Well, that is one of my very favorite hymns. Certainly, of the hymns that are written about the church, it’s one of my most cherished hymns, “The Church’s One Foundation.” And that’s really what I want to talk to you about today: the foundation of the church. I’ve entitled the message “Heaven on Earth,” and that is a very accurate description of the church.
Just out of curiosity, I Googled “heaven on earth” to find out if anybody wanted to identify the church as heaven on earth. This is what I found. Heaven on earth is 2.2 miles from here—at least that’s what Google said. This is a place called Heaven on Earth. So I looked them up, and here is their mission statement: “The mission of Heaven on Earth is to improve the quality of life for homeless cats. We are a cage-free, no-kill facility.” It’s a pretty grandiose title for not killing cats.
The truth of the matter is heaven on earth is right here, right here. The church of God gathered, composed of those who have been called by God to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, constitute the church. The church is His kingdom; it’s His kingdom on earth, and it’s as close to heaven as you can get without being there.
I think it’s important for us as we think about the essential church to understand the identity of the church. There seems to be so much chaos and confusion about the church. There are people who promote the church, who love the church, and people who have disdain for the church even though they would call themselves Christian. And then there is just generally a massive confusion about the church. So let’s get a biblical definition.
First Corinthians chapter 1. You can open your Bible to 1 Corinthians chapter 1. And here we have an explicit definition of the church; it is in verse 2: “The church of God [in this case] which is at Corinth”—that is, the church of God that meets together in the city of Corinth, are “those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” That is a powerful description of the church. It is the church of God that belongs to Him; He purchased it. It is those who have been sanctified, set apart from sin, because they are in Christ. They are then “saints by calling”—that is, they are saints because God ordained that and called them to that saintly reality, and they are marked “in every place” as those who confess Jesus as Lord. That’s the church.
Verse 9 of that same chapter says, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Faithful to do what? Verse 8, to “confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The church of Jesus Christ, then, are those who belong to God, purchased by Him, who have been separated from sin and judgment by the work of Christ and faith in Him, who have been called saints, who confess Jesus as Lord, who have been given the promise that this salvation is permanent, and they will come to an end that will render them in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ blameless; and God will faithfully fulfill those promises.
The church is not a building. The church is not an institution of religion. It is not an ethical organization. It is not a sociopolitical association. The church is the assembly of those chosen by God, called by God, redeemed by Christ, and brought to final glory. It is redeemed sinners called out of darkness into light. Let me show you a few passages on this.
Colossians, a familiar one, chapter 1, verses 13 and 14: “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” This is another direct description of the church. We have been rescued when we were helpless and hopeless. We’ve been rescued from the domain of darkness run by Satan and marked by sin and death. We have been transferred by the power of God into the kingdom of His beloved Son. We have been redeemed. Our sins have been forgiven.
In 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 you have another simple statement regarding the identity of the church. First Thessalonians 2:12 says the church are those who are called “into His own kingdom and glory. For this reason we . . . constantly thank God.” The church, then, are those called by God into His kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ, belief in the gospel; who are thus separated from sin and death and judgment, in a final sense; and they live to the glory of God.
Philippians chapter 3:20, just kind of filling out our understanding of what the church is. Verse 20 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Our Father is in heaven, our Savior is in heaven, our fellow saints are in heaven, the angels are in heaven, and so are we, as far as our citizenship goes. “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” We are citizens of heaven already, and one day we will be transformed into glory, a body of glory, and taken into heaven.
Hebrews 12:23 says it another way: The church is the “assembly . . . of the firstborn,” “firstborn” being Christ. Of all who have ever been born, He is first. Of all who has ever been raised from the dead, He is first. The “assembly . . . of the firstborn,” Hebrews 12 says, “who are enrolled in heaven.” We are enrolled in heaven. Our citizenship is in heaven. We have been taken out of the kingdom of darkness; we have been put into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. It is the kingdom of heaven; Christ is our King.
