1) The Core of Who We are Meant to Be (Part 1): The Life of Christ Within
2) The Core of Who We are Meant to Be (Part 2): The Body of Christ
The Core of Who We are Meant to Be (Part 1): The Life of Christ Within
Deuteronomy 6:1-9: “These are the commands, decrees, and regulations that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you. You must obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy, and you and your children and grandchildren must fear the LORD your God as long as you live. If you obey all his decrees and commands, you will enjoy a long life. Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you. Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
Matthew 22:34-40: “But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’ Jesus replied, ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
John 13 :34-35: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
What are the essentials of our faith? Churches and people tend to make things more complicated than they are. Jesus is the one who makes things simple. The Pharisees came to Jesus in order to test Him, in order to try Him, in order to trap Him by asking, “Master, what is the most important commandment?” They were expecting Him to pick one of the Ten Commandments. And if He says, “Thou shalt not steal,” then they would say, “Oh, it does not matter if you lie. See, Jesus does not care if you lie.” They are looking for a way to trap Him, to make Him look bad. This is a question they themselves had debated many times before. They enjoyed analyzing the scriptures for intellectual stimulation. So they knew the ins-and-outs and pit falls of each possible answer. But rather than the Ten, Jesus goes back to one. Jesus quotes a passage of scripture found only one time in the Old Testament. In the beginning of God’s dealing with Israel (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) we read, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind, with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength.” God told Israel at the beginning the core essence of what He wanted from them. The Pharisees were stunned and did not know what to say. After all their analytical study they missed it. They developed a bunch of dos and don’ts to structure their religion around but missed the heart of God in it all. Their spiritual leaders through the years developed 613 laws—365 negative and 248 positive—to live by. They were to memorize 365 don’ts and 248 dos to guide their lives. As Jesus said elsewhere (Mark 7:8-13), through the years they systemized scripture around certain assumptions that caused them to miss the clear teaching of God. Paul confirms this in Galatians 1:13-14 by confessing that that is what he was all about when he was a staunch Pharisee. The common person admired their dedication and held them in high esteem as they walked around in the priestly robes that signified their importance, but what about Jesus; was He impressed? He called them hypocrites (Matt. 15:7-9), vipers (Matt. 12:34), and white-walled sepulchers (Matt. 23:27-28), or tombs of death. They lacked the central core of what God wants from us—a loving relationship with Him.
God-centeredness is to be the BIOS of our lives. What does that mean? I do not want to get all geeky on you but our computer is made of several elements. The BIOS is the basic input/output system. It is the way a computer answers, “What does a one and a zero mean?” Or, “What does one, zero, zero, one, one, zero, one mean?” It is how a computer interprets input and then how it sends it back out. Wisegeek says that "The BIOS also works to give the computer basic information about how to interact with some critical components, such as hard drives and memory, needed to load the Operating System (OS). Once the basic instructions have been loaded and the self-test has been passed, the computer can proceed with loading the OS from one of the attached drives. Functions and control over hardware within the computer are then handed over to the OS and it controls the system afterward." It is built into your computer. You get your new computer and it may not have Windows or an operating system on it but it has BIOS which behaves like an informing guide to higher functions or operations of your computer.
I think this is a good metaphor for what happens inside us, on what is internally coded inside us the moment we become Christians. This internal ‘code’ is designed to define how we are to operate, or behave. Unfortunately, the old BIOS is also still there. The old man (Eph. 4:21-24), as Paul calls him, is still present within us and is never eradicated as long as we live this side of glory. The old man was built on a core that is in opposition to what God places within us at our new birth. The old man was built on a foundation of self-centeredness. And its chief instruction is “Love myself above all else. Do what is best for me.” It is what happened to us as a race when Adam removed himself from God’s authority and presence. The new man is built on a foundation of God-centeredness. And its chief instruction, that which will bring out who we are in Christ, is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength.” As a BIOS informs and guides higher computer functions, so the new man God gives us is to inform and guide our experiences and behaviors. My new nature is the life of Christ in me. Your new nature is the life of Christ in you. It is what ‘born again’ means. Jesus tells us, “You must be born again.” That is not a new command, or reality, it has always been true. And the Pharisees missed it. They looked good on the outside but they were far from God on the inside. They had no real relationship with God. If they died in that state they will hear at the last judgment (Matt. 7:21-23), “I never knew you.”
