In today's world do you think being the church that Christ built is easy? "Oh, no! Being Christ's church in today's world is extremely difficult. It is harder than it has ever been. When the church began in the first century, things were so simple. Today things are so complicated. The denominational approach to Christianity confuses people. Today there are so many different theologies. Today many people create their own personal beliefs by combining ideas from different religions. Then there are the problems: abortion, homosexuality, adultery, sexually active singles, troubled homes, divorce, greed, dishonesty. It is much harder to be Christ's church today."

Do a little research. The problems the first century church faced were more complicated than the problems Christ's church faces today. The church of the first century faced difficult problems that we have never faced. Inside the church, things were more difficult than they are now.

So were things outside the church. Divorce was more common among the Jews and the Romans than it is today. In fact, the Roman government was the first government to use civil law to attempt to stabilize marriage. Fathers who did not want a baby had the baby taken outside the city and left to die as soon as it was born. Homosexuality was common in Greek society. Some religions practiced sexual intercourse as an act of worship. The first century world was a very corrupt world.

  1. Consider one enormous challenge that faced the early church.
    1. A congregation came into existence in a new area when people were baptized into Christ, and these were the first Christians ever to exist in that area.
      1. Each Christian had to learn 100% of everything about Christian existence.
      2. Many converts had nothing in common but their belief in Jesus Christ.
    2. Consider just three situations.
      1. The first congregation of Christians was established in a Jewish community in Palestine--all its members were Jewish.
        1. A Pharisee was baptized--Pharisees believed that you had to strictly obey Jewish religious laws.
        2. A Sadducee was baptized--Sadducees believed God blessed people by giving them money and possessions; life after death did not exist.
        3. Jews who had always lived in Palestine were baptized.
        4. Some Jews who were reared in other countries were baptized--their worship practices were a little different to the worship of Jews in Palestine.
        5. Can you imagine the problem of trying to lead all these new Christians to the same understandings?
      2. The first congregation in a city in another country is established.
        1. People who worshipped idols are baptized--idol worshippers believed in many gods.
        2. Atheists were baptized--atheists were so disgusted with powerless idols that they rejected all gods.
        3. God-fearers were baptized--God-fearers believed in the God of the Jews, but they had not converted to Judaism.
        4. Proselytes were baptized--proselytes had converted to Judaism.
        5. Can you imagine the difficulty of leading all these new Christians to the same understanding?
      3. Then the most complicated situation of all--the first congregation is established in a community, and this congregation has both Jewish and non- Jewish members.
        1. Can you really imagine the difficulty of leading that congregation to a common understanding?
        2. Can you really image the difficulty of getting these people to agree?
    3. Let me give you a specific example from the Acts 16:11-34.
      1. Paul and Silas visited the city of Philippi.
        1. As always on the first Sabbath they were in a city--they looked for the place that Jews worshipped.
        2. They found and taught a group of women meeting on a river bank.
      2. Lydia was one of those women; she believed in the God of the Jews.
        1. She was a business woman [rare for that time] who sold special color of cloth to wealthy people [only the wealthy and rulers wore this color].
        2. Though she was from the city of Thyatira, she had a household in Philippi; that probably means she was wealthy and had servants.
        3. She and her household were baptized, and she insisted that Paul and Silas stay in her home.
      3. Later Paul had trouble with the city rulers because he healed a girl.
        1. He and Silas were publicly beaten and thrown into jail.
        2. The jailer was ordered to make certain that they did not escape.
        3. At midnight as Paul and Silas sang and prayed in their cell, an earthquake opened all the jail cells.
        4. The jailer rushed into the jail, saw the cell doors open, assumed the prisoners had escaped, and was in the act of committing suicide when Paul stopped him.
        5. Paul taught him and his household and baptized them that night.
      4. This new congregation started with a professional woman who believed in God and with a rough, insensitive jailer who was not a Jew.
        1. From its beginning, it contained people from society's top and bottom.
        2. From its beginning, it contained people with different religious backgrounds.
      5. The letter called Philippians was written by Paul to this congregation.
        1. Members had trouble getting along with each other (2:1-4).
        2. While many good things happened in the congregation, they also had some bad motives, selfishness, and conceit among the members (2:3).
        3. Paul begged them to improve their relationships. (2:1-2).
        4. Paul's solution (2:3-11):
          1. Regard other members as being more important than yourself.
          2. Stop thinking about your own interests; be concerned about the best interest of others.
          3. Imitate Jesus' surrender and humility.
        5. There were two devout Christian ladies in serious conflict with each other; Paul said help them end their conflict (4:2,3).

