The Church is a group you can’t separate. – Acts 20-21

This message is a part of our Rethinking Church Sermon Series.

Find the rest of the messages in this series here.

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I’ve got a little bit of a pet peeve. I really don’t like it when people come back from a trip across the world or across the state and when you ask them how it went they tell you all about the travel- the commute, the airports and the planes. It probably has to do with the fact that my father worked for the airlines so I’m more sensitive to the fact that airline issues typically have more to do with weather problems outside of the control of the employees than anything else… anyway, when someone returns from this amazing trip to see family or see some incredible sights, and all they want to talk about are the minutiae of their transportation instead of the incredible stuff that happened on their trip, it’s annoying…

The passage of scripture that we are about to read, is a travel log. It’s Luke listing off all the stops on the leg of Paul’s journey back to Jerusalem for what would end up being the final time. However, this travel log is not giving us the details about the transportation as much as it tells us about the people they got to see along the way. That’s the real reason it’s included.

You see we are looking at Luke’s written documentary of Christ’s life and the birth of His church and so far we’ve looked at 2 episodes, and today we’ll cover the third.First, we saw that the church is a new kind of generation in Acts 2.

The Church is a new kind of generation.

Last week we focused on the image Luke gives us of a Party like no other in Luke chapter 5.

The Church is a party like no other.

Today we are looking at a group you can’t separate in Acts 20 and 21. The Church is a group you can’t separate.

Acts 20:35-38, Acts 21:1-4, Acts 21:10-15

Let me tell you why I’m so excited about this message today- today I’m talking to you about the friendship dynamic in church and I can tell you from personal experience that it makes a huge difference in an individual’s life, I know because it did for me. When I was 12, just about to turn 13 my father was transferred from Nashville to Virginia Beach. In Nashville we lived on a corner lot with a huge yard and an immense oak tree. It was the default place to gather and play hide and seek, kickball, and football. I was also at the bottom of a good size hill so it also made sense for building bike ramps that you fly over after building up way too much speed coming down the hill… Then we moved to Virginia Beach and I didn’t really know anyone. The church we had started attending was taking their youth group to a minor league baseball game and I went. As a kid about to turn 13, in a new place with no friends, it meant the world to me when I walked up and a kid named Justin said, hey, I’m Justin. You’re Daniel right?  I’m still friends with that guy today, 23 years later. That was a pivotal moment in my life, I managed to develop some really strong friendships in my church. Many of those guys are in ministry somewhere today.

Jesus made all the difference in my life, and he used those friends to take me further and deeper than I ever would have gone otherwise. That’s what happened to Luke too and we see the fulfillment of it here in this passage of scripture. He becomes so close with Paul, that nothing can separate them, not even impending doom and death. This is so important because when we talk about our mission here at Faith, which is:

We are building the church our friends and neighbors will join and our children will lead.

We are not talking about building bricks and mortar, we are talking about building the organization that will reach all of our friends and neighbors and still be here when our children rise up to lead a church to reach their friends and neighbors and disciple our grandchildren…

While you might build a building with brick and mortar, and hold everything on top of the foundation together with screws and nails, the building of the church is upon the foundation of Christ and the structure is tied together with relationships & friendships.

I don’t just say that because that’s what I’ve experienced, I say that because

The blueprints for the church we are building are found in God’s Word.

And what I see in God’s word is that relationships among God’s people are what fasten the elements together. This travel log tells us that all along the way where Paul went as he made his way back to Jerusalem there were people who wanted to spend time with Paul. They wanted to encourage him, rebuke him, hear him preach, and share a meal together, and just generally spend time together. Paul is heading back to Jerusalem where he’ll be arrested and spend the rest of his life in prison awaiting trials and then eventually be executed by Nero… All along the way he’s experiencing deep, substantive time with friends who are also followers of Jesus. He’s experiencing fellowship. Now, unfortunately we’ve got a skewed perception of fellowship today, if you’re baptist you think the greek word for fellowship means fried chicken or potluck.

We think of fellowship as something that happens in the fellowship hall- fellowship halls were to be a place where fellowship could more easily happen, but fellowship predominantly happens in one another’s homes, around the campfire, or sitting around a table with Bible study books open.  Because the word fellowship has deteriorated in meaning, many have taken to using the word “community” and then it’s been further augmented as “biblical community” or “authentic community.”

