The True Nature of a Gospel Church — 2
We have begun a series of sermons to discover the Nature of the True Gospel Church.
By way of introduction this morning I would like to say that I had no idea whatsoever of the subject that our Brother Mr David Newman would preach about on the Lord’s Day morning of 24th October! I heard the tape this week and was interested to learn of his message – surely a fitting introduction to our present series. I had not briefed our brother – he did not know what was in my mind and heart before he came.
We are able then to marvel at the planning and foresight of our God as he moves in men’s hearts to feed the flock of God with the Truth of His word.
So far we have a
1. Definition of the Word CHURCH.
A. The English term CHURCH
The meaning is “belonging to the Lord.” The Church is the Lord's church.
B. The Greek word ECCLESIA.
Means “called out, summoned out or gathered out” – that is a group of people formed into AN ASSEMBLY.
A local assembly of all who profess faith and allegiance to Jesus Christ having been called out of the unbelieving community.
We then thought about the first 2 of a number of Bible Pictures of a local Christian Church –
2. The Metaphors.
A metaphor is a figure of speech which helps with our understanding – the first was
A. The Building.
From Ephesians 2 v 19 – 22
This is a picture of a Temple Building.
1. A building needs a foundation.
2. A building needs walls. v 21.
Walls are appointed to
LOADBEARING – each brick has a task – each brick is vital to the building – has its own particular load to bear – I believe that committed Church membership is taught here and this building has been designed by God so that HE HIMSELF can live in this beautiful building.
God has a purpose in building churches – collections of lively stones. The Church is God's major tool for the accomplishment of His will on earth.
The Church is described as a building made up of “a holy people zealous of good works.”
Is this that kind of Church? It should be and we all need to strive to make sure that it is.
We then looked briefly at
B. The Body.
A congregation is far more than a number of people all listening to the same preacher. Rather it is a church membership in which ALL the members have very significant duties and the whole church is dependent upon each and all of its members. Such is the picture of the BODY.
Features of a Body.
1. Organic Unity.
All the parts of my body are in one place – here – now – I haven't left anything at home! There is wonderful and awesome organisation in this body which the Lord has given to me.
2. Diversity of Function.
Different parts of me do different things – I do not speak with my knees – nor breathe through my feet – each part has its own different function.
MY whole body depends on my heart to keep my blood pumped round and round – blood distributes food and oxygen and warmth to everywhere else; and takes away for disposal carbon dioxide and waste chemicals from everywhere else.
But my heart depends on a good nerve supply from the brain and the brain needs its own blood supply to keep it operating. There are 2 sorts of interdependence –
1. The whole body depends on its parts.
2. The parts depend on each other.
There are 2 main parts of the human body – The head and everything else – arms hands legs feet organs main body.
Anatomy and Physiology is a fascinating science –
Psalms 139 v 14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
But Anatomy and Physiology is not our purpose this morning.
The Body is a SPIRITUAL picture.
1. The head is the Lord Jesus Christ
Colossians 1 v 18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence.
The head of the Body is the LORD JESUS CHRIST. Every body needs a head.
“The Church is Christ's body, and the body of a man goes by the same name as the head.” (Anonymous)
Jesus is not only the foundation of the church but he is also the Head of the Church.
Functions of the Head.
1. The head tells the rest of the body what to do.
Ephesians 1 v 22 – 23 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.
2. The head rules the rest of the Body and exercises his will over it as illustrated in the marriage passage in Ephesians 5 v 22 – 24
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
3. The head is interested in maintaining the body in good condition – Christ loves the church.
Ephesians 5 v 28 – 30 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
What a glorious thing it is to have the Lord Jesus Christ as the Head of the Church. What does it mean to have the Lord Jesus Christ as head over His church?
It means that the church has no life apart from the Lord Jesus Christ and receives from Him whatever life it has.
It means that the church was not only originated BY Christ but also FROM Him, and it cannot continue to exist for even a moment apart from Him.
It means that the church in all of its members lives and operates only through the Lord Jesus Christ.
It means that the Holy Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ lives both in Christ and His church.
And it means that the life which the Lord Jesus has imparted to the church is HIS VERY OWN LIFE.
My friends – what a glory this is for ordinary human beings like us! Yet because we belong to the church, we share in the glory of our saviour!
Jesus finds, as head, his full expression of Himself in His body. So the body carries out the will and the purpose of the head.
My dear friends – are we submitted utterly to this headship – this headship of our glorious saviour? Do we know what it to obey Him in all things? Or are we struggling against His will for us?
It is true to say that even though the Lord Jesus Christ governs His church by His word and His Spirit, yet there are times when the members of his church violate His word and resist His Spirit.
Nevertheless the Lord keeps adding members to His church by the irresistible grace of His Spirit as He calls effectually new believers into the church through His word.
He also controls the living members of the church by his word and Spirit so that they, in spite of their many imperfections, delight in His law inwardly and give Him the beginnings of perfect of obedience.
So let us look a little deeper into this aspect of the metaphor – the relationship and responses of the members of the body towards the head and towards each other.
