This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on March 14th, 2010. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – The Church.
Lent #4 — A PASSION FOR THE CHURCH
In the 4th week of Lent, we want to pray for God’s people, the church, and reaffirm our commitment to God’s Kingdom.
If you read through the NT, you will find that Paul talks, constantly about the church. The book of James is best understood as addressing a church (Ch.3 for instance, on the tongue takes on much greater meaning when you apply it to a church). Even the book of Revelation is written to the churches. The NT writers understood that the purpose of Christ’s coming was to create a new people of faith – the church. They were passionate for the church – wrote to preserve and encourage the church.
But in our day the attitude towards the church has changed. The main concern of most Christians is their own individual experience of faith – not the church – and consequently, the church has suffered. The individual focus of many believers has caused them to see the church, not as a house of prayer, or even as a place of worship, but as an individual or community service provider or a place to experience spirituality. Many believers have the consumer mentality.
If there is a mission for us as believers, this morning, it is to become a light in our community circles. We want to show both in our conversation and in our actions, a true picture of what the church is and is supposed to be. How are we to do this?
BE PASSIONATE ABOUT THE CHURCH – Eph.5:25-27.
“Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word..” This is actually a very passionate picture of Christ and the church. It is a picture of Christ’s selfless love and devotion for his Bride. And it is a complex picture. Notice, Paul, is describing marriage as a church relationship. He is not only telling husbands how to love their wives – but how to love the church. Paul is redefining the basic relationships that people have – he is re-understanding what those relationships mean and our motives as we live them out – in view of our being the bride of Christ. Why is Paul doing this? Because in his understanding, becoming the bride of Christ redefines everything about who we are. If I am married, then my marriage relationship is is a church relationship and what I do in my marriage, I do because I belong to Jesus. If I work, then my work relationship is a church relationship, and my manner of working is an act of devotion to Christ. If I am a parent or a grandparent or a child – a student or a government official or a volunteer – then my understanding of my work or my relationship is changed when I become Christ’s.
If we are passionate about the church, then we begin to see what Christ wants to do in our relationships – what character Christ wants to display in our work – what motives Christ wants to develop in our approach to every part of life.
By Pursuing Holiness: We often talk about how Jesus laid down his life for us – for the church – in order to cleanse us from the stain of sin. But the picture Paul gives is more complex than that. Notice the process… We are cleansed by being washed with water through the Word. In other words, those who have become the Bride of Christ are being cleansed – changed or made holy – renewed through the Word. How we respond – how we pursue holiness through God’s grace and our obedience to the word – is not so much a matter of performance as it is a matter of what is beautiful and appropriate for the Bride. If we are passionate about the church, then we must be passionate about holiness, because this is Christ’s desire.
By Delighting in What God is Doing: “…and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Surely this is a difficult thing to ask in our day. Yet the church is not much different in our day than it was in Paul’s. Read the letters of Paul, of James, of Peter and John and you will see that the church had plenty of error, failings, weakness. But despite all of this, the church is the bride of Christ. Jesus Christ looks at the church and sees a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any blemish – but holy and blameless. Jesus Christ looks at the church and sees it through his finished work – He sees what the church is becoming – He sees the church with grace.
This is a picture of desire and delight of a husband for a bride! This is the way our master sees the church – it is the way we long for him to see us – and he does see us this way. This is the way we are also to see the church. I am not saying that we should be blind and ignorant to sin and error and abuse in the church – but rather that we should see the glorious side of the church as well as the struggling side. We should see a people of God that God himself has raised to life from the dead – forgiven, restored, blessed, loved, and beautiful in God’s sight. We should rejoice that the church exists – it is a miracle of grace!
PARTICIPATE IN THE CHURCH – Eph.2:19-22.
Through Reconciliation: “So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and are of God’s household.”
There is a fundamental difference between coming to hear a teaching, or to do the sunday morning duty – and working out relationships with people who are strange and alien to us out of a motive of love for Jesus. There is a difference between coming to church and taking part in the life of a church.
What does it mean to be a part of the body of Christ.? It means living as brothers and sisters with people with whom you have nothing in common except Christ – because both you and I have come out of darkness, lostness, foolishness – and we have been called into a family. This living as brothers and sisters with those who have been strangers because we now have Jesus Christ in common – this is the will of God – This brings glory to our God that we should do this.
By Being Built Into a House of Worship: “… having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the true corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy Temple in the Lord.”
The working out of relationships in the church, as we follow the true example of Jesus in laying down our lives for one another – and obey the foundational teaching of the Apostles, is what makes the Church a place of worship!!! It is not the building – it is not the denomination – not the minister – not the teaching – not the music. This is the force of Paul’s argument: That when strangers and aliens (to God and to one another), come together because Jesus Christ has called them out of darkness – out of the world – and into His Kingdom… and when those who were strangers and aliens, show devotion to God and to one another, so that they are able to worship together and live in fellowship… when they are together becoming obedient to the teachings of the Apostles and following the example of Christ – then – they become a holy Temple and God is present among them.
What then, is the scale of the tragedy when the church is seen as merely a place to experience spirituality – an organization that provides a weekly inspiration, to be chosen like we choose which supermarket to go to – as long as it suits us, as long as we like the people who are there. The body of Christ is torn apart because of ignorance and convenience. Indeed, the Temple is never raised because, often members leave churches where there is someone they don’t get along with.
But our calling is to live in true Fellowship because we have been called to be part of the body of Christ! Because we are strangers and aliens who have found a home! Because we together are devoted to Christ as his bride!
PRAY FOR THE ANIMATION OF THE CHURCH – Eph.1:18-20.
Pray that Christ Would Raise Up the Church: “I pray also, that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you… and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”
Do you know what the church is? It is not the building or group your parents went to. It is not a good social institution. It is not where the moral people are. The church is full of murderers, abusers, thieves, liars, immoral men and women, drunks and gluttons, hard hearted misers – who Jesus Christ has bought, raised up and made alive – and whom he is redeeming. The church is a generation of sinners that God calls to be his and then uses in that generation. The people in the church are a work of God and the church will not exist unless God himself intervenes and calls people out of the world and desperately into His family. I cannot keep the church going – you cannot keep it going – neither can any denomination – nor any talented or well meaning group of people. The church must be created by God in every generation.
Do you believe that? If you do then you will pray like Paul prays. Paul thinks that the same power of God that raised Jesus from the dead and seated him on the throne of God is that which is at work in the church. If you believe that, then you will pray for God to keep creating the church – bringing it to life. And you will pray that those who have been brought to life would wake up and live as the bride.
Pray that God Would Deliver the Church: “Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring – those who obey God’s commandments and hold ot the testimony of Jesus.” Rev.12:17 Why has the church become a place of entertainment and experience, rather than worship and true fellowship? Why do people so easily replace one church with another? Why are there church splits? Our enemy is at war with us – and he has deeply influenced our culture and its attitude towards the church.
Pray for the church! Pray that God would deliver us from our apathy and neglect of the church. Pray that God would make the church a powerful people full of the grace and presence of God. Repent on behalf of the church. Ask God to increase your passion for the church.