This is the 4th episode in a 10-week study of Proverbs. Proverbs 19:17 teaches about generosity to the poor and the Lord’s response to those who are generous.
We live in a day when the church is often berated and belittled. Many of the criticisms against the church sting because they ring true, but for those who are a part of it, the church must never become the object of our ire, a spiritual punching bag we use to prove the superiority of our own personal strength. Instead, the church must always remain the object of our deepest love, even as it is object of Christ’s. Here are 5 reasons why we should love the church.
1. The Church is Jesus’s beautiful bride.
The Bible uses many images to describe the relationship of Christ to his church, but the most intimate and perhaps the most powerful is that of the church as Christ’s bride. This image lies at the heart of Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5:25-33 when he tells husbands to love their wives by giving up their lives even as Christ gave his life for the church. Christ did so to present the church holy and blameless, like a beautiful bride waiting for her groom. Jesus referred to himself as the bridegroom he who will one day return for his wedding celebration, and John saw a city adorned as a bride coming down from heaven (Rev 21:2). For any man who has had the privilege of seeing his true love walk down the aisle, arrayed in joy, beauty, and radiant love, the impact of the image cannot be lost. In a marriage, spouses learn to love one another in spite of their imperfections. In fact, Christ’s love for the church in spite of her sinfulness is what makes it so glorious. Sometimes the church may seem more like Gomer than a bride dressed in pure white, but we are reminded that Christ is the one who knows us best, and he is the one who loves us most. What an amazing truth that those broken by sin are so loved that it pleases Christ to wed them forever. What great love that even while we were sinners, Christ died to win his bride (Rom 5:8).
2. The Church is a caring body.
One of Paul’s favorite images of the church is of the church as Christ’s body. Perhaps he first considered this when, while persecuting the church, Christ called to him and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me” (Acts 9:4). Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 12 that every believer is a part of the body, and Christ is our head. We often hear of the need for the church to reach out to the world as the hands and feet of Christ. Of course, this is true, but for Paul the more important thing was for each member of the body to care for one another. He reminds the church that “If one part suffers, every part suffers with; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (vs 26). We think here of all the one another commands we find in Scripture. Love one another. Encourage one another. Pray for one another. For many of us in the body, we cherish memories of how other believers have reached out to us in times of grief, pain, or discouragement. This is the body of Christ in action, and it is beautiful.
It is worth mentioning here that Paul’s words were written to specific groups of people who had joined together as smaller bodies within the larger body. While it is true that every believer is part of the universal church, it is also true that God has called us to join a specific group of believers and to give ourselves over to them, and they to us. We remember that Paul wrote letters to specific churches or groups of churches. Jesus himself addressed specific churches (see Rev 2-3). For many believers, the fellowship they have experienced in a local body is one of the greatest comforts in their lives. This is God’s will for every believer. One of the saddest things a Christian can do is deprive himself or herself of the love and care that comes from being a part of a committed group of believers who, under the headship of Christ, care for each other with the same love Christ has shown them. The local body is a great gift.
3. The Church is the pillar and foundation of truth.
Tucked away in 1 Tim 3:15 is a statement that causes offense in a day when truth has been relativized, but for Christians it ought to inspire great joy. Paul tells Timothy that the church is the household of the living God, “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” What is this truth? The messaged of who Christ is and what he has accomplished. The next verse, in a joy-filled song, defines this truth as Christ’s coming, death, resurrection, and ascension. This confession is the gospel confession, the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) It is the good news of the Kingdom of God, the proclamation of Christ’ reign over sin, death, and hell, and the free grace that God gives through his Son. As Christ’s ambassadors, the church has been charged to proclaim this truth to the world (2 Cor 5:20). Far from shying away from this proclamation, the bride of Christ must joyfully proclaim the excellency of her coming groom, who is himself truth (Jn 14:6).
4. The Church is a building in progress.
One of the main criticisms leveled against the church is that it is impure. Hypocrisy abounds among its members, and sin seems to be just as rampant inside the church as outside the church. While we ought to remind ourselves that not everyone who claims to be a believer truly is, we cannot shy away from the fact that the church is a work in progress. Peter describes the church as a spiritual house that is being built on the foundation of Christ (1 Pet 2:5). Christ alone is the perfect cornerstone, and the smaller stones still bear the imperfections of their fallen nature. Yet as we look to Christ, we are being refined and pruned for greater use and greater fruitfulness (2 Cor 3:18, Jn 15:1-3). We strive to live lives of pure devotion to the Lord, and it is only his grace that enables us to continue (Phil 1:13). We remember that by his precious blood, Jesus is the one who cleanses us and makes us worthy of his name. We humbly ask that he continues to work in us and through us until he returns.
