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Archive for December 24th, 2007

“…We, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” Romans 12:5

And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” Colossians 1:18

Having considered in chapter 9 to 11 of Romans just who the people of God are, those whom God has elected unto salvation, that chosen people called out from among both the Jews and Gentiles, a people of faith, Paul, in chapter 12, then commences to direct that people in their walk of faith.

 

It is important to note throughout the following chapters the overriding emphasis upon faith in the walk of the believer. Paul does not so much concentrate upon the outward conduct as upon that which governs it – faith. Whatever the exhortation – faith is what fulfils, and love is its outworking, and both are the work of God, being the fruit of the Spirit within. Throughout these chapters the emphasis continues to be not upon man and his works, but upon God and His works, and upon His people’s absolute reliance upon God and His work of grace in them as they walk in this world looking unto Him by faith. Constantly the gaze is lifted up above earthly things unto heavenly things, from that which is of the flesh, to that which is of the Spirit, from that which is but carnal, to that which is spiritual. Constantly man is abased, and Christ is exalted. Man is laid low, and Christ is raised up high. God will either do all for His people, or He will do nothing. It is God who saves, God who leads, God who keeps, and God who preserves. Hence Paul reminds his hearers towards the end of chapter 12 to avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord”. God justified His people at the cross through the sacrifice of His own Son – so will He not avenge them? He will indeed!

 

 

Yes, the walk of the child of God is a walk of faith, for God will do everything for the salvation of His people. Everything!

 

 

So, in chapter 12 Paul leads our thoughts from that which is natural to that which is spiritual, beginning with the natural body and its reasonable service unto the Lord, and then directing the attention towards the spiritual Body which God’s people are in Christ. Having instructed the people of God not to be conformed to this world but transformed through the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2), in verses 4 and 5 Paul then speaks of that One Body which God’s people are in Christ. Here the gaze of faith is lifted up from that which is natural to that which is spiritual – the Body of Christ.

 

 

For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” Romans 12:4-5

In Colossians 1:18 Paul refers to Christ as “the head of the body, the church”. Here Paul touches upon a great mystery, the Body of Christ, His Church, in whom Christ dwells. I have not the space to open up this glorious theme fully here, an exposition of the epistle to the Ephesians probably being more suited to that end, but we may nevertheless rightly ask the question, just what is the Body of Christ, the Church, as spoken of here? 

 

 

Indeed, in these days of many ‘religions’, many ‘churches’, many beliefs and ideals, the question may well be asked, and rightly asked, which of these is the true church… indeed just what is the Church?

 

 

A worshipping people…

 

 

Well, let us consider a few aspects about the church as revealed in God’s word, the Bible. Firstly, as is evident from the passage in Romans 12 concerning the Body of Christ, the Church of God is not a building. It may meet in buildings, but it is not a physical building. The English word ‘church’ is used to translate the Greek word ekklesia as used in the Bible, and ekklesia essentially means a called out congregation or assembly of people. God’s church, His ekklesia, is not a building, but His people, called out from the world to worship Him, and not only is this people called out but but it is called into the fellowship of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s church, Christ’s church, the Body of Christ, is a worshipping people, a people who worship “in spirit and in truth” John 4:23. Described as the ekklesia, the assembly of God, such a people may gather and worship God in many congregations throughout the world, but in God’s eyes, they are One people, One body, One assembly, united by their common love for God and worship of Him. This was typified by the nation of Israel in the Old Testament scriptures who were themselves a people chosen of God to worship Him, as a picture and foreshadowing of that spiritual Israel, the church of God in Christ.

 

 

Not only is the Church of God, the ekklesia of Christ, a called out assembly of people who worship God, but it is God’s church, it is His people. God’s church is that people whom God the Father chose in Christ from before the foundation of the world unto salvation “…according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace” (See Ephesians 1:3-6), whom Jesus Christ, the Son of God, loved and gave Himself for (Ephesians 5:25) in laying down His life in the place of His people that He might suffer the judgment of God against their sins, that they might have “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7). Such people, those who are sinners by nature, at enmity with God their Maker, far off from God (Ephesians 2:17), described in the Bible as being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) are, in the will of God, in His time, brought to hear the good news of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of Christ, regarding how the Son of God entered this world by being made flesh and taking human nature into perfect union with His Divine Person in order that He might live as a man amongst sinners and suffer and die in the place of His people in order to take their sins and the judgment of God against them away, that God might be just in forgiving them of their sins, washing them clean, declaring them just and righteous before Him and giving them eternal life in Christ that they might live and worship Him for ever. Through the preaching of this Gospel, God the Holy Spirit causes this people to be born again by His almighty power, delivered from the darkness and death of their sin, into the light and life of the Gospel of Christ. It is this people whom God calls His Church. This is the ekklesia of Christ whom He purchased at great price – with His own blood, through His death upon the cross in the place of His people.

