For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
The Place of Love
Greater than individual ministries and gifts, it is through love that the church is edified as a body.
The church began two thousand years ago on the earth. And its history (for those of you who know it) is a varied, and dramatic history, full of human errors. But there have also been triumphs. Christ has been working through the church, and God the Father has been bringing revelation of Jesus Christ to the church. We are here and we are part of that which God is doing. May the Lord grant us the grace to fulfil that part that which belongs to us!
A Historical Distortion
In the past, Christianity has had an individualistic perspective of the Christian life. It has been thought that all the riches that are expressed in the letters of Paul, for example, have a purely individual application. Therefore we have been trying to live the Christian life as individuals, wanting to place inside this vessel of clay all the glory that Christ revealed to us in the scriptures. But we cannot do that, because the vessel that God designated to contain Christ is not the individual, but rather it is something much greater: it is the church, which is His body.
Not Just an Individual Experience
God wants us to live out Christ, not only as an individual. When I say "not only" , we know that their is also an individual experience. We heard yesterday of an individual's experience with Christ. We are not now trying to say that we shouldn't have an individual experience with Christ. On the contrary, we are saying that the individual experience with Christ is surpassed and exceeded by the corporate experience of the church with Christ. And what there is of Christ in you is superseded by what there is of Christ in the church. And if you are full of Christ, the church is much fuller of Christ! God's purpose does not stop at filling you with Christ, nor filling me with Christ, but rather his purpose is to fill the whole body with Christ. Up to this very day Christ is edifying His church. Up to this very day, and until this day is over, He is still edifying His church here on the earth!
We have heard a great deal about living individually as Christ. There are many books written about how to live an individual Christian life. Many have spoken of the victorious life in Christ, and have taught us... (and these are glorious truths that need to be known and lived) of the transformed life: "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me". For how many of us has this been a glorious truth? To discover that the Christian life is not the fruit of man's efforts, but the work of the divine life inside of us through the Holy Spirit?
But God wants our experience to go beyond just individual living. He wants to surpass it. He wants it to go much further. How then, as Christians, can we live the experience of the body? I am speaking about something practical. Yesterday we also spoke [speaking of a message given by another brother] of the functioning of the body of Christ, of how God made the body of Christ to be a harmonisation of many members who co-ordinate and function and depend on one and other, and none of these members have pre-eminence over others, but rather Christ as the head of the church is the only one to have pre-eminence. All the others are under Christ and we serve one another, help one another and depend on one and other.
We Still Haven't Touched on the Essential
However, despite all the glory that is contained in this revelation of the church as the body of Christ, in terms of the practical functioning of the church that is in each locality, in this metaphor, and in this simile of the body, (which is not really a metaphor or simile, but rather a reality), we still have not touched on the essence of the church. When we consider the church as a body, where there are gifts and members who fulfil different roles, we still have not arrived at what is the real "life" of the church. We have to go further in order to understand what the church essentially is, how it expresses itself and how the church edifies itself in a practical sense. The truth of the body sustains itself or affirms itself upon a truth that is both previous to, and more fundamental than the above characteristics, and one that we need to understand in order to grow and be edified as the body of Christ.
Peter, Paul and John
God has been speaking to us in these times regarding the ministry of the apostle John. Paul amazes almost all of us. When we want to return to the substance and essence of the functioning of the church, we almost always take the example of Paul, saying, "Here is what Paul says to us! This is it!" We give thanks to God for the revelation that God gave to the apostle Paul, because in Paul the revelation concerning the church reaches a pinicle and there is nothing more that can be added. Why therefore does this other man, namely apostle John, come along? Why is Paul not sufficient? Why, after that Paul goes off the scene, does John have to appear? Have you ever asked that?
The bible closes with the writings of John. After Paul died in the year 67 (after Christ's birth) and Peter died also, in the same year, thirty more years passed, and in those thirty years many things happened in the history of the church. So John appears about this time and writes to the church. Dear brothers and sisters, John does not have anything new to tell us. This seems strange: he does not have a new revelation to support the church with. John is not trying to say to us, "Brothers, look, there is this new revelation, in addition to what the apostle Paul said". No, he said nothing like that. Therefore, why John?
When Paul was at the end of his ministry, and Peter was at the end of his ministry, and when the apostles in general, were finishing their work here on the earth, they began to describe many sad things. For example, Paul says, in his second letter to Timothy (1:15) "You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me". "I know", Paul says, "that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them". (Acts 20:29) Peter says, "But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them - bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute". (2 Peter 2:1-2) Paul and Peter see the black clouds on the horizon of the church that preceeded the storm. Paul knows in his heart that much of what he has done and has worked for is going to be distorted, discredited and misrepresented. Peter also knows this.
