The Nature of the Church
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
We Are...The Body of Christ
#1 The Nature of The Church – based on a message by Tom Shepard
Over the next several weeks, I am going to speak to you about the church…the body of Christ! That is just one of the metaphors that is used to describe the church in the New Testament.
You probably are aware that the word church is not found in the Old Testament. The concept may be there and the foundational ideas for the church are there but the word church is never used in the Old Testament. The Old Testament talks about “a holy people”, a nation set apart for God. But the first person to use the word “church” in the Bible is Jesus himself. He is the one who founded the church. In fact the Church belongs to Him.
Jesus, in this passage calls the church, my Church. The church belongs to Jesus Himself. That means that He considers the church to be important – How important? It is not possible to grow to full Christian maturity – without involvement in God’s church.
There are many commandments in the Bible that you cannot fulfill without being involved in God’s church. They are commandments like, “Love one another, encourage one another, serve one another, accept one another, greet one another … and the list goes on and on. Who do you think the “one another” is? When the scripture speaks of “one another” it is speaking of fellow believers – The Church. The point is you cannot fulfill the commandments of Christ without being involved with His people – without being involved in The Church.
This morning we are going to examine The Nature of the Church.
Before we look at what The Church is – let us understand what The Church is not. It is not a social club, although there certainly are social activities. It is not a business, although we certainly need to operate with good business sense. It is not a museum. It is not a fraternity. The Church is not even a building even though we often speak of it in that manner. The church is not your church or my church or even our church! The church is God’s church!
As I said earlier, the Bible gives us several metaphors of what The Church is. This morning we are going to look at four of them. From these metaphors we can gain a greater understanding of The Nature of The Church. The Bible tells us that The Church is: 1. A FELLOWSHIP. 2. A FAMILY. 3. A BODY. & 4. A FLOCK.
1. The Bible says The Church is a FELLOWSHIP. What is fellowship? When I was a teen, I traveled with the Akron district IMPACT Team and sang at churches around our district. One of the songs in the musical that we sang gave this definition: “Fellowship, that’s a bunch of fellows in the same ship.” You’re headed in the same direction, so you get to know each other and you associate because you’re going in the same direction. That’s what fellowship is. Fellowship is all of us together heading in the same direction. As Christians, we’re all headed to heaven.
The song went on to say “get along, that’s what they’ll do if they tarry very long. We really do need each other, so there needs to be understanding and compromise to get along!
The Bible teaches that anything that causes disunity is sin. When you cause conflict in church – when you get Christians mad at other Christians – what you are doing is disobeying God’s word – what you’re doing is destroying the fellowship – what you are doing is sinning. If you destroy the fellowship, you don’t have a church. Follow along with me as I read from 1 Peter.
8 Now finally, all of you should be like-minded and sympathetic, should love believers, and be compassionate and humble, 9 not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you can inherit a blessing.
We were called for this – building fellowship with one another.
2. The Bible says The Church is a FAMILY. When you were born you were born into a family. When you accept Christ as your savior, you are born into a new family – The Church. Our sins have been forgiven – We are given a purpose for living – our relationships change. Paul describes this in Romans 8:16-17
16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
A top priority in family is RELATIONSHIPS, so in the family, we need to TREAT EACH OTHER WITH RESPECT. I get it—relationships are complicated. That is not just a relationship status on Facebook! The truth is that every relationship is complicated! In the Old Testament, we find that the relationship between God and His people is described by the covenant formula: I will be their God and they will be my people. But a study of the Old Testament reveals that the people of God were not always faithful to that covenant. There were times of great renewal and change, but they were followed by times of unfaithfulness and failure.
Timothy Green in Holiness Today said: “In the midst of the greatest of all reforms depicted in the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah recognized that something much deeper was at stake than the people’s feeble attempts to try harder, change, and renew their ways. Concluding that it was as impossible for the people to change their ways as for a leopard to remove its spots or an Ethiopian his skin. Jeremiah announced that the people’s infidelity to the Lord—their sin—was deeply engraved upon their hearts with a diamond pen. It appeared that the covenant relationship was headed for utter failure.” But Jeremiah doesn’t stop there!
Green continues: “The God who had called this community to whole-hearted love and undivided faithfulness would not stop calling. The Lord who had conceived and given birth to the people by grace would also transform them by grace so that they would indeed love the Lord with all their heart and all their soul and all their strength.”
And that love for God will result in a changed life that will affect our lives and all of our relationships.
Look at what 1 Timothy says:
1 Don’t be harsh or impatient with an older man. Talk to him as you would your own father, and to the younger men as your brothers. 2 Reverently honor an older woman as you would your mother, and the younger women as sisters.
The Bible says we’re to treat each other like a family because the church is a family. Nobody elected you into your family. You’re not there because some committee asked you to be there. The Bible says we are family because we have been born again – born into God’s family. God has called you and placed in His family.
3. The Bible says The Church is a BODY. Paul writes to the Corinthian church in chapter 12 of 1st Corinthians:
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
We’re a body, not a business. We are an organism, not an organization. Therefore whatever your gifts and talents you have are needed by the body. You have been placed here to help the whole body. What is the most important part of your body? Certainly, there are parts that we deem as more important than others, but all have a task to do! The body of Christ is like that – it can function without everyone doing their part – but the truth is it will function much better when all of us are involved – using the gifts and talents God has given us to build His church.
Now, you can have unity without having uniformity. Have you noticed we’re all different? We have different colored hair. We have different color eyes. We have different finger prints. We have distinctly different DNA. We’re different ages. We have different likes and dislikes. We even like different styles of music. That’s the way God has made us. God loves that. God loves diversity. Thank God we’re not all alike.
The point is, whatever you’re gifted at, that’s your part in the body of Christ. We need you.
4. The Bible says The Church is a FLOCK.
This was Jesus’ favorite description of the church. He called it "My little flock". Therefore the church is cared for and led by shepherds. Shepherds lead, feed and oversee. In a church a pastor is to take care of a flock. My primary job as your pastor is to lead, feed and oversee the flock God has entrusted to me. That is an awesome job. The shepherd is to take care of the flock – look at what 1 Peter says:
2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
A top priority in the flock is TOGETHERNESS. I get that these last few years have been difficult on this idea of togetherness. I mean, there have been times when we couldn’t even get together with extended family, and even with all kinds of precautions, some of us have gotten this virus by getting together. But we need to be together when possible. I get it - I am just getting over Covid myself. That’s the primary reason we couldn’t get together last week, but there is something special about the act of getting together! I need your encouragement and support, and you need mine - and we cannot quite get that when we do not get together!
The scripture says it this way,
9 It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. 10 And if one falls down, the other helps, But if there’s no one to help, tough! 11 Two in a bed warm each other. Alone, you shiver all night. 12 By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.
We need to CARE FOR EACH OTHER Paul says in Galatians:
10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.