The local church

Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

What is your immediate thought when the word “church” is used? Do you think of a building? If we’re not careful, we’ll fall into the state of mind that a local church is the gathering place where believers meet together. The church, though, was never meant to be known as a place.

There are various commands given in the New Testament that apply to how Christ followers should treat one another. The thing is, we can’t fulfill those commands if we don’t interact with one another. If we think that we can manage to live the lives God has called us to on our own, we’re mistaken. There are very good reasons to gather together as one.

As previously mentioned, the church is a family, and in a family there are relationships, expectations, and communication that take place. In order for that to be the case, people in the family of God need to gather. We need to learn and we need to worship, we need to encourage each other, and we need to help each other grow.

The local church is necessary for all of us who belong in the family of God. We can’t go at this life alone. We need each other, and we need a time and a place to congregate. The local church isn’t a building, it’s a people. If you’re not part of a local church family, you’re missing out on what the Father has in store for you.

 

The Church: a family

Galatians 6:10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

The church has been called many things. We use descriptive words to portray something that has various layers to it. When we think of the local church, many times the illustration that comes to mind is that of a family. The thing is, the church is not like a family, the church is a family.

Just as a family household has multiple people of different relations that all function in their own role, the church has lots of different people that are all related in Christ, each with his or her own specific place in the family.

That doesn’t just mean that we each have our own special talents to use in the church, which we do. It means, deeper than that, that we are called to be different things to different people within the church family. To some you might find yourself a counselor, to others an encourager, while someone else may need a mentor.

As followers of Jesus, we’re supposed to show love to everyone, but none more so than our own brothers and sister in the family of God. There’s no better place to find other people who will love us and support us, no better way to live out the calling in each of our lives.

The church is not like a family, the church is a family. It’s God’s family.

What is the Church?

1 Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours

It’s one of the fundamental questions that every Christian must ask. What is the Church? Is it a building? A group of people? A movement?

The Bible is rich with descriptions of and metaphors for the Church.  There’s no limit to wide array of illustrations given. The Church begins with the children of Israel in the Old Testament, carries on into the New Testament, and is ultimately commissioned by Jesus in the flesh.

This thing, this “Church,” is worldwide, local, immediate, and imminent. One thing is for sure, the tie that binds those who are called the Church is Jesus Christ, the cornerstone. Those who call on His name are His people. He is theirs and they are His. The Church is His.

In the following weeks we’ll be looking deeper into what God’s Word has to say about the Church. What do you say that it is?

Incorruptible love

Ephesians 6:23-24 Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.

There are few things as awe-inspiring as the love of God that He showed in Jesus Christ. When God put on flesh and dwelled on the earth, He professed His love in a way that is hard to understand, but powerful to feel.

His love is incorruptible, and since we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), ours ought to be incorruptible as well. If it’s real, and it’s true, then there is nothing that can stop it. We know that there’s nothing that can stand between us and the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

God’s love comes with some things, like peace and grace. You want to really know peace? Experience God’s love for you. You want to really know what grace is? Turn to the Father in your lowest moments. He’s real and He loves you. Don’t take it for granted, bask in it. Breathe it in and let it fill you with awe.

Be encouraged

Ephesians 6:21-22 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.

We all need people in our lives who we can talk to and who we can expect to encourage us. Without people like this, times can get very tough. We start to believe lies about ourselves and we need someone to pull us out of that funk.

With all this talk of spiritual warfare in Ephesians, it’s important to note that not everything that feels like attack is actually opposition from the enemy. I’m quick to blame spiritual attack when sometimes I’m being disciplined by God. He disciplines those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6, Proverbs 3:12, Revelation 3:19). Sometimes it’s discipline that comes as a result of our sin, and sometimes He’s just conforming us into who He wants us to be.

I’m thankful for the brothers in Christ that I can turn to that help me to realize when I’m in a season of discipline and pruning and when I really need prayer against spiritual opposition. It’s encouraging to hear from someone that he has the same struggles and I’m not alone. It’s also highly encouraging to hear an uplifting and wise correction when I’m thinking about giving up.

Do you have people like this around you? If not, it’s highly recommended that you find someone from among the body of believers who can speak into your life. Be encouraged.

