What is Church? (Part 2)
What is Church
WHAT IS CHURCH? (Ephesians)
In this message we learn from Ephesians what the church is to Christ: the fullness of Christ, the family of Christ, the temple of God, the wisdom of God the body of Christ, and His beloved bride.
In part 1 we considered 10 things that church is not
· A place or building
· An event
· A series of programs
· A social club
· A university
· Religious ritual
· A miraculous experience
· A welfare organization
· An institution
· An invisible, mystical reality.
If you missed part 1, you really need to listen to the first half to have the proper context for the second half.
I said that church is none of these things per se, none of things alone, but all of these things and much more. The problem is that we often want to reduce church to one or two main things, when in reality the church is many things and must be all of these things in order to be the church as Christ intended. We can’t just be a church that teaches the truth, or builds strong relationships or has amazing Sunday worship services. We have to be all these things and more.
So I ended last week by asking you to go and evaluate your view of church and consider how this pandemic is highlighting where your view of church has been skewed. But then I also said this – we have to get behind all these elements and activities, we have to go beyond understanding the church in terms of what it does and ask what is the church, what is our identity, what is our nature, what is the church in essence? We have to ask, not just what is the church to me, but more importantly, we need to ask, what is the church to Jesus Christ. Too often, we are only thinking about the church on a horizontal level, in terms of what the church is or what the church means to us, to our families, to our society as a whole. Much of the time we are being completely self-centered and merely thinking about what the church means to me, or even just what can the church do for me. But to rightly understand the church, we need to view it as Jesus Christ views it.
In reality, Muslims and Jews engage in corporate gatherings and teaching and relationship building and caring for each other’s practical needs. Those activities don’t define the church or distinguish the church from any other religious body or organization.
So this morning I want us to consider what is the identity of the church. What is the church to God? To do that I want to look at Ephesians which is a letter written to the church about the church. I don’t want to focus on only one passage, but on what this letter teaches us about the church as a whole about what the church means to Christ.
1. the fullness of christ (1:15-23)
Paul begins letter with one long sentence reminding Ephesians of the many blessings that come to us in Christ. Then he explains what his prayer is for these Ephesian believers. Read 1:15-23
Prayer that will know (18b)
· Riches of inheritance
· Power toward us
Nature of that power (20-22)
What worked in Christ when He raised Him (20)
What He worked for Christ by exalting Him (21)
What worked through Christ by giving Him (22)
Note the progression, the climax…
Christ raised, Christ exalted, Christ given as head to the church.. the climax here is not the resurrection or Christ, its not even the exaltation of Christ, but the giving of Christ to the church. God’s mission in and through Christ wasn’t completed until Christ became the head of this new people of God….
If you’ve spent 4 years studying at university and through a great struggle and many sleepless nights you manage to pass your courses and earn your degree. What is the pinnacle and highlight of that whole process? It’s your graduation ceremony when they finally and formally hand over your certificate to you in the presence of witnesses who are rejoicing at what you’ve accomplished.
The church is the pinnacle of Christ’s achievements, the church is the great prize for which Christ suffered and died….It is the sign and seal of Christ’ great work of redemption.
Then the text goes on to describe the church
Description of the church (23)
1. Christ’s body (He the head which animates the body)
2. That which is the fullness of Christ (passive, that which is the fullness of him)
Illustration: A dam is that which is full of water. That is the main, defining feature which explains what a dam is in essence. If you had to explain to someone what a dam is, you wouldn’t describe its wall, or its shape or its location. The essence of a dam is something which holds water, which is filled with water – the rest is incidental.
The church is the vessel which God has designed to contain and channel the fullness of Christ….
Fullness – filled with God’s character and power.
· Christ is full of God’s character and power. The church is full of Christ’s character and power.
So let’s just step back here and follow the logic of chapter 1. Paul reminds the Ephesians of all the blessings they have in Christ. Then prays that they might know these blessings in all their fullness, then he explains what is the vessel through which this fullness flows - all of God’s fullness comes to them through Christ, through the church.
