What is the Church?

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

July 25, 1999

What is the Church?

Selected Scriptures

This morning we begin a series on the church. What is it? How is it structured? How does it function? What are its purposes? This will be somewhat basic for some of you, and it will be new for others. In either case, it is good to make sure we know God’s design for the church, or we risk wasting away our lives on our own vain efforts. Unless we function according to God’s design for His purposes we can not accomplish His will.

I would hope that most of you are at least vaguely familiar with the purpose of the church from the statements that are printed on much of our church literature. Our motto is "Glorifying God by making disciples of Jesus Christ." Our four-fold purpose statement is:

*Celebrating New Life in Christ through Worship *Cultivation New Life in Christ through Edification

*Caring for one another in Christ through Fellowship

*Communicating New Life in Christ through Evangelism.

Worship, Edification, Fellowship and Evangelism are the purposes of the church. Worship God in spirit and truth, build one-another up in godliness, care for one another in love and proclaim a clear message of the good news of salvation from sin through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They are what we are supposed to do and we will discuss each of them in depth in the coming weeks. But before we can do that we need to understand exactly what the church is.

There are many metaphors used in the Scriptures to try and describe that group of people that God has called to Himself. That is, by the way, the definition of the term "church." In Greek it is ekklhsia (ekklasia), the "called out ones." The first descriptive metaphor used for the church that I want to discuss is:

1. THE TEMPLE OF GOD. Paul and Peter both use this analogy of a building used for the worship of God as a description for the church. Ephesians 2:19-22 says, "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit."

Peter says in 1 Peter 2:5 "you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."

This metaphor describes the Church as a building, the TEMPLE of God, which is built to worship God. Its cornerstone is Jesus Christ (1 Cor 3:10,11), and its foundation the Apostles and Prophets who communicated to the us the doctrines of God.

We are the "living stones" of the building. The text says we are the liqoV (lithos) or "worked stones." These would be stones chiseled to a certain shape to fulfill a certain purpose. We are then "fitted together" to form the building. We are not just any old stones taken from where ever and piled on top of each other. We were carefully chosen and crafted to be joined to other stones to build a living, growing building.

The purpose of this building is to be a "holy temple in the Lord," "being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit." We exist to bring glory and honor to God. We exist to serve Him and not ourselves. When people look at us, the church, they should see us as a community where the Spirit of God dwells and the worship of God takes place. If each of us is fulfilling our role we will inspire others to come and worship with us. If we are not, then we will be unstable and others will be hesitant to join us lest the walls fall in on them.

2. A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD. The church is also called a Royal Priesthood. This metaphor flows out of the analogy that we are the Temple of God. Peter used the analogy of the church being a "spiritual house" in 1 Peter 2:5. A few verses later (v. 9), Peter adds, "But you are a ‘chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

God called us to Himself in salvation for a specific reason, and it was not so that we would escape hell and live happily ever after. Escape of hell is a by-product of salvation, not its purpose. He saved us so that we would be His own people. People who by His mercy had been given light to receive God’s own excellencies. Though Christians come from every nation, we are made into one people, God’s own people. Just as Israel was chosen and set apart from among all the nations to be His own, (and they still are), we are also chosen out from all nations to be grafted in as God’s own people (Rom 11). Our purpose is to be a "holy nation," and a "royal priesthood." It becomes incumbent for us then to fulfill that which we were chosen to do which is to be holy and a priest.

What is the function of a priest? First, to worship God. Vs 5 says we are to "offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." Rom. 12:1 says we are to be "living sacrifices." The other function of a priest is to be a mediator between man and God. We are to bring those who are still in the darkness into the light and proclaim the Lord to them.

These two metaphors speak to the purpose of the church in the worship of God and evangelism of the lost. The next metaphor speaks of our relationship to Christ.

