I’ve been to a lot of churches in my life.
I’ve been to churches where the parking lot was full, and there were lots of people. And in others, it was just my family, and maybe a handful of others who had come for Sunday morning service.
In some, there was a lot of yelling, and carrying on. In others, it seemed like more or less a casual bible study. In one, it was almost completely silent.
In one case, people had puzzled looks on their faces during the sermon. In another, people just keep getting up and leaving, and others would come in and go out throughout the service.
In one church, the service seemed like a workout program. I stood up and sat down so many times I didn’t know if I was physically fit enough to make it through. In others, people were jumping around the whole service like someone lit their shoes on fire. That was tiring too.
Some churches had a strict liturgy, and you were expected to follow along, word for word. Others pretty much made it up as they went.
Some churches had blaring modern music sung by professional-type singers and choirs. But some churches had a tough time just eeking out a joyful noise.
Some churches passed the plate, and then the preacher would go on and on about cheerful giving, and and you just sure he’d pass the plate again. Others just put a box in the back for people’s offerings.
Some churches were big, and some were tiny. Some had stained glass windows, some had no windows at all. Some met in community centers, and some met in homes. I’ve even been to church at a baseball field.
In some churches people had a strict dress code of slacks and jacket and tie, or dress and bonnet. Others didn’t seem to care at all about that and people came in their work clothes, all dirty and smelly.
Some prayed loudly and some silently. Some tried to baptize everyone who walked in the door, even if they didn’t want to…but some excluded almost everyone from communion.
Some were happy places with happy faces, and some were somber groups with frowning faces.
Now, there are a lot of different churches in the world, but what does God say?
First off.. it should be clear that God does NOT say that church is only for Sunday Morning.
Many of the things I just described are Sunday Morning behaviors. We see church as that 1-2 hours when we come to worship. We see church as the appearance of a certain building, the sound of a certain music, the words of a certain time…but church is not Sunday Morning. Formal worship may be a high point of our church week…but church is LIFE. Church is every minute of every day.
And a real test of church is not how the people act, or what the people do on Sunday Morning, but rather how the people act and what the people do all the rest of the time.
We are always on our best behavior in a crowd. (at least most of us are) But what about the one on one times…and even the times when no one is watching at all.
How do we do church when no one except for God is watching?
That is the true test of church.
If we are to be proud of our church, and it is pleasing to God, both of Sunday and the rest of the week, the bible tells us this is what it should look like.
Ephesians Chapter 4 [From the NLT ‘” New Living Translation]
1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.
7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. 8 That is why the Scriptures say,
“When he ascended to the heights,
he led a crowd of captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
9 Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. 10 And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself.
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God'”truly righteous and holy.
25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.
28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
That…my friends…is how church is supposed to look.
There are six chapters in the book of Ephesians. The first three are doctrinal and deal with the essential Gospel, and our needed understanding of the work of Christ and His sacrifice.
The last three are practical and deal with the way that believers, the bretheren, the fellowship ought to conduct themselves.
So you could say that Paul in chapters 1-3 says, “Let me tell you about Christ,” he prays and then says, “Let me tell you what you need to do in response.”
So here in Chapter 4 we get on to “leading a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” And what it shouldt look like.
And simply stated, the Lord expects us, as a church family, to walk together in absolute unity for His glory.
The Lord expects us, as a church family, to walk together in absolute unity for His glory.
And you may be thinking…am I kidding? Absolutely unity? Is that even possible?
The apostle makes is crystal clear here that unity is not just a possibility, it is a divine requirement if we are to be everything God wants us to be as a church.
Not only is there the Essential Gospel, but there is also the Essential Walk. And in the two, there should be absolute unity.
Because often there isn’t, and it’s why we may times do church so poorly. It’s why non-believers point and yell “hypocrisy!”. And that hurts Christ’s church.
I used the word essential in both cases, because Paul, in other places makes it clear we, in the body of Christ, should not argue and debate or cause disharmony about non-essential matters. We all will disagree on various non-essential matters of the bible. Was Jonah swallowed by a fish or a whale? (the original biblical words don’t make it clear) When the bible refers to the Red sea, is it the same Red sea we know or another one sometimes known as the Sea of Reeds (and these two seas are spelled identically in ancient Hebrew?) Who were the giants on the earth, the Nephalim, and where did they come from? What about dinosaurs? Did Jesus have biological brothers and sisters?
