The Ideal Church, Part 9


The Ideal Church 9


 

So, do you belong to the ideal church?  You may very well!  There are lots of them out there.  Regardless of the size of their congregations or budgets, denominational affiliation notwithstanding, ideal churches are all over the world.  Ideal churches may sing old timey hymns or new worship choruses written by somebody with an Australian accent.  The preacher in an ideal church may or may not use power point presentations and maybe he wears a suit or, God forbid, skinny jeans!  An ideal church has a many identifiable, essential components, and if you can find a church that has them, stay there!  It’s an ideal church.

 

The ninth identifiable component of the ideal church is unity.  In the Church of Jesus Christ, there should be no schisms or divisions, but unity.  That’s not the same thing is “unanimity,” however, and some people confuse the two.  “Unanimity” is like “unanimous,” which is not always a good thing.  It means that everybody holds the same opinion on things.  How boring would that be?  Where’s the fun in that?  No, unity is the thing that’s important, not “unanimity.”  

 

To give you a good idea of what this unity looks like in the church, here’s a good verse for you to remember:

 

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.  (Ephesians 4:16 | TNIV)

 

In the ideal church, there is unity of purpose; each member knows he has a job to do, and each member works with other members to accomplish God’s will.  God has something for each and every member of the church to do, and He equips us all to do our part.  Martin Buber once noted something very important:

 

God made so many different kinds of people.  Why would He allow only one way to serve Him?

 

That’s a good question, especially if you happen to wander into a church one Sunday while on vacation and you see that they do things very differently than you do in your church back home!  There are so many different kinds of people, all with different talents and abilities and spiritual gifts.  The responsibility of the church as a whole is unity of purpose; it’s encouraging all these disparate (not desperate) people to work for the Lord and serve the Lord as is befitting their personality and spiritual gifts. 

 

The Ephesians needed some advice in this area, and Paul began dealing with it at verse 7:

 

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  (Ephesians 4:7 | TNIV)

 

How does a church achieve unity when so many different kinds of people are members?  What’s notable to me, a clergyman, is that is not part of the pastor’s job description.  It’s not necessarily up to the pastor to make sure unity exists in his church.  He may be able to help create an atmosphere where unity may be achieved, but ultimately it’s up to each member of the church to understand what Paul wrote in verse 7.  It’s the starting point.  Every member of the church – without exception – has been given a certain amount of grace from Christ.  Whatever “grace” Paul referred to has been given as a gift to every member of the church.  Paul doesn’t expand on this “grace,” but we know he wasn’t writing about saving grace, which would include things like forgiveness of sin, new life, or salvation.  Certainly, all true members of the church have received those things in abundance, but the context shows us this isn’t what Paul is getting at.  Saving grace is exactly the same for all Christians, but each believer’s gifts is different.

 

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.  (1 Corinthians 12:11 | TNIV)

 

It’s amazing how much the health of the church depends on a proper understanding and working of the precious gifts of the Holy Spirit!  You can’t get away from the spiritual gifts no matter how much you try.  When members of the church – any church – have an understanding of the gifts and they have learned how to properly use their gifts in the church, unity will exist.  It has to. Disunity results in chaos but our God is a God of order.

 

Some Christians find it hard to believe that the gifts of the Spirit are actually dealt with in the Old Testament, but Paul quoted from the Psalms to explain exactly how the gifts of the Spirit are made available to the church.

 

This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”  (Ephesians 4:8 | TNIV)

 

Some Bible students like to make more of this verse than Paul had in mind.  The psalm that he quoted is Psalm 68, and the exact circumstances of this psalm are unknown to us.  But since Paul used it in reference to our Lord, it’s considered a Messianic Psalm.  What that means is this: We’re supposed to learn something about Jesus from it.  The psalm pictures a victorious, conquering king, probably King David, returning home from battle with captives and loot from the battle for his people.  David represents Jesus, our Savior who conquered death, hell, and the grave and has ascended to Heaven and just as King David distributed his bounty to the people, so the ascended Christ distributes His gifts to His people.  Jesus does it through the Holy Spirit, specifically, the gifts of the Spirit.

 

As an example of these gifts, Paul lists a few here in Ephesians:

 

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  (Ephesians 4:11 – 13 | TNIV)

 

Those are gifts:  apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  They are also people, but the risen Lord has gifted certain people with these gifts for very specific purposes, which are also the purposes of the church:  To equip members of the church for works of service; to build up the church; to produce unity within the church; to impart knowledge of Jesus (and the Word of God) to members of the church so that they may become mature in the faith and become all Christ wants them to be.

 

I don’t want to spend much time on the gifts the Lord has given certain people to accomplish this purpose.  What’s important here is WHY the Lord gave those particular gifts to men who would become apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  The distinct purpose for those people working in the church is to build up the church’s members so that those members may go out and perform good works (works of service, ministry) in the name of the Lord.  When members of the church are busy performing these acts of service, they will be in unity.  When members of the church are in unity, they will be growing in their faith, becoming mature in their relationship with the Lord. 

 

What you need to notice is that maturing in the faith is linked to two things: Serving the Lord in tangible ways as you have opportunities and being part of a local body of believers where there is some kind of recognizable structure.  There may not be apostles in the church today, but there are those who speak for the Lord, either in a prophetic sense (the gift of prophecy) or in a pastoral/teaching sense.  In other words, your growth as a believer is achieved when you are serving God in unity with a local body of believers.  

 

The risen Lord has not only gifted certain individuals with gifts to become evangelists, or prophets, or pastors and teachers within the church, He has also gifted every single member of the church with gifts so that they may be empowered to fulfill what He expects from them.  There are many, many spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament:

 

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.  (1 Corinthians 12:7 – 11 | TNIV)

 

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.  (Romans 12:6 – 8 | TNIV)

 

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.  (1 Corinthians 13:3 | TNIV)

 

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.  (Romans 8:26, 27 | TNIV)

 

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  (1 Peter 4:8 – 10 | TNIV)

 

And that’s not all of them!  But these gifts will give you an idea of the kind of works of service the Lord expects His people to perform.  Every member of the church has one or more of these gifts.  Jesus, of course, possessed all of them, and in His grace He has shared His gifts with His people.  There isn’t a person in the church that possesses all of them, so that’s why it’s important for all of God’s people to be in a local church where members may experience the fullness of the gifts.  

 

Returning to Ephesians 4, Paul gives us another good reason for being a church that correctly manifests the gifts of the Spirit.

 

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.  (Ephesians 4:14 | TNIV)

 

The first part of that verse is a sort of restatement of  verse 13.  Members of the church ought to be maturing in the faith.  But there is reason for becoming mature believers; it’s not the end goal.  The reason we should using our spiritual gifts to serve the Lord and each other is so that we won’t be deceived by false teachers and false teaching.  A mature believer will be a busy believer, doing good works for the Lord, who won’t be sucked into believing the latest heresy taking hold of the church.  

 

Now, if you take all that we’ve looked at in this study, you’ll see that the purpose – the whole purpose of the church of Jesus Christ in the world – is to grow up and be complete in Jesus Christ.  You may think the purpose of the church on earth is to save souls.  You’d be wrong. You may think the purpose of the church on earth is to feed the hungry and clothe the poor.  You’d be wrong.  You may think the purpose of the church on earth is act as an agent of the government to solemnize marriages and keep public records.  You’d be wrong.  You may think the purpose of the church on earth is to raise money for good causes.  You’d be wrong.  The purpose of the church on earth is to grow up and be complete in Jesus Christ.  When that happens, the church on earth will be Jesus on earth because we will doing what He did and what He wants us to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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