Life in Christ's Church
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, February 17, 2002
Copyright © 2002, P. G. Mathew
And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
What is the church? What is the world? What is life in the church? What is the purpose of the church? In this study we will answer these questions as we examine life in Christ's church.
The Bible uses the word qahal in the Old Testament and ekklíŞsia in the New Testament for the idea of church. It is the people of God gathered together in God's presence, the company of those who are called out or separated from the world. Thus, the world and church are two distinct entities, an idea expressed by Jesus Christ in John 17:9, when he prayed, saying, "I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours."
The world is darkness and death, but the church is the congregation of those who are called out of the darkness and death of the world into God's marvelous light. It is the company of the elect of God. The true church consists only of regenerate people, even though the church in this world-the visible church-is always a mixture of regenerate and unregenerate, wheat and tares, believers and unbelievers.
The church is the entity wherein the word of God is preached, believed, and obeyed. Thus, we must understand that there is no difference between Israel of old and the church of today. There has been only one church throughout history, which consists of all God's elect people, whether Jew or Gentile. So Abraham and all Old Testament believers are in the church as much as we are. There is a false view today which declares that the church consists only of people who are saved in the period from the Day of Pentecost until the rapture. But one reading of the book of Hebrews will convince us that view is not biblical. So in Ephesians 5:25 we read, "Christ loved the church and gave himself for her." There is no salvation outside of the death of Jesus Christ. Christ died for all people who make up the church throughout all generations.
The Builder of the Church
Who is the builder of the church? The Bible declares that it is Jesus Christ. It is he who said, "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (Matthew 16:18).
Not only is Jesus the builder of the church, but he is also the foundation of it. Paul says, "By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:10-11).
Jesus Christ builds his church with people who have been called out of this world, regenerated by a mighty miracle of the Holy Spirit. Such people have become living stones by their contact with the Living Stone, Jesus Christ. Having repented and trusted in Jesus Christ, these people have been enabled by the Holy Spirit to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, that Jesus is Lord, and that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification.
Why is Jesus the builder of the church? Because he alone is the Son of God. He is the builder of the church because he alone, as God/man, offered himself in sacrifice to God for our sins and was raised from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures. He is the builder of the church because, as Peter said in Acts 4:12, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men that we must be saved." He alone is the builder of the church because he alone can give life to those who are dead in trespasses and sins.
Jesus Christ builds his church by placing one living stone upon another in relation first to him who is the head and then in relation to all other living stones. He builds these living stones into a spiritual house, which rises as a continually growing edifice. No stone is loose and unattached; rather, every stone is built into this glorious building.
We find this idea articulated in Ephesians 2:19-22:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostle and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
No longer do we need a temple of Solomon or temple of Zerubbabel or temple of Herod. As Christians, we together are the temple in which our God dwells! In 1 Peter 2:4-5 we read,
As you come to him, the living Stone-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
"As you come to him" speaks about conversion, regeneration, repentance and faith. God calls and we come. This is known as effectual calling. The living Stone is Jesus Christ, who said, "Because I live, you also live." He is the life-giving Spirit who gives life to the dead. Peter says he was "rejected by men," and the Bible tells us that Caiaphas, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees looked at and examined Jesus and declared, "No; he is unfit." Then Peter says, "but chosen by God and precious to him." Elsewhere God speaks of Jesus, saying, "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased." Then Peter concludes, "You also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
Built into the Church
We who are priests through Jesus Christ are being built into a spiritual house. As living stones, we are no longer autonomous beings, each doing one's own thing. A true Christian does not wake up on Sunday and say, "Well, I think maybe I won't go to church today," or "I think I will go today." The idea that we are "built into" God's temple means that we belong, that we are placed in relationship to God and to every other elect believer in the community. The days of autonomy are over and we now have a place in the church of Jesus Christ.
Autonomy is popular in the Western world. Western man does not like to hear any threatening message such as the gospel. He does not like anyone to say to him, "Repent!" He does not want to hear about sin or judgment. He only wants fun. He wants only to be free, loose, and unattached, with no obligations or responsibilities toward God or others. There are many people like this in the visible church today. But the truth is, such people are not born of God. They are not built into the spiritual edifice that is rising, whose builder and maker is Jesus Christ.
If we are true Christians, we are no longer autonomous people doing our own thing. Having confessed, "Jesus is Lord," we now live to deny ourselves and serve God. Self is no longer our center and circumference of our lives-Jesus Christ is! So we seek the interest of God and of fellow believers. This commitment to God and God's children is permanent.
