Why do we go to the gym? I swim to be changed or at least maintain my current level of fitness. If I miss a few days in the pool, I know I am letting the daily grind damage my health. Church is a lot like the gym. Jesus’ church offers transformation, community and a regular spiritual fitness evaluation. Jesus established the church saying even when “2 or 3 gather in my name” something special happens- Jesus is present! (Matthew 18:20). The church existed in the Tabernacle Moses built, the Temple David dreamed of, and the synagogue that arose during the Exodus. I invite you to consider 12 things you should know about church!
12 things you should know about church!
1) Jesus gives his church the mission of battling hell. Our mission is not pot-luck dinners or comforting worship. “And Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon Peter… I give you a new name Peter, and upon this rock (Petras) I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:17-19) I love that our United Methodist baptismal vows acknowledge that we are “to resist evil, injustice, and oppression.” The church must not neglect its prophetic word in critiquing the culture and state. How can we worry over our needs being met when Jesus calls us to take up our cross and overcoming evil with love?
2) Jesus’ church business is saving the world. We may do a lot of other things but our core work is offering Christ to the world! “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of the spirit (words of Jesus). …For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:5, 16-17). “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1Timothy 1:15). In a pluralistic world, we must continue to offer Christ, whose loving approach drew in sinners but repelled the self-righteous. Our world desperately needs to encounter Jesus. The presence of Christ sets our work part from the country club, Kiwanis, or traveling athletic teams.
3) The church exists to worship God. Worship reconnects and refocuses us on our mission and our God. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-40). The first five of the Ten Commandments revolve around worship. Worship matters because it changes us: “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not neglecting our meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:19-25 adapted). Jesus utilized a routine of weekly corporate and daily personal worship. Worship reconnects us to Christ: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). Some may challenge beautiful buildings or music used in worship as antithetical to serving neighbors or offering Christ. However, the ancient temple shimmered in magnificent beauty, and hand-woven angels adored blue, purple and scarlet tabernacle curtains (Exodus 26). Worship directs our minds heavenward calling us up towards God.
4) The church exists to (worship God and) serve our neighbors. “And the second (great commandment) is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). Jesus constantly welcomed the outsider, restored the broken, dined with sinners, pronounced forgiveness, fed large crowds, and healed people. Jesus sent out the 12 and the 72 to preach and heal (Luke 9&10). Do you remember the first church committee? In Acts 6 the church organized a food bank (Acts 6). James tells us it is not enough to preach, we must feed people (James 2). Therefore, unlike most organizations, the church does not exist to serve its members’ needs, but in following Jesus seeks to empower, encourage and equip disciples to serve others. This may be our hardest lesson! Jesus did not come to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). Greatness inside God’s Kingdom comes through service (Luke 22:26). “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins….Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace” (1 Peter 4:8 &10). Therefore Preachers should be personal Trainers equipping members to do Christ’s work. “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” (Ephesians 4). If I am really doing my job then I am teaching the Word and helping you care for each other’s needs and the needs of the world.
5) Jesus’ church culture welcomes local and global strangers. Jesus tells us to bear witness “until to ends of the earth” (Acts 1:9). Jesus commissions us “to go make disciples of all nations” Matthew 28:19. The parable of the Good Samaritan defines neighbor as the person in need, not some class or national origin! (Luke 10:30-37). The Old and New Testaments tell us we must welcome strangers and foreigners. Matthew 25 implies that Jesus will judge us by the way we treat the poor and the stranger. James rejects any racism or classism within the church (James 2). In ancient Antioch a multiracial church including Africans, Greeks, Asians and Jews sent the first missionaries (Acts 13). The whole of the book of Acts revolves around the coming together of both ethic Jews and Gentiles to form the church. The great missionary Paul tells us that Christ breaks down every wall of racial or cultural hostility (Galatians 3:28 or Ephesians 2:14). Cultural homogeneity cloaks our mission and sidetracks the church.
6) Christ’s church sounds a tone of grace, redemption, and forgiveness. The Apostle Paul embodies our tone, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor… I was shown mercy… the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. …Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Timothy 1:12-17). Jesus’ model prayer always asks for forgiveness and requires us to forgive others! (Matthew 6:9-15). Jesus chafes the self-righteous as he offers forgiveness to people they deem unworthy. Jesus warns us that when we claim to be without sin our sin remains (John 9:41 & 1 John 1:8). Jesus tells of a church leader and a notorious sinner both praying in church. The sinner asks for forgiveness and leaves whole. The churchman judges and leaves church unchanged and unforgiven (Luke 18). If we focus on our Lord, we will remember our sins, celebrate grace, and find it easy to forgive.
