In this sermon, Pastor Dave Capoccia continues looking at the spiritual discipline of the church and the Bible’s four main reasons to discipline yourself for the church. In part 2, Pastor Dave reviews the first main reason and then examines the three others:
1. The Church Is God’s Precious Mystery
2. The Church Is God’s Commanded Commitment
3. The Church Is God’s Blessing Place
4. The Church Is God’s Cosmic Witness
Let’s pray as we prepare to hear from the word of God. Lord, we thank You for being a God who cares for Your people. We are Your people, God, just as we sang. You have made us sons and daughters. You’ve made us free and we belong to You and to one another. Lord, we remember our brothers and sisters today. Thank You for Your kindness in Riva’s birth. Bless Naomi and Erik as they now raise three. Let that be a joy, help them through that process, and fill them with thankfulness every day. I pray that You provide for Bonnie and Juan, as they expect another child soon. Lord, I pray that You bring that to pass and that You provide all that they need. Let there be joy in that. Thank You for the good news about Randy. Lord, bring him to recovery and encourage Evelyn, his wife. And for Aprel, Lord, our dear sister. Lord, her body is very sick and she is very tired. Lord, encourage her Spirit. Fill her with joy, even as her body is weak. God, I pray that You grant the doctors skill. Give Your good provision tomorrow morning as they look to do important procedures for her. As for us, God, here today, feed us from Your word and enable me to speak Your word. Give us joy, Lord, as we put it into practice. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Considering our sermon series on the Disciplines of Grace, I was thinking more this past week about sports. I don’t know how much of a sports fan you all are, but have you ever noticed that the most popular sports are all team sports? This is actually true both in America and around the world. According to what I could find out on the internet, the top five sports in America are American football, basketball, baseball, soccer, and ice hockey. This is not too different for the world at large; the top four most popular sports in the world are soccer, cricket, basketball, and field hockey. All these sports are team sports. Individually played sports like golf or tennis are still pretty popular and are true displays of athleticism, skill, and strategy. Yet, there’s something special about team sports, even sports with many people on the teams, that has captured our nations and even the world’s attention.
What is it about team sports that makes them so popular? I’m sure there are several reasons, but I would suggest that one central reason is that team sports feature a level of complexity that makes it more interesting to play and watch. This complexity comes from the very fact that you’re playing as a team and against a team. After all, successfully coordinating a whole team of more than two people is not easy. You must bring together athletes of different ages, backgrounds, personalities, and giftedness and teach them to work together as one to win. When the team is working well together, when each person is fulfilling his assigned role and using his talents in sync with the other teammates, well, that team is a spectacle to behold, and they often dominate the competition.
You don’t have to be a fan of a particular sport to notice that when a team is working in skillful unity, it is an awesome sight that commands your attention. It’s truly amazing. Of course, such impressive coordination doesn’t happen overnight. The players must subject themselves to continual and difficult training together. They must frequently practice together to build their muscles, strengthen their cohesion, refine their skills, resolve their differences, and correct bad habits. For a team to truly succeed and display the awesome power of unity in diversity, each team member must be devoted to the goal of victory, committed to his coaches and fellow players, and regularly gather with his team to train and play.
We have, as Christians, been made part of a team. A team that is like no other on earth. Our team captain is the son of God who died for us, saved us, and showed us a perfect example of how to play the sport. Our teammates are family—brothers and sisters who have been joined by a mysterious, spiritual bond in Christ, who are also united by a common love for Christ. Our goal is not a momentary victor’s crown or trophy but an everlasting one. We want lives well lived and useful before the One who called us. We want to hear the commendation from Him: well done, good and faithful players. We want His name and His glory displayed before all who are watching.
What is our team? It is the Church. It is the assembly of God’s people, experienced locally, yet joined universally, across time and space with all who have been saved by faith in Jesus Christ. What is our sport? It is the Christian life, even a life of holy, disciple-making, obedience, and service. This is a sport that was never meant to be played alone but rather played as a team. Yet, what must we do if we are to play this momentous sport as a team and please our Captain? What any successful team must do. We must train together. We must gather, fellowship, and serve one another. We must say no to the flesh, to the old man of sin, and instead, discipline ourselves for the church.