The Pharisees loved to judge the law. In their pride they placed themselves over the law rather than beneath it as one who loved God first and foremost would. The laws that God actually gave, not those invented by man, were given as guides to behavior to those who had the core right—love God first and foremost. Without that core, the self is still on the throne and it affects how we interpret scripture. Religion to them became a means to exalting the self. They took pride in inventing and attempting to live by their own self-made laws and traditions. But where did it lead them? They crucified the Son of God, the very one they were supposed to be following. The very one they were supposed to be related to. Jesus looked them in the eye and said, “You are of your father, the devil.” Jesus could look into their cores and see the reality of the situation. God was not central to who they were, they were.
Do you find yourself sometimes being a half-hearted Christian? Loving your spouse halfway? Kind of giving an effort but not all your strength? God wants all of you. God wants all of me. He does not want a divided mind (James 1). He does not want you thinking one thing on Sunday morning and another thing Sunday afternoon. He wants what He says to color our thinking and shape what we do on Friday night and on Tuesday morning. He wants consistency. He does not want our lives wobbling back and forth. And why? Because it is going to hurt us and the lives of those around us. Can people trust you? Well, which Dave do we have today? Do we have the preaching Dave or do you have the renegade Dave? Do we have the loving husband or do we have the angry husband? God wants us to be consistent. It will bless others but it also blesses us to be able to know and live as we were designed. It seems ironic, that to live according to our old self brings hurt and destruction on ourselves. Selfishness drives us to focus on ourselves but yet even with all that self-directed attention and activity we end up worse-for-wear. Jesus tells us to focus on Him and lose our self-focus and we will find what is truly good for us. Jesus is essentially saying, “Love the Lord your God with all you heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength, and all will be well with you.”
When Jesus answered them this way, He was not trying to trick them nor was He giving them something they were unaware of. Everyone knew it, from the least to the greatest in Israel. One did not have to be an expert in the law to know it. It is part of the Shamah. It is part of what every Israelite was to say every morning when they got up and every night before they went to bed. God told them (Deut. 6:6-8), “I want you to do this when you come in, and when you go out, when you rise up, when you lay down. I want you to teach it to your children daily [because I want them to understand].” This was to be the core of Judaism (Deut. 6:4-5). “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, with all your strength.” All the rest was to be built on this. And God tells them to write it on their foreheads and forearms. It is to guide their thinking and behavior. That seems plain enough. But what did they do with it. How would one who lacked the central core of God-centeredness respond to such a command? They made an outward show of it. They constructed little boxes called phylacteries and placed little parchments on which the law was written into them and then tied them to their heads—right smack dab in the middle of their foreheads. They did the same on their forearms. You could spot an extreme devotee as he walked the streets with these little boxes symbolizing his commitment to the law strapped to his head and forearm. They reveled in the status and attention this brought them. Can you see the old BIOS operating here!?
They also made mazzulas. These were little clay jars, about the size of a pencil, into which they placed a scroll of the law and then nailed it to their home doorposts or to the entrance to their businesses. This was to remind them that that place was to be dedicated to God. But it is a lot easier to have it on the entrance door than in the kitchen, closet, bedroom, accounting room or sales office. It is a lot easier to have it written over the doorpost and forget it as soon as you pass under it, than to carry it within you as you let His ways guide your business practices and relationships with your wife and children. Don’t we do the same thing sometimes? We wear a cross around our necks but live as though Jesus Christ means nothing to us. Can you see the old BIOS operating here!?
