Preface & Commentary
The Church has always been under attack. There’s never been a shortage of enemies. God is well acquainted with opposition, rebellion and unbelievers. Sadly, it seems each year word travels among us how the Church – in too many places – is in ill-health. But these reports have been commonplace for as long as I can remember. Still, the Church moves forward.
Yes, congregations sometimes die. But others spring up. Some congregations dwindle. But others experience spurts of growth. However, our concerns about the congregations are founded. The weaknesses among the congregations can’t be overlooked or ignored.
While some might focus on a variety of doctrinal issues – and we should – I believe the problems facing us are systemic of a deeper problem. Namely, Christians who simply the world more than they love the Church. Too many Christians want to make this world their home. Too many Christians don’t want to sacrifice of themselves for God. Too many Christians want what they want without regard to what God wants. Brethren, too many Christians don’t love the Church as they should – as God commands. “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
More and more I find myself talking to a younger generation how the “old heads” used to talk very affectionately about the Church. Sermons and conversations contained the language of love for the Church and the brethren. Not only that, but brethren used to demonstrate that love by their behavior and actions. I’d love to report that my generation – the Baby Boomer generation – picked up the mantle of responsibility to pass on that love, but we didn’t. We failed.
Children watch how their father treats their mother. They notice when dad walks up behind mom and hugs her. Or when mom grabs dad’s hand. Children see the displays of affection between loving parents. Wise children grow up and establish their own home mimicking the love they saw between their parents.
My generation saw that love displayed by brethren and gospel preachers toward the Church, the Word and the brethren. In spite of seeing it, my generation grew up and neglected that example. We welcomed the world into our homes. We embraced political correctness. We spared feelings while ignoring spiritual sickness. We become foolish in our decision and our behavior. We fell out of love with the Church.
In a single generation we let our affections slip. I rather suspect that the current trends of denominationalism and other departures from the Truth stem from selfishness, arrogance and a lack of love for God, His Word and the Church that He established to save us. When love fades, so does respect.
When a husband’s love for his wife wanes, the marriage is in trouble. When Christians fail to love the Church – in the form of their own local congregation – then the local Church, the congregation, is sure to suffer. That’s what I believe we are seeing today. And I believe the remedy is clear. We need to develop, increase and intensify our love for the Church. We need to respect God, His Word and the Church. They deserve our love, admiration, respect and honor.
Some years ago I preached this sermon at my home congregation on a Lord’s Day morning. I humbly submit it today for your consideration and encouragement. I pray we work harder in the future than we have in the past.
– Randy Cantrell
Ephesians 5:25-27 “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
In the days before the great flood God looked on the earth and saw tremendous evil. Mankind had given himself completely to wickedness. God could not find righteousness and vowed to wipe man off the face of the earth.
Genesis 6:5-7 “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.”
But verse 8 says, “but Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” So God spared the earth and commanded that Noah construct an ark to exact specifications. Noah preached repentance, but men ignored his preaching. Noah built the ark and continued to warn others of the coming flood.
Noah and his family entered the ark as God had commanded and the rain began to fall. The earth broke open and the waters began to spring forth. Eight souls boarded that ark. All the rest of humanity was outside the ark, doomed to the flood. Eight souls were saved in that ark. Safety was only IN the ark. Had those eight not entered, they would have surely perished along with every other living thing on the planet.
It’s easy to wonder how those 8 souls felt about the loss of all humanity except for them. I wonder how thankful they may have been that Noah found grace in God’s sight. I wonder how appreciative they may have been for Noah’s willingness to work as God commanded.
As confining as the ark might have seemed after awhile, I’m sure Noah and his family were thankful for it, because without it they would have perished. As the ark begins to lift off the surface of the earth I don’t suppose they envied the freedom of the sinners outside the ark. They were enjoying salvation in the ark.
I’m sure they came to love every aspect of the ark. It was their vehicle to salvation. They would stay true to God and remain in the ark just as God had commanded. Their new home would be a cleansed earth and the ark would take them there.
Genesis 7:1 “And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.”
Genesis 7:5-7 “And Noah did according unto all that the LORD commanded him. And Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters was upon the earth. And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood.”
