The Ideal Church, Part 8


The Ideal Church: A Place of Edification

 

 We’ve learned some important aspects of the “ideal church” over the past few studies.  I hope that by now, you have an idea of what the “ideal church” looks like.  We have funny ideas of what the church is all about, especially here in America where our culture tells us “bigger is better.”  But our culture isn’t always right.  Hockey fans know this to be true.  Hockey used to be a great sport, but once the American “bigger is better” mentality got ahold of it, hockey isn’t quite the sport it used to be.  

 

In case you missed an essential component of the “ideal church,” or you need a very quick refresher, here are the past seven essential components:

 

First, Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Church.  He is the “ideal church’s” foundation.  It is built upon Jesus Christ and His Word.  The “ideal church” is not built upon any man or any man’s teachings.

 

Second, the “ideal church” has been bought with the precious blood of Christ.  It is owned completely by God.

 

Third, the Holy Spirit has gifted every member of the “ideal church” with certain spiritual gifts for the benefit of the members of the Body of Christ.

 

Fourth, the ascended Lord is the Head of the “ideal church,” which is His Body.

 

Fifth, prayer is the life of the “ideal church.”  Prayer releases the power of God to do great things in the Body of Christ.

 

Sixth, the privilege of the “ideal church” is worship, which is way of life for each member.  

 

Seventh, love is the motivation and moving factor of the “ideal church.”  Members of the church love each other with the same kind of love God loved us.  Our perfect example of how to do this is Jesus Christ, who willingly gave His life for sinners and His enemies.

 

The eighth essential component of the “ideal church” is edification.  Members of the “ideal church” build each other up.  You’d think that would come naturally to Christians, but it doesn’t.  There is very little “building up” taking place in the world, and unfortunately most Christians are influenced more by the world than they are by the Word, so instead of building each other up in church, we excel at tearing each other down.  We don’t do it overtly, necessarily, but we do it in very subtle ways that put the other person down, making us feel better about ourselves.  We are unduly critical.  We gossip.  We spread half-truths.  In hundreds of small ways, we build ourselves up by tearing others down.  That should never happen in the Church.  

 

If you think this a problem with the modern, self-centered, narcissistic believer, you’re wrong.  This has long been a problem in the Church from the very beginning.  Take the Corinthian church.  Here was a big, metropolitan church full of new Christians who were eager to make use of the spiritual gifts given them by the Holy Spirit.  You have to hand it to those Corinthians; at least they wanted to move in the Spirit.  A lot of modern Christians have little or no interest in accessing the gifts the Spirit they possess.  Which is sad because not using your spiritual gifts is like a one-legged duck trying to swim in a straight line.  We are put into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, but we are put there for a purpose: To exercise our gift or gifts.  Every member of every church has a gift or gifts.

 

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.  Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?  Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret?  Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.  (1 Corinthians 12:27 – 31 | TNIV)

 

The “most excellent way” is the way of love, the subject of the next chapter.  Members of the church should be exercising their gifts in love.  But in their zeal exercise their gifts, members of the Corinthian church were actually doing harm to other members – they weren’t using their gifts in love.  Even the gifts of God can be taken advantage of.  Paul carefully and deftly encouraged his friends in Corinth to use their gifts but to do so in ways that would build up the church.  

 

I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. Those who prophesy are greater than those who speak in tongues, unless they interpret, so that the church may be edified.  (1 Corinthians 14:5 | TNIV)

 

So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.  (1 Corinthians 14:12 | TNIV)

 

The gift of tongues was apparently being misused and abused, so Paul dealt with that issue in verse five.  But any spiritual gift is open to abuse.  Human beings, being what they are, will always find ways prefer themselves instead of others, which is God’s way.  When we take the things of God – very good things – and use them to build ourselves up instead of building others up, we are behaving in a worldly manner, which does God and the Body of Christ a great disservice.

 

So, instead of behaving like worldly people, we ought to be behaving like Jesus Christ; we ought to be exercising our gifts in love.  Everything we do in church; everything we say in church should glorify God and build each other up. 

