Membership 1: One Body with a Mission - 15th November 2015 - Dave Walker

Bible reading: Ephesians 2:11-22

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We live in an “opt in / opt out” society. We opt in to things. We are surrounded by, sometimes overwhelmed by, choice. Aren’t we? You watch the TV at the moment – each advert break offers you 5 slightly different ways to smell, and five slightly different ways to buy your Christmas dinner. And you’ve got to choose. Which one is most you? Cause that’s the issue isn’t it? The choices you make define who you are. In our time and place, the things that give us our identity are not so much where come from and our family and so on – it’s more the choices we make. The preferences we have. I build my lifestyle out of the things I like and buy and wear and the clubs and movements I choose to belong to. The things I opt in to. We live in an “opt in / opt out” society.

At the same time, people in our culture are commitment phobic. They don’t want to commit. Because there is the fear that by committing to something you'd end up missing out on something else that you'd rather do. Because commitment is always limiting: when you commit to something you are choosing not to commit to something else. That’s why we talk about being ‘tied down’, isn’t it? People don’t want to be tied down. So, for example, people now marry later if at all and have children later than in previous generations. They want to keep their options open. In case something more fun comes along.

So, an opt in society. And a culture which fears commitment. Add that together and you get a whole load of people whose preferred way of doing things is like someone at a British beach. You dip your toe in and then pull out. Or you paddle, but you never swim. We like to give things a try, but only a bit. We’ll only try it for a short while. We’ll only give it so much. And that’s true in the church as well. A recent survey of church attendance found that people who thought of themselves as committed to their church attended on average 19 out of 52 Sundays in a year. That’s much less than half, isn’t it? And that’s the “committed” ones.

So, with that as our backdrop, we’re going to spend the next three weeks thinking about church membership. Not just going to church, but belonging. Being part of it. That’s membership. And today we’re going to see that church membership is not really something that we opt in to. Church membership is something that Jesus has done. It’s God-given.

So let’s dive into the book of Ephesians, which perhaps talks more about this than any other book in the Bible. Open your Bibles at Ephesians 2, the reading we heard before, p.1174.

1. Jesus has joined different people together in one body.

That’s almost a definition of the church. Different people, diverse people, joined together by Jesus into one body. The Apostle Paul in Ephesians says that’s the main thing Jesus has done. That’s right at the heart of God’s plans and purposes.

Look at chapter 2 verse 15, because there it is: “His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace,  16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” Do you see it? It’s talking about Jesus, on the cross, joining different people together in himself and joining those people to God. He’s joined people together in one body; his body. The picture is a little bit like if you imagine two children, brothers or sisters fighting, and then their dad comes along and throws his arms around them both. It’s Jesus joining together people who have been divided by hostility. Divided from God and from each other. And Jesus comes and joins them together in himself.

Now this makes sense when we remember what has gone wrong with the world, according to the Bible. You remember how the story goes? God made people to live in harmony with him and with each other. Adam and Eve were made to be different but united, weren’t they? God put them together to be one flesh. But then people, Adam and Eve, turned against God. And that led to their relationships being fractured. Hostility. They were divided from God – they had to leave the garden didn’t they? Sent out of his special place. But they were also divided from each other. The battle of the sexes began; men and women, instead of being there for one other’s good, became competitors and opponents. Eve was told that child bearing would become painful and difficult.

And what began there just continued, didn’t it? Sin has divided humanity. The things that make us different from each other – gender, generations, ethnicity – because of sin those differences have become divisions. Sin turns differences into divisions. It takes something good – our differences – and it injects them with hurt, bad feeling and anger. Hostility. Difference becomes division.