That’s the topic we began looking at last week and continuing today. This message is Disciplines of Grace: the church, part two. Each of the disciplines of grace, or spiritual disciplines, fits well into athletic metaphors. We’ve actually used some of these. If we’re going to obey the Scripture, 1 Timothy 4:7, and discipline or gymnazo yourself, for the purpose of godliness, and thereby find true and lasting profit for your soul, then you must devote yourself to certain athlete-like activities. You need, as an athlete, proper nutrition. You need to feed on the Word of God continually. You also need proper hydration, or if you’d like, you need regular time with the coach and captain. You must devote yourself to prayer. You also need regular time with the team for mutual training and encouragement, which means you must devote yourself to the church.
Last week we began exploring the why of the disciple of the church. Why commit yourself to gathering with, getting to know, and serving the people of the church? We only looked at one reason of four main reasons from the Bible to discipline yourself for the church, but that reason was a big reason. You should discipline yourself because of what the church actually is before God.
We saw last week, number one: the church is God’s precious mystery. No corporate entity today is as amazing as the church is. It is a set-apart group of blood-bought individuals from every tribe, tongue, and nation, who are beloved by God from before the foundation of the world, saved from sin and God’s wrath forever, joined by spiritual union by Christ in one another, indwelt by the triune God via His Spirit, promised the Lord’s care, provision, and protection through all of life, transformed into holy servants and lovers of God and others, and bound for glory together in Christ’s forever kingdom. What group on earth is like that? To say it a little more succinctly, as we saw from Paul in Colossians 1:27 last week, the precious mystery of the church is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
There’s never been anything in the world like the church. The church was a mystery, known only in ancient times to the secret counsel of God, but made manifest after Christ’s ascension and the Spirit’s descent on the day of Pentecost. As wonderful as the church is, it can be a little difficult to grasp the nature of it, so the Bible uses a number of metaphors to help us understand the church. We looked at four of these metaphors last week: the church is God’s family, we are sons and daughters in God and close family to one another; the church is Christ’s body, we’ve been made members of Christ and one another spiritually; the church is Christ’s bride, we’ve been joined to Christ as by spiritual marriage; the church is God’s temple, we are collectively the dwelling place of God and continually growing and being built up together as a building of the Lord.
There are other metaphors and descriptions of the church in the Bible, but even from these four, we can see a few common truths being emphasized again and again. That is that the church is utterly precious to God in Christ, and it ought to be so to us. The church members are so connected to Christ that whatever is done for a church member is done to Christ Himself. Church members are so connected to each other that they share blessings and honor together. If one benefits, all benefit. If one is hurt, all are hurt.
These truths, even this one main truth, ought already to motivate us to discipline ourselves for the church, but there’s more. Today I want to look at that more with you. Three other of the four main reasons that you should discipline yourself for the church. What’s the second main reason? It’s very straightforward. Number two, the church is God’s commanded commitment.
My friends, if you have indeed come to know and join Jesus’s team, then Jesus commands you to be devoted to it. Since we’ve come to know what this team, the church, actually is before God, then His repeated command in the Bible to be committed to it is not only right, justified, but also kind. This is a good command from God. Let me show you some biblical examples of where this commanded commitment appears. The first comes from the Gospel of John. That central command given to Jesus’ disciples in the book of John, even in John 13:34, you can listen or turn there if you’re fast. This is in the upper room in that last Passover meal. On the evening of His crucifixion, Jesus tells His disciples,
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
I think we often think of Jesus’s command there as only a general command to love people. But consider what the next verse says, John 13:35,
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
Christians indeed ought to love all people who are made in the image of God, just as Jesus does, yet we Christians ought to have a special devotion and love to the brethren who are the Church—just as Jesus does. We Christians ought to love each other the way that Jesus loves us. We ought to wash each other’s feet, which actually happened earlier in John 13, just like Jesus did for His disciples. We should even lay down our lives for one another and our friends, just as Jesus did for His disciples. To say it more simply, the command to love one another finds its chief application in the church. If you’re going to obey this great commandment, you must commit yourself to the church.
