Belonging — Part One
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Belonging — Part One

While church membership may seem like an optional aspect of the Christian experience, the Bible’s instructions are clear: followers of Jesus belong together. When a person becomes a believer, Alistair Begg teaches, they are admitted to the invisible church—the worldwide family of faith. Yet it is within the visible church—the local body that gathers together—that God has made special provision for the fellowship, instruction, and discipline of His people. True spiritual maturity is hard to realize without belonging to both.

Series Containing This Sermon

Christian Basics

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25101

Sermon Transcript: Print

Father, we want to turn now to the Bible and learn from it. We’re not interested in hearing the views of a man. We want to be like the Berean Christians, who examined the Bible every day; they “examined the Scriptures every day to see if the things were so,”[1] and that was when Paul was preaching. So, we know that we ought to be very, very careful here. And as we come to this subject this morning, we pray for your grace and your help. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Well, do be seated, and turn with me, if you would, to 1 Peter 2, which is on page 858, if you want to use one of the pew Bibles—page 858. We read from Romans 12 purposefully. We come now to 1 Peter, just to these two verses, which are well-known verses, but we come to them equally purposefully.

First Peter 2:9: Peter, writing to the scattered believers of his day, says to them, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

In our previous studies we asked these questions and sought to answer them: First, How does one become a Christian? And then, What does a Christian believe? And then, How should a Christian behave? And now, Where does a Christian belong? It is to this matter of belonging that we give our time in our studies both this morning and, again, it will take us into the evening to cover it.

The importance of this question was brought home to me when in the last month or five weeks I took a trip with three friends from out of state—all male friends, all interested in golf. And in the course of our journey together, for some reason the question of involvement in the local church came up—specifically, the issue of church membership. And I was surprised and not a little discouraged to discover that none of my three friends were actually members of a local church. It wasn’t that they didn’t attend. It wasn’t that they were disinterested. It was that they had decided they did not want to be members of any local assembly of God’s people. And not only were they prepared to address the matter and to substantiate their position, but they were also very strong in arguing with me when I suggested to them that they were perhaps out of line in relationship to the Bible. I actually suggested to them that their position was not an uncommon position—an expression of sort of aggressive individualism, which, of course, is part and parcel of the upside of the American culture in many instances, but not always. And not only were they representative of that kind of individualistic spirit, but they also were displaying, I suggested to them, a completely inadequate understanding of the nature of the church, both with a large C and with a small c.

The invisible church finds expression in the visible communities of God’s people, who identify themselves with a local congregation.

Since then, having reflected on that—the discussion that ensued—and having pondered where we are at Parkside, I’ve reached the conclusion that my three friends are representative of a significant company of those who attend Parkside. And I had my colleagues check, so that I would have at least some kind of statistical awareness of what is going on, and what I discovered was that of the four and a half thousand people who are identified in some meaningful way with us here, only one-third of that group is actually in membership with us at Parkside.

That is not to say that everyone who has not come through the process is disengaged or uninvolved; I’m not suggesting that for a moment. I’m simply expressing the truth, the facts, as we have them: four and a half thousand people that are within the framework of the building—that doesn’t include another thousand children or so—and then discovering that only one in three, at the very most, is actually identified with us in the congregation. So I thought, “Well, it would be good for us to address this matter.” Because what we’re dealing with when we think in terms of belonging is the priority of Christian fellowship. And since that is a cliché, it’s good for us from time to time to try and unpack it.

An Important Distinction

And what I want to do initially is to draw your attention to what I’m referring to as an important distinction—an important distinction. And the distinction is simply this: between the invisible church and the visible church.

