The following message is based on Ephesians 3:1-11 and discusses what the Church is here for. This message was delievered on January 13, 2013
Have you ever felt like you weren’t being heard? I recently ran across a cartoon that depicts a couple sharing a moment at a coffee shop. The man is engaged with his electronic device. His attention is divided, zeroed-in on his email or Facebook, blocking everyone else out around him. The woman says: “Do you mind if I strap your phone to my forehead so I can pretend you’re looking at me when I talk?” In a culture where there are electronic devices to take the place of one-to-one communication, it is important to avoid seeing texting, email and Facebook as a substitute for connecting with a friend or spending time with a family member, or other Christians.
Today, we begin a new sermon series on church health. The reason why we are doing this series is because it is needed. On a yearly basis, we must look at how we are doing church, how we are practicing our faith as a collective body. This particular series presupposes a couple of things. One is discipleship. My messages over the next few weeks will be under the assumption that you have made the Lord Jesus Christ, your king and God and that you’ve committed your life to Him; that you’ve been baptized and desire to follow Him. If not, please see me. Let’s talk!
I’m also presupposing that you do not see yourself as an independent person. That you desire meaningful relationships with other Christians. That you value relationships and you want to be a better Christian. Today, I want to present to you God’s design for the church, which I’ve entitled our message: “One Family.” Today I want to talk about the mystery, the ministry and the manifestation of God’s “One Family,” the Church. First, we learn that…
GOD’S MYSTERY HAS INCLUDED US.
There is a mystery that surrounds the Church as God’s “One Family.” In Ephesians 3:6, we are introduced to the mystery of God. In this context, a mystery is something that was hidden for a time, but has now been revealed. This mystery is mentioned in such places as 1:9: “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment– to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
And twice in Ephesians 3:4-6: “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”
As the people of God, our Lord has entrusted us with the best news in the world. That is, God has a plan for the human race in Christ. Although mankind is separated from God through sin, He has reached out to us in love through the gospel of Jesus to redeem and transform a people of His own possession. The church was built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ being the chief cornerstone. If you know anything about architecture, a building cannot stand without a proper foundation. And the most important piece of the foundation is the cornerstone.
God would have us promote an environment of inclusion without diminishing our doctrine or ethics. He is calling us to reach out to folks that are both the same as us and different than us. We are here to introduce good news to others that introduces a different world view and a different lifestyle, because Jesus died and rose again. Where else but in the church can you get that? If we hold on to the unity, church will be diverse. We have a unity that is pretty remarkable. Although there are different denominations, various people, diverse races, God has a family in mind. Heaven is a picture of both unity and diversity. Note Revelation 5:9: “And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” God’s mystery has included us. We also find that…
PAUL’S MINISTRY HAS BLESSED US.
Towards this mystery, Paul was called to preach the message of the gospel. Verses 8-9 state: “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.” Paul, arguably the greatest Christian since the founding of the Church, was the “apostle to the Gentiles.” He went on at least three missionary journeys to carry God’s word to the world. Having been blessed by that ministry and recipients of the good news of Christ, we, as His people, carry on that ministry of preaching and spreading the word to a needy world. The world needs the church. The statistics on the health of the family are pretty shocking.
During 2010, an estimated 3.3 million referrals involving the alleged maltreatment of approximately 5.9 million children were made to CPS agencies. More than 3.6 million children (duplicate count) or just under 3 million children (unique count) were the subjects of one or more reports.1 Of the number of child maltreatment reports in 2010, More than 75 percent (78.3 percent) of victims suffered neglect. Most of those were children between one and four years old.
The survey of 23,000 high school students, which was conducted by the Los Angeles-based Josephson Institute of Ethics, reveals that in 2010, 59 percent of students admitted they had cheated on an exam in the past year; Students who copied an Internet document for an assignment stood at 34 percent. Students who said they lied to a teacher in the past year about something significant stood at 61 percent. Those who lied to their parents about something significant were 80 percent. STEALING: In 2010, 27 percent of the students said they had stolen something from a store in the past year. 17 percent said they stole something from a friend in the past year and the percentage who said they stole something from a parent or other relative in the past year was 21percent.