What does it mean to love the people of the church? It doesn’t mean merely to emote love as if you’re just going to feel fuzzy feelings about the church, which will fulfill this command. No, true affection is important on the inside, but it should translate, if it really is true affection, into real action to an outward expression of care to your brothers and sisters in the church.
For you to love the people of the church, you have to spend time with them. You have to get to know them and speak sincere and gracious words to them. You must serve, and yes, even sacrifice yourself for them. That’s what it means to love the church. Are these not what Jesus did? And He said He left an example for us to follow.
In God’s blessed design for the church, as you do this, other members of the church will be doing this too—even for you and to you, so that the whole church builds itself up in love. That’s the beauty of God’s design. Regardless of when or how others do this in the church for you, you have your own commandment for Christ: to commit yourself in love to the church and your brothers and sisters.
The apostles only echo the direct teaching of Jesus. Listen to a sampling of what three apostles wrote in the New Testament letters. We have Paul in Romans 12:10. We actually read this passage earlier. Romans 12:10 says,
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;
Or Paul again in Galatians 6:10. Paul says,
So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
The Apostle John in his letter 1 John, says this in 1 John 4:7,
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
In the same chapter, 1 John 4:20, the Apostle John says further,
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
Then we have the Apostle Peter who says this in 1 Peter 1:22,
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,
The later on in the same letter in 1 Peter 4:8-10 Peter adds,
8Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 10As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
Now just from that sampling, my brethren ask yourselves, can you fulfill these commands without a real commitment to God’s church? How will you fervently love your brothers and sisters if you don’t gather with them, if you hardly ever talk with them or get to know them, and if you don’t use your special God-given gifts to serve them? That’s why I say the discipline of the church is a commandment commitment from God. It’s as basic as the commandment to love one another.
Let’s look at one more passage to solidify this point. You can all turn to this one, Hebrews 10:23-25. If you’re using our Bibles provided here, that’s pew Bible page 1203. Looking at this section of Hebrews and understanding the historical context of the book of Hebrews because it helps you appreciate what is said in it. As a background to the book of Hebrews, you should know that Jewish believers are facing persecution for being Christians. They feel a temptation to withdraw from Christ and His church to go back to Judaism.
They feel pressure to soften or abandon the claims of Christianity, especially that Jesus is God. They also feel pressure to stop gathering with Christians or associating with them. They perhaps claim that this will only be a temporary measure until the danger of persecution has passed. I’ll come back to Christ, and I’ll come back to church later on. This is a temporary thing. The author of Hebrews repeatedly exhorts his readers not to withdraw but to persevere. Christ and His salvation are too great to be deserted, the author of Hebrews says, even temporarily. Rather than withdrawing from Christ in the face of suffering, believers must actually draw nearer to Christ and persevere together by faith in Him.
Look in our passage, the exhortation of Hebrews 10:23-25, how the author identifies the gathered assembly’s key role in this common Christian perseverance. Hebrew 10:23-25 says,
23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
You know, there are some professing Christians today who, in some ways, want to be like the Hebrews were tempted to be. They want to withdraw from the church, from its people, its worship, and its ministries not necessarily permanently but for a time. They have different excuses: I’m really busy and have a lot going on right now, or this work is critical, and I need to focus. I don’t have time for church. Oh, I’m really suffering. God has just brought some really great hardships into my life right now. It’s just so painful, and I can’t do church right now. Or it’s not safe to gather for church. There’s a war, government persecution hanging over us, and there’s covid. I can’t be with you all until the danger has passed.