Now, that terminology may be new to some of you. It may not, but if it is, then let me try and help you with it. When a person is placed in Christ—when an individual discovers Jesus to be their Lord and Savior, Friend and King—then they are admitted into the invisible church; the body of Christ; that great vast company of individuals throughout time, some of whom are already in glory; that, if you like, worldwide family of faith that exists, and that exists in perfect harmony and unity. It is that family that is represented, for example, in our well-worn hymn “The Church’s One Foundation,” with the stanza, “Elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth.”[2] That is not a hymn describing a local congregation. That is not a hymn that was written about a small church somewhere in the plains of the Unites States. It is a hymn that is giving expression to the notion of the invisible church.

And if your Bible is open at 1 Peter, you will notice that the Bible tells us that we have been born into a family. It uses that very terminology, doesn’t it? Verse 23—this is chapter 1—“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” And some of you are saying, “That’s exactly what has happened to me. I have been born again. The Bible used to be completely irrelevant. We had a Bible; we had a family Bible. None of us ever read it. And then one day I began to read it and began to think about it. One of my friends at work told me about it, and I began to study it for myself. And the Bible came alive to me and showed me who I am and what I need, and I became a Christian. And I became a newborn baby”—1 Peter 2:2—“and I began to crave the milk of the Word of God so that I might grow up in my salvation. And as I began to read the Bible, I discovered that I had been born into a family. And I also discovered”—2:5—“that I was a living stone and I was being built into a house—born into a family and built into a house. Not only that”—in verse 9—“I was part of a much larger company than I knew. The Bible tells me that I’m part of a chosen people, of a royal priesthood, a holy nation. And, since I’ve been reading my Bible, I know that I’m also a member of Christ’s flock, and he is the chief Shepherd. I’ve been reading my Bible, and I’ve discovered that I am part of Christ’s body, and he is the Head. I’ve been reading my Bible, and I recognize that I am included in Christ’s household”—Galatians 6—“and I have a part to play in the house.”[3]

Now, when we think along those lines, it very quickly becomes apparent to us that we are all members of this invisible body, if we are in Christ. But how does the invisible church take seriously the commands and the privileges of living in Christ? And the answer, of course, most obviously is that the invisible church finds expression in the visible communities of God’s people, who identify themselves with a local congregation.  And when we read the Bible—and I hope to reinforce this for us today—it very quickly becomes apparent that God anticipates—indeed, expects—that everyone who is a member of his invisible body will be a functioning member of a local body. And indeed, when you think in terms of the visible church, each of the metaphors—whether it is a flock, or a building, or a body, or whatever—each of the metaphors only works when you think in terms of a vital and close relationship with other Christians. Because, for example, one sheep doesn’t make a flock. One brick doesn’t make a building, one limb doesn’t make a body, and one individual doesn’t make a family.

Although we have come to Christ individually, we do not live in Christ solitarily.

And it is impossible to read your Bible without recognizing the plural nature of the way in which so much material is addressed. For example, take the letters that are written. The majority of them are written to local congregations. They are written to places, and they’re written to express groups of people. I mean, you can turn virtually anywhere. You turn to 1 Corinthians—you don’t need to turn to it—but 1 Corinthians is written “to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”[4] So in other words, Paul is covering the express group that is there in Corinth, and he’s recognizing something of what is going to take place when this letter goes way beyond Corinth. He would never have imagined it coming to Cleveland, but Cleveland is covered in the second half of the verse, isn’t it? It is written not only to those who are gathering in Corinth, but it is written to all those everywhere throughout the world who are gathered to Christ and therefore to one another. Philippi, the same thing: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus [in] Philippi.”[5]

“Oh,” says somebody, “but of course he wasn’t sending it to a building like this, as it were—7100 Pettibone Road. He didn’t say, ‘To Corinth, such-and-such a street.’” How do you know he didn’t? We know for sure that he didn’t send it to a church building; he didn’t send it to a denominational headquarters. But he didn’t just send it to nowhere. And when he said, “I’m addressing the elders,” the elders knew who they were. When he said, “I’m addressing the servants,” they knew who was serving. And when he began to address express and specific issues, they understood why he had sent the letter to Corinth and not to Ephesus, and why to Colossae and not to Philippi.

