Why Not Just Be Christians?
Reading: Ephesians Ch. 3v1-14.
God manifests himself in his children; consequently the manifestation is seen by others, not by us. Oswald Chambers.
God hides nothing. His very work from the beginning is revelation, a casting aside of veil after veil, a showing to men truth after truth. On and on from fact divine he advances, until at length in his Son, Jesus, he unveils his very face. George MacDonald.
I guess all of us can be intrigued by secrets. All of us love to be privy to the secrets of dearest friends. Friendships can be enhanced by sharing and keeping secrets, the moment a secret is divulged immediately that friendship is on shaky ground.
Did you know that God has a secret which, He kept for thousands of years? It's true. In the passage of Scripture under consideration, Paul calls this secret a mystery. It was a mystery which, was once hidden but is now revealed. In other words, the secret which, God kept hidden for thousands of years has now been fully communicated. Simply put, the secret, which has now been revealed, is the centrality of the Church in God's plan.
Do you really know what Church is? Do you understand the place of Church in the plan of God? Do you know what place Church ought to have in your life?
A. W. Tozer said, “A church that is soundly rooted cannot be destroyed, but nothing can save a church whose root is dried up. No stimulation, no advertising campaigns, no gifts of money and no beautiful edifice can bring back life to the rootless tree” End Quote!
These are important questions for which every Christian ought to have answers. The way we answer these questions will determine the extent to which we fully enter into God's plan for our lives. It is possible to come to know Christ as your Saviour and miss the plan of God for your life. And the Church is central to that plan. If you do not understand the role of the Church in the plan of God, you will never understand what God is doing in and through you as part of the Church.
Sadly, we seem to have come to a place of biblical illiteracy in our world today. There is very little understanding of the great doctrines of the Bible. And, unfortunately, this is even true in our churches. It is somewhat ironic to have to say that in the Church there is little understanding of Church. I'm not talking about the elementary things like understanding that the Church is not merely buildings and holy furniture. Most of us understand that.
We understand that the Church is not the structure located at the corner of the street. We have come far enough to know that the Church is people. But oft times that is the extent of our understanding. And this lack of understanding spans all denominations and non-denominations alike. Among many people the Church is viewed as an organization like a small business or large corporation depending upon its size. You see; to say the Church is people is to say too little. Some people therefore assume the Church is to be run like a business where everyone is a general partner. They reduce the Church to a democratic deliberation where the least offensive course of action is pursued, assuring the lowest common denominator of spirituality to prevail. The Church is reduced to a social institution where the needs and preferences of the members are its focus. But that is not Church!
The Church is a living organism of God's people, placed together by God's wisdom, led by spiritual leaders of God's choosing, committed to doing God's will, living out its life together in community, submitting to one another and God's authority in its midst, and revealing God's grace and wisdom to all around.
The Church is central to what God is doing in the earth today. It is true that God deals with individuals, but generally God chooses to deal with them through the Church. And unless we come to this understanding of the Church as central to what God is doing in the earth today and in our own individual lives, then we will never understand why God does things the way He does. So let's look together at the mystery of Christ, which is His Church.
It is too bad that anything so obvious should need to be said at this late date, but from all appearances, we Christians have just about forgotten the lesson so carefully taught by Paul: God's servants are not to be competitors, but co-workers. A.W. Tozer in: The Next Chapter After the Last. Christianity Today, Vol. 32, no. 13.
Some missionaries in the Philippines set up a croquet game in their front yard. Several of their Agta Negrito neighbours became interested and wanted to join the fun. The missionaries explained the game and started them out, each with a mallet and ball. As the game progressed, opportunity came for one of the players to take advantage of another by knocking that person's ball out of the court. A missionary explained the procedure, but his advice only puzzled the Negrito friend. "Why would I want to knock his ball out of the court?" he asked. "So you will be the one to win!" a missionary said. The short-stature man, clad only in a loincloth, shook his head in bewilderment. Competition is generally ruled out in a hunting and gathering society, where people survive not by competing but by sharing equally in every activity. The game continued, but no one followed the missionaries' advice. When a player successfully got through all the wickets, the game was not over for him. He went back and gave aid and advice to his fellows. As the final player moved toward the last wicket, the affair was still very much a team effort. And finally, when the last wicket was played, the "team" shouted happily, "We won! We won!" That is how the Church, the body of Christ, should be. We're a team. We all win together. James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 123-124.
1. Here Is The Responsibility Of A Mystery! Ch. 3v1-2.
There is a powerful responsibility of this mystery. The word Paul uses for mystery is the Greek word "musterion". The word mystery in English is used to translate this Greek word. But our English word mystery sometimes gives us an incorrect idea of what Paul is talking about here. Sometimes we view a mystery as being an enigma, something that we cannot understand or figure out. But the word "musterion" referred to a secret hidden from all but those who were initiated into it. Those who had the secret knowledge could understand the mystery. Those who did not could not. In Paul's day there were many “mystery religions.” They were much the same as the Masonic Lodge is today. Only the initiates, those inducted into the mysteries of the Lodge, understand them. So when Paul uses the word "musterion", he is referring to a secret which was hidden that is now made known and which carries with it a deep, deep, responsibility.
a. What Attitude towards His Responsibility: v1.
