Each sermon is published in large print for use in preaching, and for easy reading by several people gathered around the computer monitor.
WHO ARE THE LAITY OF THE CHURCH?
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
9 OCTOBER 1988
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
Today is Laity Sunday. I'm not quite sure why it was established as a special Sunday, but I suppose it's there to call our attention to the fact that the laity are an important part of the church.
But who are the laity of the church?
By definition, they are the non-clergy members of the church.
Since I am the only clergyman here, and I am not a member of this church, according to the by-laws; therefore, by definition, the lay members are the church.
I, for one, am not very satisfied with this definition, for it makes too light the importance of the true lay person in the church.
I believe a much better definition of a church lay person is one who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, has committed their life to Him, and desire to serve Him in any capacity that they are called to serve in, and to perform that service in the same kind of love that the Lord has shown us, and to the whole of His creation.
Therefore, we could say that the believing church, the church that desire to live by God's heavenly will here on earth as it is in heaven is the true laity, and it is to them that this sermon and this day are dedicated.
I also believe that it is important to dedicate this day as a day of encouragement to others to seek the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, and to begin a new life in service to Him.
A church cannot function or survive if the only workers are the clergy.
Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, recognized that Moses was on the verge of burning out because of all of the work that he was doing; thus he gave the advice we heard about in our Old Testament lesson for this morning, Exodus 18:13-27. Let's take another look at it.
13. And it came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening.
It is human nature to always seek our answers from the highest authority; but strange as it may seem, the highest authority is not always the best place to go for our answers, particularly when there is no other place to go.
As the quantity of questions and problems begin to pile up, it becomes less likely that there is sufficient time to properly resolve each inquiry.
And as one question is answered, there always seems to be another to be answered, particularly when everyone is standing around listening to the questions and the answers.
The people who are standing around are free to come and go at will, but the one who is doing all the problem solving is not able to do that.
There are two basic reasons for this: we feel obligated to help because we do have the answers, or know how to get them, and we don't want to hurt anyone's feelings by cutting them off.
So what happens? The leader gets fatigued and the quality of what he or she is doing diminishes, and if anyone is left without getting the answer they sought, they will be hurt.
Thus enters an observant and caring Lay Leader.
14. Now when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, "What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?"
Now observe how Moses answers him, and how he feels obligated to do all the work.
15. And Moses said to his father-in-law, "Because the people come to me to inquire of God.
16. "When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor, and make known the statutes of God and His laws."
What Moses is saying is true, but what he is saying is not the best way to achieve the best results. He is blinded from seeing the obvious because of all the pressure placed upon him.
But Jethro, who is standing on the sidelines, sees the obvious:
17. And Moses' father-in-law said to him, "The thing that you are doing is not good.
18. "You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.
19. ''Now listen to me: I shall give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people's representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God,
20. then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk, and the work they are to do.
21. "Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them, as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.
22. "And let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.
23. "If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace."
Note the truly important part of Jethro’s advice: that if God confirms to Moses the advice that he is giving him, then he is to do it.
24. So Moses listened to his father-in-law, and did all that he had said.
25. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.
26. And they judged the people at all times; the difficult dispute they would bring to Moses, but every minor dispute they themselves would judge.
27. Then Moses bade his father-in-law farewell, and he went his way into his own land.
This church has held together through the efforts of the lay people in it, and you deserve a great deal of credit for that effort.
But just holding together is not enough, for without new growth, eventually everything and everyone will die.
We must grow and begin to bloom, if we are going to bear fruit, and live, and have our offspring live after us.
Thus I, like Moses, have taken the advice of people like Jethro, and from the Lord Himself, for I do not have the time to do all that is needed in the church.
So what have I been doing?
I have done everything I can do to show you the love of our Lord, and that we are to love each other in the same way that He has loved us.
I have done all that I can to tell you of the difference between just being a church member, and being a member of the family of God through a personal commitment to the Lord, so that we will be able to share that difference with others.
I have done all that I can to tell of the holiness and righteousness of God,
and the absolute necessity of each of us to come before the Lord with a
repentant heart, daily.
And I have done all that I can to encourage you to read your Bible every day, to study His Word, to pray, and to share this experience with others.
For it is through all of this that you become the true lay leaders of the church.
Remember that I too was once a lay person, and it was through the encouragement of other teachers that I grew into this position, and am still learning and growing.