3. THE BRIDE OF CHRIST. This analogy is referred to in several different passages in several different manners. It is in a sense the continuation of the metaphor used of God’s relationship to Israel with Israel being God’s wife. In Rev. 19:7-10 the account is given of the marriage of the Lamb and the Bride, Christ and the Church, held just prior to Christ’s second coming. But other passages also infer the Bridal analogy. In Eph. 5 Paul speaks of the relationship that a man and woman are to have in marriage. The groom is to love his wife "just as Christ also loved the church." In verse 32 he adds, "This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church." The Bride’s response is found in vs 24 "But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to their husbands in everything." We are to respond to Christ in that way. We are to be subject to Him, and that submission is easy because we know that He loves us and is looking out for our best interest. Jesus is ceremoniously fulfilling His role as the groom, but how are we doing in our role as His bride? Do we bring honor to our beloved savior by our behavior toward Him?


There are several other metaphors used of the church. In John 15 and Rom 11 an agricultural analogy is used. In John 15 we are branches which draw our lives from the vine. In Rom 11 we are wild olive branches grafted into the cultivated Olive tree of Israel. We draw our lives from Christ. Without Him we perish. Feeling shriveled up as a Christian? Then maybe you had better check to make sure you are drawing your life from Christ and not some other source.

Another metaphor is that of Shepherd and sheep. Jesus is referenced as a shepherd (John 10:11) and those who believe in Him are called His flock (1 Pet 5:2). This gives us some understanding of the nature of believers. (i.e. sheep), as well as the relationship the church has with its leaders. Shepherds lead, feed, guard and protect. Paul charged the Elders at Ephesus to shepherd the flock that "the Holy Spirit has made you overseers," (Acts 20:28). Peter says the same thing in 1 Pet. 5:2 "shepherd the flock of God among you." The term "pastor" (Eph 4:11) is simply the latin word for "shepherd." The church is seen as sheep who need shepherds. Christ is the chief shepherd (Jn 10:4), and He has given the flock undershepherds – Elders – to carry out His work among the sheep.

Now I want to draw your attention to what I believe is the most significant metaphor in describing the nature of the church, especially in how it functions. It describes not only the relationship of the church to Christ, but also of individuals within the church to one another and how they all work together.

5. THE BODY OF CHRIST. This analogy is used by the Apostle Paul in several New Testament books (Rom 12, 1 Cor 12, Eph 1&4, Col 1&2). In Colossians 1:18, Paul simply points out that Jesus Christ is "head of the body, the church." In Col. 2:19 he adds that it is the head that supplies what the body needs for it to grow, and that the growth is from God. Interesting to footnote that even in biology, the hormone that stimulates growth comes from the pituitary gland which is located in the head!

In Romans 12:4,5 Paul simply says, "For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." That is, a body is made up of many individual parts that all fit together. So too is the body of Christ which is made up of many different parts which all fit together. Paul goes on to describe some of the spiritual gifts which fit together to make up the body of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul states this body analogy more forcefully. He starts in 1-7 stating that all spiritual gifts, the ministries in which they are used, and their impact on people are all given by God according to His own will.

Verse 4, "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit." The Holy Spirit is the same for all Christians, but He gives different gifts given to different people. Every Christian is given a spiritual gift or gifts by which they are to serve the Lord. There are all sorts of spiritual gifts including teaching, administering, helping, showing mercy, giving, exhorting, leading and many more.

Verse 5, "there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord." The Lord is the same for all Christians, but He will use those different gifts in different Christians in a variety of ministries as He chooses. To use the gift of teaching as an example there are many ministries in which the people who have this gift use it. It could be used in a specific ages such children, youth or adults, or in different settings such as Worship services, Sunday School, Mid-week program, home Bible studies, prisons, hospitals, or other outreach effort. It can also be used in different formats such as preaching, interactive discussion, story telling, drama, music, puppets, art, and writing.

Verse 6, "there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all." God is the same for all Christians, but the effectiveness of those different gifts used in different ministries will also be different ACCORDING TO GOD. My gift of teaching used in preaching is used by God for all of you. Others of you here use your gift of teaching in a small group or maybe just one to one in discipleship. There are also those like John MacArthur, Charles Stanely, Chuck Swindoll, James Kennedy, etc. whose gift of teaching are used by God on a national and international scale.

The bottom line is that God has gifted you to serve Him, but the gift given, the ministry that the gift(s) are used in, and the effectiveness of the gift are up to the Lord, not you. Verse 11 states it, "But one and the same Spirit works all these things distributing to each one individually just as He wills."

