Bowing to Baal

“No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning. Do you realise what the Scriptures say about this? Elijah the prophet complained to God about the people of Israel and said, “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” And do you remember God’s reply? He said, “No, I have 7,000 others who have never bowed down to Baal!””
Romans 11:2-4 NLT

We look around in our churches and see so many empty pews. We wonder too about the increasing ages of the congregants and the sad message that another dear friend has passed on, reducing the numbers even more. And news of churches in our towns and communities closing down seems to add to the feeling that perhaps we are living in what has come to be called “post-Christian” age. Elijah must have felt much the same. We read his story in 1 Kings 19, where he, depressed and weary, traveled to Mount Sinai to meet with God. We read in 1 Kings 19:9-10, “There he came to a cave, where he spent the night. But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too””. The story continues, with God passing by on the mountain. After the wind, earthquake and fire, Elijah heard the “sound of a gentle whisper”. 1 Kings 19:13-14, “When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied again, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”” 

Elijah thought he was the sole remnant of faithfulness, in a nation of unfaithful people. But God knew differently. In 1 Kings 19:18, after some practical instructions, God said to Elijah, “Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!”” We need never underestimate God’s amazing plans and promises. The church, since the first century, has experienced seasons where its very survival seems in doubt. But before we know it, another visitation of the Holy Spirit brings a revival, a new awakening, to the people and excitement grips the church once again. In the doom and gloom of waning churches in the West of Fife, in Scotland where I live, news filters in of a different experience elsewhere in the UK. We hear about churches in London packed with young people and growing. Holy Trinity Brompton (of Alpha fame) planted 21 new churches in 2021, with more following in 2022. A church in Birmingham has grown by 30% since the pre-pandemic days, again powered by an influx of young people. 

A minister of a lively and growing East London church was recently reported as saying the following, “Traditional Judeo-Christian values of compassion, personal responsibility and loving thy neighbour resonate with cause-driven Gen Z-ers. ‘It’s quite cool to do something that’s counter-cultural,’ he says, arguing that Gen Z-ers don’t want ‘big organised religion, flexing its muscles’. They have ‘an allergy to the wrong kind of power’. … ‘The tide has felt for a long time in this country like it’s going out, but what I feel – and I might be wrong, and we’ll know in 100 years’ time – is our feet are starting to get wet again.’”

In the light of such encouraging news, we remember that Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16:18, “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” Jesus never told lies. He promised a church that would never be destroyed. So, we pilgrims set our faces firmly in the direction of Heaven, assured and confident that God will never reject His people or allow His church to die.

Thank You, Lord, for Your faithfulness. Your Church will never die. Amen.

The Bride

“Then one of the seven angels who held the seven bowls containing the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come with me! I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
Revelation‬ ‭21:9‬ ‭NLT

If someone invited us to go and see a bride what would we expect to see? A beautiful young woman dressed in an expensive white dress? Hair beautiful coiffured? Makeup expertly applied? Nails perfect? An excited smile on her face? Yes, all of these things would apply. But if we were asked to describe the “wife of the Lamb”, what would we expect to see?

The Scriptures describe the Bride being readied for Christ. Ephesians 5:25-27 reads, “For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.” So we see that the Bride of Christ is the Church, made up of Christians, those who have become His followers through His saving sacrifice at Calvary.

But when we look at the Church of today, do we see a perfect representation of a Bride, in all her glory, in all her beauty? “Without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish”. Sadly, there would appear to be much in the Church of today that falls far short of the “glorious church” that Paul wrote about. But there are two things worthy of thought. 

In Matthew 25, Jesus told a parable about sheep and goats. The sheep represent those who were saved and redeemed through their relationship with Jesus, and they demonstrated their salvation through the way they treated those around them. On the other hand, the goats represent those who did not have a relationship with Jesus, but even though they may, or may not, have performed charitable and helpful acts to others, that was of no consequence to their status before the “Great White Throne” of judgement. So the sheep and goats template, when overlaid on today’s Church, might have some surprising results.

The other thing that church leaders fret about is church unity. Ecumenism is important when it is represented by different churches with the same fundamental beliefs in God and the infallibility of Scripture. Sadly, there are some denominations that claim a right to be part of the ecumenical movement, but who deny some of the “red-lines” laid down in Scripture. Thankfully, the washing “by the cleansing of God’s word” will make the Bride of Christ “holy and clean”.

