Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Nature of the Church

He saith unto them, "But whom say ye that I am?" And Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered and said unto him, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." And I say also unto thee, "That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." --Matthew 16:15-18

Did you know the word church is not found in the Old Testament? The concept may be there, and the foundational ideas for the church are there, but the word church is never used in the Old Testament. The Old Testament talks about "a holy people", a nation set apart for God.

But the first person to use the word "church" in the Bible is Jesus himself. He is the one who initiated the church. In fact the Church belongs to Him.

In our text I want you to look at the words, "My Church."

The church belongs to Jesus Himself. That means that He considers the church to be important .

Someone said: "You can not grow to full Christian maturity without involvement in God’s church."

Ask yourselves these questions.

  • Can a person reach full spiritual maturity if they ignore the commandments of Jesus?
  • Can a person be a follower of Jesus and ignore His teachings?
  • Do you think a person can become an obedient mature Christian without doing what Christ has asked them to do?"
  • Did you know there are over 35 commandments in the Bible that you cannot fulfill without being involved in God’s church?

They are commandments like, "Love one another, encourage one another, serve one another, accept one another, greet one another…" and the list goes on and on. Who do you think the "one another" is? When the scripture speaks of "one another" it is speaking of fellow believers – the church. The point is, you cannot fulfill the commandments of Christ without being involved with His people – without being involved in the church of Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament the word "church" is used 73 times. It is a New Testament concept.

If the New Testament puts that much emphasis on the church we need to have a clear understanding of the nature of the church.

Before we look at what the church is – let us understand what the church is not. It is not a social club. It is not a business. It is not a museum. It is not a fraternity. The church is not even a building even though we often speak of it in that manner. The church is not a man-made institution.

What then is the church? It is a creation of God – founded by Jesus Himself.

The Bible gives us several metaphors of what the church is.

This morning we are going to look at four of them. From these metaphors we can gain a greater understanding of the nature of the church.

1. The Bible says the church is a fellowship.

Fellowship is not just something the church is - it’s something we do.

What is fellowship? The best definition is "Two fellows on the same ship." You’re headed in the same direction, so you get to know each other and you associate because you’re going in the same direction. That’s what fellowship is. Fellowship is all of us together heading in the same direction. As Christians, we’re all headed to heaven.

A top priority in fellowship is harmony. If we are going in the same direction, if we are going to be together for a long time – we need to live together in harmony.

When I was about ten years old we had a pot belly stove that was made out of sheet metal. Dad and we boys would go to the woods and cut wood with a cross-cut saw. We had what was known as a two-man saw. The first thing we learned about that saw was that the two people had to be in time with each other.

We need to get along with each other. If you destroy the fellowship, you don’t have a church.

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are there unto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. --1 Peter :3:8-12
That is your purpose – that is what you are supposed to be doing – building fellowship with one another.

2. The Bible says the church is family.

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named. --Ephesians 3:14-15

When you were born you were born into a family. When we become "born again" we are born into a new family -- the church! Our sins have been forgiven. We are given a purpose for living – and we receive a home in Heaven. Our relationships change.

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. --Romans 8:16-17
When we put our faith in Christ four relationships change:

  1. God becomes our Father.
  2. We become His children.
  3. Other believers become our brothers and sisters.
  4. The church becomes your spiritual family.

So because we’re a family, we should operate on the basis of relationships.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes it seems that it is easier to get along with those who are not related to us? But there is an expression that says, "Blood is thicker than water," meaning that when push comes to shove family members almost always stick up for each other.

Did you hear about the woman whose husband was beating her up, so she called the law. When the police arrived he started hitting them also. They had to use their sticks on him and put him in restraints. The lady became angry with the cops and started hitting them herself. They said, "Lady, what are you doing?" She told them, "Nobody is going to mistreat my husband!"

The Bible says we’re to treat each other like a family because the church is a family.

Nobody elected you into your family. You’re not there because some committee asked you to be there. The Bible says we are family because we have been born again – born into God’s family. God has called you and placed you in His family

3. The Bible says the church is a body.

And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. --Ephesians 1:22-23

There are many verses in Scripture that says the church is the body of Christ. We’re a body, not a business. We are an organism, not just an organization. Therefore, whatever your gifts and talents, you are needed by the body. You have been placed here to help the whole body. We are a body!

Let me ask you a couple of questions: Could you function without one of your hands? Sure you could – but not as well as if you had two healthy hands. Could you function without one of your legs? Sure you could – but not as well as if you had two strong legs.