And the saddest statistic is that many so called “Christians” are being more influenced by the world, than by Christ and His word. The author states that “…more than 60% of the children in our Western churches are failing to continue with the faith as they establish their own households.”
The church is instructed with bringing the true meaning of the gospel to people. When we get serious about glorifying God, our lives will create relationships by which we can connect with others.
John Calvin knew that the church was central to everything that God did, to such the extent that he said: “You cannot claim God as your father, if the church be not your mother.” His point is that there is no such thing as an isolated Christian, apart from the presence of a community of faith that aims to educate, encourage and transform its members.
What are people missing out on when they do not affiliate with a local body of Christians? First of all, the clear preaching and teaching of God’s inspired word. Do you want to hear from God? Then you must open yourself to hear from God in His holy word. It is as Psalm 119:105 says: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” To this end, I love the Christian Endeavor Pledge, which states: “Trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for strength, I promise Him that I will strive to do whatever He would like to have me do; that I will make it the rule of my life to pray and to read the Bible every day, and to support the work and worship of my own church in every way possible; and that just so far as I know how, throughout my whole life, I will endeavor to lead a Christian life.” God’s mystery has included us and Paul’s ministry has blessed us. Lastly…
THE HOLY SPIRIT’S MANIFESTATION COMPELS US.
The family is God’s idea and personal growth and development is just a couple of ways the family benefits society. Note Jeff Reed’s definition of God’s design for the church: “God’s design for the local church is for it to be a family of families with strong, intergenerational roots: a powerful force in raising children, in building strong marriages, and in cultivating an intergenerational heritage (faith in God) that grows stronger generation by generation.”
God would have us here for the world. Someone once said that the church is the only organization on this earth that does not exist for itself. We are here to reach others and that means to reach out to others, as His ambassadors. 2 Corinthians 5:15: “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. …18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
Most recently, Juli Apple had the opportunity to have a 30 minute conversation with a man using the Central’s Community Center. He wanted to know all about our church. Another person outside of our church said that the community center is the best thing to happen to this community in a long time.
Another thing that people miss out on by not connecting with the Church is the support that comes from being from others of like mind and faith. John Donne was a 16th century English poet and Anglican priest. He wrote: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, …any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” We need each other if we are to be everything God wants us to be.
Michael Griffiths, a well-known missions leader states: “Perhaps sometimes in the West we have lost sight of the importance of these basic Christian communities, and think that churches are merely incidental organizations within institutionalized Christianity. We think that the gospel tells how an individual may be saved. Churches are not merely incidental means of grace to help individuals to be saved. They are not merely temporary providers of care and protection while we are on earth. God’s long term purpose is to produce a new, beautiful, redeemed human society in which He Himself will dwell.”
So you might ask: Pastor David, what are you saying? What do you want me to do? How am I to live differently in light of Ephesians 3 and God’s call to be involved in His administration of including the Gentiles into His spiritual building/administration? Why not reach out to someone around you? Why not invite someone to church? Why not pray for someone? How about taking an unchurched friend to coffee or lunch? Or what about reaching out to someone in need?
GOD’S MYSTERY HAS INCLUDED US; PAUL’S MINISTRY HAS BLESSED US; AND THE SPIRIT’S MANIFESTATION COMPELS US.
J. W. Bardsley in his book: Many Mansions, The fading of a leaf is a proof that its work is accomplished and that its mission is fulfilled. The leaves of trees are made subservient by an all-wise Creator to most important ends. One of their chiefest functions is to keep up the purity of the atmosphere. As Christ said of His disciples, ‘Ye are the salt of the earth,’ we might say of them, ‘Ye are the leaves of the world’; your office is to stay the moral pollution which surrounds you and to breathe a healthy and life-giving influence. To have done this is not to have lived in vain.
 Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2012). Child Maltreatment 2010: Summary of key findings. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.
 Jeff Reed, Belonging to a Family of Families (Ames, IA: BILD International, 1997), 6.
 Michael Griffiths, What on Earth Are You Doing?: Jesus’ Call to World Mission.
 The Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts, Volume 2, Part 1: Luke through Romans.