Brethren, do you see how this thinking goes directly against the command and exhortation of this passage? To persevere in holy faith and hope in Christ, we must hold fast our confession together. We must consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds and to excel still more in that. We must not forsake our meeting together regularly. Instead, in the face of new dangers and sufferings, we actually ought to gather together more because we need it extra. We need to encourage and direct one another to look toward the day in which Christ is coming back, and He will bring ultimate deliverance. Brethren, if you’ve got troubles, dangers, or burdens in your life, then hear this, you need the church more, not less!
Based on this passage, consider, if we don’t gather and do these things, what’s the implied result? We will not hold fast our confession and hope. We will not be stimulated as we must be towards love and good deeds. We will not receive the necessary encouragement to persevere. Rather, we will fall into a situation that the author of Hebrews mentions earlier in his book. If you flip over quickly to Hebrews 3:12-13, imagine something that should really sober us. You have exhortations like this throughout the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 3:12-13,
12Take care, brethren, that there not be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Brethren, if you withdraw from God’s people in the church and the ministry and encouragement of the church, then I’m telling you, with God’s own authority, you are in danger. On your own, you are much more spiritually vulnerable. You might become so hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. You might become so reinforced by your flesh, the world, and Satan in stubborn pride that you will never come back to church. Perhaps, you will never come back to Christ.
I’ll tell you, I’ve seen this play out. I’ve seen this happen with people that I love. People drifted out of the habit of being and serving in the church to the point that they cannot be persuaded to return or get involved again. There’s always an excuse. Thus, they reject as false the precious mystery of God’s church and repudiate God’s plainly commanded commitment to be a real part of the church.
Don’t think that can’t happen to you. Don’t think that you’re the exception. Scripture is true. Listen to it and take heed. If you are indeed on God’s team, through Christ, then you must confess you need it, and it needs you, and God commands you to be a part of it. He commands you to be devoted to it. This is the second main reason to discipline yourself for the church: the church is God’s commanded commitment.
The third main reason from the Bible to discipline yourself for the church is one that we’ve already broached and what I just shared with you. Number three: The church is God’s blessing place. Devote and discipline yourself for the church because the church is God’s blessing place. Like all the rules of God, the command to be devoted to Christ’s church is not meant to be burdensome. No, it is for your good. It is even for your joy, life, and blessing.
After all, what athlete playing a team sport, if he is thinking rightly and clearly and wants to win games, will totally neglect team practices? Or contradict the directives of his coaches to come together and practice? And, instead, mistreat his teammates? What athlete would do that? Because if he were, not only would he hurt his team, but who else would he hurt? He would chiefly be hurting himself. As a player, his muscles would atrophy, his skills would degrade, his relationship with his teammates would certainly fray, and he would soon find himself reprimanded by his coach—perhaps fined, maybe even kicked off the team. In all these things, that rogue player would find himself both winning and enjoying his sport much less. He would thus find fulfilled in himself the concise warning of Proverbs 18:1, which says,
He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom.
The same is true of Christians in the church. In neglecting the church, you harm yourself. But in commitment to the church, you bless yourself. This was God’s design. Of course, we’ve already seen one example of this in Hebrews 3 and 10. In devotion to the church, you will find encouragement to persevere and excel in love and good deeds for Christ. If you want and need encouragement, God says, you’ll find it in the church. You will also find protection from the deceitfulness of sin and the hard-to-spot lies of false teaching. You will also be moved to hold more firmly to Christ and find unshakable joy in Him. Yes, all this comes through the church.
Let me show you another passage that declares that same truth. You can turn there as well. Ephesians 4:14-16, on the pew Bibles, that’s page 1171. This is part of the application section of Ephesians. Ephesians 1-3 is the doctrine, and Ephesians 4-6 is the application. This is right at the beginning of that section. One of the first things Paul talks about is being saved and how you should live. One of the first things he talks about is the need to gather as a church to serve one another and exercise different gifts from Christ in loving unity. Paul then describes what the result of obedience to this directive will be. When you gather and come together as one, when everybody serves with their different gifts, equipped to serve by teachers in the church, what’s the result? Well, Ephesians 4:14-16.