Against that background, Jesus came and died on the cross. And because he died to take away both our sin and the anger caused by our sin, he’s taken away the hostility. He’s taken away all that divides us from God and from each other. He’s done that on the cross. Did you notice in the Ephesians reading how Paul emphasises that this is a done deal. Jesus has done it. Verse 13: “you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” Verse 14: Jesus “has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”

He has joined us together. He’s done it. If you’re a believer, when did you become a church member? In one way the answer to that question is “I became a church member two thousand years ago, when Jesus died on the cross and rose again.” That was what did it. That was his plan in going to the cross, wasn’t it? Do you remember a couple of weeks ago when David was helping us to think about Jesus praying the night before he died? What was it that Jesus prayed for us? Can you remember? “I pray that they may be one, Father.” He died to unite us. To unite us to God and to each other. And he’s done it. So we are united. It’s true.

You see, as is always true with the gospel, this is something we need to accept by believing. Jesus has done this. God has told us it is true. So we need to take him at his word. We need to trust him. We need to believe that we are united. Believing in Jesus and being joined to his people are one thing, not two different things. Do you see how there is no room for that thinking that says “I just try to be a Christian on my own, I don’t really need to belong to a church.” The whole idea of just being an individual Christian, not part of a body. It’s just not there is it? That’s not what God has done. Jesus has taken different, divided people and he has united us in one body. That was the whole point.

Sometimes we’ll feel that, sometimes we won’t. But we need to believe it. It’s just like the fact that we are forgiven by Jesus death for us. Sometimes we feel forgiven and it’s wonderful. Other times we don’t feel it. But the important thing is not how we feel about it, the important thing is that Jesus has done it. He has forgiven us, so we are forgiven. We need to take his word for it. We need to believe. So with our unity. Sometimes we just bask in the joy of being united in Jesus. Have you experienced that? I hope so, because it’s great. But other times we don’t feel it at all, it just feels pretty difficult. Again, the important thing is not whether we feel united, the important thing is that Jesus has done it. We are one body. We have peace with God and with each other. Take God’s word for it. Believe him; trust him. It’s true. The thing that makes the difference between church member and non-member is the same thing which makes the difference between Christian and non-Christian. It’s not how we feel, it’s whether we take God at his word and believe him, or not. If we believe in Jesus, we are in his church. If we are connected to Jesus we are connected to each other.

Do you get how church membership is not really something that you opt into? It’s God-given, isn’t it? You can see that from the words that Paul uses to describe us. Look at the end of verse 19, the words there. You are “fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.” Citizenship, nationality, that’s not just something you can opt into and opt out of. It’s given to you by birth or by permission from that country. Or household – another word for family. You can’t choose your family, as the old saying goes, can you? You choose your friends, your family are given to you. We are not just a circle of friends, we are a family. God given. He did the choosing, not us. He brought us in, we didn’t opt in.

It’s a very different picture of membership to, say, membership of a gym isn’t it? You may join a gym at Christmas when the mood and the guilt takes over, but opt out again in February when you’ve woken up to the difficult reality of commitment. You can be a member of a gym without really belonging. If I’m a member of a church I belong to Jesus. I belong to you. We belong to each other.

Now, as you hear this, it’s possible that you’re thinking “I just know that this doesn’t really describe me. I’m not believing Jesus, so I know that I’m not actually united to these people around me.” If you’re spotting that, that’s quite a helpful thing. You’re welcome here. I’m thrilled you’re here this morning, I sincerely hope you’ll keep coming. But yes, actually you need to believe in Jesus. You need to commit to him. That’s my big prayer for you, that Jesus brings you to make that step. Until you do, there will always be a deeper reality here that you don’t share. Keep coming, find out more. Allow Jesus to challenge and change you.

So Jesus has joined different people together in one body. That’s the big thing.

2. We have one clear purpose: to show God’s glory by being diverse and united.

The key idea is diverse and united. Not diverse and divided, diverse and united. God loves diverse and united. If you think about it, that makes absolute sense, because of who God is: Father, Son and Spirit – diverse, different – but united. One God. God loves diverse and united. That’s why the church is so important in God’s plans.

