How Can the Church Fulfill Its Purpose?

A sermon on Romans 15:1-13 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 1/8/2006

How can the church fulfill its purpose?

Last week we saw that the purpose of the church is to glorify God. Among other texts, remember 1 Corinthians 10:31:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Since this is true for each of us individually, how much more is it true corporately, for us as a church. All other purposes of the church feed into this most important objective. If we accomplish all our other objectives - no matter how worthy they seem – but fail to glorify God, we have failed. All is worthless. For the church to fulfill the purpose of the church, we must be God-centered, aiming at His glory.

Last week we also saw that the Bible is God’s chosen means to reveal Himself, as well as God’s chosen means to give us encouragement, to help us endure, to give us hope. We saw that God’s Word is living and active – it penetrates us to accomplish His purposes. Thus, to glorify God we devote ourselves to the public reading of the Scriptures in corporate worship; we devote ourselves to private reading individually; we devote ourselves together and individually to memorizing it, letting the Word dwell in us richly. Our goal is not to know the Bible. Knowing the Bible is a means to an end: To know God and thus delight in Him and love Him, thereby glorifying Him.

Thus, Desiring God Community Church’s core value of being Bible-saturated is one means to fulfilling the purpose of the church: to glorify God.

In addition to being God-centered and Bible-saturated, Romans 15:1-13 includes direct references or allusions to all eight of our remaining core values: Prayer-powered, Christ-exalting, joy-pursuing, practicing expository exultation, disciple-producing, family-strengthening, diversity-loving, missions and evangelism mobilizing. This morning I will mention all ten core values and help you see each in the passage. But most of all, I want you to see that these are not ten individual core values that we can pick and choose. They are a package. They are integrated. They all flow together. The church fulfills its purpose by living out all of these core values.

I will argue that there is

So our plan for this morning is, first, to show the four organizing principles that describe a biblical church. I’ll relate these principles to five of our core values. Then we’ll go through the remaining five core values one by one, showing how each flows from the organizing principles, and how each comes out of today’s text. In closing, we’ll ask again: How can a church fulfill its purpose?

Obviously, in one sermon what we can say about any particular core value is limited. So at the end of this sermon there are links to other sermons or resources that go into greater detail on each core value.

Four Organizing Principles

Overarching everything: The glory of God

Permeating everything: God’s Word

Supporting everything: Prayers of God’s people

Motivating everything: Joy in Christ

Last week’s sermon discussed the first two principles. So let’s turn our attention to prayer. We say that Desiring God Community Church is prayer-powered. Pray is to support, to undergird everything we do as a church.

Where does Paul talk about prayer in Romans 15:1-13? Nowhere. He doesn’t use the word at all. However, twice in this passage Paul prays: verses 5-6 and verse 13:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Listen, now: Paul says in verse 4 that the Scriptures were written for our instruction. We get endurance and encouragement through the Scriptures. He could have left it at that. But he doesn’t! He prays that the God of endurance and encouragement would grant those – even though he already said that they come through the Scriptures. In other words, the church exists for God’s glory – but Paul prays that the church will glorify Him!

Do you see? The Scriptures and prayer are not two different, independent ways that God works. The Scriptures work through prayer. Prayer works through the Scriptures. Prayer is key for the effectual working of God’s Word. Pray is key for pointing to God as the source of all power. Pray is thus key for glorifying God in all that we do.

The last organizing principle is joy in Christ. Consider: What enables you to do something that is really hard? For example, what enables a pregnant woman to push a baby through the birth canal? A few of us have done that recently! This is a hard and often painful task. But you endure. Why? Because you know your baby is about to be born! In the last few weeks it has seemed as if the child will never come. But today is the day! There is joy ahead! In just a few minutes, or at most a few hours, you will hold your precious child to your breast. You have hope. You know the joy that is coming.