14As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
What are the results of complying with God’s design for the church, everyone serving everyone else according to their gifts? In verse 14, it’s no longer being caught and led astray by false teaching. Verse 15, growing up even more into all aspects of Christ. Verse 16, every member of the body continues to build up one another in love. Do you want to be built up in love? Does that sound like a good thing to you? Do you want to experience these blessed outcomes? If you answer no, then you have to question your sanity. Who wouldn’t? God says these come by your and my devoting ourselves to one another in the church. Want to be blessed? Discipline yourself for church.
This is just like what we learned from Psalm 133. Do you remember that? Psalm 133, I’ll reread that short Psalm to you. You don’t have to turn there. It’s just three verses. A song of ascents of David, he writes,
1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. 3 It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the LORD commanded the blessing—life forever.
I won’t try to re-exegete that Psalm for you. You can find the recording of that online from July 10th. Here again, David’s fundamental declaration in that Psalm is that there’s something so good, pleasant, and enjoyable about dwelling together with God’s people in unity. David compares it to a holy commissioning with sacred and aromatic anointing oil. It’s also like supernatural refreshment coming down from above and revitalizing a parched land. It’s like a gentle rain. This makes sense because, as the Psalmist declares, wherever the God of life and blessing dwells is where you’re going to find life and blessing—that’s where His people will find life and blessing. At that time, the dwelling place was Jerusalem, but where is the dwelling place of God today? Where is the temple? It’s in the church. We are the temple of God; we are the dwelling place of God. Life and blessing are to be found here.
If you want to experience this kind of refreshment, even supernatural recommissioning and refreshment each week, even multiple times a week, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want that more than once, then what must you do? Devote and discipline yourself for the church.
The Apostles give the same testimony as David does. Look at Paul. Paul often testifies in the New Testament how believers in the church are such a refreshment to him in their love and obedience. He opens many of his letters by proclaiming his joy over the different local churches and their obedience. He gives thanks to God on their behalf even though these churches weren’t perfect. He actually opens up 1 Corinthians in that way, which is instructive. Paul even goes so far as to say this to the Philippians. In Philippians 4:1, Paul says,
Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.
Paul called the Philippians church a joy and crown. That’s pretty serious. He says, you bring me so much joy.
The Apostle John speaks similarly. John reports his own gladness and the faithfulness of brethren at different churches, and even says this in 3 John 4,
I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.
These men delighted in the church. They were glad to spend time with and minister to the people of the church. The same can be true for us. In fact, I would guess that many of you can testify that it is the same. You do feel the same way about the church. I certainly do. For those of you who committed yourself to the church, even this local church at Calvary, don’t you find great joy and refreshment with the people of God? We learn, worship, serve, suffer, protect each other, invest in each other’s lives, and encourage one another together. Isn’t that a blessing?
This place, Calvary, this people is a joyful fellowship. I love Calvary, and I love you! I’m so encouraged when I think about you and your obedience and love for God and one another. When I see that, when I see you showing up in church or to the different ministries, that is a refreshment to me. And can’t many of you say the same? How many times can we also testify we say, I really don’t feel like going to church, I’m so tired, or I got this going on, and then you go to church, and you come out, and you say, I’m so glad I went to church—I feel so buoyed, refreshed, and encouraged. That’s what God meant for us to find. The church is His blessing place.
I have to say, the church, the people of God, are not only joy, refreshment, and blessing. There is also hard work in being part of the church and sometimes great pain and sorrow. Unfortunately, we are works in progress. There is still sin, immaturity, and ignorance in the brethren of the church. We can’t look down on others who have that in them because we have that in us. Therefore, some of our greatest wounds come from brethren in the church. They may even come from leaders in the church.
Paul certainly understood the sorrowful side of the church. Just look at 2 Corinthians. He actually tells them, I couldn’t visit you guys because I wanted to come and be refreshed by you, but I knew that if I came, I would be grieved beyond measure. So, he had to write a difficult letter instead. They had betrayed Paul. They didn’t stand up for him when false teachers were maligning him and started following the false teachers instead. That was an incredible pain to Paul. God had a good purpose in it. Of course, that’s where we get the 2 Corinthians letter, but it was hard.
