John 17:20-26 – The Need for and Importance of Unity

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (New International Version)

What is the Church’s identity?

What is the Church all about?

Why is the Church important?

The Church’s Identity

The Church is made up of people who have been reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and brought to new life in the Spirit. This special relationship that believers and Jesus enjoy with their God is a covenant relationship, and, so, the Church is a covenant community – receiving the blessings first promised to Abraham in the Old Testament that all nations would be blessed by grace through faith. 

God mercifully acts on the Church’s behalf through choosing, adopting, and redeeming people. This new covenant community receives the promises of God and exists to follow Jesus Christ in all things. 

So then, the Church is not a voluntary society, like other human institutions. Rather, it is divinely called by God. The Church is the community of the redeemed whom God has joined through the Spirit to Christ. Therefore, an individual, theologically speaking, does not join a church; instead, God joins the Church to Jesus.

The Nicene Creed

This ancient ecumenical creed describes the Church with four identifying marks:

  1. The Church is one. The unity of the Church comes from being in fellowship with God through Jesus in the Spirit – expressed through the bond of love and a common worship which includes the spiritually forming practices of preaching, liturgy, and sacraments. Since believers serve a triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit who exists in unity, so Christians are to work toward maintaining their unity through the bond of peace.
  2. The Church is holy. The Church is holy by virtue of Christ’s finished work. Therefore, the members of the Church are saints, called by God to live in holiness and participate with him in carrying out his purposes on earth. As God is holy, so believers are to be holy in all they do. Since Christians are holy through God’s justification in Christ, so the Church as saints must uphold justice in the world.
  3. The Church is catholic. This means that God’s people are found in all parts of the world throughout all times in history, including every race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Since the Church includes all kinds of people from different cultures, these believers must work together. The Church, across all kinds of denominations, ought to minister together to the total life of all people through gospel proclamation and good works done in the Spirit.
  4. The Church is apostolic. Apostolic means “to be sent.” The Church is not only a people who are gathered for worship and teaching; they are also sent into the world as salt and light to those who remain in darkness. Where the Church goes, the rule and reign of Jesus goes with them so that good news is spread to all nations.

The Church’s Mission

  1. The Church is called to love God.  The Church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the house where God dwells. The Church exists to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Christians are to develop intimacy with Jesus through the Spirit.
  2. The Church is called to love one another. The Church is the Body of Christ and is to be a haven for saints. The Church exists for community and is the place where believers are strengthened in faith through the proclamation of the Word in preaching and sacrament.
  3. The Church is called to love its neighbors. The Church is the people of God, being a hospital for sinners. The Church exists to serve the kingdom of God so that God’s benevolent and gracious rule might extend to all creation.

These three dimensions define the Church as being a “missional” community of redeemed persons who are concerned and focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ. The forward direction of the Church is to come ever closer to Christ through faith, be strengthened in that faith together through the Word of God, confidently stepping into the world to engage it with the love and grace of God so that others may come to faith in Jesus Christ.

The Church’s Importance

  1. The Church is a Trinitarian community, birthed as a free expression of God’s love through Word and Spirit. As people created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed for his purposes, believers reflect the image of the triune God.  The Church was important enough for Christ to die for.
  2. What the Church “does” flows from its identity as a redeemed community, being the people of God. So, then, the Church’s mission is not so much about establishing evangelistic programs so much as it is to listen to the Spirit of God and live in the power of the Spirit as it rubs shoulders with unbelievers.
  3. Just as the Father sent the Son, and the Son sent the Spirit, so the Church is sent into the world armed with the grace and love of God as if believers were ambassadors for Christ in a ministry of reconciliation.
  4. God has moved in a “downwardly mobile” way to bring reconciliation to all of creation. God has gathered the Church on earth to be sent as witnesses of Christ’s person and work through humility, meekness, and gentleness so that God’s mercy and peace might become realities in this world.

Therefore, the Church is to glorify the triune God by embracing its missional identity and mandate by making disciples of Jesus Christ through worship, community, and outreach. The Church is to aim its love toward God, one another, and neighbor through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.

