RPM, Volume 17, Number 49, November 29 to December 5, 2015

God's Mission for Faith Church

Luke 14:15-24

By D. Marion Clark


I've always thought the Teacher in Ecclesiastes would be the worse party guest. Here is how he would carry on "small talk."

"How 'bout them Gators! What a great team! Those boys know how to play. Of course, they are all going to die. Their fate is like the animals."

"Hi, Joe. Heard you got a promotion. That's super. Of course, it is all meaningless in the end, isn't it. Oh, well."

But after reading about Jesus at a dinner party, I think he might even beat out the Teacher.

The Text

Let's review the context for this parable. Jesus told it at a dinner hosted by a "prominent Pharisee." Luke mentions in verse one that he "was being carefully watched," and for good reason. Jesus was one of those guests best characterized as "you never know what he is going to do." At this dinner he manages to offend and embarrass just about everybody. First, he heals a sick man. It was a Sabbath day, and this was strictly against Pharisaic rules. Jesus could have waited until after the dinner or at least take the man into a private room. Instead, he embarrasses everyone by his comments and public healing. If that was not enough, he then holds up the honored guests as silly examples of pride. Then to top it all off, he publicly tells the host that he invited the wrong guests. His remark is worth quoting:

When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (12-14).

Somehow I have the feeling that Jesus' name was struck from a number of guest lists! Perhaps to politely change the subject, one guest tries to think of a positive thing to say.

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, "Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God."

Good try, but Jesus will not be deterred. He uses that remark to complete his lecture with a parable. The story line is that a man prepared a banquet and invited the expected guests to attend. They, for whatever reason, declined. The man then brought in unexpected guests, people who did not fit the social group for such gatherings.

Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'
22 "'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.'
23 "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.'"

The moral of the story is that there will be many so-called respectable people who think they will be accepted into God's kingdom, who are in reality rejected (such as a number of guests present). Vice versa, there are many whom no one would give a chance, who actually will be brought into the kingdom, such as the people Jesus just mentioned as guests to invite.

What strikes me about this parable is how it aptly describes the mission of the church. Note the following elements of the story. The event is a banquet which represents the feast of the kingdom of God. That phrase is another poetic way depicting our final salvation at the end time when Christ returns and takes all of his people into his glorious kingdom. The man in the story is God, who gives the order to bring in his people. Who is the servant? That is the Church, which has the task of evangelism, i.e. of bringing people into the kingdom of God.

Now note who these "guests" are. They are the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. They are to be found in the streets and alleys of the town and the roads and country lanes. They are the "outsiders." They may be literally poor and crippled; Jesus undoubtedly means the spiritually poor, crippled and blind, as well. His point is that they are not already the acceptable church folk. And they are everywhere — in town and out in the country, nearby and far away, in urban areas and rural areas. But his primary point is that they are "out there," outside the church. We have to go out and get them.

Note also how they are to be invited. Actually, the term "invited" is not used. They are to be brought in (v. 21). That term is mostly used in the context of being literally carried or led physically. The Church is to be aggressive, not just hanging out a sign welcoming anyone who might like to pop in. Indeed, the term in verse 23 means to compel the people to enter. This verse has been greatly misused in church history, starting with Augustine who used it to justify military action. Nevertheless, the emphasis Jesus is making is that the Church is not to be timid in reaching out to the lost.

The Mission Statement

With this passage as a setting, I am going to present a mission statement for Faith Church on behalf of the Session. It is a testimony to God's providence the way that this works out at this time. The Missions Committee and the Session were simultaneously working on the same subject independently of one another. The Missions Committee had been planning the Mission Conference with the emphasis on local missions. Their purpose was to encourage each member in the congregation to be active in some way in the mission enterprise. Meanwhile, the Session was working on a statement and process for mobilizing the congregation to be more outreach oriented. As it so happened, the statement would be ready just about the time of the Missions Conference. So the Missions Committee and Session have joined forces for the cause of encouraging the church in its role of serving God's kingdom.

Let's consider the statement.

Faith Presbyterian Church is God's local assembly of his redeemed people called together in the name of Jesus Christ to be servants in worship, nurture and witness.