7) Jesus’ church is like a spiritual gym, transforming us from sinners to Christ-like saints. We come to be changed! Jesus wants to strengthen our spiritual core: “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them is like a house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). Our workout is not easy, “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Paul hollers across the gym like fired up coach: “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—God’s good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1-2). “Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-3). Church should not meet our needs, but change our lives! We might like the gym to serve donuts and let us sit in recliners, but the discomfort of the gym extends our life! The church does not exist to meet our needs but change our lives.
8) The Bible arose within the church and is less a rulebook than the story of God seeking to save us. Therefore, some passages and teachings matter less than others. Paul closed down a contentious letter to the Church at Corinth writing, “Now, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved… For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to… me” (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Paul says focus on the spiritual core! Why do we need more than the Apostles’ Creed? In a divided age we might do well to not judge too harshly- but find our common ground in the essentials of our faith. Jesus warns that some of us “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” and worry about the outside rules instead of the heart! (Matthew 23:24-26). Jesus cares less about what we know than what we do! (Luke 6:46 or Matthew 7:21). Jesus invested the church with power to interpret scripture: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you (my church) bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-19). We might do well to remember that most if not all of the Gospels were not written down until after Jesus ascends to Heaven. Jesus never signed copies of the Gospel. The church needs to help us open and interpret the Bible so that we might live into the Gospel!
9) The church is God’s community were we work out what we believe and how to embody the Gospel within our particular context! I think we have forgotten that Paul wrote to culturally Greek churches struggling to live the Gospel outside of the Jewish world of Jesus and the twelve. Listen to the spiritual wrestling and debating within Paul’s letter to the church he planted in Corinth! Listen to Paul calling the church to think! “For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? …It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart (4:4-5). Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for … To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord)… To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord)… This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. … Now about ___: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. … I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you… In my judgment, …and I think that I too have the Spirit of God ( 7:1, 10, 12, 17, 25-26, 35, 40). “Now about … 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. But whoever loves God is known by God” (8:1-3). Do I say this merely on human authority?” (9:8, 24). I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say…. So whether you ___ or ___ or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (10:15, 23, 31-33). I praise you for remembering me and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you…. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for _____? …If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:2, 13, 16) I share this simply to say, we Christians can disagree over some matters and even debate them. Paul closes out 1 Corinthians reminding the readers that the Gospel matters more than whether women wear hats in church (11:6)!
10) Jesus cares deeply about how church folks treat and talk to each other. Paul implores, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace… 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. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger! Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” Ephesians 4. Indeed, Jesus warns us in Matthew 12:36 we will be judged by our words and in Luke 6:45 says “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of”! James denounces as worthless the faith of anyone who can’t bridle their tongue! (1:26). Jesus came to forgive, serve and save- Christians’ words should do the same! When we do disagree, we need to always show love, humility and grace!
11) Theological Agreement is not essential to unity. After all the questions and disagreements that arise inside the Corinthian church, Paul calls out, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way… If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing….
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part… For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 12:31- 13:13). It is truly hard to understand how the church universal became so divided over the ways we do church! In Heaven, we will not be lectured on which denomination got the Lord’s Super correctly. Those small arguments sound like Hell’s table talk! Perhaps, we have forgotten the most excellent way, or that we only know in part, or that Jesus is the Judge! Jesus longs for us to be united across our differences. Jesus prayed, “that they may be brought to complete unity so that the world will know that you (Everlasting God) sent me and have loved them” (John 17:23).
12) Love is the essential characteristic of Jesus’ church. Paul wrote, “knowledge puffs up while love builds up… whoever loves God is known by God” 1 Corinthians 8:1-3. Jesus declared, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). The world will not believe because we offer great programs, compelling argument, or wonderful worship. No the world is waiting to see us deeply love each other. Love is what matters most.
I wish I had a good invitation. I don’t so I invite you to consider these 12 things about Jesus’ church. Think about how to serve neighbor. Consider your tone. Consider your workout: are you growing more Christ-like, just getting by, or backsliding? Come let us be the church God calls us to be! Amen!