Membership 3: One Body in a Battle - 29th November 2015 - Dave Walker

Bible passages: Ephesians 1:15-23; Ephesians 6:10-20

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Membership of a church is about being part of a body. A body that is made to grow.

Do you remember that, from the last couple of weeks? We’ve been thinking hard about church membership and we’ve heard both of those things haven’t we? The church is a body which Jesus has joined together. So if we believe in Jesus then God has made us parts of that body. Gloriously diverse and united; all different but all one. And he’s done that with us to show his glorious wisdom. Because diverse and united in Christ is God’s agenda for this whole divided world, not just for the church. He has shown us that his plan is to bring all of creation together under the rule of Jesus Christ. So we, the church, diverse and united already under the rule of Christ, we’re God’s great display of his glory in the world now. A taste of the world to come. The trailer for the movie. If we believe in Jesus then we’re part of that. Jesus has brought us in on something truly enormous.

And this body he’s brought us into is meant to grow. God wants us to grow up in maturity, so that we’re like Jesus. And that growth happens a bit like how we might strengthen our bodies through exercise. Jesus the head makes the body grow, by speaking his bible truth to us. But that growth only happens as we the different body parts, do things as Jesus directs us to. We serve one another. Especially, we speak the truth in love to each other; that is we each take our part in passing on the message of Jesus to each other. As that happens, the body gets stronger. We grow up to be more like Jesus.

Today we’re asking the question: what is it that we are training for? When people exercise or train their bodies, there is normally some sort of testing event in mind, which they are training for. Whether it’s intellectual training in preparation for an exam or physical training in preparation for a marathon or just physiotherapy in preparation for leaving hospital and moving back home, there is always a test in sight. You train for something. The test, when it comes along, shows what training you did, or didn’t do. What are we as church training for, as we build one another up? Yes, we want to grow up in Christlikeness, but what is the testing event that God has in mind for us?

Well in today’s Bible reading we’ve heard that we’re not just training for an exam or a marathon. It’s much bigger. We’re training for war.

1. Church members are together in a constant battle.

I’ve mentioned already that we are here to display God’s wise plan for the future in the world. But here’s a question: who’s watching? If we’re the trailer for the movie, who’s watching the trailer? Have a quick look at chapter 3 verse 10, that verse we read a couple of weeks ago: “[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 wants us to display his wise purposes to the powers and authorities in the heavenly realms. But here’s the thing. Those powers and authorities are not happy about what they see. Flick back on to the reading we had before from chapter 6, verse 12, and you’ll see what I mean. Do you see it there? “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

We are playing to a hostile audience. We are here to display God’s glorious wisdom in a theatre of war. There are spiritual powers and authorities who are watching us. They are deeply unhappy about God’s plan to unite all creation under Jesus, because for them that day will bring total defeat and destruction. So you won’t be surprised to hear that just as they are against the plan, so they are also against the people who display that plan. The devil hates the church. And he will do anything he can to disrupt and destroy it.

  • Our enemy is worse than we think.

Now at this point we need to think clearly, because it’s easy to get very mixed up here. In the last few weeks in the press there has been a lot of talk about enemies, hasn’t there? Since the attacks in Paris, there has been a lot of soul searching. You see one of the reasons that terrorism is so effective is that you can’t spot the terrorists. You don’t know who they are or what they are doing, until all of a sudden, bang. There has been a shift in that hasn’t there? You can see it by spotting the difference between the baddies in an old James bond film and the baddies in a new one. There was a time when baddies were easy to spot, they wore military uniform, they spoke with a baddy accent. Now they are hidden. One of the effects of that is to produce a general paranoia. Everybody is much more suspicious of one another than they once were. Because that person sitting next to you might just be a baddie.

Now there is something a bit like that in what Paul is saying here. But there is something very different too. The devil and his powers are real, but they are hidden. You can’t see them. We get very influenced by movie ideas of the devil – where he is obvious and nasty looking and does dramatic things. Easy to spot: just look for the guy with the deep voice and the fangs. In reality these powers are much more subtle and hidden. So well hidden that many people, including many Christians, don’t even believe they exist.

