Listen to these definitions: "The church is a launching
pad, not a garage" (Anon.). "The church is a workshop,
not a dormitory" (McKenzie). "The church is a
building and loan association, to help you build a mansion
in heaven" (Ibid). How often have you heard
expressions like these: "It makes no difference what a
church teaches as long as the members are sincere";
"One church is just as good another"; "You can be a
Christian and not be a member of any church"? Someone
has observed: "It might be surprising to discover how few
people can take a pencil and paper and write out a good,
sensible, and biblical definition of the church" (Kelcy).
How can we come to understand the church better?
Here's a little story that will help to point us in the
right direction: "A woman bought a new car loaded with all
the high-tech options. The first time she drove the
car in the rain, she turned a knob that she thought would
start the windshield wipers. Instead a message flashed
across the dashboard: "Drive car in 360 degrees." She
had no idea what that meant, so when she got home, she
pulled out the car's manual. She learned that while
trying to turn on the wipers, she had also turned off the
internal compass. To correct that problem, the car had
to driven in a full circle and pointed towards the north;
this procedure would reset the compass" (Cheatham in Larson
& Elshof). This morning we want to point our
discussion about the church to the north, to Jesus Himself.
In fact, Jesus Himself once told His disciples after Peter
had confessed that He was the Messiah: "I will build My
church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it"
(Matthew 16:16-18). Notice here that word "church" is
singular. Now, what else does Jesus say about His
church? That's our aim for today: Listen To What Jesus
Says About His Church! Let's let Jesus reset the compass.
Listening carefully to what He has to say will help us to
see more clearly four of His expectations for those who call
themselves His disciples.
First of all, He expects members of His church to live
righteously! Note what He says in Matthew 18:15-17:
"Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him
his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you,
you have gained your brother. But if will not hear,
take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or
three witnesses, every word may be established.' And
if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But
if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you
like a heathen and a tax collector." Here are three
ideas to consider. First of all, notice once again how
this admonition begins: "Moreover if your brother sins
against you, ..." Now is this sin that the brother has
committed the exception or the rule? Certainly, it is
the exception. Jesus wants members of the church to
live righteously; that is the rule. In Matthew 6:33,
Jesus says that His disciples should make God's
righteousness a priority: "But seek first the kingdom of God
and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added
unto you." So we should live righteously. Now
notice there are two parties mentioned—the offender who has
sinned against another member, and the one who has been
offended. What is the offender to do? Jesus says
three times that he is to listen to what other members tell
him—what the offended tells him, what a few tell him, and
what the church tells him—and he should be willing to repent
and change his ways. Why is this member to listen and
to change? These actions will help this member to quit
living sinfully and to start living righteously again.
But what if you are the offended party? You are to
show your concern for the other member's sin by going to the
offender, then taking a few other members if needed, then
telling the church if needed, and then keeping your
distance. Another's sin is not ignored or allowed to
worsen, but all of these actions are your attempts to live
righteously and eventually distance yourself from sin if no
change comes about. One commentator said, "The use of
'church' meaning 'local congregation' shows that this rule
was propounded by Christ for observance on the part of His
followers in all ages" (Coffman). We can clearly see
that the church is not to be a society of those who live
stubbornly (Lewis). Live righteously by either showing
your concern when another sins or listening to other members
when you offend them. Jesus expects members of His
church to live righteously! Listen to what Jesus says
about His church!
Secondly, Jesus expects members of His church to live
exclusively. Notice Jesus' words in John 10:16: "And
other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I
must bring, and they will hear My voice, and there will be
one flock and one shepherd." Let's notice what one
commentator says concerning the one flock: "'Other sheep'
are the Gentiles whom Christ would save and who together
with the spiritual Israel (a remnant of the whole) would
thenceforth compose the one flock of God" (Coffman).
So along with the Jewish believers in Christ would be added
the Gentile converts to Him, and together that would form
the one universal flock or His church. Now this is an
exclusive group isn't it? There isn't another group
like it! If a group like this existed in the first
century, why couldn't a group like this exist today?
Now notice what another commentator adds: "Such believers,
as they listen to the good Shepherd's voice, will be united
to one another in virtue of their common faith in Jesus, who
loved them and gave Himself for them ..." They listen
to good Shepherd's teaching and guidance. Why?
Because there are thieves and robbers who try to harm the
flock. Notice what Jesus warns in verses 7 and 10:
"Most assuredly I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.
All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the
sheep did not hear them. ... The thief does not come except
to steal, and to kill, and to destroy." Now, the same
thing that Jesus warned against in the first century has
happened in the 21st century. Some religious people
make affirmations like these: "I must follow what the Roman
Curia teaches"; "Our church practices the directives of our
governing body in Brooklyn"; "We must conform to what the
convention in Phoenix will tell us." You see, when
other people live under the control of other religious
leaders instead of Christ alone, aren't they following
thieves and robbers, who are doing them more harm than good?