They were expressly written to specific groups of people who—without church buildings, without denominational affiliations—understood themselves not only to have been included in Christ’s great and invisible body, but understood themselves to be part of the visible body of Christ as it gave expression to itself within a variety of communities. And in everything, the fellowship is first of all on a vertical dimension—1 John 1:3, remember? “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” And then, as we walk in the light, we have fellowship with one another.[6] So the fellowship is first of all that into which we are brought by the Spirit of God through the Word of God in Jesus: I am placed in Christ, and I’m part of a vast company that ultimately no one can number.  It is an amazing thing.

But in order that I might make sense of the Bible, I need to get myself involved where there is actual flesh and blood reality to this. But some of us, of course, like invisibility. They like invisibility. Would you like invisibility if you were a tennis player? Don’t you think it would be quite good to be a member of a club? I mean, how long can you hit balls against your garage door? And how do you know if you’re any good or not? And if somebody saw a set of golf clubs sticking out of the trunk of your car and they asked you, “Where do you play?” you would tell them, wouldn’t you?

Some of you would say, “I play anywhere I can get a game.”

They’d follow up and say, “Well, are you a member anywhere?”

You respond by saying, “No, I don’t belong to any specific club.”

“Would you like to?”

“If I could, I think I may.”

“Well, perhaps you should.”

The same thing holds: “Oh, I see you have a Bible.”

“Yes?” At Starbuck’s.

“Where do you praise God and study the Bible?”

“Oh, anywhere I get the chance.”

“I see. Are you a member anywhere?”

“Oh, no, I don’t belong anywhere.”

“Oh, I see. Would you like to?”

My three friends: “Absolutely not.”

“Okay, well, that’s clarity. Have a great day.”

Now, it is clearly possible to be a member of the invisible church without identifying with the visible church, right? And some of you are in that position. You’re not in any doubt about whether you love Jesus, whether you’ve been born again of his Spirit, whether it’s important for you to come and participate in events here and in other places. That’s not in question. You’re not arguing that issue. It’s possible to be a member of the invisible church without identifying with a local and visible community. And it is also possible to be part of an identifiable group of visible Christians without yourself being made a member of the invisible church. The former is a better position than the latter—better to be an involved and committed nonmember than a noninvolved and uncommitted member.

So please don’t misunderstand me: this actually is not driven by any desire to change the statistics as represented here. This is simply driven by the desire to complete our fourfold objective, to discuss each question in turn: becoming, believing, behaving, and belonging. And if we’re going to take seriously the question of belonging, we need to recognize that although we have come to Christ individually, we do not live in Christ solitarily. 

A Special Provision

We have been born again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; and the second thing I want you to notice is that in the church God has made a special provision for his children—a special provision for his children. And that special provision is a local church.

Now, we understand it in family terms, don’t we? We’re born into a family. It’s a very sad thing when by dint of some circumstances a baby is abandoned—a birth takes place, and the news on the television is that a child was found in a dumpster, or a child was found left outside the door of a clinic. And everybody says, “But that is a dreadful situation!” And the picture of children growing up as orphans—unattached, unloved, uncared for, fending for themselves—is something that every sensible, caring community has always endeavored to do something about.

So, take it from the nuclear family and to the church family, and the application is fairly obvious: God has not only planned that we would be born into physical families, but he has planned that we would be born into a spiritual family. And when you’re born into a physical family, you can’t choose your relatives. Some of us would like to, and many of our own siblings would have dispensed with us a long time ago. You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. And the same is true in being placed in the body of Christ.  So, Thanksgiving dinner’ll come around, and Aunt Mabel will show up again from Minnesota. She talks far too much. Everybody knows it. Uncle Leonard doesn’t usually come, but when he comes, he’s absolutely morose. Trying to get a smile out of him is like getting blood out of a stone. Frieda—nobody really knows who Frieda is, but she exaggerates dreadfully. And Tommy sees every glass half empty. But they’re family. And therefore, we bear with one another.