In the end, what denomination we belong to is less important than the relationship we individually and corporately have with God. Jesus said in John 10:16, “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd”. Perhaps He was leaving the door open for His ultimate Bride, the Church, to have many representations, enriching her personality. It won’t matter whether we are Anglicans, Baptists, Charismatics or any other denomination – the ground at the foot of the Cross is level with all repentant sinners eligible for salvation. Eligible to be part of the “wife of the Lamb”.

Dear Lord. We thank You for Calvary and Your sacrifice for our sins. Your praises are always on our lips. Amen.

The Woman Fled

“She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days.”
Revelation‬ ‭12:5-6 NLT

After the woman gave birth, and found that her child was safe, she did a runner, and ended up in the wilderness. To make any sense from this we have to be clear about who the woman was or who she represents. We considered yesterday that the woman could have been the Jewish nation, giving birth to their Messiah, Jesus. Or another possibility is that the woman represents the Church, giving birth to the rule and reign on Christ in His Kingdom. Or perhaps there is a combination of both possibilities.

But two truths do clearly emerge from these verses. Firstly, God took exceptional steps to make sure the child and his mother were protected. Secondly, the woman was important enough to Him that He cared for her, to the extent that the devil couldn’t touch her. We also have to consider that this could all have taken place over a significant period of time. Perhaps John’s vision provided a summary, condensed into a short video clip.

If we extrapolate and superimpose these events onto history, we find that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in Heaven. We read in Mark 16:19, “When the Lord Jesus had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honour at God’s right hand.” Secondly, we know that we Christians are living in a time of God’s grace. He cares for each one of us, loving us, helping us, healing our hurts and diseases, talking with us. And, perhaps more controversially for some, He is caring for His own people, the Jewish nation. In spite of pogroms, persecution, wars, natural events, and even the Holocaust, His people are still a nation, living in their own lands once again in Palestine. 

How much God cares for us can be found in the illustration, the parable, that Jesus taught in Luke 15. We read in verse 20, “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” God not only provides and cares for us in a passive way, but He also more aggressively runs after us. He even encourages us to approach Him in times of stress. We read in 1 Peter 5:7, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” So we are living in a time of extraordinary love and grace, coming from our Heavenly Father. All we have to do is to take a small step towards Him. He’s looking our for us!

The “1,260 days”, three and a half years, is therefore a problem, if we take these verses literally.  Perhaps a time of seven years can be considered a representation of a very long time so half of that period might relate to what Jesus said in Matthew 24:22, “In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.” But I don’t know the relevance of “1,260 days”, and if it relates to this season of God’s grace in which we are living. We will find out one day, I’m sure. However, one thing I do know is that while God is close to us and listening, we have an opportunity to grasp His grace with both hands. The time for our salvation is close. We read in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2, “As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvellous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.” Perhaps we are in the caring place God provided for us in the wilderness of sinful humanity.

Dear Heavenly Father. We are so deeply grateful for Your care and provision in this sinful wilderness of life on Planet Earth. Please forgive us for the times when we have rejected Your care and tried to go our own ways. Your care covers us like a blanket, like the way a mother hen covers her chicks with her wings. Thank You Lord, Amen.

Time for Giving Birth

“Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labour pains and the agony of giving birth.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭12:1-2 NLT

John’s writings about his vision continued. He saw, witnessed even, “an event of great significance”. And he proceeded to describe what he saw. His vision of the woman must have been delivered to him with some considerable help. Otherwise how would he have known that she was wearing the sun, was standing on the moon, had a crown of twelve stars and was pregnant. Heavily pregnant, probably, because she was in the final stages of labour. And he knew he was about to witness something special.

The second sentence of today’s verses describes what the woman looked like, and we have to look back into Scripture to find out what the sun, moon and stars refer to. Taking the woman’s clothing, probably a cloak, it was described as being made of the “sun”. A mystery perhaps, until we find that in Malachi 4:2 Malachi prophesied, “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.” In the context of the chapter in Malachi, he was referring to the event in the End Times when the day of God’s judgement arrives. We read also in the same chapter in Malachi, “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives.” (Malachi 4:5). This fits in well with the context in John’s Revelation, having just read the previous chapter and heard that the blowing of the seventh trumpet preceded the establishment of God’s Kingdom. We remember that the elders’ prayer included the statement “but now the time of your wrath has come. It is time to judge the dead”. So straight away we get the picture that being clothed in the Sun can mean nothing else other than being clothed in Jesus, the Christ, Himself. There is also a connection between Jesus’ righteousness and clothing. For Job said, “Everything I did was honest. Righteousness covered me like a robe, and I wore justice like a turban”. (Job 29:14).