Application: membership, commitment to church
So here is the point. Apart from our connection to the church we will lack the fullness of God’s character and power.
That is why when someone is not integrated fully into the life of the church, they will not be able to grow consistently in Christ-likeness. God’s fullness is directed toward the church. If you want the fullness of God’s power and character it will come to you through your involvement in the church.
So here in these verse we see what the church is to Christ. It is the body of Christ, the fullness of Christ, the pinnacle of Christ’s achievements, His crowning glory….that’s what the church is to Christ….
2. the family of christ (2:11-22)
In chapter 2 Paul again begins by reminding the Ephesians of the wonderful blessings that have come to them in Christ. How they have been saved by God’s grace and God’s grace alone.
Again, doesn’t only stop with the individual, personal blessings. Salvation is not only about what God has done for me. Goes on to talk about the corporate, communal realities of this salvation.
Read 2:1-2 you were personally dead; 2:11-12 you were excluded from the covenant people of God, alienated personally and corporately, outside of the family of God. But now. But God made alive….but now you have been reconciled together to God.
Read 2: 13-22
14: BOTH: Place Jew and Gentile. People from all nations basically into one new body, the church and thereby established peace with God and peace between men.
Reconciliation back to God as a people, a family. 16 “In one body” meaning a body or family of people who have been reconciled to God. 19 talks about us being fellow citizens and members of the household of God. We are part of God’s kingdom as citizens, part of God’s family as members of a household. That’s why the Scripture calls us brothers and sisters in Christ
Application: The church is not an event or series of programs and activities. We are a family. Because we are a family, we do things together, we gather, we eat, we celebrate, we pool our finances to achieve God given goals, we share in one another’s struggles. We care for one another..
You get families and families. What makes the church family unique is not that we are a family, but the kind of family we are. What distinguishes the church family from a muslim family or a Jewish family is the head of this family and the nature of this family. God is our Father and we have been adopted into this family by grace – sinners from every tribe and nation and tongue and culture and economic segment and education - who have only one thing in common – Jesus Christ has set his love upon us and become our saviour and King.
Christ has put this family together, He has created this family. So this family is Christ-centred, its is characterized by Christ-like character and focussed on Christ’s glory. What defines the church is not that we are a family, but the kind of family we are – Christ’s family – a diverse family of sinners brought together by Christ and called to be like Christ to one another – to put Christ’s glory on display by how we relate to one another.
This is one reason why we cannot tolerate favouritism or divisions in the church. The church was created to bring peace with God and peace between men. To bring men to God and men together. We are not a social club brought together around common interest, but a family brought together under one head. What we have in common is not our culture or race, but our spiritual head who is Christ, our common heavenly father.
What makes the church a unique family is not that we do family things, but why we do them and how we do them. Christ is the reason we are church and must be church, why we are family and must love each other like family and Christ’s character must permeate through our family relationships – and that is what makes us a unique family.
1 The fullness of Christ, the family of Christ 3
3 the temple of god (21)
21: This new body is the temple of God. Together as a church we become a dwelling place for God’s Spirit.
The Bible speaks of every believer as the Temple of God which is indwelt by the Spirit. But also corporately as His church we become the Temple of God.
What is the temple? The place where God’s glory was made manifest. The believer is a manifestation of God’s glory and the church is a manifestation of God’s glory. The church has to gather locally so that God’s glory can be seen among us, His character can be put on display in the way we relate to one another and what we do together and how we do it. The Temple is the visible manifestation of God’s glory, when God’s glory stopped being visibly manifest at the temple it was because sin had entered the camp. In a healthy church God’s glory must be visibly manifest for all to see…. That’s why believers are called saints, we are holy ones set apart from the world to serve God. That is why we are called a royal priesthood because we are servants in God’s temple which is the church.
Again, we must acknowledge that you get temples and you get temples. What makes the church unique is that it is the temple of the one true and living God and is filled with His Spirit and therefore displays His glory. That is what the text is saying – by means of the supernatural ministry of the Spirit we have access to God and are built together to become a place, a body, where God’s glory can be tangibly seen.
