Keep Jesus’ mission the main thing.
Keep Jesus’ mission the main thing. Today we are going to learn three ways to keep Jesus mission the main thing: 1. Separate well. 2. Remove unnecessary offenses 3. Follow the Lord’s leading.
Before we get into our passage, I want to revisit something I mentioned last week. Last week I said that a couple years ago, as part of Citylight’s collective repentance for our indifference to the injustices that our black and brown neighbors and brothers & sisters in Christ face, Citylight Church formed a Racial Justice Advisory Counsel and about a year ago the focus of the counsel changed slightly and was renamed Citylight’s Diversity Counsel. The diversity counsel is made up of persons of color and women who are members of Citylight Church and help the pastors lead Citylight toward having diverse leadership, a diverse community, and becoming the kind of church that reaches a diverse crowd with the good news of Jesus. I want to say three brief things regarding the diversity counsel and the pastor’s efforts to lead Citylight toward being a community that reflects the diversity of the kingdom of God.
The first thing I want to say is a word of repentance on behalf of our pastors to the diversity council in particular and Citylight Church in general. The Bible says to consider the interests of others more significant than your own. I have failed to lead the Citylight pastors to consider the interests and burdens of our black members. Specifically, I have failed to lead the other pastors in thinking about issues of diversity and racial justice as much as we should, I have led the pastors in asking the diversity council to solve problems rather than leading us to do the proactive work, and I have not led the pastors do make all the changes that diversity council has asked the pastors to make in order to accomplish our collective goal of being a church that reflects the diversity of the kingdom and the community we are seeking to reach. I’m the Lead Pastor of this church and the responsibility is mine. I am sorry and I repent.
I secondly, want to honor the Diversity Council and the good work that they have equipped us to do this year. The Diversity Council helped Citylight reform its hiring practices this year, which directly led to hiring our second staff member of color and first African American staff member, Chance Chainey. We’ve also added our second elder of color and first African American elder, Michael Murray. Finally, the Diversity Council helped the preaching pastors transition to consulting scholars of color in our sermon preparation and preaching, which has diversified the voice in the pulpit. More can be said, but I want to publicly honor the work of the Diversity Council.
Finally, I want to say that talk is cheap. The Citylight executive staff, myself, Mike at Center City, Andy at Delco, and Pastor Tim will be meeting with the DC this month in order to solidify their recommendations and formulate a plan for the DC and the executive staff to meet regularly to ensure that our goals of having a diverse leadership, diverse membership, and diverse mission do not again move to the backburner. If you would like to speak to me more about this, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s pray and open God’s Word together.
When I was a freshman in college, I competed for Penn State in my first NCAA gymnastics championships. Until competing in collegiate gymnastics, gymnastics meets were not noisy events. It’s men’s gymnastics, after all. But the NCAA championships was completely different. Between the sound of fans and teammates yelling and cheering, and the sight of Olympians who were now my competitors, I was completely overwhelmed, and my coach could see it all over my face. I remember him saying something like, “we brought you here to do one thing and that’s compete on the rings. That’s the main thing, keep it the main thing, and you’ll do fine.” What he said worked. I did my best ring routine of the season. I just wish he had remembered to tell me that they brought me to do the vault also because I fell on that event. But it’s truly amazing how keeping the main thing the main thing steadied me in the midst of a chaotic and complex situation.
In Acts 15:36-16:10, a group of Christians find themselves in the midst of chaotic and complex situations. From relational fall out to costly sacrifices for the mission of spreading the gospel to mysterious setbacks, these early Christian leaders remained steady by keeping the mission of making and growing disciples of Jesus the main thing. Friends, we are living in one of the most complex and chaotic times any of us have ever experienced, and the timeless big idea that threads through our passage is: Keep Jesus’ mission the main thing. Keep Jesus’ mission the main thing. Today we are going to learn three ways to keep Jesus mission the main thing: 1. Separate well. 2. Remove unnecessary offenses 3. Follow the Lord’s leading.
