Christians go to churchChrisitians go to church.ÿ That's what they do.ÿ If you are a Christian, then you'll have to go to church.ÿ I believe that church could be the most intimidating part of Christianity. It's intimidating because it has a lot of associations.ÿ Church is associated with boredom.ÿ It's associated with self-righteous people.ÿ It's associated with judgment.ÿ It's associated with ritual and elaborate dress.ÿ It's associated with singing. So there are a lot of associations with the church that to some folks are unpleasant. But let me try to explain the nature of the church and what it's really all about by going to the apostle Paul.ÿ Paul, without a doubt, explains to us the church more than any other biblical author.ÿ I want to talk about Paul's conversion to Christianity.ÿ Because in the course of Paul's conversion experience, he learned some things about the church that were very powerful.
A religious leaderÿ.ÿ.ÿ. persecutorIf you know anything about Paul's conversion experience, it was a dramatic one.ÿ There was nothing subtle about it. Just to inform you of who Paul was, the most important thing to realize about Paul before he became a Christian is that he was important.ÿ He was a man of all kinds of influence.ÿ When you have the authority to do what Paul did, then you are well-connected. And what it is that Paul did was persecute Christians.ÿ But he didn't just persecute Christians.ÿ He had some of them put to death.ÿ That was no easy thing to do in those days, when Israel was under Roman domination.ÿ The Romans didn't just let you kill people.ÿ That was their domain.ÿ And for them to give that right to anyone else meant that person had a lot of clout. But Paul was even more unusual.ÿ In Actsÿ9, he got letters to go to another province altogether, outside of Israel.ÿ And he was going there to see if there were any Christians he could capture and drag back to Jerusalem to stand trial. So Paul had been given the power of life and death over people.ÿ But he had also been given powers that normally would be reserved for the army--the ability to go between provinces, capture people and bring them to stand trial, possibly even to kill them. This guy had clout.ÿ He was important.ÿ In Jewish religious circles he had power, which he describes in a passage like Phil.ÿ3.ÿ But also, even with the Romans he had clout.ÿ And one reason we know is that Paul's parents were actually Roman citizens, and apparently quite wealthy. As I said, he was a persecutor of the church.ÿ He thought this Christian church was a cancer, an evil group of people that had to be rooted out and destroyed.
On his wayÿ.ÿ.ÿ.On his way to the city of Damascus one day, on a mission to find and bring back Christians, Paul had an eye-opening experience.ÿ Something happened that changed his perspective forever about the church. (read vv. 1-6) "Why are you persecuting me?"ÿ "Who are you?"ÿ "I am Jesus Christ, who you are persecuting!" Paul thought he was persecuting errant, deviant Christians.ÿ But Christ says, "You are persecuting me."ÿ This is when it first began to dawn on Paul that the church is not merely humans, who believe something or meet somewhere.ÿ The church is somehow Jesus Christ on this earth.
I Cor. 12:27; Col. 1:17, 18; Eph. 1:22, 23Let's look at a few passages from Paul's letters, which come after the book of Acts in the NT, where he develops this notion of the church as spiritually connected to Christ.ÿ Very simply, in IÿCor.ÿ12:27 he says, Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. Paul uses this metaphor of Christ's body.ÿ The image is that he is the head, the authority, and that we are his hands and feet in this world.ÿ He uses the same metaphor in Col.ÿ1:17, 18, He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church. Again, it's the same metaphor which describes Christians as linked to Christ as a body is to a head. And then, in one of the most sweeping statements Paul makes about the church, he says in Eph.ÿ1:22, 23, And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all. To say that the church is the "fullness of Christ," is a different way of talking than we would today.ÿ If I was going to translate this verse, I might say that the church is the complete manifestation of Christ on this earth.ÿ Or that the church is Christ on this earth.
How is this so?I want to be careful to explain how this is so.ÿ How it is that the church is connected to Jesus Christ.ÿ How it is that the church is the expression of Christ on earth. When a person becomes a Christian, it means that they have appealed to God for forgiveness.ÿ It means that they have seen their sin and asked God for his mercy.ÿ That's what it is to become a Christian.ÿ But God does more than that.ÿ God comes to live inside of us. This is why Jesus promised, in John 14:16, 17, "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truthÿ.ÿ.ÿ.ÿ you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you. Christ promises that the Spirit of God will come and live inside. That's why, then, Christians and Christ are so connected.ÿ His Spirit lives inside of us. Just to get real practical, when someone becomes a Christian and asks, "Do I have to join the church now?"ÿ The answer is, "Not at all!ÿ You are the church!" By receiving God's forgiveness, and having him come live inside of you, you automatically become part of him and part of his church.ÿ You are spiritually tied to Christ.ÿ And you are spiritually connected to all Christians, who also have his Spirit. There's something else that Paul learned about the church in this event.
