Listen To What Jesus Says About His Church   
(Mt. 18:15-17; John 10:16, 13:13-14, 15:5-17) 
By Paul Robison

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 His church!
 
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?  Let's pray:
 
"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!