In our verses today, we see that the woman is standing on the moon. At least we are told that it is beneath her feet. This is enough to see that in this context, the moon was something inferior, something beneath where the woman was at. Perhaps we could consider the moon as being her footstool. It may be another way of pointing out that God’s enemies are beneath His feet. We read in Psalm 110:1, “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honour at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.” 

What are the crown of twelve stars that the woman in wearing? Again, we consider the number twelve, which refers to two important groups in the Bible. The twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles. In this context, the twelve stars possibly means that the “woman” represents the Messiah’s Jewish roots and His subsequent extended family, the Church, founded by the Apostles. So the woman was cloaked in God’s righteousness, with her enemies her footstool, and she was wearing ID on her head, defining the roots of her very being. John’s Revelation seems to support the view that the End Times are very much connected to Christ’s Church, so we’ll take the perspective that the baby to come refers to events yet to happen. And the Jews and Gentiles will one day be united into Jesus’ wonderful Bride, the Church.

So the question now is, what is the gestation period of Jesus’ Church? Two thousand years or so have passed already, more if we include the Jewish years before the birth of Jesus. But the pregnancy has been difficult. Our enemy, the devil, has done his utmost to destroy the church. But the pregnancy has continued regardless. Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16:18, “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it“. If Jesus said it than it will happen. There is no power available to the devil that can destroy His Church. But he keeps trying, which is why we pilgrims have to be constantly on our guards. We cannot relax, even for a minute. Note if the twelve stars that formed the woman’s crown were the Apostles, Peter was one of them.

In John’s vision, the woman is about to give birth. The gestation period is over. Labour pains are increasing, and the woman is experiencing the agony of child birth. John’s vision is clear and concise. The only thing missing from it is the “when”. And that is something we pilgrims pray about, that we too will be birthed as part of Jesus’ Church, when the time comes.

Dear Lord Jesus. We thank You that You said that You will build Your Church. Nothing will frustrate Your plans and purposes. We praise and worship You today. Amen.

The Body

“He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“For His “body” has been formed in His image and is closely joined together and constantly connected as one. And every member has been given divine gifts to contribute to the growth of all; and as these gifts operate effectively throughout the whole body, we are built up and made perfect in love.”
Ephesians‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭TPT‬‬

Paul continues with his analogy of a human body, using it to demonstrate how a spiritual body is supposed to work. It’s an analogy that is easy to follow because we are each intimately acquainted with our own bodies. Just looking at our hands, we see the various component parts all joined together, the fingers and joints, the skin, the tendons, the nails, each having a function as God designed them. We also know that when our hands don’t work properly, perhaps through diseases such as arthritis, or after an injury, all our whole bodily functions can be impacted. One of the amazing things about our human bodies is their ability, at least to a certain extent, to repair themselves. So if we cut a finger, it will heal itself after a few days. 

Paul used this analogy to describe how our church bodies should function. A church consists of people. Different ages. Men and women, boys and girls. Different gifts and abilities. So we might have medical professionals, carpenters and others who work with their hands, office workers, retirees, stay-at-home mums, and so on. And in Paul’s analogy, each part of the church, the “body”, helps other parts of the body to function well. Helping it to grow, “so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love”. And then the analogy continues because this body connects with other bodies around them, becoming the Bride of Christ, the Church.

But – there’s always a “but” – what about churches that only have a handful of members? Or what about Christians who are not part of a church? I believe we have to face the reality that many churches are not functioning as they should. Some churches have just a few elderly people, congregations getting smaller every year as individual members die. And I know several Christians who have become disillusioned with their local church and who have left, cutting themselves off from the life that comes from being a part of a church. And not just for them – leaving a church might mean that those left behind are deprived of a “gift”, making the growth of the church that bit more difficult. Sadly for them, Christians who are not plugged into a church tend to wither and die spiritually, abandoning their faith. And even more sadly, churches have become places shunned by people in our societies; just a place to visit on the occasion of weddings or funerals, or perhaps when there is a special service such as at Christmas. A place of no relevance, though, in their day to day lives. 

So how does all this impact the Christian pilgrim, on his or her journey. Straight away, we have to realise that we are not the only ones on our spiritual journeys through life. We must find, and become part of, a fellowship of believers, fellow pilgrims like us. This is the place designed for Christians, where we can grow in our faith and function as we should. I can find no other way in the Bible. And we pilgrims march on together, stronger in our faith because of our love for each other.

