Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”
In context this verse is among the fourteen Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 120-134, which were a group of Psalms sung by Jews while traveling to Jerusalem to worship. For us in our context today these words carry much of the same thrust. Sure we’re not traveling very far to arrive here like the Jews of old, and we’re not coming to Jerusalem. But are we not coming before the Lord as we gather here? Indeed we are, so glad we are to wake and find it Sunday morning, for we have gathered in the house of the Lord, to sing His praises, to hear His Word, and to be among the family that is the people of God.
This gladness and expectancy of coming to the house of the Lord to worship the Lord will be our launching point today as we focus on the Church.
Remember we find ourselves in our January sermon series on the Church, this year called ‘Unprogrammed’ where we’re looking at realities, disciplines, habits, and more that though we expect to be alive and well in all our members we do not program any of these for you. So far we’ve looked at the Bible, how we ought to be those who live near it, and we’ve looked at prayer, how we ought to be those who pray without ceasing. Today we turn our attention to the Church.
Perhaps some of you are asking the question, ‘Wait a minute, why is the Church in this series? This series is called ‘Unprogrammed’ and yet isn’t Sunday morning a very programmed moment for us as a church?’ The answer to this is yes. Sundays are our main moment here at SonRise, and we work hard to program them, or structuring them to be what we think will be pleasing to God and helpful to all of you. So why are we talking about the Church today? Simple really, Sunday mornings are not the end all be all when it comes to what our involvement with the Church ought to be as Christians. So, while we work hard to ‘program’ Sunday morning, we do not program the extent of your involvement in the Church. No, we just believe and expect you to be regularly, frequently, and gladly involved in the life of the local church, such that the words of Psalm 122:1 easily flow from your lips.
So, let’s ask and answer two questions in our time together today. First, the what. What is the Church? And second, the why. Why does that matter for us?
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Give yourself to the Church. You that are members of the Church have not found it perfect and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I would never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us… All who have first given themselves to the Lord, should, as speedily as possible, also give themselves to the Lord’s people. How else is there to be a Church on the earth? If it is right for anyone to refrain from membership in the Church, it is right for everyone, and then the testimony for God would be lost to the world!”
In a very substantial manner our first question has just been answered for us. What is the Church? It is the dearest place on earth. But why is it so dear to us? Three reasons…
First, the Church is dear to us because it is the body of Christ.
A body is an image frequently used to refer to the Church. In Col. 1:24 Paul shows this saying, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church…” Ephesians 4:11-12, “And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” 1 Cor. 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.” Ephesians 5:30, “…we are members of His body.”
All of these passages refer to one grand reality. The Church is not her own, does not exist for herself, and is not free to do as she pleases. Think about the image of the Church as body. Is a body free to do as it pleases? No, it only goes where the head leads. And when Col. 1:18 says “Jesus is the head of the body, the Church…” it means just that. Jesus is the head of the Church, and we are His body. The hands, the feet, the toes, fingers, knees, ankles, and elbows of Christ. You see the correlation right? Just as the correct operation of all the parts of our physical bodies is necessary for normal life to occur, so too to say the Church is the body of Christ is to say that each member of the Church is vital to the correct operation of the whole. So each member is a living extension of the greater body, dependent on all the others. And just as the body works together as a unified whole, so too each member within local congregations and each local congregation of the global Church should always strive to be a unified whole. Thus, just as our physical head leads the body it sits atop, so too Jesus as head of the Church, leads the Church. Naturally then, as goes the head so goes the body. Or, as goes Christ so goes His Church.
And because it is Christ’s body we can be assured that Christ will care for us His body by leading us, loving us, nourishing us, guiding us, growing us, governing us, and giving us everything we need in here in this life and in the life to come.
And, the church as body means there will be great variety and great unity. Variety in that not all body parts have the same function, but unity in that all body parts are in operation toward the same goals. It would be strange to have a head and a body made up of only ears, or pinky fingers, or knee caps. There’s supposed to be many of us that altogether make up the body of Christ.
This body is personal, made up of individual believers. This body is local, seen in each individual congregation. This body is global, for it is found in each congregation in every nation. And this body is historical, it spans throughout generations past, present, and future. The Church is dear to us because it is the body of Christ.
Second, the Church is dear to us because it is God’s building.
Many people often refer to the ‘church’ as a building, and while they may not know it, they’re closer to the truth than they realize. The Church is a building. Of course I’m not referring to the physical bricks and mortar, but the individual men, women, boys, and girls who have believed in Jesus who are then made into a spiritual building by God. Where do we get this idea? Peter makes this point in 1 Peter 2:4-5 saying, “As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Jesus is portrayed here as the chief cornerstone, rejected by men but chosen and precious to God. All mankind responds to Him as cornerstone by believing or not believing. Those who believe in Him, Peter says, are being built up as living stones into a spiritual building or house. The function of this spiritual house, which is the Church, is to offer up acceptable worship to God through Christ. When they do this, they will never be put to shame. The passage goes on to say that those who do not believe, this cornerstone isn’t chosen and precious but offensive and dreadful. The picture we get here is that while the believers are being built up into a spiritual house with a firm foundation, being built together for the purpose of worship, all those who do not believe are shamed and stagger about in life aimless and hopeless with no foundation.
And this building that is the Church has great hope. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus promises that the Church will always be because He will build it though all hell is eager to wreck it. The Church might appear weak in this world, but we’re steady and fixed because of our foundation stone, Jesus Christ. The Church is dear to us because it is God’s building.
