Why is the local church so important?
In Timothy 3:15 Paul gives us two reasons why.
The first reason is because of what it is.
Paul uses two phrases to describe the church in verse 15.
“I hope to come to you soon,” he says, “but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God.”
That’s the first.
The household of God, which is a picture.
The church is God’s home.
What is God’s home?
God’s home is the church.
In other words, the church is where God lives.
Which, maybe sounds funny to us, because of course we know God is everywhere. How does someone who is everywhere have a home? But even though that concept stretches our minds a little, it’s clear as we read the Bible, that in some way God does.
There is a place where God’s presence is experienced in a unique way.
Where God is uniquely present.
There is a place where God reveals Himself in a unique way. Where people can see His glory and not die. There is a place where His creatures can enjoy a loving, real and intimate relationship with Him.
And originally of course, that place was the Garden of Eden.
That was God’s design.
It was the place where man walked with God.
In the Garden of Eden man lived in the presence of God, which of course again is hard for us to grasp, because God is a spirit, and so how did they experience God’s presence?
I think most likely He must have appeared to Adam and Eve “as this shining, beautiful, brilliant kind of light, because that’s how we see Him appearing in other places in Scripture.”
But what’s important however they experienced it is that the Garden of Eden was all about man being right there in the presence of God.
Seeing and enjoying His glory.
Which of course is what made the fall so tragic.
Because when Adam sinned, he was cast out of this special place where he could see God’s glory and experience God’s special presence and fellowship.
And so were the rest of us.
We as people were cut off from really enjoying God’s glory. And to make that clear, an angel was put there at the entrance of the Garden of Eden with a sword, to keep them out.
Which illustrates the whole problem.
Which is that sinners can’t just enjoy the glory of God.
That as fallen people we can’t just come into God’s presence.
And as you read the rest of Old Testament, that’s actually what makes the story so exciting, because the whole rest of the Bible is basically about how God fixes the mess man made, and makes a way for broken fallen sinners to come into His presence and see and enjoy His glorious beauty once again.
How He makes a way for the earth to become the place He intended.
Where He can dwell in that special, unique, intimate way with people.
That’s is what is going on with Israel.
It’s not that long after the Fall that God chooses this one specific nation, Israel, and you remember how He rescues them from slavery and that whole rescue is really exciting to read, but it’s not actually the point, because the whole point of God rescuing Israel, was that He might dwell among them.
God rescued this nation Israel.
And He gave them all these promises and laws and sacrifices, so that He could actually live right there in the middle of them,
He wanted them to enjoy His glory.
He wanted to have a home among them.
Which initially we see happening with the tabernacle and then later we see happening in a more permanent form in this building we call the temple, and you know, He gives them this place as well, that’s described as kind of like a new Garden of Eden, with the whole goal, once again seeming to be, to use this nation to fill the earth with His glory.
It’s like He dwells among them.
And reveals His glory to them.
So that they will spread His glory so that the whole world can be filled with His presence.
And yet of course, you know, they don’t.
And I mean, this is what is so sad.
Because God keeps coming and showing His glory.
He walks with man in the Garden of Eden and shows him His glory.
And He dwells with Israel in the temple and shows them His glory in really awesome ways.
And yet even though God’s coming and showing people His glory, these same people keep exchanging His glory for created things.
For the worship of idols.
But what’s so awesome, is that as we read the Bible, we keep seeing that no matter how much man rebels against God, they can’t stop His plan to make Himself a home with His people.
That plan just keeps steadily advancing.
In fact, in case you are worried as you the end of the Old Testament, with all this failure, you can just flip to the end of the New, and you see where everything God’s doing in our salvation is heading.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will be with them as their God.”
This is the goal of the universe.
And it is awesome.
Because it’s God’s purposes fulfilled, God dwelling forever with His people, His people eternally enjoying His glory, but the thing is, knowing what you know about the failures of Adam and Israel, you might wonder how did He actually accomplish this?
And the answer of course is Jesus.
That’s what the New Testament reveals.
Instead of showing up in a Garden or showing up in a temple, God’s glory now takes human form.
God becomes man and dwells in this world manifesting His glory to make it possible for men to live with God again, enjoying His glorious presence, eternally.
That’s the purpose of the incarnation.
“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father.”
And yet, you know, what’s crazy, is that once again people rejected it. As we read the gospels, we see, they turn their back on God’s glory, and actually crucify Him. And yet of course, ultimately, we know again even this treasonous, terrible act doesn’t stop God from doing what He wants.
It only advances it.
Because, God uses Jesus death on the cross to get rid of the very obstacles that were keeping us from being able to see and enjoy His glory forever.
If you think back to the Garden of Eden and that angel.
There’s no way you are getting back into that Garden, enjoying the presence of God, without someone dying, and we see God becomes man, and dies, so that we can regain access to the special glorious presence of God.
Which we know, we are going to finally and fully enjoy, when Jesus returns.
That’s how the gospels end, with Jesus leaving, returning to heaven, and making a promise, that He’s going to come again.
Which I am saying is exciting, but maybe, leaves us wondering, you know, like, what about now?
And this is my whole point, in case you are wondering.
