“Loving the Church” was the assignment. My Church had asked me to address a breakout session for our women’s conference, and I was so thankful both for the opportunity to study this topic and to think through it with our women. What follows here is part one of our time together.
If I asked your kids, your neighbors, your gym buddies what you love, what would they say? You could ask my friends about me, and they would tell you that I love Ethiopian coffee, Alaska, and blueberries. We talk about what we love. We spend time on what we love, right? That family that loves theatre spends time on theatre. They talk about production schedules and choreography and politics and costumes. That family that loves baseball spends all their time sitting in the sun on the edge of the diamond.
What about the Church? Do we love the Church? Is the time we spend at church an obvious expression of our affection? Do we pursue people there? Invite people to join us? Or do we run away from the community? Are we just performing a dutiful check-in? Is Church the first thing that gets cut from our busy schedule?
As we begin thinking about what it means to love the Church, we have to first recognize what the Church is and who we are in relationship! What is the Church? Is it a group of friends meeting for coffee on Sunday morning? Is it your family gathering at home to read scripture together? Does watching the on-line service of a Church in another state count? What about listening to a podcast with the pastor?
What is the Church? The Church universal is all people everywhere, at any time, who have trusted Jesus Christ as their divine and holy refuge from God’s judgement against sin. The Church local is Christ-followers who have intentionally gathered regularly to magnify God and to multiply disciples.
What distinguishes the Church from any other gathering of Christ followers? Work your way through Acts and the Epistles, and you will find that a Church is characterized by the following:
- Gathering together (1 Cor 11:33, Heb 10:24-25)
- Qualified leaders (Acts 14:23, 1 Tim 3:8-13)
- Instruction of the Scriptures together (Acts 2:42)
- Partaking of the Lord’s Supper together (1 Cor 11)
- Membership (1 Cor 5)
- Discipline (Matt 18, James 5, Gal 6)
- Evangelism (Matt 28:19-20; Rom 10:14-17; 1 Pet 3:15-16)
- Good works (Phil 2:1-4)
- Gift collection for those in need, prayer, missionary sending and encouragement, baptism, and more. . .
What does the Bible say about the identity of the Church? Who are we?
1. The Church is the Bride of Jesus.
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
8 it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. Revelation 19:6-8
Ultimately, Jesus’ Bride, clothed in deeds that represent her Bridegroom, will be with Him forever. No fiancée who is faithfully preparing for her wedding day is going to be out “playing the field” while she waits, right? What does it mean to love the Church? It means that, as a Christ-follower, we recognize what our ultimate, eternal end is—and we start to live that way now.
2. The Church is the Body of Christ.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves[d] or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 1 Cor 12:12-14
Church members work together to serve the Body with their gifts so that the whole body, universal and local, is built up. No Christ-follower gets to say, “I don’t need the Church.” We are both needy and needed. We are supported by other parts of the Body just as we support it. In doing so, we make Jesus, His character, and His offer of salvation visible. What does it mean to love the church? It means that the Christ-follower recognizes that we are a part of something started by, sustained by, and paid for by Jesus.
3. The Church is an Embassy of the King.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Phil 3:20
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 2 Cor 5:20
An embassy is a little space in a foreign country that belongs to and represents our home country. The Church is an outpost of heaven wherever it is found. What does it mean to love the Church? It means that Christ-followers show a watching world what that “Far Country” looks like as we live together in this world that is not our home.
4. The Church is God’s testimony.
Jesus prayed: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” John 17: 20-23
The world sees our God through our testimony of who He is and what He has done. He has chosen to use us as His messengers. More than 3,000,000,000 (Yes, Billion) people have never yet once heard the name of Jesus or even met a Christian. What does it mean to love the Church? It means that our lives are to be about pleading with all people everywhere, “Be reconciled to God.” Testifying of God’s grace and glory is the Christ-follower’s immense responsibility and honor.
5. The Church is the family of God.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us[b] for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. Eph. 1:3-6
What does it mean to love the church? We belong together. We need each other. Singles, new parents, the elderly, kids with disabilities, pastors, “normal” two-parent-homes, abandoned moms. WE NEED EACH OTHER.
This is our testimony. This is our family! This is our future!
Part two will pick up some of the practicalities of how this love is consistently activated.