2. The Body is the Church – whom Christ loves
Ephesians 4 v 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
In this body there are many members – but all of the parts are harmoniously fitted together and held together. Amazing!
16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part,
Continuing with the body illustration Paul describes the way that the body, speaking of the church, is involved in a process of growth in which the members are to reach perfect conformity to Christ.
Some will remember magazine advertisements featuring a man called Charles Atlas. He was recommending all kinds of methods for building up a man’s body so that it became muscular, handsome and strong – so that an apparently weedy thin man could stand up for himself when sand was kicked into his face on the beach by bullies. Such men were encouraged to do these exercises – dynamic tension it was called – and in no time they would be built up in the body.
Let us now see how Paul describes this body whom Christ loves. Three aspects in this 16th verse –
1. The body depends on the head – Christ.
16 From whom the whole body
The Church is likened to a growing developing body. But the body will only function as it ought so long as it is under the control of the head. If it tries to act independently, the result can be very distressing. We have heard of headless chickens running around – but that is impossible with the human body, totally dependent as it is on the head.
However neither can the head exist without the body and the Lord Jesus Christ has so organised the church as His body that He is bereft without her. We need to interpret this verse with a parallel in Colossians 2 v 19
…holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
It is from Christ the Head that the whole body derives its life, nourishment and well ordered growth. The body obtains its unity from Christ. Let us see how –
2. The Body needs to fit together well.
fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth,
Paul uses some interesting Greek words here –
“Fitly joined together” is one word which means to join closely together; to bring together; to combine. It is often used of bringing people together, so as to reconcile them or to unite them in friendship. It is only used in one other place in the scripture – in that other metaphor of the Church, the Temple building in Ephesians 2 v 21
In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
Paul goes further though and uses another word “compacted” – this is a wonderful Greek word – SUM-BIBADZO – which means to knit together in affection; it can also mean to cause to coalesce – and here we can think about a dish of mercury – mercury loves to assemble itself in one blob so that it appears not to be made up of lots of little blobs – but one. If there are any more drops of mercury if you move the dish around then quickly they all combine into one.
Oh that Christians were like blobs of mercury and were prepared to fit in with one another and produce such a harmonious result – knit together in true love!
3. The Body must work together in Symmetry.
according to the effectual working in the measure of every part,
Symmetry in any medium is always pleasing to the eye. Do you remember those old kaleidoscopes that you held up to the light and the lovely patterns they made? The use of mirrors ensured perfect symmetry. The human body is perfectly symmetrical – left hand and right hand, left foot and right foot etc. God has designed us that way and the nervous system remarkably sorts out the difference. Coordination is achieved through a masterpiece of design that we so often take for granted.
Similarly, in the Church, efficiency, growth and spiritual success depend on every member working properly. And here Paul is saying that there is no room for passengers or idlers.
Let’s bring this down to ourselves this morning. What have we come here for today?
Have we come to get something? Ministry? Encouragement? Information? Company of others?
Or have we come to give? Give to the Lord – our worship? Give to each other ourselves and our gifts?
There is a sense that all of us have come to do both. We have come to worship our great God and Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ. We are prepared to comfort and encourage others – but at the same time we can receive a positive blessing from others. All of this is a building up process. This is the dynamic tension of Church life.
Not all parts of the body grow at the same speed or to the same size. The measure of our individual spiritual growth is Christ. He is the aim, the standard to which to attain. How much like the Lord Jesus Christ have we become as individual believers? Can people say of you or me “I can see Jesus in him, in her”? To what extent is His glorious life being reproduced in us, the members of His body?
Paul was anxious that the Church at Ephesus, and all who read this letter to the believers there, might grow – spiritually. He did not want contentment with mere fundamentalism, correct conservative evangelicalism to stunt their growth there.
He did not want intellectualism and an obsession with theological excellence to stunt growth at Colossae. Neither did he want materialism to stunt growth at Laodicea. “Look at Christ,” says Paul, “Look at Him; be like Him; live like Him.” Keep your eyes on Him and you will avoid the isms of emphasis that tend to divide members of the body. This is the teaching and exhortation for us too from this phrase –
according to the effectual working in the measure of every part,
Now the third section which helps us to focus again on the Head the Lord Jesus Christ and His relationship to us His body –
3. The Body connected to the Head grows continually in love.
maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
Again there are three things to say
1. There is a process
maketh increase of the body
Now let us ask who increases the body?
It is the head that makes increase of the body. Who decides whether you eat breakfast? Your brain or your big toe? The increase of the body is due to the living influence which pervades it and is not due to the efficiency of the members.
In spiritual terms then it is the Lord Jesus Christ who influences our maturity, our preparation for Heaven and our completeness as Christians as we become more and more conformed to Him. It is not a question of our being squeezed into His mould, but more as to being drawn to want to be like Him. As believers we identify with Him. We see Him in all His perfection and desire that perfection for ourselves. And all of this is the influence of Christ by His Holy Spirit who lives in us. This surely is real growth! How much of this growth do we know in our lives at present? It is a process.