5.The Church is victorious with Christ.
Because of Christ’s victory on the cross, the church will reign with him forever. We are those who have overcome the world because of our faith in Christ (1Jn 5:14). We are victorious because we too take up our cross and embrace death as our way of life. Just as Christ endured the cross for the joy set before him (Heb 12:2), the church is made up of those who have counted all things loss for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord (Phil 3:8). When we willingly take up our cross and follow him, we proclaim to the world that the joy of knowing Christ is greater than the pain of dying to ourselves. He is our great joy. He is our priceless reward. He is our victory. He first loved us, and so we love him in return. Love wins, because he is love, and he is pleased to give himself to all those who love him. The church is Christ’s beloved, and so we love her too.
Today, may the church demonstrate to the world the love of our Savior.
In this episode, Pastor Tim discusses Proverbs 3:5-6 and what it means to trust in the Lord with all your heart.
Seeing the news out of Charlottesville, I am reminded how antithetical racism is to the Kingdom of God, as well as how easy it is to give racism a pass in our hearts and in our churches. Why is this so? Why is it so easy to rail against other prevalent sins, but not against racism?
Is it possible that racism is the silent sin because it is the most universal? Homosexuality is a temptation many people never experience, as is abortion. Yet racism is not so easily avoided. It would be possible to side-step the issue by dismissing racism as undefinable, an ambiguous vice that can be seen in others but avoided in the mirror. But the Christian cannot find false comfort in denying this sin that is present in all of us.
Racism is, at its core, a manifestation of personal pride magnified to the level of community. Pride is a self-focused sense of superiority, and racism is the belief that those who are most like me are superior to those who are not. Resisting the idea that every human is made in the image of God and therefore equally and infinitely valuable (Gen 1:27; Jam 3:9), I project my own superiority onto those who remind me most of myself. When I tie this sense of superiority to my race (which has been done from nearly the beginning), the silent sin of racism begins to pulse through my veins.
And it runs through yours, too. Or at least the cancerous cells are there, waiting to metastasize. Sometimes the symptoms are subtle, sometimes obvious. The double-take of the black man walking toward you on the sidewalk. The assumption that the Latino applicant will not be as disciplined as the white one. The inflammatory language of the Alt-right or the torch-bearing rally of a White supremacist group. All of these grow from the same self-loving cells that lurk within us. The problem is, as long as the cells aren’t apparent—as long as my racism doesn’t overtly and directly impact my day-to-day life—it’s easy to forget they even exist. Yet one need not don Klan robes to harbor racism in the recesses of the heart.
By God’s grace, the Gospel reminds us of our disease. The purity of Christ’s blood exposes the cancer that defiles our own. Jesus died to bring an end to the enmity between brothers that is an inherent part of our nature as Adam’s sons (Eph 2:11-22). It is Christ’s blood that brings us near to God, and it is his blood that brings us back together as brothers, redeemed from the fall and united in the Spirit. God offers this grace freely to every tribe, nation, and tongue, and because his love is available to all, I know it is available me. As Christ’s blood speaks in our defense, it exposes the silent selfishness inside us. Interposing his own blood, Christ cures the cancer of our racism, and every other sin that infects us.
As Christ’s church, we are called to be the living embodiment of the equity, grace, and love that Jesus’s death purchased for all those whose cancerous sin would have killed them. Yet because of Christ, we confess with Paul, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.” (Gal 3:28). That truth is as radical as it could possibly be, both then and now, both in the streets of Charlottesville and in the depths of my own heart. Ultimately, racism is the demonic alternative to the pure, ground-levelling, blood-bought love found in the Gospel. We have been adopted into the only family where true brotherhood can flourish. Church, because our racism is drowned in Christ’s blood, let’s no longer be silent.
Pastor Timothy Howe continues the discussion of wisdom by looking at the second half of Proverbs 1:7, which describes the despising reaction of fools to wisdom and instruction.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7 (ESV)