2020 Vision – Healthy Church ~ 20200112 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
01/12 Vision – healthy individuals make a healthy church (Colossians 3); Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20200112_healthy-church.mp3
Last time we looked at Jesus’ vision for the church; seeing clearly who we are, who we are meant to be will shape what we do. We saw from Matthew 16 that the church is a gathering of Jesus followers. The church belongs to Jesus. The church is built on the identity of Jesus as the only Son of God. The church is created by the Holy Spirit through the miracle of new birth. The church carries Jesus’ own unstoppable authority and is meant to be on the offensive, moving forward to take ground from the enemy. But the church is built on the offense of the cross; we follow a crucified King; Jesus came to lay down his life for others. So the way we advance is by that same love which works itself out in self-sacrificial service toward one another and toward a hurting world. This is Jesus’ own vision for his church.
We can embrace and affirm Jesus’ vision for his church. We can read Matthew 16 and agree, ‘yes, this is what the church is, I agree,’ but how do we move from saying to doing? How do we move from merely affirming to actually being, living it out?
Not a Building
Today I’d like to look at what it means to be the church by looking at what the church is composed of. Remember, the church is a gathering of Jesus followers. We tend to think in terms of place and structure. How do I get to the church? Where is it on the map? What does the building look like?
Across the world, church buildings have been burned or bombed. On 15 April 2019, the 850 year old Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was significantly damaged from a fire, and for the first time in 200 years did not hold Christmas services. January 9 of 2018 the Golden Lampstand church in the Shanxi Province of China, where 50,000 Christians worshiped, was demolished by Chinese police using heavy machinery and dynamite.
But if the church is really a gathering of Jesus followers, then the destruction of a church building does not destroy the church. If the church is a local gathering of Jesus followers, It doesn’t really matter where we meet. It’s not about the building.
Healthy Believers Healthy Church
Today I want to ask the question ‘What makes a healthy church?’ If a church is composed of Jesus followers, then a healthy church is made up of healthy Jesus followers. That means that if I am concerned about the health of this church, then the biggest thing I can do is to make sure that I am a healthy Christian. And a healthy Christian is one who lives a life characterized by following Jesus. And a life characterized by following Jesus is the composite of individual days and moments of following Jesus. What does that look like?
There’s a lot of places in God’s word we could go to answer this question, but today I want to look at Paul’s letter to the Colossians. This is a church that Paul didn’t directly start. It seems that when he was in Ephesus (Acts 19:10), Ephaphras, a Colossian, was visiting Ephesus, heard the preaching of Paul and believed, and brought the good news back to his own city and a church was birthed. Now a few years later, visiting Paul in prison in Rome, he shares concerns over threats to this church, and brings Paul’s letter back to them.
The Miracle of New Birth
Paul starts (1:3-14) by thanking God for their faith, that when they heard the gospel, God’s grace had been poured out on them and they believed; remember, the new birth is a supernatural work of the Spirit of God. Paul reminds them of God’s rescue, God’s forgiveness, and that is is God who ultimately makes them fruitful.
The Bedrock Identity of Jesus and the Offense of the Cross
Then (1:15-23) Paul points them to the priority, the preeminence, the first place of Jesus in everything. Remember, the church is built on the bedrock foundation of the identity of Jesus. The eternal Son of God, the very image of God, the one who created and sustains all things, is the head of the church. It is the offense of the death of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, the cross of Jesus that secures our peace with God.
Paul preaches Jesus (1:24-2:5) and struggles and strives for their maturity in Christ. He exhorts them to stay firm in their faith in Christ, and warns them against being led astray.
He tells them (2:6-7) that as they received Christ Jesus the Lord in simple faith, entrusting themselves to him, depending on him alone, with thanksgiving that they should continue to live their lives by that same simple faith with thanksgiving.
He warns them (2:6-15) not to get taken captive by philosophies or traditions apart from Christ. Christ is everything. Jesus is God in the flesh. We died with Christ and have been raised up and given new life.
He warns them not to get tangled up in legalistic observance of days or dietary restrictions (2:16-23), We must hold fast to Christ the head, who nourishes and connects his body and causes its growth.
The church is established on the identity of Christ, is given new life in Christ, and lives in communion with Christ. Paul lays this foundation of truth that we must hold on to in the first two chapters, and then in the last two chapters, he gives practical instructions for how to live in light of this truth. That’s what I want to focus on for the rest of our time. If then. If this is true, if we are the church, built on the foundation of Christ, transformed by the good news of Christ crucified, following in the footsteps of Christ, living in communion with Christ, what should this look like?
