What’s the Point of Church?
Bible Text: Ephesians 3:1 – 13 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Church: The Greatest Community on Earth | Ephesians 3:1 – 13
What’s the Point of Church?
Dundonald Church 6:30 Weekend Away 2020 :: Talk 2
Paul begins to pray but gets distracted! (v 1)
Probably all of us can think of that one friend, who begins a conversation on one train of thought, which then gets derailed, and they go off on some tangent, only to drift back to the original subject later on!
Actually if you can’t think of someone like that in your circle of friends, I think it probably means that it’s you!
But we won’t hold that against you, because we see in Ephesians 3 the Apostle Paul does exactly the same thing.
Paul’s been speaking about the church that Christ is building, and he’s just so profoundly thankful to God for that work, that he falls to his knees to pray, For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles,
God has revealed a mystery (v 2 – 6)
And then there’s the digression.
The mere mention of his ministry to the Gentiles opens up a whole new package of things he wants to say, so he hits the pause button on his prayer, and starts to speak about his role in God making his plans and purposes known.
Verse 2, Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.
Now, we know what a mystery is!
A little while ago I decided I’d start reading the Sherlock Holmes stories. I thought it would be fun to see if I could observe the clues and piece all the evidence together, to solve the mystery before Sherlock did!
Which, didn’t happen once!
It turns out it’s not elementary!
See, a mystery to us, is something that has to be studied, and the evidence pieced together, so that we can deduce the answer.
But that’s not what Paul means when he speaks of mystery. He means something that was unknown, but now has been made known.
You didn’t know, but there’s a chocolate bar hidden here in the lectern. Actually it’s 2 chocolate bars.
2 Mars Bars.
One for me and one for a friend!
If you’d like to be my friend, come and see me afterwards.
Now, you didn’t know that there was a Mars Bar hidden here, None of you have X-ray vision. You were unable to discern that for yourself.
But now that I’ve told you, we all know it, don’t we?
There’s nothing at all to figure out!
That’s Paul’s kind of mystery, something that was unknown, that’s now been made known.
And here’s the mystery;, verse 6, This mystery, is that through the gospel, the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel.
Not just that Gentiles could come to God. They could always do that, they just had to become Jews first,
The mystery here is that it’s through faith in the gospel of Jesus, people like you and I can be brought into God’s new community.
A church is only a church when it holds to the apostolic message
And Paul says, this wonderful truth has been made known to me by revelation verse 3,
And what calls my insight into the mystery of Christ verse 4,
And then in verse 5, has been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.
Now, what’s been revealed to him and the other apostles?
that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel,
How this new community of God’s people is formed by Jesus’ death, that’s the apostolic message.
So there is only one kind of church,
I mean, there are lots of different flavours of church;,
But there is only one kind of church;, a church, verse 5, founded on the mystery of Christ, revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.
Do you remember those brilliant jokes from this morning?!
When is a boy not a boy?
When is a door not a door?
Well, when is a church, not a church?
What would have to happen, and please pray that it never does, but after next year when we move back into the building, with the big name above the door “Dundonald Church”,
What would have to happen in order for you to be entirely justified to bring your ladder down to 577 Kingston Rd, and prise the word “Church” off the sign?
When is a church, not a church?
When it departs from the gospel revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets, because without their message, the two groups one, in his flesh, you can’t have the new humanity
There are lots of people who try and drive a wedge between Jesus and the apostles, especially the Apostle Paul, because they feel that Jesus was less prescriptive about lifestyle, and behaviour, and sin than Paul and the others.
I think actually they misunderstand Jesus, who says things like “stop sinning”!
But there’s a group who call themselves Red Letter Christians, because some Bibles have the words Jesus of Jesus printed in red,
And these guys say, “we obey what Jesus says, but the rest of the Bible, not so much.”
But the way Jesus communicates to his church today, is through the apostles and prophets.
And if we don’t hold fast to their message then there is no good news of Jew and Gentile united together through the death of Jesus,
If a church doesn’t have the apostolic message of God’s new humanity brought into existence through the cross, then you’ve got to try and get into relationship with God some other way yourself!
You just never can,
And that local church has ceased to be a church.
Friends, please don’t ever let our church stop being a church.
If our leaders, and staff, and those who teach ever begin to say that what God made known though the apostles and prophets is not sufficient,
Or not up to date enough, you need to speak up.
And I’ll hold the ladder for you while you prize the word “church” of our new building.
This mystery was hidden
But I want us to understand that to describe God’s plan for his new humanity united under Jesus, as a mystery, tells us that it was always God’s plan to bring the church into existence like this.