 

Be sensitive, Romans 14:19

 

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.  (Romans 14:19 | TNIV)

 

Chapter 14 of Romans is a fascinating chapter because it lays down principles of conduct for Christians to follow when it comes to questionable matters.  Not everything in life is black and white.  The Bible makes it clear that some things are absolutely wrong and sinful.  For example, here’s a list for you people that like lists:

 

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.  “In your anger do not sin” : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  (Ephesians 4:25 – 31 | TNIV)

 

That’s pretty cut and dried, I think.  Paul tells the Ephesians  what they shouldn’t do and what they should do.  Romans 14 isn’t like that.  Romans 14 deals with an issue that isn’t so clear cut.  Nobody, Christian or not, thinks it’s OK to steal.  Or lie.  Or cheat.  Or worse.  But what about other things that the Bible is silent about?  Should a Christian watch R rated movies with lots of foul language and some nudity?  Should a Christian drink adult beverages?  Should a Christian get tattoos?  Should a Christian wear a bikini?  Should a Christian smoke?  These kinds of things aren’t dealt with in Scripture.  In Romans 14, Paul addresses a ticklish issue that seems silly to us, but to first century believers it was a big deal: Is it OK for a Christian to eat meat that was offered to idols?   Some members of the Roman church thought it was no big deal where the meat came from.  But others believed it was a sin for a Christian to eat meat that had been used in pagan temple services.  For Paul’s part, he didn’t think it was a problem at all.  But, that wasn’t the end of it.  Here’s Paul’s advice:

 

I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.  If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother or sister for whom Christ died.  (Romans 14:14, 15 | TNIV)

 

That’s what led Paul to tell is Roman friends to make every effort to avoid conflicts, be at peace with one another and edify each other.  If you doing something that hurts another member’s feelings or causes him to think badly about you or the church, even if what you did was completely innocent, then for the sake of the other person, just don’t do it when they’re around.  In the case of the Roman church, it was silly to think that meat sacrificed to idols was somehow sinful and should therefore be avoided.  Paul knew how silly that superstition was.  But for the sake of the other person, he would eat his steak at home.  In willingly curbing his God-given freedom to eat whatever he wanted to, Paul was being sensitive to others, and he would be edifying those weaker believers.  

 

Be unselfish, Romans 15:2

 

We should all please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.  (Romans 15:2 | TNIV)

 

Paul continues his line of thought in a general way into chapter 15.  But “pleasing our neighbors” isn’t just limited to eating meat that had been offered to idols where your neighbor can’t see you.  As the first verse of chapter 15 indicates, those who are bound up in immature beliefs – in this case, thinking it was sinful to eat a certain kind of meat – deserve deferential treatment.  This may cut against your grain, but it’s in the Bible!

 

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.  (Romans 15:1 | TNIV)

 

The “neighbor” is a Christian, and a Christian who thinks certain behaviors are wrong when the Bible doesn’t address them is a “weak” or “immature” Christian.  But instead of hitting this weaker brother or sister over the head with your steak that had been offered to an idol, Paul’s advice is to “bear with their failings.”  In fact, the Greek is very forceful on this point:  “Now under obligation are we…”  You and I, if we are mature Christians, are obligated to watch our behavior around those believers who aren’t mature.  For example, if you know a certain member of your church thinks tattoos are sinful, it might be best if you don’t flaunt yours in front of them.  Of if you know a certain members of your church think listening to secular music is wrong, for the sake of building them up, don’t play secular music in your car when they’re riding with you.  

 

You see, the issue isn’t the thing or the behavior they think is sinful.  It’s that their belief about such things is a “failing” or a “burden” to them.  They are quite literally a enslaved to a false belief.  So instead of throwing your freedom at them every chance you get in hopes that they’ll come around, tamp your freedom down a little when they are near and, this is me now and not Paul, pray that God will illumine their minds to the truth of God’s Word so that they will no longer be burdened down in false beliefs. 

 

Be loving, 1 Corinthians 8:1

 

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.  (1 Corinthians 8:1, 2 | TNIV)

 

As you can tell, this meat controversy was all over the early church!  The good folks in the Corinthian church had the same problem.  You’ll notice that there are quotation marks around the phrase, “We all possess knowledge.”  That’s because Paul knows that Christians already know this – “You and I have this knowledge about food…”  And yet some in the church didn’t know this.  The problem with knowledge is that, while it’s good to have, you need to know how to use it properly.  Ignorance is not a good thing, but misusing knowledge is bad, too.  All too often, knowledge tends to puff a person up – it makes him proud to be smarter than others.  While knowledge may make a person proud, love never does that.  Love builds people up.  This is important.  It’s not that Paul is anti-knowledge, it’s that he is pro-love.  When in doubt, love should be your default response.  In dealing with a “weaker brother” and his immature beliefs, you can choose to impress him with your great knowledge or you can deal with him in love.  If you aren’t sure, love is the way to go because you can never go wrong with treating anybody in love because love always builds a person up.  

 

As Christians, we are equipped to love the Body of Christ because we are filled with the Holy Spirit.  When we let the Spirit love others through us, we will be agents of edification, building up members of the Church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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