Genesis 7:7 “And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood.”
Genesis 7:23 “And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.”
1 Peter 3:18-22 “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.”
The church of the New Testament is the church that Jesus established. When you read of that church you read of a people who followed the pattern that was divinely set forth by Jesus and His apostles. They were separated from the world spiritually because they were different. They were devoted to a higher power. They worshipped the true God, not some idol. They followed the commands of Christ Jesus. They sought a home in heaven.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jesus has always been the head of the church. He continues to rule over the church today.
Ephesians 1:22-23 “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”
The church in this sense refers to all of God’s people, no matter where they are. Collectively, all the saints are God’s people and together all of us make up the church.
Of course, it isn’t possible for saints all over the world to gather together at one place for work and worship. Smaller groups, or congregations, make up the church or what we sometimes call the church “universal.” Individual Christians have a responsibility to be identified or joined to a congregation in order to be part of the church universal. If you’re not identified with a local congregation then you’re not accountable for Christian work. And as the saying goes, “You can’t grow if you’re not planted.”
A study of the New Testament scriptures reveals that the church you read about in the bible had only local organization and it was very simple. There was always a plurality of elders and deacons in each congregation whenever the congregation was fully set in order. For example:
Philippians 1:1 “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:”
The autonomy of the local congregation was always recognized and respected. You can’t find any scripture referring to an ecclesiastical government, that is, some hierarchy other than elders and deacons. Sure, you’ll find religions today who have some fancy hierarchy, but you won’t read that in your Bible.
The astounding growth of the early church was due, in large part, to these small groups of Christians working together for a common cause. Each congregation, made up of local members of the Lord’s church, worked with zeal to save themselves and others.
We have every reason to believe and know that God expects the same of us today. And given the vast advantages of our methods of travel, communication and freedom…it’s conceivable he might expect greater things from us!
God has no vehicle or method of saving man other than through the Church for which His only son died. That makes the church the most valuable institution on the face of the earth. Membership in the church should be prized more highly than membership into any other club or organization. No other membership can help promise heaven. No other membership can forgive sins. No other membership can provide fellowship with God through His son Jesus.
The Lord has a plan for his church. When the scriptures tell us that the Lord might sanctify the church it means that he will consecrate or set apart the church for God’s purposes and God’s use. This was done following the cleansing by the washing of water with the word, according to the scripture.
Mark 16:15-16 “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
Acts 22:16 “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
People who do these things, that is…those who obey the gospel are cleansed from their sin and they are set apart for God’s purposes. Baptism is the final act that places us INTO Christ. This morning, if you understand that your sins will cause you to be lost, then you don’t need to put it off any longer. You need to consider obeying the gospel today.
The sad reality is that there are people who think they are sanctified for God’s purposes, but they’ve never obeyed the Gospel. They think they are cleansed from their sins, but they’ve never been baptized because some false teacher told them they only had to believe on the Lord. Or because they followed the faith of their parents, never understanding the truth of the gospel for themselves.
If we want to be set apart, if we want to be saved, if we want to have our sins washed away…we’ll obey the gospel and become members of the Lord’s Church.
Next, the scriptures tell us “that he might present it to himself a glorious church.” The word glorious here indicates the moral character of the church. It shows us the high expectation that God has for the church and for the people who are members of her. It’s reasonable that the Lord would have high expectations for His church since the church is called the bride of Christ. What husband does not want his bride to be a woman of high moral character? A husband wants a wife to be chaste and virtuous. Jesus wants the same qualities for his church.
The word spot literally means fault or moral blemish. The same idea is used when we read the expression, “wrinkle or any such thing.” The Lord intends for his church to be holy and without blemish.
James 1:27 “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Becoming unspotted from the world and remaining unspotted from the world ought to be the goal of every spiritually responsible person. That should be our goal every day.
What’s the motive behind all this talk about the church? We have the answer in Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;”
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Romans 5:6-8 “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Acts 20:28 “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
Christ loved the church enough to die for it. His death was necessary so the church could exist. Loving the church is the issue this morning. The reason that’s an important issue is because some people despise the Church. Some see no need for the Church. More and more the Church is suffering attacks from inside and outside.