The first thing you ought to note about this definition of our church is that it is generic. Any church's name could have been inserted. What we need to first understand as a church is not what our niche is but what it means to be a church of Jesus Christ. Ecclesia, the term most often used for church, means assembly, a gathering. We are an assembly of people who have come together in Jesus Christ. He is our bond.

But we are not a hobby club. Jesus is not merely our common interest. He is our Lord, the Head of the church who has called us together to serve him. How do we serve him? In three areas: worship, nurture and witness.

Serving God in Worship

Worship is the primary activity of the church. God's people are to be nurtured so that they become mature worshippers. Jesus has given the church the task to evangelize because God desires more worshippers.

Look at it this way. Worship is God's banquet feast. Each Lord's Day God holds a feast and calls his people to join in the festivity. Sunday worship is not a nightclub party. We don't get together with some friends and go find a party that simply exists for having a good time. We respond to God's invitation to his party in his honor. And, as we learned from Jesus' parable, the invitation is intended to be accepted. Our attendance does matter to God.

Therefore, we seek to worship God:

In a worthy manner pleasing to him through forms that help us both to apprehend God's truth and to respond to that truth, i.e. engages both the head and the heart;

According to the directives and principles laid forth in God's Word;

By keeping central the preaching of Scripture and upholding the sacraments and prayer.

True worship engages both the head and the heart. What matters is truth; but if truth matters, then it will move the heart. True worship is for God, and because it is then it is essential that it adheres to God's instructions. Thus, the Bible must guide us in the way we worship. What is allowed in worship is certainly debatable today, but our discussions must keep within this parameter. In other words, the question to guide our worship is not "Why can't we do this?" from the perspective that as long as the Bible doesn't expressly forbid it, it should be okay to do. Rather we are to be guided by what the Bible clearly commands, models, or lays down principles for. The third point upholds preaching, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and prayer as the essential and primary elements of worship.

Serving God's People in Nurture

We are to build one another "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). Nurture takes place through God's Word in the context of community. Therefore, we seek to nurture one another with the Word:

Nurture entails both education (growing in knowledge) and fellowship (growing in unity). Without nurture we cannot please God in worship, because we do not grow in knowledge of him. God accepts us as babes in knowledge, but expects us to become mature in our knowledge of him and grow in likeness to him. Without nurture we cannot properly witness to the world. Those to whom we reach out must see in us strong, knowledgeable faith. We are their models of Christ-likeness. Without nurture we do not complete the work of evangelism, which is to make disciples of Christ who obey everything that he has commanded (cf. Matthew 28:19,20). Finally, without nurture we fail to become the community of believers God intended for his church to be, and which testifies to the power of Christ's Gospel.

Through a strong Christian education program for all ages. Thus the importance of Sunday School. If all the teaching you receive is from the sermons, you, quite frankly, are not getting enough. As odd as this may seem, my primary task in preaching is not to teach, not in the sense of filling you with information. My task in preaching is to encourage, exhort, comfort, admonish, convict and move to action. If you really want to grow deeper in the scriptures and especially learn how to practically apply it, you need Sunday School. You also need other means. I don't know of a better way to get practical application than through a small group or one-on-one Bible study.

Through a network of small group Bible studies, prayer groups, and fellowship groups;

Through encouraging relationships where discipling and encouragement take place;

These activities are also the best way to develop strong relationships and receive spiritual care.

Through helping every member discover, develop, and use his or her spiritual gifts;

Through the shepherding of the elders by teaching, discipleship, discipline, and prayer.

I will address fully the statement regarding spiritual gifts next Sunday. Let me touch briefly the statement about elders. The Core Values states that our church government is Presbyterian. One thing that means is that the elders of Faith Church are regarded as pastors, or shepherds, of the church. As elders, they are fellow pastors with the ministers, and carry on all the duties that I would except for the regular preaching and administering the sacraments.

Now, the last task is the one that expresses the theme of our conference.