Because, if God came in the past and He walked with man and revealed His glory in a garden? And if later God descended in this cloud and filled a building with His glory and if in the future, God’s going to display glory, when Jesus returns, and comes and dwells with man, what about now?
Where’s His glory revealed?
Where does His special presence dwell?
And I am saying, or I guess, Paul’s saying, that is what makes the local church so important in God’s great plan.
Because, Paul says here, the church is God’s home.
In other words, the church is the place where we experience the presence of God in a special way, where God’s glory is put on display.
And I know, keep saying, place, the place where we experience the presence of God, but that’s maybe not exactly the best word for it.
In the Old Testament it maybe would have worked, because God’s glory was displayed in a place, a building and in a tent and in a garden.
“But right now, in this moment in salvation history, Paul’s saying, the glory of God is being displayed in a people…” which Paul describes here as the household of God.
In other words, His family.
And really, that’s the first reason why what we do and how we do as a local church is so important, it’s because of what we are, you need to know what’s going on here, because we are not simply some group that meets once a week, some organization that gets together and tries to accomplish some goals, when Paul describes us, the first phrase he uses, is the household of God.
We are the family of God.
And as God’s family, you might say, we are the ‘location’ of God’s special presence on earth. We are His base of operations in this world. We are one of the primary and ways God right now is revealing His glory, which obviously I think, should be enough, in terms of motivation, as to why the church is important, but as you look down at verse 15, you can see Paul doesn’t leave it at that.
Because, he continues.
With another phrase.
That’s a little like an exclamation point.
“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you, so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God.”
And while I am sure there is more here, I just wanted you to notice, two words in that description of the church, and the first is the word of.
We are the church of the living God.
Not simply the church about the living God.
I heard someone say something the other day that has really stood with me. He said, there are two ways to know someone.
One is to know information about them and the other is to know them personally.
Christianity is about having a personal relationship with God. The “Christian life is nothing less than fellowship with God.” It’s not that we simply gather together to learn more information about God, the church is a group of people who actually commune with God.
The church of God.
The church that belongs to God.
The church that exists in a certain relationship to God.
And here Paul stresses, the living God.
And oh, I wish we could really appreciate this! I am afraid this is something it is so easy for us to take for granted, and I think it is the cause of so many of the problems we have in the places that call themselves churches all around us.
I know there is a lot of talk about God and there is a lot of talk about how God can do things for you and I appreciate that, but I sometimes wonder, do they really appreciate this God they are talking about? I mean, we are reading through the Old Testament on Thursday nights, and as you read through the Old Testament, you can’t help but just be overwhelmed with the greatness, the majesty, the awesomeness of God.
He is the God who holds the universe in the palm of His hand. He is the God who makes the angels tremble. He is the God who sits on the throne of the Universe and does whatever He wants. He is the God who punishes sin.
Have you seen Him as He descends on Mount Sinai in fire, causing the very mountain to tremble?
Have you watched the way He responded in judgment when the people began worshiping those golden calves?
I was reading the book of Kings this week, and the book of 2 Kings begins with this story, where the king of Israel is sick, and he is so pagan, that he doesn’t even think to go to God for help, but instead he sends his messengers down to their enemies god to find out what’s going to happen, and Elijah, meets these messengers on the way. Elijah represents God, the word of God, and he tells the messengers to go back, and tell the king that he’s going to be judged, because he was acting as if there wasn’t a God in Israel. Is it because there no God in Israel that you are going to this pagan god, and of course, the king’s mad, and he sends out soldiers to go get Elijah, not to be nice, I am sure to punish him in some way, and when they get to Elijah, he’s on the top of the hill, and they think they are in charge of Elijah, and so they say, man of God, you come down, and Elijah says, you know what he says, he says, if I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you all.
Which is of course intense.
But, Elijah represents God, that’s the point, this king is acting as if he were in charge of God, if he were more important than God, and God’s like, I am no idol, I am the living God, fear me.
Don’t treat me like a little kitten, you can play with.
I am a lion.
And while we have so many reasons for hope and confidence as Christians, because we belong to this God, He is our God and we are His people, we are the church of God, we always have to remember what kind of God we are talking about, He is actually God, He is the living God, and so, while of course there’s no greater privilege, than being part of His community, enjoying real and intimate communion with Him, it’s also, very clearly a responsibility, because we are not just a group of people, gathering together to talk about some person who lived in the distant past.
We belong to God.
We are His.
He is present.
And I wonder if you have just stepped back and appreciated who this God we are constantly talking about, really is?
Because, this church is His.
And everything we are doing as a church is about Him.
We are not just a nice little group getting together.
And this is not just stuff we do to make our lives nicer.
We are not just performing certain religious rituals to somehow get ourselves certain blessings.
This is about a relationship with God.
Everything Jesus was doing, His death, His burial, His resurrection, all of that, was intended to enable us to come into the actual presence of God, and one of the big tests of whether or not we really are thinking straight as a church, is the way we think about this God, the attitude we have as we enter His presence, our reverence, and our godly fear, and our seriousness about what we are doing here, because our God, this God that we belong to is alive, and He is a consuming fire.
If we are going to appreciate why the local church is important, Paul is saying here in 1 Timothy 3:14 and 15, we have to begin by appreciating what the local church is: “It is the household of God, the church of the living God.”