And so it is in the church family. Now, I know that Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote the song, “I’m so glad that you’re part of the family of God.”[7] But for a long time here we haven’t sung that, and we haven’t sung that because I’ve destroyed it for you for all time by suggesting to you that it would be far better if it were written, “I’m surprised that you’re part of the family of God.” That would be far more honest, wouldn’t it? Starting with ourselves! You look into the mirror of God’s Word, and you ought to be surprised that he has included you in his family, aren’t you? I hope you are.

You know all the things I’ve ever done,
But [Your] blood has cancelled ev’ry one.
O, Lord, such grace to qualify me as Your own.[8]

“I’m surprised!”

Now, you’re supposed to only be surprised about yourself. You’re not supposed to be as surprised about your brothers and sisters. And when people get surprised about their brothers and sisters, in my experience, now, in twenty-three years here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, people just take their baseball bat and head down the street for another diamond. It’s the way it goes. “Ope! Don’t like it here anymore. Going down to another diamond with my bat. Gonna to take my tennis racket, I’m gonna go find another club.” You would do that in your family? Just because of Frieda?

No, you don’t do that. Oh, you may go in a huff for a little while—you up the stairs, close your door, ruminate about everything, describe your sisters in horrendous terms, plan your exit strategy: “I’ll run away from home. I’ll build one of those things like Huckleberry Finn, that’s what I’m going do.” I used to read Mark Twain when I was a boy, and when I got in my blues, then I’d say, “I’ll get one of those handkerchiefs, and I’ll tie it to the end of a stick, and I’ll put everything in there, and then I’ll go off on my raft.” How am I gonna go down the Mississippi when I live in Glasgow, Scotland? It’s absolutely impossible. And as I sat in my bedroom for long enough, I realized, “Begg, your biggest problem is you. You are your own biggest problem. Go back down the stairs and say sorry. Go back down the stairs and say, ‘Forgive me.’ Go back down the stairs and say, ‘I am a flat-out idiot.’ Now, go on!” And that’s what we have to do.

Love always takes the initiative.

And that way we repair and restore family relationships, don’t we? Some of you are here, and you haven’t done that. You didn’t go back down the stairs. You never wrote the note. You never said the sorry. And as you sit and listen to me now, it’s like a dagger in your heart. Because you’ve been distanced from a physical family member for years without any reconciliation and restoration, and you know, and they know, that it’s wrong. You ought to take of it. Love always takes the initiative. Love always takes the initiative.  But when I regard myself as the offended one—especially within the family of faith, especially when the options are so many—then the temptation is simply to quit, to run and hide, to keep the discussion going.

Well, I don’t recommend that. I don’t recommend it.

Think of what I’m saying.
Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?
Think of what I’m saying.
We can work it out.
Life is very short, and there’s no time
For fussing and fighting, my friends.
I’ve always thought that it’s a crime,
So I will ask you once again.
Think of what I’m saying.[9]

But here’s the rub: what happens in the nuclear family is imported into the church. So, fifty percent of marriages go down the Suwannee River. Those people are then in the church, and as soon as Mabel didn’t get her just desserts, she headed for the hills of Alabama. And now she’s happily settled in a little church family in Alabama. And suddenly, she doesn’t get what she expected in the church family in Alabama, so she’s gonna do the same thing in the church as she did in her marriage.

“Think of what I’m saying.” We can get it right.

A Provision for Fellowship

The special provision of God for his people in terms of belonging is a local fellowship. Because it’s in this kind of context that we’re able to work these things out. It’s in this kind of context that, for example, we can try and make sense of a word like fellowship. What is fellowship? It’s such a cliché, isn’t it? People say, “Well, we’re having a time of fellowship.” That can mean we’re eating pizza, we have a coffeepot in the middle of the room, we’re going to dance around it, or whatever it might mean. It’s a loosely applied word to any kind of gathering.