 

 

God’s people…

The church of God, then, is that people whom God has saved through the Person and Work of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who are born again of the Spirit, hearing and believing the truth of Christ as declared in His Gospel, and who are gathered as assemblies in various localities to worship God, in spirit and in truth. God’s word, the Bible, tells us a number of other things about the church. Not only is the church referred to as Christ’s, whom He loves, but He also declares in Matthew 16:18 that “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. Christ builds His church. He died for all those whom God the Father gave to Him as His people, and by the preaching of His Gospel, by the mouths of those men whom He sends to preach it, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ calls that people out from the darkness of this world to believe on Him and to gather with His people, in the church. This is a work of God’s grace to bring His people to believe on Him, by His will, not theirs, as John 6:29 tells us “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him [Jesus Christ] whom he hath sent”. Likewise Ephesians 2:4-5 tells us “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved;)”. And if by grace, then of ‘Sovereign Grace’, grace which reigns (Romans 5:21), for the grace of God, His undeserved, unmerited mercy towards sinners, is freely given by His will, being Lord of all – by Christ, the King of kings. And not only is the church said to be Christ’s, and that He builds it, but He is also described as being the Head of the Church. “And [God] hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” Ephesians 1:22-23. Here we read of how Christ fills all in all. He dwells in His people, and in His church. For the church is not only a people gathered to worship God, but it is described in the scriptures as God’s dwelling place, as His habitation – indeed as the very Body of Christ in which He dwells. We have stated that the church is not a physical building, but the people of God, and the Bible teaches us that it is in this people that God makes His habitation, Christ by His Spirit dwelling in their hearts by faith. Acts 17:24 tells us that God “dwelleth not in temples made with hands”, for God’s people are described as His habitation “In whom [Christ] all the building [of God’s people] fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:21-22.

So, we see that the church of God, is that people called out by God to worship Him, for whom Christ died, having set His love upon them. The Church is Christ’s, He is the Head of it, He dwells within it, He reigns within it, and He builds it. And He does so through the preaching of His Gospel, which the Bible describes as “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” Romans 1:16. It is by the preaching of the Gospel that Christ builds His church, adds to it, increases it and strengthens it. Described in 1 Timothy 3:15 as “the pillar and ground of the truth” the church is also described as the “household of God” and is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone”, and that foundation, that teaching of God regarding Christ as declared by the apostles and the prophets of old is set forth and proclaimed in the preaching of Christ in His Gospel. Hence the preaching of the Gospel from the word of God is not only that by which God’s people are saved, but is that by which the church is built and sustained, and it forms the centre of all worship of God in His church, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” …. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:13-15, 17

…Who worship in spirit and in truth

Having asked what is the church of God, we may also wonder just how that church worships God when it gathers together?

 

 

Unlike much that is done in the name of ‘worship’ in many religious gatherings today, which are either full of pomp or ceremony, of outward form or ritual, or just frothy sentimentalism or entertainment, the church of God as described in the scriptures, and the way in which it worships, is actually very simple and without much ceremony. What is at the heart of true worship is the centrality of Christ in the meetings. The church is One Body in Christ. Quite simply, Christ is all.

At one time, in the days of His flesh, Christ walked upon this earth bodily. Now, having died, risen again and ascended, He sits in glory on the right hand of God the Father, yet even now, though not here physically, Christ still indwells His people collectively as One Body upon the earth, of which He is the Head – especially when they are gathered together “with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1). Oh, what a glorious mystery this is! Here, more than anywhere, Christ meets His people in a particular way, by His Spirit, as they meet as His Body. Christ says in Matthew 28:20, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” and how true this is, especially in the experience of God’s people when they gather to worship Him who saved them. 

