Thinking Biblically About Church

October 1, 2023 ()

Bible Text: Ephesians 2:19-3:12 |


Thinking Biblically about Church | Ephesians 2:19-3:12
Brian Hedges | October 1, 2023

Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles this morning to the book of Ephesians. We’re going to be reading in a moment from Ephesians 2-3.

It’s probably no surprise to any of you that the church in the United States of America is in decline. Some might even say that the church is in crisis. In their book The Great De-Churching, authors Jim Davis and Michael Graham talk about how the United States is experiencing the largest and fastest religious shift in the history of our country, as tens of millions of former regular church-attending people have now left the church. This has happened over the last twenty-five years or so, and about 40 million adults who used to go to church no longer do. It accounts for 16 per cent of the population.

They cite this statistic from Gallup. For the first time in the eight decades that Gallup has tracked religious membership, more adults in the United States now do not attend church than do attend church. You can see in this graph that, just as the number of Christians is in decline, the number of “nones” (that is, people who do not identify with any particular religious group) is on the rise.

This book talks about how there have been different periods of religious shifts that have taken place in a rapid period of time in history. The first of these was in the First Great Awakening in the 1730s and ’40s. During that period of revival there were many people who were converted and who were brought into churches. The same thing happened in the Second Great Awakening, a longer period of time, 1790 to about the 1840s. Then the third time was after the Civil War. In the decades following the Civil War there was a huge influx of people into churches.

But what’s happened now is that that is exactly reversed. In fact, this was a stunning quote to me. The authors say that more people have left the church in the last twenty-five years than all the new people who became Christians from the First Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening, and Billy Graham crusades combined.

So the church in America today is very much in decline; some would even say it’s in crisis. There are lots of things we might think about that. This book examines the factors that have led to that and also gives some recommendations about how to respond to it.

I think one thing we have to do is we have to examine once again the basic identity of the church. Who are we and what are we here for? What are we doing? You and I come to church; most of you who are here this morning probably come on a somewhat regular basis. But what do you really think of the church? What is the level of your commitment to the church? What are your hopes and your expectations of the church? Do our views of the church align with what the Scriptures teach? That’s what we’re going to talk about this morning.

This is the fifth and the final message in this short topical series called “Thinking Biblically.” We’ve looked at different themes or topics each week for the last five weeks. We began by looking at work, then identity, then politics. Last week was on family, and then today on church. This, by the way, is not the normal diet for our teaching ministry in the church. Most of the time we’re working through books of the Bible together, but every once in a while we’ll stop and kind of look at some themes or topics together. But next week we’re going to dive into a new series on the letter to the Hebrews, which I’m very excited about. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for many years and feel like the time is right. It’s a letter that I think speaks very clearly to us today and urgently about some of the things we’re facing in the world today. We’ll talk about that next week.

Today we’re going to dig into this letter to the Ephesians, and we’re going to look at a number of passages as we go along, but I want to begin by reading Ephesians 2:19-3:12. I want you to notice as we read how Paul describes the church. In this passage he uses several illustrations to describe the church. We might call these word pictures or metaphors with which he describes the church. As we read, see if you can notice those, and I’m going to come back and point them out and draw out some implications and application for us from this passage, as well as a few others in Ephesians. So, Ephesians 2:19. Paul says,

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

“For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

“Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.”

This is God’s word.

You can see Paul’s emphasis on the church throughout this passage, especially in Ephesians 3:10 when he says that it’s through the church that the manifold wisdom of God is made known in the heavenly places. The church is right at the center of God’s eternal purpose that’s been realized in Jesus Christ.

What is the church? We take the Greek word for church, ecclesia. That word essentially means a congregation or an assembly. We might define the church very simply as “the people of God assembled.” That’s what the church is: the people of God assembled.

But Paul gives us a deep and a rich picture of the church that he fills out with various images and word pictures in this passage. I want to point these out to you. There are three that are in the passage we read and one more that I want to add at the end. Along the way, having looked at each one of these pictures, what I want to do is suggest a couple of implications and applications that we could draw from each one of these. My hope is that it will remind us both of our identity as the people of God as well as our basic privileges and responsibilities as people who belong to the church of Jesus Christ. So, four illustrations or metaphors for the church.