The Hebrew word for love is aheb. What does it mean? It is not an expression of mere affection or a warm fuzzy feeling. It is expressing a willful commitment to benefit another. God told them in Lev. 19:18 to “Love [their] neighbor as [themselves].” They were to seek the good of the other not just themselves. This was not a self-punishment type of thing; a forgetfulness of the real needs of the self. Asceticism is not God’s intent. It is a sign of mental illness or prideful self-indulgence to neglect the true needs of the self. He tells them, and us, to love others as, the same as, we love ourselves. It is normal and healthy to want to benefit ourselves but we are wrong on how we go about it. “Lose your life and you will find it,” Jesus tells us. We are to care about the welfare of others with the same care we have for ourselves. And this is possible only if we love God first and foremost—with all our hearts, all our minds, all our souls, and all our strength. The Greek word for this kind of love is agape. It is an intensely personal thing. We are told to love others as Jesus loved us (John 15, Phil. 2, 1 John 4)—humbly, sacrificially.
In John 13 Jesus tells His disciples how important it is to love each other, as Christians. It is one of the most effective witnesses to the surrounding world to the love that God has for them. The Greeks had three words for love, unlike the one we have in English. Eros is an erotic, sexual love. Phileo is a brotherly love friends share as they seek to benefit the other in a give-and-take type relationship. Agape, as Jesus uses it in John 15 and John 13, is a humble, sacrificial thing. It is not characterized by give-and-take, as friendships should be, but a commitment to benefit the other regardless of what comes back your way. It is to be extended to friend or foe, regardless of personal feelings. Admittedly, it is easier to show sacrificial and helpful behavior to someone you like than someone you hardly know, or even dislike. God calls us to be consistent in our behavior toward others, no matter who it is. As James teaches us to avoid partial behavior to the rich, so Jesus teaches us to avoid partial behavior to anyone—we are called to agape love all. The church is meant to be different than the world around it. Jesus says as the world looks at the church it will receive a positive witness of the love of God if Christians show it to each other. This witness is then used by the Holy Spirit to draw men and women to reconciliation to God (2 Cor. 5:18-19) through Jesus Christ.
When God told them to love Him with all their hearts, mind, soul, and strength, He was telling them, and us, to love Him first and foremost and with every fiber of our being. We are to keep nothing back; no part of ourselves is to be still devoted to self, the old man. That sums it up. But specifically what does heart, mind, soul and strength speak of? For the Hebrew the heart was the seat of volitional choice. It was the affections and passions that resulted in volitional choices. It is the deep seated reasons we do the things we do. “Out of the heart,” Jesus says, come all kinds of behaviors. Under the guidance and influence of our old selves our hearts are desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). Our affections and passions are bent toward self and no sin is beyond us. One person might manifest this one and another that one but self-centeredness is capable of any evil under the sun. As James tells us (James 2:10), breaking just one law identifies us as law breakers who are manifesting a self-centered way of life. It has never been about being good enough to merit God’s mercy. It has always been about repentance, forgiveness and being born again unto an eternal relationship with God—always.
You cannot compel someone to love you. He or she can refuse to do so. God allows us that freedom. He draws and enables us by illumination, conviction, enlightenment, and discipline and asks us, “Do you want to have a relationship with Me?” The old man is unwilling to choose God when left to itself because it is committed to self. But God by His grace reveals Himself to us and enables us to see and feel our need for Him. And if we do not resist this grace ministry of God, we enter into a relationship with God by, as Paul said over and over again in Acts, “Repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our very hearts are changed. If we respond to God’s grace by wanting a relationship with God (repentance), then we enter into it by receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. And He will enable it and continue to enable it for all eternity.