The language of mystery indicates that God’s intention to build his church this way was unknown in the past, but still in existence.
This wasn’t an addition to Gods’ plan.
It wasn’t Plan B
Come back to the Mars Bar with me for a moment!
Some of you never left the Mars Bar!
But the Mars Bar didn’t come into existence the moment I revealed it to you, did it?
Neither did God’s intention that the Gentiles would be heirs together with Israel come into existence with, the book of Acts, or whatever.
This was always God’s plan.
And we see glimpses of it, in the Old Testament;, Think of the promise to Abraham, all peoples on earth will be blessed through you
Or think of that amazing statement in Ephesians 5 that marriage exists to tell us something about Christ and the church.
Right back when he invents marriage in Genesis 2, God is thinking of the church!
God had always intended to create this new humanity in Christ Jesus of which you are a part.
And Paul’s so excited at the new community God’s building, that he has to invent a new word to express himself!
Maybe you’ve been so excited that you’ve made up new words!
Your football team wins the Premiership, and the first thing you do is shoot off a quick email to the Oxford English Dictionary people suggesting inclusion of a few things you shouted at your television screen!
Not only are Jews and Gentiles heirs together, of the promises in Christ Jesus, and sharers together in the promise, but also but also members together of one body, which is one big long word that Paul makes up.
You know you’re trying to capture something important when you have to make up a word to explain it!
When the Oxford Dictionary releases their list of new words they’ve added to the dictionary in the past year, they’re obviously important words,
They communicate something that can’t be suitably communicated any other way.
So for 2019 that included words like
Misgendering, and omni-shambles, which we can pretty easily understand what they mean and why in 2019 these became real words.
Nomopobia is the fear of not having access to your mobile phone. Again, no surprise that there’s a need for a word to communicate this!
The possible exception to this is “chipmunky” which means, “Resembling or characteristic of a chipmunk, typically with reference to a person having prominent cheeks or a perky, mischievous character.”
I feel we may have continued to get by without that one!
But having been united with Christ, every one of us receives God’s Spirit who unites us experientially together as members of our local church;,
members together of one body,
The letter started with the great picture of the church in heaven;, Christians gathered with Christ, seated, with him in the heavenly realms,
But Paul also wants the Ephesians, and us, to remember that that’s not the only gathering of the church.
That heavenly gathering is also expressed in an earthly gathering,
In many different earthly, local gatherings;, the local church.
And I wonder if you were to think about the 6:30,
If you were asked to describe it, perhaps if one of your friends from work or wherever asked you, “what’s it like, your church?”
Would your go-to illustration be, a body?!
“Well, at the 6:30, there are some people who are like hands, they’re always doing stuff for other people, making sure everyone has what they need,
And some other people are like ears, they’re always listening to others. They want to know what’s happening for people. They’re the ones who never talk over the top of someone else,
And then some people are, well, they’re like a backside! But in a good way, they’re always sitting down with someone different, making time for them, etc etc
I don’t know what the particular points of illustration might be,
But I wonder if, though we know this illustration is used of the church, we don’t actually think about our church like this.
And yet this is Paul’s go to illustration for the church!
He comes back to it in chapter 4, and in Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12.
Paul thinks the comparison with a body is a good way of understanding how the church functions.
I used to cut up dead bodies when I worked for the anatomy department at Adelaide University, so I really like the body allegories that Paul uses,
But I do wonder if this is so far from our normal thinking about our church, and my part in it?
Like, how would you go, if your kidneys decided not to get out of bed one day?! “The rest of you can go on to work, but we’re staying here!”
Or your feet get a better offer, “We’re staying here in the warm while the rest of you walk up to the train station, ”
Or if your ears started getting jealous, because other parts of your body get more attention; “We’re going to stop functioning, until we get looked after like the face does.”
Now, I know on Monday morning, that’s exactly how we’re all going to feel as we drag ourselves out of bed for another week!
But can you imagine it?
It would be a disaster. We would not be able to function as we’re intended to.
And yet, all too often that’s exactly how we think of our place in the church, isn’t it?
I hold back because of the effort required,
I don’t turn up because I get a better offer,
Jealousy at someone else’s role makes me angry or bitter.
That’s thinking about our own place in the church, but what about thinking about the ministry of others?
Do you look across the room on a Sunday and see a body made up of different members, all playing their part in the same task and mission.