But in actual fact, it is a word from classical Greek. And in classical Greek it was used of a business partnership where individuals committed themselves to one another to share in the risks and to share in the profits. It was used classically of marriage, where a husband and wife committed themselves to one another to share everything. And the church comes along and says, “What’s the best possible word that we can use to explain what it means to be in relationship to one another?” And they said, “How about the word koinonia? How about this word?” And that’s exactly what they picked up to use. It’s not only word, but it is one of them. And the emphasis that they sought to bear was the primary thought of generous sharing rather than of selfish getting—that the nature of Christian fellowship is directly related to our coming primarily to give rather than to receive : Ask not what your church can do for you, but ask what you can do for your church.

This word, actually, doesn’t appear until Acts 2. It doesn’t appear in the Gospels at all. But once the community of God becomes the Spirit-filled church of Christ on Pentecost, and following the preaching of Peter—remember, and he preached, and three thousand people believed and were “added” to the church?[10] What did that mean? Well, they were added to the invisible church. And then, having been placed in Christ and into that invisible body, they said, “We better make sure that we are committed at the local and visible level.” And that’s why you read in Acts 2:42, “[And] they devoted themselves to the apostles’ [instruction] … to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread,” and so on.

You see, it is in the body of Christ that we have an opportunity to display to the world that we’re not committed to some principle of homogeneity —that we’re not here as a student group, all between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three. There’s a period in life where that goes: you go away to school, and everybody’s the same age, apart from the professors. And you’re in that, and you think it’s fantastic for a while, and then you find yourself saying, “I’d like to meet some older people. I’d like to get a decent meal. I’d like to find somebody like my mother, although not my mother, I miss my dad,” and so on, “and I miss all of these other elements.” And you’re saying to yourself, eventually, in your university career, “I’ll be glad to get out of here and into the broader dimension of life itself.”

It is only, you see, when people are prepared to commit themselves to a local fellowship that they then have the opportunity to mix with ages that they wouldn’t otherwise mix with. So, you have somebody who’s eighty-six, and you have someone who is sixteen. And the person who is sixteen is looking and saying, “How terribly strange, to be like that!” And the person who is eighty-six wants to put his arm around the young fellow and say, “You know, I was sixteen—seventy years ago!” And the fellow says, “What was it like to be sixteen, seventy years ago?” And the story unfolds.

How are we going to get people from different backgrounds, and different intellectual levels, and different social strata, and different colors, and different creeds, and everything else—how are they all going to be together? They’re going to be together in the visible body. And it is only as you commit yourself to that that you throw yourself into that great mixture.

The nature of Christian fellowship is directly related to our coming primarily to give rather than to receive.

And that was my problem with my three friends. And what I pointed out to them in the end was, “You—you guys—are committed to an ideal that you can control. You only want to be with people who look like you, have the same money as you, and are prepared to reinforce the principles—your strong political-economic principles.” Now, I don’t have a care in the world about your principles, or whatever else it is, but I think you’re flat-out wrong. Because you are not allowed to control who it is you relate to—unless you absent yourself from the family. But once you are in the family, then you gotta deal with Tommy, you gotta deal with Frieda, you gotta deal with Aunt Mabel, and everybody else. And aggressive American individualism says, “I don’t want to deal with Frieda and Tommy and everybody else. I didn’t work as hard as I am today to get myself in the elite access line and get access to every club in America to sit around with Tommy and Frieda and something in some Communion service.” I mean, that’s a crass way of stating it, but that’s exactly what it’s saying. Hence the challenge!

You see, when it says—when you take the “one another” passages of the New Testament—for example, “You’re to encourage one another to love and good works.”[11] Who’s the “one another” in the invisible church? Or, if you’re isolated from the church, you go choose your “one another”: “I’d like to encourage you to love and good works, ’cause I like you, and you don’t threaten me, and frankly, you’re a lot like me, and I can kind of control this relationship.” Well, sure, but that’s not the way the New Testament sets it out.

