Sunday, November 13, 2022 Brad Barrett
The Story of God and Man: The Church— Week 10
Why are we here? Why are we gathered?
Habit? We like people? It seems like a good thing to do?
Someone invited me so I thought, “Why not?”
Or perhaps we’re simply unsure.
We are nearing the end of a sermon series going through what could be described as an overview of the Bible. It’s Stonebrook’s Statement of Faith where we examine some key events and themes of the Bible.
To develop stronger convictions about what God has said and done. And then to respond to Him in obedience.
Our topic today from the NT is beautiful. And foundational. It’s called simply, “The Church.”
Now let’s read paragraph from The Story. Page 128.
“Since Jesus, in His life, death, and resurrection, fulfilled the Law of Moses and made it obsolete, the barrier between Jew and Gentile has been removed. After Jesus ascended, His apostles preached the good news that people are now justified before God through repentance and faith in Jesus and His work. Salvation is by grace, through faith, apart from works of the law. The people of God now include all who truly believe in Jesus the Messiah, whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, rich or poor—people of all ages and races—whom God is bringing together into His church. Those who come to Christ become part of His church and should devote themselves to God’s family and its mission–representing Christ as a light to the world.”
This morning we will look at the what’s, the why’s, and the how’s of the Church of God.
- The Makeup of the Church. What is the composition of the church? Who is in it?
- The Purpose of the Church. Why are we here? Is it more than a social club we can join or unjoin?
- The Glory of the Church. What makes the gathered people of God so special, even heavenly?
- The Life of the Church. What should the Church be doing? How should we live?
- The Destiny of the Church. What is our destiny? What does the future hold for the people of God?
Here are my goals for us today:
First, I want every one of us to walk away knowing and believing in our hearts that the church is appointed from heaven. It’s not merely a good idea. It is not some human-invention. God himself has ordained this entity called the Church.
And second, because God has appointed the church, my goal is that each one of us will increase in our devotion to the people of the church.
The Makeup of the Church
So first, let’s look at the Makeup of the Church.
By saying “makeup”, I’m not talking about cosmetics we put on our faces.
I’m talking about the composition of the church. What is the church? What makes the church? Who’s in it? The church is not a building on Eisenhower Avenue. It is not a meeting at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays. Such things are important, but it’s not the essence of the Church.
Rather, the church is an assembly. That’s what the Greek word for church means: an assembly…a gathering of people. So in this case, the “assembly”… is a gathering of believers in Jesus Christ, people who are recipients of his grace through faith.
Our “Story” on page 128 that we just read says,
“Salvation is by grace, through faith, apart from works of the law. The people of God now include all who truly believe in Jesus the Messiah…”
So the church consists of all people who have believed in Jesus.
As a brand new Christian when I was a sophomore at Iowa State, I started meeting with this group of people we now call Stonebrook. And I loved it. But they met on Sunday night, not in the morning. And they didn’t have their own building like this. So I thought, “Well, I’ll keep meeting with these people. But I also need to find a church.” My friend said to me very simply, “A church is a group of people, not a building.” That simple but profound comment has shaped me for the past 40+ years.
And when we think of the church of God, it has two aspects to it. Of course, we have the small, local group of Jesus followers. Like Stonebrook.
But on the grander scale, the Church is ALL of God’s people in every part of the world. Not just in one location like Stonebrook.
In a heavenly scene in Revelation, we witness a song that is sung before the throne of God:
Revelation 5:9 CSB And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slaughtered, and you purchased people for God by your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.
In heaven, souls there will represent every tribe of people. Every language and dialect. Every people group. Every nation. This has been God’s plan all along, that the gospel of Christ would extend to the farthest corners of the world.
This plan was clearly told by God in 2100 B.C. in the covenant he made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3:
“All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
We now know that Jesus Christ is the one descendant of Abraham who brings blessing to the farthest reaches of the globe.
We have a taste of this every Sunday morning here. A typical morning we have Jesus followers from at least 15 nations. (List some of them.) Malaysia, Brazil, China, South Korea, Vietnam, Nigeria, Niger, Kenya, and more. Such diversity of languages, physical appearances, life experiences, age, and more. Yet we are one family with God as our Father.
