Where do we Worship? The Church Defined

Worship_0A few weeks ago I visited Cairo to preach at St Michael’s and All Angels and to give some teaching on the reliability of the Bible.  It is a very special church family. Their building hosts several congregations including an Egyptian community, two separate expat church families (one Anglican and one non conformist) and two Sudanese congregations one all age and one in their teens and twenties. To accommodate everyone in their heart language, they hold numerous mid-week and weekend services in English, Arabic and Sudanese. The music ranges from the exuberant and informal African, via Egyptian Arabic music to the more laid back Anglican Hymns Ancient and Modern.  And the Anglican priest is called Jos who just happens to be a fluent Arabic speaking Dutchman. Cosmopolitan, international, multi-ethnic.

Not that dissimilar to the picture of the international church of Jesus Christ, the Bride of Christ we find described in Peter’s first epistle. In 1 Peter 2:1-10 we discover how God would have us live in community. We were designed to live in community – to know and be known, to love and be loved, to serve and be served, to celebrate and be celebrated. Peter uses four vivid pictures to describe our relationship to one another in the Church.

  1. We Are Children in God’s Family

“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:1-3)

What is the ‘therefore’ therefore?

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22)

Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. When we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, we are born again into a worldwide family.  Peter uses two words for love: philadelphia, means family love, and agape, which is divine love. This is the hallmark of authentic church community and the answer to surviving rejection at home, hostility in society and opposition at work.

A Sacrificial Love
In community we share and experience God’s unconditional sacrificial love for one another.
It is the evidence that we truly have been born of God (1 John 4:7-21).

A Sincere Love
Not only is this love a sacrificial love, it is also a sincere love. This is love “with a pure heart.” Our motive is not to get but to give. The self-help manuals teach you how to manipulate others to get what you want. If our love is sincere and from a pure heart, we can never “use people” for our own advantage.

A Striving Love
The word ‘deeply’ is an athletic word. It means “striving with all of one’s energy.” Do you strive with all your energy to love? With some people you need to more than others. Usually those we are closest to or care about the most. When tempted not to, remember God forgives us, so we forgive others. God is kind to us, so we are kind to others. God’s love is outrageously indiscriminate, it is wildly infectious, it is passionate for the lost.  What about your love? Rick Warren says, “Love should be your top priority, primary objective and greatest ambition. Love is not a good part of your life, it’s the most important part.” “Let love be your greatest aim.” (1 Corinthians 14:1).

He goes on to say “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” This is therefore the first and most important habit to develop if you want to be a highly effective Christian. How do we develop this habit?

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2)

A healthy Christian will have an appetite for God’s Word just like a hungry new born baby! We should want the pure Word, plan and simple, unadulterated, because this alone can help us grow. If you have children you will know why sometimes it is hard to get them to eat healthy food. Sometimes children have no appetite because they have been eating junk food. Peter warned his readers to “lay aside” junk food that hinders healthy growth. Peter lists the 5 habits of destructive people. “Malice” means meditating on destructive thoughts for another. “Deceit” is craftiness, using devious words and actions to get what we want. If we are guilty of malice and deceit, we will try to hide it; and this results in “hypocrisy”. Pretending to be what you are not. Often malice and deceit are due to “envy” – wanting what others have got, and one result of envy is “slander”, conversation that tears people down.

If you want to avoid these habits of highly destructive people feed daily on the pure word of God daily. Love as Christ loves us – sacrificially, sincerely, deeply from the heart. We are children in God’s family so let us love deeply by feeding on God’s word daily.

  1. We Are Stones in God’s House

“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to him—  you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  For in Scripture it says: See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.” (1 Peter 2:4-8)

The bible describes the church not only as a family but also as a building.  Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of the church (Eph. 2:20), binding the building together. Whether we agree with each other or not, we belong to each other as living stones in God’s building. The first time Jesus described the church he compared it to a building.

“I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18). We are ‘living stones’ in His building. Whenever someone trusts Christ, another stone is quarried out of the pit of sin and cemented by grace into His building. At times the church may look like a demolition site, but its actually a construction site. It is not perfect because it is not finished. God is supervising the construction of his Church and nothing will get in his way.  What a privilege to help build his church in which God dwells by his Spirit. How important therefore that we cooperate with him, and one another, in its construction. This is not ‘my’ church. Its not ‘your’ church but his church.