There is evil in this world. Everybody knows that really. The devil and his angels are real, they hate you, they hate your family, they especially hate your church. And you can’t see what they are up to. But that doesn’t mean that we ought to be paranoid. Sometimes Christians can act as if everyone in the world is out to get them. As if it’s us against everybody. No. That’s not at all how it is. Paul is very clear that our battle is not against people. We are not to be paranoid about everybody in general, or about specific groups of people who we think might be against us. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. It’s important we hear that. When we as Christians talk about spiritual warfare like this we don’t mean crusades. We don’t mean jihad. We don’t mean battle against any particular nation or racial or ethnic group. God is at work making us into one body made up of all different kinds of people. Our neighbours are not our enemies; they are the people we are to love, says Jesus. They are the ones we want to try to save from the clutches of the evil powers. Like that wonderful line in the hymn we are going to sing in a couple of minutes, “our call to war, to love the captive soul, but to rage against the captor.”

So our enemy is spiritual and hidden. But there are some thing we know. We know what he’s trying to achieve. The church displays God’s glorious wisdom as we know and show Jesus together. As we love the lord and love one another and as we speak and act like Jesus together. As we are this body united in Christ together. So that’s the stuff that the devil will want to disrupt. Because that’s the stuff that displays his defeat. If the body grows in Christlikeness as we speak the truth in love to one another, the devil will want us to grow numb to the truth of Jesus. He will want us to stop reading our bibles, and to go quiet with each other rather than talking of Jesus together. He will want to distract us from the gospel with a million and one things that seem more urgent or more interesting to us. He will want us to get steadily more and more concerned with our comfort and security so that we never step out and do anything for the spread of the gospel.

He will want us as members of the church to divide into cliques and to run out of patience with one another and stop trying in those relationships with each other when it gets hard. Striking that in chapter 4 verse 35 Paul says “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for you are members of one body. In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Do you see the sort of stuff that gives the devil a foothold? Falsehood with each other. Unresolved anger with each other. He will want us to feel weighed down with sin so that we feel like hiding away from each other instead of meeting together. He will want us to feel guilty about ourselves and inadequate so that we never speak about Jesus to the people round us, because we feel like a hypocrite if we do. The devil loves all of that, because there’s nothing he hates to see more than a body of Christians knowing and showing Jesus together. Do you know what it looks like when the devil wins a battle? Not like something out of Halloween, all ghosts and ghouls. It looks like someone quietly drifting away from church, going steadily cold to Jesus and his people. He will labour night and day to achieve that.

That’s the reality of it. But don’t be paranoid, or depressed. Because the other great reality of this conflict is this:

  • Jesus is more powerful than we think.

Just look at the amazing things that Paul says about Jesus in chapter 1 verse 19: Here Paul is praying and he prays that Christians might know “his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength,  20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,  21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,  23 which is his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way.”

Don’t you just love that line “for the church?” That’s one of my favourite three word statements in the whole Bible. God raised Jesus from the grave and lifted him high above all those spiritual powers that we were talking about, and he did it for the church. For us, his people who believe in him. So that now that same Jesus-raising power is there for us who believe in Jesus. That’s good news, isn’t it? We may have an enemy that is more powerful and subtle than we think, but he has nothing on our saviour Jesus. As Paul says elsewhere, He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world.

That is reality. It may be behind the scenes to us, most of the real power in the world is, but when it comes down to it Jesus is the greatest power that there is. God has no rivals. God’s purpose to bring everything in heaven and on earth together under Jesus, that will happen. Nothing and no one can stop him.

So if that’s the case, if we are here as the body to display God’s glorious wisdom in a theatre of war, how do we do it? How do we fight?

2.  So how do we fight?

Clearly not by battling against people, as we’ve already said. No, Paul has basically one piece of advice for us, and he says it lots of times. Look at verse 10. Ephesians 6:10-14 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  11 Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.  12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  14 Stand firm then…” Did you spot it? Take your stand. Stand your ground. Stand firm. Stand firm in Jesus. We don’t have to defeat the devil – that’s Jesus’ work and he’s already done it. We just have to stand firm. To persevere. To keep on and not give up.