All of this points to the fact that the church is a foretaste of heaven. Though imperfect, the church represents the only place, the only place where you could honestly say heaven comes to earth, because the activities of heaven are reflected in the life of the church. In the church, God’s people desire to worship Him. God’s people love Him. God’s people submit to His moral will as expressed in Scripture. They seek to obey Him out of devotion. This is a taste of heaven. In heaven, believers will serve Him perfectly. And now we serve Him to the best of our ability, even though imperfectly, in the anticipation that someday it will be perfect when we see Him face-to-face.
In the church, believers continually offer adoration to God—as Hebrews 13 calls it, “a sacrifice of praise.” Such expressions of worship are exactly what heaven is doing, according to Revelation chapter 4. So for all eternity, believers, when in heaven, will exalt the Lord for His work of redemption.
The worship of heaven has a faint echo in the church here on earth. We bring heaven down—in a sense, in fulfillment of Matthew 6:10, our Lord’s Prayer, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That can only be in one place: the church. In the church we are not yet perfected, but you begin to glimpse a virtue and righteousness at a level that is manifestly different than the world surrounding us. Although it is not the holiness and purity that characterizes heaven in its perfection, it is the holiness and purity that characterizes heaven in its direction.
The absolute holiness of heaven is underscored in Revelation 21 and 22. It explains that the eternal glory of the final estate will be free from immorality, idolatry, and any form of impurity. So the church is called to be free from immorality, idolatry, and any form of impurity. And the church is to walk in righteousness, reflecting holiness.
In the church we enjoy rich fellowship. The church, when it’s built up and grown, is marked by love and fellowship. And this fellowship that we enjoy on earth, which is the richest of all possible human relations because it’s a taste of heaven, will one day erupt into an eternal fellowship, the likes of which we can’t even imagine. So we are citizens of heaven. Our Savior is there, our Father is there, our inheritance is there, our fellow saints are there, the angels are there; therefore, this world is not our home. We belong to the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven. It’s a strange thing to think about how many churches are trying to be as much like the world as they possibly can, when that defies the entire purpose of the church’s existence.
Submission to God’s will, Christ-centered worship, the pursuit of holiness, flourishing fellowship with other believers—these are the ways in which the church on earth foreshadows the glories of heaven. That’s why Paul tells us in Colossians chapter 3, “If you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” In the meantime, “Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” These are the things that will bring about “the wrath of God.” This is how you used to live; you don’t live that way anymore. So when you think about the church, I believe a wonderful place to start is to understand that the church is heaven on earth. Whatever is true of heaven, in some measure should be manifestly true of the redeemed church.
I have given many years to the ministry of the church, and what an incredible joy it’s been. I’ve loved every moment of it because I love the church. I love everything about the church. I love you as a congregation. I can’t even fathom a life lived in any other environment than in the church of Jesus Christ; and to be able to shepherd that church and to feed that flock of God is the highest of all callings.
I understand that this is a stewardship of something that doesn’t belong to me. It’s not my church—it’s God’s, it’s Christ’s, it belongs to the Holy Spirit. I’m just called to be a steward. It’s required of stewards that we be faithful, and we will give an account for how we cared for the little bit of heaven on earth assigned to us.
As we’re thinking about the essential church and contemplating the church itself, there’s something that I would say is just a foundational thing. I know we say a lot about the church, and we have said a lot, but I want to pull some things together today and in subsequent weeks.
We need to understand that ministry has to be built on an accurate doctrine of the church. My whole life basically has been an endeavor to live out my doctrinal convictions as to what the Bible teaches. People have said to me with regard to the COVID episode that you’ll see in the film, “Where did you get all the courage to take a stand like that?” My answer is, “That’s not courage, that’s conviction. I know what the Bible says we’re to do; we do it, and leave it to God.”
And I’ve always been driven by doctrine, by divine truth. I am driven by, and I am confined by, and hopefully conformed to theology. It exercises control over my life personally and pastorally. I have never been compelled by culture, demographics, polls, surveys, human expectations, the desires of the unconverted, the limits of the carnal, or the follies of the immature.
