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Life Together as the Church

Life Together as the Church

Radiant Church’s lead pastor, Keith Welton, delivers a sermon from Hebrews 13:7-19. Listen as he numerates the ways in which the Bible instructs on how to be the Church, one body with leadership and accountability to each other. Below, you can watch our whole service, or listen to the sermon audio, and access the written transcript.

To listen to last week’s message on Hebrews 13:1-6, you can access the audio or video here.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Sermon Video

Sermon Audio

Sermon Transcript

The book of Hebrews ends with these instructions on the inner life of the church community. In 13:1 a new section began with “Keep on loving each other as brothers.” There is to be true and genuine love among God’s people, and here directions are given on who to love and how to love. Verse 7 begins another directive on how to maintain this love. It gives important reminders on what church is and what it should do. 

Church. an organized gathering of believers committed to each other and to the task making Jesus known.  The doctrine of the church is the most threatened doctrine of our time. People see no need for it, and part of this is because they do not understand what a church is and how it is different from a couple of people hanging out by the campfire reading a Bible. We are trying to plant a church in one of the most challenging environments our nation has ever had for the Christian community. 

Let me give you some stats:

  • 4200 churches are closing their doors each year. Now hearing between 4-7k
  • Average size of congregation 120 [when was it 120?]and today it is 65
  • Each year, nearly 3 million previous churchgoers enter the ranks of the “religiously unaffiliated”
  • Since 1950, there are 1/3rd fewer churches in the U.S.
  • The United States makes up the third largest mission field in the world

Bob Smeitana

  • “Disruption describes our times and the church is not immune. Most of us can’t recall in our lifetime a season with more disruption in the local church than now.” STetzer 
  • “The United States is in the middle of an unprecedented spiritual, technological, demographic, political, and social transformation… Millions of Americans are abandoning organized religion altogether in favor of disorganized disbelief.” 

The church is the organization tasked with teaching people how to serve and follow Jesus. No church, then no influence. Simple as that. It is no guarantee that when your kids grow up and have marriage trouble or need help that they will be able to go down the road and find a church. They won’t if people are not committed to the tasks of growing church communities. But I do think churches need to change and adjust and follow God’s word. The gospel isn’t broken. Jesus isn’t broke. He is not at a loss.  I want to look at three things this passage teaches us about church. 

  1. Leadership

[Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 

your leaders. Organizations have leaders. Churches have leadership. Churches are organized. Leaders help move things forward. We have a mission and we need movement in the mission. 

Organization is not easy. It’s hard. You don’t always get your way. One pastor has said “together is harder, but together is better.” African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” 

Your leaders. I don’t want to put too much on the possessive use here, but I also don’t want to minimize it either. Not those leaders, some leaders, but your leaders. This is a word of belonging. They had people they were following. They had people who were aware of them, knew them, and who knew their teaching and also their life because they were called to imitate them. 

This is something largely lost today. The Church has been watered down so much that anything can be a church. It’s little more than watching a YouTube video. That is not church. Church is a community of people. There are leaders. Leaders who know them as they are shepherding them through challenges. Fast Food. Church Ninja. That creates a false community. 

I read a fair amount about the changing culture and the problems in the church. I often agree with the critiques on church. Been too focused on herding the many in, demanding faith and agreement, and way too short on compassion, patience, and helping those who are struggling in their faith. But I also think the church is trying to deal with society and its weakness. And it has packaged a Christianity that is easy, convenient, and sacrifice-free, and it doesn’t look much like the New Testament church. We have to reclaim this. 

What are these leaders to do? Tell you what to do and where to spend your money? No. Contrary to popular pessimism. 

V7. who spoke the word of God to you. 

These leaders speak the word of God to them. That is what leaders in the church do. They are primarily teachers, and not omnipotent dictators. They are not there to give you business tips, numbers to the next lotto, or tell you whom you need to marry. They are to teach the word of God, so that you know what it says. So that you know what God calls you to do. So that you can make the right decisions in life. 

[Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (Heb 13:17 ESV).

-keep watch over your souls. Shepherding imagery. As a church we want to be concerned with the reputation of the church to outsiders. We want to be concerned for the lost. We want to reach them and give a good testimony in public about various issues. But we focus on caring for “our flock.” On the people here. People get so caught up in the multitudes that they forget the ones right here. A shepherd can’t watch all the sheep in the world. I can watch those entrusted to my care. Membership. Express a belonging. 

[shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly (1 Peter 5:2 ESV).

The job of a shepherd is to seek the eternal good of people. To see them grow strong in what God calls them to do. Sometimes it’s encouraging, sometimes it’s having hard, honest conversations with people. But it is always to help them see what God calls them to do. This is the role of pastors, and it is the role of leadership in general. 

Christian leadership is primarily one of teaching and educating. You have to make your own decisions. Get input. Know God’s word. Want to get married? Great. What does God’s word say about that? I’ll give you pointers, but you are responsible for making the decision. 