“Love Him with all your soul.” That is kind of a strange word for us. We do not know quite what to do with soul. We have body, soul, and spirit, but how do we differentiate soul and spirit? Soul literally speaks of the essence of your being. Another way of saying it would be your personality. It speaks of your hopes, drives, likes, and dislikes, your personal bent. It is what makes you, you. It is everything that defines who you are and what you want to do. It is about the direction and flavor of your life. My question to you is: Where is your life going; where is life taking you? And then, Where is life designed to take you? Our world by its very design leads to destruction. When you let life lead you, you behave like there is no other influence in your life, like there is nothing guiding you through it all except your natural born affections and passions. As Christians we are called not to follow the way of nature, the natural way, but we are called to follow Jesus. We are called to follow after God as the parched deer pants for water. Is it God and you facing life together? Is the essence or your being set toward God? Love Him with all your soul!
“Love Him with all your mind.” It is the understanding behind the choices you make. It is that rational, intellectual part of us that is designed by God to investigate our world to find His works and deeds designed to draw us to Himself—to glorify Him for who He is and what He has done. It is that part of us that recognizes right and wrong, good and bad and can tell another why. It allows us to plan, design and invent. To love God with all our mind means to fix our thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). And not just to think these things but to do actions consistent with them (Phil 4:9).
“Love Him with all your strength.” What does this mean? Well, it cannot mean mighty human effort. It is not doing things in your own human strength, as you might force yourself to finish a grueling race. That is fine and needed if you are going to succeed in the athletic realm. But in the spiritual realm mere human strength will fail. It will not only fail but it will work contrary to the spiritual strength God wants us to have. So what does He mean by “all your strength?” It is perseverance, endurance. As James teaches us, it is perseverance that yields maturity. “Dear brothers and sisters, when trouble comes your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” Perseverance is seeing it through until the end. To love God with all your strength is to cling to Him until the end.
If you are a Christian, which man are you letting interpret your life? If you are a Christian you have a choice. You can put off the old man and put on the new (Eph. 4:22, Col. 3:9). If you are not a Christian then you have no choice, you only have the old man to live by. You can try to reform him or clean him up a little, but he is still self-centered and opposed to God. To you, God calls you to repentance and faith in Christ. To the Christian God says feed the new man, and walk according to his ways. And the first principle to actually doing this is to love God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength. And then love others as yourself. “On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets” (Matt. 22:40), Jesus said. And by living these two commands the new life that is in us thrives and makes us more like Jesus Christ—perfect and complete.
The Pharisees and others like them seek righteousness, God-pleasing behavior, by committed human effort. They seek to subdue the bad and bring about the good by training and discipline. They make rules and laws to guide their behavior. The better, they think, they keep these laws the closer they get to their vision of what man is intended to be. The Pharisees saw themselves as the model of what humans were intended to be. All other religions or philosophies have a standard they strive for. And whatever it is, that is their vision for humanity. The vision, the standard of Christianity is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And the Bible is clear that man cannot produce His likeness within by reformation and hard work. If not that, then how? The biblical admonitions are grow and manifest.
The born again believer is told in several passages to grow. How does growth work? A video I saw recently explains.
“The life of a plant begins inside a seed. Here the tiny plant embryo or the very small beginning of a plant, will soon receive the assistance it needs to start growing. Germination is the process through which the seed breaks apart and the embryo hidden inside begins to grow with the help of water and nutrients from the surrounding soil. It all begins with a single seed. But exactly what happens when the seed germinates? As the seed coat breaks apart, the embryo starts to grow and the first root, known as the radical, emerges from the seed coat and extends downward in search of nutrients. As the root grows, the plant’s first shoot or plumial grows upward in search of light, carrying with it the plant’s first leaves, known as the cotyledons. While the roots grow deeper into the ground, the shoot continues to sprout. As it absorbs more light, the young plant continues to grow and produce leaves.”
