Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Body, Family, Building, Bride

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Dannah Gresh: The concept of “the Church” means different things to different people. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Essentially, the Church is not an organization. It is not a place. It's not somewhere you go. It's not something you do. It's something we are.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for Monday, February 3, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

This past weekend, people gathered in congregations all over the country and around the world. But recent polls tell us that not as many people are joining those gatherings. There's been a decrease in church attendance in the United States across all demographics. It seems a lot of people are asking, "Who needs the church?" Nancy's about to take on that question in a new series.

Nancy: Who needs the church? Well, the answer is: if you're a child of God, you need the church. I need the church. We all need the church. And when is say the word "church," some people have this great sense of joy and delight. Some people have this sense of, "Who needs the church?" Some people have a sense of confusion . . . "What is the church?" I'm going to try and address some of those questions.

I think about something I read where a London newspaper offered a prize for the best essay on the subject: What's wrong with the church? The prize was won by a man from Wales who gave this answer. "What's wrong with the church is our failure to realize and wonder at the beauty, the mystery, the glory, and the greatness of the church."

I think that is so true, and I think it's very needed in our generation, especially in our younger generation, that we redeem the concept of the church. Many people today feel, even many believers feel, "I don't need the church." I want us to look into God's Word and wonder at the beauty, the mystery, the glory, and the greatness of the Church.

The Church was not man's idea; it is not man's institution. It is God's idea; it is God's plan. You're going to see that you need the Church; I need the Church. Every child of God needs the Church. But I want us to have a better understanding of why as we look into God's Word.

Now, I think the Church has something of an identity crisis today—not sure what it is, who it is. And you know, we grow up as little children: "Here's the church. Here's the steeple. Open the doors. Where are all the people?" The church was a building. It's a place you go to. Well, we have buildings that we call churches, but essentially the Church is not somewhere you go.

Then as we get a little older we realize that the church, well, some of our churches are organizations. They're an institution like belonging to a club where you pay your dues. Well, instead we pay our tithes.

Essentially, the Church is not something you do. It's not an organization. It's not an institution. There may be organization to it, but essentially the Church is not an organization. It is not a place. It's not somewhere you go. It's not something you do. It's something we are. The Church is something we are.

Now as you get into the Scripture and you study the church, there are two different concepts of church. The one we could say is capital "C" Church, and the other is lowercase little "c" church. What is capital "C" Church, the Church?

When we talk about the Church . . . . As the Scripture talks about the Church, it refers to all true believers of all time in all places. They comprise the Church. Some have called it the universal Church.

If you're a child of God, you are a member of the Church. It consists of all true believers, those who are united with Christ and therefore are united with each other. When you got saved, when you came into the family of God, you became a part of the Church. Like it or not, if you are a Christian, you are part of the Church. Some have called it the invisible Church.

2 Timothy 2 verse 19 says, "The Lord knows those who are His." We can't look around and know who are the true believers—the capital "C", universal, invisible Church that is all true believers.

Then we have the church lowercase "c," the local church, the visible expression on this earth of the body of Christ. Now in our local churches there are some people who are not true believers.

There are some people who belong to our local churches who do not belong to the Church, capital "C" Church. The Scripture talks about wheat and tares, and you can't always tell the difference until the end of time when God sorts through it all.

You can join a church of any denomination and not necessarily be a part of the Church, the body of Christ. The visible church on earth is the local church, the local expression of the body of Christ.

Now the book of Ephesians has a lot to say about the Church. It's kind of a theological text on the Church and it lifts up the glory and the wonder of the Church as God ordained it. In Ephesians chapter 3 beginning in verse 9, Paul says that he wanted 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 (vv. 9–11).

You say, what did all that mean? What did you just say? Paul says, "God has a plan." It's a plan that was devised and designed in eternity past. It was a plan to bring together Jews and Gentiles, the redeemed of all ages, into a body, the body of Christ, the Church, capital "C," the Church.

And to the Old Testament saints this plan was a mystery. It was hinted at in the Old Testament, but those Old Testament saints could not see clearly what we now learn in the New Testament. It's God's plan to have His body, the body of Christ, be a Church.

It was God's plan from the beginning of the ages, and it is crucial to God's redemptive purposes on this earth. The Church is core, it's central, to what God is doing in making all things new in this earth. It is the expression on earth of the kingdom of God, the body of Christ. We'll talk about that in this series.

Now in Ephesians 3, that passage I just read, Paul says that "the manifold wisdom of God . . ." That word "manifold" means variegated, many-sided, many-splendored, many-faceted, "wisdom of God is revealed to the principalities and powers in heavenly places by the church" (v. 10). What does that mean? the principalities and powers? Those are angels, both holy angels and fallen angels—demons. He said the angels and the demons see the glory of God in the Church.

