives, it’s sometimes difficult to find time to fully focus on Jesus, and it may be that we like to keep our faith life and our secular lives completely separate, so that our faith becomes peripheral to the busyness of daily life instead of being a foundation. This has, necessarily, impacted on the 21st Century church – but it doesn’t have to stay that way. What measures can you take today to try to put focus on Jesus back into the centre of your life and your church? 

Devoted to the Gospel

Concept #1: Devotion to the Teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Redefining Church)

Following Peter’s first preach on the Day of Pentecost, the fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ, which would come to be called “the early church” devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They didn’t have Bibles from which to read, and there were no formal doctrinal statements, but these first believers were devoted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that the twelve apostles shared with them. What does it mean to be devoted in this way, and what lessons can we take from the way that the early church operated? 

Read: Acts 2:42All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

The early church didn’t have many of the problems that the twenty-first century church has. There was no arguing over doctrine or theological differences between different denominations and affiliations. Divisions and differences came as the church grew and spread across continents, but at the very beginning there seems to have been a kind of unity that fostered community and belonging. Everyone was on the same page, as it were.

The word that the NLT translation of the verse translates as “devoted” is the Greek word proskarteréō, which means “to endure; to continue steadfastly with someone; to cleave faithfully to someone”. The word is also used metaphorically to refer to steadfastness and faithfulness in the outgoings of the Christian life, especially in prayer. It is a word that carries with it that sense of unity that the early believers displayed. The new believers respected and looked faithfully to the twelve apostles to teach them the gospel truth of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They were hungry for knowledge of Jesus, and looked to the apostles to feed their hunger.

These first believers didn’t have the resources that we have and take for granted. The New Testament didn’t exist at this point; it would be several decades before the first Gospels were written down and Paul’s letters were written. The only resource for knowledge available to them was the disciples who had walked with Jesus during His ministry on earth. The early believers trusted the eyewitness accounts of the miracles, the parables, the crucifixion and the resurrection. They didn’t question whether the apostles’ teaching were theologically and doctrinally sound. There was no need to argue over interpretations and translations. They were devoted to the gospel truth that would transform the way they lived their lives and give them access to eternal life with God.

In the twenty-first century, the simplicity of the earliest believers’ devotion to the teaching of the apostles has been lost in a cacophony of doctrinal and theological debates. We have access to the Gospel in the form of the New Testament, and the internet has opened up the world of academic theology to everyone, with Bible Study tools and numerous different translations and commentaries accessible with a click of a mouse. We have never had more resources than we have now, but rather than deepen our faith, this unlimited access causes division and disunity – the polar opposite of what the early church experienced. Theological commentaries seem to carry more weight than the Gospel message itself, and amateur theologians question the interpretations of the preachers. The Gospel, like Jesus Himself, is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and yet you could walk into several different churches from different denominations and find, however slight, differences in doctrinal interpretation of the Gospel that is meant to foster unity not division.

To redefine the church for the twenty-first century, there is a need to return to the simplicity of the devotion to the teaching of the apostles that the earliest believers demonstrated. A house that is divided cannot stand, and the body of believers in the twenty-first century has never been more divided than it is now. Doctrinal debates over the course of two millennia have muddied the waters so that the Gospel has become a cause of conflict – something which it was never meant to be. The future of the church lies in stripping away the layers of interpretation and returning to simply devoting ourselves to the truth of the Gospel message.

Redefining “Church” – Introduction

What can the earliest believers teach us about what it REALLY means to be a fellowship of believers?

The church in the 21st Century is in crisis. No longer at the forefront of communities, it struggles to make itself relevant and reach out to the lost and broken. The essence of what it really meant, for the very first Christ-followers, to be a church, or a community of believers, has been lost in layers of rules and rituals. What would it mean for the church today to return to its roots, and shake off the centuries of dogma and doctrinal debate? 

Read: Acts 2:42-47

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Acts 2 is, arguably, the record of the very beginning of what we would call the church. Those early believers wouldn’t necessarily have described themselves that way – the ekklesia was a term that only became familiar much later in church history. But as we understand it, they were the early church. On the day of Pentecost, Peter gave his first sermon, and 3000 people received salvation. I don’t suppose there was a membership register (nor would there have been a need for one), and there was no statement of beliefs that these new believers had to read and agree to. They were embraced into the fellowship of believers simply by repenting and being baptised.

