June 7, 2010 David Balzer

Core Value 6: We value God’s people encouraging and loving each other: Ephesians 2:11-22; 5:1-20

Can you be a Christian, and not be part of a church? Is it possible to be a “Robinson Crusoe-Christian”?

It’s the sort of question that seems to be asked more and more these days. All sorts of people who say that they’re CHRISTIANS, but who’ve been turned off the INSTITUTIONAL CHURCH.

Today’s paper has an article about politicians. And a number of them, like treasurer Wayne Swan, call themselves something like “non-church attending Christians”.

There’s a facebook group I noticed that I’m NOT encouraging any of you facebook addicts to join. It’s called “So you don’t go to church anymore”. It’s got 425 members. And here’s how they describe themselves.

This group is primarily for those who are sincere followers of Christ, but who have become disillusioned with many of the trappings of modern, Western Christianity. Some of us call ourselves “Post-Congregational.” Some call ourselves “Outchurched.” Some of us don’t call ourselves anything at all. Often, we tend to think of ourselves as alone, having fled settings in which we no longer feel comfortable, in favor of a quest to find the line between truth and tradition. Many of us have discovered alternate contexts in which to engage in relationship with God, outside of an institutional church, and outside of the hours between 10:30 and 12 on a Sunday morning. This group is intended as a refuge for any who find themselves identifying with these things. For those of you on Facebook who seek to follow Christ outside of a “normal church,” this group is for you. Welcome.

All sorts of concerns I COULD talk about, but what’s REALLY depressing about it, is that one of my friends from a previous church is a member. It’s how I found the group.

She grew up in the Presbyterian church. Her father was an elder. A really key family. I taught her, and she went through Youth Group. But something happened along the way, and she lost connection.

And it’s a story that has a familiar ring about it for hundreds, perhaps thousands of people around Sydney. For some, it’s a crisis of faith, for others it’s relationship breakdowns, or abusive church leadership, disagreements about teaching, or direction, or priorities.

Others weakly offer all sorts of LIGHT WEIGHT reasons as well. Sunday sport, busy lives, boring music, working a second job, or family get-togethers.

And for others there’s just a growing nagging suspicion that church just isn’t RELEVANT anymore. Has nothing to SAY.

It’s an attitude that’s the OPPOSITE of Robert and Maureen. I was talking to them earlier in the week about their week away at Nowra with Robert’s sister. I asked if they’d ever thought about retiring in some holiday destination and leaving Rooty Hill. They said, “Why would we do that? It’d mean leaving CHURCH!”

That’s taking God’s people SERIOUSLY.

1. What’s God’s design?

And it’s the same when you come to Paul and the Ephesians.

The very question of whether you can be a Christian, and not be part of a church was one that would never have entered the mind of the Apostle Paul. Or of the Ephesians themselves.

And it’s certainly not GOD’S DESIGN for the Christian life.

The Ephesians had spent a lifetime being UNCONNECTED to any group. Without ROOTS, without A HERITAGE, without a GROUP IDENTITY.

The Situation BEFORE

Look at how Paul describes it in Ch 2 v12. The situation BEFORE.

{12} remember that at that time you were SEPARATE from Christ, EXCLUDED from CITIZENSHIP IN ISRAEL and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without HOPE and without god in the world.

Before they heard the gospel from Paul, they were NOTHING SPECIAL. They had NO PRIVILEGES, and NO FUTURE.

They were INDIVIDUALS, and free to do as they pleased. No connections to anybody. Nothing tying them down.

Just the thing some Christians LOVE the sound of today.

But the Ephesians didn’t see that as a GOOD THING. It meant they didn’t BELONG. They were EXCLUDED. No identity. No rights, no future.

The situation AFTER

But that all changed when they became Christians. They moved from being individuals to being part of something bigger. They’d become the PEOPLE OF GOD. V13. The situation AFTER.

(Eph 2:13 NIV)  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were FAR AWAY have been brought NEAR through the of Christ.

They used to be God’s ENEMIES – DISTANT from God – but now, through Jesus’ , they’ve become HIS FRIENDS.

But that’s not THE ONLY distance that’s been covered. The barrier BETWEEN PEOPLE has been destroyed. In particular, the distance between JEW and GENTILE. V14.

(Eph 2:14-16 NIV)  For he himself is our peace, who has MADE THE TWO ONE and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, {15} by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, {16} and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to their hostility.

The image Paul has in mind is THE JERUSALEM TEMPLE. And separating the court of the Gentiles from the REST of the temple/ is a wall. A dividing wall. And archaeologists have discovered this inscription from Herod’s Temple, from around the time of Jesus;

“No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will only have himself to blame for his ensuing .”

That’s some dividing wall of hostility.

It separated UNCLEAN GENTILES from RITUALLY-CLEAN JEWS. They were clean because they’d been circumcised, they’d kept the food laws, and the laws of sacrifice, and cleanliness.

Laws which INCLUDED staying SEPARATE from Gentiles who DIDN’T keep the laws.

But when Christ spilled his , he SATISFIED the demands of the law. He BORE THE CURSE of the law on lawbreakers when he hung on the cross.