  2. The "right now" challenge facing us is our "right now" realities.
    1. We must make a serious commitment to address the real spiritual needs of every group in this congregation.
      1. The spiritual needs of the married are not the spiritual needs of the single.
      2. The spiritual needs of the widow are not the spiritual needs of the divorced.
      3. The spiritual needs of marrieds with children are not the spiritual needs of single parent homes.
      4. The spiritual needs of the 60 plus are not the spiritual needs of teenagers.
      5. The spiritual needs of those with no Christian background are not the spiritual needs of third generation Christians.
      6. For many real reasons, we are different. Jesus Christ perfectly ministers to every spiritual need in all of our different situations.
        1. As Christ's church, Christ gave us the responsibility to minister effectively to all spiritual needs just as he ministers to all spiritual needs.
        2. Our "right now" challenge is to become aware of different spiritual needs, to be sensitive to each other's real spiritual needs, and to effectively minister to all spiritual needs of all Christians in all situations.
    2. Last fall this congregation had twenty-five teenagers of the age to begin college.
      1. Most of them were born in 1978 or 1979. Do you know what that means?
      2. The Iranian hostage crisis happened when they were infants.
      3. They have no memories from the Carter era.
      4. They were not yet teenagers when the Persian Gulf war began.
      5. They were not yet three years old when the world understood the reality of AIDS.
      6. They likely have never played a 78 rpm record or heard an 8-track tape.
      7. The digital disc was presented to Wall Street before they started to school.
      8. All their lives first class stamps have cost more than 15 cents.
      9. They have never seen or used a slide rule.
      10. Few of them have ever lived in a house without an answering machine.
      11. Few have ever used a TV with just 13 channels.
    3. Teens and young adults, let me ask you some questions.
      1. Not counting a camping trip or wilderness retreats:
      2. Have you lived every day where there was an outhouse but no bathroom?
      3. Have you hand drawn all the water you used from a well?
      4. Have you cooked on a wood stove, taken your milk from a cow, fried your chicken after cutting its head off, or harnessed a mule?
      5. Have you ever lived for over a year without electricity, without a telephone, and with only one family car?
      6. Could you live that way?
    4. Look around at all the older adults in this assembly.
      1. Most of them did all of that--for years.
      2. Very few [if any] of them want to do it again.
      3. But most of them could if they had to.

  3. May I state the obvious: we don't understand each other; we don't understand each other enough to respectfully acknowledge each other's spiritual needs.
    1. The truth is this: we have as much trouble understanding or being sensitive to each other's spiritual needs as a converted Pharisee had when he tried to understand a converted idol worshipper.
    2. We have wasted too much time and energy telling each other, "Your spiritual needs do not exist; Christians don't have those spiritual needs."
      1. We act like spiritual needs will disappear if we pretend that they do not exist.
      2. Those needs do not disappear; the people who have those needs disappear.
    3. I could illustrate this reality in a hundred ways, but let me use just one.
      1. In the churches of Christ, our teens are in a major, devastating crisis.
      2. Often parents and the church are in denial--we don't understand the crisis.
      3. Instead of helping them answer their questions, or helping them deal with their real world, we either (1) tell them to isolate themselves or (2) say, "Christians don't think that or do that."
      4. Teens, we do that because we are afraid--afraid of your problems; afraid we may not know the answers because we really don't understand.
    4. Teenagers have been sending us a message for the several years.
      1. We have often said, "Teens are not responsible; teens don't know how to work; teens don't take life seriously."
      2. For several years, American teens have lived in a prosperous country that has had no major war.
      3. They have lived in a country where many adult relationships are terrible.
    5. Adults, we lived in times when there was war, and there was no prosperity.
      1. We worked hard for what we have, and we measure ourselves by our hard work and prosperity.
      2. Here is one major difference: we measure self and life by hard work and achievements; many teens measure themselves and life by relationships.
      3. They look at us and say, "I want relationships; relationships are more important to us than possessions."
      4. "It is more important to me to protect relationships than it is to work like you work and let relationships suffer."
      5. And we don't hear.
      6. And we don't understand them; and they don't understand us.

How long will it be until we begin to identify the real spiritual needs that exist all around us? How long will it be until we work with Christ to meet those needs?

I don't have all the answers. No one in this life has all the answers.

The good news is that there is not any spiritual need in anyone that cannot be met by Jesus Christ. I know the power is in God and the solution is in Jesus.

This is where we begin--
by real faith and real repentance followed by being born into Christ through baptism
--the beginning point.

Give your sins to Jesus. The solution begins when you take whatever is your problem to Jesus, the Savior.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 18 January 1998

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