In Revelation 19 we read about the Bride, the church, making herself ready for being joined in marriage to Jesus. A lovely picture of the perfect marriage. One day we will all be together in His presence. But also we will all have to individually stand before God to give an account of our lives. In our churches we can help each other. We grow together in love, just as God designed. But always remembering that we have a loving Heavenly Father, who cares for us, loves us and desires our highest good. We won’t find the perfect church, but we will find a place where “we are built up and made perfect in love”. Just as God designed.

The Gifts (2)

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:11-13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Who or what is an Apostle? One thing for sure – it is not a stone effigy located in a dusty corner in a church building somewhere. Or a memorial encased in a reliquary containing a piece of bone or cloth, reputed to have at one time come from one of the original Apostles that we read about in the New Testament. Somewhere in a drawer I have some “apostle spoons” – spoons with a figure engraved or cast into the handle – an apostle isn’t that either. The apostles Christ gave to the church are alive and well and walking amongst us Christian pilgrims. According to Mr Google, the definition of the word “apostle” is “someone who is sent out”. So perhaps an apostle is sent out for the purpose of planting a new church. Or as a missionary to another land. Perhaps an apostle is responsible for the spiritual oversight of a number of independent churches, being each pastor’s pastor. And according to our verse today, apostles are a gift to the church. 

Similarly, the word “pastor” refers to someone who is in overall charge of a body of believers, a church somewhere. In some denominations they are referred to as “ministers”. A pastor cares for his congregation, listens to their problems, offers advice, visits and prays for the sick. A pastor usually combines his caring role with that of a teacher, and is responsibility for weekly sermons or messages, and perhaps Bible studies. A pastor administers the other church requirements such as taking funerals, or officiating at weddings. He looks after his “flock”, a role Christ knew would be needed as He builds His church.

We also have the prophets. We perhaps have a mental picture of an elderly man, stooping over a staff, dressed in something that resembles a sack with holes, and with a beard reaching his waist. But this can’t be further from the truth. Prophets are people who have a gift of bringing a message from God to His people. They dispense God-truths. They bring guidance and correction. They often disturb the status quo and bring fresh spiritual insights. Some even can see into the future, warning of world or church events to come. Sadly the prophet is often resented or misunderstood, because he or she advocates change, disturbing people who would prefer to stay in a place of spiritual comfort. 

The evangelist. Another important role mentioned by Paul in this Epistle. An evangelist brings good news. He or she preaches the Gospel at every opportunity. But in this role to the church, they train and enthuse others to join them. As Christians, we all have our messages. Our testimonies. Our stories of all that God has done for us. Evangelists help and encourage us to share what we have with others.

So in these “gifts”, often called the “five-fold ministries”, we see a picture of why Christ gave such gifts to the church. Where would we be without the men and women who perform these roles? No doubt, an undisciplined group of people who would soon stray to a place of spiritual danger. We thank God for these people, grateful for their diligence in helping us “be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

But what do these “gifts” matter to us, in our pilgrimage through life? Surely, we might think, we could do just as well sat at home. Watching the God Channel or TBN. Looking up YouTube videos uploaded by famous preachers. Logging into Sunday church livestreams. We might even think that we don’t need input from such people, telling ourselves that we just need the Holy Spirit and our Bibles. It is true that there are Christians who try to live out their faith in this way. There are even Christians who have no choice, being imprisoned for being Christians in countries such as North Korea, without even a Bible. But none of this is God’s model for His church. If that wasn’t the case, Christ would not have needed to give these gifts to His church. In these verses there is the implicit message that God’s people were being equipped as a people together, a church or fellowship. 

There is a verse relevant to today’s theme in Hebrews 10:25. “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near”. Oh, by the way, we must be obedient to our “gifts”. It says in Hebrews 13:17 that we must, “Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow…”. Hmmm…

The Gifts (1)

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:11-13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This is an important part of Paul’s letter, both to his readers in Ephesus and to Christians today. The first thing is that Christ, through His love and concern for His followers, gave important “gifts” to resource His future Bride, the church. These “gifts” for the Ephesian church were Spirit-filled men who each had a specific job to do in building up the church. The job titles listed – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – dovetailed together to form a support and training function, not just a leadership structure, for the health and development of this body of believers. But these “gifts” are timeless. They were not just for the early Church but instead portrayed a model for all the churches that were to follow in the ages to come. And so we Christians, regardless of where we are in our spiritual pilgrimage, should prick up our spiritual ears. We should look out for these special people, who Christ, in His divine wisdom, could see would be required. And while we are looking around us, we should take careful note of verse 12. These five “gifts” – the men and women who were and are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – were not supposed to do the work of the church themselves while the punters sat in the pews. Their role was to train up the church members to do the work God was asking them to do. You see, we each have a role to play in building up the church, “the body of Christ”. We cannot abdicate our own responsibilities and expect the minister to do everything.