1. The Church Is the Household of God

You see this in Ephesians 2:19-20.

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.”

You also have the phrase “fellow heirs” in Ephesians 3:6. So this is familial language; it’s the language of family.

As we saw last week—I mentioned this last week in the sermon on family—when you look at the family language that’s used in the New Testament—brother and sister and even mother and father—that language is often used to describe the church, because the church is a new family. It is the family of God, with God as our Father, with Christ as our elder brother, and you and I related to one another as brothers and sisters in the family of God. That has tremendous implications for how we are to think about our relationship with the church. The church is not just a building you attend, it’s not just an institution that dispenses religious goods, the church is a family. It’s a community, and we are meant to have these family-type relationships with one another. That means a couple of things for us.

(1) It means, first of all, that we should welcome one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. I mean that in both the literal sense and in the broader, more general sense of the word. Certainly we should be a friendly church, where we are welcoming one another and we are welcoming newcomers among us, so we are constantly holding out the welcome and the greeting and the peace of Christ to those who gather for worship. But it also means that we should embrace one another as being a part of the same family.

You might ask, “How in the world do you do that in a church of 300 people, with two services, where I don’t even know everybody’s name in the church? How do you do that?”

I would suggest that you might think of a church of this size being something like a family, with both your nuclear family and your extended family. With your nuclear family—those are the people who live with you in your house—you have a close relationship, where you are interacting with each other on a daily basis, you’re caring for one another, you’re meeting one another’s needs, you’re serving one another. You’re carrying one another’s burdens and sorrows and joys.

But occasionally you go to an extended family gathering. You might even go to a family reunion where you meet an uncle that you’ve never met before. But you’re still related! On those occasions you will perhaps find some points of common ground, you’ll build some affinity, you’ll have some conversation, and you will build a relationship. It's a family relationship even though it’s not as deep as that close, nuclear family relationship.

In the same way, that can form an analogy for our lives together in the church. When you come to a church of this size, you need to be a part of a smaller group of people where you are building these close brother, sisterly relationships with one another. That can be a small group, it can be a ministry team, it can be a more informal friendship where there’s a discipling relationship. Maybe you’re meeting regularly with an older brother in Christ or you’re meeting regularly with a younger sister in Christ and you’re building a friendship in that way. It could be a Bible study that you attend or a prayer group or a class. There are many, many different options. We’re talking about these all the time at Redeemer—many ways that you can plug in in a smaller gathering. I want to encourage you to do that. That’s one of the ways you get involved in a church and you build these family relationships. That becomes the group that you care for in a practical way, the group that you’re praying for, that you are serving, that you are being served by. It’s the group that you are building these close family relationships with.

At the same time, you’re meeting people and should be meeting people every week, maybe people you haven’t met before. You’re talking to someone; it’s a familiar face, but you can’t place the name and face together, you can’t connect that. So, take initiative and welcome one another and get to know your extended family that gathers here week after week for worship at Redeemer Church. Those are ways that we can foster this family atmosphere, this family relationship in the church. We need to welcome one another as brothers and sisters, because we are! If we’re in Christ, we have this relationship in Christ.

(2) Here’s the second implication: we need to resist the pull of individualism that’s in our culture, and we resist that by belonging to the church, by really belonging to the church. That, of course, means something like church membership, but it also means a deep investment of our time and our affection and our energy into the church so that we have a sense of belonging in the community. We need this because of the problems of individualism in our secular society and the isolation that that brings.

You know, sociologists have talked a lot about this. There was a book written a little over twenty years ago by Robert Putnam that was called Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. It was all about the decline of social capital in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century, as people had withdrawn from community. There were fewer volunteers, there were fewer community organizations, there were fewer people knowing their neighbors. Even the style of neighborhoods changed. People were no longer really engaging with their neighbors. The title of the book was taken from the fact that people were bowling, but instead of bowling in leagues they were going and bowling by themselves. So they’re bowling alone.

There was one study that was conducted by some researchers at Harvard, social scientists at Harvard, that tracked the lives of seven thousand people over a period of nine years. They found that the effects of isolation had negative health consequences on those people who were most isolated. Here’s a quote:

“Isolated people were three times more likely to die than those with strong relational connections. People who had bad health habits (such as smoking, poor eating habits, obesity, or alcohol use) but had strong social ties lived significantly longer than people who had great health habits but were isolated.”