And to care for one another. “Well, I want to care for who I want to care for. I don’t want to have to care for somebody. Who’s on this prayer list? I don’t know who that person is. So what, he got run over by a motorbike, or whatever else it is? What is that about?” You see, you can just get up and walk out the door, say, “I don’t know who it is. Somebody who is a member or something, I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve got nothing to do with it, really. I just go, the fellow talks, sometimes the songs are good, sometimes they’re fantastic, and I just get out and get on with my life.”

A Provision for Instruction

You see, it is not only in the body that we deal with fellowship, but it is also there that we deal with instruction—and I’ll just say a word about this. How are we to learn the Bible? Well, we read it ourselves, and we have those who help us with it. Jesus sent his disciples out; remember, he said, “Go into all the world and make disciples, and baptize them, and teach them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.”[12] And he then in turn, the ascended Christ, gave gifts to the church—Ephesians 4—and one of the gifts that he gave to the church was “pastors and teachers.”[13] You can read all that for yourself—Ephesians 4.

And these pastors and teachers are supposed to be set apart to labor in the Word and in doctrine, and these pastor-teachers, along with their fellow elders—who don’t all teach in the public forum—but together they are watching over the flock as men who must “give an account.”[14] Therefore, every word that is spoken, every exhortation that is given, is given in the awareness that God will keep a record of what is said and will hold to account those whose mouths have been opened most. And the purpose of God in relationship to instruction is that, in terms of Ephesians 4:11–12, the pastors and teachers are to “edify” the saints—the word is oikodemia, it means “to build up” the saints—they are to instruct them, to encourage them, to build them up so that those saints may then do the works of ministry.

It is in the body of Christ that we have an opportunity to display to the world that we’re not committed to some principle of homogeneity.

So, it is not that there is a clericalism that holds ministry to itself in the hands of a few, but it is that within the framework of the local church God has purposed that the instruction should come in such a way that people are saying to one another, “You know, I can be involved in this. I may have a part in that. I haven’t really been able to discover much of what I can do, but, you know, the question of the recreation for the VBS, I think I can do that.” Well, my dear friend, it’s not just going to be about recreation. Recreation may be the mechanism, but you’re going to be in the company of all these dear youngsters. Their parents are going to be coming, picking them up as the time ends at noon. And the parents are going to get in the car, and they’re going to drive home, and they’re going to be saying to themselves—especially the unchurched parents—“I wonder why it is that that lady—because she seemed to be about my age,” the lady says to herself, “I wonder why it is that she was running around there in the drizzle and getting her shoes all messy. If I see her tomorrow, I might ask her.” And then, of course, you could tell her.

A Provision for Discipline

Our time’s gone. We’ll come back to it. But let me just take you one further. The special provision of God within the local body is the context not only for fellowship and for instruction, but also for discipline. You see, the local church is the only place—the only proper place—for discipline.  Discipline should take place in the house. There’s nothing more embarrassing than spending time in a family that is undisciplined—no table manners, no respect for mom and dad, no waiting on each other, language that is unkind and untrue and unhelpful, and it all goes around, and you sit in the house, and it is absolute chaos. And you say to yourself, “Why doesn’t dad do something here? Why doesn’t somebody exercise some kind of restraint or some kind of intervention?”

Now, we’ll come back to this tonight—in fact, we’ll start here tonight—but this… I hate to use my three friends as the illustration. Don’t anybody ever send this tape to them, or they won’t be my friends anymore. I’ll never golf with them again. But one of their great concerns was church discipline. I said, “Why would you be concerned about church discipline? I mean, my father always told me, ‘You don’t ever need to be afraid of the policeman unless you’re doing something wrong.’ Why are you afraid? These guys are good. These ladies are fine. You don’t ever have to be afraid. What’s your problem with church discipline?” “Well, I don’t want anybody interfering in my life. I don’t want anybody coming, telling me anything. I don’t want to be…” Yeah, I understand. But you’re flat-out wrong.