What defines pastoral work for me and for all faithful pastors is what the King has said about His kingdom and life in His church. And one thing that Scripture is clear about, 1 Timothy 3:15, the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” “The pillar and ground of the truth,” that statement by Paul to Timothy, who was in Ephesus at the time, pulls into its context the Temple of Diana. It was said by many ancients that of the Seven Wonders of the World, this was the most astonishing of all. It has 127 pillars to hold it up; each of them was some gift from some country or some noble person. They were made of marble and they were overlaid with gold. This was a temple, and the foundation was false religion; the foundation was paganism. Paul, looking at that and contemplating that, reminds Timothy that that’s a temple to lies, and the church is to be “the pillar and ground,” or “buttress,” “of the truth.”
Everything is about the truth. It’s the biblical foundation for all of our understanding of the church. You cannot understand the church in some sociological way or some psychological way or some personal way. To truly understand the church, you have to understand the revelation of God as to the doctrine that defines the church. And as I thought about that, I thought of five foundations. If we’re going to talk about pillars that hold up the truth, the true temple of God, there were five doctrines that I found myself listing.
Doctrine number one is the church and election—not a political election, a divine election; number two, the church and identification; number three, the church and purification; number four, the church and revelation; number five, the church and restoration. If you want to understand the church, you have to understand election, identification, purification, revelation, and restoration. Those are the foundations of the church. Another way to say them would be this: the church and divine sovereignty, the church and divine substation, the church and divine sanctification, the church and divine revelation (Scripture), and the church and the Second Coming. So I want us to make an effort to look at these and foundationally understand the church from a biblical viewpoint.
For many of us, of course, through the years, we’ve looked at the church from every angle imaginable; but it always holds fresh fascination for me. So let’s begin with my little list. Number one: One of the pillars that we must recognize, one of the foundational realities or doctrines, is the church and election, or the church and divine sovereignty. And that is to say in a word that the church is being built by the Lord Himself. It is not an institution of human ingenuity, it is a divine institution being built by the Lord. This is consistent with who God is.
Let me take you back to Isaiah 44. Isaiah 44 is God identifying Himself, and the way He does it is important and foundational to the point that I’m trying to make. Isaiah 44, verse 6, “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel”—He’s identifying Himself as King because He is sovereign. “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last.’” What do you think that means? “That means that I existed before anything else, and I will exist everlastingly when what exists exists no more.” “There is no God besides Me”—“No one is in charge from the beginning to the end, I alone am in charge.”
“Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; yes, let him recount it to Me in order, from the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place.” “If there is someone who claims to be equal to Me, then let them tell Me the future.” How is it that God can tell the future? Because He authors it, because it unfolds according to His solemn plan.
“Do not tremble”—verse 8—“and do not be afraid; have I not long since announced it to you and declared it?”—“I tell you events that are going to take place, things that are coming. I can do that because I determine them.” “And you are My witnesses,” “you’ve seen it.” “Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none.”
Go over to Isaiah 46. And again hear from the Lord Himself, verse 8, “Remember this, and be assured; recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning.” At the beginning He knew the ending because He would determine the ending and everything between the beginning and the ending. “From ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’”
History is His story. God is the Sovereign over history. He wrote the ending at the beginning, and everything in between. And with that in mind as a foundation, listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 16, familiar words, speaking about the church: “I will build My church.” That is a statement of sovereign purpose. “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” “The powers of death and hell cannot stop Me.” In other words, He portrays in a simple way, using the word “Hades”—the worst possible, or most powerful possible wicked, anti-God effort—“and it can’t stop Me. I will build My church. It’s My church, I will build it.”