In verses 8-11, Paul describes some of the gifts given by the Spirit. We will be going into detail about all the gifts in a few weeks. Today I want to concentrate on the rest of this chapter. Starting in verse 12 Paul begins to stress the necessity of all the parts of the body of Christ working in harmony with one another.

Look at verse 12 "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.

Paul uses the analogy of a body because it is a fitting description of the Church. The diversity and yet unity of the body is something that all of us easily recognize. The body has all sorts of parts to it, arms & legs, hands & feet, a waist, a chest and a head with eyes, ears, nose and mouth, yet all of these parts together make up one entity, a body.

The church is the visible manifestation of Christ in the world. The church is the body of Christ. It is one entity, yet is made of up many different parts. Just as the head isn’t attached where the feet are, so the people who make up the church live in different places. Just as each body part serves a different function, (for example, the big toe doesn’t do what the ear does & vica versa), so God gives believers different gifts. And just as you can do more with one of your hands than with they other, so God gives different ministries and different power to the saints that make up the church. Yet with all this diversity, the church is still only one entity – the Body of Christ.

The reason for this unity is seen in verse 13. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Regardless of our genetic, cultural or economic background, all of us who belong to Jesus became part of this body in the same way and every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Now before I go on I want you to make careful note of this verse and this passage because it corrects a lot of the nonsense that goes on in the pentecostal churches about the baptism of the spirit and speaking in tongues. Pentecostal theology teaches a two tiered Christianity. The first level is salvation. The second level is being baptized by the Holy Spirit which is evidenced by speaking in an unknown tongue. This verse, along with Romans 8:9 ("But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His"), make it plain that unless a person is "baptized by the Holy Spirit" they are not Christians and every Christian is indwelt (made to drink, cf. John 7:37-39 & 1 Cor. 2:12; Gal. 3:2) by the Holy Spirit. The passage shows that the manifestation of the Spirit could be in any of the spiritual gifts. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are not "baptized in" or do not have the Holy Spirit because you do not speak in an unknown tongue. That claim is in direct violation of what the Bible says, and anyone saying such a thing is either quite ignorant of the Scripture or a false teacher. We will talk about this more when we examine the gifts of the spirit in a couple of weeks.

In verse 14-20 Paul restates his thesis and then goes on to illustrate the absurdity of one member of the body thinking they are not part of the body because they are not the part they had in mind. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body…"

Obviously when we look at our own bodies we realize that every part is needed in order to make up a whole body. Every part is needed in order for the body to function. Everyone in the church is needed for the church to fulfill its God given purposes. There are no "small" or "unimportant" gifts or ministries. No one in the church should refrain from getting involved because they think they can not do anything important.

Paul’s statements in verse 17 are absurd in order to stress this point. Imagine if your whole body were one big eye. You would be famous. You would be on the cover of the National Enquirer & the Midnight Star & be featured on television Talk shows, but it would do you no good because you would not hear, walk, talk or eat. Same thing would be true if you were one big ear, or one big nose or any other body part. The same is true in the church. If everyone was a preacher, who would minister to the children? If everyone worked with kids, who would help the sick? If everyone helped the sick, who would repair the facilities? Paul’s outrageous illustration gives us a clear focus that everyone in the church is needed, and as he says in verse 18, God equips and puts each person in the body just where He wants them. There are many members, but one body.

Paul goes on in verses 21-27 to stress the need of every person using their gift. He starts out by saying that there is no room in the church for prideful people who think only what they do is important. Verse 21, "And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. Again Paul uses an absurdity to bring out his point. The eye needs the hand and the head needs the feet. It takes every member of the body for it to function properly. The same is true in the church. Tragically, there are those that would think their particular gifts and ministries are the most important ones and so they look down on other people. But the truth is that those things which are often thought of as the most important because they are out front and visible are not as important as what is behind the scenes.

