But you may be thinking why? Why do I need to commit together? Why can’t I just read my bible, listen to things online and grow? Because disciples need one another to grow together (21-22).
But you say, church is hard work. Church is far from perfect. Al, you don’t know how much I’ve been hurt in the past. Maybe the thought of joining a church, or risking your independence or being hurt is hard. It makes you instinctively want to pull back, like hand gel in a paper cut. Or maybe you point to a personality test and say but I’m an introvert, I find people hard.
The church God calls his people to commit to isn’t the mythical perfect church that we only ever find online. God shows us his purpose, he shows us where the church is headed, the glorious future of all things united under Christ, dwelling together in perfect unity. But that’s the future. And God doesn’t put a PR spin on church, he doesn’t hide the hard work that goes into being part of church here and now. You can’t read the pastoral letters, or Acts, or the gospels or Old Testament and conclude God is giving us a flawless glossy brochure which the reality of being his people fails to live up to.
Look at the one anothers in the New Testament. All the ways God calls us to relate to one another in his family. Do you notice how many presuppose that there’ll be struggle with following Jesus together as God’s people? Bear in love, don’t pay back wrong, build up, admonish, live in harmony, be humble, agree, don’t grumble, forgive, don’t judge, don’t provoke, be kind, have equal concern, be patient, don’t slander, be devoted. As believers commit to following Jesus together there will be times we rub each other up the wrong way. There will be places where our consciences are tender and get bruised, where we sin against someone and have to seek forgiveness.
As Paul exhorts the Ephesians to be who they were made to be, citizens of the Kingdom, the family of God together he emphasizes that they aren’t finished yet. (21-22)In Christ the whole building is being put together, it is rising, as local congregations and the church as whole becoming a holy temple in the Lord. And the Ephesians (22)are being built together to become the dwelling for God’s Spirit.
They aren’t lone bricks. A lone brick is just a lone brick. Imagine for a minute I invited you to come and see an amazing new building. We walk to a field but you can’t see anything and then as we get to the middle of the field you look down and see a lone brick. I stand back awaiting your reaction, “Isn’t it amazing?” You’d think I’d gone mad. But take that lone brick and give it alongside others to a master builder and you will see something beautiful.
Individual disciples together with others in the church are more than the sum of their parts, they become something glorious, they become the place where God is at work and where he dwells even as the construction work goes on. Together in the church disciples play their part in bringing glory to God through the gospel that reconciles, by becoming the community where God dwells. A lone brick can’t do that!
That’s a great picture of the church. In Christ we are joined and reconciled to God and one another, called to join together. But we’re a work in progress, we’re being built together, becoming that picture now of what God will do then. And God dwells in his church as it gathers. But the fact we are a work in progress means we will need to bear with, love, build up, admonish, teach one another, and we’ll need others to be those things with us. We’ll need to be humble, don’t grumble, forgive, be patient and devoted to one another.
How can we do that? We do that as we refuse to think as the world does; of me, myself, and I. But as we hear God’s word, as we see what he calls us to, that he doesn’t just reconcile us to himself in Christ but to others so that for his glory we grow together as his people, committed to Christ and so to the gospel at work in each others lives, becoming co-dependent, committing to, investing in, being built together. As we look again at Jesus as align ourselves with him, his mindset, his compassion, his grace, his mercy, all of which we’ve experienced.
How do you think of church? Is it optional, essential or unnecessary?
God’s plan is to unite all things under Christ. His call to us as his people is to play our part in that now, to showcase the future in our local church, as we reform our identity around who Christ calls us to be, as we commit to God’s church and his glory and as we grow together in Christ.
In San Francisco at Muir Woods there are huge redwood trees that are hundreds of years old. Many of them over 200 feet tall. Yet their roots only go 1 metre deep, so how do they standing in the face of a storm?
Because those roots intertwine with those of the trees round about them, they are woven together and flourish together. Their strength and their glory is in their connectedness. That ought to be us as disciples. Joined together, rising together, being built together to glorify God in a way that a lone brick or lone tree never could.
Knowing who we are in Christ, what we were made for, the cost to reconcile us, and the joyful unity that awaits us we glorify God and proclaim the gospel as we gather and commit and grow in Jesus together for his glory.