I know it can be hard for any of you sometimes with the church. Some of you can get discouraged when you’re giving up for others in the church, you’re laying it all on the table, and it seems like no one else is. Or the people that you were relying on for help just didn’t show up. They weren’t there for you. I confess that happens in the church. We all fail one another.
Yet, the Scripture is still true. The church is still God’s blessing place. You will find more joy and blessing in the church than you will hurt and sorrow. Let us not grow weary in our commitment to the church—Christ is not done building it. He’s not done with us, and He’s not done with our brethren. There is yet more joy and encouragement ahead if we will persevere. God will provide at the right time. As Paul says in Acts 20:35, in the end, it is more blessed to give than to receive. If nobody gives anything to you in church, you know what? You can still be blessed by just going to serve.
Finally, we know that all our love and suffering service poured out on behalf of Christ’s church, His body, bride, temple, and family will find a lasting reward at the judgment seat of Christ. He says, I take note of it, whatever you did for them, even the least of them, you’ve done to Me, enter into the joy of your Master. Our painful work is not in vain in the Lord. The assembly of God’s people then will see the blessing on earth as they commit themselves to one another and forever in God’s kingdom.
We’ve seen the church is God’s precious mystery. It is His commanded commitment. It is His blessing place. But the final main reason from the Bible to discipline yourself for the church is number four: the church is God’s cosmic witness.
To come back to our sports metaphor, do you realize that the church is being watched as Christ’s redeemed team practices and plays? It’s like we’ve all been gathered into a grand stadium with spectators all around. These spectators are not members of the church, or at least they shouldn’t be. Rather, the ones watching are the people of the world and the spirit beings that fill the universe. Therefore, understand that the way you regard Christ’s people, the church, has cosmic implications. Being a faithful witness of God’s glory in the church will require discipline.
Let me show you some places where this truth about the Church as God’s cosmic witness shows up in the scripture. The first is one we’ve already seen today. If we just go back to John 13:35, this is right after Jesus commands His disciples to love one another. He says this,
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
I think we’ve heard this verse so many times that we’ve stopped thinking about it. Do you realize that what’s going to set you apart from the people of the world who do not belong to Christ is your special love for your brethren in the church? After all, the loving unity of the church makes no sense to the world, nor can they replicate it. I mean, we are an extremely diverse group, to a large degree in this local church, but certainly in the church that is the universal Church.
The Christian church is men, women, children, Jews, Gentiles, white, black, brown, yellow, rich, poor, young, old, educated, uneducated, native-born, and foreign-born, to name a few. Why should we be devoted to one another? Why should we come together in supreme unity to build up each other and accomplish the mission given to us? If not for the one explanation that Christ and His gospel are true, and we have been made one in Him. There’s no other explanation for true Christian unity. Therefore, brethren, we are witnesses of the saving Gospel to the world and are testimonies of our genuine interest in Christ when we love the church fervently. We are a witness to the world.
Jesus repeats the same truth later in John. In John 17:22-23, in His high priestly prayer, this is what Jesus says,
22The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.
You see, the commandment and blessings of the church are not take-it-or-leave-it options for Christians. They’ll be like, oh, you know, he’s a Christian who’s a part of the church, and I am a Christian who’s on my own. No, this is not a take-it-or-leave-it option. This is too important. Jesus desires that we Christians be perfected in unity, that we would have a unity that reflects the unity of the Triune God in itself. Now there’s unity.
He says the church should reflect that. He also indicates here that when we live in such a united way with one another, what will the world know? That the Father indeed sent the Son, and that the Father indeed loves Jesus’ disciples like His own Son. Those are pretty amazing realities, just testified by the love and unity of the church for itself, the brethren for one another.
But of course, the question is, is that what the world sees? There are a lot of different local churches, and when we think about the church at large, it always grieves our hearts when we hear about some sort of abuse scandal or something happening in the church because we think about what a witness has been lost before the world.