Thirty years pass, and apostle John comes on the scene. And John, as I explained, has nothing new to say, because when the church has been discredited and has lost its way and its essence, therefore one does not need anything new. When the Lord (John's letter) writes to the church that is in Ephesus, He says, "Remember the height from which you have fallen" (Revelation 2:5). It is to say, your problem, church, is not that you need to know something new. It is not a new revelation; it is not a new way. Your problem is that what you knew, you have forgotten. It is what you knew in the beginning and have now forgotten! It is what you were in the beginning but no longer are! Its is the love that you had in the beginning but no longer have! Your problem is that you have lost your beginning, your essence, your foundation, your reason for being. Look at what you have forgotten!
The problem of the church, beloved brothers and sisters, is that it has forgotten, it's what it no longer knows, it's what it does not remember, it does not understand how it was in the beginning. Because no one has spoken to the church about its origin; where the it arose from, how it was born, how it was in the beginning!
John Takes us to the Beginning
Therefore God rises up John. And what does John say to the church? How does his letter start? "That which was from the beginning". Hallelujah! John is the man who shows us the way back. He shows us how to return to the beginning. He comes to tell us how to return there, to what there was before things began to be lost. Some may say, "we do not understand John's theme! John does not speak to us about the body of Christ!" This is because, brothers and sisters, the church did not begin in the body of Christ, with the functioning of gifts! There were no apostles in the beginning, there were no prophets, there were no evangelists, there were no teachers, there were none who spoke in tongues, there was none of that! They were not there in the beginning! That came afterwards. All that came afterwards, as a consequence of what there was in the beginning. But the beginning is still farther back.
In order to recover the essence of the church we have to go further than the ministry of Paul. Because the church did not begin with Paul. Paul of Tarsus arrived at the church and received the inheritance of those men who began the church in the beginning with Christ.
1 John 1, verse 1-4, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We procalim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete". Brothers and sisters, look what John says! Look! It all began like that. Oh I believe he was up in years when he wrote these words. He was an experienced elder, but he could remember everything from the beginning. He had it all there in his heart and in his mind and he knew how everything had begun.
John was a fisherman in the Sea of Galilee, and there were other fishermen with him. And one day it says, (I am thinking about the story), that Jesus passed by John and said to him, "follow me."And what did John do? Instantly, it says, he left everything and followed him. He went with Jesus. And others joined John to go with Jesus. And they did not know where they were going. Jesus did not come and say, "John, follow me. Look, I have this proposition to build my church, and I'm going to need twelve apostles to do it. And so I've considered you John, as one of those twelve. What do you think, John? Come with me, you are going to be an apostle of the church. And look, I'm going to take my church and establish it in every city, and I think..." He didn't say anything like that. John simply looked at Jesus and remained attached to Jesus. And something indescribable happened in John's heart. He could never again separate himself from Jesus. And he followed him.
The Experience of Contemplating Jesus
There were no promises. There were no expectations. There was only Jesus Christ. It was only following Jesus Christ, to know him, to be with him. And thus, during the three and a half years, John and the twelve lived to know Jesus. Day and night, Jesus and the twelve, the twelve and Jesus. In every possible human circumstance, Jesus and the twelve, the twelve and Jesus. Oh brothers and sisters, do we know what this is! Can you imagine living three and a half years, day and night with Jesus Christ? Therefore John says: "Which we have seen". What we saw! I remember what we saw... and then "which we have heard". This is an experience, brothers and sisters, this is not theology. Do you understand? This is an experience!
Afterwards, what else did they do? "What we have contemplated". This is progressive. Contemplated... what a precious word! What does it mean, "to contemplate"? When you go to an art gallery, and you see a beautiful painting, what do you do? You remain contemplating the painting; that is to say, you observe the details, right? "Look there, what a beautiful tree and how precious the detail is here," and you spend time there, and if you like the artwork you are going to stay a long while looking at the painting and appreciating its detail. Or perhaps you are a lover of nature and you like to go to watch the sun set, and so you stay there a long while watching how the sun changes... watching, observing and contemplating. "To contemplate" is to look at something with detained and prolonged attention.
And that is what John did with Jesus. He did not just watch Jesus pass by... he contemplated Jesus for three and a half years! He lived to contemplate Jesus! I imagine John: he remained watching Jesus, he watched and observed how Jesus did things, how he loved men, women, the destitute, how he welcomed, how he forgave, how he devoted himself, how he gave of himself, how he did all of the things that he did.
He saw the divine life manifested on earth, and gradually, he and the twelve were being captivated by that life until, finally, they were brought to such an intimate experience with Jesus that they came to be one with Jesus. That is where the church was born. Do you understand? ... That is how the church began on earth, with twelve men living day and night together around Christ, with Christ, listening to Christ, contemplating Christ, loving Christ and being loved by Christ.
And Jesus passed something on to them that came from beyond this world. Jesus put, in the apostles, the life that he had lived throughout all eternity in communion with his Father. And they were submerged into that life. They came into the Holy Land of the Trinity. There, where the Father eternally loves the Son and gives Himself to the Son. And there, where the Son eternally loves the Father, and gives Himself to the Father. And in that environment, in that celestial sphere, all the power of that celestial glory descended in the midst of the twelve, and lived in the twelve and they were part of it. They entered into an experience of what it was like, to live a life in God. Here is where the Lord initiated them.