We can disagree all we want about these types of things, but we should keep it friendly, and not allow there to be fractures in the body due to these kinds of issues. In Paul’s day, they were arguing endlessly about the genealogies..who belonged to what family…it didn’t really matter.
The essential Gospel, that needed unto salvation, is not included in these types of debates.
Bottom line. God created the world. He created man in His own image. Having been given free will, man sinned and fell from grace. Man was unable, of his own effort, to keep God’s Law that God gave him because he loved him, and was then rightfully subject to God’s wrath. But God had an ultimate plan for man’s salvation. And that plan, was God incarnate in the flesh of Jesus Christ, who lived, died and rose again to glory. His death, the final atoning sacrifice for those who would trust Him and believe on Him, a sacrifice that would bring death to the consequence of our sins. And His resurrection would bring everlasting life to those who live in Him.
That would be a massively abridged and condensed version of the whole bible…but when all is said and done, it’s actually an overly long version of the essential Gospel.
You can really preach the whole essential Gospel in one verse: 16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
If they believe, anyone can come to trust Christ with that one verse (and a handful few others ‘” some of which Leonard has been sharing with us in the bible lesson).
You don’t need to know, or even agree on the interpretation of the whole bible to accept the simplicity, and truth of the Essential Gospel.
Who are you? Who is Jesus? What has he done for you and me? Do I trust Him and follow Him?
In every church, in the heart every believer there should be absolute unity in this matter. It’s the Gospel truth about Jesus that even a small child can accept and trust without having extensive knowledge or deep understanding.
It’s the Gospel essential to every living person.
That’s what the church should look like in terms of core doctrine. Everything else does give us a more complete picture, a more colorful picture, and God want us to have it…but at the heart..it’s Jesus loves me, he died for sinners like me, He rose, I believe, and I am saved. A promise of God, and a promise that God will never take back.
I ask do you believe these things? Amen. There should be absolute unity. I should hear ever last one of us on this amen.
For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
Do you trust God in this matter? Amen? Say “I trust Jesus Christ as my personal Savior”
That’s chapters 1-3 of Ephesians.
If you accept Christ unto salvation, then your life is to be living witness to that testimony.
If this is true you have now graduated to the big leagues. You’ve done the hard part, now it’s time to let it shine. It’s time to walk the Essential walk. And there must be absolute unity in this as well.
So what is the Essential Walk…and what should it look like.
Paul spells it out very careful, but not completely.
The complete answer is that the essential walk is to Lord God, and Love Each other just as Christ has loved us.
In that, we go from right belief, which is the Essential Gospel, to right action which will spring forth from anyone who truly trusts Christ as their savior.
It will be plain and evident. There will be no mistaking it. No confusion. No wondering. Someone who sees the life lived by a Christ follower will want to know “Where does this life come from? How do I get this same life?” “Who is this Jesus who transforms so completely.?”
A Christ follower does not become Christ. As a human being, we are subject to the temptations, which Jesus did share, but also to the actual falling into sinful behavior, which Jesus did not share.
As Christ followers, we are the forgiven. We are the sinful flesh, saved by the grace of God.
But that’s not just an excuse to use to allow bad behavior. I’ve heard the “I’m a sinner, saved by grace” line used to excuse some pretty rotten, and intentional stuff.
But rather it is the truth, and the acceptance and proclaiming and living of that truth that is the essential walk. There are no perfect people in this church or any church. If you are indeed perfect this morning, I think we would all like you to step forward and reveal yourself. We have all been waiting for Christ to return, and if you are perfect, you must be Him.
So….does anyone step forward this morning and claim to be Jesus?
(I just realized that might have been actually kind of risky….someone may not have taken their medication this morning — ..)
When Christ does return, he will come in an entirely different way this time. And I’m certain that none of us here are Christ returned. I know I am not. I sin way too much. I don’t know everything. I am certainly not all-powerful. I do not love like God loves. I fall short.