Just so for us in the Christian life: Hope in Christ, joy in Christ motivates everything. We endure the pain and trials of the Christian life by focusing on the joy we have today in Christ, and the joy that will be ours when we are with Him for eternity.

Let’s see this in our passage. As we mentioned last week, in chapters 14 and 15 Paul is dealing with the difficult issue of different convictions within the church at Rome concerning how to live the Christian life. Should a believer honor one day above another? Should a believer eat meat from the marketplace or not? After verse 8 of chapter 15, Paul applies this discussion of different convictions to the thorniest problem within the church at that time: differences between Jew and Gentile. So the entire passage concerns struggles getting along within the church.

How can we help people who have a hard time getting along? Paul tells us: Have hope! Everyone, hope in God! Use the Scriptures, use prayer to find your hope in God, find you joy in Him – and then you will have the grace to get along one with another.

Note that I am making a link between hope and joy. Verse 13 makes that link explicit. In his prayer Paul says:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

So Paul says we start with hope from God. This leads to joy. This then leads to more hope, and thus more joy. So the upward spiral continues.

In this we are following Jesus Christ: How did He endure the cross? As the book of Hebrews tells us,

                for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame Hebrews 12:3

Jesus was pursuing the ultimate joy of bringing those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation to God: reconciling them, redeeming them to the glory of God. This was great joy! This motivated His endurance of suffering and shame. As Romans 15:2-3 says, Christ did not please Himself selfishly; He gave up glory and honor to become man, and gave up even the honor of man to die ignominiously on the cross. But He did pursue His greatest joy, the joy set before Him.

We are to do the same. We are not to please ourselves selfishly. We are to look to our neighbor to please him for his good. But if we pursue our joy in Christ, we will live to God’s glory, and thus we will love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The joy set before us - joy in Christ – enables us to endure whatever we face.

This, indeed, is the essence of Christ-exalting worship: Finding so much joy in Christ that we value Him more than all the world has to offer. So in worship we express that joy in Him. Thus, being Christ-exalting is one of our core values related to this organizing principle.

As we gather together, we not only express our joy in Christ, but also we equip and exhort each other to pursue that joy in Him. So being joy-pursuing is another of our core values.

So four organizing principles determine the shape of a biblical church:

Overarching everything: The glory of God

Permeating everything: God’s Word

Supporting everything: Prayers of God’s people

Motivating everything: Joy in Christ

Five Implications

Given those four organizing principles, I’ll highlight five interrelated implications. Each of these is a core value of Desiring God Community Church.

Expository Exultation

Romans 15:4 tells us that whatever was written in former days – that is, the Scriptures – was written for our instruction. God gives the church preachers and teachers as instructors, then, to aid in that instruction.

But “expository exultation” implies more than instruction. Think of it this way: If we are Bible-saturated, we must teach the Word. If we are motivated by joy in Christ, we must express that joy in worship. Preaching combines the two. True preaching is expository exultation: Opening up the Word, teaching the Word, and exulting in the Word. This is a clear implication of our organizing principles. This is not an option, one choice among many for a biblical church; this is what a biblical church will look like.

As John Piper says:

The reason that preaching is so prominent in worship is that worship is not just understanding but also feeling. It is not just seeing God, but also savoring God. It is not just the response of the mind, but also of the heart. Therefore God has ordained that the form his Word should take in corporate worship is not just explanation to the mind and not just stimulation to the heart. Rather the Word of God is to come teaching the mind and reaching the heart; showing the truth of Christ and savoring the glory of Christ; expositing the Word of God and exulting in the God of the Word.

This is my goal every week. This is the commitment of this church: every Sunday to have expository exultation in the pulpit, expositing the Word of God and exulting in the God of the Word.