How does the Lord build his church? One living stone at a time. "The Lord adds to the church such as should be saved." When the Lord adds to the church, nobody can subtract from it. If a professing person falls away, it is because he was added by himself or by man, not by the Lord. True believers have been built into Christ's church for eternity. They have been given eternal life by Christ; thus, no one can snatch them out of Christ's hands. They have ceased to be darkness and are now light in the Lord; nothing in all creation is able to separate them from the love of God. Through the gospel God gives us eternal life and builds us into a spiritual house, a community of the people in which Christ dwells. As the new Israel of God, consisting of both Jews and Gentiles, the church is the new temple of God where Christ dwells and meets with his people. So when we come together, we meet with him, and he with us. That is what makes the church "church." As he said, "If two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst." Jesus Christ is the main attraction in the church.
Jesus Christ builds his church also by sanctifying her, making her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word. He does so in order to present her to himself a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish.
Jesus Christ also builds the church through baptism. We are joined to the church through baptism, so we read in Acts 2:41 that "those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day" (Acts 2:41). Later we read that "the number of men grew to about five thousand" (Acts 4:4).
Members of the Body of Christ
We must realize that, as Christians, we are children of God the Father by adoption and brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, we can't just walk away from this Christian family into which we were placed by relationship to Christ. If people do walk away casually from a church, it is because they are loose and unattached. It is a sign that either they added themselves, or some preachers added them, but God did not add them into his church. If God adds us, we will remain true to him and to his people. As Christ's body, we are the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Autonomy is gone and we are not alone. As those related to Christ and his church, we must live within that relationship.
Some people say that when you have a second child, the first child is not too happy. Ironically, we see that attitude even in the church. But the plan and purpose of God is to build his church into a great multitude no man can number, from all tribes and all languages. We read about this in the book of Revelation. Therefore, I pray that we will learn to love one another, for to do otherwise is to go counter to God's eternal plan and purpose. I pray that we will rejoice that God's plan is to add many people to his church.
As God saves sinners, they are built into an edifice known as the church. No longer lonely and alienated, we now belong to God's family through a relationship more vital than any natural human relationship. The church is not a club; we are a family-the family of God-and therefore we love one another and have responsibility to each other. As the body of Christ, we are interdependent, not independent. As one body has eyes, ears, hands, legs, and so on, so we who are the body of Christ are many members with responsibilities to each other. We minister to others; others minister to us. You are needed and I am needed in the body of Christ. And as the body of Christ, we are under the headship of Christ.
As the church of Christ, therefore, we are a building; we are the body of Christ; we are the bride of Christ; we are the family of God. The Western world emphasizes individualism and unfettered freedom, but not so in the church of Jesus Christ. As individual members of one body, we love one another, submit to one another, serve one another, and bear one another's burdens. We rejoice with one another, weep with one another, and speak the truth in love to one another. Considering others better than ourselves, we lay down our lives for the people of God and live to please God and others.
The Nature of the Church
What is the nature of the church? There are several characteristics we want to examine.
The church is one. Because we are united with Jesus Christ, the church is never divided. Whether Jew or Gentile, man or woman, rich or poor, black or white-it makes no difference. We are all united to Jesus Christ and, in him, united to each other. That is why Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:3 that we must "strive to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." "Strive" there means to spare no effort. "Strive" there means we must get rid of all arrogance and conceit, which only lead to division, and seek unity.
In Ephesians 4:4-6 Paul speaks of the sevenfold unity of the church. There is one body, one holy Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Thus we see that the true church is one. It cannot be divided.
The church is holy. The church is not worldly, in other words. The church is called out of the world to be separate, holy. It is consecrated to God and made holy by the head of the church, Jesus Christ, by the washing through the word.
The church is catholic, which means universal. People come to the church of Jesus Christ from all the families of the earth, not merely from the nation Israel. That is why Jesus told his followers to go into all the world to make disciples, and why Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, "The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile."
The church is apostolic. As a pastor, I am always tempted to speak non-threatening messages and have fun in the church. I am always tempted to do many things that will make the people happy and feel good. In fact, I am sometimes tempted to take a survey, asking, "What do you want me to do?" so that I could then do what the people want me to do.
But this characteristic of the church prevents me from doing such things. The church is apostolic, which means it must confess the apostolic doctrine deposited in the Holy Scriptures and has no right to change it. Because the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, I have resolved to preach the apostolic doctrine. Therefore, I am not going to send out any surveys!
Yes, there are churches which preach a message that is non-threatening and will make people feel good. But the truth is, I am preaching a better message-one that takes away the wrath of God forever and ever. PGM I am preaching the gospel, which gives fun in the sense of true joy in the Holy Ghost. The gospel is the only message that will give us true salvation and eternal joy.