True worship is to love and adore Christ, the Head of the Church, in whom God has revealed Himself to man. This is an act of faith, which works by love (Galatians 5:6), which springs from the new heart of the believer. We cannot worship Him whom we do not know, as we have seen in Romans 10, and the true knowledge of God as Father, Son and Holy Ghost, resulting in belief in Him and worship of Him, is made known by the preaching of Christ in His Gospel. Hence the centre-point of all true worship, is the preaching of Christ, the preaching of the truth as it is in Jesus, in His Gospel. This results in worship from the hearts of God’s people who hear. Whilst their worship may also be expressed in singing, prayer and praise, all these things have no meaning unless we know of whom we sing, or to whom we come in prayer. True worship is not about ceremony, forms, rituals or entertainment, but is centered on God in Christ, as preached in His Gospel. True worship is not an outward thing, but an inward, spiritual exercise, emanating from the heart, by faith, through love, towards God and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Such an inward exercise maintains the unity of the church together as One Body in Christ, who dwells in each member individually, but also in all particularly as One Body united in Him, centered upon Him by faith as the Head of the Body, who is its very life and strength.

 

 

In order to ensure this centrality of the preaching of the Gospel in the meetings of God’s people, in order to give it free course, to remove hindrances to its being preached, and to keep God’s people’s gaze clearly set upon Christ and His work, God has given several simple guidelines in the Bible for how He should be worshipped (for example in 1 Corinthians or 1 Timothy), and has given several ‘ordinances’ to be kept in the church as vivid pictures of Christ and His work. These ordinances include the ordinance of Baptism by which those who are brought to faith in Christ declare that faith publicly to others by confessing Christ’s Name in baptism, in which they are immersed in water as a picture of being buried with Christ in His death and having risen again with Him in His resurrection, having had their sins washed away by His blood (See Romans 6). We can read of this practice in Acts 2:41 “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized”. Having been baptized these early Christians met for worship as described in verse 42: “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine  and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Notice the primary place given here to the Apostle’s doctrine – ie. the preaching of Christ in His Gospel.

 

 

Not only does the church remember the ordinance of baptism, but it also remembers the Lord Jesus’ death in the ordinance of the ‘Lord’s Supper’. The Apostle Paul describes this in his first epistle to the church at Corinth in which he sets down a number of guidelines for how God should be approached in worship. In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 he reminds them of the importance and meaning of the Lord’s Supper: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” Here we see what a powerful picture the simple act of remembrance depicted in the Lord’s Supper, of breaking bread and drinking wine, is, of the Lord Jesus’ death for sinners, in which His body was broken and His blood was shed that He might redeem them from their sins. As often as the church gathers to “eat this bread” and “drink this cup” they show forth “the Lord’s death till he come”. What a simple act this is, but what a wonderful reminder of Christ and His work to save sinners!

 

 

In the same chapter in 1 Corinthians we also read of another simple ordinance which God has given to His church to set forth a vital truth in a simple, yet clear and vivid manner – that truth being the Headship of Christ over His church. In chapter 11 verses 3-5 God the Holy Spirit states “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.” Christ is the Head of His church, that church often being depicted in the Bible as His bride. For this reason, and to set forth this truth clearly, here we are reminded of God’s order, of the Headship of Christ over His church, of how Christ is the head of the man and the man is the head of the woman, this relationship between the man and the woman being a reflection of Christ’s relationship to His bride, the church. And in order to set forth this picture of Christ’s Headship in the church, as pictured by God’s order in male and female, God has provided this further simple ordinance for His church, for men to worship with their heads uncovered and for women to worship with their heads covered. What a tremendous truth this sets forth, and in such a simple manner! It is for this reason that when Christians gather to worship in the church, the women should wear a head covering (hat or scarve *) and likewise, the men should not. For by simple obedience in so doing the gathered church plainly declares both its willing submission to Christ’s Headship over His bride (His people) and His authority in the midst, and also the fact that as that bride, the church approaches unto God as having its nakedness and sin covered by Christ’s blood.

 

 

By such simple ordinances in God’s church, great truths are set forth. Should any ask why we baptise, we may declare plainly the death and resurrection of believers in Christ. Should any ponder the meaning of the bread and wine, the death of our Lord is clearly set forth by them as depicting His body broken and His blood shed. And should any wonder why women cover their heads, and men don’t, the glorious truth of Christ’s Headship over His church and His authority and centrality within it can be clearly proclaimed. God hasn’t given many requirements for outward form in His church, but what He has in His wisdom set forth such glorious and central truths relating to Christ and His work for, and in, His ekklesia – those same truths which we see declared in word and doctrine in the preaching of Christ in His Gospel. It is this preaching of the truth which these simple ordinances help to maintain as the centre of all true worship. For since God the Father seeks a people who worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23), for that worship to be in truth the truth must be proclaimed. It is by the preaching of the truth in Christ in His Gospel, by the power of the Spirit, that Christ builds and gathers His church, as one company, one assembly of His people, His elect, who hearing of Christ in the Gospel are given faith by God the Holy Spirit to worship Him, who loved them and gave Himself for them (Galatians 2:21). What a Saviour the Gospel sets forth, who loving His own gave Himself through death to save them, for “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8.