So we’re going to look at two verse 10s. Have a look at chapter 1 verse 10 first. Here Paul is talking about God’s plans for all creation, his big purpose, which is as he says “to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” That’s God’s big big big plan: to unite all of creation under Jesus. Diverse and united is God’s big plan for everything. All of creation, currently divided and fractured by sin, God’s plan is to bring all of it in all of its diversity together under Jesus. Christ over all. All filled with his peace. No more sin, war, death. He’s going to complete that some time in the future, when the times will have reached their fulfilment. Diverse and united: everything.

Now if we think a bit we can kind of taste a little bit now of how good that will be, can’t we? One of the things that makes creation so wonderful is its rich diversity all together. A varied landscape is more beautiful than a uniform one. The Lake District is more beautiful than Letchworth. One day all the creation will be beautifully united in all of its diversity by Jesus. One thing we can assuredly say about the new heavens and the new earth is that they will be breathtakingly beautiful.

But God has chosen a better way of displaying that diverse unity than the landscapes, even the lake district. Have a look at Chapter 3 verse 10. Here Paul has just been talking about the fact that in the church God has united Jews and non-Jews together in one body and he says “[God’s] 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,  11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God’s big plan is for all things to be united in Jesus; but the way he’s chosen to display that now is through us, the church. Because here we are, diverse and united in Jesus. The church is a taste of the world to come. It’s like the trailer for the movie – do you want to know what God’s plans for the world are? Have a look at these people here. Look at how Jesus has joined them together, even though they are so diverse. Do you remember how the other week David was saying that the way we love each other as Christians reflects well on God? That’s it, isn’t it?

We are here to show God’s wisdom. We are here to show his glory. We’re here to display how wonderful Jesus is. We’re here to reflect well on God And we do that by being diverse and united in Jesus. The very things that make us different from each other, instead of being dividers between us, now become opportunities to show how gloriously Jesus has united us. Male and female – different – joined together in the church family and in Christian marriages. Different generations – taught by our culture to be suspicious of one another – yet God has joined us together in the church family. Different races and ethnicities and languages, joined together in one body by Jesus. How wonderful Jesus is, eh? He does that. He does it with ordinary imperfect people like us. He has joined us together by dying and rising for us. The world can’t do that. The world can do unity if we’re all similar, or unity of diverse people for a few weeks like at the Olympics when we don’t actually have to live together afterwards. Only Jesus can do real lasting, everlasting, unity of diverse people. He’s done it. What a glorious thing he’s done in making the church.

Do you see how big our mission is? Our purpose? We are here to know and show Jesus. To display God’s glory and wisdom and greatness. It’s a mission much bigger than ourselves. It’s something we can’t do on our own, we can only do it through God’s power, and we can only do it together. Membership and mission are utterly linked.

3. Our diverse unity in Jesus is worth living and working for.

Jesus has made us one family. And, as we’ve said, you can’t choose your family. Our sin might be forgiven but it’s not been eradicated yet, and therefore the old dangers are still there – our differences can still create opportunity for division. The church is a foretaste of the next world, but it’s still very much based right here in the world of now. Look at chapter 4 verse 1:

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

It’s so fantastically realistic isn’t it? We need to bear with one another in love. We need to put up with each other, flawed as we are, because God has joined us together.

It’s easy for people to get disaffected with the church because they are living for an imaginary church and not reality. They have their ideas of what church should be like – if only Christ Church was like this, it would be brilliant – but they give up when reality doesn’t match their wishes. God is not dealing with wishes or dreams. He is dealing with reality. The people he’s given us are real people: each other, not some nicer, more handsome imaginary alternatives. The sooner we can get rid of our expectations for church to be perfect now, the better. Committing to one another will be hard. It will require lots of humility, and gentleness, and patience, and love. Are you ready for that?

It’s not like paddling at a British beach, is it? It’s not ‘opt in / opt out’. It’s wholehearted. Whole body. Jesus has united us already. Take his word for it. Believe him.

Coffee Questions

What do you think about this idea of church being God-given and not “opt in / opt out”?

What might it mean for you to “make every effort” to keep our unity?