1. First, we should love the Church enough to assemble together on the Lord’s Day to observe the Lord’s Supper.
Acts 20:7 “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.”
1 Corinthians 11:23-29 “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”
Hebrews 10:25 “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
How responsible do you feel to go to work or school? Or how responsible do you feel to take care of household chores? Most of us wouldn’t dream of just staying in bed and not going to work, unless we were genuinely ill. But too many Christians will stay home from worship services simply because they really rather do something else. Or they’ll stay home over the slightest ailment. Ultimately, what they’re doing is forsaking the services of the only vehicle that is capable of taking them to heaven.
You’ve planned and scheduled a vacation. You’ve saved your money for months. You’ve worked hard to make sure you have enough money to make the vacation the best possible. You’ve shopped long and hard for the very best prices on airline tickets and hotel rooms. You’ve spent many evenings planning the activities of your long awaited trip. Now, at long last, every thing is in place. You have the tickets, you’re packed and tomorrow morning begins your vacation. Your plane leaves the airport at 8am.
As you ready for bed the night before, how many times do you check your alarm clock? You figure you need an hour to get ready and 30 minutes to get to the airport. Since you have to check in an hour before your flight, that means you need to arrive at the airport by 7am. That means you have to leave your home by 6:30am. It also means you’ve set your alarm to go off at 5:30am. You know what I imagine you do…you set it for 5:15am just to make sure you don’t run late!
All this preparation for a trip that might last a maximum of two weeks and then be over.
Picture the church as an ark; similar to the one Noah built. It has an appointment to carry its passengers, or members, to heaven. We don’t know when, but we know the Church will one day arrive at heaven. We understand that not everyone in the Church will arrive there, but we know that only those found in Christ, that is – only those in His Church will inhabit heaven.
We know what we have to do to prepare for the journey…to qualify for the trip. We also know what is involved in that preparation. Every week we have appointments to worship with brothers and sisters in Christ. Every week we know there will be a Sunday morning worship. We know that based on the example and commands set for the 1st century church that the worship will consist of singing, praying, teaching, contributing and observing the Lord’s Supper. Every week we know there will be another service on Sunday evening. We also know the saints will gather on Wednesday evening, too. As sure as every week becomes a reality, we know these appointments will happen! What we may not know is if we’ll be here or not. Some people are here at service. They’re the ones who are determined to be here. Nobody just ends up here on Wednesday night by accident.
The scriptures teach us that the church is the way to life eternal. We know our soul’s future rests solely within the church. It’s sad to admit, but some Christians don’t love the church as much as they should. Some act as though they don’t even like the Church – much less love it.
We must put the Church before other things. We must be willing to inconvenience ourselves from other things. We must be committed to make weekly attendance a positive habit. In short, we need to grow to love the Church as the Lord loves it.
We should love the Church enough to worship in Truth and spirit as the Lord commanded. If we’re unwilling to follow the NT pattern of worship, then our worship is in vain. We aren’t capable of constructing worship to God. Only God has the authority to do that. It’s up to us to obey Him. When we disregard His pattern for worship we despise the Church as evidenced by the congregation at Corinth.
1 Corinthians 11:22 “What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.”
Can you honestly imagine Noah and his family have any disregard for the ark? Can you honestly imagine them finding anything outside the ark more important than being inside the ark, protected from the flood? It makes no sense, does it?
2. We should love the Church enough to work hard for unity.
Ephesians 4:3 “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Acts 2:42 “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
These verses speak to the value Heaven places on peace, unity and fellowship. The bible more explicitly tells us how God views those who refuse to keep the peace in the church.
Proverbs 6:16-19 “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.”
God never sanctions division. Division is not involved when the church is commanded to exercise scriptural discipline of unruly members. Division is not involved when saints leave the truth of God’s word. A loss of fellowship is involved for sure, but not division.
Those who would be contentious (those who seek to have their way in all things) have always plagued the church. Many congregations have suffered divisions because of such men and women. It seems there are some who have never read or understood the words of the great apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:13 “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”
Paul had earlier established his right to eat meat if he chose. But the rightness of his ability to exercise this liberty paled in comparison to the negative affect – his influence – it might have on his brethren. In matters of liberty or discretion, the scriptures plainly teach that we ought to be willing to surrender our will to the good of others.