And we stand firm in Jesus’ power. That power we were just talking about a minute ago. His resurrection power for the church. Paul says we’ve got to put that on like armour. Well how do we do that? It sounds a bit funny, doesn’t it? How do you put on a belt of truth or a helmet of salvation? I used to wonder about this – you know, is it some special sort of spiritual skill or prayer which puts this armour on us? Well, let’s get it straight, shall we? Notice that each of the things Paul tells us to put on as armour are things which are gifts from God to Christians, given in the gospel of Jesus. Things we have just because we believe in Jesus. Things Jesus himself gives. So for example righteousness – right standing with God, being declared in the right, is something that we have because Jesus has given it to us. He died for our sins so that we could have his righteousness. Same with salvation – rescue – Jesus in his death and resurrection has rescued us from sin and death. Do you see what I mean? Things which are ours in the gospel, we have to put them on as armour. So how do you put these things on as armour?

Well, as we’ve heard all the way through our studies in Ephesians, this is a together thing! The more I look at this the more I’m convinced that where Paul says “put on the full armour of God so you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” it’s basically the same as where he says “speak the truth in love to one another, so that you won’t be blown around by false teachings.” When we talk about the gospel to each other as Christians, when we remind each other of what Jesus has done for us and what he’s given us, we are putting armour on one another. We are building each other up - for battle. We are protecting one another from the evil powers. As we speak the gospel to each other. And as we pray together – Paul links all of this to prayer doesn’t he in verse 18 – “and pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” As we speak the gospel to one another we remind each other that God’s power is for us. When we pray together we draw on that power. This is how the whole body is made ready for the battle that God has called us to. Speaking the gospel truth to one another. Praying for one another.

So, let’s draw some conclusions from this. What does this mean for us? What does this tell us about how to be members of the church together?

Well it all comes down to this. On your sheets I’ve put a couple of diagrams which I’ve borrowed from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity which I think explain this very well. The red dots are followers of Jesus, the blue dots are other people.

The one on the left is the church gathered. That’s us as we are now, together in one place. That’s how we are in Sunday services or in smaller groups like housegroups on other occasions. The church gathered.

The one on the right is the church scattered. That’s how we are the rest of the time. Now just looking at those two pictures, how do you feel about them? Look at the one on the left, the church gathered. In some ways it’s cosy, tucked in a corner. In other ways it looks discouraging, because so much of the world is out there not in here. There is not much contact between believers and non-believers while we’re gathered like this. There is some. I trust that there people here now who are not followers of Jesus. You’re very welcome here if that’s you. Keep coming and thinking.

But if we’re going to carry out God’s mission in the world, then we have to be scattered don’t we? The red dots in that other picture have much more contact with the blue dots. God wants us to be believers in the world. He wants us to display Jesus to the world. He wants us to be ready to speak of Jesus to the people that he has put around us out there. That’s where the opportunity is. When we’re scattered.

But, as we’ve been saying today, that’s also where there is opposition from the spiritual powers. The red dots in the picture on the right have lots of opportunity, but they are also pretty isolated, aren’t they? That’s why it’s so important that we gather. Because when we gather we build one another up so that we can scatter. When we gather we speak the truth to one another in love and we pray. When we gather we put the armour on together. When we gather we build one another up so that we can be effective for the Lord, so that can stand firm out there. If we don’t gather, we won’t be useful in the world. If we don’t gather, we won’t stand firm. We’ll be swept away. We’ll drift and go cold.

Do you see how this gives church membership an edge? Church membership is an all the time thing, not a Sunday only thing, because God’s plans are for the whole world, and he involves every member of his body in them. I belong to Jesus not only when I’m here but when I’m out there too. That’s also true of you. But it gives an edge to our meetings too, doesn’t it? The time we spend together is crucial. It’s essential for making the rest of the time possible. This is the way that God equips us for the battle. As we serve and speak and pray together. That’s true of Sundays, as we were saying last week. Use the coffee times and the coffee questions well. But if we’re going to support each other well, my guess is we’ll need more than just that time. We’ll need to meet at other times too, in small groups, to do the same thing of building each other up. So that when we’re out there we know we’re not alone. The Lord is with us and we have each other covered.

Because that helps doesn’t it? When I have difficult situations to face, when I find it difficult to live as a follower of Jesus it helps me to know that there are Christian brothers and sisters who have got me covered. They’ve encouraged me about it. I know they are praying for me. They have me covered. That helps me. It’s not just me, is it?

Coffee questions:

What do you find hard about being a Christian in ordinary life?

How can we help each other with that?

So. Jesus has made us into one body, a body made to grow, a body made for battle. We have a mighty Lord and Saviour. We have his power for us. And we have each other.