The body of Christ is like that – it can function without everyone doing their part – but the truth is it will function much better when all members are involved – using their gifts and talents for the common good.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body so also is Christ. --I Corinthians 12:12

A top priority in the body is unity with diversity. You can have unity without having uniformity. Have you noticed we’re all different? We have different color hair. We have different color eyes. We have different finger prints. We have distinctly different DNA. We’re different ages. That’s the way God has made us. God loves diversity. Thank God we’re not all alike.

And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. --I Corinthians 12:21-22

The point is, whatever you’re gifted at, that’s your part in the body of Christ. God needs you to do your part no matter how little it my seem. Little is much if God is in it!

4. The Bible says the church is a flock.

This was Jesus’ favorite description of the church. He called it "My little flock." Therefore, the church is cared for, and led by, shepherds. Shepherds lead, feed and oversee. In a church, a pastor is to take care of a flock. My primary job as your pastor is to lead, feed and oversee the flock God has entrusted to me. That is an awesome job. Did you know I am going to be held accountable for leading you?

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. --1 Peter 5:2-4

Did you catch that? "When the chief Shepherd appears..." The chief Shepherd is coming and I will be held accountable for being the under shepherd of this church.

Think about this statement: "God-called men are earthly shepherds and Jesus is the Good Shepherd who is divine."

The Good Shepherd is in charge and we have to give an account to Him .

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. --Hebrews 13:17

I feel honored that Jesus would called me for such a job. I don’t want to fail you and I sure don’t want to fail Him!

There is a responsibility of the sheep. That is you! Something that you are accountable for as well. Do you know what that is? You are to help make my job as easy as you possibly can. How can you make it easier for me?

Stay connected to the flock – stay connected within the fold. There is power in connection. Be responsive to the preaching of the word.

Grow! Grow in grace! Grow in faith! Grow in love! Grow in prayer! Grow in the word!

A top priority in the flock is togetherness.

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. --Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

We need to care for each other.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. --Galatians 6:10

Stay connected to one another. Care for one another – for you see:

Produce spiritual wool. That is share what you have with others.

From Wikipedia: "Wool possesses much greater ability to return to its natural length after being stretched than any artificial fiber. In water or steam, wool can stretch to about twice its length without breaking. Wool is flame resistance. Ithas the power to readily absorb and give off moisture. Wool is static resistant. The retention of moisture within the fabric prevents a build-up of static electricity. Wool does not conduct heat, but acts as insulator to keep the body at an even temperature."

  • A sheep gives wool for the needs of others.
  • As sheep give wool, they produce more wool.
  • A good sheep follows the good shepherd.
  • A good sheep will not follow that which is false.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. --John 10:1-5

All four points have one thing in common. Do you know what that is?

  • The fellowship
  • The family
  • The body
  • The flock

They have unity in common!

On Tuesday night we have a Bible study over in the fellowship hall. Some of the folk get there early so they can work on a jigsaw puzzle. They have completed several over time. One time they got to the end and saw that some pieces were missing. So we all began to look for the lost pieces until we found them. For, you see, the puzzle was not complete until all the pieces were in place. Neither is the church complete until we are all in place doing our best.

I want to close with this heart warming story:

A few years ago the Special Olympics were being held in Seattle, Washington. Nine physically or mentally challenged runners lined up at the starting line for the 100 meter run. At the sound of the gun, all the runners began to run as fast as they could. That is all, except for one boy who stumbled, out of the starting blocks. He fell down and began to cry. The other eight runners heard the boy crying and immediately stopped running and turned around to see what was wrong.

Then everyone in the crowd was stunned to see all 8 of them walk back to the place where the boy was lying on the ground and help him back to his feet. One girl with Down syndrome kissed him and said, "That will make it better." Then all nine of them linked arms and walked together to the finish line.

Everyone in the stadium stood up and began to cheer. They gave them a standing ovation that lasted 10 minutes.

Folks, that is how the church should work!


Karla said...

Having a church family is so important. We may have lost our place to worship... but you know what? Our church family is still there for us! There were 3 other families we were especially close to, and we have been able to stay in close contact with each of them even though we don't have the opportunity to meet with them 3 times a week like we did. Building and maintaining those relationships is so important!

Good thoughts this week, Dad!

Dori said...

I'm here...I'm reading too! Love your messages, makes me feel at home...wonder why that is?