The word ‘grow’ means to increase in size according to the nature of the thing. It is a seed developing and reaching toward maturity according to the design already present within. A plant grows if it has the proper nutrition, water, soil, and sunlight. The nutrients, soil, light, and water do not produce the plant. You do not mix those ingredients together and somehow create a plant. All the information needed to produce the plant lies within the seed. It is already present before the ingredients are added, before it is exposed to them.
It is very informative that the Word of God tells the Christian to grow. The following verses tell us the end to which growth strives.
Ephesians 1:17: “I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.” Ephesians 4:15: “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.” 1 Peter 2:2: “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.” 2 Peter 3:18: “Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.”
The end of an acorn is an oak tree. The end of the born again life is: knowledge of God, more like Christ, full experience (or manifestation) of salvation, knowledge of Jesus Christ, and grace of Jesus Christ. The objective of growth is one. There are not multiple ends for the acorn. The end of an acorn is an oak tree—that is all, nothing else. The end of Christian life is also one. The above four statements concerning Christian growth all point to one end. Second Corinthians 3:18 tells us what that end is: “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” The end for the Christian is the image of Christ within. It is to reflect the glory of the Lord in our own lives. As the moon, that has no light of its own, reflects sunlight that can be seen from earth, so the Christian, who has no life of his own, reflects the life of God to others.
An important point to be made here is that for success in the process growth must be allowed to happen. If we allow an acorn to grow according to its design it will manifest an oak tree complete with branches and leaves. The Word of God tells us to grow into the image of Christ—to be like Him. But how do we know what that looks like? In part, we read the gospels and look at Christ. Philippians 2 tells us that it all begins with humility, the same humility seen in Christ. In order to even start the Christian life we need the humility necessary to admit with Paul “that in me dwells no good thing.” That in me I have no light of my own. When we realize this, then what? It is important to not do what the Pharisees did. They strove in their own strength to ‘be righteous’. The Christian is to ‘manifest’. But manifest what? Second Corinthians 5:17 tells us we are new creatures in Christ. We are to “put on the new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Eph. 4:24). But what does this new nature look like? “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:22-23). The Spirit of God wants to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our lives and He will do it if we do not resist Him. We have been made alive in Christ (Eph. 2) and that life will push upward if we allow it, if we allow it to manifest itself.
To live according to its ways we need to learn its qualities so that we can recognize its voice, its leading within us. Without this recognition how can we allow it to manifest itself?
Each of the fruit of the Spirit is the life of Christ manifested in different circumstances. Love is the life of Christ committed to benefit another based on a love for God and not anything appealing in the other person; joy is the life of Christ that finds hope in God’s presence and promises despite circumstances; peace is the life of Christ that brings a calm assurance during difficult times; patience is the life of Christ that sees a situation through to the end by clinging to God; kindness is the life of Christ expressing care and concern for another; goodness is the life of Christ in our inner being that longs for and acts for the well- being of another; faithfulness is the life of Christ that stays true to its promises and commitments; gentleness is the life of Christ that does not abuse but uses strength to benefit another; self-control is the life of Christ that does not allow anything to suppress the manifestation of Christlike behavior.
This needs to be stressed—we do not grow into the fruit of the Spirit, they just are. We grow in our knowledge of God, in our knowledge of who Christ is. And as we know Him better we are transformed by the power of God into the image of Christ. For in the future, at His coming, “we will be like Him because we shall see Him as He is.” We allow God to manifest Christ through us. That truth is foundational to the Christian life.
The full expression of salvation from start to finish is by the grace of God. We come to Christ by not resisting the inviting and enabling grace of God and we grow in Christlikeness by not resisting the transforming grace of God. It is all of grace; we have no light of our own.
The Core of Who We are Meant to Be (Part 2): The Body of Christ
1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13: "All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:
first are apostles, second are prophets, third are teachers, then those who do miracles, those who have the gift of healing, those who can help others, those who have the gift of leadership, those who speak in unknown languages.
Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! So you [as a church] should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.
But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love."