The NT commonly speaks of the breadth of the church by using the terms “Jews and Gentiles.” Jews, of course, are descendants of the nation of Israel. Gentiles are simply the other nations. That’s what the Greek word for “Gentiles”, ethnos, means. “Nations.” The vast majority of us in this room are Gentiles.
We see Jew and Gentile addressed in multiple NT letters. It was a very important issue in the first century. God had been working through the nation of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for 20 centuries.
But when Christ came, died, and rose from the dead, all that changed. God was no longer working through an ethnic nation. Rather, he was now working through the church….all the followers of Jesus, no matter their ancestry or language. No matter their social or economic status. No matter how sinful their past was. No matter the color of their skin.
This is the makeup of the Church of God. True believers in Jesus Christ, people from all over the world.
It is beautiful. Glorious. Heavenly.
The Purpose of the Church
Second, we’ll look at the Purpose of the Church. Why are we gathered as God’s people? What purpose does God have for us together? Surely it is much more than the purpose of joining some club or a philanthropic organization.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians speaks much about the Church.
Ephesians 1:2,5 CSB Grace to you and peace from God our Father… He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will…
For those of us who have believed in Jesus, we have a Father. And he has adopted us as his children.
Since he is our Father, we are adopted into his family… with the rest of his adopted children. So we are not orphans. And we shouldn’t live like one off on our own. Nor are we are an only-child. We have many brothers and sisters.
This is an unchangeable truth of the Christian life. If you are a true Christian, then you are automatically part of God’s family. You don’t opt in or opt out.
Then just a few paragraphs later in this letter, Paul writes more:
Ephesians 1:22–23 CSB And he subjected everything under his feet and appointed him as head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.
Now we move from the family picture to a body picture. The church is the Body of Christ. He is the Head…the Head of the Body of Christ, so we do his bidding.
And Christ fills us up. Though the people of God are weak and lacking, Christ fills us up together with himself. All that we need and all we are together … and we must emphasize “together”… is supplied in and through Jesus.
If any of us have a tendency to think very individualistically (like I do), we must cast that off. We must think in terms of community. Of the family. Of the body. Of the whole. Certainly none of this minimizes personal responsibilities each of us has before God. But the overwhelming emphasis here in Ephesians is all of God’s people together.
The American culture is striving for identify in and of ourselves. “You do you,” we say. Self-identification. Expressive individualism. “I need to declare who I am.”
But who gives us our true and core identity?
God does. We don’t need to wonder. Our identity…who we really are…is found in Him. And included in that, our identity is found in the assembly of his people. Within the church. As part of the church.
There is even more. Paul writes to his young disciple, Timothy:
1 Timothy 3:15 CSB But if I should be delayed [in coming to see you], I have written so that you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
God’s people gathered together have a purpose: it is to uphold what is true. Without Christ we are in darkness, and we don’t know truth from lies. But the church—all of us joined together— are like pillars holding up a building. We are like the foundation that all things are built upon. So we present to the world Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
And then this last passage is stunning. Peter writes to several churches and tells them this:
1 Peter 2:9 CSB But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Peter here is quoting the essence of Exodus 19:5-6 which was written for the nation of Israel. Under the covenant to Israel, God displayed himself to the world through a nation. But now, under the new covenant of Jesus, God displays himself to the world through the church. It’s like the church is on this gigantic stage, living out the glorious purpose and calling of God. And the world is the audience watching and listening as we proclaim on the stage that Jesus is the Light of the world. And that through Jesus, anyone can come out of the darkness into Christ’s heavenly light.
What an honor we have as the Church. And what a responsibility we have. This is no small matter.
The Purpose of the Church is to display the glories of God to the world as the Family of God and the Body of Christ.
The Glory of the Church
So with all that in mind, there is also a Glory about the Church.
It’s very special and unique. But this is important to understand: The church of God is not special because the people themselves are inherently better. It’s not because the people are so talented and intelligent and powerful in themselves. They are not the elite. Actually, far from it.
Look around the room right now. To me it looks like a very ordinary group of people. We look just like everyone else.
But what makes the church—these people sitting around you—so special and glorious is because the One who called the church into existence is so special and glorious.
On top of what we’ve already read, let’s add this:
Look at these stunning words by the Apostle Paul to the elders (the pastors) from the church in Ephesus.
Acts 20:28 CSB Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.