Acts 15:36-41: 36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. Paul and Barnabas were truly a band of brothers. After Paul, a former murderer of Christians, was converted to faith in Jesus, it was Barnabas that vouched for him and brought him into the Christian community when everyone was skeptical of Paul’s conversion. When Barnabas was overwhelmed trying to pastor a growing church full of Jews and Gentiles in Antioch, Paul came to serve as his co-pastor and lighten the burden. Paul and Barnabas went on their first missionary journey together and side-by-side they preached the gospel, contended for sound doctrine, and endured persecution to the point of attempted murder. Their bond was much like soldiers who endure battle together. And now, at the end of Acts 15, they have a sharp disagreement and separate. On their first missionary journey, they brought John Mark along and the young man deserted them. Barnabas now wants to give John Mark a second chance, Paul doesn’t, and Luke never tells us who is right. After a sharp disagreement, Paul and Barnabas simply cannot agree and so instead of continuing to fight, they separate so that they can keep Jesus’ mission and not their conflict the main thing. Amazingly, the church in Antioch remains united and commends both Barnabas’ team and Paul’s team to the grace of God and sends them out. And since Acts is all about the acts of the risen Lord Jesus who is reigning and working from heaven on earth, to expand God’s kingdom to new people and new places by the power of the Holy Spirit through his servants, even in this tragic separation the mission remains the main thing. Now, Luke, the author of Acts, provides no commentary on Paul and Barnabas’ separation, but there are a few principles that we can draw from this scene to help us separate will for the sake of keeping Jesus’ mission the main thing.
1. Believe that separating is a tragedy. This is the last time that Barnabas is mentioned in Acts and that’s a tragedy. The Bible says again and again that it’s beautiful when brothers dwell in unity. For Christians to separate well requires that we see separating as tragic so that we see it as a last resort rather than a first response. That leads us to the second principle for separating well…
2. Sharply disagree first. Paul and Barnabas only separate after they gave time to sharp disagreement. We live in a culture that is fluent in outrage but averse to sharp, direct, loving disagreement. As a result, we often leave a church, write off a fellow believer, or harbor bitterness without every actually having a sharp disagreement about the disagreement or the offense. Sharp disagreement is painful, but sometimes it can save us from the tragedy of separating from a church or another Christian. Do you need to have a loving, sharp disagreement for the sake of keeping Jesus’ mission the main thing?
3. Make sure that you’re separating for the sake of the mission. Paul and Barnabas separated because they simply could not agree on who to take with them on their mission, so they separated for the sake of the mission. It’s good to have strong convictions that you’re willing to separate over for the sake of the mission, just make sure those convictions center on Jesus’ mission and not your preferences and you’ll probably separate well.
4. Trust that Jesus’ mission will triumph. Though the separation is tragic, Jesus’ mission prevails because Acts is all about the Acts of the risen Lord Jesus, not Paul or Barnabas, to expand God’s kingdom, and that story continues today. Friends, don’t idolize a Christian leader. We are human; have conflicts and failures. Don’t let that shake you. Like the church at Antioch, stay united and keep Jesus’ mission the main thing even when leaders separate, disappoint, and fail. It’s all about Jesus’ mission.
By the way, we know from 1 Corinthians and 2 Timothy, that Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark all reconciled. But what should we do when it comes to our preferences? That brings us to our second point. To keep Jesus’ mission the main thing…
REMOVE UNNECESSARY OFFENSES
Acts 16:1-5: Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily. Why in the world did Timothy, a grown man, have to endure the excruciating experience of having his foreskin cut off, with no anesthetic, before he could join Paul on his missionary journey? Timothy was ethnically Jewish on his mother’s side but was uncircumcised according to the law of Moses because his Greek father didn’t allow it, and everyone knew it. To the Jewish people that Paul’s team was trying to reach with the gospel, to be ethnically Jewish but uncircumcised was incredibly offensive. Therefore, Timothy willingly removes the unnecessary offense of his foreskin in order to keep Jesus’ mission of making and growing disciples the main thing. Paul and Timothy knew their context and removed unnecessary offenses.
