Talk 4 - The Practical Church
‘The Practical Church’
Today we looking at the ‘practical church’. We come along every week-and its easy just to come and to go—to come and to go. Church can easily sink to the level of the mundane. So today we’re looking at the ‘practical church’. And we’re going to do this by looking at three ways of describing the church. For God says that when we have a majestic view of church then this will motivate us to think carefully about what we do in church and it will urge us to conduct ourselves well in church. So the two big points for today (and you’ll see them on your outline): ‘three ways of thinking about church’ and ‘conducting ourselves well in church’.
three ways of thinking about church
Please turn with me to 1 Tim 3:14, ‘Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth’. Paul uses three expressions to describe church: church is the household of God, church is the church of the living God, and church is the pillar and foundation of the truth.
church is family (1 Tim 3:15; Acts 2:42–47)
The first description is the church as God’s household—the household of God. We become members of the household of God by new birth which comes through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Anyone is welcome to come to church and it makes us very happy when that happens. But church is essentially the meeting of the elect—the coming together of those people who are committed to the lordship of Jesus. In God’s household we relate to God as ‘Father’ and we relate to one another as members of the same family.
I don’t know how much you know about my family. But relating to one another as family isn’t always an easy thing to do. In my home—we all have our moods and our likes and dislikes—and I’m not sure whether sometimes we’re individuals trying to be a family or a family trying to be individuals. No matter how you look at it—families can be challenging at times. No matter how you look at it—good homes are a great gift from God—especially when they’re organised around the headship of Christ.
Our broken homes ought not prejudice our understanding of the church as the household of God. The gospel is an invitation into church—it’s an invitation into the household of God which is the fellowship of believers. So whether you’re a household of ‘one’ or a household of ‘five’—or whether you’ve never really experienced a secure, earthly home—by faith in Jesus you belong to the household of God. In Acts 2 we see a wonderful picture of the God’s household: they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching—they devoted themselves to fellowship—to sharing meals and to prayer. ‘Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved’.
Many of us have been part of a church family for quite some time now. And its easy to forget what a strong sense of community we have—it’s easy to forget how much we are blessed by God. Lonely people, widows, the sick and elderly, everyone is important in God’s household. Pastors who are caring and trustworthy (most of the time). Let me encourage you to meet to meet in each others homes, phone calls, meals. Sharing each other’s lives—playing soccer with other Christian blokes. The older folk encouraging the youth through the uncertainties in life. The elderly being respected by the young. In church we want to teach our children the gospel. We need to work hard at doing these things—but in so doing we reflect the character of God.
the church of the living God (1 Tim 3:15; Jer 10:1, 2, 10)
We belong to God’s household and we belong to the church of the living God. In the Old Testament, Yahweh is called ‘the living God’ in a deliberate contrast to the lifeless idols of the other nations. So Jeremiah says, ‘Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath’ (Jer 10:2,3,10).
Becoming a Christian today still involves turning ‘to God from idols to serve the living and true God’. But where does the ‘living God’ live? Joshua tells us: ‘The living God is among you’ (Josh 3:10). For this was the essence of God’s promise to Israel: ‘I will dwell among you and be your God, and you shall be my people.’ Israel’s awareness that the living God was amongst them profoundly affected their community life. Even personal hygiene was based on the fact that the Lord God walked among them.
Now we know that we are ‘the temple of the living God’ (2 Cor 6:16). We are ‘a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit’ (Eph 2:22). When we go our separate ways through the week it’s hard to remember this reality. But when we come together as the church of the living God, every aspect of our common life is enriched by the knowledge of his presence amongst us.
In our worship we bow down before the living God. Through the reading and explaining of his Word we hear his voice addressing us. We meet him at his table, we meet him when he makes himself known to us through the breaking of bread. In our fellowship we love each other as he has loved us. We want unbelievers who come to this church to be able to say, ‘God is really among you’.
the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15–4:5)
Then Paul describes the church as the ‘pillar and foundation of the truth’. The context in chapter 4 is the false teachers who will soon make a claim on them. Verse 1 says, ‘The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons’. The foundation of the church must hold firm so that it does not collapse under the weight of false teaching. We must know the truth and live the truth. And if we conceive the church as pillar we must hold the truth high so that it is not hidden from ourselves and the world. Which is another way of saying we must know the truth and live the truth.