For example, in terms of our physical bodies we give a lot of attention to things like our face & hair and general appearance. Cosmetic advertisers would make you think that those things determine your self worth. We also give a lot of honor to our hands and their ability to accomplish tasks. But lets be honest about it. Could you get by if your hair color wasn’t perfect, you could not find your lipstick and your face looked like a dried raisin? Of course. Could you make it if your were missing one of your faculties – sight, hearing, smell, taste or the use of your legs or hands? It would be more difficult, but certainly you can still live and succeed. But get rid of the body parts not thought of often, your "weaker" or more "feeble" parts, and you will find out quickly how necessary they are. How long can you make it without a heart, lungs, kidneys or liver. In fact, when was the last time you gave serious contemplation to the care and well being of your pancreas? Yet is necessary because your dead without it.

So it is in the church. The preacher is probably the most visible person in the church and after him the music ministry. But you can get along without me. You can get along without a music ministry. You can get along without this building. But you know what this church can not get along without? Faithful people praying. Faithful people telling their friends, neighbors and co-workers about Jesus Christ. Faithful people calling one another to encourage and help one another. Faithful people helping one another resist sin. Faithful people discipling younger Christians. Faithful parents instilling virtue and the knowledge of God in their children.

Take away the preacher, the music ministry and the building and the church will be hindered from what it could be, but it will survive and continue to accomplish God’s purposes. Take away these other things that are behind the scenes, and the church will become sick and eventually die.

Paul goes on to say in verse 23, "and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, whereas our seemly members have not need of it. But God has so composed the body, given more abundant honor to that member which lacked, that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another." Don’t get lost in the words "seemly and unseemly" or "comely and uncomely" in the KJV. Paul is simply referring to what looks good and what does not look good. Paul’s point is that we should be careful to honor those members of the body that are behind the scenes that are often not even thought of. Why? simply so that there will not be any division in the body and every member will be cared for.

We are all in this together, and as Paul puts in verse 26, "And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it."

That brings out the final aspect to the body metaphor of the church. We are all nit together. What I do affects you and what you do affects me. What each of us does affects the body’s ability to serve the Lord. There is no room for pride in the body for every member is important. Those in the more public positions can not look down on those who are in the background, and those laboring away in the background where there is little acclaim can not resent those who are in the public eye. Everyone is important for everyone is needed. If you are a true Christian, then God has equipped you to serve Him in some way. If you are not serving the Lord in some capacity, then at best you leave this body handicapped. We can not function properly without you. At worst it leaves the body sick and possibly dying.

My challenge to you this morning is to start praying about how God can use you. Next week we start looking at the purposes of the church, and then we will look at spiritual gifts and how Christ might be able to use you in His body.

Sermon Study Sheets  KIDS CORNER

Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.

Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the term "Church" and "body" is used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about what the church is and where you fit.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

Explain the meaning of each of these metaphors used to describe the church: The temple of God; A Royal Priesthood; The Bride of Christ; A flock of sheep; The Body of Christ. Who determines what spiritual gift(s) you have and the ministry they will be used in? Do you like that or resent that? Who is "baptized in the Spirit?" What is the evidence of that? Why is every part of the body important? What would happen if everyone was gifted the same as everyone else? Do you think other people have less important ministries at church than you? Do you resent the ministry someone else may have? If so, why? How can 1 Cor. 12 help you to rejoice in other people’s ministries. Who is supposed to receive the glory from your use of your spiritual gift? How important is your pancreas? How important is your ministry in the church? Are you serving?

Sermon Notes – 7/25/1999 a.m.

"What is the Church?" Selected Scriptures


The Temple of God – Eph. 2:19-22 & 1 Peter 2:5

A Royal Priesthood – 1 Peter 2:9

The Bride of Christ – Rev. 19:7-10, Eph. 5:32

Miscellaneous Metaphors

John 15 & Romans 11

John 10:11; 1 Peter 5:2; Acts 20:28

The Body of Christ

Romans 12:4,5

1 Corinthians 12

Vs. 4 – Variety of gifts

Vs. 5 – Variety of ministries

Vs. 6 – Variety of effects

Vs. 8-11

Vs. 12 – Many members, one body

Vs. 13 – Baptized by the Spirit

Vs. 14-20 – All parts needed

Vs. 21-26 – All parts important

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