But think about just for our church and just for you. We can’t affect those things far away from us but think about your own life. When people look at you, do they observe that you are devoted to the people of God? Can they observe that in you? Does your devotion extend to an astounding unity with your brethren that can only be explained by the truth of the gospel that Jesus really did come and that the Father really does love His church? Is your love for the church a witness to the watching world about the reality of the Gospel? Or is your witness compromised? Do you, in fact, show no greater love for the people of the church than you do for the people of the world? All the same to you. No greater unity with the people of God than with the godless.
Is that the way your life looks to others? Or is it even worse? Do you actually contradict the purpose of God by preferring the people of the world to the people of the church? Would you rather spend time with those who do not know God because you’re sick of the people of God? In your view, they’re just judgmental hypocrites, and you must prefer the accepting and non-judgmental worldlings. Suppose one of the latter two situations that I’ve just mentioned describes you. In that case, you want to be very concerned because such is not merely a matter of testimony on behalf of God to the world, but it also should affect your assurance.
John writes, as we heard from 1 John, that persons who claim to love God but do not love the brethren are lying and are liars. Consider the implications of what Jesus is saying here. Maybe the reason that you don’t experience real unity with the people of God is because you’re not yet one of them. You don’t love the brethren because they’re not your brethren yet. You’ve just been deceiving yourself, and, of course, that should very much concern you.
Make no mistake. The holy love and unity of the people of God will make the church stand out as a powerful and supernatural witness to the world. Paul says in Philippians 2:14-15 that when we serve one another without grumbling or complaint, we stand out as lights amid a dark and perverse world. The world can hardly do anything without grumbling or complaining. The church should be very different.
We have both an obligation and an opportunity to shine as children of God today amid the darkness. Are we doing that? Are we doing everything we can to make that reality come to pass? If not, it’s time to change. It’s time to get serious about the Christian life and the church. It’s time to make some adjustments, even radical alterations to how you approach life. It’s time to devote yourself to the brethren in the church truly.
By the way, I sometimes hear people say, oh, I don’t have time to church because I’m spending time with my family, after all, I need to be a good servant and witness of Christ to my family. You do well in wanting to serve and witness to your family, but do you realize that one of the most important ways you can do so is by modeling devotion to God by devotion to His body, the church? Remember, brethren, Christian life according to Jesus’ Gospel is radical in so many ways, the way you deal with sin, the way you love others, and the way you love the church.
If your Christian life seems normal and acceptable to all of the unbelievers you know, that may be a bad sign. It’s radical. It ought to be radical. Don’t be afraid to be accounted strange or even slandered as unloving by your family or close friends because you are devoted to the church. That’s actually an important witness to them about Christ. Show them that you prioritize the church in your life and that it’s precious to you because it’s precious to God. Paul wasn’t afraid of that. Remember we saw last week that he said, I’m glad to suffer the blows that come with serving the church because I do it for Christ.
Jesus, of course, wasn’t afraid of that either. He went to the cross for the church. He was regarded as an evildoer and was put to death as an evildoer because He loved the church. He was glad. For the joy set before Him, He did all of this.
In giving you that exhortation, I’m not telling you to be unloving to your family. There are just basic ways you can show love. I’m not telling you to neglect clear responsibilities to your family; the Bible doesn’t command that either. Rather the opposite, you need to be responsible. Remember, according to the Gospel, you have a new family that’s actually even more important. Jesus says that those who love their physical family more than Him are not worthy of Him. You love your family best when you love God and even His church first.
Therefore, let us witness to the world of Christ through our love for one another in the church. Not just witnesses to the world but also to angelic powers. You say, what are you talking about? Let me show you. Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 3:8-10. In explaining why he’s not doing something weird by preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, Paul mentions this in Ephesians 3:8-10,
8To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; 10so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.
Here we go again with Paul talking about what a privilege it is to preach the Gospel and serve the church—got to love him. Mention the specific reasoning he gives in verses 9 to 10 as to why. Paul says he wants to bring to light God’s previously concealed but altogether glorious design for the church that consists of both Jew and Gentile so that, this is verse 10, God’s abounding wisdom might be made known through the church, to the rulers, to the powers and potentates, in the heavenly places. Or, more literally, in the heavenlies, a location beyond this earth.