“For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles”
Considers himself a prisoner of Jesus Christ, he is as it were tied into his calling and responsibility; he most certainly does not treat this lightly. That was of course his attitude in Acts 21 when he meets with the elders.
“And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law” (Acts Ch. 21v17-20).
Again in Philippians Paul’s responsibility shines through, without doubt he is someone who will take seriously his work for God.
“But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; and many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians Ch.1v12-14).
b. What Accountability towards His Responsibility: v2.
“If ye have heard of the dispensation (Literally—Stewardship) of the grace of God which is given me toward you” his is absolutely aware, as a steward, he will before God, in a day to come, give account therefore, there is no way he will fool about with this responsibility it is way too serious a matter to play fast and loose with.
It is as though he says I cannot possibility keep this wonderful truth to myself, I must share it with others. It’s a little bit the lepers in 2 Kings, “And when these lepers came to the uttermost part of the camp, they went into one tent, and did eat and drink, and carried thence silver, and gold, and raiment, and went and hid it; and came again, and entered into another tent, and carried thence also, and went and hid it. Then they said one to another, we do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace: if we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us: now therefore come that we may go and tell the king's household” (2 Kings Ch.7v8-9).
2. Here Is The Revelation Of A Mystery! v3-7.
a. The Promise Connected To The Mystery: v3-6.
Paul says “that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery”. He goes on to say, in verse 4-5, that it is “the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit”. In other words, the secret, which God is revealing, has not always been plain. God had always intended to reveal His plan, but until this time He could not reveal it. Throughout all the Old Testament, God was bringing His people to this place. Now He has reached the point where the mystery can be unveiled. It is a progressive presentation through His holy apostles and prophets. And what is it? In verse 6 he says, to be specific, “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel”.
Is he saying that the mystery is that now Jews and Gentiles are both blessed together? Is that the mystery? It might help us to look at what the mystery is not. The mystery is not simply that the Gentiles were blessed. God had already revealed that throughout the Old Testament. The mystery was not that the Kingdom of God would include the Gentiles. God begins the Old Covenant with His promise to Abraham that “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis Ch.12v3). So that is not the mystery. Neither is the mystery the sufferings of Christ. In Isaiah 53 we read in great detail about how Christ would come and suffer and die for our sins. These are not the mystery.
The mystery is that through Christ's death both Jews and Gentiles can be brought together into a new entity. Both are fellow members of the body. The body refers to the body of Christ, the Church. The mystery is that God inaugurated a New Covenant, a unity of all peoples formed together into a new entity, which is the Church. God has inaugurated a new age in which “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” God has established a new society on the basis of a New Covenant.
This is the revelation of the Church. And until the time when God could bring the Church into existence, He chose not to reveal that mystery. It is the mystery of the called out ones. In Greek, the term translated “church” is "ecclesia." It literally means “called out ones.” And for hundreds of years church was called "ecclesia" --- called out ones. Then the Emperor Constantine was converted and built many gorgeous temples. The term was changed from "ecclesia" to "kuriakos" --- "lordly house" Over the years and through the languages "kuriakos" became "kirkus" which became "kirk" which eventually became "church". But a church is not a lordly house, made with hands. A church is a gathering of called out ones who know the Lord and are placed together by Christ. It is a living organism known as the body of Christ. And the Church is central to God's plan.
For the watching world, we ourselves serve proof that God is alive. We form the visible shape of what he is like. Philip Yancey in Leadership, Vol. 8, no. 3.
The search for the perfect church is an illusion. Appetite by itself is the sepulchre, the death of reason, judgement, and discipline. Some form of satisfaction doesn't even stand a chance unless one settles down at a place and serves. The church is a feast, not a taste, a meal, not a nibble. One sits and serves with the same people week after week, receiving and being received, disappointing and being disappointed, hurting and being hurt, caring and being cared for. Church people are in it for the long haul, not the short term. The ordinary is more crucial than the extraordinary. The glory of church is the routine, not the exceptional. - C. John Weborg in: The Covenant Companion (Nov.l989). Christianity Today, Vol. 34, no. 1.
b. The Minister Of The Mystery: v7-9.
Paul says that God revealed to His holy apostles and prophets this mystery. Here we see the Minister of the Mystery. God made the apostle Paul a minister of this mystery according to the gift of God's grace, which was given to me according to the working of His power. Isn't this amazing? I have always been fascinated and awestruck by the fact that God has entrusted the preaching of His mysteries to mere mortals. It seems that we are so ill-equipped for the task. In fact, Paul echoes this very sentiment when he says:
"To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things." Ephesians Ch. 3v8-9.
