A Gracious Gift
Whenever you think about the local church, what comes to your mind? Perhaps you think of the body of believers as an encouragement in the Lord. Maybe you consider the wonder that we as Christians are given the privilege to gather together in praise and worship unto God. Then again, your mind might immediately consider the fellowship of the saints and the close-knit bond between believers. All of these things are good, true, and most certainly they are beautiful realities given by God. Yet, I want to emphasize one aspect of the local church we perhaps might often forget to consider. It is the reality that it is a gift from God to His people.
What you believe about will dictate your expectations about that area and thus ultimately impact how you live practically in that realm. If we view the local church as something fortunate enough to have us as a member, then we will behave in an entitled fashion amongst the brethren. We will be prompted to pride being prone to desire everything in our own way, thus constantly striving for our own agenda. In a similar vein, if we believe the local church exists to serve our plan, then we will be disappointed when we do not get our way. Since we have failed to realize that our plan is not always in alignment with Christ’s plan, and that we must submit to Him as the One with perfect wisdom, then we will be walking in frustration because He is not conducting His church according to our agenda. However, viewing the church as a grace gift from Christ for His glory and our eternal good as His people changes our perspective. No longer are we walking with an attitude of entitlement, but one of humble service. We do not view our brethren as tools to be used to achieve our purposes, but as a spiritual family to be loved and encouraged each and every day. Even more, we realize it is a privilege, one we do not deserve, given to us by God to be a part of His church.
The Biblical Basis
Clearly, we want to be biblical in how we view everything which most certainly includes the local church. Consequently, we must ask the question, is there a biblical precedent for viewing the church as a gift of God’s grace? First of all, the foundational principle that the church is a grace gift comes from understanding the nature of the true church. One is only made a member of the true church through salvation in Christ. Ephesians 4:15-16 says:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. -Ephesians 4:15-16
Notice the reality that the congregation whom Paul addresses is connected to Christ. Everyone is called to grow up in the Lord from whom the whole body is joined together. How are you joined to Christ? The entirety of the Bible says it is through faith, it is by being given salvation through Him. Being connected to Christ is a grace-gift, no doubt, and we are united together as believers because we are in Christ which shows the fellowship we share is a gift of grace. What was the basis for the generosity of the early church? It was because they shared in the same spiritual blessings with one another and should seek to share physical blessings with each other as needed out of hearts full of generosity (Romans 16:27). In other words, they realized they had been given the same grace gifts from Christ as their fellow brethren and should therefore serve each other out of the abundance of grace they shared. The very nature of the church, being united by grace shows our fellowship with one another in Christ is a gift of grace. Undoubtedly, the church exists for God’s glory founded by His grace and is a gift for the individual believer. The author of Hebrews plainly said, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:25).” God’s gift of the local church is so profound that we as believers are admonished to it for the encouragement of one another in Christ. All of these texts together, and frankly the entire New Testament, demonstrate plainly that the local church is a gift. But, what actual impact does that have upon us as believers?
The Attitude of The Heart
Whenever we are left in a position of realizing that we do not deserve the position and blessings we have in Christ the impact should be to change our attitude from pride to humility. Once we comprehend we exist for Christ’s glory, then we should seek to lay our will aside and live for His. The moment we comprehend that our involvement in the local church is not about us, but about the glory of God and the service of others, then we must seek to love greater, serve more passionately, and live with more humility each day. The local church is a gift. Many believers who are imprisoned around the world do not have the blessing we do of fellowshipping with the saints freely each week. Not only the reality that we are numbered amongst the saints, but also simply the fact Christ gives us the ability to meet with them should astound us. We must seek to live out what Paul commanded of the church in Philippi:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” -Philippians 2:3-7
Dear Christian, may we never fall prey to the temptation of thinking that we own the local church. Let us never slip into the idea of thinking we are entitled to be there or somehow “run the show.” Christ’s church is not our possession, we are His own possession purchased by His blood. It is not a show to be run according to our flesh, but a divinely ordained institution for God’s glory. May we bask in awe at the fact we get to be part of something this grand. Seminaries, book publishers, great preachers, all shall die and pass away. Yet, it is the church of Christ that shall march forward from generation to generation. May we never get over the privilege and gift that is the local church! More than that, may we never forget the greatness of the God who binds us together in Himself as believers!