The church: the household of God—God dwelling amongst us by his Spirit—the place for passionately preserving and living out the truth of the gospel.
conducting ourselves well at church
training in godliness is the priority (1 Tim 4:6–16)
Timothy is directed by Paul to teach these truths about church. And if he does, Paul says in verse 6, ‘you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come’.
The activity of church is important not only in this life, but for the age to come. There’s nothing wrong with training yourself for this life—strength is the glory of youth. Enjoy it while you can, ‘but remember your Creator in the days of your youth’. Grey hair is the glory of the aged and that will come soon enough. No matter what age you are, remember eternal life because training in godliness is for eternity. And notice in 1 Tim 4 that training in godliness opposes false teaching. It’s the opposite of godless myths and old wives’ tales.
Training ourselves in truth is hard work. That is why Timothy is told to ‘command and teach these things’ in verse 11. As a pastor, Timothy is to guard the saints by teaching them the truth. And it’s hard for a young leader like Timothy to command these things. So Paul says in the next verse, ‘Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching’.
It’s not easy preaching and teaching—and with this comes enormous responsibility. Please pray for your pastors—that we may ‘set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity’. We need your encouragement as much as you need ours.
relating to different groups of people (1 Tim 5:1)
Chapter 5:1 is slowly becoming one of my favourite verses, ‘Do not rebuke an older man harshly’. These days I’m trying to cope with being ‘older’. Do not rebuke an older man, but encourage him as you would a father. There are times when a younger person may need to speak firmly to an older man, but do it as if he were your father—carefully, respectfully, circumspectly—with great humility because you’re seeking to honour him as you honour Christ.
‘Treat younger men as brothers’. Notice the character of our ministry to one another: you look up to your elders, but you never look down to your juniors. You treat your juniors as colleagues and peers and never as an inferior species. ‘Treat older women like mothers and younger men as sisters, with absolute purity’. Notice the last bit—in all purity. The girls don’t always understand the challenge that men have to keep themselves pure. And the younger women especially need to have absolute confidence in the ministers of the gospel—that they will not be using their position, their power, their authority for anything other than godliness. Christian ministers must never use their position for sexual satisfaction—absolute purity is required.
Young ladies: never let a pastor treat you with anything less than absolute purity. Young ladies: never let any man treat you with anything less than absolute purity. If a bloke doesn’t respect you, then have nothing to do with him and especially in Christian fellowship.
men and women are different in church (1 Cor 11:1–16)
Notice that 1 Tim 5:1–2, Paul says there are distinctions between men and women. Since Germaine Greer wrote her book, ‘The Female Eunuch’ (1970), our society has been in huge turmoil in regards the relationships between men and women. Greer argues in her book that men and women are the same and we should not treat them differently. She says that persons are persons and we should not treat men as men and women as women.
1 Tim 5:1-2 says that’s not true. You don’t treat a person as a person. You treat them as an elder or as a colleague—or you treat them as a male or a female—you treat them as a father or as a mother or as a sister or a brother—we do not treat each other just as ‘persons’. So in church we don’t have a bunch of persons—we have men and women in church. What does God say about the conduct of men and women in church? A hot topic for us these days is what the Bible says about women’s ministry. The Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about women’s ministry, but one place it does say something is in 1 Cor. 11:2–16. (Please turn to this chapter with me).
Mindful that this could be my last sermon—let’s see what the text is saying to us.
creational and redemptive aspects to the argument (1 Cor 11:8–9; Gal 3:28)
Firstly, what Paul says about the role of men and women in our meetings arises from the norms of creation. When Paul speaks about the differences between men and women his argument in 1 Cor 11 defers back to the pattern of creation. So look at verses 8 and 9, ‘For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man’. This brings to mind the creation of men and women in Genesis 2 where woman is created from man—the man names the woman—for Adam no suitable helper is found. Both men and women are similar yet different—together we reflect the image of God and together we rule the world.
The pattern in creation is the pattern for humanity. There are differences in men and women—it arises from God’s creative purposes—and when we church together we honour God by living according to those patterns. Creation gives our lives purpose and direction which once we were unable to fulfil in our sin—but with our spiritual rebirth we can learn to live according to plan.