They see something that they marvel at, that they wonder at, that reveals the multifaceted, many-splendored wisdom and glory of God when they look at God's plan for the Church. It's a magnificent plan God has and so magnificent that even the angels and the demons wonder at it.

Now in the New Testament there are a number of metaphors for the Church, and there are some in particular in the book of Ephesians that I want us to look at. The first is that the Church is a body. It's the body of Christ. Ephesians chapter 1, verse 22 says that God gave Christ "as head over all things to the church which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (vv. 22–23). Christ is the head; the Church is the body, and God has designed us to fit together to be united as one.

Ephesians chapter 4, verse 15:

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 (vv. 15–16).

So Paul is saying that the head supplies what the body needs so that all the members of the body can function together and the body can grow; it can build itself up. So the body grows up into Christ. It grows together as a body, and then it grows out bringing others into the body.

The same thing in Ephesians chapter 5. We read, "The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior" (v. 23). We are members of His body.

To be a body of Christ, for the Church to be a body means that we as believers are united with Christ. A head that is severed from a body is not alive. The body can't be alive if it's not connected to the head. We're inseparably connected not only to Him, but to the rest of the body. There's no point in having a hand over here and an arm over here and a leg over here. that's not a body. Those are body parts. But we are inseparately connect to Christ, our Head, and to the rest of the body.

Someone not too long ago told me, "The closer I feel to God, the less need I feel to be in church." Now, that's not a biblical way of thinking. You can't be close to Christ and keep your distance from the rest of His body. We're members of His body. We fit together; we're connected to Him, inseparably connected to Him and to each other.

We're interdependent on each other as my hand and my arm and my body. All my body parts are interdependent on each other. One can't function without the others. The body parts can't function without the head. We're interdependent on each other. We need each other for our very life.

Here's another implication of the fact that the Church is the body of Christ. The way you treat the body is the way you treat Christ Himself. We're connected to Him. He is our head. So the way you treat the body is the way you treat Christ Himself.

Remember when Paul was persecuting the Christians, when he was Saul before he became the apostle Paul? The voice came to him on the Damascus road and said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4). Paul didn't think he was persecuting God. He thought he was persecuting these people who called themselves believers in Christ in the way. But because he was persecuting Christ's body, he was persecuting Christ Himself.

So if you hurt the body of Christ, you hurt Christ. And conversely, when you minister to the body of Christ, when you bless the body of Christ, when you give to the body of Christ, you give to Christ. You minister to Christ. You bless Christ. To neglect other believers, to mistreat other believers, to despise other believers is to do harm to Christ and to yourself because they are part of your body.

If you hurt the body of Christ, you hurt Christ.

If I hurt my hand intentionally—if I scrape it up or cut a finger off of my hand—I'm hurting myself. I'm not just hurting my finger; I'm not just hurting my hand. I'm hurting myself. I'm hurting my whole body. So if I neglect other parts of the body, if I mistreat them, if I despise them, if I speak critically or ill of them, I'm hurting myself. I'm hurting Christ.

Ephesians 5 says, "For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of His body" (vv. 29–30).

So how do you treat the body, the body of Christ, the Church? Do you criticize it, neglect it, ignore it, attack it, complain about it? "You can't believe what happened at my church." You're attacking the body; you're attacking Christ; you're attacking yourself. Or do you respect it? Do you encourage it? Do you bless it? Do you nourish it and care for it and cherish it as Christ nourishes and cherishes His body, the Church?

The Church is the body of Christ. I want to point out three other word pictures or metaphors from the book of Ephesians that refer to the Church.

First of all, we see that the Church is a family. Ephesians chapter 2 verse 19 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.

The household of God, the family of God.

God the Father, and in Ephesians 3, verse 14 Paul refers to God our Father. The Old Testament believers had very little concept of God as Father. That's a New Testament term primarily that God would be our Father; that we would be His children. Christ the firstborn son, Christ our brother, and ourselves—brothers and sisters. This is a family relationship.

That's what God says in 2 Corinthians chapter 6. "I will be a father to you and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord almighty" (v. 18). You know what that means? If He's our father, we are His sons and daughters. What does that make us to each other? Brothers and sisters. We're blood-related through the blood of Christ shed on our behalf. We're related to one another.

So the church is a place of family relationships, like it or not. You may not like some of the people in the church. Some of the people in the church may not like you, but we are family. We have to learn to like each other, to love each other, to get along with each other. We're going to spend eternity with each other as a family.

Now families can cause pain; they can cause rejection. There can be problems in families, but families can also be the place of the most intimate possible relationships. To be a part of the Church means that we belong to each other, that we're related to each other. We're a family.

Now there's another word picture used in Ephesians and that is that the Church is a building. Not as in a place you go, but as in God is making us into a building or a temple for God. Ephesians chapter 2 verse 19, 

You are 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 (vv. 19–22).