2. There is an aim
unto the edifying of itself
What is edifying? We have come across this word before in Ephesians in 2 v 21 when it is used for a building, an edifice, and in verse 12 of this chapter speaking of the building up of the saints through the pastors and teachers using their gifts.
James Strong says that “edifying is the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness and holiness.” What a tall order for us! And here again is how Paul’s body illustration helps us. In the human body no one member, either hand or foot, can live and grow unless in union with the body, which is under the control of the head. If your hand is cut off it will die unless it is sewn back on again and all of the connections are restored, blood, ligaments and nerves. So then, no Christian can live in a truly nourished and blessed way unless he or she is a member of Christ’s body. He or she will just die without a connection to the life that is in the body. So it is with Christians who drift away from the church and its membership.
3. There is a condition
This is where all this comes together. Through caring love, of Christ for His church and the members for each other, the church acquires the power to grow and build itself up. There is no room in the church for selfish individualism that neglects to serve its fellow members. Love is the superior principle and we must not lose sight of this. Christ’s love has given to the Church the gifts of verse 11 – apostles, prophets and evangelists which have done their task of laying a superb foundation; and pastor teachers who continue the work of proclaiming the Word. These are channels of the Holy Spirit by which the Lord edifies the church. But love is the most important ingredient in spiritual life and growth. Paul’s emphasis in the Letter to the Ephesians was love. 14 times in the letter the word is used. We recall that Paul was writing to the Ephesians in AD 60 six years after his momentous work of evangelism amongst them when the church was planted. How he had loved them! How he had taught them to love the Lord Jesus and have Him as the object of their love and devotion. Love for the Lord was vital, a priority and Paul led by example. But how sad it was that in a short 30 years the Apostle John had to write something very sad to these Christians at Ephesus, in Revelation 2 v 2
I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: 3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. 4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
Something seems to have gone wrong at Ephesus. The Lord was saying to them “You are standing for the truth; you are busy and doctrinally sound – BUT – you don’t love me anymore!” Poor Ephesus! Love for the Lord was lacking, and without that everything else was spurious. The Lord took seriously this lack of love and threatened to remove the church altogether unless they repented.
What a warning then to us in this era. We are to speak the truth in love; to grow up as believers more and more in love with the Lord and expressing that love to each other; our unity must be based on love, for then we will be edified, built up, and bring glory to our Saviour.
Love enables a Church to grow. Love also provides the setting for ministry of the members one to another.
There does not seem to be a day that goes by that our bodies are damaged or hurt in some way. I suppose that the only way to make sure that you are not hurt is not to get out of bed in the morning – but simply stay under the duvet – see no one, hear no one and withdraw from anything in life that can harm your body.
Real life is not like that! We live in a dangerous world – and even being part of a Church can carry its health warnings and share of risk!
Just as our bodies become susceptible to hurts – cuts, bruises, sprains, or even fractures – so too the body of Christ can suffer spiritual and emotional cuts, bruises and sprains. At any one time in any church there are parts of the body that hurt.
Sometimes it is the cruel, mean hostile world that inflicts grievous wounds on the body of Christ. Sadly sometimes it is a hurt within the body itself that occurs.
And we need healing as a body. The Lord our head is a great physician. He knows how to comfort His people.
Isaiah 51 v 3 For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.
Yet the Lord also provides comfort through the rest of His Church. This is the wonder of the body.
Our physical body provides the analogy. Our bodies have healing mechanisms within them that repair and replace damage. The Church, the body of Christ also has been provided, by grace, with healing.
The members are there for each other – to help one another. There is a profitable set of scripture texts that bear a whole sermon or series of sermons that refer to this remarkable feature of the church. They are the “one another” texts. We will list them –
John 13 v 34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
John 15 v 12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
Romans 12 v 10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;
Romans 13 v 8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
Romans 15 v 7 Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.
2 Corinthians 13 v 12 Greet one another with an holy kiss.
Galatians 5 v 13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
Galatians 6 v 2 Bear ye one another‘s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
Ephesians 4 v 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
Ephesians 4 v 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Hebrews 3 v 13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
Hebrews 10 v 24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
Hebrews 10 v 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another:
We are called to understand one another; show sympathy to one another; to encourage one another and above all to love one another.
Love is the key to it all – love for one another is practical healing within the body. Are we taking our part within the body seriously? Do we weep with those who weep – expressing true sympathy? Do we truly bear one another’s burdens – share the load when our brothers and sisters are feeling bowed down?
Are we ready to put ourselves out – to deny ourselves and commit ourselves to others putting them first?
This is healing for a hurting body – and it needs to be learned. Every Christian regardless of gift or training is called upon to get involved in the ministry of encouragement. It means simply a visit – a phone call – a card with a little message of encouragement, an assurance of your prayers for another member of this body. So that when one member of the body is suffering the rest of the body share in it and help to bear it. May the Lord our head help us to work this out in the body as we have need! May we be such a Church that knows how to minister to each other – to the glory of our saviour!