Some of you may have heard of the “Hagia Sophia” in Turkey. It is one of the oldest religious buildings in the world. It was built by a Roman Emperor in 532 AD as the world’s largest cathedral. I have actually stood in this building and it is amazing. But what is striking about the building is the material that holds it all together has the ability to “heal” itself. Over the centuries there have been earthquakes, storms, and other natural disasters. When earthquakes happen it will crack the structure, but when the next rain happens the water will seep into the cracks and reset the cement selling it tight. God desires His church to function the same way. When we see the cracks in our faith we to help each other heal. The church is meant to be place that helps protect us from all our internal and external dangers.
Theme: If we care for our family then we protect our family.
1. God Protects Because God Cares.
We talked last week about how God spread the good news of Jesus birth through the Word of God. We discussed how this should be resulting in worship, prayer, and increased desires for community. But once these things begin to happen the truth is there will be enemies who try to destroy it. One author puts it this way:
“As hard as it is to cultivate community, it is critical that we recognize the enemies at work trying to tear it down.”—Dunlop, p. 149
So, as the birth of Christ was beginning to form this new community spreading across the globe (Matt 2.1), it immediately came under attack. We did not know the truth of Herod’s intentions, but God revealed the heart behind Herod’s actions and desires—READ Matthew 2.12-13. God put His Son in immediate danger, why? Because He cares for. But He also protected His Son so His redeeming love would come to us through Jesus’ sacrifice. The foundation of God’s protection is His care. Therefore, already we see an amazing truth, everything we care about in this life God cares more. For parents God cares more about your kids than you do. For the young professionals God cares more about your career than you do. Whatever is heavy on your heart today God cares about those things more than you do, because He loves you more than anyone, even yourself.
This should not result in inactivity, but listening for His instruction on how handle caring for our spouse, children, careers goals and etc. Jesus’ earthly parents took action to protect Jesus. But it required sensitivity to the Spirit, which comes through the Word, worship, prayer, and community. Notice how the Spirit warned the wise men and Jesus’ parents the same way. All these observations tell is God cares for the needs of His children, and when He cares He protects.
2. Protection From Discontentment [Preferences].
Today I want to talk about two enemies that prevent us from embracing and experiencing the sovereign care and protection from God. The first is “discontentment.” Many times we become quickly dissatisfied with a community, person, life circumstance, or many other things. This is especially true in a culture of instant gratification. Many things are immediately available to us by living in the internet age. Discontentment wars against experiencing true joy, because true joy comes through long-suffering and hardship. It could have been easy for the wise to say, “Is it really worth traveling all that way? Is worth all the travel money to just see a baby?” The tough road could have gotten in the way of true joy. Joseph could have made excuses to not relocate his family to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod.
As a true family we need to guard against discontentment. We can be far too easily pleased. This means we can quickly make decisions about things by quitting quickly or taking too long. The person who does it too quickly is always looking for something better, but so is the person who is waiting too long. This all flows from our preferences.
So let’s piece this together. What I want to do first here is help us know what discontentment looks like:
Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.—II Timothy 2.14-17a.
Discontented people are quarrelsome and divisive. II Tim 4 goes on to tells us they don’t endure through sound doctrine, but gather teachers to suit their own passions and wander off into myths (II Tim 4.3-4). Modern “myths” manifest through what they call “pragmatics.” For instance, they may say something like, “this is not a spiritual or gospel issue just a pragmatic one.” But they will divide the church pragmatic issues, therefore, they become Gospel issues. This is why Paul says they are upsetting the faith of some and lead to more and more ungodliness. In a sinful world it is already difficult to seek unity, but discontented people seek to divide a church over preferences—where you live, the kind of car you drive, your eating habits, or any other issue. Discontented people love to turn these types of issues into matters of “right and wrong.” Many times it is you have wronged their “preferences,” or wounded their pride. There is strong language one what our response is supposed to be. I would encourage you to read the pastoral epistle (which are I & II Tim & Titus) to see what those responses are.
Discontent ultimately flows from our sinful idolatry, but addressing this requires wisdom, trust, love, grace, humility and sacrifice. The text we are memorizing this Advent season tells us a community marked by sacrifice will have unity. There will be offenses, hurt feelings, and much more, but seeking the joy of others so they can see the glory of God more fully will help defuse hostility. We do not have to live in disunity just because we disagree with each other. In our next section we will address how this can happen.
3. Protection From Sin [Idolatry].
The ancient reader of Matthew would have been able to discern that Herod was power hungry and saw the birth of Christ as threatening his own desires—READ Matthew 2.16. He committed a massive genocide of his own family members because of his own ambitions.
This matches what James tells us, “...each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1.14). We are tempted by our own desires. When something threatens our kingdom, our desires, our deep longings, we want to take it by force. When we are not satisfied with our circumstances, people, or anything else, then it makes it all unbearable. We forget what Isaiah says, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Isa 42.8). God’s desire for us is His glory would be our greatest treasure. When His glory is not our greatest treasure we experience what the Bible calls sin. Therefore at the heart of sin is idolatry—a glory, or desire, in our hearts greater than God. The wise men and Joseph helped protected the glory of God.
So how can we protect each other from the temptation to pursue our own glories? Jesus gives us a WONDERFUL paradigm in Matthew 18. This is known as the church discipline passage. As serious as that sounds, I strongly believe this passage is paradigm given to us by Jesus to express our love for one another. Church discipline is not crossing the line of no return, but a means to lovingly protect each other. For the Scriptures tell us “the LORD disciplines the ones He loves” (Heb 12.6).
In order to understand Matthew 18 one must look at the surrounding context. Jesus opens this discourse talking about how we must enter the kingdom of God through humility. Jesus then discusses how serious we should take our sin, going as far to say, “if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (Matt 18.9). But right before verses 15-20 we see the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus says if we see a sheep straying why wouldn’t we go after them. This is what we are doing in church discipline—we are protecting sheep who are wandering into danger. This is not something we do only formally, or periodically, but this should be a regular life habit. When we truly care about each other, we help protect each other from the deceitfulness of sin.
At Refuge we have put structures in place to make sure these things are happening as a part of our regular rhythms. While our Gatherings and Refuge Communities are foundational to building trust, community, and learning the Word they lack the intimacy Jesus wants for us when we are doing step one in Matthew 18. We need a structure in place that will allow us to get to know someone more deeply so we can learn their heart idols—their deeper sins. The sins that hide in the shadows away from the naked eye. The we have are called Doxa Groups. These are groups of 3-4 people who do discipleship and life together. With these groups in place step two becomes more organic and natural. Now if we need 2-3 witnesses they are people we know and trust—people have been doing life with—they know us and we know them. When are faced with each others sin we are to shepherd each other through it, which can be firm or gentle as needed. While protection, or discipline, can sound mean or unloving we believe it expresses are care. When we love we correct, discipline, we protect each other from alluring temptations for discontentment or sin.