In six verses at the end of Acts 2, we’re given a glimpse into the structure and the practices of this very first example of the church of Jesus Christ. It is a picture of a kind of fellowship and community and devotion to the Lord that, sadly, many of our modern conceptions of church fail to offer. Over two centuries of church history, the essence of what it means to be a fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ has been obscured by man-made rules and interpretations and rituals. In striving to make the church better (or, some might argue, use it to control the people), the simplicity of how the church really began has been forgotten.

Where does that leave us? Should we be content to carry on with doing church in the ways that have become familiar to us, perhaps gathering once a week to sing a few songs, listen to a sermon and go home again having satisfied ourselves that the “church” box has been ticked until the next week? Should we be compliant to the rules and rituals that are nowhere to be found in our Bibles but have wormed their way into our churches, just because “that’s the way it’s done here”? I’m going to put my neck on the line here, and suggest that contentment and compliancy are the very last things we should be considering. It’s never easy to swim against the tide, but the question is, whose tide would we be swimming against? If we truly believe that “all Scripture is God breathed”, as Paul wrote to Timothy, then the model of church that we should be following isn’t the ones that have become traditional or popular, but the one that the Bible lays out for us. If we really want to understand what it means to be the bride of Christ, we need to strip back the layers of additions and bureaucracy and embrace the picture of the church that Acts 2:42-47 describes.

There are eight key principles contained within these six verses. Over the next eight posts I’ll be unpacking each one of these and looking at how we might employ them in our lives in order to get back to the picture of the church that God ordained.

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Staying the Course

Read: Genesis 50:20:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.

When life seems to be throwing an endless stream of curveballs and difficult circumstances, the temptation to either quit – or get frustrated with God – is high. It isn’t easy to hold on to faith when everything around us is crumbling. We may question why God isn’t intervening, why people of other or no faith seem to be having an easier ride than we are. In the storms of life, God can seem distant and uncaring, and our perception of Him as our loving Heavenly Father can be challenged.

What do we need to do when we’re feeling this way? Ironically, the solution to the problem is probably the very last thing we feel like doing! When our faith is shaken, we need to fix our eyes on God, even when He feels distant, even when we feel let down, even when we feel abandoned, even when we want to have a tantrum and demand to know why He hasn’t stepped in and fixed our problems.

The strength of our faith is a matter of perception. How do we view God in our storms compared to how we view Him when life is going smoothly? The fact is that God never changes, never moves away from us, never leaves nor forsakes us. Our storms challenge our faith – so in those circumstances, we need to shore up our defences, strengthen our faith muscles, by reminding ourselves of all the ways that God has been faithful in the past – in our lives and in the lives of others. His solutions to our problems might not be the solutions that we want, but we can put our trust in the fact that God is always working things for our good.

Joseph endured a lot of storms in his life. He was attacked by his brothers, sold into slavery, thrown into prison for something he didn’t do, and forgotten by the butler who promised to remember him. If anyone had a reason to doubt God, to question His trustworthiness and faithfulness, it was Joseph. But Joseph chose faith over doubt – and in the end was able to say to his brothers, “What you meant for harm, God turned it around in the end, and saved people through me.” For over 12 years, Joseph waited for God to turn his situation for good, and God came through. It was a long wait, but Jospeh stayed the course, held on during the stormy days and nights when God must have seemed distant and uncaring. Joseph waited for his ‘but God’ moment, and it came, in the end, and it was above and beyond expectations. God didn’t just lift Joseph out of his storm, He elevated him to lofty heights of authority. Joseph must have wondered if that moment would ever come, but it did.

Your storms won’t last forever. Stay the course. Hold on. Keep praising God in the storms and choose faith over doubt. Your ‘but God’ moment will come.

 

An Anchor for Our Soul

Read: Hebrews 6:16-20

16 Now when people take an oath, they call on someone greater than themselves to hold them to it. And without any question that oath is binding. 17 God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. 18 So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. 19 This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. 20 Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

What’s It All About?

We have fled to Jesus Christ as our hope (v18) and this makes Him our eternal refuge. This verse harks back to the Old Testament “cities of refuge” (see Numbers 35:9ff) which offered refuge for men who had accidentally killed someone; these men could live in the city until the death of the High Priest. The significance for us is that when we flee from our lives of sin to the refuge offered by Jesus, the high priest of the refuge is Jesus Himself, and He will never die, meaning that we have eternal salvation.