And of course, in that moment when the final chord of the last song is hit, if we really think of our church as a body, united in Christ, each of us with our part to play, me with mine, you with yours, what we do in that moment, will be completely different to what I do if I think of church as a place where I go to meet with my friends,
It will be different to what I do if I think of church as a service that I consume, perhaps even having paid for, with my money or my involvement.
See, how we view our church, really matters!
And how we view our church will shape the way we conduct ourselves within it.
If I understand that I’m a hand within a body, then the moment the music fades from that last song, I know what my role is, don’t I?
In fact the moment I walk in the door I know what my role is,
In fact knowing that I’m a member of a body, will even shape decisions like what time I turn up!
It’s hard to play my role as a member of the body if I turn up 5 minutes after the rest of the body!
Imagine that! You arrive somewhere, and various bits of your body just turn up at random intervals 5 minutes later.
Now, I’m not talking about people for whom getting there is hard, or being there is hard.
I’m talking about the rest of us, and whether we see the 6:30 as a body united by Jesus, in which we and others play a part, or whether we see it as something else, something different to how Jesus sees his church.
And maybe some of us, we don’t quite know where we fit. We’re not sure if we’re a hand or a foot, or an eye or an elbow!
We’d like to be involved, but we’re not really sure how.
Come and see me, or Santhosh, or Iain, or your KG leader, and we’d love to help you find out what it is to be members together of one body at the 6:30.
What about divisions today?
Now I don’t reckon there’s going to be any division in our church as deeply held and as widely felt as the division between Jew and Gentile,
We don’t have those kinds of divisions at the 6:30.
You know, I’ve never heard the Welcome Team say to someone at the door,
“Oh sorry, you can’t come in,
You’re not one of us,
Your skin is the wrong colour,
You’re the wrong age,
You speak the wrong language”,
But of course, that’s not the only way to create divisions, is it?
The way we speak, can create divisions.
The people we choose to speak with, after church on a Sunday night,
When we’re having dinner at KG,
During the week when we want to spend time with people,
Whether or not we look out for people on a Sunday who are new,
And don’t look like us,
Whether or not we would seek to engage in conversation over tea and coffee, with someone new and different, someone who doesn’t look like us.
Those are actually a much greater danger, I think, for us, in terms of creating divisions that the gospel has broken down.
Our barrier, friends, is not at the door, but in that moment, that split second of choice, prior to our conversations.
That person in our 6:30 family, who obviously sits in a very different part of London’s socio-economic spectrum to you., they are a member together with you of one body.
If the gospel removes the division between Jew and Gentile that was culturally, even legally enshrined, how do we ensure we as a church family remember that the gospel is opposed to any division we might establish today?
Friends, we need to let the good news of the gospel seep down into us, into the lives of the people we serve, so that we can live out that identity.
But maybe you’re a bit more of a stick person than a carrot person!
So consider this: It took the death of Jesus, to break down the divisions between people, and to create this one body.
Do we dare, put anything in the way of God’s purposes, or somehow seek to undo the work of Christ on the cross, by creating, or even tolerating the divisions that Christ has torn down.
In 1983, the World Council of Churches held a gathering in Vancouver. Christians from all almost every country of the world were there,
Hundreds of different languages spoken.
The sociologist Margaret Mead was present, and she said to these thousands of Christians, “You are a sociological impossibility.”
A world expert in how people relate to each other, and she says, “This cannot be.”
But, of course, it is!
This is the mystery of Christ, that greatest division between Jews and Gentiles overcome in the death of Jesus, and so no other division can ever stand in its place.
How do you think about your ministry? (v 7 – 9)
So since it’s within this body, that we do our ministry,
So let’s have a look at how Paul reflects on his ministry among the people of God.
See verse 7, I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me, through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me:
Is this how we think about our ministry?
Is this how you think about the gospel ministry that you’re involved in?
Some of us will have formal ministry roles at church;,
Leading at KG, in Connect, a Growth Group,
On a stewarding team,
And there will be some here with no formal ministry role, but we know that every Christian person is Christ’s ambassador,
So how do you think about the part that you play in God’s work of reconciling a broken world to himself in the body of Christ at Dundonald?
Would we use Paul’s language, and say that our ministry is a gift of God’s grace?
Verse 8 he says, this grace was given me:, to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ,
Paul says for me to preach to you, is God’s grace, to me. So let me kind of reverse engineer that for us:, Paul does not deserve to preach, the boundless riches of Christ.
Now, of course, Paul had a unique role in salvation history,
Not everything that’s true of Paul is true of us. And yet, we don’t deserve our ministry, any more than Paul deserved his, do we?
But I this how we think about whatever role we have.
A gift of God’s grace,
An undeserved kindness from God.