Mind Set on Things Above
The first thing we are told, because we have been raised with Christ, we are to make a habit of seeking things above, and setting our minds on things above, not on earthly things. Jesus invited us to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (Mt.6:33). This doesn’t come naturally.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, talking about marriage and singleness says:
Paul holds up the main benefit of singleness as single-mindedness. The single person is free to focus solely on things above, on pleasing the Lord. So many single people waste their singleness with their minds set on earthly things. We are to seek in all things above all to please the Lord. Because we have been raised with Christ, we can seek the things above, we can seek to be satisfied in God. Martha was ‘anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary’ (Lk.10:41-42). To sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him.
Are you fixing your thinking on things above?
The Crucified Life
The next thing Paul tells us is to live the crucified life. He moves from resurrection to crucifixion. As soon as we try to fix our minds on things above, all the things of the world elbow their way in and compete for our attention. Paul is not gentle with these competing affections.
The follower of Jesus is to embrace the offense of the cross and walk in the way of the crucified life. Some things can’t be coddled. They need to be crucified. We tend to deal gently, even affectionately with our sins. We need to take hammer and drive the nail straight through.
The Peace of Christ
Paul goes on to describe in practical rubber meets the road terms life in the body of Christ.
Our new self is not perfect. It is being renewed, day by day. And that means others in the body of Christ are being renewed; they are not yet perfect either. But in Christ there is unity in spite of deep differences. We are being renewed whenever someone is difficult to be around, whenever someone disappoints us or wrongs us or sins against us. We are to be characterized by compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love. We are to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts in the one body of the church family. Oh, and by the way, be thankful. When you have an opportunity to forgive, be thankful. When you have an opportunity to bear with one another, be thankful. When you have a complaint against another, be thankful.
The Word of Christ
We might ask ‘how in the world do you expect me to set my mind on things above, to crucify my competing affections, to let the peace of Christ rule in my relationships with irritating, annoying, disappointing, difficult people?
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. What is in you will come out. What are you primarily feeding on? What is the main substance of your diet? There are a lot of different diet plans out there, and on occasion we have filled our fridge and our pantry with all kinds of odd things and measured and calculated and read the ingredients with the utmost care. How much attention do we give to what we feed on mentally and spiritually? What we feed on will inevitably shape our attitudes, our emotions, our thinking, how we see the world. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, the Word made flesh come to dwell among us (Jn.1). Jesus’ words are spirit and life (Jn.6:63), and he means for his words are to take up residence in us. We are to be washed in the water of the word (Eph.5:26).
Not just feed on the word, but let it dwell in you. Not just dwell in you, but dwell in you richly. Don’t be sparing or stingy. Don’t measure it carefully. Glut yourself on God’s word.
What goes in must come out, and if we are consistently feeding on the word of Christ, then we can ‘teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.’ Without a stable diet of God’s word, we will be spewing earthly human so called wisdom.
Notice the one another here. There is to be one another teaching and admonishing. Disciples are to make disciples, teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded us. ‘And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also’ (2Tim.2:2). If you are feeding on the word, you have something to say that is worth saying.
One another ministry is essential for a healthy church. First we are to forgive one another, and then we are to teach and admonish one another. Don’t attempt to admonish without first forgiving. Don’t attempt to admonish without the word of Christ dwelling in you richly.
And notice, when the word of Christ dwells in you richly, you sing. With thankfulness in your hearts to God. The word dwelling in you richly overflows in worship. Churches sing together. There is something unique about singing together the mighty truths of the gospel, expressing our praise and thanksgiving out loud together in song. Healthy Christians sing with thankfulness in their hearts to God.
Continue Steadfastly in Prayer
Paul gives some specific instruction to wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves, and then he gives us these instructions:
Prayer. Steadfast continued prayer. Watchful prayer. Prayer with thanksgiving. Prayer for the advance of the word, for the proclamation of the gospel. Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. Healthy Christians pray.
A healthy church is made up of healthy followers of Jesus, who pray and sing together with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, who teach and exhort one another, who are saturated in the word of Christ, who allow the peace of Christ to rule in relationships permeated with forgiveness and love, who put to death earthly affections and fix their thinking on the things of God.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org