Pray for your pastor

Ephesians 6:19-20 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Do you pray for your pastor and leaders in the church? What about missionaries and charity workers?  We ought to be in prayer for anyone and everyone who proclaims the gospel.

The Apostle Paul closes out his section in Ephesians on spiritual warfare by asking the people to pray for him as he proclaims the gospel. It was taking the gospel public that had him in prison, and the last thing he was going to do was give up preaching it. It’s safe to assume that the Ephesians and many other Christians did pray for Paul and that his effectiveness was in large part a result of that.

Your pastor needs prayer as well. It’s not easy to get up before people and preach on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It comes with a lot of spiritual warfare, as does the work of missionaries in the field. They desperately need the support of other believers.

Take time each day to pray for the people that are bringing the Good News to those who have not heard. Pray that God would direct them, protect them, and work through them to reconcile people to Himself.

To persevere, pray

Ephesians 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints

It may sound like an easy answer, but when facing spiritual warfare, one of the best tools we have is prayer. Though many of us would say that this is obvious, we still neglect to take advantage of the ability to speak to our Creator.

Most of the time, when we’re in dire circumstances, we turn to just about everything before we resort to praying to our Father who is able to provide all things. The truth is that when we’re depressed, He brings comfort, when we’re worried, He provides peace, when we’re being attacked, He gives protection. There’s no reason to look anywhere else before seeking Him.

Prayer isn’t just a defensive tactic though. In fact, prayer is one of the primary ways to be proactive in spiritual warfare. When we keep alert in prayer, we’re ready and equipped for what comes at us. When we’re aware of God’s direction and we follow Him, we’re sensitive to what He wants us to see.

Keep in contact with the Father and you’ll find yourself where you need to be. Pray at all times.

Ask, seek, knock

Luke 11:9-10  And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

After Jesus had taught His disciples how they should pray (v.2-4), and that they should pray with perseverance (v.5-8), He tells them that if they ask of God they will receive.

If our earthly fathers know how to give us good things, how much more does our heavenly Father know exactly what we need and how to give it to us?  We never have to worry when we pray because the Lord is good and He is capable of providing anything and everything.

Luke’s account of this story does not say that God will give “good things” like Matthew’s (Matthew 7:7-11), but rather that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.  What better gift could we ever receive from God but the gift of Himself?  He is more than we could ever imagine or think to ask for.

The Lord loves to bless His people.  He wants us to ask for all that He has in store for us.  In the end, it brings Him glory.

You’re equipped with a sword

Ephesians 6:17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God

In spiritual warfare, we often find ourselves on the defensive against the enemy’s attacks. We have to protect ourselves when he goes after us, and we do this with truth, righteousness, faith, salvation, and the gospel of peace. We are equipped with an offensive weapon, though.

The one way we fight is with the Word of God. It’s more powerful than just being a book full of words on paper. It’s living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It’s our primary way to make sure we survive spiritual warfare. Knowing, studying, meditating on, and internalizing the Word is preparation for and strategy in the battle.

Not to gloss over the importance of salvation in this fight, the mind is protected by the assurance we have in the cross of Jesus Christ that we are reconciled with God. Out of that flows the drive to fight and the ability to claim victory. It’s in what He’s done, not what we do, that we have that victory.

Spend time with the Word. Rely on the assurance of your salvation in Jesus Christ. Keep fighting the good fight.

Shield yourself with faith

Ephesians 6:16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one

What sustains you when you face trials in your life? Is it the good works you’ve done? The good books you’ve read? The respect you’ve earned or the status you’ve achieved in your job? How about the possessions you’ve acquired? Or is it faith that keeps you going?

In spiritual warfare, there are offensive measures and there are defensive measures. We are proactive in some ways, and reactive in others. It’s no secret that the enemy of our souls is prone to attack when we are gaining momentum. It should be expected. When that happens, we’ve got to be ready to put up our shields to counter him.

Satan’s attacks can come in the form of doubts, depression, failures, trials, or any number of other struggles. When we’re going through them, they hurt, but faith is effective at keeping him from succeeding.

Faith isn’t just about looking ahead. Sometimes it’s about looking back at how the Lord has kept us up to this point and remember that He always will. Recalling all that He’s done for us is very often the thing that keeps the enemy’s attacks from being effective. Knowing that He’s on our side is very comforting. Keep your shield ready.