Scriptures: Romans 15
One of the criticisms of churches is that the members never treat each other as they should. You may have heard statements such as, "the church is the only army that shoots its wounded," or "you get better treatment at church before you join than you do as a member. "
No church is perfect, yet we have a perfect guidebook. This sermon will study a text in which the Apostle Paul directs church members to treat one another better. He uses the Bible in this instruction. This section of Romans deals with relationships within the church. Apparently some problems existed that Paul wants to correct. It is an excellent source for learning to apply the Bible to the life of a church.
I. The Bible is the authority for the church
To make the point about how church members should treat one another, Paul did not appeal to good manners, or to common courtesy, although he could have made such an appeal. Instead, he quoted the Bible. He cited Psalm 69:9, a messianic psalm that speaks of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. It is important to understand that he could have appealed to the cross, without an appeal to the Old Testament. History and tradition are not the authority in church. The Bible is.
As the 1st century church looked to the Scripture for guidance in conducting its affairs, so should today's church. Consider the areas in which a church needs such guidance. Do we take our system of governance from corporate or legal or political structures? Or from the Bible? Do we take our approach to evangelism from cultural studies explaining the likes and dislikes of our lost friends? Or do we take our approaches from the Bible? Do we take our treatment of poor and helpless people from governmental models? Or from the Bible. The only safe authority for the church is the Bible.
II. The Bible is the instruction manual for the church
The Bible was not only the authority on what God expected, it gave the early Christians clear details on how they were to accomplish what God expected.
In our church, we can look to the Bible to learn what God wants us to do and how He wants us to do it. For instance, we know He wants us to treat one another in a godly way, but in this text, He tells us to please one another and to sacrifice for one another. Benevolent passivity will not result in church members receiving the treatment God expects us to give them. We can point out other specific areas of guidance as well. We are told how to honor God with our wealth, by giving a tithe to our church. We are told how to select church leaders and qualities for which to look as we search for them. We are told the passion and the extent of our gospel witness to a lost world. The Bible goes beyond merely authorizing the church, it instructs the church.
III. The Bible provides encouragement to the church
The churches which Paul started faced a number of difficulties. Paul told them that Scripture provided encouragement. No doubt the early church members could see in the opposition of the Roman government to their religion, the faces of Pharaoh and his taskmasters. In the poverty they faced, they would be reminded of the poor widow to whom Elijah ministered. They would be greatly encouraged by the stories they learned from the Old Testament.
Churches today face problems. Hostility from institutions, financial difficulties, the deaths of strong leaders, an increasingly spiritual but unchristian culture, and the diminishing amounts of time that can be given by church members to serving their churches are only a few of the problems. We are encouraged, however, when we realize all of these problems existed in the New Testament churches and the Bible makes clear that they still became strong. Ultimately they changed society. The fact that our struggles are the same as theirs should encourage us. Our greatest opportunities are before us.
Verses 5 and 6 of this passage make clear that the church that follows the guidance of Scripture will unite and bring glory to God. This is an amazing thing. That God can unite a diverse group of sinners and use them to glorify Himself is a thing of wonder. Yet as we use the Bible as our authority, our guidebook and as we look to it for encouragement, He makes us one body, one force for His glory.
The authority to live
In April of 1924, Josef Stalin published a book called The Foundations of Leninism. This became the guiding source of authority that he would use to destroy millions of lives: an authority for death. The Bible, however, is a source of authority that has freed and given life to millions. It is the authority to live.
Source: Martin Amis, Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million, Miramax/Hyperion Publishers, 2002, p. 118.
Recently, my son was driving north from our home in Little Rock, Arkansas. Concerned about his safety, I bought a set of tire chains for his vehicle. We spent an afternoon studying the instructions and practicing installing the chains. I wanted to know he would arrive at his destination safely, even if he encountered bad weather. God has given the church a set of instructions that will bring us safely through all of our struggles. Those instructions are in the Bible. We should learn them and be familiar with them.
Every preacher has the experience of going to the home of someone who was distressed because of illness, loss or bereavement. He has read the Bible and watched as hope began to shine in the eyes of those who had none - until they were reminded of God's love and grace. Churches are like people: they are encouraged by Scripture. It gives them hope to hear of the plans God has for them, and how much He loves the church.
The church and the Word
The most used entrance to the First Baptist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana requires those who enter to see an inscription of 2 Timothy 2:15 "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed. . . "The church should be known for the priority given to the Bible. It should be so in all our churches.
Additional sermon starters
What the Bible tells us about terrorism (Luke 13:1-9)
This sermon would demonstrate the Bible's utility in our daily lives. The text is a report of state-sponsored terrorism made to Jesus by people who hear Him preach. The fact that such a report is recorded in Scripture testifies to the relevance of the Bible. The text also speaks to the sensitivity Jesus showed to families of victims of terror (for example, He did not allow the discussion to become sensational. His Galilean followers may have been related to the victims of this terror), and the importance of repentance in the face of such threats.
The Bible's comfort (John 14:1-6)
This wonderful text is an example of how the Bible encourages us in our most dire circumstances. Most preachers have outlines on this text, but this sermon should focus on the relevance of Scripture in crisis events. Principles here include the anticipation of a crisis - for example Jesus knows they will be shattered by His death, the ultimate victory in crisis, believing in Him, and the daily experience of crisis, depending on God's word for strength.
Creative worship ideas
The Blueprint. Begin your message with the architect's blueprint of your church. Unfold it and make observations about how it had to be followed to achieve the architect's intention for the church. The church has a blueprint for its function as well. Transition from this visual illustration into your text.
The Handbook. Read from a student handbook at one of your local schools. Explain how the Bible is the "handbook" for life and for the church