Among the many experiences I find uncomfortable, a few are on a special list. This special list exists because some experiences cause me extreme discomfort. These are two of the things on that list: (1) I am extremely uncomfortable when I am not allowed to be myself, and (2) I am extremely uncomfortable when I am expected to accomplish things, and I am not permitted to do the necessary things to produce the accomplishments.

I am deeply grateful that God is patient. Human patience cannot begin to duplicate God's patience. For us, the greatest acts of patience are acts that take a lifetime to achieve results. For adults, planting a tree is an act of patience. Being a tree farmer is truly an act of patience.

God is far more patient than a tree farmer. Just one example. God told Abraham that through Abraham's descendants He would bless all people (Genesis 12:3). It took several hundred years for God to keep that promise. In that entire period, God moved and worked toward Jesus Christ.

I wonder if God looks at us in frustration. He patiently worked for several hundred years to give the world Jesus, to make Jesus the Christ, to make Jesus the Lord, and to make Jesus the Savior. Two thousand years later, in Jesus' name, we too often refuse to let God do what He planned to do. We refuse to let God be Himself. We expect God to accomplish things when we will not permit Him to do the necessary things that will produce the accomplishments.

  1. Allow me to begin with a biblical illustration.
    1. In John 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from the death.
      1. Lazarus, Mary, and Martha (brother and sisters) were Jesus' close friends.
      2. Lazarus was sick, and Jesus delayed his arrival until Lazarus died.
        1. The sisters sent word to Jesus while Lazarus was sick expecting Jesus to come heal Lazarus.
        2. He did not come, and Lazarus died.
    2. When Jesus arrived, the sisters and friends were in mourning.
      1. Lazarus had been dead four days.
      2. Mary said, "Had you been here, he would not have died" (John 11:32).
      3. Jesus, deeply troubled, went to the grave and resurrected Lazarus.
    3. Pay close attention to what happened.
      1. They removed the stone from the entrance to the cave where Lazarus was buried (John 11:41).
      2. With a loud voice, Jesus called Lazarus from the dead (John 11:43).
      3. Lazarus managed to make his way out of the cave (John 11:44).
      4. Jesus told the witnesses to unbind Lazarus [he was wrapped from head to foot in burial wrappings] (John 11:44).
      5. Surely a man who had the power to resurrect the dead had power to command a stone to move, to command the resurrected person to be lifted out of the tomb, and to command the grave clothes to fall off the man.
      6. But they could move the stone, Lazarus could get out of the tomb, and they could remove the burial cloths.
      7. Jesus did what they could not do--give a dead body life.

  2. God through Jesus made us the church, the people of God, those who have been resurrected from the death of evil into the life of the Christ.
    1. God did what we could not do.
      1. He freed us from slavery to Satan.
      2. He rescued us from the condemnation of our evil.
      3. He forgave our sins.
      4. He placed us in His family.
      5. He made us His people.
    2. As the church, we have the responsibility of spiritually maturing.
      1. God allows us to be His children, God encourages us as His children, but God will not make us do anything.
      2. As the church, we do what we decide to do.
      3. We can focus on existing, or we can focus on accomplishing God's purposes that He designed the church to accomplish.

  3. Faith will not be liberated until we let the church be the church.
    1. The church will become what God intended it to become when we start letting our faith in God be more important than our fears.
      1. My years as a preacher and teacher are dwindling; the sand in the hourglass is about gone.
      2. I have no plan to retire, but neither am I a fool.
        1. With my sixty-first birthday fast approaching, I know my years in front of me as a preacher are far fewer than the years behind me as a preacher.
        2. Having worked all my life for the church, I have learned a few things about many Christians, and I include myself.
        3. First, I have learned we refuse to do more out of fear than we do in faith.
        4. Second, I have learned this kind of fear and faith do not mix.
      3. The spirit of fearfulness destroys the spirit of faith.
    2. When and why did we decide that God is more likely to be thrilled by our doing nothing than He is to be thrilled by our trying to do something?
      1. How can we possibly read Jesus' parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 and reach that conclusion?
      2. When and why did we decide that the spiritually safe course is to do as little as possible to influence people and proudly claim to be biblical? Have you noticed that we stake our spiritual claim to fame on what we do not do?
      3. Why did we decide it is biblical to prevent the church from being the church?

