October 28, 2014

The Purpose of the Local Church

As I mentioned about a week or so ago, I was recently asked to teach at both a Men's Retreat and then a college aged gathering.  There was one other request: to speak at a Sunday Morning worship service. Now, that's not something I do all that often. But I felt compelled, especially when the subject was The Purpose of the Local Church. 

In the city where I live- and actually all through North America it seems- people who choose to identify themselves as Christians, as believers in Jesus Christ, are choosing all to often not to be part of a local church. There are a million and one reasons this happens, but it generally boils down to an issue of not obeying the Bible in this issue. God has an important role for the church to play. Let me elaborate.

If you've been a reader of this blog, you probably remember that my wife and I were blessed to visit Switzerland and France this past summer. (I promise, I really will continue with that series.) We happened to be in Europe during the World Cup. We spent to evenings at a local restaurant/bar on the water in the south of France, eating dinner, enjoying a glass of wine and watching the games. 

I was absolutely mesmerized by the teamwork I saw on the field; the sense of unity, joint purpose, and the joy each player seemed to have getting to participate in this historic event. Later, I started thinking about the role of the church and the commonalities between a church and a soccer (football) team. Indulge me here, will you?

“The Local Church Is God’s Plan to Reach a Dying World”      

 The great Apostle Paul, through the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit, writes a pretty strong argument for our involvement in a community of Christian believers. He writes in the book of Ephesians: 

"I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.  Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence."
                                                  (Ephesians 3:7-12)

·   The Apostle Paul pretty bold here- and He’s on a mission. “God’s grace was given him through the working of His Power!”

Think about your own life. If you are a follower of Jesus, didn’t God work powerfully in your life in drawing you to Him?  Isn’t He good !?!  Look at how free you are in Christ- especially compared to what you were like before you knew Him.  You have a hope and a future and a purpose.

Paul continues on, reminding us we have an important role to play:

"Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ,  and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.  His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Can you see it here? There's a difference between God's plan for man and man's plan to reach God. In all other faiths, Man must work hard to reach God. In Christianity alone, God, through Jesus Christ, reaches down to man's level. Even to die on a cross to pay the price for our sins. Every other system is based on us working to be good enough.



In His Great Love and Mercy, God decided good works would not be the criteria for Man reaching Him. He determined the Gift of Jesus would be the payment for our sin. It goes against man’s ideas that they have to be good enough and can do it on their own. The only requirement is humbly coming to God through Jesus and accepting that gift, that sacrifice on our behalf.

Now, our good works are the result of us loving God and being loved by Him- two very different things!As His children, we get abundant life in Christ while we are on the Earth- blessings and strength and power in the midst of hardship! It's all part of the mystery, it's all because of the love Jesus has for us.


So what exactly is the role of the local church? Let's begin at the beginning.  Back in the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis, God sets forth some pretty basic and important facts. 
o   We were created for eternal relationship with God
o   We were created for eternal relationship with each other: community



Problems arose when Adam & Eve chose knowledge over relationship with God by eating the forbidden fruit, that rebellion led to a spirit of independence in us. Shame, desire to withdraw from each other; pride and an intentional rejection of God, His heart and His plan was a choice that both Eve and Adam made when they disobeyed. We have to make the same choice... and no choice is a choice. 

Fast forward to the New Testament and Christian church and it's first mention in the Book of Acts, chapter 2. Interestingly, when the Bible wants to address an individual, the word "believer" is used. When its' a gathering of believers, the word "church" is chosen.


We live in a society where we are encouraged to be independent, where will people go when they have a desire to know more about Jesus- especially if they have no contact with believers? They will look for a church!



Let me bring up an interesting thought: If the church isn’t an important tool for God to use, why has the enemy of Jesus worked so hard to destroy it? And in every generation. Hmmm.  (And let me say here, there are false churches all around: all you have to do is watch the Prosperity teachers (like Joel Olsteen) and compare them to what Jesus did and how He lived His life. It was a life of sacrifice and service. He never treated God the Father like the giant Genie in the Sky! But, I got off topic: The church is one of the primary places God has designed for the benefit of His people: for instruction, community, and purpose.


Looking back at verse 11, Paul mentions God's eternal purpose. Eternal Purpose? Yes, more than just knowing Him, God has a plan for everyone who believes in Him. And His eternal purpose is that no one should perish.  (2 Peter 3:9) That's not to guarantee everyone will be saved from Hell.  They won’t- because God honors the choice of each man and woman to accept him and his sacrifice or to reject it. But He does offer way to God. His way, the only Way.

It’s a pretty important message to carry! Honestly, isn't it the most important message we can deliver to people around us? Absolutely! Thankfully, God provides a plan (and gives us the power)!