The church of the living God

So to come back to our original question, just what is the church, the Body of Christ? It is that people called out of this world by God to worship Him, the living God, as revealed in Christ and in His Gospel. The true church is not that which man builds, but that which is built by Christ, by the preaching of His word, that over which He is the Head, that which was given to Him as His bride by His Father from before the foundation of this world, that for which He suffered and bled in death in order to perfect and purify as His own and that in which He dwells by His Spirit as the very life of the Body. The ‘church of the living God’ is that company who worship the living God in ’spirit and in truth‘, having the truth of God in Christ proclaimed in the midst through the preaching of the Gospel, as being the ‘pillar and ground of the truth’. This is the church of God, and anything short of it, or contrary to it, is but a counterfeit.

 

 

But praise God that He continues to build His church through the preaching of His Gospel, even in this our day. Praise God that that church, the Body of Christ, still gathers as many members of one Body, who serve one another in love, as Christ first loved them, in order to serve, worship and adore the great Head of that Body, its Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

May God be pleased to send forth the Gospel, which proclaims the message of this Saviour and His grace towards sinners, in power today that many may be saved and that His Name might be glorified in the midst of His people!

 

 

“And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people” Leviticus 26:12

Amen.

 

 

[* Whilst some today consent to the teaching regarding Christ’s Headship over His church as set forth in 1 Corinthians 11, and recognise God’s order in the distinctions made between male and female, and also recognise that such ordinances have nothing to do with legalism, but everything to do with faithful obedience to God’s word and a loving desire to willingly submit to Christ’s authority and Headship in His church, and to demonstrate that…  they nevertheless explain away Paul’s intent in this passage regarding headcoverings by claiming that the woman’s hair itself is the only covering necessary in worship (see verse 15). However it is not Paul’s intent in his illustration from nature in verses 14 and 15 to argue that the woman’s long hair is the same covering described in verses 5-7 (indeed a different Greek word is translated as ‘cover’ in verse 15 from that word translated similarly in verse 5 which more literally would be translated ‘veiled’), but it is instead to demonstrate from this natural comparison of male and female (in which a woman has a natural covering of longer hair than men in order to show God’s order in the natural realm) that the covering of a woman’s head in approaching unto God in public worship, with an additional cover over the hair, is both right and proper for “does not even nature itself teach you…?”. Indeed if the hair alone were the cover of which Paul speaks in verse 5, then not only would it make a nonsense of the statement made in verse 5 itself (since not being covered would actually then mean being shaven, if the cover is the hair, hence the statement “for that is even all one as if she were shaven” would become irrelevant), but it would also require that men approach unto God bald, for it is not the length of covering which is stressed in verse 5 but the respective presence of a covering or not, so if hair be the covering, men should not have a covering, and hence they should be shaved! … Now, it is not my desire to labour such points, but faithful exegesis of the passage can really lead one to no other conclusion but that Christ’s Headship in His church is to be demonstrated visibly in its public assembly by the men having uncovered heads and the women wearing headcoverings – a practice which has been the accepted ‘norm’ within Christianity for hundreds of years, and has only really begun to be set aside with the rise of the feminist movement since the 1960s. John Gill, for example, in his comments on 1 Corinthians 11 presents such sound exegesis and is well worth reading. This all said however, it cannot be stressed enough that outward forms in worship, in and of themselves are of nothing worth, if the thing pictured by the form is not understood. Sadly, there are many who can be very strict about adherence to such practices as headcoverings who think little of what the form pictures and who in their hearts are not subject to the Headship of Christ in His church, just as many others argue and divide over the correct application or mode of baptism. But that such things can be abused or adopted in a legal manner does not mean that they should in any way be set aside, but rather that they should be practised in the right spirit and attitude, looking past the forms to the glorious truths set forth by them, with God-given faith. May God keep us from a legal spirit and grant gracious hearts to worship Him in the ekklesia in spirit and in truth.] 

 

RELATED AUDIO MESSAGES

“The Lost Sheep” Luke 15:6

“The LORD Thy God is With Thee” Joshua 1:9

“Who is This?” Matthew 21:10

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