I need your prayers to live up to that commitment; remember the organizing principle! Prayer supports everything. I saw this very clearly the first Sunday my family was in Minneapolis. I had spent seven weeks previously at Bethlehem before the rest of the family joined me. Every Sunday I prayed with a group of men around Pastor John before the service. Almost every Sunday I was moved to tears during the sermon. When my family arrived, I was so excited for them all to share in a service at Bethlehem. In the rush to get all eight of us ready on Sunday morning, I skipped the prayer time. Then, the service was exceptionally disappointing. The music seemed flat. John seemed uninspired. Beth was thinking, “I brought myself and my six children halfway across the country for this? I could get more out of worshiping in our own church at home!” That afternoon, while praying through my disappointment, I was hit with a strong conviction: “You did not pray for Pastor John this morning.” I committed myself to doing so the rest of our time in Minneapolis – and was always blessed through worship.

What was the problem that Sunday morning? Was the service itself flat, in part because of my prayerlessness? Perhaps. More likely, in my opinion, is that God did not bless me and my family through that service because I did not pray. So I encourage you: Commit yourself to praying for the preaching ministry – and the music ministry – of this church. Join us at 8:15 each Sunday. May the Word go out with power, and may the preacher delight in God.


To be Christ’s disciple is to become more and more like Him. We aim to be Christlike. In Romans 15, three times Paul tells us to be like Jesus Christ:

That we should become like Him flows from our organizing principles:

If the church is to fulfill its purpose, we must produce disciples – we must all become more like Jesus Christ.


Romans 15 does not specifically refer to families. But in verse 5 Paul prays that God would “grant you to live in such harmony with one another . . .” Certainly we are to express such harmony in the wider church family. But we can’t express true harmony in the church family unless there is harmony within the church’s nuclear families.

Family-strengthening is logically one aspect of discipleship – becoming Christlike as it pertains to our relationships within the family. So why highlight it as a separate core value? Because this is the most critical area for discipleship. Family relationships show whether or not we are really living like Jesus Christ. Some people can fake inward change in front of those in the church, or in the workplace. But no one can fake inward change in marriage. Whoever you really are will come out when your baby girl wakes up screaming for the fourth time that night and your wife asks you to get up and take care of her. There are no masks then. If the church is to be disciple-producing, it must focus on strengthening families.


As we noted, Romans 15 begins by considering the attitudes we are to have towards those with different convictions on disputable matters. He then applies the same principles to the differences between Jews and Gentiles, saying that we need to please and welcome one another across those boundaries also.

Look closely once again at verses 5 and 6. What is Paul saying? He says that when, despite our differences, we live in supernatural harmony with each other, then we with one heart and one voice glorify God. Hear me: Overcoming our natural inclinations to despise and reject each other and instead truly loving each other, being united in love for Christ, glorifies God. Thus, harmony across our many differences is a key way that we fulfill the purpose of the church. Being diversity-loving, aiming to express love across our differences, is therefore not optional for a biblical church; it is a necessity.

Verse 7 is pivotal: Paul says that since such harmony is key to fulfilling the purpose of the church, “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” My friends, how did Jesus welcome you?

No! You were repugnant to Him. You could not have been more different. You had absolutely nothing to offer Him. But He loved you with a love that surpasses knowledge. That is the way you are to welcome other believers – especially those who disagree with you on disputable matters and those from different ethnicities.

This passage has clear implications for racial harmony. But the importance of welcoming one another extends beyond race to every area of difference – as this passage shows. Think: Who in this church have you had problems getting along with? Praise God, we are quite a harmonious church, but in any group this size there will be someone who irritates you. We are selecting small groups right now. Who are you hoping is not in your small group? Are you willing to welcome this person as Jesus Christ welcomed you? My friends, not to welcome this person as Jesus welcomed you is to fail to love your neighbor as yourself. It’s thus a sin. It diminishes the glory of God. Welcome one another.

Consider what the Apostle John says:

If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:20-21

Whoever loves God must also love whom?