He tore the curtain of the temple in two. The curtain that separated God from Man.

And when he did, he tore down the wall which separated Jew and Gentile. Because BOTH were made clean, and righteous.

He’s MADE THE TWO/ ONE.

That’s, historically, what Jesus has done. And that’s who God’s people are. ONE HUMANITY. ALL reconciled to God. Whatever our colour, or background, education, marital status, class, language, or accent.

The consequences

And that has consequences for our relationships NOW. That’s Paul’s next point. The CONSEQUENCES of this situation.

Do you see the logic? That’s who you were. That’s what Christ has done. That’s who you NOW ARE.

Then v19.

(Eph 2:19 NIV)  CONSEQUENTLY, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but FELLOW CITIZENS with God’s people and MEMBERS OF GOD’S HOUSEHOLD,

What all of this means is that you’re no longer separated, isolated individuals. But part of A PEOPLE. Citizens of a new country. Members of a new family.

With all the rights and privileges that go with CITIZENSHIP. And all the benefits that go with being part of a FAMILY.

So it SHOULD be hard to leave a church. Because it IS a family. Is that how YOU think about church? Do you MISS not being at church?

If not, WHY NOT? Is it a problem with CHURCH that you don’t miss it? Or is it a problem WITH YOU?

Is there something you need to FIX, so church works the way it should. As a family. With you fitting into it like family.

But not just a family. Next Paul throws in another image. They’ve become part of a BUILDING. In Jesus, the whole building is JOINED TOGETHER. A building that HOUSES GOD HIMSELF. Founded on the teaching of the apostles and prophets.

But more than just being JOINED together. It’s a building that’s GROWING together.

It’s the federally funded building program. But it’s Jesus who’s the HEAD – who’s funding it, and he’s responsible for building us as a GROWING BUILDING.

The idea of GROWING is right there in our MOTTO. Who can tell me our church motto? (growing followers of Jesus).

Who are we? We’re GROWING followers of Jesus. What are we DOING? We’re GROWING people to be followers of Jesus.

(PAUSE) What’s the priority? It’s the COUNTRY, not the citizen. It’s the HOUSEHOLD, not the members. It’s the BUILDING, not the bricks.

And even MORE IMPORTANT. It’s the RULER of the kingdom, not the kingdom. It’s the HEAD of the house, not the household itself. It’s the CORNERSTONE of the building, not the building itself.

THESE ARE THE PRIORITIES OF SOMEONE WHOSE PART OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD.

Do you see why it’s such a foreign concept to even be THINKING about the question Can you be a Christian, and not be part of a church? Is it possible to be a “Robinson Crusoe-Christian”?

Because it’s getting the priorities all wrong. It’s the CITIZEN who serves the COUNTRY. Not the other way around.

It’s the member who serves the household, not the other way around.

And it’s the bricks in the building who serve the building. Not the other way around.

It’s the WHOLE BUILDING that grows TOGETHER.

And even when v22 talks about individuals growing. He says they’re growing TOGETHER. Growth occurs in community. In the context of RELATIONSHIPS. At its BEST relationships where we encourage and spur one another on to maturity.

But it can also be growth that’s caused by friction and frustration. As we work with difficult people, God uses it to GROW us.

One of my friends used to jokingly say that his spiritual gift was provocation. He always managed to rub people the wrong way. He saw himself as a source of people’s sanctification! I think he was only half joking!

God designed growth to happen IN COMMUNITY. The Christian life is about serving the interests of the GROUP – the nation, the household, the building, the temple.

(PAUSE) So what does it look like to be serving the interests of the group? The country, or the household, or the building?

2. Live a life of love

Paul sums it up in Ch 5. LIVE A LIFE OF LOVE. A life of looking to the needs of OTHERS, rather than yourself. Flip over to Ch 5, and look at it there in v2.

Live a life of love.

And that’s all about IMITATING GOD, and following CHRIST’S EXAMPLE. Look from v1

(Eph 5:1-2 NIV)  Be IMITATORS OF GOD, therefore, as dearly loved children {2} and live a life of love, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED US and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

It’s not really surprising that citizens are to follow the example of their king. That householders are to imitate the HEAD of the house. And bricks in the building are imitate the one through whom the whole structure GROWS.

Children COPY their parents. And that’s what GOD’S children are called to do. Imitate God, as dearly-loved children.

It’s Part of the FAMILY RESEMBLANCE. Part of their GROUP IDENTITY.

LIVING A LIFE OF LOVE is the way that the interests of THE PEOPLE OF GOD are served.

Paul goes on to put hands and feet on that command. What it looks like in practice.

V3. things that shouldn’t even be MENTIONED among God’s people. ual immorality. In fact, ANY kind of impurity. Or GREED.

Why, because they’re not PROPER – not acceptable – not CORRECTLY REPRESENTING God’s HOLY people.

Down in v5, it says that things such as this are really IDOLATRY. Lusting, longing, wanting to have, THINGS instead of God. PLEASURES instead of God.

I can hardly bear to watch “Deal or No Deal”. The excitement at the possibility of winning $100,000! Not because there’s anything necessarily wrong with someone getting $100,000.