God is taking these individual members, these individual parts, these living stones as believers were called in 1 Peter chapter 1. He's assembling us together into a building or a temple, a dwelling place. That phrase literally means a permanent home for God. God's building a temple. The temple here on earth in the Old Testament was just an earthly physical picture of a great eternal spiritual reality of God's plan for the Church: a dwelling place for God. God wants to live in us.

Now there's a sense in which my body individually is the temple of the Holy Spirit, but there's another sense in which we all together corporately comprise a temple, a building that God is building to be His home. God's building a house for Himself and we are the pieces; we are the parts; we are the stones.

And who is the foundation stone? Christ Jesus Himself. God is making us a dwelling place, a sanctuary for God. We are being fit together and joined together with Christ to be a place fit for God to live in. We're building a temple.

Thirdly, we're a bride; and Christ, of course, is the bridegroom. You have this picture particularly in Ephesians chapter 5 and then a lot of it in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. Let me read some verses from Ephesians chapter 5. Paul's talking about marriage. But keep in mind that every earthly institution that God has designed is created to be a representation, a picture, of a heavenly reality. Marriage is wonderful; marriage is God-created. Marriage is designed by God, but marriage is intended to be a picture of the Church's relationship with Christ.

So Paul says in Ephesians 5 verse 23, 

The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands (vv. 23–24).

There's a husband-wife relationship here that isn't just about marriage. It's about Christ's relationship with His Church.

So husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. . . . A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. [He's talking about marriage. Then he explains it.] This mystery, [the mystery of marriage] is profound. And I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church" (vv. 25, 28, 31–33).

There's no question what he's talking about.

Husbands and wives, why does marriage matter? Why does it matter the way you treat your husband? Why does it matter the way your husband treats you? Because Paul says you're revealing in your marriage a mystery, a profound mystery, the mystery of Christ's relationship with His bride, the Church. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11 verse 2,

I feel a divine jealousy for you because I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.

So the next time you go to a wedding and you see the bride dressed in white looking as good as she will ever look, walking down that aisle to be presented by her father to that bridegroom, what is that picturing? Our being presented to Christ as a pure virgin, to be His bride, to live forever with Him.

Christ will never, not love His Church completely.

You come to the end of the Bible, the end of the New Testament, the end of the book of Revelation. In just the last few chapters you find four references to the Church as the bride. She's called the wife of the Lamb. Who's the Lamb? Christ is the Lamb, the Lamb of God. And so Revelation 19 says: "Let us rejoice and exalt and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready" (v. 7).

Song: "How Beautiful"

How beautiful the radiant bride,
Who waits for her groom with his light in her eyes.

Nancy: When you think of the Church as the bride and Christ as the bridegroom, that speaks of a covenant love relationship. It's not a contract that can be broken. He will never divorce His Church. He will never, not love us completely. He will never stop saving us. He is our eternal Savior and bridegroom and that is a covenant relationship, a love relationship. If you are a child of God, you are part of the Church—a body, a family, a building, a bride of Christ, our heavenly bridegroom.

Song:

How beautiful the faith that brings,
The sound of the news of the love of the King.
How beautiful the hands that serve,
The wine and the bread and the sons of the earth.

How beautiful,
How beautiful,
How beautiful is the body of Christ.

How beautiful the hands that serve,
The wine and the bread and the sons of the earth.
How beautiful the feet that walked,
The long dusty roads and the hill to the cross.

How beautiful,
How beautiful,
How beautiful is the body of Christ.

Dannah: That's Twila Paris and a song that was popular a couple of decades ago, "How Beautiful." It was a popular song for a wedding back then, maybe even yours. Well, the body of Christ is beautiful, and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been helping us see how important it is.

Maybe you attend a service every weekend as part of your routine, but you've never thought much about how important the local church really is. I hope you'll listen all this week as Nancy continues this series called “Who Needs the Church?”

The Church isn't a building—it's people. The Church really is the relationships people share. This month at Revive Our Hearts we want to help you strengthen relationships. One way to do that is to get a copy of our new thirty-day devotional entitled: Living Out the One Anothers of Scripture. Discover relationships the way God designed them to be. You'll have the opportunity to take a closer look at the places in the Bible where we’re told to “show hospitality to one another,” or “encourage one another,” things like that.

We'd like to give you a copy of this devotional as our way of saying "thank you" when you make a gift of any amount to the Revive Our Hearts ministry this month. To do that you can visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1–800–569–5959.

What's the difference between an organization and an organism? And how does that apply to the Body of Christ? Find out tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts. Now, Here’s Nancy to close today with prayer.

Nancy: Lord, thank You for the wonder of Your plan for the Church. Thank You for this great mystery that You have now revealed to us. Thank You for the privilege of being a part of the body of Christ. We're part of each other. We're united with Christ; we're united with one another. We need each other. Help us to nourish and cherish and care for the body as You do for we are members of Your body and members of one another. I pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you value the Church more. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

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