I’m not being judgmental, but I hope you accept you fall short too.
A vice presidential candidate was slammed a number of years ago for making a reference to JFK in the same breath as he made a reference to himself. You may remember that.
His opponent quickly reacted, “I knew Jack Kennedy, and you are NO Jack Kennedy.”
It’s the same here today. You may be a really great person, but if you know Jesus Christ, you will know that you are not Him.
There should be absolute unity on this. We are followers of Jesus, but we are not Jesus. We fall short. We are sinners. We need Him to save us.
Do you accept that you are sinful and need Jesus?
I’m glad to hear that. It’s part of the essential walk. We get past the “hypocrisy” argument by freely admitting that we do not gather in sanctified perfection, but rather we gather to “be perfected” in his sacrifice.
The body of Christ is a work in progress. We’re in it together. We help each other. And God does the rest.
We’re not hypocrites because we know that we do not practice what we preach all the time. It’s a fact. Christ died on the cross because of that fact. We cannot keep the law. We couldn’t keep the law of the old covenant and we can’t keep the law of the new.
We need Jesus. So thank God for Jesus. Amen?
We’re in it together, but we’re trying. We’re learning, and supporting each other, and we’re doing, with God’s help, our very best.
And what is that? What should the church look like? What should you as a Christ follower look like? We talked about that some last week. It’s a higher standard.
We read from the words of Ephesians:
Always be humble and gentle.
Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults
Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit
speak the truth in love
growing in every way more and more like Christ
Put on your new nature
So stop telling lies.
And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry,
If you are a thief, quit stealing.
Use your hands for good hard work
give generously to others in need.
Don’t use foul or abusive language.
Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement
And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.
Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Yes it’s a tall order. But that is how church should look. That is how the life of a Christ follower should look.
And that’s not all. I didn’t include everything from this chapter on this list, and certainly not everything in the bible. Life as a follower of the Way is not always easy.
But we must remember and tell ourselves….”I answer to Jesus.” “I follow Jesus”.
And Jesus is alive, and with me, and he will help me. I am not alone. He is with me, and together with the others we can help each other. We cannot achieve perfection. Only through Christ can we be seen as righteous positionally with God, but we can become more like him all the time.
I read about a man who was in a taxi cab with a friend. As they pulled to the curb that man said to the driver, “thank you sir for a very enjoyable ride. I appreciate the service you provided.” When they exited the cab his friend said, “what was that all about? That was just an ordinary cab ride. That guy was just doing his job. That’s what he gets paid for.”
The man replied “I’m changing New York!” “What?”
“You see I’ve discovered that one positive comment to a person will change the way they relate to the next several people they see.”
The next person that cab driver picks up will have a much better ride because I said something kind. And the person who receives the better ride will have a better day and that will impact the people they deal with. It’s like a domino effect.”
You can’t be perfect, but you can do something to God’s glory. You are important. And how you embrace the essential walk, makes a difference?
You can help or hinder God’s Kingdom on earth.
You may remember the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded just seventy-three seconds into flight.
It was all ultimately blamed on one inexpensive O-ring. The space shuttle was comprised of over one million components, and it took just one small part to destroy the whole thing.
One million parts did their job, but one failed and disaster occurred.
Likewise, most people feel their role a Christ follower is not only small and insignificant, but inconsequential as well.
This erroneous doctrine of the church causes individuals to believe their behavior can’t help or hurt Christ’s church.
We may feel like that seemingly insignificant O-ring, but what we do is essential.
So again I’ll ask…Are you saved this morning? You do embrace and accept the essential Gospel? Do you trust Jesus Christ as your savior? Amen?
Praise God for that!
That’s a lot, but that’s not all.
Christ gave us life, to live to His Glory. It’s important. It’s the essential walk. It’s not easy, but what we do makes a difference in our lives, in the lives of those who have yet to meet Jesus, and it makes a difference to God.
The Christian life is a clear and evident life. There should be no confusion, no question.
It should be obvious. When one sees the church, when one encounters a Christ follower, theyb should know…This is what it should look like.
(c)2011 Timothy Henry