So what is our role in building up the church? It is the same for us today as it was for the Ephesian church all those years ago. We all have a job description, which involves outward-looking responsibilities for evangelism and making disciples (Matthew 28:19), and also involves being unified with our fellow believers and the Christian community as a whole, as we can see from several verses in this Epistle. We must spend time reading the Word and praying, for our own spiritual health. Spending time with our wonderful Heavenly Father, sharing and communicating. Enjoying His presence in our lives.

But why do we need these “gifts” of men and women, the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers? Paul suggested they are there for “equipping” and “building”. Their individual Holy Spirit – led giftings are necessary to train us well for our roles. These men and women are pilgrims with a specific calling. Men and women who are further down the road of life than us, and who have many things to share for our benefit. We’ll look at their particular roles on another day. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people by giving them the tools and training they need “to do His work”. Our responsibility is to gain, through them, maturity, measuring up to Christ’s standards.

It is sad that after two years of lockdowns and social restrictions, many churches, at least in the UK, have become much smaller, dwindling in membership. Some people in these congregations have become used to attending virtual meetings on-line, or have decided that they prefer to spend their Sabbaths doing something else. But we cannot be Christians in splendid isolation; Jesus’ plan was for His followers to meet together. “They worshipped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—” (Acts 2:46). Two key words here in this verse are “together” and “shared”. Through meeting together we encourage one another, but we can also enjoy the input from Christ’s “gifts”, training and helping us. Cheering us on as Christ’s representatives for the work of His service.

God in His love and wisdom gave gifts to the church. We need them to equip and encourage us in our spiritual pilgrimage. And as we do God’s work in this sad, sinful and war-torn world we bring our messages of hope to the hopeless, communicating Christ’s concern for the lost all the better because of His gifts. Worth a big “thank You, Jesus”?

Making Every Effort

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.
Ephesians‬ ‭4:3-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

If there is one feature of the world in which we live, it is a lack of unity. I’m not just talking about those of us who claim the title of “Christian” – more of that in a moment – but I’m mentioning the desperate condition of a lack of unity between nations, between people groups, between political parties, even in our own families. One thing our enemy, the devil, excels at is the art of inducing disunity. He will sow seeds of division at every opportunity. So before we know it, a husband and wife will find themselves arguing over the most trivial thing. Family members will stop speaking to each other for years, often over no more than a misunderstanding. Or at the other end of the scale a nation will go to war with another, for a reason not immediately clear, or lost in history. And even within a country, cultural and racial differences can seriously divide a nation. We live in a world where unity is a rare quality, a dream from a fantasy world.

Christians seem to be no different to anyone else when it comes to unity. Strife builds up within a church congregation over their liturgies. Over which hymns or songs are to be used. Over which version of the Bible is the most suitable. Even over, as in the case in a local church, how the chairs are put out – some want the chairs set out in rows, others in a more intimate semi-circular configuration. And all of that is before we start on the lack of unity between different denominations. Even in the early church, sectarianism had to be dealt with – we see a hint of this in Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 3. I wonder sometimes if God throws up His hands in horror at the behaviour of His children.

In our verse today, Paul wrote about the importance of unity. And he said we would have to work at it. Why?  Because we have no choice – Jesus is coming back one day for a holy and united Bride, the Church. Note the word “united”. That is because Jesus Christ is monogamous. He won’t be doing a Solomon, having so many wives that he almost lost count. The Bride is us. We are His unified Church, with everyone bound together in peace. This is our “glorious hope for the future”. Jesus said He will build His Church, and the “bricks” He uses will be us pilgrims, held together by peace.

So we make every effort to be unified and at peace with everyone. Not just when we feel like it. It may be hard work some days. Dealing with the sinful thoughts that rise up within us, not allowing them to be verbalised into disruption. Pride and other negative qualities can spring up within us like mushrooms and before we know it we’re involved in another schism. For today’s pilgrim, facing into another day on the road of life, making an effort to be at peace with those round us can be an insurmountable challenge. Particularly as many we meet, in our schools, workplaces, communities and families, won’t have the same desire. How many times have I thought that the person before me is “looking for a fight today”? We ask the grumpy amongst us, “did you get out of bed on the wrong side this morning?”. Sometimes we despair as we all lapse into an uneasy silence, peace an illusion, unity below the horizon of our expectations. But making an effort means loving the unlovely, issuing a kind word to the unkind, not answering back to a verbal tide of abuse, not reacting to a bad driver, allowing God to deal with unjust situations, and so on. Will it mean that we might find ourselves trodden on, or put down? Patronised or overlooked? Possibly. But as we “make every effort” God will do amazing things. Both in us and in others.