Even so, people continue to press their opinions and desires on others. Unity is neglected because they are guilty of the pride of life. Their pride won’t allow them to surrender to the opinions of others on issues of discretion. Sometimes their pride may not allow them to surrender to the will of God in matters of doctrine. They are cancerous to the church and we must deal scripturally with them or suffer apostasy. The Truth must always be fought for and preserved in the Lord’s Church.
Some brethren would destroy unity because they do not surrender to the will of God. They have opinions and views not consistent with the Word and they teach a doctrine not found in the Gospel. They disturb the unity. They seek to get others to follow after them. They combat those who fight for the Bible pattern.
2 Peter 2:1-2 “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.”
We have to regard the Church highly enough to fight for unity. We must love the church enough not to harbor people who would disturb the unity of our faith. Our love of the church has to be strong enough to make sure we’re not numbered among those who would break down the unity of the church. And since our unity is based on our compliance to the Gospel, we have to stand strong against all the enemies of the cross – sometimes even our own brethren.
3. We should love the Church enough to want others to become members.
Acts 8:4 “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.”
Colossians 1:23 “If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;”
The gospel must be preached and obeyed. Once obeyed, the gospel must be our standard for living. We must work to remain stedfast in the truth.
Advocacy is something most of us understand. We’ve all experienced it at some point in our life. Perhaps it was a product we purchased. Maybe it’s a favorite eating joint. We found a product to be awesome and found ourselves telling everyone we know about it. You can hardly catch a cold without someone recommending some medicine that they’ve found which helped them. People will vow that this medicine or that medicine is the best ever! Those things demonstrate the power of advocacy.
Others will highly recommend the latest novel by a favorite writer. They’ve become an advocate of that author. They can’t wait until they’ve read the latest book so they can tell others that they ought to read it, too.
Do you love that novelist more than the church? Are you an advocate of the church? You can tell folks about some restaurant that you love, but you can’t tell them about an organization that can forgive their sins? Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? That’s because it is stupid, but perhaps we’ve all done it at some time in our life.
The letter to the church at Ephesus has been described as the sum of the most profound truths ever told. The first three chapters speak to God’s purpose for the church.
The church is the body of Christ. He is its head. The world knows no greater institution or organization.
Ephesians 3:10-11 “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:”
The church is the medium through which the manifold wisdom of God is made known. The more we understand and place meaning in the church, the more we’re able to see the wisdom of God. THE MORE WE PLACE MEANING IN THE CHURCH the more we see God’s wisdom.
Brethren, let’s love the Church enough to place her first in our lives. You can’t place Christ first in your life without putting the Church first.
The decisions of your life should revolve around your service to God done through the local congregation of the Church. For most of us, that means our work done right here at Fossil Creek.
You’ll never find a scriptural way of giving service to God outside the work of the local church. You can’t scripturally obey God any other way.
Noah and his family couldn’t be saved any other way. Only one ark had God as its architect. Only one ark would safely protect those on board. It was up to Noah and his family to esteem the ark highly enough to climb on board and remain there until they reached the safe shore. I doubt very seriously that Noah and his family could have survived had they despised the ark. And I suppose that might have been possible when year after year he worked on it and no rain fell. I suppose he might have given up hope that he’d ever really need the ark. But we don’t read of that. Instead, we find him doing exactly what God commanded…and as a result, when the waters broke forth – he and his family were ready!
This morning, we hope to have as many get on board the ship of Zion, the Church, as possible. We hope our young people will obey the Gospel. We hope our elderly people will not quit too soon and jump over board. We hope those in their middle years will remain stedfast and stay safely inside.
Love the Church enough to put yourself behind her needs.
Love the Church enough to put her at the forefront of your life and your family’s life.
Love the Church enough to be a good soldier for her. Fight her battles for the Truth. Oppose error that would disrupt her saving power.
Love the Church enough to be baptized, if you’ve not done that yet. And if you have, love the church enough to remain faithful to the vow you took when you were baptized – that you’d be a disciple who’d follow Christ faithfully all the days of your life.