The Belhar Confession

This Reformed Confession of faith directly addresses the need for and importance of Christian unity, which was of great significance to Jesus in his high priestly prayer.

We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.

We believe that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another.

We believe that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways:

That we love one another;

That we experience, practice, and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another;

That we share one faith, have one calling, are of one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope.

That together we come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ;

Together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity;

Together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another;

That we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity.

Amen.

1 Timothy 3:1-9 – Be, Not Just Do

Photo by Krivec Ales on Pexels.com

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. (New International Version)

For the Church everywhere, Jesus Christ is to form and inform everything we do – including leadership.

This is why character formation is at the core of being an elder and a deacon in Christ’s Church – because the elder’s ministry of oversight, shepherding, and discernment of God’s will comes from the inner resources of knowing Christ; and a deacon’s ministry of outreach and service comes from a close walk of faith with Jesus, who desires to work through those individuals. 

Church leaders are to be the light of Jesus to their congregations. It is a high calling. The Apostle Paul gave to the Church seven requirements of Christian morality and seven requirements of a daily walk for leaders. Together, these fourteen requirements are the basis for Christian leaders so that the responsibility of the Church’s mission might be kept on track of bringing people to Jesus and bringing those who know Jesus to know him better.

The first set of seven requirements have to do with the morals of the person. A church leader is to:

1) Be trustworthy. Have a good reputation in both the church and the world

2) Be devoted in the marriage relationship (This doesn’t mean that a church leader must be married, because then even Jesus wouldn’t qualify as a church leader!)

3) Be clear-minded, even-keeled, and consistent

4) Be self-controlled (and not controlling others)

5) Be brave, possessing moral courage, through speaking truth with grace and not being a complainer

6) Be a friend of strangers through practicing hospitality

7) Be an able teacher, gently and carefully instructing others in a way that builds them up and does not tear them down 

The second set of seven requirements have to do with the ethical conduct of the person in everyday life. A church leader is to: 

1) Be sober and not a drunkard, conducting oneself in all moderation

2) Be respectable and not given to anger outbursts and constantly carrying a chip on their shoulder about something

3) Be gentle with everyone and in all situations

4) Be cordial and foster healthy relations, and not always picking a fight about something

5) Be generous and not thinking about the all-mighty dollar in every decision

6) Be caring in the family and give rules with relationship, so as to curb rebellion in a child

7) Be mature and not a novice in the faith so that those outside the church can see there is something wonderfully different about the way things are handled and done among those who profess Jesus Christ.

In addition to this, we have seven related requirements for deacons: 

1) Be dignified in every kind of relation, a person worthy of respect

2) Be sincere and not double-tongued, saying one thing to one person and something different to another

3) Be moderate in all things, especially when it comes to drink

4) Be benevolent and altruistic, and not greedy for either stuff or attention

5) Be holy and pure, keeping very close to faith in Christ with a good heart

6) Be a servant who is able to handle attention without falling apart

7) Be faithful, keeping promises and vows, especially in marriage and with family

God calls and sets apart individuals for service so that the Divine presence might be manifested among the people. Jesus Christ wants the church to be built up through faithful service. Notice what today’s New Testament lesson does not say about church leaders:

  • Be a listener to complaints.

Do everything without complaining or arguing (Philippians 2:14, ERV)

  • Be a representative of the people. Nowhere in Scripture do we find church leaders are supposed to operate like an American form of democracy. Instead of being representatives of the people to do their will, church leaders are rather representatives of God to the people so that God’s will is done in all things. 

Guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. (Acts 20:28, NLT)

  • Be ingenious. Church leaders are not called to be the smartest, most creative, and best idea people in the room. They are to be servants, leading others in prayer, outreach, and acts of mercy.

I have a special concern for you church leaders. I know what it’s like to be a leader, in on Christ’s sufferings as well as the coming glory. Here’s my concern: that you care for God’s flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way. (1 Peter 5:1-3, MSG)

These requirements of Holy Scripture are not just for leaders; they are to be sought after by every member of God’s holy Church. We are all together to aspire to the highest of ideals of Christ in the way we operate in the church and in the world. 

Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another (Romans 13:8). Godly leaders help us to maintain that biblical mandate.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21, NIV)

1 Corinthians 3:10-17 – Being a Holy Temple

Albi Cathedral in Sainte-Chapelle, France

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (New International Version)

God is holy, pure, beautiful, and completely separated from all that is evil. 

However, there is a problem; but it isn’t with God. 

Ever since the fall of humanity into guilt, shame, and impurity, people cannot be near or approach a perfect Being. Just as we will surely go blind by looking directly at the sun – or be totally disintegrated by getting too close to it – so humans cannot be with such a holy God.

In the Old Testament, God graciously devised a system whereby people could approach the divine. A temple was built. It had very detailed and strict prescriptions about how it was to be built. There needed to be curtains, walls, and borders everywhere to shield the people from being destroyed by the sheer holiness of God.

Entering the New Testament, Jesus is the exact representation of God’s holy being and presence. In Christ, God became intimately close to people. Through the redemptive events of Jesus, humanity is delivered from the vexing problem of being far away from God. 

If that were not enough, God the Father and Son sent God the Holy Spirit to be the continuing presence of Jesus on this earth. 

In today’s New Testament lesson, the Apostle Paul tells us that, as the church, we are a holy temple which is graciously, patiently, and with great care being built into a spiritual house that can be the place where God meets with humanity.

The triune God has conspired and gone out of the way to be with us. The Lord has bended the arc of history for good purposes to be with us. Like a lover separated from his beloved, God has pulled out all the stops to make us holy so that we can abide with him in divine holiness.

From the solid foundation of Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone, we take care to build a spiritual infrastructure worthy of holiness.

As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct;for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16, NRSV)

God’s will is for you to be holy… God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. (1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7, NLT)

Some Christians mistakenly believe that holiness means to exclusively separate as far from everything and everyone who is impure. Any hint or smell of unsound dogma or nonconformity with established rules results in separation. Yet, this predilection for separation is really a form of division – which is contrary to the holiness of God. Because the Lord bends over backwards to accommodate the sinner’s ability to approach the divine presence.

Indeed, holiness involves a separation from all that is evil so that we can attach ourselves to God and others. Holiness isn’t simply an end in itself. To be holy means we are prepared and ready to engage in the highest of aims: Love.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23, NIV)

Holiness without a clear trajectory toward love is like putting a new collar on a dead dog. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Yet, too many folks have put a leash on that shiny new collar and are dragging the deceased around – much to the chagrin and revulsion of the world – who rightly sees this behavior as both downright crazy and plain stupid.

Paul would say that kind of behavior will be shown for what it is: Building on the wrong spiritual foundation.

It’s really all about Jesus. Christians bear the name of Christ because we (ideally) center our entire existence – past, present, and future – on the redemption provided through Jesus.

And that’s what this Christian season of the year is about: We celebrate the birth of Christ, God’s breaking into this world, to bridge the great divide between divinity and humanity.

The incarnation of Jesus Christ is our foundation.

Being a holy temple means being a sacred space large enough to hold love for all people.

From that strong support, there is no limit to the breadth and height of God’s kingdom. So, may you, along with the Apostle Paul pray:

I’m asking God to give you a gift from the wealth of his glory. I pray that he would give you inner strength and power through his Spirit. Then Christ will live in you through faith. I also pray that love may be the ground into which you sink your roots and on which you have your foundation. This way, with all of God’s people you will be able to understand how wide, long, high, and deep his love is. You will know Christ’s love, which goes far beyond any knowledge. I am praying this so that you may be completely filled with God. (Ephesians 3:16-19, GW)

Amen.

Psalm 99 – The Holy Helper

Welcome, friends! Just as we need a strong physical spine for good health, equally necessary is a healthy spiritual spine with good strong theology holding us up. Click the video below and let’s worship the Lord…

And, here is Psalm 99 put to song and performed by the Sons of Korah…

Psalm 99 by the Sons of Korah

May you be strengthened with all power according to God’s glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience. Amen.