This is critical to understanding the church. And let me show you how that unfolds in the New Testament. Turn over to Titus chapter 1, just as Titus begins. We’re introduced to a truth that has always been captivating to me. Titus 1, verse 1, “Paul, a bond-servant [or “a slave”] of God”—that’s consistent with understanding His sovereignty, isn’t it? You’re His slave—“and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God.” What’s my responsibility as a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ? To bring the gospel, so that those who are chosen can believe, so that they can believe and be saved, so that they can know “the truth which is according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago.” Paul says, “Ministry for me comes down to this: I am a slave of God, an apostle of Christ, to bring the gospel truth to people who are chosen by God, so they can hear it and believe and be moved from sinfulness to godliness.” And again, notice that phrase, “those chosen of God,” “those chosen of God.”
In 2 Timothy chapter 1, let me show you another verse there, 2 Timothy 1. Verse 8 ends with the word “God” as the antecedent. And then it says about God, “who has saved us”—“who has saved us” without any help from us, I might add—“and called us with a holy calling”—that is a divine, irresistible calling to holiness that had nothing to do with our works. He saved us because He called us to holiness. He did it “according to His own purpose”—unilaterally—“His own purpose and grace . . . granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,” back before there was anything but the Trinity. There was only the Trinity.
The Father determined that He would redeem His chosen people, and the promise that He made apparently involved Jesus Christ because it says in verse 9 that this “purpose” of God and this “grace . . . was granted to us” with reference to “Christ Jesus from all eternity.” What is that telling us? That’s telling us that the Father made a promise to the Son. He made a promise to the Son, promise before there was time. And that promise was to redeem a humanity to give to the Son as a love gift. The Father loves the Son; and in loving the Son, He extends this massive, magnanimous gift to the Son that demands the creation of the universe and the redemption of the chosen, who are then given to the Son as a bride from His Father, so that they can serve Him and love Him and worship Him and adore Him forever and ever; and it’s all the work of God.
Our Lord understood that. Look at John 6. These are familiar verses, but I remind you of them because they’re so direct and powerful. Jesus, speaking in verse 44 of John 6, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” That’s not hard to understand, is it? “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” This, again, is consistent with God’s sovereignty; He does what He will. The church is a divine operation, completely.
Backing up to verse 37, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me.” Who comes to Christ? Anybody who wants to? No. “All that the Father gives” Him. Who does the Father give Him? Those whom He has chosen before the foundation of the world. “The Father gives them to Me; they come to Me”; “the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” He’s not going to reject those who are the love gift from the Father. Why? “Because I came down from heaven,” verse 38, “not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” “And if it’s the Father’s will to give Me those whom He has chosen as a love gift, I only do the Father’s will. I receive the gift; I will not reject it.” “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing.” No one falls through the cracks. Who the Father chooses, He gives to the Son. The Son receives, and no one is lost, but all, verse 39 says, are “[raised] up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
The Father promises to the Son the elect in eternity past. In time He calls them to Himself. They become love gifts to the Son, the Son receives them, the Son holds them, the Son raises them, and none are ever lost.
John 17, we see this giving from the Father to the Son again in this wonderful prayer. John 17 is our Lord praying to the Father. Go back to verse 6, John 17, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours, You gave them to Me, they’ve kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You.” Our Lord acknowledges it—everything comes from the Father, everything. Verse 8, “For the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them”—of course, because they were the chosen—“and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours.” Amazing statement. They’re not saved yet, but “they are Yours” by divine election from eternity past. Their names are already written down in heaven. In verse 10, “All things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine.” Down in verse 12 He says it again: “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them.” The only one who defected was Judas, and He makes reference to him, but that was predetermined in the Scripture. The Lord recognizes that all those who follow Him were given to Him by the Father.
Toward the end of this wonderful chapter and this prayer, verse 24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” “You loved Me before the foundation of the world; You loved them before the foundation of the world. Bring them to glory, that we may together share the bliss of Your fellowship forever in heaven.” It’s all a divine work.