Ephesians 3:6-20: "And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News. Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning. God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. So please don’t lose heart because of my trials here. I am suffering for you, so you should feel honored. When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen."
Ephesians 4:11-16: "Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 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. 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. 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. 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."
This church started because people wanted church to be more. They did not want it to be a meeting, they did not want it to be a performance, they did not want it to be just information, they wanted it to be something that would transform lives and enable Christians to walk with God. When you come to church here at Trinity it is not about performance. This church works hard. We are diligent about trying to have the best music possible. I work all week trying to bring the best message to you, but it is not about what happens up here. It is all about what happens out there. The music is not about sounding pretty and saying really good stuff. The music is about lifting hearts to say, “God, you are awesome. God, I love you. God, thank you.” It helps us to be reminded of who God is and what He is doing in our lives. Church is not about information. It is about transformation. It is all about what happens in you. Each one of you, whether you are a first-timer here or you have been here since the church began, God wants to transform your heart.
One of the local church’s main functions is equipping believers for ministry. Now, what does that mean? In the broadest sense it means partnering with God to meet the needs of others. It does not require you to be perfect. It does not mean that you have to have it all together. God wants to use us as conduits of His grace in the lives of people. God wants to reach others through you and me. Church is about equipping, giving believers the things they need to minister to others. Although the words can be used somewhat interchangeably, there is a difference between service and ministry. Service is what you do for other people. Ministry is what God does through you for other people. See, without God involved, there is no worship, there are just songs. But songs with God becomes worship. Service with God becomes ministry. A social activity without God is just fun, just interaction. With God it is fellowship. Serving people is a good thing. Helping people is a good thing. That describes a good philanthropic organization, a good social institution. And that is fine, as far as it goes. But the church as a whole, and individuals specifically are to be about ministry. Ministry is about bringing God into a service opportunity.
As we love one another, we are showing our love for Christ. “If you do not love one another, the love of God does not dwell within you and you are a liar and walking in darkness.” Those are strong words because loving one another is important. Because it is not just about us. “Us four, no more.” It is about God working in us and through us to touch the lives of others the same way you were touched when someone brought you into His family. We talked previously about growing in our knowledge of God and being transformed into the image of Christ. Now we are focusing on one particular aspect of the image of Christ—serving others. Jesus did for others. Jesus gave His life a ransom for others. He gave His time, His energies, and His life for the benefit of others. It is the core and root of what church is all about. From Christ the whole body grows and is strengthened in love as each part joins and works together.
Paul in Ephesians and 1 Corinthians outlines what the church’s function is. It is not a social organization. It is the body, the living body of Jesus Christ alive in a community. He physically is not here. We are to be His hands and feet in the community. His mind is to work through the minds of His people. His voice is to speak through the words of His people. And because of this we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” We are to with fear and trembling live out the inner reality of Christ in us. We are to with fear and trembling do Christ’s work. We are not to take this responsibility lightly. We are to love and care and do what Christ would do if He was walking around Bay Street on a Friday afternoon. We are to be Him on this earth.
The most exciting thing in my life is when I see God working in new areas of my life. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it is stretching and I do not want to be stretched. I just want to get through it, go for a motorcycle ride or do something just to get away. But God says, “No, I am not done growing you.” Can you accept that God has bigger dreams for you than you have for yourself? I mean, you are so stuck in getting through this next week, you miss that God has dreams for your life, for your future. Whether you are six or sixty, He still is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or even can dream as His power works in us.
Power is given to do something. Power is not given to sit still or rev up to make a big noise. “Oh, I have power” (revving noise). So what? It is just a clanging gong if it does not do something. It is just a noise that becomes annoying. But when power is harnessed to accomplish something then it is exciting and is able to make a difference. His power works where? In you. It connects you with God for ministry. God gives you power for ministry so you can walk where He wants you to walk. Every Christian is called by God to represent Jesus Christ to the world. Since He is not physically here to be seen by the world, we are to behave in such a way that they can get a glimpse of who He is and know that He loves them.