Whoever loves God must also love his brother – whoever that brother might be. If we are to be diversity-loving, you must love those who are hard for you to love. For some of us the hardest person to love is someone of another race. For others, the hardest person to love will be different in another way. But: when God’s glory is overarching everything, when God’s Word is permeating and saturating everything, when prayer is supporting everything, when joy in Christ is motivating everything, then we will not only tolerate but we will also pursue diversity.

Hear me now: To intentionally aim at the goal of building a homogeneous church, a church where everyone is about the same age, the same class, the same culture, is directly opposed to Romans 15. Such a church fails in this key area of glorifying God, and confuses the supernatural love for one another we have in Christ with the natural love we have for those like us.

May God be pleased to make DGCC a church that glorifies Him through our welcoming one another in Christ across many types of diversity.

Missions and Evangelism Mobilizing

If God’s glory is overarching all we do, and if we are pursuing our joy in Christ, then we must spread that joy to others. When we spread that joy to others of our own culture, we are doing evangelism. When we spread that joy to others of a different culture, we are doing missions.

Romans 15 is one of the greatest passages on missions in the Bible. Since I recently preached on Romans 15:9-23 (see sermon), I won’t take much time to bring out the powerful call in this passage to go to unreached peoples. But remember: the word translated “Gentiles” in verses 9-12 can mean “nations, ethnic groups” or “non-Jewish individuals.” Both ideas are present in this chapter, but in that earlier sermon I argued that the meaning “nations” is foremost in Paul’s mind. So let me read these verses to you replacing “Gentiles” with “nations:” Christ became a servant to the circumcised

in order that the nations might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will praise you among the nations, and sing to your name."  10 And again it is said, "Rejoice, O nations, with his people."  11 And again, "Praise the Lord, all you nations, and let all the peoples extol him."  12 And again Isaiah says, "The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the nations; in him will the nations hope."

We are called to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples, all nations, all ethnicities.

Praise God, we are doing that at DGCC in part by sending out missionaries for the sake of the Name, as we heard from Scotty and Lisa Miser in Sunday School today, and as some of us heard from Matt and Michelle yesterday. We also spread a passion for God’s supremacy right here, through evangelism: speaking the Gospel to our neighbors, friends, colleagues, classmates, new move-ins; conducting evangelistic Bibles studies; going door to door.

All of these means of spreading the Gospel are important. But do you know what is the greatest witness of the truth of the Gospel? The Church itself!

This is a magnificent witness to the reality of Christ’s work in the world. As Mark Dever and Paul Alexander write in The Deliberate Church:

We’ve experienced the power of cross-generational fellowship as an evangelistic witness. Visitors wonder why so many young people are at an older member’s funeral, or how that widow has so many young people coming to her house to lend her a hand. The point is that, in the context of a niche-marketed society, the church can stand out as a unique beacon in the community for being a web of warm cross-generational relationships that are grounded in the Gospel.

The ultimate goal of building this kind of community – one built on distinctively Christian love that flows from the distinctively Christian Gospel – is to display God’s glory throughout our surrounding neighborhoods, our cities, and ultimately the world. We’re right back and John 13:34-35. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Our Christlike love for one another is intended by God to be the church’s most powerful tool for evangelism!

This is the reason that depending on a program for evangelistic effectiveness is a little like outsourcing the main responsibility of the church. Evangelism programs are not necessarily or categorically bad. Some are quite good. But I fear we sometimes depend on them so much that we forget that the church itself is God’s evangelism program. The mutually loving relationships in the church are designed by God to be attractive to an unbelieving culture. The covenantal, careful, corporate, cross-cultural, and cross-generational love that is to characterize the church and glorify God is at the same time intended to evangelize the world.


So we’ve seen four organizing principles that define the biblical church:

And we’ve seen five interrelated implications of these principles:

Practicing expository exultation, being disciple-producing, family-strengthening, diversity-loving, and missions and evangelism mobilizing.

Each of us needs to ask him- or herself three questions in response:

Our small groups for members are forming this week. Small group leaders: This is one of your key tasks: Helping each member of your group to answer these three questions. Let me know how that goes.

