Last week we discussed what is the Biblical vision for “Family”. We learned it only comes if it is given by God, runs deep, and spreads wide. We know that is what it is supposed to look like, but while all that is true, what can we to foster this identity? In the words of the apostle Paul, one can plant, another can water, but only God gives the growth. What we want to look at today is simple planting and watering strategies that will cultivate a healthy ecosystem for consistent growth. When we wrestle with the birth of Christ we can see these strategies being living out.
Theme: We foster a family identity through four regular Gospel fueled habits—Word, Worship, Prayer, and Community.
1. Foster The Word.
The birth of Jesus took place in Matthew 1. By the time a reader comes to Matthew 2 they see God has spread the word of the birth of His Son. But how did he do this? I believe it actually started hundreds of years ago. Matthew 2.1 tells us these men came from the “EAST”. Most scholars believe these men came from somewhere close to ancient Babylon or Persia:
The Magi were not kings but a combination of wise men and priests probably from Persia.—Blomberg, p. 62
Now we I think it is important to understand how God reveals Himself and His will. Imagine there are TWO arms to revelation. One is called “general revelation” and the other is “special revelation.” Trying to understand general revelation without special revelation is like trying to understand an object you have never seen in a pitch black room. You are essentially blind. So how can Gentile pagan wise men understand these significant salvific events? This is why it is important for us to understand the larger narrative of the Bible. One author I am reading lately said it this way:
For thematic studies, the question of what the biblical authors intended trains our gaze on themes they themselves develop...we...examine the texts to see how later biblical authors have developed thematic issues set forth in earlier biblical texts.—Hamilton, p. 26
What all this means is someone taught these men how to keep a watchful eye for the coming Messiah through the Word. More than likely this took place during the time of Israel’s exile. It would seem someone like Daniel, who had the influence in Babylon or Persia could have taught a young group of pagan men about Israel’s Holy Scriptures.
The coming of these pagan wise men is remarkable because Matthew is known for being a Gospel written to early Jewish Christians. It is meant to persuade them Jesus is the Christ. But what we are already seeing is God revealing His salvific plan to Gentiles. But the only way they could understand this revelation is through the Word. Through His Word God is redefining who His people are. As Jesus will say in the Gospel of John it is those who WORSHIP God in spirit and truth. Listen to what Romans 12.2 tells us:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.—Romans 12.2
These men were transformed and following the “will of God.” How were they able to do that? How were they able to discern the “will of God?” The simple is through the Word. But Romans 10.17 tells us “FAITH” comings from hearing. We must preach and teach the Word of God this is what we need to hear to have faith.
Every church throughout church history has chosen various ways to administer the Word. So, how have we chosen to do that here at Refuge? Essentially the way Jesus did: Preaching and Discipleship. Jesus gave sermons to large crowds, had a small group ministry of 12 men, and 3 leaders he chose to give intimate access to. Our Gathering we preach the Word to help increase the faith of those listening. But also at Refuge Communities, Doxa and Connection Groups, are the ways we teach the Word on a more intimate level. If we want to foster a deep love for each other it first comes through organized and organic Word ministry.
2. Foster Worship and Prayer.
When the Word of God goes forth their should be a result—WORSHIP and PRAYER. Remember the wise men said the reason they came in verse 2 was to “worship him.” We learn from Matthew 2.10-11 that when they saw the star that would lead to Jesus, the Christ, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy….And going into the house they saw the child….and they fell down and worshiped him.” When they saw the Word made flesh they were FILLED with EXCEEDING joy and they WORSHIPED him! Is this our response today? Are we experiencing exceeding joy knowing the child has come? Are we excited to WORSHIP?
Worship does not end there. I have spoken about this before, the spouse of worship is PRAYER. When we pray, we will speak to God and hear from God—either by general revelation or special revelation. But no matter what the Word (special revelation) will help us understand created order (general revelation. The Psalter tells “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps 19.1). I believe a careful reading of this text clues us into this—READ Matthew 2.12. While these men worship they also warned through a dream about some serious danger for them and the child. Dreaming is a part of created order, but God can use to accomplish His purposes if He desires.
Romans 12.1-2 tells to live a life of spiritual worship and to discern the will of God. But as we continue in Romans 12 it tells us this:
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.—Romans 12.12
In this one text we had men who were rejoicing in hope, but were also facing tribulation. I believe they were praying along with worshiping, therefore, God warned them what was coming.
As we worship is it resulting in a prayer-filled family? I believe this is one primary way I have failed to lead our family well. I believe if we want to grow in our identity as family we need to pray more together. Last week I talked about how the church is supernaturally formed, not naturally. Prayer is the most practical way to acknowledge the supernatural. Prayer is a simple of saying, “God we cannot do this.” We need to acknowledge we cannot foster this identity as family without God’s help by praying for it.
3. Foster Community.
The third and final way we can cultivate this “Family” identity is by practicing all 3 main habits of grace (or spiritual disciplines). Those include: Word, Prayer, and Community. Many times people don’t have a problem with the first two, but the last is hard for them to see as a part of Gospel maturity. Here are some ways we have tried to put structures in place to practice this habit of grace. All of our members held accountable to regularly attending the Sunday Gatherings and at least one other discipling ministry. By doing this we are fulfilling Hebrews 10:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.—Hebrews 10.24-25
The Jesus commands us to practice regular fellowship with the saints.
But when we do this what are we supposed to be doing? We are supposed to be stirring one another to love and good works. At Refuge our foundation for this called—Christian Hedonism. Simply put we believe the Bible teaches all men seek happiness. Another way of saying this is we all worship something. We pursue joy, happiness, and satisfaction. But Jesus tells us we are to pursue our joy, happiness and satisfaction in God and our neighbor. The wise men in Matthew 2 found great joy in God. Matthew 2.11 tells us they took their treasures and presented them as sacrifices to God. This is the call of Romans 12.1-2 for us. We are take our greatest treasures and lay them at the feet of King Jesus. Why? Because Jesus chose to make His treasure, His bride. He sacrificed His life, and the Father was pleased. Is His sacrifice our greatest treasure? Is this what we offer today? All treasures shape the way we live. Is our family defined as sacrificial family?
But it does not end there. While we are to love everyone, we are to give a priority to our fellow believers. Galatians 6 says we are to good to everyone, but especially those who are of the household of faith. Think of the Church as a large family, but the local church is your immediate family. I love my brothers and sisters, I love my many of my relatives, but I give a priority to those who I am intimately doing life with. Romans 12.9-13 are what a sacrificial life looks like with our immediate family. As a Christian in Dayton it would be hard for me to live these out with the saints in Cincinnati, or even the rest of the region for that matter. Let’s not make the Bible impractical. Are we pursuing the joy of others in our local church? Are we intentionally helping each other grow in our affections for God and one another? If not, what is holding us back? The structure or rhythms are in place, therefore, now it is simply choosing to act. But will never act unless our desires our fueled by our new identity in Gospel. Christ came into the world to purchase a new family for us. May we all help foster this identity.