Many of you are not doing much to help others. We are a serving ministry to other people in this congregation and surrounding community and you are robbing them of what God wants to do through you for them. We are shortchanging the whole body of Christ by not letting His ministry power flow through us that enables us to do what God calls us to do--what God has enabled and equipped each one of us to do. It is not about getting work out of you. It is about you growing to be who God has called and designed you and wants to empower you to be. That is growth. We tend to think that growth is knowing more. The whole goal of all of our studies, the whole goal I am talking about is not so you would know more answers. But so that God’s Word will saturate your mind and change and shape your heart.
In Ephesians Paul tells us how God shared the Good News from the beginning of the church until now. First He sent people called apostles to foreign cultures to build His church. And then He brought in prophets, people who would speak the truth of God when they did not have the Bible, to tell them what God says needs to be done. And then He brought evangelists to help them come to know Christ. And then He gave them pastors/teachers to equip God’s people for ministry. That is why I am here. That is why I came here because that was my passion and I heard that was this church’s passion.
None of us are complete in and of ourselves. Even mature Christians need others to team with to more fully represent Christ. We need their gifts. We need their encouragement. We need their strength. As Trinity’s pastors, Stephen’s, Doug’s, and my specific role is to equip God’s people for ministry. It is not to build this church. It is not to organize and tell them how to get things done. It is not to write their constitution. It is not to draw a big crowd. It is to equip God’s people for ministry which then builds and strengthens this church. Our fundamental purpose for existing is enabling God’s people to grow to be more like Christ and minister to others as He did. It is about equipping you to be what God designed you to be. It is about giving you opportunities, giving you partners, giving you people who will encourage and strengthen you to be more than you are. It is about adding to your life so that you can do the same for others. Even natural gifts done with God turn from service to ministry.
In Christ the whole body grows and is strengthened as each part joins and works together. It is a mistake to think you can only do things you are ‘gifted’ for. We have been called to help others. We have been called to serve and minister to others. Some things do not require a special gift. You do not need a special gift to show kindness to someone in a tangible way. You do not need a special gift to carry another’s burden or help them accomplish a task important to him or her. There are many things we do simply because we are Christians. As Jesus went about doing good, so should we. I think sometimes we focus too much on ‘giftedness’ and not enough on doing good in this world because that is what Christ did. It is in His character to do good. As Christians if we want to represent Him well, then we need to be about doing good as well. Doing good is not a spiritual gift, it is a fruit of the Spirit. And all Christians are called to manifest the fruit of the Spirit.
The people who are doing the lunches after the service ten years ago knew nothing about cooking. They knew about as much as most of you know about cooking. They could cook a meal for their family. But there is a guy in this church named Bob Strong who managed restaurants and catering businesses. He taught them what to do. They just did what he did and figured it out and so now cook for 100 people after every 11:00 am Sunday service. Search your Bibles, there is no spiritual gift of cooking. The people involved in this ministry have learned a natural skill and have turned it from service to ministry because they do it to please God and benefit His people. Many of the things that can be done in the church or in the community are things that Christians can do simply because they are Christians who want to help in some way. Yes, there are some things only specifically gifted people should do, and we saw some of these in Ephesians and 1 Corinthians, but many things can be done in the church and in the community to represent Christ that do not involve Ephesians and 1 Corinthian type callings. They just involve being a Christian here or there doing this or that. If you are a born again Christian, you should have some desire to represent Christ to others, to the world. Since He went about doing good, you can represent Him faithfully if you do too. James said that an example of pure religion is helping the orphans and widows in need. This type of behavior is to characterize all Christians. There is no gift of helping orphans or gift of helping widows. Or gift of delivering meals to the elderly, for example. Or gift of doing volunteer work for Christian organizations because you want to support them. Those activities are an outworking of the life of Christ in you. As the body of Christ, let us join together to represent Him well to our community.