  4. I want to briefly do two things.
    1. First, I want you to read with me several statements in Acts about the church.
      1. Acts 2:46,47 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. [The KJV uses the words "the church" in place of "their number."]
      2. Acts 5:11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.
      3. Acts 8:1 Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
      4. Acts 8:3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
    2. In Acts, what is the "church"?
      1. It is that group of forgiven people who are alive in Christ to whom the Lord adds the saved.
      2. The church can be afraid of danger.
      3. The church can be persecuted and scattered.
      4. The church can be ravaged by abusing and arresting men and women.
      5. Christians are the church; the forgiven people who belong to, follow, and serve Jesus Christ are the church.
      6. The church is not some mysterious concept; you and I are the church.

  5. Then how do we let the church be the church?
    1. As the church, the highest commitment that we have is accomplishing God's purposes in people's lives.
      1. The church is not about our purposes; it is about God's purposes.
      2. The church is not about our priorities; it is about God's priorities.
        1. Therein lies the problem.
        2. We are not well informed about God's priorities.
        3. We know our preferences, and it is very easy to consider our preferences God's priorities.
    2. The second thing I want to do is take a brief look at the church in Ephesians. If you have your Bibles, follow me in Ephesians.
      1. Ephesians 1 writes about the marvelous things God accomplished for Christians in Jesus Christ.
        1. Verse 4: God has given us every spiritual blessing in Christ.
        2. Verse 5: God has chosen us in Christ.
        3. Verse 7: In Christ we have redemption.
        4. Verse 9: In Christ God revealed the mystery of His will for us.
        5. Verse 11: Because of Christ, God made it possible for us to have an inheritance.
        6. After offering a prayer for them, Paul ends the prayer with this statement:
          Ephesians 1:19-23 These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
          1. While Paul mentioned the church, the focus is on Jesus Christ.
          2. Christ rules above every form of earthy government.
          3. God made Christ head over everything in the church.
          4. The church is Christ's body.
          5. The church should be the fullness of Christ.
      2. In Ephesians 2:11-22 the church needed to recognize and accept the unity God made possible in Jesus' death.
        1. This unity exists between people who always were enemies.
        2. These people never wanted unity.
        3. But Christ broke down the barrier that caused them to be enemies, and he became the peace that bound them together.
        4. Christ reconciles people to God and each other.
          Ephesians 2:13-16 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.
      3. In Ephesians 3:8-12 the church helps the world understand the mystery of Jesus Christ and the wisdom of God.
        1. Not even authorities in "heavenly places" understood what God was doing before Jesus came and died.
        2. God's objective and promises were understood after Jesus' death and resurrection.
        3. The church (we collectively) should cause people to say, "How wise God was!"
        4. What we are and do should cause people to realize how wise God was.
          Ephesians 3:8-11 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.
      4. In Ephesians 4:1-16, the church should be filled with people who are committed to unity and who understand that God gave them an ability.
        1. We function together as a whole to equip Christians to serve and to build up the body of Christ [and this is not talking about numbers].
        2. We help everyone achieve maturity, and we use Christ as the standard of being spiritually full.
        3. We want the body to match the head; the church is to match Christ.
        4. We want to build ourselves up in love.
          Ephesians 4:14-16 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
      5. In Ephesians 5:22-33, our experience as the church should build respect and love in our marriages.

We let the church be the church when what we are in Christ has practical impact on our lives and relationships every single day. Then, we, as the church, impact others.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 18 March 2001
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