God’s Family Grows
Series: God's Family
BIG IDEA: GOD’S FAMILY GROWS!
Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman
Baker Exegetical Commentary on Acts by Darrel Bock
A Praying Life by Paul Miller
ESV Study Bible
I can still remember the day that Andrea told me that she was pregnant with our first child, Soren. I arrived home on a Saturday afternoon from the Citylight men’s retreat and Andrea handed me a Father’s Day card. On the one hand, the card wasn’t strange because it was Father’s Day weekend, but on the other hand it was quite odd because, as far as I knew, I was not a father. As I read the card and realized that Andrea was pregnant, that we were parents, and that our little family was growing, an overwhelming joy swept over me that is beyond what words can convey. There is an unparalleled joy experienced when a family grows, especially with the first child because ignorance is bliss. The Bible says that the joy Andrea and I experienced that day is similar to the joy experienced in heaven when God’s family grows through just one sinner repenting and turning to Jesus. It’s true, Jesus says so! Luke 15:7, 10 – Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance…Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
That brings us to fourth big idea of our series exploring the local church as God’s family: God’s family grows. Now “church growth” has gotten a bad rap over the last decade and understandably so, as some churches have embraced slick, secular, and, at times, downright sick means of pursuing growth at any cost and to the neglect of genuine discipleship to Jesus. But we shouldn’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water because in the New Testament book of Acts, which chronicles the birth and development of the early church, growth is meticulously recorded and uproariously celebrated! And this makes sense because there is a party in heaven when the church grows through one sinner turning to Jesus and joining God’s family. Listen in for a moment to how growth is celebrated through Acts. Acts 2:41: “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” Acts 2:47: praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 5:14 – And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. Acts 6:7: And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. Acts 9:31 – So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. Acts 13:48-49 – And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. Acts 16:5 – So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
God’s family grows. We want to celebrate that on earth, as they celebrate in heaven, and we want to play our part in our generation! But how? I took some time to investigate the passages surrounding these “growth summaries” in Acts and other growth passages in the NT with one two-part question in mind: how does God’s family grow and how can we play our part in it? I discovered several answers, but I want to share four of them with you: 1. Pray 2. Love 3. Invite 4. Speak. Apologetic for topical preaching.
Prayer is in, around, and through many of the growth passages that we just read in Acts. Prayer characterized the compelling community of Christians in the first local church in Jerusalem. Acts 2:42, 47 – And they devoted themselves to…the prayers…praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. The miracles and stunning numerical growth recorded in Acts 5 were the result of the powerful praying in Acts 4. “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
Perhaps the greatest contributor to the growth of God’s family in history, the Apostle Paul, modeled the centrality of prayer in gospel-growth. He wrote to one of his churches, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:2-4). He wrote to another church, “To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph. 6:18-20). Prayer precedes God’s family growing.
Theologically, it makes all the sense in the world that prayer is the primary means of God’s family growing because that growth is God’s work! Acts 2:47 says it was the Lord who added to their number every day. Similarly, Acts 13:48 says “and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Since the Lord does the adding and appointing, we do the praying. Pressure is off! Even Jesus himself prayed for God’s family growth. John 17:20-21 – “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Jesus promises that God’s family grows, and our prayers put God’s promises into motion. So, when it comes to playing our part, prayer is our primary work. And I want to help. On your chair, along with the connect card, you may have noticed a 3×5 index card. That’s for you to take home. I want to invite everyone to write down the names of three friends, neighbors, or co-workers who aren’t yet part of a Bible-believing church and live in the Philadelphia area (I’ll get to that in a little later), and I want to invite you to the joy of praying once a day or once a week that the Lord will add them to His family and watching the story unfold. Some of you are here because someone else here made a prayer card for you. Encouragement to those who don’t have any names from my story.
The second significant factor that leads to the growth of God’s family is our love. In Acts 2, it was the love shared among the members of the first church in Jerusalem that made them so compelling to outsiders. This makes sense because Jesus himself said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).” Of course, it’s not just our love for one another in God’s family that leads us to grow. Rather, it’s our love for one another spilling out from among us and all over the people around us that leads God’s family to grow. The Lord Jesus Christ himself connected the love of Christians and the effect of their witness. Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” When our love is both tangibly seen by and honestly explained to others, then they just might give glory to God and his family grows. It’s our countercultural unity with and love for one another, spilling out onto others that leads to God’s family growing.