Wait for Annanias(read all the way through v. 18) This is the story of Paul's conversion to Christianity.ÿ And you can see in Paul's case that God used some pretty strong techniques to persuade him.ÿ He struck Paul temporarily blind, and then made him sit there and think about it for three days. Here's the point that's relevant for us: God could have then said, "OK, Paul, you've thought about it enough," and removed his blindness.ÿ He could have told Paul how to become a Christian and all the things he needed to know.ÿ Instead he sent some average guy named Ananias, who we never hear from again, to bring an end to Paul's blindness and teach him what he needed to know. God taught Paul that these Christians, who he came to capture and take away, are the people he needs, even if Paul was the hottest shot in the whole world, even if Paul knew more Bible, even if this Ananias were a complete nobody and Paul had never heard of him before.ÿ Paul needed Ananias because God chose to work through Ananias rather than just do things himself. So, the second lesson we learn about the church from this story: God elects to do his work on earth through the church, rather than do it himself.ÿ He wants to work through people. The implications of this truth are immense.ÿ But before I get to that, I want to show you a passage where Paul taught this truth very clearly.
1 Cor. 12:20-27In I Cor.ÿ12, which we've already looked at one verse out of, Paul uses this metaphor of the Body of Christ.ÿ And he uses it to teach this point, But now there are many members, but one body. 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 necessaryÿ.ÿ.ÿ. .ÿ.ÿ. so that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 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. The points he is making here are the same points that God taught him so powerfully through Ananias.ÿ If you are a Christian, you can't look over there to the other Christian and say, "I have no need of you."ÿ If Paul had tried to say that about the lowly Christian God sent to him, he could have stayed blind for the rest of his life. We need other people because God lives inside of them and chooses to work through them. I think another point Paul makes here is he explains the genius of the church.ÿ He says that the result of God doing things this way is that there will be "no division in the body," and "all the members will care for each other." This is the answer.ÿ When you wonder, "Why do I have to listen to other people!?ÿ Why do I have to have him help me!?"ÿ The answer is, if we didn't need people, then we wouldn't bother ourselves with people.ÿ If we didn't need people, we would constantly drift apart from them. Example: This was something that God went to work on with me by accentuating my loneliness.ÿ I think the Lord does this with people.ÿ Just like he struck Paul with blindness so that later he would see his need to be delivered by his fellow Christians, I think he causes our weaknesses to become more evident, so that we'll see our need for his people.ÿ Before I was a Christians, I used to handle my loneliness with various escapes.ÿ And I was simply able to harden my heart and ignore that voice down there that said, "You're lonely, you're loveless."ÿ But God made it like a voice that slowly grew stronger until it was a shout inside of meÿ.ÿ.ÿ. it drove me crazy.ÿ At first it made me drink a lot moreÿ.ÿ.ÿ. But even that didn't work.ÿ After a while I had to admit, "I need these Christiansÿ.ÿ.ÿ."ÿ That was so hard for me.ÿ I can't tell you how hard that was.
ApplicationsJust to wrap up, I want to think of some applications of what we've learned.
God works through all kindsThe first one is that God works through all kinds of people.ÿ The key to a human being God's instrument on this earth is not the way that person is, but the fact that God lives inside of them. The longer you are a Christian, the more you will see that God uses people who are very screwed up. So, it's no use saying, "I can't be helped by that guy because he has all kinds of problems."
Get in a position where you can be helpedPractially speaking, if you are a Christian, you must get into a position where God can use other people in your life.ÿ What this means is that you have to have regular, meaningful contact with people.ÿ They need to know youÿ.ÿ.ÿ. Example: When I came to this church here, I exuded a message.ÿ And that message was, "Leave me alone."ÿ The sad thing is that after a while, I didn't want to give off that message anymore!ÿ I didn't want people to leave me alone.ÿ But they had already heard it loud and clear. I see some of you giving off that message.ÿ And if you want to be safe from other people, then I guess you can.ÿ I've found that you can make your little world a somewhat safe place, but it's also a very cold place. If you're going to let people into your life, you've got to put out the green light.ÿ You've got to invite people.ÿ You've got to tell them, "I want you to get involved in my life."ÿ Because people are scared to take a risk and find out about you, especially if you've been giving off a message that says, "Leave me alone."
Begin to ask God how you can be used in other people's livesThirdly, begin to ask God how you can be used in the lives of others.ÿ I really believe that if you're asking God, and keeping your eyes open, you will find opportunities to be used by God in other people's lives also.
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