Paul senses his own inadequacy to preach this glorious mystery. It seems to me that an angel could better preach this mystery. If Michael or Gabriel would suddenly appear in the clouds proclaiming in a thunderous voice the truth concerning Jesus Christ, I would certainly be impressed, others too no doubt. But God has not chosen angels to proclaim this message. In fact, angels can't even understand this mystery first hand. Angels are not redeemed creatures. Insofar as our salvation is concerned, angels have no first hand experience. Peter refers to God's marvellous redemptive salvation in 1 Peter Ch.1v12 where he says that these are “things into which angels long to look.” And as we will see in just a moment, the angels actually learn about God's grace and wisdom through the Church. So God has chosen redeemed humanity to preach the mystery.
This mystery centres on Jesus Christ. All of God's redemptive purposes centre in Christ. Paul calls this the unfathomable riches of Christ. This new humanity based on the New Covenant reveals the unfathomable riches of Christ's grace and God's wisdom. This new community is based on Christ living in you and in us corporately. This coming together of all people under the banner of the Cross and living out God's purposes through the life of the Church has its focus in the person of Christ. Christ's riches are revealed. We see that He is rich in His love for us! We see that He is rich in His mercy toward us! We see that He is rich in His grace! And we also see the riches of His presence within us! His power in us and His plan for us! And now we have the privilege to share that mystery with others!
Horace Bushnell said, “Persecution has not crushed the church; power has not beaten it back; time has not abated its forces; and what is most wonderful of all, the abuses of its friends have not shaken its stability” End Quote!
Phillips Brooks Said, “In what strange quarries and stone yards the stones for the celestial wall are being hewn! Out of the hillsides of humiliated pride; deep in the darkness of crushed despair; in the fretting and dusty atmosphere of little cares; in the hard cruel contacts that man has with man; wherever souls are being tried and ripened, in whatever commonplace and homely ways-there God is hewing out the pillars for his temple” End Quote!
3. Here Is The Reason For This Mystery! Ch.3v10-12.
a. A Proclamation of God’s Wisdom: v10-11.
Here we see the present purpose of this mystery. We find that the Church, Christ's body, is in itself a revelation of the manifold wisdom of God. We see here again that the Church is central to God's purposes in redemption. The mystery of the Church is that God has established an age of grace in which He is working out His purposes through a new community in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. In other words, in the Church God teaches heavenly beings. The angels of God learn to understand the manifold wisdom of God as it is made known through the church. What an amazing statement!
W. A. Criswell says on this point:
What an exalted conception and idea of the Church this is! What the angelic beings did not learn in the presence of Deity, and what they have not learned in all the providences of God through the centuries, they learn in how God saves man, and in how God's redemptive grace is building this new creation, the Church, the body of the Lord. End Quote!
The angels didn't learn of God's wisdom in creation. They didn't learn of God's wisdom in His dealings with man in the Old Testament. In all of God's covenants, they didn't learn of His wisdom. But through the saving work of Christ to call the Church together, they see His wisdom. In the establishing of a new humanity based on a New Covenant whereby Christ's very life is imparted to people made new by His grace, we see wisdom unequalled anywhere in the universe.
b. A Promotion Of Godly Worship: 13-14.
Our relationship with God brings into our whole way of living v12 a Holy Boldness that will cause us to stand whatever the tribulation and testing faced v13. Because there is something above and beyond all of this we have mentioned so far, in all we do for the Lord we do by means of worship to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church is God's enterprise. This is why it cannot be run like a human organization. This new way of living calls us to deny self and to operate out of a different mentality. It calls us to lay down our lives. It calls us to do things, which are not simply hard to do; they are impossible to do without the power of God. In the Church we are called to live in community, where our actions or inaction impacts the lives of all others.
We are called to lay down our individual preferences, not simply for the preferences of the majority, but for the will of God. We're called to respect and submit to the spiritual authority of the leaders God has placed in the Church, as well as to submit to one another in the Lord. We are called to forgive one another, to love one another, to serve one another, to support one another, and to encourage one another. And that runs both ways. Our power or wisdom can do none of this, and employing worldly strategies certainly cannot do it. This kind of living is true worship to our Heavenly Father. That’s why Paul says in v14 “For this cause I bow my knees unto the father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is only as God is present in every aspect of the life of the Church that we see the wisdom of God revealed. But when He is allowed to be in charge, then we see what He had in mind. We must see that through the Church God reveals His manifold wisdom and unsearchable riches in Christ, and we must commit ourselves to be the Church, those who have entered into a New Covenant of grace and into a new relationship with one another. As we do then God will reveal His plan through the Church to us, to others, and even to angelic beings.
Anyone can love the ideal church. The challenge is to love the real church. - Bishop Joseph McKinney, Leadership, Vol. 6, no. 3.
A church had a sign in front: JESUS ONLY. One night a storm blew out the first three letters and left US ONLY. Too many churches have come to that. - Vance Havner, from: The Vance Havner Quote Book.
How can we “Just Be Christians?” Well, I am sure Paul says it best in 2 Corinthians Ch.4v16 “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day."