Who are these rulers and potentates in the heavenlies? Are they men? No, they’re spirit beings. They’re angels, both good and evil. We can conclude that because of the way Paul uses those same terms in Ephesians 1:21 and Ephesians 6:12. We don’t war against flesh and blood, right, but against the rulers. Same word and description. He’s talking about spirit beings. That’s what he’s talking about here. Angels and demons also watch the mystery of God’s redeemed church unfold. As the church embraces what God called the church to be, what will be the reaction from these spirit beings? Well, the good angels will give God glory for His manifest wisdom. Evil angels will be confounded in all their efforts to oppose God and, in a way, give God glory.
What God is doing ultimately in the church goes beyond any individuals here in East Millstone, New Jersey. The church is a manifestation of the glorious wisdom of God that will resound forever. Therefore, let us not prove unfaithful to this purpose of God or this calling from God, but rather let each of us do our part.
We do want to see God’s wisdom proclaimed and glorified forever, so let us be the church as He designed us to be. Let us discipline ourselves for devotion to God via His church and see one day brought to pass what Paul mentions just a little bit further down in Ephesians 2:20-21,
20Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
These are powerful reasons from the word of God to discipline ourselves for the church. We’ve seen four of them. Number one, the church is God’s precious mystery. Number two, the church is God’s commanded commitment. Number three, the church is God’s blessing place. Number four, the church is God’s cosmic witness. How will we respond, Calvary? Will we, in reverent obedience, start making the practical adjustments in our lives to make ourselves available to attend church and its ministries and serve the people in them with gusto? We’ve got plenty to do coming up in the fall. I just sent you an email about that over the weekend. Lots of opportunities for you to put this into practice practically. Will you do that? Will we do that together? Or will we shrug off this message from God in His word and offer all kinds of excuses? Yeah, you know, I really should be more involved in church, but this, but that, maybe later, probably never.
Brethren, when will we see that the church is where the real action is happening with God’s dealings in the world today? This place. These people. This gathering. This is where the magic is happening, so to speak. This is where God’s glory is put on display. If you want to be involved in something big, precious, something that will matter eternally and that will have an eternal reward in it for you, then go all in on the church.
As Greg preached not too long ago, let zeal for the house of God eat you up. Bend your whole life towards the church. Make it a top priority instead of something you just try to fit in after all your other interests and concerns have been met. Be like an athlete who dedicates himself to his team and to Him, who made him a part of it, and who does everything he can so that the team may play well and win.
After all, if you have been mercifully saved, if you with all your sin and all your foolishness, and I’m thinking about myself too, if, in all that, Jesus saved you by faith and repentance and regenerated you, and the Father adopted you and made you a part of His team, such is the only reasonable response. He is worthy of you disciplining yourself for church. Let’s do it. Come practice with the team. Come love the church. Get to know it. Build it up, be built up by it, so that as we take the field to play before a watching world and universe, it will not bring shame to the name of Jesus, but we will manifest His glorious wisdom instead. Amen?
Let’s pray. Lord, Your church is indeed a glorious mystery. We can’t believe that we’ve been a part of it and that it’s so good. Lord, you command us to commit ourselves to the church and yet what a gracious command, because here we find blessing, here we are part of something that is truly momentous, something that will give glory to You forever. God, whatever is hindering us in our minds or in our lives help us to get radical, just as You called us to be when You made us disciples so that we can truly benefit, take part, build up, and love our brothers and sisters here. Lord, we love Your church. Thank You for making us a part of it but help us to walk worthy of it. Lord, indeed, let the world see us, even this local church in New Jersey, and get to know us to say that those people love each other with a supernatural kind of love. May Your spirit bring this to pass. Jesus, build up Your church in this way. Father, please provide so that You may glorify Yourself through us. This is our desire. Please bring it to pass in Jesus’ name, amen.