The church exercises government. As we study the apostolic doctrine, we learn that there is government in Christ's church. It is the government of the head of the church, Jesus Christ. Christ builds the church, Christ owns the church, Christ provides for the church, Christ defends the church, and Christ rules the church.
Jesus Christ governs his church through his order and delegated authorities. So in Acts 14:23 we read, "Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church. . . ." In other words, we have elders because it is the apostolic doctrine.
In Acts 20 we are told that Paul asked the elders of Ephesus to meet with him at Miletus. In Acts 20:28 we find his words to them, "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers." In 1 Corinthians 12:28 we are told God the Father appointed leaders in the church. In Ephesians 4:11 we are told Jesus Christ appointed them. In these scriptures we see that the triune God governs his church through the elders.
Autonomous beings do not like any government, especially that of Christ's church. But in his church, Christ governs, and he does so through the elders. In Hebrews 13:17 we read, "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority." Why then should we submit to church leaders? Because they have the apostolic authority. It is authority from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.
If the Lord regenerates us and saves us and adds us to his church, building us into his edifice in relation to him and to the people of God, then we are to pay heed to the word of God and submit to the authority of the elders. The writer to the Hebrews continues, "They keep watch over you as men who must give an account" to the Father and the Son concerning us.Then he concludes, "Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you."
True leaders will govern in accordance with the apostolic doctrine. They have no right to govern in any other way. There is a Book given to us by God, and they must govern according to that Book.
Life in Christ's Church
There are several aspects of life in Christ's church we want to consider
Worship. When we come together in the church, the first purpose is to worship our God. The Bible speaks of the priesthood of all believers; thus, as priests, we all have equal access through Jesus Christ to the very presence of God. We do not believe in an official priesthood which stands in such special relationship to God that salvation is deposited in those priests, who then are commissioned to give it out to others. We believe that, according to the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, all people of God are priests. Thus, men and women, boys and girls, can all come by faith into the very presence of God through Jesus. Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God, access to God, and stand in this great grace (Romans 5:1).
By his death Jesus Christ tore away the middle wall that separated us. Now we can all come in the name of Jesus Christ to God to worship him. So we read in 1 Peter 2:9, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." All of us, in other words, are called and owned by God. But for what purpose? To declare the excellencies of God (Isaiah 43:7, 21). Whenever the church comes together, we declare, proclaim, and publish the praises of our God in terms of his perfections and his mighty deeds (Acts 2:4, 11). This is the nature of worship.
In Ephesians 5:18-20 we read, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." Notice that phrase, "one another." As soon as you are born again, you have to put up with this word "one another." Before, it was "one," "one," "one." But now it is "one another."
Minister to one another. As God's church, we have a responsibility to other people in the church. In Acts 2:42 we read, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship. . . ." Fellowship requires at least two people. Otherwise, that word has no meaning. Therefore, we have a responsibility to other people within the body of Christ.
In Galatians 2:9 Paul wrote that the leaders of the church of Jerusalem gave him the right hand of fellowship. Even though he had persecuted the church, now they welcomed him as a brother because now he belonged to the family of God. So Barnabas said, "Come on in! You are all right. Before you were a destroyer of the church, but now you are a brother in the Lord. Come on in and fellowship with us."
This fellowship and love within the church is a responsibility. Did not Jesus say, "A new command I give you: Love one another"? (John 13:34) Loving one another is not an option! It is not what we do only when we feel like doing it. If we are built into this body called church, then we are commanded to love one another. And not only does Jesus tell us to love the people of God, but he tells us how we should do it. "As I have loved you, so you must love one another." How did Jesus love us? By laying down his life for us. In the same way, we must lay down our own lives for the benefit of our brothers and sisters. That is speaking about self-sacrifice.
Serve one another. In Galatians 5:13 we read, "Serve one another in love." I recently attended the annual dinner of a men's service organization in our church. Many of us have experienced the ministry of these young men who come and do all kinds of hard work that needs to be done. That is true Christian service.
Bear one another's burdens. In Galatians 6:2 we read, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Whenever there is sickness, poverty, death, problems or burdens that are too much to bear alone, other brothers and sisters are there to help. For example, I recently heard of a person who didn't have money. Someone else in the church wrote a check to cover the mortgage as well as other needs. That person understood the person's situation and shared the burden. So many times there have been people who are sick or in trouble whose needs are taken care of almost automatically in this church. That is what it means to bear one another's burden.