Third, the Church is dear to us because it is the bride of Christ.
One of the most famous images of the Church is one of the most intimate images given in Scripture. This of course, is the Church as the Bride of Christ. Throughout the Old Testament God refers to Israel as His unfaithful and adulterous wife. As we cross over into the New Testament we see it’s the Church who, though unfaithful like Israel, has a husband in Christ that is ever faithful. Ephesians 5:25-27 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her (gospel!!!), that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” It may seem strange to some of you that as believers we all have a common husband in Christ, but this is how the Bible encourages us to think of ourselves in relation to Jesus. Christians are not to view themselves as single and free to do as we please, but as married to Christ. We are His bride and He is our Husband.
Romans 7:4 teaches this too saying, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to Him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” The moment we believe in Him, we belong to Him. And He as our Husband lovingly leads us, laboring in us and through us to see to it that we are made more and more holy like He is, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, holy and without blemish.
Rev. 21:2-4 picks up on this image of the Church as the bride of Christ, pointing out how it will end saying, “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” This is the marriage supper of the Lamb, when we will dwell forever with the Lord and when He will dwell forever with us. The Church is dear to us because it is the bride of Christ.
For these reasons and many more the Church therefore, is as Spurgeon said, the dearest place on earth. And as we wake each Sunday morning Psalm 122:1 ought to resound in us, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” The Church is not perfect no, by no means, but it is being perfected as the body, the building, and the bride of Christ.
Hopefully now you see that the Church is indeed the dearest place on earth because it is the building, body, and bride of Christ. But our second question to ask and answer today naturally follows after this. Why does that matter for us? Ok great, the Church is the dearest place on earth. So what? How does that change my life? Let’s take one application from each of the points we’ve already seen today.
First, since the Church is a body, we should belong to that body.
When I say we should belong to the body I have more than mere presence in view. Presence matters, it does. You can’t be a true part of something if you’re absent from it, or even if you drift in and out of it regularly. Belonging to the body means more. It means not just attendance, but membership, a deep covenant commitment to a particular people that says ‘I want to partner with these people for the sake of the gospel.’ This is what a fellowship is. Not just a group of like-minded people gathering for a common cause, but an “all-in, life-or-death, collective venture in the face of great evil and overwhelming opposition.” The early Church not only devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to prayer, they devoted themselves to fellowship as well. Fellowship where they shared all things together, endured all things together, and stood by one another for their mutual progress and joy in the faith.
We don’t program this for you. Meaning, we don’t mandate a certain number of hours you need to be with the Church and punish you if you don’t meet such requirements. No, it’s just expected it that the Church does life with the Church, rather than seeing the Church as a side dish in their already busy lives. Because the Church is a body, we should belong to the body.
Second, since the Church is a building, we should join in its building.
This takes what I was just speaking about one step further. When I say we should join in the building of the Church, I have that very thing in view. We should be those who join in with what God is doing in His Church. What is God doing in His Church? 1 Peter 2:4-5 said it, God’s building us up into a spiritual house. What do we call the building up process? We call it discipleship. What is discipleship? It’s the process where a group of believers devotes themselves to building each other up in the faith. Discipleship can look really regimented with scheduled weekly meetings and weekly assigned readings with another Christian or group of Christians. Or discipleship can be viewed more broadly, including everything we do as Christians towards other believers for their spiritual progress in Christ. Honestly I think both the more regimented and broader elements of discipleship ought to be present in our lives.
Many view discipleship as something that only mature Christians do, but according to Jesus this is something all Christians do. This is the thrust of the great commission, to go and make disciples. This is not the great suggestion, or even a commission to some of the Church, no, it’s to all of us. And while we plan for some discipleship on Sunday’s and small groups, we don’t program this for you the rest of the week, and we don’t pair you up with someone else as soon as walk in the doors. No, all of this ought to come about naturally. So we plead with you, join in the building up of the Church.
Third, since the Church is a bride, we should serve our Lord.
As before this takes what we were saying another step further. We should not only belong to the body, and join in the building of the Church, we should serve our Lord. When I say we should serve our Lord, I mean just that. As the Church is the bride of Christ and He is our great Master and King, we ought to serve Him. How do we serve Him? By serving in the Church. I often compare serving in the Church to a football game. There are usually 22 people on the field who desperately need a break, and 50,000 fans in the stadium who desperately need exercise. The Church is too often like that. It’s like a ship weighted down with layers and layers of barnacles stuck on the bottom of it, content to just hitch a ride. This is not the way it ought to be. The Church isn’t a cruise ship that exists for our own comfort and ease. The Church is a battle ship where all hands are on deck.
And this, is not something we program for you. You do not become a member and receive an assignment from us about where you’ll be serving. No, we encourage you to think and talk with us, about how God has gifted you, and where you fit here at SonRise. From the littlest among us in the nursery to making coffee, to preparing communion, to laboring on the missions committee, to singing on the worship team, to hosting a small group, and more. We’re always in need of more hands on deck. This also is not just for the mature, but for all of us. We really do believe that everyone should serve in some capacity here at SonRise. So, are you? Or are you cruising along like a barnacle enjoying the ride? We are the bride of Christ, may we live to serve Him all our days!
When we know what the Church is (body, building, bride) we’ll give ourselves to the Church (in belonging, in building, and in serving.) For all its warts and mess, the Church is indeed the dearest place on earth.
 Charles Spurgeon, “The Best Donation,” (No. 2234) April 5, 1891, The Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, England.
 David Mathis, Habits of Grace, 145.