There is no greater pleasure that I or any other devoted teacher could have than to have a student exceed to a point beyond where I am.
And the Lord set this example for me. Note what He did, as recorded in Luke 9:1-5.
1. And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons, and to heal diseases.
2. And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God, and to perform healing.
The Lord Himself delegated authority to others to do the work.
How can anyone go out to proclaim the kingdom of God without being properly equipped?
The answer is that they can't.
But God has given us all that we need to be properly equipped. He has given
us His Word, the Bible, and teachers to help us.
And in His Word are all the power, authority, wisdom, and knowledge needed to carry out what is necessary to proclaim the kingdom of God.
To all of you who have done this, and to all who have received, there has
been great reward.
But to the others there has only been a loss, and unfortunately, that loss could be a permanent one in hell itself.
3. And He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece.
4. “And whatever house you enter, stay there, and take your leave from there.
We don't need anything more with us than God's Word, and a life that reflects that word, for that alone is all that is necessary to lead the lost to our Savior.
And not having other things is also a testimony to them of our faith.
God will supply all that we need.
God will supply the increase.
But if the people don't receive, He has told us...
5. "And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them."
But if we haven't gone out at all, it is a testimony against us.
The twelve were not enough to do all the work that was necessary, so in Luke 10:1-11 we are told that He sent out seventy others.
1. Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them two and two ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come.
2. And He was saying to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.
Who is the Lord of the Harvest?
It is Jesus Christ.
Yet it is also He who is calling to us to send us out. And He is telling us that if we are going to be successful, we must also go out with prayer.
3. "Go your ways; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.
And He goes on in the next eight verses, giving them similar instructions as He gave the twelve.
4. "Carry no purse, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way.
5. "And whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house.'
6. "And if a man of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him; but if not, it will return to you.
7. "And stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house.
It is also important to keep in mind that a true person of peace wouldn't knowingly do anything that would be against God's heavenly will, where there is no pain or death or mourning.
8. "And whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat what is set before you;
9. and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them,' The kingdom of God has come near to you.'
10. "But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say,
11. 'Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you; yet be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.'
But here in verse 3, He is telling these lay workers that they are to be as lambs in the midst of a nation filled with wolves.
We cannot be witnesses of the Lord and also be witnesses of the world.
If we look and act the same way as the rest of the world, by doing what they do, participating in their sinful acts, eating the foods of suffering and death, and speaking like them, we will be like them, and not of God's kingdom.
But if we remain as lambs, as Christ is the Lamb of God, then others will at least know that we believe the words we speak, even if they don't accept them, for our testimony will be true.
It is just as important for the Word of God to be preached in the church as it is for it to be spread in the streets, as the work of the church is being done, and as we perform our daily jobs.
And this was also the case in the early church, as we saw in our New Testament lesson for this morning, Acts 6:1-7.
1. Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.
Their lifestyle didn’t match their testimony. And there was also too much work for the twelve to do all by themselves, and to do this task as well.
2. And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.
3. “But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.
4. “But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”
5. And the statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.
6. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.
Note the repeating of what we have been saying: that the disciples are the believing members of the congregation. They are the true laity.
But note also that they are full of the Spirit of God and of wisdom, and that only comes from devoting one’s self to the word of God.
Unless we devote ourselves to the word of God, we will never be a strong congregation.
But when we are strong in the word of God, we will also be strong in the other aspects of our lives, and we will act the same way out of this church as we do in it, and others will see the Lord in us and desire to be among us.
Thus we shall even be stronger, just as we read of the early church in verse 7.
7. And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.
Do you hear what this passage is saying?
The believing laity, because of their testimony and lifestyle, were leading the non-believing priests to the Lord, and they were being saved, and thus began preaching the word with power and meaning.
The power of God will work in all of us if we are willing to serve Him.
Are you one of the true laity of this church, to whom this sermon is dedicated?
Or are you one of the members or guests of this church who is just sitting or acting, but not really believing that this word is intending to convict with the word of God.
If you are not a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel message of salvation, then there will be no everlasting life in heaven, but only everlasting death in hell, no matter how much time you spent in church.
But through Jesus Christ, and only Jesus Christ, can your sins be washed away by believing in Him.
Then you too will have the assurance of everlasting life, and become one of the true laity of the church.
Is God speaking to your heart?
Then listen to Him.
He loves you very much!