Romans chapter 8, Romans chapter 8, one of the great chapters in the New Testament, is explicit on this as well. Familiar, verse 28, “We know”—there’s no equivocation or doubt about it—“we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Did you get that? That’s not saying everything in itself is good, what it is saying is that if you belong to Him, He takes the good and the bad, and it all works out for your good and His glory. That is an amazing statement. All things are working together to produce a good end, a righteous end, to those who love God because God is causing it to happen. It doesn’t just happen, He causes it to happen.
And again, this is part of His saving purpose, verse 29, “For whom He foreknew”—predetermined to love—“He predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son,” and the plan was that He chose us before the foundation of the world to one day make us like His Son. And then verse 30, “Whom He predestined, He called [with an irresistible call to salvation]; and those whom He called, He justified [declared righteous]; and those whom He justified, He also glorified.” You go from election to glorification; and that’s the promise of God.
So verse 31 asks the question, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who’s against us?” Who is going to stop the eternal God from accomplishing His purpose, laid down before the foundation of the world?
Does that have implications in the church? Overwhelming implications, overwhelming. I can’t build the church. I can’t come up with a strategy that’s going to cause those whom God has not chosen to come to salvation. One preacher said, “Anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart.” That’s a foolish statement. The only people who can come to Christ are those whom God has chosen and draws and gives to His Son as a love gift.
So I’ve never been under any illusions about the fact that people’s eternal salvation rises or falls on me. Not even my own salvation rises or falls on me; it’s all a work of God. So I don’t need to try to strategize, somehow, to save the non-elect. And to be honest, I may do a poor job, but it’ll never be the cause of someone losing their salvation, because if you’ve been given by the Father to the Son, the Son will keep you and raise you from the dead.
This is how I’ve always viewed ministry. I’m just a steward of the people of God, and I have a responsibility to feed the flock of God, to feed the flock of God. “Feed My sheep, feed My sheep, feed My sheep,” Jesus said to Peter.
In 2 Corinthians 2, verse 14, we have a passage that’s been an immense encouragement to me through the years. Verse 14, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ.” You may be weak, you may be inadequate; Paul would agree with that. He even says so much. “We’re not adequate for these things,” he says down in verse 5. You may be frail, you may fail consistently, but that does not change the end purpose of God at all.
And so the thanks comes in verse 14, 2 Corinthians 2, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God.” Just the fact that we are proclaiming the gospel is like an aroma, a fragrance, that rises to the nostrils of God and pleases Him. We are in our ministry a sweet aroma, a gospel aroma. And for some, verse 15 says, “who are being saved and [for some] who are perishing,” the effect of this aroma is diametrically opposite. “To the one, [we are] an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.” In other words, there are people who are being saved by the plan of God. There are people who are perishing. The people who are perishing will hear the gospel, and it will compound their death. The people who are being saved will hear the gospel, and it will exhilarate their eternal life.
No person could do that. You can’t make your life that important. You’re not the reason people are redeemed, you’re not the reason people are lost—so you don’t tamper with your calling, and you don’t reinvent the church. It’s all a matter of faithfulness. Paul says, “If you’re a steward, be faithful.” And Paul understands that. He knows that. He knows that he can’t overcome the sinner’s resistance.
Look at chapter 4 for a minute, verse 3: “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing”—the category of the “perishing” don’t understand the gospel because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” So we just need to be faithful with the truth. That’s a foundational doctrine for understanding the church: It is the elect of God.
Just very briefly, a second pillar doctrine that we’ve talked a lot about, so I don’t need to spend a lot of time on it: the church and identification. This is very important, the church and identification. This looks at the fact that the church is the most precious reality on earth. Why? It is the Father’s love gift to the Son, as we have just seen. Also, it required the Son’s death; the Son had to pay the price. And, thirdly, because the church not only was chosen by God and redeemed by Christ through His death and resurrection, but the church—listen—is one with Christ. It is one with Christ.