In other words, as someone else commented, it’s better for you to eat Twinkies with your friends than to eat broccoli by yourself.

So the reality, folks, is that isolation is damaging to us. That’s where individualism will take you. It will take you away from people if you look out only for your own interests and not for the interests of others.

Maybe we felt this more than ever before during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, as the church was shut down in most of the country, and this church was shut down for three months. Maybe you found your entry point into Redeemer Church during that time period and started attending the church because you saw your need for community then.

Here’s the reality, folks: God, when he created human beings, said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” and the solution to the problem of isolation, the solution that God has given, is the church. It’s a community of people who are gathered in the name of Christ. We need the church. We need it to counter the individualism in our culture and the isolation that leads to. The church is the household of God; it’s the family of God.

2. The Church Is the Dwelling-Place of the Spirit

Here’s the second illustration that we find in Ephesians 2:21-22: the church is also the dwelling-place of the Spirit. Paul shifts his language now into another metaphor. He says in verse 21, “. . . in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

He shifts from family language to temple language. One of the things we try to do in this series is take each theme each week and try to situate that theme within the broader storyline of Scripture—creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. When you do that with the church, this is one of the avenues into that broader storyline, because in the Bible this theme of the dwelling place of God just runs through the Bible like a thread.

Really, you could trace it all the way back to the garden of Eden. When God created the world, he created the cosmos, he placed in the center of the world this cosmic temple, this garden temple that was the garden of Eden. It was to be the dwelling place of God. It was the place where the man and the woman and their offspring were to exist as God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule, to quote theologian Graham Goldsworthy. They were to be the kingdom of God on earth in this garden temple, where Adam functioned as the priest of this temple, mediating the presence and the glory of God to all the earth.

But of course we know that they sinned, and having sinned they were banished from the garden, which was then guarded by these cherubim that were guarding the garden with the sword of fire. They couldn’t get back into the presence of God.

Then God does something. He makes a promise to a man named Abraham. He promises that he’s going to bless him and he’s going to bless all the nations of the earth through his son, through his seed, through his children, his offspring. This people becomes the new people of God, the children of Israel, the nation of Israel. They become the new people of God, and God then gives them this incredible gift. You remember this from Mount Sinai in Exodus. God gives them his law, but he also gives them his presence. He gives them the tabernacle. What is the tabernacle? It’s this portable tent that they were to carry with them wherever they went, and God himself would dwell in the tent, the glory of God filling the tabernacle. It was God’s presence with his people once again.

Of course, this eventually became the temple that Solomon built. But we know from the story of Scripture that God’s glory eventually departs that temple, as the children of Israel sin against God time after time after time, and the glory departs. Read the prophet Ezekiel, where the glory departs from the temple. But there’s this hope, and the hope is that someday there’s going to be a new temple, and that God once again is going to come dwell with his people.

It’s that storyline of the dwelling-place of God that lies behind Paul’s words here when he says, “You are that temple. You are the dwelling place of God. You are being built up as this holy temple for the Lord, the dwelling-place of God, through the Holy Spirit.”

Again, I think this has tremendous implications for us. It means, brothers and sisters, that we should, first of all, place a very high value on corporate worship. When we gather together, there’s something unique about that. We are to place a high value on corporate worship in the church.

I know that you can worship God as an individual, and you should. You should seek God in prayer, you should read your Bible on your own, you should ask God to speak to you through his word. We should all do that. But do you remember that when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, the first line of the Lord’s Prayer is not, “My Father, who is in heaven—” it’s, “Our Father, who is in heaven.” Jesus is envisioning the disciples as a community that is praying together.

There’s something unique, I believe, that happens when we gather together as the people of God, we sit under the teaching of the word of God, we offer our prayers in unison together, we confess our faith together, we come to the Lord’s table together, we are being ministered to by word and by sacrament, and we do that in one another’s presence in the name of Jesus Christ. It’s in that space uniquely that the Holy Spirit comes and fills us as the people of God.