"But preacher, isn't your church answerable to some
headquarters or overseeing board?" The answer, my
friend, is "No, the churches of Christ have no headquarters
or governing body." Members in His church are striving
to hear only the voice of the Good Shepherd because Jesus
has said that He alone is only religious leader who can give
us life abundantly: "I have come that they may have life,
and that they may have it more abundantly" (v. 10).
The churches of Christ have repeatedly tried to appeal to
other religious groups to abandon their headquarters, their
boards, and their presidents Couldn't all people
just take Christ and the teachings of His apostles, the
teachings found in the New Testament, and use these alone as
their guide in all religious matters? If all people of
all nations were to unite around Jesus alone and tried to
obey His teachings only, as found in the New Testament, what
would this group be? Wouldn't it be the restoration of
the one flock of which Jesus spoke in verse 16? Jesus
expected His disciples to hear His voice and to follow Him
exclusively, and those who do this will become an exclusive
universal group—His church! Jesus expects members of
His church to live exclusively! Listen to what Jesus
says about His church!
Thirdly, Jesus expects members of His church to live humbly.
You probably recall the incident in John 13 which
illustrates this so vividly when He takes a basin of water
and a towel and then washes and dries His disciples' feet
after eating the Lord's Supper. Let's look at John
13:13-14: "Do you know what I have done to you? You
call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you
also ought to wash one another's feet." Let's notice
some comments on this passage: 1) "Menial service for one's
fellow Christians is taught by this example" (Coffman); 2)
"Jesus has set the pattern of unselfish service and the
pattern of self-giving love as the pattern for His disciples
to follow against the will of power found in the world"
(Pack); 3) "Instead of self-exaltation, choose
self-abasement. ... Since a servant is not greater than his
lord, the servant should be willing to do as his lord, and
will look for opportunities to serve in even the most humble
fashion" (Bynum). Have you washed any feet or done any
humble service lately? We have many super servants in
this congregation! They wash widow's windows and rake
their yards, they build ramps, they move brush and debris,
they host wedding and baby showers, they have parties for
children and the elderly, they grade the Bible lessons of
foreign students, they send cards to encourage others, they
drive people to worship, they share with others what they
have cooked, they make and send out recorded messages, they
teach classes for all ages, they wash baptismal garments and
nursery linens, they make inspiring bulletin boards, they
preach with our big sign, they maintain and update our
church website, they keep our food pantry stocked, they keep
our building and grounds looking attractive, they visit the
sick and those who are shut in, they teach others to read,
they share the gospel with those who are lost, and they do
many more good works of service that are unsung but greatly
appreciated by those who receive them. There was a 13
year old girl named Lauren who had cancer; she had 14 rounds
of chemotherapy and 25 radiation treatments to overcome it.
Throughout the long ordeal, she was comforted by a colorful
quilt made by a neighbor named Miss Mildred. Years
later, after Lauren's father visited a children's cancer
ward in India, he told her about those suffering children.
Lauren began to raise money at civic clubs and schools so
that every child in the ward could have a "Miss Mildred"
blanket to comfort them because "chemotherapy makes you cold
all the time." Somehow, Lauren's story was heard by a
group of workers in Bosnia, and they agreed to manufacture
the blankets. Each child's bed in that Indian cancer
ward was eventually covered with a Miss Mildred blanket.
Lauren told others: "When I was first diagnosed with cancer,
I knew God had a plan for my life. These blankets in
India are now part of that plan" (Schenk in Larson &
Elshof). Jesus expects members of His church to live
humbly and to keep their hearts lowly, their eyes open, and
their hands ready to serve others. "If you know these
things, blessed are you if you do them" (13:17).
Listen to what Jesus says about His church!
Next, Jesus expects members of His church to live
fruitfully. Let's read John 15, starting with verse 5.
As we read, we're going to see how living fruitfully also
involves living devotedly, obediently, joyfully, lovingly,
and evangelistically. "I am the vine; you are the
branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears
much fruit; for without Me, you can do nothing. If
anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and
is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the
fire, and they are burned." Let's pause here. Some of
our friends say that the vine is Jesus, but the branches are
all the different churches that we now have in our age.
This interpretation is mistaken because the fruit produced
by different religious groups is not the same fruit as that
of the vine. One group is producing apples, another
oranges, another pears, another peaches, and so forth.
Now a vine only produces fruit after its kind, so Jesus is
saying members in His church are to be producing grapes, and
those grapes are the results His actions and His teachings.
