What is the church? Have you ever thought about that question? What is the significance of this group of people that meets on Sunday morning and that shares its prayers and its possessions and its love of Jesus with each other and the world?
We sing a song together sometimes called “Build Your Kingdom Here.” It contains a line – “We are the church. We are the hope on earth.” It is a bold statement. For any group of people to say it is the “hope on earth” is to be a group of people with plenty of confidence.
But it’s true, you know. God makes his appeal to the world – his offer of the good news of Jesus Christ – through the church. It’s through you and me, through preachers and Sunday School teachers and blessed pew-sitters, that the gospel spreads across the globe. It is the church that sends the evangelists into the inner-cities and the missionaries into the jungles.
Without the church, the world would have no hope.
We talked about the End Times yesterday in our men’s Bible study. And I couldn’t help but think about Noah. The apostle Peter called Noah “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5, NIV). You know Noah’s story. He built an ark. But apparently through his words and actions he also was a preacher. I picture Noah urging people to get on the boat! Noah literally was the hope on earth.
And now the church is the hope on earth. Our “ark” is Christ. And our job is to preach – “Get on the boat!”
And so it’s a powerful thing – the church. It’s not like the Lion’s Club or the Kiwanis. We’re not just here to socialize or to plan things for our community. We tell the story of Jesus Christ to a world that will be lost without him.
And we are witnesses. To look at the church is to look at what redeemed humanity looks like. It is only here where it doesn’t matter where you came from – our religious, ethnic, national background. It is only here where it doesn’t matter what you’ve done – choir boys and convicts can be admitted. It is only here where it doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or Gentile.
To look at the church is to see God’s plan for the world – the “mystery.” We all are one in Christ.
The apostle Paul said the church makes known the “manifold wisdom of God … to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Again, this is not the Lion’s Club. It’s not a community association. The existence of the church has cosmic implications.
When the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places look at the church, they see the manifold wisdom of God. I’m pretty sure these are the same rulers and authorities who put Christ to death (1 Corinthians 2:8). And these are the same rulers and authorities who led us once into the deadness of sin – following the passions of our flesh and making us “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3). These rulers and authorities in the heavenly places are only seeking chaos and confusion and death and destruction.
And when those rulers and authorities look at the church – when they look at us – I think they must see one thing: Defeat. In God’s wisdom, he made a way to save sinners. In God’s wisdom, he made a way to unite a divided and hostile world. In God’s wisdom, he has given everyone good news.
So what does this mean for us today? I think it means we need to live this out. We need to BE the church. We need to live the mystery of complete unity in Christ. We need to love each other. We need to invest in one another’s lives. We need to encourage one another. We need to discover each other’s needs and meet them.
I think to live this out we must be rooted and grounded in love. And as we love one another, we come to know the love of Christ. The rulers and authorities in the heavenly places will see this and understand. And I think the watching world will, too.