…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
What a strange role churches find themselves in today! Many in our day and age see churches as largely irrelevant organizations merely going through religious motions and offering outdated programs to justify their existence, and trying to keep themselves afloat by constantly appealing for money. Typically (but not always) most Christians have a somewhat more positive view of the church. But even here, I fear we have been guided in our thinking less by the Bible and more by our culture. We approach our relationship with a church with certain expectations that have more to do with our needs and desires and less to do with God’s purposes. For example, we want a preacher who will hold our attention week after week, or programs for our children, or just the right balance of social interaction and anonymity to make us comfortable.
In contrast, the Apostle Paul affirms the church as a unique and necessary creation of God. The whole of his Epistle to the Ephesians seems to revolve around this theme. (Notice how many times and in what ways Paul makes reference to the church or “body” of Christ in this letter). So what is the church, and why is it so important in God’s eyes?
We often build our understanding of the church on the etymology of the Greek word “ekklasia”(from which we get the word “ecclesiastical”), that we are “called out” of the world, which we are as Christians, to be sure. But there is another component we often miss. I believe that both Jesus and Paul, in their understanding of the church also had in mind the Hebrew word “qahal” as well, which means to be “called together”. What this means is that God calls his people together into a unique community or “body”. If this is true, then there are great implications for us.
When Jesus was asked by the religious leaders of his day what the greatest commandment was, he responded by drawing from Deuteronomy, “love God with all your heart, soul, strength”, but then he went on to add “love your neighbor as yourself”, by drawing from Leviticus. If you look closely, these two statements summarize the whole of the Ten Commandments, and together they provide the overarching framework for all Christian ethics. But what this means is that the two are tied together as one.
Well, what am I trying to say in all this? Simply that being the church means loving God and loving one another, not just loving God in isolation from one another. This is why Paul begins the 4th chapter of Ephesians with the words, I therefore…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of your calling…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love…”
What we must understand is that God in his providence has brought us together, with all our differences—different personalities, different backgrounds, etc., for a reason. That reason includes using our relationships with each other, with all our various differences, within our particular community to effect his sanctification within each of us. You see, being the church as God intended it is not easy, and it takes commitment—the commitment to really love one another as God intends.
Non-Christians may think the church is irrelevant. As Christians that is not an option.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! AMEN (Ephesians 3:20-21)