Can I just exhort parents, especially? Listen, your children will learn to value the church based on your example. They will learn the importance of corporate worship by what you do. And I know there are all kinds of reasons why we might miss on a Sunday morning. Some of you have to work sometimes on Sundays, and I’m not talking about that. There are times when we’re gone for vacation; I’m not talking about that. But on the normal week in and week out of our lives, if what our children see is that we come to church about once a month but the other three Sundays we’re sleeping in or we’re going shopping, we’re involved in sports events or recreation of various kinds, what our children will learn from us is that our personal comfort and convenience is three times more important than the worship of God. So prioritize corporate worship in the local church. It doesn’t have to be this church. It can be any gospel-believing, gospel-preaching church, but prioritize that and make it a part of your life together.

Could I also exhort us to pray for the Spirit’s presence in our corporate worship? It’s not something that we should just assume will happen. Just because we’re here doesn’t mean that the Spirit of God is necessarily going to bless us and fill us and empower us and do what we need him to do as the temple of God. If we are the dwelling-place of God and we need the Spirit of God, we need to pray the way Paul teaches us to pray. If you go to the end of Ephesians 3, I think it’s there that Paul completes his thought and returns, I think, to this basic imagery of the church as a temple as he teaches the church to pray by modeling this. He’s praying this for them, that they would be strengthened by the Spirit in their inner being and that Christ would dwell in their hearts by faith, that they would be rooted and grounded in God’s love and they would know the dimensions—the height and depth and length and breadth—of the love of Christ and they’d be filled up with all the fullness of God. He’s praying that for them, and I think the way God does that in our lives is as we gather together in worship of God. So let me exhort you to pray.

If you want a practical way to do this, consider setting a 7 p.m. alarm on your phone for every Saturday night, and at 7 p.m. stop what you’re doing, open up your Bible to Ephesians 3:14-21, and pray that prayer to the Lord for our worship on Sunday morning here at Redeemer Church.

3. The Church Is the Body of Christ

The church is the household of God, the church is the dwelling place of the Spirit, and thirdly, the church is the body of Christ.

You see this briefly in Ephesians 3:6, where Paul says that we are members of the same body. It’s one word in Greek. It’s the word soma with a prefix, and it means literally that we are joint members in the body, that we are in the body together. But it connects to this word “body” that Paul uses another eight times in Ephesians to talk about the church, the church as the body of Christ.

I think it’s interesting that of all the writers of the New Testament only Paul uses this word picture to describe the church. You might ask why. Why is it that only Paul talks about the church as the body of Christ? Some scholars have suggested that it goes all the way back to the moment of Paul’s conversion, when he was on the road to Damascus and he met the risen Christ, and you remember what Jesus said to him? He said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Of course, what Saul of Tarsus had been doing was persecuting Christians; he was persecuting the church. But Jesus in those words reveals that there is such a deep and intimate union between himself and his people that to persecute his people is to persecute him. That union is best pictured, perhaps, in the union of a head with the members of the body. Christ is our head and we are members of the body of Christ. So it describes for us the union we have with Christ.

There are a number of places where Paul draws out this word picture for us in Ephesians. In Ephesians 2 he pictures how at one time the Gentiles—that is, the non-Jews—were strangers from God. They were outside the people of God. They had no hope and they were without God and without Christ in the world. But being far away from God, God brought them near and reconciled them in one body to God through the work of Christ on the cross. So now Paul says there’s not Jew, there’s not Gentile; there’s one new humanity, there’s one body, there’s one group, one people of God, and we are united together in Christ.

Especially in Ephesians 4 Paul draws out this analogy. I want to read a couple of portions from chapter 4 and suggest to us once again two ways to apply this metaphor to our own walk with the Lord and in the church.

(1) Here’s the first: walk in grace in order to keep the unity in the church. Look at Ephesians 4:1. Paul says, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” and then he describes it. What he’s describing here is a life that is marked by grace. Walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.”

Then he describes the basis of this unity. He says that there is one body and one Spirit and one Lord and one faith and one baptism; there’s one hope that belongs to your calling and one God and Father of all. It’s a sevenfold unity that we have together in the body of Christ. Paul says, “I want you to walk in such a way that you maintain that, that you keep that, that you don’t lose that unity, the unity that is created by the Spirit in the body of Christ.”

