TITLE : "What is the Church ?"
DATE PREACHED : 07/02/2010
I have chosen to study this letter with you at this time for many reasons, but our main objective will be to help you to love and serve the body of the Lord Jesus Christ , the church better this year and always.
Why should we love the church ? Are we not in danger of subtly replacing the priority of our love for God for a second and lesser love?
Not at all – provided that we know how to hold the two in balance. Everything begins with loving God . And everything must be worked out through loving and serving the church, the body of Christ the Lord.
We should love the church because Christ loves her! How much does He love her? We determine the worth of something by the price which we pay for it . What is the price of the church? The Bible says that the church has been purchased at a great cost (Rev 5:9) by the blood of Christ the Lord. That is the worth of the church. She is worth the blood of Christ the eternal God!
Now my brothers and sisters, I share the dear apostle Paul’s heart and desire when I think of the church. I truly can say that I have an unceasing anguish in my heart for you ( Rom 9:2). I am in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you ( Gal 4:19). My heart breaks when I see anyone despising the church , the body and bride of our Lord Jesus Christ. My heart breaks when I ponder that many people think of ‘going to church’ rather than ‘ being the church’. The difference between going to church and being the church is the difference between a man loving and being attached to his wife, and a man who only comes home to have his food cooked , his clothes washed , his bed and his sex . The one treasures his wife; the other just uses her.
But when you recognize the value of that which Christ calls ‘my body’ (or my bride) and when you understand the doctrine of the church , then you can truly become a lover of the church , as opposed to one who merely pursues a relationship of convenience ( whatever that may be) with her. Judge for yourself whether this is true of you.
Hence our general theme : “ Loving and serving the body of Christ for all its worth”. Through this first letter to the church of the Corinthians I hope to stir up many subjects that pertain to your churchmanship, helping us to think through our commitment to the precious body of Christ.
Introduction to the First Letter to the Corinthians :
The church which Paul planted in Corinth ( see Acts 18) began well - if not with great difficulty , but she eventually lost her focus. That easily happens. It happened to 5 of the 7 churches in Revelation 2 & 3. As the authority of Christ began to wane in the church, the focus became man centered. Some began to focus and argue about leadership styles; some followed their favourite leaders. Others argued about which spiritual gift was greater. Others struggled with issues of conscience regarding what to eat and not to eat. Many had forgotten the sacredness of the Lord’s supper. The eating and drinking at this feast got out of hand, because the meal became more focused on people and food than on Christ in whose honour this meal was held. Some were even drunk on this occasion (11:21). Some were even saying that the resurrection of Jesus Christ had not taken place (Ch 15).
What did Paul do ? He urged the church to be unified and to give themselves fully to the work of the Lord (1 Cor 15:58) in this local church. The key chapter is found 1 Corinthians 13. Here we discover the glue that keeps the church together. We shall, in due course make a study of the nature of biblical love .
But it’s all based on Christ crucified , who loved the church and gave Himself up for her (1 Cor 2:2 ; Eph. 5:25 ; Phil 2 :1-10).
The apostle Paul demonstrated this same sacrificial love to the Corinthian church when he wrote in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians : “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears , not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love I have for you“. (2:4) Paul loved the church, because He knew the worth of the church. He existed to make the glory of Christ known in and through the church. He worked for the health of the church. He did not engage in activities such as evangelism for the sake of evangelism in order to boast in his converts and to write triumphalistic letters home to his financial supporters. He lived to exalt Christ and His church.
You must live for that same reason. Live for Jesus, and live to strengthen this body. Don’t hinder the church. Don’t sap her strength! Build her up! Stop doing your own thing. Start praying with the church. Listen with us to the Word of God. Grow in grace, and from the position of such unity and strength reach out to this lost city, country, continent and world!
OUTLINE : WHAT IS THE CHURCH ( 1 Cor 1:1-3)
1. THE CHURCH’S PARTICULAR CALLING : “ The church…”
2. THE CHURCH’S PLACE : “The church of God that is in Corinth…
3. THE CHURCH’S POSITION : "Sanctified in Christ Jesus , called to be saints
4. THE CHURCH’S PARTICIPATION : “… with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – both their Lord and ours “
5. THE CHURCH’S PRIVILEGE: …”Grace and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ …”
1. The Church’s Particular Calling
The word translated as ‘church’ (assembly) is instructive. It is the Greek word “ekklesia“ – a compound word, literally translated “to call out of”. The church is a “called out people” – a particular , a chosen people - a people loved by God and called to be saints (Rom 1:7). They are loved and called in a special way – not just a general way . We must make that distinction between God’s general love for the world and God’s particular love for the church. God loves the world in that He gives the world rain, sun and food in their seasons, and He loves the world by giving the world a gospel for everyone to hear, see and believe ( though human pride will not receive the free offer of the gospel). But He loves the church in a special way. He calls His people with that irresistible call. He brings people to faith in Christ by causing the breath of the Holy Spirit to bring life to their dead spirits (John 3) so that they can see their sinful state, repent from their sinful pride and turn to God through Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, receiving assurance of the forgiveness of sin and eternal hope in heaven. If you have experienced this , then you become a member of the church - those that have been “called out”.