And the predominant characteristic of that life, the essential quality of that life that they received from Christ, and through Christ, from the Father, that which was awarded to them, that which was given to them to live and experience, know and touch, the predominant characteristic of that life, says John, is love.
The Cement of the Building
Beloved brothers and sisters, when Paul finished writing 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and speaks of the functioning of gifts and of the members of the body, he says, "And now I will show you the most excellent way". That most excellent way is not an alternative way, it's not an option, but rather it is the only way possible. What is that way?
Imagine that the church is like a building. Therefore, everyone of us is a brick in that building. When you go to construct something, you go and you buy bricks and you choose the best, the most beautiful right? All cut, smooth, beautiful and well designed. But when you begin to build the house, you realise that the bricks are not sufficient. You need something else, something you forgot! You need something with which the bricks can hold together!
Therefore, the body of Christ does not work simply because we are members and each one of us have roles and gifts. You need something that amalgamates the members of the body, and that unites one with another, and allows them to function as a body. And that glue, that amalgamation, that concrete between one stone and another in the house of God is love.
Life is Impregnated with Love
Love is not just another ingredient of the Christian life. It is not just incorporated in the life of the church. Do you know why, as believers, we find it so difficult to understand love? Because we have a perspective that is too individualistic. Love is the ingredient in the life of the church! Love is what permits the edification of the body of Christ. Paul says, "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". (Ephesians 4:16) In other words, what enables the members to harmonise, to bind one another together and begin to function as a body, is love. If there is no love, there is no functioning of the body, because the body does not have another principle of life, other than love. And what is love?
Love is the essence of the nature of God, of the life of God. The apostle John therefore says, "We know that we have passed from death to life... (in what, in power, or by the revelation that we have? Or because there is such anointing? No!) ... we know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers". (1 John 3:14)
Do you want to know if there is life? In the church one proves there is life when there is love between brothers, nothing more. That is the proof. Nothing else! Because God's life is manifest as love. Brothers and sisters, this is essential! This is what John wants to say to the church. This is what John wants to transmit to the church. The life that we receive from Him, the life that we contemplate in Him, the life that He put in us, is a life that is expressed as love. It is expressed in that we unite together, we join together, we meet together, we are called together and we bring one another together. In this, life is shown. The life of God has that vocation. Oh, that is the power of the divine life brothers and sisters! That power has the life of Christ within us.
If the life of Christ is expressed in us without impediment, do you know what will happen? We will begin to bring one and other together. That life will do it by itself; it has that power to do this, because that is God's nature. Because God is love. It is not an attribute apart from God. It is His nature, it is His essence. "The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee." Amen? That is love. God is...? Love! And he who remains in love, remains in God.
Jesus Christ, amidst the twelve, joined them together, and made them one. And after that essential unity of love, arose the apostleship, arose the ministry, the service. But first he joined one and other together in love. He created indestructible bonds between them. The life of Christ radiated amongst them, kneaded them and interwove them and made them one.
Do you know what? Many difficulties came upon the history of the church in the beginning, but they could never be separated nor divided, because Christ had bound them together with His own life. Hallelujah! That is love. Wherever God is, there is love. Wherever God is absent, there is no love. Where there is love, there is the life of God. Wherever there is no love, there is no life of God.
The Life Leaves us Free
We have put up so many barriers to impede the Lord. Our doctrines are our barriers. Our customs, our history, our way of doing things are our barriers. These things obstruct Christ. If the divine life left us free to do His will - and we must do it because He is the Lord of the church - do you know what that life would do? We would begin to join one and other together and we would be one. That is love.
Love is: "Forgive one another.", "Have mercy on one another", "Bear with one another", "Have patience with one another." This is clothing ourselves in Christ, brothers and sisters. This is being the body of Christ. It is not he who simply functions well with gifts. This is not what is essential. Rather, it is that all our relations are impregnated with Christ! That all our relations are submerged in Christ! The love of Christ creates communicative bands that unite us together. And these communicative bands express themselves as a cement between one and other. It is something supernatural. Something that neither you nor I can understand. Because it is the life of God. It is not a human life; it is the life of God on earth!
There is nothing like this in the world. The world does not produce anything like this. The world can produce efficiency, organisation, power, and even miracles! But it cannot produce the love of God. It cannot! Only Christ can do this in the church! He can unite what man has divided. He can again join the children of God into one! The life of Christ is powerful to do this! He is sufficient! Oh, Hallelujah!
Let that life, which is in you, do His will. Don't impede it, nor restrain it, you do not want to construct a dyke to stop the river of God! Because the river of God is not going to stop. He will search for another channel, brother, sister, and you will remain outside. I will remain outside. But God will complete His work here on the earth, and He will have the church that He purposed from all eternity. He is going to do it brothers and sisters! And if you and I don't want to be part of that, He is going to do it all the same. Hallelujah! He will do it all the same! Because He is God and we are men and women. Therefore, He is going to have that church, that is like Him and that loves like Him. Blessed be the Lord! Amen.