Serving the World in Witness

The Great Commission given by Christ to his church is to bear witness for the Gospel and make disciples. Jesus came for the express purpose to save the lost. He taught his church to be merciful. We cannot love God without loving our neighbor. Therefore we are committed to reaching the lost and showing Christ's mercy:

The Great Commission given by Christ to his disciples and his church is to bear witness for the Gospel and make disciples of Jesus Christ. A church that does not consciously and zealously witness to the lost rejects the very mission given to it by Christ. Jesus came for the express purpose to save the lost. "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17).

Consider the implications for worship. Though we do not customize worship for unbelievers, we nevertheless recognize that we are to bear witness in our worship. We are to "declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9). We are to show in worship the same love and considerateness of our Lord for all people, especially those who have yet to come into his salvation. We addressed this in Mark's account of Jesus clearing the temple. The issue there was the inconsiderate behavior and practices of the Jews towards the Gentiles who came to worship. We must consider how to consciously welcome and encourage "outsiders" to come in and worship with us.

Nurturing God's people involves preparing them to witness for him. The goal of nurture is more than simply making spiritually healthy people; it is to make mature and effective servants for the Lord who follow his example in reaching out to the lost. If we don't grasp this crucial fact, we fall into the pit that catches most churches. It is not the pit of hell, but it is does the job most pits are designed to do — keep the victim from going anywhere and from accomplishing anything.

Like individuals all churches have their peculiar characteristics which are their strengths, but which also exposes weaknesses. Our very Reformed theology (which is found in our Core Values) teaches us that because we retain vestiges of the old nature, we always are prone to a sinful pattern. That is why we must keep examining ourselves.

As a church that prizes preaching and teaching the Word, we have to keep before us that there is a war going on. The spiritual armor is given to us, not merely for protection from attack, but that we might attack. Our enemy is Satan; we are not merely trying to ward him off, but we are invading his kingdom to capture his territory and rescue God's chosen people whom he keeps enslaved. It is not by coincidence that the Word of God is referred to as a sword. We are to wield it as soldiers of God's kingdom.

We fight, not people, but Satan. We are not at war with any political nation; we are at war with Satan and his kingdom. Our weapons are not those of destruction, but of God's Word, the peace of the Gospel, and the love of Christ. Our goal is to convert, not destroy; to bring people into the joy of salvation, not condemn them.

Through prayer;

Through inviting, welcoming and befriending our neighbors to worship with us;

Through encouraging, supporting, and equipping members to witness and to engage in acts of mercy;

Through using the same network of nurture to include our neighbors;

Through developing opportunities in and out of the church for witness;

Through supporting and encouraging involvement in local and world missions.

Now, again, I am going to address more fully next Sunday the statements that address how we are to be involved individually. I want to restrict myself to Faith Church as a body. We need to corporately, i.e. through united action, be God's slave to gather in his chosen guests. If God calls us to go into the streets and alleys, the roads and lanes, the cities and the countryside, we have got to get in shape. We have got to train ourselves. How many of us are students of the Bible, but still cannot easily take someone through Scripture to explain the Gospel? How many of are mature in the faith, but are still tongue-tied when asked to share our testimony?

Do we as a church have activities to invite our neighbors to? If worship is not to be designed for evangelism (and I agree), then what can we invite people to where they will feel comfortable and hear the gospel? Actually, we have more activities and opportunities than most people think. Our problem is that we are not thinking how to use what we already do for evangelism.

The Men in the Church supper is an excellent event to invite the unchurched, especially the "outcasts." It provides a good meal, good fellowship and teaching, and we do not have to worry about influence of "bad characters" on the women and children. The WIC circles and special events are wonderful means for friendship evangelism. The Fall Festival is an excellent opportunity for outreach. We must take the effort to use activities that are already being used for nurture as a means for outreach as well.

What we need to develop is an outwardly focused mindset. That also is listed as a Core Value. The key to being faithful to God's mission is not coming up with the right mix of programs. The key is having the same sight as Jesus. Where his disciples saw obstacles, enemies, and obstinacy, Jesus saw fields "white unto harvest." Where the other religious leaders saw sinners to keep separate from, Jesus saw the sick needing healing. Where so many so a city full of evil, Faith Church should see a city full of people that God has called us to bring to his banquet.

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