Brothers and sisters, one thing we always have to be on guard about in the church is the threat of disunity, the threat of division. That can happen in such subtle ways. We’ve probably all seen it happen in churches before. It can happen when two people have some kind of disagreement and they begin to harbor resentment towards one another, and then they begin to gossip about one another, and it forms two different groups, two different cliques in the church, and all of a sudden you have people in opposition to one another. It all goes back to someone not dealing with an offense in a biblical way.

Or this disunity can happen when people begin to form factions and parties and cliques and groups in the church based on things that are secondary to the gospel. It’s the old problem in the Corinthian church. There were some that were following Paul, some were following Peter, some were following Apollos. They all had their favorite preacher. That can happen today. You have some people who love John Piper and some people love R.C. Sproul and some people love Chuck Swindoll and some people love somebody else, and people are following their different favorite preachers instead of following Christ.

It can happen when we let the divisiveness of our country, with all of the political issues, infect the church and we forget that we belong to another kingdom. We need to be on guard against disunity in the church, division in the church, and we do that as we walk in grace, love, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, being eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.

(2) Then, if you go a little further in Ephesians 4, we learn another lesson here, and that is that we are to use our gifts to build up the church. Look at Ephesians 4:11. Paul has already described how the ascended Christ has given gifts to the church, and he says now that “he gave the apostles, the prophets [those are the foundational gifts], the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

This is the reason why God has given spiritual gifts to the church: it’s so that the saints will be equipped to do ministry that builds up the body. He goes on to describe how this is how we attain unity in the faith and mature manhood, growing into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. We’re no longer like children that are tossed about by every wind of teaching.

How does that work itself out practically? You see it in Ephesians 4:15-16. He says,

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Very simply, it means this, that the body of Christ and the members of the body of Christ must be joined together. They must be connected. That connection has to be a real-time connection. It means that you have to be in relationships with other people beyond Sunday morning. There has to be relationships, so that in the context of those relationships you’re able to speak the truth in love to one another, you’re able to use your gift to serve others and to encourage others and to pray for others and to exhort others, to teach others and to be taught by others. There’s this mutual edification.

Do you know what the word “edification” means? It means building up! It’s building up an edifice. What is that edifice? It is the church, the body of Christ. This edification happens as we build one another by speaking the truth in love.

You cannot do that if you’re not actually connected. You have to be connected. So use your gifts.

Brothers and sisters, what this means is that not only do you need the church—and you do; you need the church if you are to grow in Christlikeness—but it also means that the church needs you. You have a gift. You have something to contribute, you have something to bring, and you need a place where you can bring that and share it with others. Again, all of these smaller offerings that happen throughout the week, those are the spaces where this can happen, where you can connect with other Christians and use your gifts to build up others. The church is the body of Christ.

4. The Church Is the Bride of Christ

There’s one more. I’m almost done. The church is, number four, the bride of Christ. Ephesians 5:25-32—Paul in these stunning exhortations to husbands set before them the model of Jesus Christ, who is the perfect husband, the bridegroom of the church. He says,

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

It shows us Christ’s great love for the church, his bride, that he would sacrifice himself for her and would commit himself to cleansing and purifying the church.

Once again, I’ll suggest a couple of applications for us.

(1) Number one, remember who the church is: the bride of Christ. Men, let me ask you this. If someone came up to you and said, “You know, I like you, and I think I want to be friends with you, but I don’t care too much for your wife,” how’s that going to go over? That’s not going to go over well! You’re going to be offended by that. You’re going to say, “Listen, if you have a problem with my wife, you have a problem with me!” Right?

For people to say, “I love Jesus, but I don’t care for the church,” is to place a division between Christ and the church that the Lord Jesus himself will not tolerate. If you go to the letter of 1 John, John says that you cannot say that you love God if you hate your brother. You can’t love God if you don’t love Christians. The measure of your love for Christ is seen in how you treat his bride. That means that we have to be careful how we talk about the church. Don’t badmouth the bride of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let me clarify what that doesn’t mean. That doesn’t mean that Redeemer Church is above constructive criticism. It doesn’t mean that you should never bring a problem to me or the staff or elders. Of course we want to receive that. We want to do things better. None of us are perfect.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t call out sin and injustice that happens inside the church. We must do that. Christ himself is committed to the purity of his bride. But what it means is that we must always be motivated by love for the church, love for the people of God, and that we don’t develop a critical spirit and an attitude that is constantly cutting down the church instead of lifting the church up in prayer. Remember who the church is; the church is the bride of Jesus Christ.

