21 September 2017

How big is your family?

The Christian’s part in the global church (Part 1)

raHow big is your family? Do you have any brothers and sisters? These are questions we often ask when we are trying to get to know someone new. The family they come from is important – it tells us so much about how they grew up and who they are today.

What is your Christian family like? To answer this we could talk about our local church family, the fellowship that we have committed ourselves to as Christians, to learn and live and grow together. But what about the bigger Christian family that you join when you trust in Jesus Christ? Do you consider them all your family, where you can have a crucial part to play in the way they live and grow and serve?

What’s interesting is that the New Testament uses the same word to describe our fellow believers locally and those around the world: using the word ‘brotherhood’ (adelphotēs). This means the brothers, the brethren, the fraternity of believers. In 1 Peter 2:17, the Apostle Peter is almost certainly talking about our local congregations when he exhorts us to, “love the brotherhood.” Yet when he uses the same word later in the same letter (1 Peter 5:9) he says, “your brotherhood throughout the world.” This is much wider than our local fellowship – this is the fellowship of believers in Christ around the globe.

Does this thrill and excite you? Stop for a moment and think about it. Are you amazed and delighted to be part of such a big spiritual family throughout the world, with brothers and sisters in so many different nations? It really should – as we have this huge privilege to be part of the Lord’s global church, His body, His people, His army, His militant kingdom, His family.

I wonder what your role in the family is? You might have many different roles. There is so much to do, there are so many needs and we know that the Lord has given gifts into the church for the sake of others in the family: “…to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it” (Eph 4:7). In 1 Cor 12, Paul says to a church with many problems and independently minded individuals: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord…now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (vv4,5,7).

These passages are fairly well known, but I have come to realise that far too many of us don’t really understand or apply them in terms of the global family of the church, rather than just our local congregations. We apply them usually only in regard to the local church instead of to the universal church too.

Now of course – each of our talents and spiritual gifts should be used to serve and bless and encourage in our local churches – the Lord calls us to do this. But have you also seriously prayed about and considered your wider role in the global family of Christ as well? I believe you have a vital and important part in that global family, and there is still a lot to be done.

Later in Eph 4, in v16, there is a wonderful picture of a maturing church that is glorifying God and growing up into Christ. Paul says, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” The question I want us to consider is: “Am I doing my work?” Every true born-again Christian is already a ‘part,’ from the moment that the Lord in His grace saved us through the redeeming blood of Christ. He added us to the church, His body, His family, each with a unique part to play (Eph 2:10). But am I doing my work, my part, in the global family of God?

According to Eph 4:16, I am a ‘supporting ligament.’ Ligaments are amazing things that connect bones with other bones. Their contribution and connection allows other parts of our body to function well and do things effectively – like shoulders and arms and knees. If we damage our ligaments in, say, our elbows or ankles, or if they stop working properly, then (as many of us have painfully discovered!) these parts of the body can’t function very well.

Think now of the needs of Christ’s family around the world – there are people and projects and churches and ministries all over the world that absolutely need you and me to be a supporting ligament right now. And without us doing our part, they will not be able to do theirs as effectively, as they seek to honour the Lord where they are.

So this begs the question – what is my role within the global church of Christ’s family? Well, you might have noticed that I haven’t even used the word ‘mission’ at all yet in this article. Being a part of the global family of God will involve many different things, including being ‘senders’ and ‘goers’ in overseas mission work. We’ll talk more about mission in part 2 next time.

But being part of our global family is much wider even than doing our little bit for mission. Here are a few areas that we should all be getting more involved in:

Praying for Christians in trouble. Heb 13:3 says, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body.” In our world today there are 2 undeniable facts: Christians are facing great hardship & persecution for their faith in 60 countries round the world; and information about these trials is more available now than ever before.

Have you made yourself aware, through the Christian Press, through organisations that share the needs, through the internet? These are your brothers, your sisters, your family who are suffering – we need to stand with them and pray for them constantly, with up-to-date needs.

Sharing from what we have with those who do not have. One of the searching Bible questions that changed the whole direction of my life was this one: “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 4:7). The answer to the question of course is nothing, which means we should be willing to share and use and give just about anything that we have, if it is needed for the cause of Christ somewhere.

Would the Lord describe your life as like the Macedonian churches, of whom he said, “they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (2 Cor 8:1- 3)? And not only this, they considered this giving not to be a duty, but they pleaded for the “privilege of sharing in this service to the saints” (v4).

Working amongst poor communities as we do in Eastern Europe, we are moved to see how they themselves are so generous. The first time I visited the former Soviet Union from the West, I complimented a man on the only picture hanging on his wall – he then took it down and gave it to me, much to my embarrassment. In his house we ate meat – it was the only meat they had for the whole week, but they served it to us instead of keeping it for their 7 children. They excel in what the Bible calls the “grace of giving.” Do we excel in this too?

Where we serve, so much more could be done for the gospel of Christ if Western family members would excel more in this grace. Could that be your part? “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need” (v14).

Using all of your talents joyfully for God. This is a mindset that every Christian should have, but sadly not every Christian does. The earlier we put this right, the richer and more joyful will be our Christian service.

Christian work is changing. Gone are the days when it seemed that all that was needed for overseas work was preachers, church planters, doctors, nurses or teachers. We still need lots more of all of those, of course – thousands more! But we need other skills too, and maybe the Lord has equipped you with a skill especially for use somewhere in his global kingdom. I am learning a new language at the moment to be able to preach to the people we live among, but I’m finding it really tough, as languages are not really my gift. Are they yours? Could you use your language ability for God’s global church?

Do you have computer skills? Can you design websites, build IT networks, mix videos? Are you a good listener or counsellor? Can you manage projects well, organise teams of people? Are you skilled in a building trade, work well with your hands? Can you explain deep things simply to children, so that they can understand the gospel? Do you have compassion for those with special needs & the patience to love & help them? All these skills & talents are needed right now in many places around the world in the cause of Christ, as we bring the gospel to all nations. The only question is will you do your part?

The Christian’s part in the global church (Part 2) will follow in Sept / Oct issue Andy was in UK Pastoral ministry & now serves with his wife and 5 year-old daughter in ex-Soviet Eastern Europe. They will both be speaking at Bangor Worldwide Convention this August. To find out more about the Bangor Convention contact www.worldwidemission.org