In addition to the response individually, we also have the opportunity and the obligation to consider how to live out these principles corporately. We’ve laid out the grand biblical vision, and we’ve taken key steps in these areas. What else can we do, or what might we do differently, so that DGCC becomes what God intends us to be?

Think about these matters. Ponder them. Read the resources on our core values. Read other excellent resources on the church, like The Deliberate Church. Prepare for the strategy meeting next Sunday. Come, and dream together about how we can live this vision out.

Undergirding everything, however, is prayer. Prayer supports everything else. As I said in an early DGCC sermon, “If we fail on prayer, we fail on everything.” That was true when we first started; it remains true today.

I confess before you: I personally need to be more consistent in prayer that we would fulfill the biblical vision of the church; I need to be more consistent in prayer for each one of you individually. I exhort you all:

If we are to fulfill God’s plan for the church, we must aim at the glory of God, we must be permeated by the Word of God, we must be motivated by joy in Christ, and we must be supported by prayer to God.

I want to leave you with two questions to ask yourself:

You know the biblical answers: Your overarching goal should be the glory of God. Your greatest joy should be in Jesus Christ.

If this is not the case, repent. Believe the Gospel. Hope in Christ.

God created you for His glory. You have failed to do that. You deserve His just condemnation. But He provided through Christ the payment of the penalty that was due to you. Repent, turn to Him, trust in Him, and that payment will be paid for you.

So repent, even now. Then join us in fulfilling the biblical vision of a God-centered, Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, prayer-powered, disciple-producing, missions and evangelism mobilizing, family-strengthening, joy-pursuing church.

To read more on the core values of Desiring God Community Church, follow these links. For the sermons preached since December 2003, audio files are also available; find them at

The church’s vision and values statement

9 Marks Ministries . Mark Dever has thought deeply about what it means today to be a biblical church, and has put those thoughts into practice at Capitol Hill Baptist. Many excellent resources are available on the site.

The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel (Crossway, 2005). A book aimed at pastors and elders, but all church members concerned about the vision of the church would profit from reading this book.

God-Centered: DGCC sermons on 4/17/05 on Revelation 4 ( and 1/1/06 on Romans 15 (

Bible-Saturated: DGCC sermons on 1/2/05 and 1/9/05 on Psalm 119 ( and

Christ-Exalting: From the Word article, 1/22/03: or

Expository Exultation: DGCC sermon on 5/29/05 on Revelation 10 ( and the archives of the Expositor's Quote of the Week: The first few years are at and more recent quotes at

Diversity-Loving: DGCC sermon on 3/16/03 on Jonah,

Joy-Pursuing: DGCC sermons on 9/28/03 on Matthew 13:44,, and 5/8/05 on Revelation 7,

Missions and Evangelism Mobilizing: DGCC sermons on 9/25/05 on Romans 15:9-24,, and 8/1/04 on 3 John,

Prayer-Powered: DGCC sermons on 12/26/04 on John 15:7,, on 10/12/03 on 2 Corinthians 1:11,, and on 4/6/03 on Ephesians 6:18-19, Two earlier sermons on Ephesians 6:18-24 might also be helpful: and

Family-Strengthening: Teaching notes on marriage and family,

Disciple-Producing: All of the sermons above relate to our becoming Christlike in different ways, and thus to being disciples. For being a disciple specifically through loving your neighbor as yourself, see the sermons on 1 John 4:7-21 on 1/16/05,, and on Luke 10:25-37 on 1/23/05,

This sermon was preached on January 8, 2006 at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC. The John Piper quote is from his sermon of 2/8/98, “The Place of Preaching in Worship,” on 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5. This is available online at . The Mark Dever and Paul Alexander quote is from The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), p. 112.

Copyright © 2006, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, posted on the internet, copied for resale or incorporated in any products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, PO Box 620099, Charlotte, NC 28262.

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