(2) Secondly, remember what the church cost. The church cost the precious blood of Christ. We see it in Ephesians 5:25, where Christ “loved her and gave himself up for her,” but I want to read another passage from Acts 20:28, also words that Paul spoke to the Ephesians. He spoke this, actually, to the Ephesian elders, the overseers of that church, in his farewell address. This is what he said to them in Acts 20:28. He said, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.”

Do you realize that the church of Jesus Christ is a blood-bought privilege? It is a blood-bought people. The bride of Christ is purchased by the blood of Christ.

The church's one foundation
Is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
She is His new creation,
By water and the word.
From heav'n He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.

You see, it’s the gospel that creates the church. It is Christ who bought the church. When we recognize what it cost the Lord Jesus to form for himself a people, to win for himself a bride, it should give us pause in expressing negative attitudes or even indifference towards the church. It should make us examine our priorities once again to be sure that we value the church the way the Lord Jesus Christ does.

We began this message by talking about the great de-churching in America. You might ask, “Where is the church headed?” The reality is that even though the church is in decline in the United States, it’s not every church. There are churches that are thriving, and certainly if you look at the rest of the world there are places where the gospel of Jesus Christ is flourishing and thriving. We have the great promise of Jesus himself, who said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

I want to end by reminding us where we’re headed. What’s the end game for the church? You get it in the very last book of the Bible, the [second to last] chapter of the Bible, Revelation 21:1-3. As I read these verses, notice here how the various images we’ve talked about—at least some of them—kind of coalesce together here in Revelation 22, this grand vision of the church reunited with her Lord. John is writing, and he said,

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’”

Brothers and sisters, that’s our hope. I want to end by asking you this morning, are you a part of the people of God? I’m not even asking about church membership. I’m not asking whether you attend. I’m asking, do you belong to the family? Are you committed to the church? Are you involved in relationships with others? Have you placed the church in your order of priorities in a way that reflects the great privilege that it is to be a part of the people of God, that reflects the great price that Jesus Christ paid for his church? Do you know what it is to belong to a new humanity, a new creation, the people of God, the bride of Christ? Do you know what it is to belong to Christ himself? If not, I want to encourage you this morning to look to Christ, to trust in him, to believe in him, and to commit yourself to him and to that which he loves and that which he values, his people in the world. Let’s pray together.

Father, we thank you that you have loved us as your people with an everlasting love, that you sought us out when we were dead in our trespasses and our sins, that you made us alive together in Christ, that you made us members of the body, children in your family, living stones in this holy temple. Now, by your grace, through your Spirit, you dwell with your people. Lord, what a privilege!

We ask you, Lord, to forgive us for our sins against the church, because they are sins against you. Forgive us, Lord, for negligence and for indifference, for our lack of love, our lack of concern. Forgive us, Lord, for selfishness, where we hold ourselves back instead of investing ourselves in the lives of others. Forgive us, Lord, for adopting a consumerist mentality, where we’re always shopping and thinking about what the church can do for us rather than really seeing what the church is and what our calling is as your people.

Lord, would you search our hearts this morning, every one of us? Search our hearts and show us where repentance is needed. As we prepare our hearts now for the Lord’s table, would you remind us once again of the great blood-bought privilege it is to be in communion with you and with one another. We come to this table, we share this bread, and we do so as members of the same body. We do so looking to Christ, the one who gave himself for us, who set the tone, who set the pattern for self-giving, self-sacrificial love and service. May we learn to imitate the Lord Jesus in our relationships with one another. We ask you, Lord, to draw near to us in these moments and to fill us with your fullness by your Spirit. We pray, Lord, that in so doing you would be glorified and honored and that our hearts would be changed and transformed. We pray this in Jesus’ name and for his sake, amen.