Application: We don’t gather and minister to one another and teach God’s word merely for our good and the good of others. It is for the good of others, but its for so much more…. We gather and teach and serve and love because that is what glorifies God and shows His power and presence among us.
Illustration: People sometimes tell me the aren’t coming to church anymore because they are not growing, or because they don’t feel loved and have been hurt by others, or they can’t understand the sermons, or because they just sit in the cry room with their kids and don’t get to participate much, or because they are old and frail and its just become too difficult. My answer is this – when you can’t come to church for those reasons – come to church for the glory of Christ. Come to church because you want to take up your place among the assembly of the saints and become a glorious choir together singing the glory of God to the community around. Come to church with the express objective of glorifying Him by showing His character, demonstrating His love and patience with sinners, proclaiming His worth.
When people persevere in relationships in the church and love others even though they have been sinned against or deeply hurt – that glorifies God because that shows His supernatural power is at work. When people live holy lives that are not conformed to the pattern of sin and greed and selfishness and passionate excess that characterizes the world around – that glorifies God because it shows His supernatural power at work.
How often have I not been struggling with God in the week and come to church only to encounter Him afresh, to experience Him in power and to leave repentant… why? Because God is among us as we gather in His name – not just on Sundays, but even when we gather to confront sin or to pray for a struggling believer, or to serve a sick saint with a meal.
1) The fullness of Christ 2) the family of Christ 3) the temple of God
4. the wisdom of God(3:8-11; 20-21)
In chapter 3 Paul speaks of His calling as an Apostle. A calling which He cherishes. He then goes on to explain God’s vision for his life, the bigger picture that makes his calling so significant. Read 3:7-11
God’s eternal plan comes to fruition (7-11)
Wisdom: true insight into known facts.
In this context it means that it is through the church God’s eternal plan become manifest.
Who is it manifest to? Rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.
So the picture is of this heavenly audience just longing to see what God is doing and how He is going to work all things out, how He is going to fix the mess that mankind has made.
Now finally, through the reality and existence of the church, this new body, this bride of Christ – God’s eternal plan comes to fruition. His wisdom is put on display.
As weak and messy and messed up as the church appears – despite all our failings – our existence is a demonstration of the glory of God’s grace. God is doing something in us and through us that will leave all of heaven and earth gobsmacked for all eternity!
If you’ve had any meaningful involvement with the church you are probably sitting here saying, you must be joking! The church is such a mess, so much division, so much struggle, so much weakness, so much false teaching, so much inefficiency….but maybe that’s the point – we are not supposed to be a testimony to how amazing we are, but to how amazing God’s grace is. It’s not because of who we are but despite who we are - because of who Christ is. That’s why Paul can say, “Though I am the least” yet this was God’s grace toward me. It’s not just Paul who was called to be weak in person but bold in proclaiming God’s grace -that is the calling of the church.
God’s wisdom is certainly not like the worlds wisdom!
Application: We can’t just look at this from a human perspective – there are spiritual eternal realities at work in and through the reality of the church. Especially during a time of fear and hopelessness and confusion like the present – we need to be the church. We need to put God’s wisdom on display, God’s values on display – which are not at all like the world’ wisdom.
Illustration: During the black plague, people were too afraid to have contact with dead bodies for fear of becoming infected so the dead were just left. It was the Christians who took up the task of burying the dead….and isn’t that exactly what demonstrates God’s wisdom in contrast to the world’s wisdom? We shouldn’t we? Our eternity is secure, our God is in control of everything. Nobody and nothing gets to us without His knowledge. During times of economic turmoil and poverty – we find Christians doing what the first church did in Acts 2:41-46 selling their possessions and giving to the poor. The world gives out of their excess – the church gives out of sacrifice because that’s what glorifies God and puts God’s wisdom on display.
Now I ask you. If the church is the fruition of God’s eternal plan, will He give up on the church?... Is a pandemic or a ware or a kingdom really able to destroy or diminish the church?
History is marching on to a glorious end, a predetermined purpose. All of history will climax in accomplishing that for which God has ordained all things. And that focal point, that glorious climax which all heaven and earth is anticipating – is bound up with God’s purpose for the church….