“I get to serve supper with my KG group, because of God’s grace to me, ”
I set up chairs at 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon, because of God’s undeserved kindness.
Is that how we think about it?
When I planted our first church in Australia, we used to have to dismantle a fence around a building site, in order to drive in our trailer, for set up every Sunday. And I remember one morning at 7 AM, and the display in my car was telling me that it was minus 2 degrees outside, as I fumbled around trying to pull this fence apart.
In that moment, I did not consider that my ministry was a gift of God’s grace!
It’s very easy for us start thinking that we deserve the ministry that God gives us, or that we deserve a particular role;
“Of course I should be up the front on a Sunday evening”,
“Obviously I’ll be considered when Dundonald are recruiting Ministry Trainees.”
Or maybe there are moments when we feel that we deserve better than the ministry we have,
Are we prone to resentment when we see the ministry of others?
But how did Paul describe himself? Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles
Once again, Paul doesn’t let the fact that a word doesn’t exist, stop him making his point! and he makes up another new word.
He says literally, “I am, the leaster!” “Find the least, go down from there, that’s where you’ll find me!” Paul says.
Maybe the danger for you, is not that you all too easily imagine that you deserve the ministry you have, or something more high profile or significant,
Maybe the opposite is true, that you’re all too aware of your failings, your sin, your inadequacies, and you can’t ever imagine that God would use you.
If that’s you, Paul would say to you, “You think you’ve got skeletons in your closet? I tried to wipe Christianity from the face of the earth!”
And then he’d say, verse 7 7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me, through the working of his power
Do you see, so confident is God in the power of the gospel of Jesus, that even Paul, the enemy of Christianity, can become a servant of the gospel.
So confident is God in the power of the gospel of Jesus, that even you, can become the means of someone hearing the good news of Jesus.
So confident is God in the power of the gospel of Jesus, that even I, can preach the boundless riches of Christ, through God’s grace given to me.
Maybe our time away this weekend, gives us the chance to pause and reflect on how we think about our ministry in the body of Christ, and to ask whether we need to reassess, or re-evaluate how we approach our role in church.
We’ve got a few days here,
We’ve got wise friends around us,
Perhaps that’s a good use of some of our free time, and conversations over coffee.
God reveals his wisdom through the church (v 10 – 13)
All of that though, about the church as a body,
About our ministry, and how to think about it helpfully,
None of that is really surprising, I don’t think. I mean, we need to be reminded of all of that, yes, but it’s not surprising or shocking.
What Paul goes on to say about the church though, is both surprising and shocking.
Pick it up with me from verse 10, His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,
God had always intended that the church would be the means of his wisdom being made known!
Suddenly the church seems much more important, doesn’t it?!
While some in our society might seek to push the church to the fringes and beyond, in actual fact, the church is at the very heart of God’s plans to reveal his wisdom.
When God gave Paul his ministry, when he gives us ministry,
When he deigns to prosper our feeble efforts to plant new churches,
When we partner together and conclude, under God, “it seems to us a wise and Christ-honouring idea to construct a new building for our church family,
When we doorknock Wimbledon and tell the community, “We’re here, on your doorstep, please join us”,
These aren’t just little bits on the side that God allows us to busy ourselves with while he does the real work of the gospel.
The church is, the very public face of the wisdom of God being made known.
I remember painting some furniture once, and my kids wanted to paint, too, but I didn’t want them to mess up what I was working on, so I got out another bit of wood, and a little tin of paint and said, “You go over there with your bit and go your hardest!”
But that’s not what God does, is it?
This thing, the church, is God’s main event!
It is the demonstration of God’s own wisdom into the heavenly realms.
The church is to God, the piece of furniture itself, not the spare piece of wood the kids get to paint on!
It’s through the church, that God reveals his wisdom!
But not just to people, God reveals his manifold wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, the language that, in chapter 6, describes evil spiritual powers.
And to speak of God’s wisdom as manifold, is to say it has lots of bits;, it’s multi-faceted.
This is the word that was used to describe Joseph’s coat of many colours. His technicolour coat!
The wisdom of God displayed in the church is multifaceted. It’s technicolour!
Now we’re not told exactly which, aspects of God’s wisdom are revealed through the church to the heavenly realms, but looking at the theme of the letter, Paul probably includes God’s intention that all things will one day be united under Christ.
We saw already that the church is a foretaste, of the unity that one day will encompass everything.
The Amazon, as you know, is the world’s largest river, discharging 209 thousand cubic metres of water into the Atlantic every second!
There’s a bit of debate about where the Amazon begins, but the best understanding at the moment is with a river called the Mantaro.