What unnecessary offenses might you need to remove in the context of your family, friend-group, neighborhood, or workplace in order to keep Jesus’ mission the main thing? Depending on your context it could posting certain things on social media, fighting for a preference at work, or some other acceptable practice that runs the risk of being an unnecessary offense. I want to have deep, spiritual conversations with my neighbor, so I trim the shrubs even though I think they’re on his property because he thinks they’re on mine and he asked me to. In my context removing the shrubs is removing an unnecessary offense. How about you? There are at least two context features of our present time that all of us need to consider when it comes to removing unnecessary offenses to the gospel: COVID-19 and issues of race and racial injustice. When it comes to COVID-19, church’s and Christians who flex their freedoms and refuse or complain about following public health guidelines will present an unnecessary offense to the advance of the gospel and fail to keep Jesus mission the main thing. If Timothy laid down his foreskin, then we can lay down our right to have an uncovered face in order to remove unnecessary offenses and keep Jesus’ mission rather than our preferences the main thing. When it comes to injustice, every Christian is morally obligated to do mercy and seek justice on behalf of the poor and marginalized in some way. However, we are not all obligated to take up the same or every issue of justice. That would be impossible. But we have to consider our context. In our context in Philadelphia, our black neighbors and brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering under racial injustice. Given our context, indifference to or willful ignorance of the burdens that our black neighbors and fellow church members face is an unnecessary offense that needs to be removed for the sake of our mission of making disciples of Jesus to the glory of God here. For the sake of keeping Jesus’ mission the main thing, remove the offense of indifference toward issues of racial justice in Philly. Instead, repent, pray, fast, lament, learn, listen, and act or else the secularists may appear to love the image of God in humanity more than we do. Since Timothy was willing to remove his foreskin to keep Jesus’ mission the main thing, what unnecessary offenses can’t we remove? As we separate well and remove unnecessary offenses, we, thirdly, keep Jesus’ mission the main thing by…
FOLLOW THE LORD’S LEADING
Acts 16:6-10: 6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. After Paul, Silas, and Timothy travel around strengthening the established churches, Paul’s team decides to strike out to bring the gospel where Christ is neither named nor known. At first, the team wanted to go to Asia (Turkey), but the Lord prevented them. Perhaps the Lord gave them a prophetic sense that they shouldn’t go to Turkey or maybe they saw the hand of Jesus in their setbacks. Either way, the Lord kept preventing them from entering new places until Paul had a vision of a Macedonian (Greek-European) man asking Paul to come and help. Since the word of the gospel is everyone’s greatest need, Paul concludes that the dream was the Lord leading Paul to preach the gospel of Jesus for the first time in Europe. Instead of going where they wanted, Paul’s team keeps Jesus’ mission the main thing by following the Lord’s leading. As the great 19th century missionary David Livingstone once said, “Without Christ, not one step; with him, anywhere!”
These days we are nearly obsessed with the concept of God’s leading and how to discern it. Acts 16 reminds us that the Lord will not lead a parked car. If you want to experience the exhilarating adventure of the Lord’s leading, then get moving on making Jesus’ mission your main thing. Start praying consistently for some non-Christian friends in the Philadelphia area to come to faith in Jesus. Start loving them sacrificially. Start introducing them to other followers of Jesus at Citylight. Start having spiritual conversations for them. Start asking them how you can pray for them and watch as the Lord starts leading because the Lord leads moving cars in exciting ways. Instead of waiting for the Lord’s leading, start moving. Email Pastor Mark (email@example.com) to learn about international missions through Citylight. Start taking steps toward getting on the field and watch how the Lord leads. He may lead you in the still small voice of your heart, prophetic words from other church members, or vivid dreams. If you want to experience the exhilarating leading of the Lord, then keep Jesus’ mission the main thing in your home, in your neighborhood, at your school, among your friends, and in your workplace. As you start moving the car of mission, pray and watch how the Lord leads.
A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that my son Soren is into presidents right now. When Soren started quizzing me, I was amazed by how few presidents before Eisenhower I could name, let alone remember their key accomplishments. It reminded me that the Bible says we humans are like a vapor; here for a moment and then gone. But the mission of the resurrected Jesus, that’s what lives on. God created us to glorify and enjoy Him forever. We’ve all sinned and exchanged the worship of God the creator for worship of the creation. But God showed his love for us in that when we were still sinners Christ died for us just as the Scriptures promised. Jesus is the only redeemer who can bring us back to God. He is the resurrected king and it’s his mission that lives on when the vapor of our lives is over. Repent and believe in Jesus so that you can be saved from your sins and join his mission. And keep Jesus’ mission the main thing by separating well, removing unnecessary offenses, and following the Lord’s leading because his mission is what matters. Keep moving for the sake of Jesus mission of making more disciples and he’ll lead you. Without Him, not one step; with him, anywhere!