Peter wrote this letter to believers living in five different provinces, yet he said that they all belonged to one “spiritual house.” There is a unity of God’s people that transcends race or denomination. That’s why we aspire to be the international community church of Virginia Water and beyond. We come from many different denominations and with our roots in the Anglican church, we are a family and a building under construction. That is why we have a mission statement – “knowing Jesus and making Jesus known.” That is why recently launched our new 2020 vision and a 5 year plan.  Our responsibility is to help one another find our place in the Body of Christ. To discover our spiritual gifts and natural talents and use them to build up and extend Christ’s church in Virginia Water – this is our spiritual act of worship. We are children in God’s family so lets love deeply.  We are stones in God’s house so lets build up one another constructively.

  1. We Are Priests in God’s Temple

“like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5)

In his letter to the Romans, Paul uses Temple language to describe how we are to offer, not a dead animal sacrifice but our bodies as living sacrifices as our act of worship (Romans 12:1-2). Peter does the same thing describing the Church using Hebrew imagery associated with the Temple (Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16). Christians are, he says, being made into the new house for God, in which Jesus is the ‘precious cornerstone’.  So the Temple in Jerusalem was only intended to be a temporary building.

It was a shadow pointing to the day when God would dwell with people of all nations through Jesus Christ.

The image of the Temple is invested with new meaning. In the New Covenant, which has made the first obsolete, we are literally a “holy priesthood” and a “royal priesthood.” In the Old Testament God’s people had a priesthood; but today in the New Testament God’s people are a priesthood – the priesthood of all believers. That is why I am uncomfortable being distinguished as a priest.

Pastor teacher better describes my role as a priest. Which function best describes your role as a priest?  We each have direct access to the presence of God through Jesus (Heb. 10:19-25). We do not need a human mediator or priest to do so. Instead we are mediators for those still outside the church.  We bring them to God in prayer.

We bring God to them in word and deed. In the Old Testament priests served in the Temple. This building is not the equivalent. Most of the time we will serve as priests outside this building. And when we meet together, we make the temple of God visible. Peter specifically mentions the privilege of offering “spiritual sacrifices.”

We don’t bring animal sacrifices as did the Old Testament worshipers; but we do have our own sacrifices to present to God. We give our bodies to Him as living sacrifices.
We are children in God’s family so lets love deeply.
We are stones in God’s house so lets build constructively.
We are priests in God’s temple so lets serve sacrificially.

  1. We Are Citizens in God’s Nation

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)

God chose Abraham and promised,

“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you…” (Genesis 17:4-7)

All the promises made to Abraham were fulfilled through Jesus and His family, His Church.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.” (Ephesians 2:19)

Peter says the same. Just as God’s people in the Old Testament were called his ‘chosen people’ so are we in the New.  Indeed Peter insists “you are the people of God”.  So in continuity with our Old Testament brothers and sisters, God’s people today are His chosen and holy nation. The Old Testament is our genealogy, our family history.

“Let no foreigners who have bound themselves to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people… And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The Sovereign LORD declares— he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.” (Isaiah 56:3, 6-8)

So, of our Hebrew brothers and sisters, Hebrews writes,

“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.  God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:39-40)

Together, Jews and Gentiles in Jesus, we are a holy nation. What is our purpose? As God’s family, as God’s house, as God’s temple, as God’s nation?

“that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

The verb means “to tell out”, or “to advertise.” Notice the word Peter uses for the way we advertise Jesus. “Praise”. We equate praise with church services. Peter equates it with evangelism. When you love someone deeply it shows. You cant stop telling others what they mean to you. Our enthusiasm to share the love of Jesus will be in proportion to our gratefulness for the love he has shown us.  Four beautiful pictures of the Church.  We are children in God’s family so lets love deeply. We are stones in God’s House so lets build constructively. We are priests in God’s Temple so lets serve sacrificially.  We are citizens in God’s Nation so lets become infectious through praise. This is what community is all about. This is what worship is all about. This is why the good news of Jesus is so infectious when lived out in community. To love and be loved. To know and be known.  To serve and be served.  To celebrate and be celebrated.  Lets pray together.

 

I am most grateful to Warren Wersbie’s “Be Hopeful” (Scripture Press) for the outline and some of the content and also to Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life” (Zondervan) for some of the ideas and questions found in this sermon.

 

 

 

 

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