Each of us was lost in sin and darkness. The judgment of God hung over our heads. But Christ died to redeem us. We were purchased… by the blood of Christ. The sacrifice… of God’s Precious Son.
No higher price could be paid for you all. This makes us, the church, the most valuable thing on earth.
We may think that gathering with God’s people is just another average, mundane, even boring group of people. But if you know Jesus and are now a part of his church, you are participating in the glorious. In the eternal. In the heavenly.
We all together are the household—the Family—of God. We are all together the body of Christ. Spiritually united to Jesus Christ.
Membership in the church of God is not optional. If you have believed in Jesus Christ, the entire purpose and focus of your life has changed. You have been appointed by God to be in his family. You have been purchased with the costly blood of God’s Son.
So the Makeup of the Church is followers of Jesus from every part of the earth.
The Purpose of the Church is to display the glories of God to the world.
The Glory of the Church is discovered in the price paid to redeem the people: the blood of Jesus.
The Life of the Church
Now, fourth, what is the Life of the Church? What is the Church to do? How should we live? Most of what I talk about here will be found on page 129-130, and several of the 11 points listed. In the NT, God gives us many, many details of what that life together looks like.
50 days after Jesus rose from the dead, this scene plays out in Acts 2.
Acts 2:42–47 CSB They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles.
Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
What radical living! We get no sense of the extreme American independence I grew up with. Here in Acts 2, we see NT community… on steroids… with a taste of heaven. They were devoted. That means they persevered with one another with an intensity even when it was difficult.
They were devoted to four things in the first verse:
- Worshiping together. Breaking bread. And surely they were singing.
- Praying. Not merely independent praying, but joining together to pray.
- Learning and growing in the Word of God. The “apostles’ teaching” is essentially the New Testament today, written primarily by the Apostles.
- Fellowshipping. This word literally means “sharing.” They shared life together
And they met the financial needs of ANYONE in the church. Even selling properties to meet those needs. Radical!
And finally, they were on mission. People were being added to the kingdom of God every day. They were talking about the resurrected Savior, Jesus, everywhere.
Let me ask each of you a question: Is this your heart towards the church? More than just showing up on a Sunday morning or performing some task, even a good one… Are you devoted to worshiping together here on Sunday? Do you come prepared in heart and prayer to be with God’s Family? Do you come expectantly…not only expecting to worship God in your own heart, but expecting to help others to worship, as you do fulfill your role as a body part in the Body of Christ? Are you singing with all your heart? Praying with your heart? Listening? Taking notes? Speaking words that build others up in their faith?
“Faith in Christ is a personal matter. But it is not a private matter. It is practiced in spiritual community called the church.”
A friend of mine who has been a great example to me of devotion to the people of God once said rather bluntly,
“I am tired of men who declare their loyalty to God or to the universal church, but not to other men. Our Lord desires brotherhood.” (Rick Whitney)
If we claim to believe in Jesus, it must be worked out in the community of God’s people. The NT gives us no other options.
Jesus uses one word that summarizes what we see in Acts 2: Love.
Love for God. And love one another. Love is our greatest calling and our greatest identifier.
John 13:34–35 CSB “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
This kind of love is not merely a nice feeling. It is an act of great sacrifice.
When someone hurts us, we are called to forgive.
When someone is carrying heavy burdens, we are called to help them bear weight.
When someone is hurting, we are called to demonstrate compassion.
When someone is lost, we help them find their way.
Jesus promises that as we do this, something profound happens: Everyone will know that you belong to Jesus. The Good News of Jesus is proclaimed as you and I love one another. Especially as we love on days when it’s not easy to love.
What does Life in the Church with this kind of love look like? Let’s look at just a couple of specific examples.
Back to Ephesians:
Ephesians 4:1–3 CSB Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
We are called to walk in a way that is worthy of this heavenly calling God has called us with. What does this look like?
- Humility towards one another. Not pride and boasting.
- Gentleness. That word means meek, gentle, humble, quiet before the Lord, not fighting or resisting him. Tamed by the Lord like a tiger that is wild and combative by nature.
- Patience. Bearing with others in difficulty out of love for them. Not exasperated or irritated or rolling our eyes.
- Making every effort to walk in the unity of the Spirit through peace that bonds us together.
