|The Church An Extension of Christ
by E.H. Jack Sequeira
In our last study, we saw that, as the extension of Christ, the churchs highest priority is reflecting the life and character of Christ: Christ in you, the hope of glory. Our study today, A Gifted People is an important continuation of this theme. When we talk of reflecting the life and character of Christ as a church, we are talking about a whole group of sinful men and women from various walks of life, nationalities, cultures, backgrounds, outlooks, and temperments.
How can such a group of people collectively reflect one person, Jesus Christ? Let us be absolutely clear from the very beginning, what Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 19:29: with men, this is impossible:
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
In other words, this objective of Christ in you, the hope of glory, as I concluded last time, cannot be accomplished by promotional programs, or by incentives, or by trying to shape up the saints by rules and regulations.
There was a time we tried to do this as a denomination. If a believer failed to meet the standards and did not shape up, we disciplined him or her. The result was, we produced an outward conformity so that we behaved like the Pharisees of Christs day: clean outside but hypocritical inside. Finally, it produced a generation who said enough is enough and the result today is rebellion against the standards.
But what is impossible with men is possible with God. And the difference with Gods method is that He does not begin from the outside but inside, the heart. Unlike the Old Covenant, which we have been practicing, the New Covenant begins by taking away the rebellious stony heart and replacing it with a heart of flesh, that is a heart of love. Ezekiel 36:26-27:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
We caught a glimpse of Gods method when we studied the first twelve chapters of the book of Acts how God took a bunch of people, Jews and Gentiles, who were no different than we are today, and united them into one body so that, collectively, they were of one heart, reflecting their Lord Jesus Christ. Let me refresh your memory by quoting some of the texts we studied. Acts 1:14; 2:1; 4:32a; 5:12:
They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. ...When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. ...All the believers were one in heart and mind. The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomons Colonnade.
How is this unity of the body knit together in love to be accomplished? What are the practices? The first step is a clear understanding of the gospel, the truth as it is in Christ. This is the foundation to all Christian experience. 1 Corinthians 3:11:
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
The second step is to surrender to this truth: a heartfelt obedience to the gospel. Luke 9:23:
Then he said to them all: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Galatians 5:24; 6:14:
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. ...May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
This second step opens the door for the third step, the Holy Spirit taking over our lives. And with that comes the manifestation of His supreme gift to the church: agape love as described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails....
The result is a united body of people, all of whom are doing their part so that, collectively, we reflect the spirit and love of Christ. Can you imagine what people would think of us? Let me show you. John 13:35:
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unit of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit just as you were called to one hope when you were called one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
But love itself is not enough for us to reflect Christ collectively. Yes, it is the key ingredient that is necessary to do it, but, besides love, the Holy Spirit also bestows special functional gifts on each one of us. And this is what Paul continued to point out in Ephesians 4:7-16:
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men. (What does he ascended mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare Gods people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
When we examine these gifts of the Holy Spirit, we find they cover a variety of functions, all of which are absolutely necessary for the health and building up of the church to what it should be. This gifts that build up the church so that it reflects Christ are gifts of: Prophecy, Pastors, Teacher, Exhortation (counseling), Administration, Wisdom (on how things are to be done), Knowledge (regarding the needs of the church), Faith (to do things that may seem impossible), Giving (so that the church is not lacking financially, Discernment (distinguishing between truth anad error), etc.
All these gifts are supplied by the Holy Spirit to individuals of the church so that we may act as one body. And none are exempted. Every believer has one or more gifts and these must be used or put into practice if the church is to reach its goal. Romans 12:6-8:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a mans gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to this faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
This brings me to the last and final point in our strivings to reach the divine objective: unitedly reflecting the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because God is love, there is no compulsion in the way He deals with us. Yes, when it comes to our salvation, that is entirely a free gift made effective by faith alone.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.
But when it comes to living the Christian life, it demands our cooperation. In accepting Christ as our Lord and Master, we do not become robots so that the Holy Spirit works in us automatically. I wish that were true, it would make life much easier, but, unfortunately it is not so and, unless each one of us applies the principle of the cross to our daily Christian living, all our attempts to meet Gods ideal for us will be in vain.
In the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus made it very plain to His disciples that you cannot serve two masters at the same time, that is, masters who belong to two opposite or different camps. The two masters He was referring to are God and Self. Matthew 6:24 (Mammon [KJV] or Money [NIV] in this text represent the principle of self):
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
This is the Christian battle. As long as there is life in these bodies of ours, this battle has to be fought relentlessly. Only as we submit this life of the flesh to the cross of Christ moment by moment of our lives, it will take over and further delay Gods ideal for the church. Constantly, we have to abide in Christ so that constantly Christ lives in us. Then only will our highest priority become a reality. 1 Corinthians 12:7-12, 25-26:
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. ...So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
If ever there was a time when the world desperately needs to see Christ in His body, the church, it is now. The world around us is becoming unglued financially, politically, and in every way. I dont have to convince you that the future looks bleak. And the good Word tells us that when you see these things happening, look up, for your redemption draws near.
But God wants none to perish and, as ambassadors of Christ, mans only hope is to realize that the gospel is not some human invention but the power of God unto salvation. But the history of the Christian church has not been too convincing on this fact. Unless we, as His people, are willing to put self aside and let God take over, many more souls will have to go down into Christless graves.
The kingdom of God, says Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:20, is not in words but in power. May we be willing to be used by God to turn our own cities upside down with the power of the gospel.