This is what fellowship, Biblical Community, or Believer Friendship should look like. This right here.

It’s almost as if the Lord is giving Paul a dose of community and friendship right before he enters what will be the hardest season of his life, but I want to be clear on this. Paul needed friends not because he was spiritually immature, Paul needed friends because he was spiritually mature and following God’s call.

There is nothing spiritually mature about being a “loner.”

You don’t need friends because you’re weak, you need friends because that’s how God built you. God designed us to be in relationships. In the very beginning, when God created everything, everything that he made was perfect, so much so that after every creation he said, This is good. But after he created man He said, it is NOT good that man is alone. Adam was perfect at that moment, and he was lonely. Even if you were made perfect, you’d be lonely. Even if you were totally restored by the love and grace and truth of God, you’d need friends. Now, let me quickly point out that I believe it’s true that all of us were built with a different capacity for friendship. All of us were built for friendship, but we were built with different capacities.

All of us need friends, not all of us need to be homecoming king. Larry Osbourne, in his book Sticky Church points out that people are lot like legos. All of use were built with connectors, some of us were just built with more. Some people are like the little 3 connector pieces. This is some of you, you have capacity for 3 friends in your life. Others of us are like the green bottom piece that the whole building and landscape you build with the lego set connects to- Neither of these are wrong, just different.  All of us are built for connection. Those of you that are the three little connector pieces you head for the bathrooms whenever there’s a fellowship moment in the worship service… or you sit in the overflow… Those of us that are like the green sheet, we hate that we didn’t make it all the way to the back row before the music started…

However many connections you were built for, you were built for connections and for those of you with fewer, it’s so important that you get connected to believers because if your life is full of friends that are connecting you back to the wrong things, that’s where you’ll stay…You are the average of your 5 closest friends.

Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.

So how do we have these strong Christian friendships?

Tim Keller said this and it was so helpful to me…

Spiritual friendships are not merely made, they’re discovered and spiritual friendship are not merely discovered they’re made.

That paradox is what we see on display here in this passage- these people weren’t friends just because they said, we are going to be close friends, they were close friends because they were committed to the same thing, the mission of Jesus.  If you look in your own life, that’s how most of your friendships started- you stumbled into them because there was some shared experience, you went to the same school, you lived in the same neighborhood, you worked at the same job.  There was some similarity that brought you together, not only in proximity but in interest or passion… When we are in Christ, he makes us friends, and brothers even to all those who have also placed their faith in Him. Jesus does this by becoming our friends.

John 15:15 – I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called youfriends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. 

John 15:13 – Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 

God made us his friends through the love and sacrifice of Jesus.

Not just made us friend with himself, but with each other… The beautiful thing about the friendships we discover in the church is that like no other place, it brings together friends of absolutely different ethnic, social, economic, and geographic origins. If we make it about any of those things, then we’ll weed out anyone who doesn’t fit. But when we make it about Jesus, all of the rest of that doesn’t matter…
I read an account of someone visiting DC, while they were there they attended worship on Sunday (btw, that’s super healthy). There was a newly elected senator and an immigrant dishwasher joining the church that morning.

Christian friendship is discovered, but it takes work.

Can you imagine how hard it would be to be friends with Paul? In Acts 20:13 in that travel log we see a bit of Paul’s stubbornness. Paul wanted to go afoot, they were going by boat. Paul had it in his head…. There was a guy in the early church that was such an encouraging, life-giving person that they changed his name to Barnabas which means encourager. Paul had a falling out with that guy…Mission minded people can be hard to be friends with, I know because I am one…

So, how do you work at this? How are the discovered christian friendships made?

Christian friendships are discovered in Christ’s church, they are made through openness and commitment.

Paul is open with his feelings and his plans. The people tell him he’s making a mistake. They tell him the Spirit has told them to tell him to stop…Paul doesn’t say, who do you think you are? Paul doesn’t say, the Spirit told me to go so you’re crazy. Paul recognized that they were right, that the Spirit had told them the truth and they were being obedient, but that He needed to go anyway. After all this- Luke puts himself in the “WE” telling him not to go in 21:12, but then is also in the we that goes with him in 21:15!

World changing disciples are handmade.

They are not mass produced on an assembly line… You can’t become who Christ’s intends for you to be while remaining at arms reach- God will build you and His church through relationships, so you can’t be a handmade disciple if you keep everyone at arms reach.