And these same guys that don’t want no discipline in the local church are on committees of really nice golf clubs all across the Midwest. You think they understand about rules, and regulations, and dress codes, and the length of your shorts? “Hey! Off the course! You’re missing by three-eighths of an inch. Disgusting! Two more times and you’re out of the membership.” “What are you talking about?” “I’m talking about rules, that’s what I’m talking about.”

Chuck Colson, in his book The Body—and with this I stop—he says,

No one should expect to join a church (which, after all, involves a free decision) and then refuse to accept its authority …. For failing to attend a few meetings, one can be thrown out of the Rotary Club. For failing to live up to a particular dress code, one can be dismissed from most private clubs. For failing to perform the required community service, one can be thrown out of the Junior League.
Yet when the church imposes discipline—denying the benefits of membership to those who flout its standards—it is charged with everything short of (and sometimes including) fascism. But shouldn’t the church have at least the same right to set its standards as the Rotary Club? People who don’t like it can and should go elsewhere.[15]

Now, you know I’d never say anything like that. But when we come back tonight, I’m going to tell you that the amount of running and hiding that takes place from Parkside Church in relationship to church discipline is staggering. And people join the church, say, “I want you to pastor me, I want you to care for me, I want you to discipline me, I want you to help me. I’m coming in here because I want to be in an exercise program; I’m joining a spiritual gym. I want you to exhort me, and encourage me, and keep me on track, and if you see me eating 700 doughnuts, then I want you to say, ‘You know, you might want to back that off to just 650 doughnuts,’ because I don’t want to be going down the road like this. Could you please help me with all of that?”

“Yeah, we’ll help you with all of that. Hey, hey, hey—watch the doughnuts!”

“Don’t tell me what to do with doughnuts! I am my own person. I do my own thing.”

“No, you asked me to help you with the doughnuts.”

“I… that was three months ago. I cared about doughnuts then; I don’t care about them now.”

“’Scuse me: you are not about to leave your husband.”

“Yes, I am.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Well, who do you think you are?”

“I’m your brother in Christ.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t want to hear from you.”

“I know you don’t. But I’m your brother in Christ, I’m your sister in the Lord. Let me tell you, you are walking into a rat’s nest. Let me tell you, you are gonna make a fool of yourself. Let me tell you, you’re gonna destroy your family. Let me tell you, this is idiocy. Let me tell you, this is wrong. Let me…”

“Dear Alistair: As of this minute, please remove me from membership at Parkside Church.”

We’ll come back to this tonight.

Father, thank you for the Bible. Thank you for the clarity with which it speaks; any confusion is on my part. Save us from error in understanding and in application. But help us to be ruthless in taking the principles of your Word as it relates to belonging to your people in such a way that our homes and our hearts and our families and our relationships are guarded and kept by your amazing love.

And may the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit go with us into the hours of this day, and the days of this week, and forevermore. Amen.

[1] Acts 17:11 (paraphrased).

[2] S. J. Stone, “The Church’s One Foundation” (1866).

[3] See Galatians 6:10.

[4] 1 Corinthians 1:2 (NIV 1984).

[5] Philippians 1:1 (NIV 1984).

[6] 1 John 1:7 (paraphrased).

[7] Gloria and William J. Gaither, “The Family of God” (1970). Paraphrased.

[8] Kate and Miles Simmonds, “When I Was Lost (There Is a New Song)” (2001).

[9] Paul McCartney and John Lennon, “We Can Work It Out” (1965). Paraphrased.

[10] See Acts 2:14–41.

[11] Hebrews 10:24 (paraphrased).

[12] Matthew 28:19–20 (paraphrased).

[13] Ephesians 4:11 (NIV 1984).

[14] Romans 14:12 (NIV 1984).

[15] Charles Colson and Ellen Santilli Vaughn, The Body (Dallas: Word, 1992), 133.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.