This past Sunday we started a series through Nehemiah called “Forward.” In the opening chapter Nehemiah hears of the struggles in Jerusalem. It is striking how much Nehemiah identifies with these distant people. Their problems are his problems. Their sins are his sins. This thinking is the opposite of the individualistic way we approach spiritual growth: “If I’m spending some time reading my Bible and praying, I’m good.” But Nehemiah’s spiritual health is tied to the spiritual health of all God’s people. The theologian Don Carson says, “Lone ranger Christianity won’t make much sense of the book of Nehemiah.”
In our sermon on Sunday I challenged each person to ask if they are living as if Christianity is an individual or a team sport. The book of Nehemiah and the rest of Scripture show that Christianity is much more of a team sport than an individual one.
David and Goliath – 1 Samuel 17
Growing up in the church, I remember being taught the story of David and Goliath. Afterwards, my friends and I tried to create slings. We all dreamed of being like David, defeating giants with only a stone and sling. (I never did face a giant, but it there was one window that didn’t survive!)
Fun as that was, the story of David and Goliath makes more sense through the lens of a team sport. It’s like a sudden death shootout at the end of an overtime soccer game. The star player kicks the ball, bottom left corner of the net, score! The whole team wins! David’s success (or failure) against Goliath was the success (or failure) of all the Israelites. If David won, Israel won.
When we read it this way, we see the story is less about us being like David and more about how a true hero brings victory for all the people. That takes us right to Christ, whose victory over a power even greater than Goliath--evil itself--brings victory for us all. In fact, our salvation is only possible if we see this is a team sport.
The Body of Christ – 1 Corinthians 12
In this passage, Paul describes the church as a body made up of people with different gifts. Often people interpret this as Paul speaking about a single church, made up of various people with various gifts. But we know Paul is speaking of all Christians because in verse 13, he addresses those who were baptized “into one body by one Spirit.” Paul is talking about all who have been baptized with Christian baptism. He goes on, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (12:26) Think about this literally. If you break your big toe you can’t just go on functioning like everything is fine. It affects all of your life. Paul's point is that all believers have this organic connection. We cannot ignore the pain of other Christians any more than we can ignore the pain from a broken toe.
Growing In Christ – Ephesians 4:15-16
Here Paul tells us how to talk to Christians who are carried away by every new teaching or belief: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Every Christian has a responsibility to grow in Christ, and we grow in Christ by speaking the truth in love. In other words, while officers of the church ought to equip people for ministry (Eph 4:11-12), all Christians ought to speak truth in love to each other. Every one of us has this responsibility. God’s model for the church is not to have a few people who provide spiritual care; no, every person is called to ministry. In other words, the Christian life is a team sport.
There are many implications from these passages, but I want to focus on the question I started with: are you living as if Christianity is an individual or team sport? A simple diagnostic is to look at how are you invested in the spiritual growth of those around you? Husbands, we cannot say we are doing well spiritually if we are not investing in the spiritual growth of our wives. Parents, likewise, we cannot say we are doing fine if we are not invested in the spiritual growth of our children. And for every member of the church, our spiritual health is tied to the spiritual health of those around us. So what impact are you having on the spiritual growth of those people around you? Are you praying for their growth in Christ? Are you speaking the truth in love to them? Small groups are a great way to be invested in the spiritual growth of others. Each person in our church, from the youngest to the oldest, has the ability to make an eternal impact in someone's spiritual life.
All this ties into our vision; we are on a journey to know Christ. My dream is that we would be a church where, when we make it to the end, we will look back and see that we made it not so much because of any one person, but because of our community and the thousands of often small things we did to encourage one another in Christ.