2. The Church’s Place : “ To the church of God that is in Corinth…”
Where is the visible demonstration and evidence of that church? It is in a given location i.e. in Corinth , in Phillipi, in Thessalonica and Colossae , in Jerusalem , in Windhoek, Harare , Lusaka and in every city of the world. Theologians call this the visible church, for she is seen everywhere on earth in various localities. Does that mean that every building that has a steeple and a cross or the name ‘church’ attached to it , a true church ? No ! A true church must be led by born again men; it must be made up of people that are true believers (see point #1).
Such believers find each other in a given city or town and gather together into a local church (or churches). If you are a true believer, and if you live in Windhoek, then you must be a member of a biblical local church in Windhoek. Some of you belong to local churches far away, because you are on temporary business here. That is understandable, and in that case you remain accountable to that body of believers ( e.g. Robert and Sheila Ridgway who are members of a Church of England in the UK ). But ordinarily you identify with an “ekklesia “ in a given locality. You must be accountable and involved in a local body in which you exercise your spiritual gift. You must also be under spiritual ‘oversight’. The elders of a local church are called by God and recognized by the church as those who are over you in the Lord , and who must given an account for you (Hebrews 13:17)
3. The Church’s Position : “those sanctified in Christ Jesus , called to be saints”. What is the unique thing about a church ? It is a gathering of the “sanctified saints “ .
What is a saint? The Word means literally ‘to be set apart for holy use’. A church member is no ordinary person . She / he is chosen by God and set apart by Him for holy use. Being a church member and pursuing a wasted , sinful life is a contradiction in terms. To be a church member means to be sanctified. I remind you that this fact only comes after you have been justified through your calling and election by God ( Point #1). That is why Peter reminds his readers to “make your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10). We work out our sanctification from the platform of our justification (Phil 2:12,13). So make sure that your faith works itself out in holy living . That is the banner of the church which says : Christ lives here ! This is a Christian church!
4. The Church’s Participation : “saints together with all those that in every place call upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.“ Your local church is not the only church in the world. The church is much bigger than you think. It transcends denominations. In fact it is so big that theologians speak about the “invisible church‘‘. By this they mean the church that is comprised of those true believers that have already died and who are now waiting for the resurrection plus the total amount of true believers alive on this earth at this very moment plus the total amount of true believers yet to be born and born again and added into the church. The invisible church is the sum-total of all believers in human history until the final trumpet call of Christ is sounded. Every true believer of a visible local church also belongs to the invisible church. Every member of the invisible church ought to belong to a visible , local church. Sadly not all members of the visible, local church may belong to the invisible church, since the sheep of Jesus may be mingled with goats, just as the wheat may be mingled with the weeds. Life on this imperfect, sinful planet is a curious mixture of good and evil, since Satan has been permitted a season of limited rule. The visible church is not immune from his schemes. But, thankfully he cannot assail the true invisible church.
5. The Church’s Privilege: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ .” Grace is God’s unmerited favour – the basis of our salvation. Were it not for the grace of God no one would be a Christian. The experience of God’s grace leads to peace. Peace is the opposite of restlessness, strife and uncertainty. It is the opposite of unhappiness. It is knowing that you have peace with God (Rom 5:1). This leads to peace within. You no longer feel condemned (Rom 8:1) . You have hope because you know in whom we have believed (2 Tim 1:12). The most tangible experiences for the true Christian are grace and peace. This comes to us directly from the Father and the Son.
When you take all these things into consideration then you know that what John Newton (1725-1807) wrote in the old hymn ,“ Glorious things of thee are spoken” , is true :
“Saviour if of Zion’s city, I through grace a member am
Let the world deride or pity , I will glory in Thy Name.
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure , all his boasted pomp and show
Solid joys and lasting treasure none by Zion’s children know.”
What is the Church? It is the body of called out believers in a given location , who are set apart for holy purposes through Christ the Lord. They share a rich heritage with the local visible and the universal invisible church of God. All this is expressed in the experience of Grace and Peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you love and cherish what God the Father and His Son love and have invested their favour in? Knowing all this , will you invest your life in the church, the body of Christ this year?