Obey your leaders. Submit to them. Yield to their authority. Listen to their teaching. Who has spiritual authority over you. Leaders need to hear people and understand them. Any good idea gets sharpened by others. And churches have to make decisions and move forward. If an organization is moving forward, at times you have to obey others. Those ideas should be biblically informed and appropriate. 

And at some point everyone has to submit to things that may not be their personal preference. Hopefully it is on decisions like “do we go to S America or S africa for missions?” Do we do this book study or that book study? Those are issues of Christian freedom, not moral issues. 

Authority is like soap. Be careful. Pastoring. Parenting. 

  1. Teaching

Church life is to revolve around God’s word. We know him, his ways, his will, through his word. We ought to study it. If you are not gathering with other believers to read God’s word and apply it then you are missing an important piece of church. We are commanded to do this. Too many push aside and then wonder why God is not more present in their lives. Baffling that many churches do not read God’s word. 

There are diverse and strange teachings. We do not want to diverge from God’s word. God has revealed himself that we might know him. There is evil in the world, and evil will seek to distort the truth. 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb 13:8 ESV).

Immutability. We see people change. They may grow up and get strong. They may grow wiser. God is unchanging in his nature, character, purposes and promises. HIs nature does not change, he does not get stronger or wiser. He does not change in his character, he is eternal and righteous. He does not grow or diminish in his understanding or insight into right and wrong. He is absolute. He does not make promises and then contradict them. He is worthy. 

Science: theism only makes sense. If God was constantly changing, or if there were different gods that could challenge for the throne, then they would write new laws for the universe. Gravity is in and out. Weak constants that counteract could change. Laws of thermodynamics. We can trust him because of his immutability. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Wondering what he is doing in your life. Read the New Testament and you will see how he worked in the lives of others and will see what he is doing in your life. God is in a constant state of being. We are in a constant state of becoming. 

Key Errant teaching centers on being strengthened by certain foods more than others. 

[Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them (Heb 13:9 ESV).

Much of the language used here is of the Old Testament priestly sacrifices, offerings, and service in the temple. God provided sacrifices in which guilt for sin could be atoned for. Portions of sacrifices were holy and for priests only to eat. 

We are not told exactly what the strange teachings are. You can extrapolate a variety of ideas. Perhaps they were selling food consecrated for or by a priest and for only $99 you too can eat this special sacrificial meal and be made whole. 

It is good to be strengthened, made firm by grace. 

Want strength. Need strength. And not just a “grin it and bear it” but a true, enduring, stable strength. Find the grace of God. 

[That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring (Rom 4:16 ESV)

Bebeaiw is to make strong, strength, be an anchor. Grace is what strengthens us. Grace is firm. Grace can be depended upon. Grace cannot be sold or commodified.  

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat (Heb 13:10 ESV).

In the Old Testament priests ate of the sacrifices. They participated in them and derived benefits. But he speaks here of an altar that those making such sacrifices and those advocating strengthening through foods have no right to eat. There is a better altar that we can approach. 

This is amazing. The tent is a reference to the Old Testament sacrificial system in which offerings were made in the tent. Certain ceremonies had to be done to enter. But it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to truly take our place. They were not the ones with the problem of sin. Those animals also could not give God the perfect righteousness he required. 

We don’t need the altar of the Old Testament. We have a new altar. It is the altar that Jesus offered himself on. He sacrificed himself and he became our sacrifice of atonement. He was perfectly righteous and fully human. He can atone for our mistakes. That is the altar we come to.

[For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” Hebrews 13:11-13 ESV).

Jesus suffered outside the camp. In the Old Testament animals were sacrificed in the temple and the unusable parts were burnt outside the camp. If a person was ritually unclean, they were not allowed inside the camp. Things that were unclean and vile were taken outside the camp. They were unworthy to be in the camp, inside the community of God’s people. Criminals were executed outside the camp. The carcasses of animals were disposed of outside the camp so the people could go inside the camp. Jesus was sacrificed on a cross outside the camp so we could be sanctified and could come inside the camp. He takes what we deserve and gives what only he deserves. That is grace. Food cannot make you holy. Only he can. 

If you have disobeyed God, then you have sinned, if you have sinned you are guilty. You do not deserve to come into the presence of the holy. No more right than a man in soiled clothes as a right to come into the office of the President of the United States. You are unfit. You deserve to be removed from God’s presence and cut off from his people. The amazing thing is the one who was holy and pure and worthy to be inside, Jesus Christ, suffered in your place outside. You deserve to be taken outside and punished. And that is exactly why Jesus died. 

People feel guilty and ashamed about all kinds of things. People would seek after solutions to this. In our secular society few look for spiritual solutions, but they seek after counselors, medications, diagnoses, and alcohol as ways to cope. They need God’s forgiveness but don’t want to go to him, so they embark on an endless quest to unburden their conscience without going to God. 

Have you ever been cut off from people? Removed from them? I remember in elementary school my friends and I would go down and play in the creek. One day we were doing that and my friends were up on the bank and I was down below. I had a plastic cup and filled it with water, and for some reason just threw it up top. It hit one of my friends in the head. It didn’t seem that bad but he fell down in pain and another friend yelled, “Get out of here.” After some back and forth, I left. Walked home all alone. Pushed away from my friends. Expelled from the camp. They were playing, and I was home on the couch, crying. I had accidentally and unintentionally crossed an unknown line of acceptability. 

