Last week we started a new series on the local church. We said not everyone has had a good experience with the local church just like everyone has had from a good family experience. But the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon told us, “imperfect as [the church] is, it is the dearest place on earth to us…All who have first given themselves to the Lord, should, as speedily as possible, also give themselves to the Lord’s people.”
We also started exploring our revised vision statement last week. The main thing we unpacked in statement was why our overarching desire is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is main desire of the Bible, so it should be ours. And when this is our main desire God gets the glory and we get more joy. Whatever we are passionate about we proclaim. What we glory in we find joy in, but whatever we find joy in we glory in. Therefore, if God is our greatest joy then we will glorify in Him.
What we want to do today is finish unpacking the vision we began exploring last week. As a way of reminder our revised vision statement is…We desire to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples for God’s glory and our joy.
1. All Peoples.
“All Peoples” means we proclaim Christ-centered unity. When we look at Ephesians 2.11-14 we can quickly see this. When this text mentions the “dividing wall of hostility” it is clearly speaking about the wall hostility between God and us. But what Paul has revealed to us in verses 11-14 is that was not the only dividing wall of hostility. There is a dividing wall of hostility between humanity. Paul recognizes there is hostility between the ethnic group he grew up in, which he calls “the circumcision,” and other ethic groups, which he calls, “Gentiles” or “the uncircumcision.” But Paul says, “by the blood of Christ…[God] has made us both one.” For those who place their faith in Jesus Christ they are a part of a different bloodline now. We are now share in the bloodline of Christ; we are members of God’s family. This is why anyone who would proclaim a message of racial hate or division is not proclaiming God’s message. The public theologian Russell Moore applied this Gospel-centered truth to us in recent blog on the Washington Post as he was commenting on the events in Charlottesville:
White supremacy is Satanism. Even worse, white supremacy is a devil-worship that often pretends that it is speaking for God. White supremacy angers Jesus of Nazareth. The question is: Does it anger his church?—Russell Moore
The Gospel of Jesus Christ was designed by God to bring unity among the nations. God told Abraham in Genesis 12 that through His offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This promise took place right after the story of the tower of Babel, where it seemed like God would leave us divided. But in Christ, who is the offspring of Abraham, God is making a new humanity. II Corinthians 5.16-17 tells us we regard no one according to the flesh anymore, but as a new creation or new humanity. II Corinthian 5.18 & 20 tells us:
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.—II Corinthians 5.18, 20
We are messengers here to tell people Christ has torn down the wall of hostility between us all. The wall of hostility between God and us has been torn down, but also the wall of hostility between humanity has been torn down. The church is meant to be diverse community. Every race, personality, social background, economic bracket, and any other worldly thing that could divide us are transformed by God’s unifying power in the Gospel. These things become varying gifts of grace. The church becomes a creative artistic tapestry of God’s grace. And as we grow in our understanding of these various gifts of grace we grow in our understanding of God.
While “All Peoples” pronounces unity in the Gospel, it also means we citizens of a different kingdom. Look with me at Ephesians 2.19. What is the significance of strangers & aliens having citizenship? First, our citizenship is NOT primarily American, or whatever country we were born in, but we are citizens of heaven. Second, we also know in the ancient world citizenship was extremely valuable. Some of you might remember from Acts 16 that Paul was proclaiming the Gospel and literally bringing religious, physical, mental, and emotional liberty into that culture. Those in power did not like the way this was affecting their personal finances. The leaders liked keeping people in bondage. Eventually a riot broke out, Paul was beaten, and dragged into court for disrupting the status quo. But Paul knew his rights as a Roman citizen. As soon as the city officials heard Paul was a Roman citizen they knew the wrath of the Roman army could come if they were denying a citizen his rights. As Christians we are citizens of another kingdom—a kingdom that is coming—but that kingdom is not here yet.
The local church is meant to function like an embassy. Remember II Corinthian 5 tells us God has called to be His ambassadors, and ambassadors work at embassies. Embassy’s are a different country on foreign soil. Therefore, when someone comes into a local church they are supposed to be entering another country—a different kingdom. In fact wherever we go, God’s kingdom goes, because the church is a people and not a building. Friends we must remember the local church is a physical and spiritual manifestation of God’s kingdom. Wherever we go we are citizens of heaven.
2. We Desire.
“We Desire” means we are being joined together by grace. God longs for our Gospel proclamation to be a shared desire among His people. Lets examine Ephesians 2.19-22. Paul said if Christ is the cornerstone of the church then we will be in the process of “being joined together.” We will not only be fighting for unity in our world, but we will be fighting for unity among each other, as the church of God.
But what will be the driving force for bringing unity among us? I know this may sound a bit like a reductionist mentality, but it is the GRACE of God. We have said the apostles and prophets saw the foundation of their teaching as the proclamation of Jesus Christ. But what is Christ? He is the grace of God—He is an unmerited gift that God freely gave to the world out of an abundant overflow of grace in His heart. Paul expresses this in Ephesians 4.1-7. We are ONE by GRACE. The grace of God “was given to EACH ONE of us” in Jesus Christ, and this is fuel that fans the flame of grace among us. When the grace of God is NOT the fuel of a church it quickly becomes an ugly, dirty, nasty place. Churches will be full of people who are mature and immature people, and that means tensions will get high. Come over and spend some time with my family, and you will quickly see that. Please note in the kingdom of God physical maturity and spiritual maturity are not synonymous. In the Bible God will regularly use physically young people to call physically older people to maturity. Maturity in the kingdom are those who are mature in the grace of God.
Let’s take a few moments and examine how this maturity in grace might help us deal with our past wounds from other Christians or churches. When we get hurt in a church we do the same thing we do in our dating lives or friendships. The more we are hurt, the more we put our guard up, the more skeptical, cynical, bitter, and resentful we become. We begin to nip-pick about anything we don’t like about a church. We end up always dating the church but never commit, because no church is good enough. Deep down we have not been truly healed of our wounds. Now women hurt me, and I hurt women before I met my wife. There many days I thought about remaining single. If I would have not kept putting myself out there, knowing I could be hurt, then I would have not experience the joy of doing life with Amy and my little Popepack.
But here’s the thing, when we live in our hurts we are living in the bondage of bitterness and cynicism, not grace. When we are consumed by our hurts we are prisoners of them. We are all consumed, held captive, or prisoners of something. When we are prisoners of our wounds bitterness, anger, cynicism, and a lack of forgiveness keep us bound to these hurts. When these seeds are sown we don’t continue Christ’s ministry of tearing down dividing walls of hostility, but we built them back up.
But when we examine these wounds through the lens of the Cross of Christ we can forgive our enemies, and move one from them. We are no longer bound to them but we are bound to Christ. Oh dear friend, please trust me, I know what it is like to be hurt. More importantly Christ knows what it is like to be mistreated by His own people. John 1.11 tells us He came to His own and they did not receive Him. But when we hand these deep wounds over to God the grace of God heals our hearts. The description Paul gave in Ephesians 4 of walking in humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, and eager to maintain unity is only possible when the grace of God in Christ has consumed our inward being. We can walk in humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with each other in love, and eager to maintain unity because this is what God has done through Jesus Christ. We were once His enemies but He did all these things with us in Christ. And if we have been called upon by God to be His ambassadors, then we continue Christ ministry of offering grace to those who don’t deserve it. The church is meant to be a place where the grace of God is always ready and available. Even though God has had countless wounds over the years in dealing with humanity He has offered us grace. When that truly is the driving force of our hearts we are empowered by the grace of God to do the same, and become what God envisioned for the church.