The writer of Hebrews speaks of the hope that we have through Jesus as an anchor for the soul. There are a few things to note about this anchor. Firstly, traditional anchors on ships anchor downward, but our Spiritual anchor is anchored upwards, to heaven. Secondly, traditional anchors are designed to make a ship stand still, but our spiritual anchor is designed to move us forward, as we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another. Thirdly, whilst a traditional anchor can fail, our spiritual anchor is firm and secure – it cannot break and slip.

anchorjesusThe key thing we need to know about the anchor of our soul is that it gives us the kind of security that no earthly anchor, literal or figurative, can possibly offer.

This section of Hebrews 6 talks about Jesus having gone before us to enter the inner sanctuary. What does this mean? The Old Testament understanding of relationship with God involved a system when in the temple there was an inner sanctuary, called the Holy of Holies, which only the High Priest could enter, once a year. When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain in the termple that separated the Holy of Holies (sometimes called the veil) was torn in two, meaning that, through Jesus, we are no longer veiled from the presence of God, and can meet with God face to face. Jesus not only paved the way for the restoration of the relationship that Adam and Eve lost at the Fall, but He anchors us into the inner sanctuary so that we can be firm and secure in our hope and knowledge that we can never again be separated from God (see Romans 8:38-39).

The Bottom Line

Our hope is in Jesus and what He did to restore us to relationship with God, not in anything the world can offer us, or anything we can do in our own strength. The hope that we have in Him gives us a reliable anchor for our souls – an anchor that is anchored heavenwards, that is moving us forward, and that will remain firm and secure no matter how stormy our lives get.

Ponder Points

  • What is different about the hope that Jesus offers us?
  • How do you feel about this anchor for your soul?
  • How does the anchor of the soul compare to the kinds of (figurative) anchor that the world offers – for example, finances, careers, family etc.?

Further Reading

For an excellent read on remarkable hope, read Pastor Levi Lusko’sThrough the Eyes of a Lion

 

Never Stand Alone

As Christians, there are certain things that we need in order to grow into maturity in our faith. Like sapling trees or plant seedlings, we need nurturing. Of course, the most important nourishment we can give ourselves is Spiritual Food in the form of the Bible – a daily reading plan is often helpful – and prayer, the act of talking and listening to God. But whilst Spiritual food is essential, like seedlings and saplings, there is something else that we need: other Christians around us to support us as we grow.

Sometimes it’s pride, sometimes it’s stubbornness, sometimes it’s just a sheer desire for independence – but for most people there are times when we just want to “go it alone”. We might convince ourselves that we don’t need others around us to help us grow as Christians, that we’re doing just fine on our own and we don’t want or need other people interfering with our personal relationship with God. We might even be tempted to think that getting too involved with other people will hinder our growth as Christians. But the truth of the matter is that we do need the strength and support of others. A sapling or seedling without some kind of support will grow crooked, bend, and possibly even break or die away. The same is true of our faith.

Christianity isn’t something that was ever meant to be a solo operation. From the beginning of His ministry, Jesus surrounded Himself with people that He trusted and who respected Him. And although much of His ministry was focussed on building others up, there were times when Jesus looked to His disciples to strengthen Him. Christianity is all about relationship and community. As the body of Christ, we all need others to support our growth, and, in turn, we support the growth of others by giving them the encouragement and nourishment that they need. When Jesus sent His disciples out to preach, He sent them in pairs, not alone, knowing, as He did, the importance of relationship and community. We should not forget that Jesus, although on earth as one man, remained a part of the three-fold Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and it was therefore impossible for Him not to be in community or relationship. And because man was created in the image of God, mankind was not created to be alone in any capacity. Eve was created by God because God knew that it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Moreover, Jesus tells us that “where two or three are gathered…there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). That’s not to say that our quiet times alone with God are not vital and valid encounters with our Heavenly Father – it just means that in terms of our growth, it’s better to be a part of a team than being a soloist.

Some people find it hard to develop the kind of trust-based relationships that they need to grow and mature in their faith. Their worldly experiences many have taught them to fear others rather than to look to them for support and encouragement. There may be major obstacles to overcome before those relationships can be established. But God is a gentle and patient father who will make straight the ways towards relationship and community. He loves us too much to let us attempt to “grow it alone”.

Are you a “grow your own” type of Christian? Do you struggle to trust others enough? Are you afraid of admitting the doubts and questions that you sometimes have? Be reassured – doubts and questions are common-place, you are not alone in struggling to trust, and as a Christian you are surrounded by a community of believers who are ready and able to provide the support you need to grow strong and tall in your faith. And there will be times when it’s you doing the supporting. That’s the crux of the Christian community. When we are born again into the family of believers that is the body of Christ, we can be certain that from that moment on we are never walking, or standing, alone.