How much more so with God because of our sin?? We deserve to be removed and separated. And yet he is the one who loves and comes to those who forsook him. He suffers outside the camp. He suffers the isolation, the ignominy. He suffers in our place. We find acceptance, forgiveness, restoration through what he has done. Because of him no one can accuse us. No one can find a basis to remove us. This is the good news churches are built on! Look at the author’s excitement for this.

There is also a summon. A summon to follow him. To bear repreach for his sake. He suffered outside the camp. Let us therefore go outside the camp to be with him. The people in this church had lost their position in society because of faith in Jesus. Removed from their people. He is telling them they have so much more with Jesus. I’ll gladly bear reproach to be with Christ. Just like Moses regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ of greater worth than the treasures of Egypt. 

[Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured (Heb 13:13 ESV).

Because of what we have in Jesus we are willing to give up everything else. There is a call to discipleship here. If you follow Jesus, you are going to go against the world, and you will most certainly bear reproach. You won’t be liked by everyone. Will you be strong enough to stand strong in the midst of that when it happens? Or will you give in? 

Do you feel like you are outside the world’s camp, excluded and uninvited? Do you feel like you can’t agree with most people in the world? Do you feel like you don’t fit in? Do you feel a stronger and stronger difference with how things are done and with those who are doing them? Don’t fit in on how to date. Don’t fit in with the values you want your kids to have. Don’t fit in politically. Don’t fit in with your worldview. Jesus tells us to go outside the camp and be with him. 

Through Jesus we are included into God’s kingdom. If I have that, then I don’t care if people don’t include me in their games now. I have an eternal inheritance. 

And it is there that we find real community with all the other outcasts. 

[For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Heb 13:14 ESV).

This teaching matters. I go to a drug rehab center almost every week to do a Bible study. What you believe about God matters. Constantly talking to couples working through things. Your theology matters. It is the role of the church to teach and preach this so you can honor God in whatever situation you find yourself. 

Let’s not be apathetic about this. 

“One of the great dangers for modern Christians is not apostasy but apathy. In the church, there are not masses of people who are in danger of denying Jesus, but some are in danger of growing bored with him. In overcoming apathy we are met with practical ways for the church to fight back against one of our greatest challenges and we are confronted with the beauty of the gospel and the glory of king Jesus.” Overcoming Apathy, Uche Anizor.

  1. Sacrifices of Praise

[Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:15-16 ESV).

We don’t offer animal sacrifices. The reason is because Jesus is the sacrifice of sacrifices. We can do nothing to make ourselves right with God. We receive what he has done by faith. It is credited to us by faith. And because of that we offer a sacrifice of praise. That is our sacrifice. Confess him! Sing songs. Sing loud. Acknowledge him. Confess him. We praise him with our lips. We do confession. Continually! A regular part of life. 

This is not optional. We are trying to get people to share how God is working in their lives. Too many people say I don’t want to. I understand that it is hard. But your church needs to hear it. 

We want people to share testimonies. We want to talk about this in small groups. How is God working in your life? What would you share with someone? In our Discovery Groups we have this as a main section, what would you share with others? What would you say? It is hard and intimidating. Let’s hash through that. You have marriage problems? We will talk through that. Having trouble finding a job? We will share some ideas. Let’s do that with sharing. I want to talk to strangers more, but don’t know what to say. Where do you start? “Hello. How are you? Where are you from? Share something about yourself. How are you making sacrifices of praise?

16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. 

The Christian community is to do good to each other and share

doing good and fellowship. 

Share. Fellowship. relationship characterized by sharing in common fellowship, participation; giving so that others can share generosity, fellow feeling. 

The deepest level of human relations is sharing about your walk with God, what he is doing, showing us, working in us. Many people are lonely because our friends don’t know how to talk about this. Great at talking shop. Design a new program to connect the sales force with the design team. Plan to mobilize the highly motivated people in your workplace. Write a new book, no problem. But to talk to someone on what God is doing in their life, and how he is showing himself in their unemployment, in their battle with cancer, in their dissatisfaction with worldly success? Go deeper with people. Be a spiritual leader. Make a difference by talking about God. Rich. Edifying. Caring. 


Interceding for needs. 

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. (Heb 13:18 ESV).

I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. (Heb 13:19 ESV).

Prayer is based on relationship. If you don’t ask someone, you don’t know how to pray for them. Consider praying for someone here. Tell them, “I’m going to be praying for you. What should I pray for?”

This is the inner working of a church community. This is what we are called to. It is hard. It is stretching. It is powerful. It is not the church that is on most street corners today. This is a living, growing, impacting church.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are leaders to do and what should you seek from them?
  2. What is the core teaching of the church presented here? 
  3. What sacrifices are you called to make to God? What is keeping you from doing these more?

Hebrews 13:7-19

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent[a] have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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