As an aside, I know Paul says in Galatians 3:28, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’. But Paul grounds this statement, not in the doctrine of creation, but in the doctrine of redemption. In other words, whether you’re a Jew or a Greek, whether you’re a slave or free, whether you’re Australian or South African—whether you’re male or female—the way you are saved is the same. Both male and female are saved through faith in Christ Jesus. Here there is no distinction: salvation for everyone is by faith in Christ alone.
And when we are saved by faith alone, we are freed live according to God’s purposes for creation. Since the creation sets the pattern, Paul is uncompromising here in 1 Cor. 11. In verse 2 he says that this is the way it should be—this is the tradition of the church. And then verse 16, ‘If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God’. Paul is saying this is the way it should be.
But ‘what’ is the way it should be? What is Paul saying and how does it apply to us?
the great thing about haircuts
The great thing about haircuts is that normally they allow you to tell the difference between a man and a women. When I was getting ready for church this morning, my hair was the last thing on my mind and it probably looks that way to you. Janette, on the other hand, spent a lot more time getting her hair right. It’s just a male/female thing. It’s a natural thing for men to have shorter hair and for women to have longer hair. It’s not a rule, it’s just the way it’s normally done. It was in Paul’s day and it is in our day. You can usually tell a man from a woman by the length of his hair.
Paul speaks about hair in 1 Cor 11 because it was a natural way of distinguishing between men and women in church. This is the principle: church is not full of ‘people’, it is full of men and women. There is no such thing as ‘unisex’ in our meetings —there are males and there are females. This is why Paul says in verse 14, ‘Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?’ When we meet together, we shouldn’t obliterate the differences between our maleness and our femaleness.
So when a woman in the Corinthian church participates in church—she must do so as a women. And when a man participates in church, he does so as a man. The relationship between men and women is no the same—it’s a difference arising from creation. It’s pointed out in verse 3, ‘Now I want you to realize, Paul says, ‘that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God’. In other words, the divine order is: God … Christ … man … women, or, God … Christ … husband … wife (the Greek is flexible). The husband is no more superior to his wife than God is superior to Christ. But as Christ chose to submit himself to his Father, so the wife should choose to submit herself to her husband.
With this distinction in mind, notice in verses 4 and 5 that Paul is speaking to the one who prays or the one prophesies in church. ‘Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head (because that’s the sign of being a woman). And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head (because that’s the sign of being a man)—it is just as though her head were shaved’. Paul is saying to the Corinthian church that women lead as women under the authority of men and men lead as men under the authority of Christ. The principle is that when I see a man down the front I must be able to recognise him as a man—and when I see a women down the front I must recognise her as a woman—there is no ‘unisex’ in church.
So what is God saying about men and women in church? Our brief exploration into 1 Cor. 11 suggests that Paul is quite prepared for women to pray and to prophesy with certain restrictions. The difficulty—and it is a real one—is reading this against Scripture such as 1 Cor. 14:34 where Paul says that ‘women should remain silent in the churches’—but note that this is in relation to inquiry about the meaning of prophesy. Importantly, the passage from Genesis 2 does not silence a woman any circumstances, but says that because man was made first and woman was made for man, a pattern has been laid down regarding the roles the two play—and submission might at the appropriate time require silence.
In this series on church—I wanted to raise the issue of women in church—for no other reason than I love my wife and I want her to enjoy her full ministry potential within the bounds of God’s loving designs. This is a real issue that we should keep talking about—but only if the discussion proceeds with level headedness and a great deal of Christian maturity. Don Carson concludes that ‘there are some role distinctions between men and women to be observed, it is essential to recognize that this teaching is for our good, not for our enslavement’ (Showing the Spirit, 129).
Friends, in church and life, you need to embrace who God has created you to be. It’s part of the stupidity of us as humans that we want to be taller or shorter or thinner or have blue eyes or curly hair instead of short hair. We need to accept our sexuality and who we are. For example, not everyone can be as good looking as I am. I am the perfect example of Mark Armstrong—I’m not the perfect example of man but I am the perfect example of me. If God had wanted me smarter he would have made me smarter—if he wanted me taller he would had made me taller.
God has made you the way he has made you and we should be happy with this because God has made you who I are. Leaning contentment with self comes by accepting God’s creation of you. You are the perfect you—warts and all—and rejoice in it—be glad in it. You are who God created you to be in Christ. So let us rejoice in this as we meet together for the sake of his wonderful name.