If we are believers, we are so inseparably connected to Christ that Paul can say, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I live in the flesh I live by the faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and [he] gave himself for me.” “I am crucified with Christ . . . yet not I, but Christ lives in me.”
So that has massive implications in the church. When I look out at the congregation, I realize that I’m not just dealing with people, I’m dealing with Christ. Every one of you that knows Christ is the temple of the living Christ. If you have not the Spirit of Christ, you’re none of His. So if you’re a believer, Christ lives in you: “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” We know all of that.
Not only has Christ’s righteousness been imputed to you, and the efficacy not only of His righteous death but His righteous life credited to your account, but it’s more than that—Christ has taken up residence in you. So when I minister to the church, I understand the level of this stewardship. Practicality of that is, I think, well presented in Matthew 18. And I’ll close with some comments from Matthew 18.
Here, in what is really a primitive chapter talking about life in the church, we find an incredibly important truth: “The disciples came to Jesus”—in verse 1—“and they said, ‘Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’” So remember now, the kingdom of heaven is the church. “So He called a child to Himself.” The disciples wanted to know who’s the greatest. And in order to humble them from the pride that that question revealed, the Lord picked up a child, and He said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted”—unless you turn from your pride—“and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” You don’t come into the kingdom of heaven because you’ve earned it, because you’re worthy of it; you’re going the wrong direction.
Verse 4, “Whoever then humbles himself as this child”—with nothing to offer, no accomplishments—“he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” And then this, shocking, verse 5, “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me.” Now He’s not talking about physical children, He’s using the child that He’s holding to illustrate childlike humility. We’re all in the kingdom because we humbled ourselves. We’re all the children of God, and we need to be reminded that when one of us comes into our presence, we’re having an encounter with Christ. “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me.” It’s just a fascinating statement. How you treat other believers is how you treat Christ; can’t get away from it.
Does that have implications in pastoral ministry? It certainly does. It certainly does. And we will give an account, believe me. We will give an account to the Lord, those of us who shepherd God’s flock, and it may not be something as simple as good or bad sermons, good or bad leadership. But I promise you this: We will stand before God to give an account for how we treat fellow believers. In fact, if you mistreat them, verse 6 indicates, if you mistreat a fellow believer, one “who [believes] in Me”—that shows you that the child is just an illustration—if you “[cause] one . . . who [believes] in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” It’s deadly serious, how you treat other believers.
So when you look at what ministry in the church is, it is first of all a recognition of the church and election (the kingdom and sovereignty), and then the church and identification (the kingdom and substitution). Those two foundational doctrines have been the foundation that the Lord allowed in my life many, many years ago, I think, to keep me on course.
I’m totally content with God being sovereign; I don’t want that job. I’m totally content with feeding the flock of God and letting the Lord gather His church as He wills. The church is precious, the true church, because they are the Father’s love gift to the Son. The preciousness of the church is also demonstrated in the price that Christ paid: His death on the cross. And they are precious, thirdly, because Christ lives in every other believer. Marvelous to think about the church in those terms. Those are the foundations of the church. There are three more; we’ll see how far we get next Sunday. Let’s pray.
Father, we understand that Your truth is clear so that a wayfaring man, though he be a fool, need not err. We thank You for Your church. We thank You for this church, Your church, the church of God, the church of our Lord Jesus Christ that gathers in this place. We thank You that Your church is invincible, and we will triumph in Christ. We thank You that You come to us in every other believer.
I know there’s so many people being told they need an encounter with Jesus, they need to hear the voice of the Lord. Help us to understand that we encounter Jesus every time we meet a fellow believer. And as we minister to one another, we become the voice of the Savior to each other. We don’t need visions, we don’t need revelations, we don’t need captivating enchantments; You come to us in every other Christian. Show Yourself, and help those of us to recognize that that is not only a responsibility of ours to acknowledge that about someone else, but it’s a responsibility of ours to acknowledge that we need to demonstrate the Christ who is in us to others. May Your church be the church, and may it be clear that it is a taste of heaven on earth, in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
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