Remember, there were no churches at all when Jesus spoke
these words, so Christians are the branches! Let's
pick back up with verse 7: "If you abide in Me, and My words
abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be
done for you. By this, My Father is glorified, that
you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples." Do
you hear living devotedly in these words? Members in
His church are to abide in Him and His teachings. They
don't follow additional man-made doctrines, which so many
religious groups follow, like catechisms, creeds,
disciplines, and covenants. After studying baptism in
the Scriptures with a friend, this fellow left the room and
then returned with a little green book which spelled out his
denomination's beliefs. He said: "Now, here is what I
believe on baptism." Was this man abiding in Jesus and
His words or was he looking elsewhere for his answers?
You see, little green books produce little green apples, and
not the grapes that the Vine desires! Living
fruitfully means living devotedly. Now let's pick up
again with verse 9: "As the Father loved Me, I also have
loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My
commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept
My Father's commandments and abide in His love."
Keeping Jesus' commandments means that we obey them and put
them into practice. And notice once again, it is
Jesus' commandments that we are to obey, and not those of
Joseph Smith, nor Charles Taze Russell, nor Mary Baker Eddy,
nor any other so-called modern day prophet. To live
fruitfully is to live obediently. Now pick up again
with verse 11: "These things I have spoken to you, that My
joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full." One
brother has commented: "The joy of Jesus is the joy that
came from His perfect obedience to the Father's
commandments. He wanted His joy to become His
disciples' experience. Thus, their joy will be full.
As they continue to bear fruit and keep His commandments,
dedicating their lives in loving obedience to God's will,
they will continue to rejoice despite whatever problems they
may encounter" (Pack). Another brother also adds: "The
joy here is not so much a subjective state of ecstasy as it
is a state of spiritual serenity, much higher and more
satisfying than a mere emotional state of euphoria"
(Coffman). To live fruitfully is to live joyfully!
Now look at verse 12: "This is My commandment, that you love
one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no
one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.
You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not
know what his master is doing; but I have called you
friends, for all things that I heard from my Father, I have
made known to you." Doesn't this passage clearly show
us that to live fruitfully is to live lovingly? We are
not obedient as slaves who act rigidly in ignorance when
their master orders them to do something, but we respond
warmly out of love for our great Friend because Jesus calls
us His friends and treats us like a friend since He has
revealed "all things" that He heard from God to us (and this
means also that we don't need any modern encyclicals or
spiritual books that claim new enlightenment for us)!
To live fruitfully is to live lovingly! Now look at
verses 16-17: "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and
appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that
your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father
in My name, He may give you. These things I command
you, that you love one another." There's an
interesting expression here: "you should go and bear fruit".
Where else does Jesus use the word "go"? That's right,
in the Great Commission. You see, going and bearing
fruit can only refer to evangelism here. A brother
comments: "All Christians are 'the chosen ones' [and
compose] the new Israel guided by the apostles. Once
more Jesus returns to the image of fruit bearing ... The
emphasis now is upon their going out and bringing His words
of salvation to men. The fruit that abides is eternal
life" (Pack). So, we've seen to live fruitfully is to
live devotedly, obediently, joyfully, lovingly, and
evangelistically. Jesus expects members of His church
to live fruitfully! Listen to what Jesus says about
The church is a launching pad, a workshop, and a building
and loan association! It is those things, but Jesus
reveals to us so much more! Now maybe we can give a
definition based on what we've seen this morning. The
church was established by Jesus through His apostles.
It is composed of disciples who live righteously by hearing
the Shepherd's voice, showing concern for sin, and listen to
other members when they are rebuked. It is composed of
disciples who live exclusively for they accept no other
teachings than those found in the New Testament, and upon
that solid foundation, they appeal to all people to submit
to the Good Shepherd alone and to become a member of His one
flock through repentance, confession, and baptism. It
is composed of disciples who live humbly and strive to
imitate Christ in lowly service to others. It is
composed of disciples who live fruitfully, which involves
living devotedly, obediently, joyfully, lovingly, and
evangelistically. We have reset our compass by
pointing to Jesus. Isn't His concept of the church
significant, meaningful, inspiring, and challenging?
"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field,
which a man found and hid; and for joy over it, he goes and
sells all that he has and buys the field" (Matthew 13:44)!
The church is like a treasure! It is unique and one of
a kind! Do you see its value? Do you see its
importance? Do you see how it can change your life for
the better? Jesus tells us it's a great deal, and it's
worth all that you will invest into it! This man was
joyful about purchasing this field because he already knew
what was there, and you can be just as joyful this morning
about becoming a part of the Lord's church, the same one
flock that Jesus referred to in John's gospel. You
know what awaits you there as well in terms of living!
Don't let this opportunity pass! Cash in on this
treasure right now!