Be a family. We find an amazing expression in the New Testament used by both Paul and Peter: "Greet one another with a holy kiss," or "Greet one another with a kiss of love." What does this expression mean? It refers to the church's role as family. This is a family that transcends all earthly families. This is real love.
Brothers and sisters, we are responsible to one another. We are not like Cain, who asked the question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" We are our brother's keeper by divine new creation. If you are loose and unattached, you will come and go easily, thinking church is just an option. But to me it is not an option. Having been built into the body of Christ, I have responsibility to you and you have responsibility to me and to everyone else in the church. We are a family.
Esteem one another. In Philippians 2:3 we read, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." In the church of Jesus Christ, we are called to esteem others with greater honor than we esteem ourselves. How many problems would disappear if only we practiced this? I pray that we can all gladly say, "Let me decrease, and let him increase."
Admonish one another. In the church of Christ we all have a responsibility to admonish one another to live by the gospel. We must tell others, "Put the word of God into your mind, sister, brother. It says you must live this way!" We each have the responsibility to admonish each other in this way because of the relationship we have in Christ. As we admonish, we must also rebuke, if needs be.
Forgive one another. Forgiveness is another aspect of life in the church. In Colossians 3:13 Paul wrote, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
Comfort and encourage one another. In 1 Thessalonians 4:18 Paul wrote, "Therefore encourage each another with these words." In Hebrews 10:24-25 we read, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching." We have a responsibility to each other to encourage one other, and to comfort one other. This is why we must not neglect coming together in relationship as a church.
Confess sins one to another. As a family that loves one another, we can and must confess our sins to each other, as we read in James 5:16.
Pray for one another. James 5:16 also tells us to "pray for each other so that you may be healed." Prayer is another responsibility of the church. Those who are loose stones take no responsibility to pray for others. They just come and go, not caring who is in trouble, who is sinning, or who is wandering. But those who are part of the church will inquire about others and continually pray for them.
Show hospitality. The Scriptures tell us to show hospitality to others. That means we have to open up our houses to others. Sadly, even in the church there are homes to which people have never been invited. Open your house and have the people of God, especially those of low estate, over to eat with you. It is a good thing to do!
Be of one mind. As God's people, we should be of one mind with each other. There are several verses that speak of this, but let us consider just one, Philippians 4:2. In the church at Philippi there were two people who could not get along, so Paul wrote, "I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord."
Be responsible for each other. What do we do if we happen to see a brother or sister sinning? As part of the life of Christ's church we have a responsibility to that person. In James 5:19-20 we read, "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sin." As members of Christ's church, we have a responsibility to bring a person back. These things are not just the responsibility of the pastors or elders; they are the responsibilities of every believer. So if we see someone falling into sin, we have a serious responsibility to go to that person and say, "No, no, you cannot do that. You must return to God."
Sympathize with each other. In Romans 12:15 we read, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." As members of one body, we belong to each other. What happens to you affects me, and what happens to me affects you. So we sympathize with each other.
Minister to the world. What is the church's obligation to the world? Evangelism. We are the light of the world! That is why we must declare God's perfections and deeds, not only in the church, but also to the world. We have a responsibility to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.
Jesus Christ builds the church and owns the church. It is his possession and treasure, the apple of his eye. Thus, he shields it, cares for it, and guards it, as we read in Deuteronomy 32 and Zechariah. Whoever touches the church to harm her touches the apple of his eye; Jesus Christ will raise his mighty hand against such a person. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Paul writes to the church corporate, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple." People think it is no big deal to say whatever they want about and against God's church. Oh, no. The church is God's temple wherein God lives by his Holy Spirit. If we destroy his church, he will destroy us. That should give us a little bit of fear and trembling.
If we are Christians, I hope we will thank God for giving us a relationship to him as Savior and Lord. He has given us eternal life and nothing shall separate us from the love of God. Having made us children of the heavenly Father, he has given us brothers and sisters with whom we are united in Jesus Christ. We belong to the church; we are built into the church; and we are committed to one another in the church until death and beyond death. We are saved forever, held by Christ, who looks upon us as his treasure. Jesus Christ died for our sake and he will not let anyone destroy his church.
The people of the world are divided into two camps: the church and the world. People are either inside the church or outside. If, therefore, you are outside but want to come in, you can do so through repentance and faith. "What must I do to be saved?" the Philippians jailer asked. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved," Paul replied. When you place your trust in Christ, you will be built into this great edifice, the temple of God, where there is life, righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Then you can sing with Martin Luther, "The body they may kill: God's truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever." May God give you grace to trust in him even this day. Amen.
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Copyright © 2002, P. G. Mathew
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