Two questions: First, how can you tangibly love the other Christians in this church so that all the people around us know that we belong to Jesus? The second question requires you to think about those three. Got them? What is one thing you can do this week to show them that you love them? Story of walking Denise’s dog. God’s family grows as we pray, love, and…
In Acts 2:42-47, there is a beautiful description of the very first Christian church in Jerusalem. It was a compelling community, they had favor with their neighbors, and the Lord added to their number daily. But how did their neighbors know just how rich and compelling this church’s love for one another was? The neighbors were invited in! One of my favorite examples of the power of invitation is found in John 4, it’s the somewhat famous narrative of Jesus’s conversation with the woman at the well. Jesus was traveling on foot from Judea to Galilee and intentionally went out of his way into Samaria and stopped at a well for some water and, breaking all social conventions, struck up a conversation with a Samaritan, sexually immoral, woman. I love Jesus! Jesus peered into her world, lovingly but honestly exposed her sinful heart, and told her the good news of eternal life for thirsty sinners like her. The woman was so struck by the gospel that she left her water jug, ran into town, and invited everyone to the well to hear from Jesus himself. John 4:41-42 records the stunning results of the woman’s invitation: And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” That’s the power of invitation. The tax collector, Matthew, took a similar approach when Jesus called him to be one of his disciples. The very same day he started following Jesus, Matthew threw a huge party at his house and invited both Jesus and all his crazy, sinful tax collecting friends. And this is my story. I think I was converted at a New Year’s Eve party/event that my friend Caleb invited me to at his church. At the event, a man asked me if I died tonight, was I sure I was going to heaven. I thought to myself, “Oh man, what do these guys have planned.” But Caleb’s simple invitation and that man’s simple question led to my conversion and here I am twenty years later. Never underestimate the power of an invitation. And this week you have the opportunity.
Friends, next Sunday we have another congregation-wide picnic at Gorgas Park. There will be lawn games, water ice, face painting for the kids and me, and a food truck. In addition, we are going to hear stories of lives changed by Jesus and have baptisms. Who can you invite? Who can you bring with you who isn’t yet part of a Bible-believing church so that they can experience our community and hear about our Savior? I am living proof that you can never overestimate the value of a simple invitation. God’s family grows as we pray, love, invite, and…
It’s no exaggeration to say that there isn’t one instance of God’s family growing in Acts without good news speaking. You may have heard the old saying, “preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words.” Well friends, the gospel is news, so I think we better change the phrase to “preach the gospel, and since it’s always necessary, use words.” Yes, Jesus says let your light shine before others, but no one is going to see your good deeds and thinks, “my goodness she’s loving, Jesus must have died an atoning death on the cross to save me from my sins!” We have to use words if the word is going to increase and multiply in our generation.
Now, not everyone is going to speak in the same style. Some of you are more like the Apostle Paul with the philosophers in Athens, you’re a thinker, you love a friendly debate, and to be intellectually persuasive about the gospel. Great! Others of you are more experiential. You’re like the blind man that Jesus healed in John 9 who said, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” You don’t know the Bible in and out, but you know Jesus saved you and you can tell your story. And still others of you are like Philip in Acts 8, you’re super bold and if there is a crack in the door of a conversation, you’re going press the gospel into it. We don’t all have the same style, but we do have the same message. We have the simple gospel message that is the power of God to save. It’s a message with four parts; God – sin – Christ – response. The gospel begins with God. God is the creator of everyone and everything and created humanity in his own image to glorify him. The gospel then moves to humanities fall into sin. Sin is disobeying and ignoring God in the world he created, failing to do and be what God requires in his word. The gospel then moves to Christ, who is promised throughout the Old Testament, and then comes in flesh to live a sinless life, die an atoning death for our sins, and rise from the grave to give eternal life to all who believe in Him. The gospel concludes with response: God, sin, Christ, and response. God invites everyone everywhere to turn from their sins and embrace Jesus Christ as their only hope in life and in death. The gospel, God-sin-Christ-response, that’s the simple message we speak and God’s power to save is unleashed!
Friends, God’s family is going to grow. Jesus said, “I will build my church.” So, let’s get in on this cosmic take your child to work day by praying, loving, inviting, and speaking because Jesus is going to win!
The ministry Jesus Film Project asked 1,600 Christians why we don’t share the good news about Jesus with others. Can you guess our number one reason? Fear! And fear is powerful. You can think your way out of fear. Logic is no match for fear. That’s why you’re more afraid to fly then you are to drive to the airport. Logic is not match for fear. When it comes to fear, on the gospel will do. I know you’re afraid. I am too. I have no good advice for you, but I do have some good news. By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, the God who should judge you forever, has adopted you as His son or daughter. You’re as close to Hell as you’re ever going to be. You’ve got nothing to fear!
“If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”