That gives us a taste of life of what life in the Family of God can and should look like, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Then vs. 15-16 are a good summary of how we are to help one another grow up in Jesus. To become more and more sanctified…more and more like Jesus…every day.
Ephesians 4:15–16 CSB But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ. From him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building itself up in love by the proper working of each individual part.
When we enter into this new life with Christ—it’s called being born again—we begin a life of growth. Just like we grow up physically, we are to grow up spiritually. And one way we do that is to do our part in the body by helping each other grow in Christ.
Pastor H.B. Charles said this:
“Your sanctification is a community project.”
We can and must help each other to grow in Jesus.
Paul offers even more in this chapter:
Ephesians 4:31–32 CSB Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice.
And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.
He begins with the negative: By the help of the Holy Spirit we must cast off bitterness. Anger. Even wrath. Yelling. Speaking slanderously against a fellow Christian.
Surely every one of us is tempted in and succumbed to such things. Such things are so destructive, aren’t they?
But Paul won’t let us stop there. As we flee such evil, we have to pursue kindness. Compassion. Mercy. And forgiveness. Surely people—even God’s own people in this room—will hurt you. And they will owe you something. But to forgive is to cancel the debt they owe you. And we have power to forgive like this because God forgives us through his Son.
There are so many NT verses that speak of “one another.” In addition to the ones we’ve already looked at, here are more:
- Encourage one another.
- Love with brotherly affection
- Pray for
- Submit to
- Confess your sins to one another.
- Don’t lie to
- Don’t grumble against
- Bear one another’s burdens.
- Pray for
- Don’t speak evil against
More than 50 times in the NT we see such commands about “One Another.” All of these commands are really displays of love.
It’s not always easy to “one another” one another, is it? It is challenging at times to live this out with the people in this room. And it’s not always easy for others to “one another” you, is it? At times, every one of us is difficult to love.
Here’s an assignment for you. Two questions;
- Take just one of these commands (or the passages we just looked at. Think of one person you know in the church who has been an example to you in that. Tell them today. Honor them by expressing your gratitude.
- Is there something in Paul’s words that you need to confess and turn away from? Flee from? Some bitterness or anger towards someone in this room? Something you’ve neglected, such as praying for others, showing honor, or bearing their burdens?
And is there something here that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you can pursue? Perhaps demonstrating kindness today to someone in this room? Showing compassion? Forgiving?
To live out such commands by God’s strength is part of the Life of the Church.
So the Makeup of the Church is followers of Jesus from every part of the earth.
The Purpose of the Church is to display the love of God to the world.
The Glory of the Church is discovered in the price paid to redeem us: the blood of Jesus.
The Life of the Church is found in the devotion and love we have for one another.
The Destiny of the Church
I will conclude with these crucial words.
What is the Destiny of the Church? What awaits the People of God on the other side of life?
Revelation 19 gives us one glimpse into it. As we read it, imagine a throng of people 100 times the size of a loud crowd at Jack Trice Stadium on a Saturday afternoon. They are shouting as the Church of God—the Bride of Christ—greets the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
Revelation 19:6–9 CSB
Then I heard something like the voice of a vast multitude, like the sound of cascading waters, and like the rumbling of loud thunder, saying,
Hallelujah, because our Lord God, the Almighty, reigns!
Let us be glad, rejoice, and give him glory,
because the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has prepared herself.
She was given fine linen to wear, bright and pure.
For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints.
Then he said to me, “Write: Blessed are those invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb!”
He also said to me, “These words of God are true.”
For all of us who have believed in Jesus and love him, this is our future. This is our hope.
If you’ve been to a wedding and have any awareness at all, the most anticipated moment is when the doors open and the bride walks through to meet her Bridegroom. That is the glory of the wedding. So it will be when God’s assembly, the Family of God, the Body of Christ, is ushered in with great glory and presented to Jesus Christ in all of his splendor and majesty.
That will be, without question, the best day of our lives.
This is the Destiny and the Hope of God’s gathered people, the Church, the followers of his Son.
- The kingdom awaits us.
- Reward will be ours.
- Eternal glory will shine on us.
Let us remember that coming day, and rejoice. Let us forsake our independent spirits. Let us live in devotion to one another. Let us love one another as Christ has loved us when he died and rose that we might live forever in never-ending glory and honor.