But it’s the whole GREEDY AND COVETOUS ATTITUDE that you hear in people. “Just imagine if I won that. What would I do? All my problems would be over. Then I’d be happy”

But it’s nothing more than IDOLATRY. And it shouldn’t be even spoken about among God’s people.

(pause) And when it COMES to conversation. V4. Make sure there’s no obscenity, no foolish talk, or coarse joking.

No double meanings. Or dirty jokes. Because it produces dirty MINDS. And dirty minds result in more filth coming out of your mouth.

But instead of THIS sort of talk. What should REPLACE it/ is THANKSGIVING.

Recognising what you have/ and that it comes from God. And being THANKFUL for it.

It’s more than just words. It’s A WAY OF LIFE. AN ATTITUDE. An ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE.

Because an attitude of thanksgiving will affect temptations to BE GREEDY. Or temptations to UAL IMMORALITY.

Because a THANKFUL person is a SATISFIED person. A CONTENT and JOYFUL person. Overflowing with GRATITUDE for all God has done for them. For who they are as part of God’s people.

You’ve COME OUT from the Gentiles. You used to be NO-ONE, but now you’re SOMEONE. Part of a PEOPLE. So don’t BE like them anymore. Like you USED TO. V7. Don’t be PARTNERS with them.

It’s time to CHOOSE YOUR PARTNER.

The old and the new – they’re as different AS DARK AND LIGHT. That’s from v8.

Darkness is all about stumbling, and fruitlessness, and futility. It’s where you go TO HIDE – because of the SHAMEFUL things you do.

But when you came to God, you came INTO THE LIGHT. And so you’re CHILDREN of light. Children who bear FRUIT. While THE DARK is fruitless, the Light bears fruit of GOODNESS AND RIGHTEOUSNESS AND TRUTH. That’s v9.

UPRIGHT, HELPFUL, GENTLE, CONSISTENT, TRANSPARENT ACTIONS AND ATTITUDES.

We need to be a place with a CULTURE of these sorts of things. We need to encourage the sort of behaviour where we can BUILD these sorts of characteristics in each other.

It doesn’t come from SURFACE LEVEL interactions. From 2 hours once a week.

It comes by being ACCOUNTABLE and OPEN with each other. It comes from sharing STRUGGLES. It comes from ASKING FOR PRAYER.

It comes from people being BRAVE ENOUGH and LOVING ENOUGH to raise a sensitive issue. “I’m concerned about your attitude to that person. Or the way you speak about so-and-so”.

It comes when people ACCEPT that sort of comment. Without getting defensive, or going on the attack. Taking on board what the person says. Considering it before God. And GROWING because of it.

That’s what it means to be PEOPLE OF THE LIGHT.

(pause) Every time we meet there are COUNTLESS opportunities to SHOW LOVE. To live a life of love. An action, a comment, an attitude. Just as many when we’re NOT meeting.

So (v15), be CAREFUL about how you live. Be WISE. Make the MOST of every opportunity to do good.

Because THE REST of THE WORLD isn’t LIKE THAT. “The days are evil”. So make the most of the opportunities you have to do GOOD. The times are DARK, so make the most of your chances to BE LIGHT.

(pause) And be people who are CONTROLLED and DIRECTED by the Holy Spirit. Be receptive to HIS DIRECTION as you live a life of love. That’s v18. Be FILLED with the Spirit.

And how does THAT happen? How do we obey the COMMAND to BE FILLED WITH THE Spirit?

In Ch 6 Paul calls the WORD OF GOD the SWORD of the Spirit. So, to be filled with the Spirit is to surround yourself with the word of God. Sing it, pray it, read it, listen to it.

Open yourself up to being cut by the Spirit’s sword.

It’s why hearing God’s word explained is the focus of our meetings.

V19 goes on to talk about speaking psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to each other.

And v20, always soak it all in thanksgiving to God whose given us everything in Christ.

(slow) That’s the behaviour that’s CHARACTERISTIC of God’s people. You’re part of a KINGDOM. A household. A building. So live a life of love.

(slow) And don’t fall for the trap that it’s normal or acceptable or God’s will that God’s people can exist, and NOT be part of a church.

An old pastor went to visit a member of his church who hadn’t attended church for some months. The two of them sat by fire. The man spent several minutes trying to justify his lack of commitment to God’s people. How busy life was. How much time he’d been spending reading his Bible and praying. How he was using this time to grow in other areas. How church wasn’t meeting his needs.

The old pastor just listened. Then when the man had finished, he reached forward, picked up the fire tongs, and picked up a bright red coal out of the fire. Just one out of many glowing coals.

He placed it on the edge of the grate, separate from the rest. He didn’t say a word.

Together they watched the coal in silence. Gradually the coal changed. The flames above it died. It’s colour changed from bright red to a dull crimson, then finally to grey. It was .

The old pastor looked at it again for a moment. Then reached forward, picked it up again. And placed it back into the midst of the fire. Within moments, it had caught alight again. It’s colour had changed. It was back doing what it was designed for. In the midst of all the other coals.

The host thought for a few moments. Then nodded his head slowly. “I’ll see you in church on Sunday”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.