But for some of the year, the Mantaro River is just a tiny trickle of water which drips past a dam in Peru. But over the next 7000 kilometres, that builds up, and up, and up, until that tiny trickle has become the enormous Amazon, discharging as much water into the ocean as the next 7 largest rivers in the world combined.
The church might not really look like much,
Our efforts might seem insignificant,
But we are at the very heart of God’s eternal purposes,
What we are a part of, finishes on an epic scale.
So when the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms look at the church, they see that their power is broken,
That their efforts to divide and create hostility will eventually come to nothing,
Satan and his minions look at the church and see that God has appointed Jesus to be head over everything, and that one day, they too will submit to Christ, along with all rulers and authorities.
When the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms look at the church, they learn that there is nothing that they can do, to prevent the advance of the gospel, and that God has accomplished, and will complete, verse 11, his eternal purpose.
I don’t know what you see when you look at the church you serve, but when the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms look at the church, they see the wisdom of God, played out in the eternal victory of sin and death, won by Jesus through his death on the cross.
But which church?
But which church is Paul talking about?
Is he saying that the Dundonald 6:30 are the ones through whom God’s wisdom is made known?
That makes you slightly nervous with the weight of expectation, doesn’t it?
But we don’t really need to be reminded that neither the 6:30, nor even all 4 of our Sunday gatherings together are the sum total of the church.
We’ve talked about the heavenly gathering around Christ Jesus, and that spiritual gathering, if you like, that’s not just something that people enter into when they die, it’s a gathering that we participate in now, if we trust in Jesus for reconciliation and relationship with God. We are seated with Christ, chapter 2 verse 6.
I know of someone who lives here in London, who discovered that the line of zero longitude ran right through his house. And so he stuck a sign in the front yard telling people on the footpath where they could stand, so that they could have a foot in 2 hemispheres!
Well Christian people can go one better than that!
We’re members of a church here;, we gather as God’s people in this world, but we are also simultaneously part of that heavenly gathering, around Christ, seated with him in the heavenly realms.
So which one is the church, through which God’s manifold wisdom is made known?
The one we’re a part which gathers in a red brick building in Wimbledon, or the heavenly one?
Well it’s both!
This new relationship of Jews and Gentiles gathered spiritually around Christ, is represented,
Manifested, through the gathering of those same believers on earth.
When God’s people gather on earth, it’s a visible manifestation of the gathering that is already taking place in heaven.
That is to say, at 6:30 on a Sunday evening, a gathering of 150 people at St Andrew’s in Wimbledon, declares to Satan and his spiritual powers, Jesus’ victory over sin and death on the cross;, the manifold wisdom of God.
It is through churches just like ours, churches that are concrete, visible expressions of the relationship that we enjoy with Jesus, that the manifold wisdom of God is made known in the heavenly realms.
It’s the reason I’m so pleased that this many of you are here this weekend, to grow in your understanding of what the church is.
Because if this is what the church is, the announcement of God’s wisdom into the heavenly realms, then it’s quite something that we’re a part of, isn’t it?
The billboard of the power of God’s saving purposes to those spiritual forces who oppose it
What would we let get in the way?
What would keep us from gathering with our brothers and sisters?
It’s like when Charles, or William, or George, or whichever one of them is going to be our next king, when it finally happens,
If you were invited to their coronation, to sit in the front row with royal family, in the midst of that spectacular display of pageantry,
Would you say, “Oh sorry, can’t come,
I didn’t really think it would be worth it?
I couldn’t be bothered organising myself to get there,
I’ll turn up, unless I get a better offer?”
Of course not! If you can be part of it, you wouldn’t let anything keep you away, or get in the way of making the most of it, would you?
Which, to finish, raises the question,
Is that what you think of the church?
Of our church?
In the middle of Sunday afternoon, when you look at the time and you have to decide, “Is it worth me going or not?”,
Is this the picture you have in your mind?
A display of the manifold, technicolour wisdom of God.
When it’s Wednesday night, and you’re leaving work, KG is soon to start, and you need to work out what’s going to give way in your diary,
Is it the church, the demonstration of the manifold, technicolour wisdom of God into the heavenly realms, that gets rubbed out?
When you reflect on your ministry, your part in your local church, do you think “here is something God has established, to demonstrate his manifold, technicolour wisdom into the heavenly realms.
Even before the first chair is put out,
Before the first song is sung,
Before even a word of the Scriptures is read,
God’s intent is that through his church, his manifold wisdom might be made known,
And you’re a part of that!