If the church was all about us and our human plans and purpose – the new could throw in the towel and say, that was a bad idea, that was a failed business, that was a misguided project….humanly speaking the church doesn’t and shouldn’t work….but its not human wisdom that the church puts on display – its divine wisdom. It’s not human plans the church accomplishes but God’s eternal plans.
To remove ourselves from the church is to remove ourselves from the story that God is writing in human history.
20-21. – how is God glorified?
That is the climax of what Paul is saying in chapter 3. Because the church is so significant, He can conclude that it is through the church and Christ that God receives glory. If God is going to be glorified at all I nour world, if we want anyone to see His wisdom and the excellence of His character and His power – then we ought to point them to Christ and the church. That is what vs 21 says.
That’s why we need to be church and do church in the midst of this pandemic…
Christ’ fullness, God’s family, God’s temple, God’s wisdom.
5. the body of christ (4:4-8, 11-12)
Chapter 4 God urges the Ephesians to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Maintain the peace which He has provided in the church.
Goes on to explain how Christ has given gifts to the church.
Follow the logic. The pastors are given to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry – for what purpose?....
The building up of the body of Christ.
Christ gives supernatural gifts in order that the body might be built up. In other words, He personally ensures that the body has everything it needs to mature and to fulfill the purpose for which He created it.
Again we see the picture that Christ’s assension to authority and power is for the good of the church.
12-16 – truth and love that is the central ingredient, the antidote or vaccine against spiritual disease…. Ministered by the members of the body to one another. Christ wants his body to be healthy and whole and mature, so He has given everything necessary for the health of the body – but hasn’t given it to only one person – but to every member. Every member has a ministry, has a role, has a function, has a unique gift and an essential part to play in the ministry of the body.
It would take me 3 months to phone all our members if I phoned one member every day. I can’t do all the ministry, I can’t be there for all the people, I don’t have all the gifts…
Sometimes we are tempted to check out of church because life’s difficult. That’s all the more reason to check in to church, to get connected and stay connected. We need one another – Christ has designed the church that way. He has made us that way – that we don’t have everything we need on our own, we need one another.
6. THE BELOVED BRIDE OF CHRIST (5:25-30)
Often read this section as a description of how a husband should love his wife and it is. But really what Paul is doing – he is taking the greatest form of love that He knows and holding it up as an example for husbands to follow.
What is the greatest love Paul knows?...
The love that Christ has toward the church.
As His bride, Christ takes personal responsibility for the church and He cares and nourishes and purifies her.
God has instituted marriage – the covnenant bond of marriage – so that we could have some idea of how much Christ loves the church. A husband would stop at nothing for his wife, to do her good. He would lay down his life for his wife, he would sacrifice his time and money for his wife, his health and reputation for his wife.
Christ did all of this for the church… He loves His bride and so should you….
Over the last 4 months our church and many others have seen a growing apathy. People making less effort to connect, less effort to attend prayer meetings, little effort to attend services, less involvement in each others lives. Why?...
Is it because we were doing those things for ourselves, because it was easier to do? Is it because we never had the right motives in the first place? Is it because its too costly or difficult now to do those things? I think most of us our motives were all wrong and our perspective was self-centered and God has sent this pandemic to help us see that more clearly…..
We are church and we do church for God’s glory and God’s glory alone. To be the church and to therefore do what church does is our spiritual act of worship, its how we magnify God….. and it hasn’t begun to be worship until its begun to be a sacrifice.
I’m not going to go back and reduce church to mere attendance or mere participation in one of more of the programs, or giving your tithes or connecting with other people. Church is all of those things and more. Church is not one thing its all those things.
It’s the fullness of Christ, the family of Christ, the temple of Christ, the wisdom of Christ, the body of Christ, the His beloved bride. You and I need to be the church and do the church for the glory of Christ – no other reason is sufficient, no other person is worthy. You either Love the church because Christ loves the church or you don’t love the church at all.
Please think on these things – and once you have get with God’s program….