As believers in Jesus, we have a common purpose, a responsibility, a privilege, as a church to share God's message of love and to bless the people in our community. The beginning of it all comes with delivering the message while we care for those around us. The church must work in unity to pull this task off successfully. 

Paul's humility and his understanding of where he fits is evident all through his writings as he was inspired by God's Holy Spirit, a large portion of the New Testament. Look back at Ephesians 3 again:



"I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.  Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence."
                                                  (Ephesians 3:7-12)

He accepts his place in the Kingdom of God. By saying this, he is acknowledging each person has their place and a different – not greater or less- role to play. Because the Scriptures teach us that He has given each of us a field to work.  (2 Corinthians 10:13) That role for us is to be found in two places- one inside the church and one outside the church. In fact, we are strategically placed by God where we are for His purposes.


Just think- God has wasted nothing by giving us the life we have. Be it long or short, healthy or not, God has a plan for each of us. He's placed us where we live, with the families  and friends we have and in the workplaces He has chosen for us. Really incredible when you grasp that truth. It means nothing is wasted, and nothing is a mistake.




Speaking of fields, let's go back to that soccer (football) example. Let's look at what great teams do (and great churches!):

Each team has one purpose: To win! How do they do it?


  •        The team belongs to the owner- they play for him
  •        It’s under the leadership of the coaches
  •        Each has a unique position on the team 
  •        Each player brings strengths and weaknesses, playing to strengths, working on weaknesses- no excuses for them!
  •       Each player is chosen for how they will fit with others
  •       They train hard and give 100%
  •       Team members watch out for each other (I Corinthians 10:24)
  •       They may get hurt, but they always get back in game when needed

Most importantly, They do what’s best for the team vs. What’s best for them personally!

There are two major differences between a soccer game and the church, however. First, believers in Jesus Christ know they are playing with eternal consequences in mind. Secondly, unlike a sports team, in the church everyone plays and everyone is needed to play.
·   
    Back to watching the World Cup during our European vacation for a minute. We were in a restaurant with people from all different countries in Europe. There were French, Swiss, Italians, Germans, etc.  It was fascinating to sit there with everyone- not understand a word of what they were saying, but I learned a lot.

When Switzerland played France, you could tell how the audience was divided. When Italy played Costa Rica, everyone became “European”! They were united by their team spirit!

·    We believers are united by God's Holy Spirit. Each player has a unique gifts. Think I Corinthians 12, and Romans 11. These describe God's gifts to individual believers in the church to be used for the common good. They are given as God determines and for His purposes. The short list:
·     
“Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Gifts of Healing, Miracles, Prophecy, Spiritual Discernment, Tongues and Interpretation, Serving, Encouraging, Giving, Leadership, Mercy ”

We’re all given gifts- and we are all given time, energy, and money to invest into the work of god’s kingdom! And we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the work he has given us!

We are all given Unique Roles as well! And the roles of the leaders of a church are to prepare God’s people for works of service” (Ephesians 4: 11) as an offering of love to God. What we do is a reflection of our love for God. We no longer earn His love, we express His love in us.

At the World Cup, every team had 11 players working hard
According to the rules, they could have begun the match with seven people on a team- but they would do it at a serious disadvantage.  If you’re a believer and not stepping in and participating in the life of your church, you’re leaving it at a disadvantage! This choice means you are making your brothers and sisters weaker.

In our Match, the Enemy’s Great Plan is to Divide and Conquer:
If he can separate us out, divide us, he has a greater chance of destroying us and making us ineffective!
·      Not talking about major theological differences
·      We want to be true to the Word- that’s important
·      I’m talking about being divided out by focusing on what’s best for us, focusing on petty differences, refusing to work together because we’re hurt or don’t get what we want

It was years before I realized this truth:  God will judge me by whether or not I was obedient to what He asked me to do. He doesn’t compare me to Billy Graham or anyone else. The issue is obedience.

SOMETIMES, IT’S JUST AN ISSUE OF OBEDIENCE:
WE DON’T WANT TO DO WHAT GOD HAS ASKED OF US!

It's definitely a challenge to be obedient to God. But let me encourage you with these words. They are found in the book of Hebrews 10:23-25:   

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."


Let's hold in to the hope we have!  God has already won the war. Our eternal destiny is good because of our love relationship with Jesus. We also have hope for tomorrow, not just eternity, because God is for us!

    Let's work together. Think about what the coaches do when the meet with the team half way through the match: Remind players of the Goal. (God desires all would come to know Him). They encourage and challenge the players.  (Speak the Truth in Love in the Right Time). Be each other's cheerleader! And keep on meeting together.


Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.  And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.  Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.               1 Thessalonians 5:12-23
Let's end with Jesus’ words:
I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”




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