The Church and the Plan

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display His wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was His eternal plan, which He carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
 Ephesians 3:10-11 NLT

Perhaps in days past, verse 10 came to form the basis for the ornate and expensive buildings that today bear the name “church”. Wonderful created works such as St Paul’s Cathedral in London. My local abbey in Dunfermline dates back to the 12th Century, a beautiful building standing as a testimony to the builders. There are many examples of a previous age of religious building that are truly amazing in their expressions of beauty and value. Perhaps it was hoped that the impressive architecture would be an example of God’s wisdom, in the process reminding the “unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” of His plan. But it is clear from Scripture, that the “Church” is the people, not the building. We read in Colossians 1:18 that Jesus “is the head of the body, the church“.  Jesus isn’t the head of a building. 

So we Christians are the “Church”. And God’s purpose was to use us, not buildings, to show the inhabitants of the “heavenly places” His wisdom. Much is said in the Bible about the church, such as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”). Or the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2, “For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.”). And we all together, in unity, will one day be present at a marriage feast, as we read in Revelation 19:9,  “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God.’” Jesus even taught about it through a parable, which we can read in Matthew 22. 

Many books have been written about the Church, but what does all this mean for a 21st Century pilgrim like me? How does God’s purpose for His people affect me? Or involve me? Can I just gloss over this verse and continue to warm a pew every Sunday and live my life regardless? This is obviously a personal decision, one that needs to prayerfully be made in God’s presence. But if God has a plan for His Church then He has a plan for me, because I count myself as one of His people. Part of His global and eternal Church. And as we read today, I am part of His plan to display His wisdom not just to a sinful world, but also as a sign to the “unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places“. We who are His people pray together for access to this “wisdom in its rich variety” so that we can be worthy of our calling. And we do our bit for His purposes, fulfilling His plan, disseminating the Good News about “Christ Jesus Our Lord“.

The Church

“Now He is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made Him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is His body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with Himself.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭1:21-23‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Earlier in this first chapter of Ephesians we read that God had a plan. “And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.” (‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭1:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬). Now that the plan had come to fruition, Paul reaffirms the greatness of Christ, and His status as being the ultimate head of all things. Even head over our presidents or prime ministers. Jesus had, and still has, that authority. And He always will have for all eternity. God’s plan has been implemented through Him. Paul continues with the revelation that all this was because of the Church. But what is this church? A dictionary look up immediately defines churches as ornate and religious buildings, but the dictionary writers had obviously not read these verses. Paul is quite explicit – the Church is the Body of Christ. And Christ is the ultimate authority over everything for the benefit of the Church. 

As an aside, the devil is not the least bit concerned about church buildings. He knows that they are a wonderful device for soaking up the resources of God’s people, their time and their money, in building maintenance. Two congregations local to where I live are in a perilous state because they were very building focused and their church buildings have had to be abandoned because maintenance will cost money that they don’t have. Without a building they are, as Jesus said, “like sheep without a shepherd”

But back to the real Church – the Body of Christ. Romans 12:4-5 reads,  “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” The Body of Christ is composed exclusively of Christians. Not denominations, I should add. All those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour qualify for membership of the Body of Christ. Sadly, this opens a can of worms, because Christians are not good at accepting people in other denominations. The problem is summed up in this old song by the Christian singing group, the Imperials.

Well, you can call yourself a Baptist and not be born again,
A Presbyterian or a Methodist and still die in your sin.
You can even be Charismatic shout and dance and jump a pew.
But if you hate your brother you won’t be one of The Chosen Few.

We need to be careful about what we say about other Christians and other denominations. Whatever we are denominationally labelled matters nothing – the important thing is our relationships with God and each other. Another reason to be careful in what we say about other denominations is that all Christians form the Body of Christ. If we criticise Christians in other denominations, are we not criticising Christ Himself?

Moving on swiftly, we Christians are in a very blessed position. With Jesus as our Head, and us made “full and complete by Christ” we are unstoppable. Praise be to our wonderful God!