Last week we began a conversation about the purpose of the church. With COVID-19 forcing us to make so many changes to how we do church and ministry over these last months, I think it’s important for us to remind ourselves why it is that the church exists.
We live in a rapidly changing world and it’s important that we be able to change and adapt how we do ministry to make sure that what we do is useful and effective – but at the same time, it’s even more important that we never lose sight of why we do that ministry in the first place.
In other words, our methods can change, but our mission must remain the same.
The purpose of the church never changes. The purpose of the church in Paul’s time is the same purpose of the church in our time. Of course, the activities of the those churches probably look very different – but their end goals are always exactly the same.
And so that’s what I want to look at for the next few weeks: What are the end goals of the church? Why do we exist? What is our purpose?
Because only when we understand our purpose can we effectively determine what activities will help us accomplish that purpose!
And so we started two weeks ago, first of all, by defining the church. Sometimes there is confusion even about that! What exactly is the church?
Well, we looked at three ways the Bible describes the church. First of all, it describes the church as a family – the family of God. The Bible teaches that from the moment we accept Christ as our Saviour, every believer is then adopted into God’s family. We read in Ephesians 1 that God loved us and chose to adopt us even before time began – and this gave him great pleasure! I always find it incredible to think that it filled God with joy to adopt me into his family. But that’s what the Bible says. We are adopted into His family and we are all now brothers and sisters in Christ.
So that’s one way that the Bible describes the church – as a family.
The second way that the Bible describes the church is as the body of Christ. Just like the human body has many different parts that all work together as one body – so it is with the body of Christ. We are all completely different from one another – we have different backgrounds, different ways of seeing the world, we have different interests and passions – different skills and abilities. And God has put us all together – united in Christ Jesus – to function together as one body. We are all necessary parts of God’s church.
So that’s the second way the Bible describes the church – as the body of Christ.
And then the third way the Bible describes the church is as an ekklesia. The New Testament was originally written in Greek – and in the Greek language, the word ‘ekklesia’ simply means “an assembly or gathering of people”. You could use that word to describe an angry mob or the crowd at a rock concert or any kind of gathering. But it’s that word “ekklesia” that gets translated in the Bible as ‘church’. So anytime you’re reading in the New Testament and you see the word ‘church’ – the original greek word that was written there is “ekklesia” – an assembly or gathering of people.
And of course, when he Bible talks about God’s ekklesia, it has a specific kind of gathering in mind – a gathering of God’s family – an assembly of the Body of Christ.
We read in Matthew 16:18 when Jesus said:
“On this rock I will build my church.”
Christ is building his ekklesia. He is assembling his family. He is putting together the body of Christ.
And so that’s kinda the idea that we’ve latched onto for this series.
Ekklesia – the assembly of God’s family. The church is not a building. It’s is not a charitable organization. Church not an event that we attend each Sunday morning. The church is the gathering of God’s family – it is the assembly of the body of Christ. And Christ is building His church – he’s adding more and more people to the family – adding more and more parts to the body.
But the big question still remains: Why? What is the purpose of this assembly? Why is God building His church? If God has put us together as one united body of Christ – what exactly does He want this body to do?
Well, that’s precisely the question that I want to address in these next few weeks.
So as I prepared for this message, I decided to look up the mission statements of some different churches. I wanted to see if there was a general consensus in our churches today as to why the church exists.
So I found a certain website that had a collection of mission statements from notable churches from around the world – its likely that you would recognize the names of some of these churches if you were to go through the list. But as I read through these different mission statements, I wasn’t sure that these mission statements fully encompassed what the church is all about. They had some good ideas – but I’m not sure they really zeroed in on the Biblical purpose of the church. Let me show you what I mean. For example, one church said…
- We exist to make Heaven more crowded
- To Reach Up, Reach Out, and Reach In
- We are the voice and the hand that encourages people to change their lives with hope, comfort, and peace
- To create a radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization
- To reach and influence the world by building a large Christ-centred, Bible-based church, changing mindsets and empowering people to lead and impact in every sphere of life
- We’re here to help people know God, find freedom, discover their purpose, and make a difference
Now I don’t know about you, but reading through that list of mission statements did not give me very much clarity on why the church exists! These mission statements are all so different, it’s hard to find the one over-arching theme that ties them all together.
And not to say that these churches have got it all wrong – these are all good things, but I think they fall short of fully explaining what the church is all about.
To be fair, I think we could say there are several purposes of the church actually – or at least there are several tasks of the church. There are many things that God wants to do through His church – and I think these mission statements touch on several of those. There are a number of tasks that God has given us. And we’re going to dig into some of those tasks a little later on.
But for today, I really want to focus on our main over-arching goal – our #1 purpose. While there are many things that God calls us to do – according to God’s Word, all of them need to be done for one singular purpose. So what is that purpose?
Well, let’s go back to Ephesians 1 again – That’s the passage that talks about how God loved us and chose us to be adopted into his family.
If you go down just a few verses later in that same chapter, we see the reason why. Take a look starting at Ephesians 1:12.
12 God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13 And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. Ephesians 1:12-14
Twice in these three verses, we are told that God’s purpose for our salvation is so that we would bring praise and glory to God. God’s purpose for the Jews was so that they would bring praise and glory to God. God’s purpose for the Gentiles (which is everyone else) is for the same purpose – to bring praise and glory to God.
And that purpose – to bring praise and glory to God – is the same continuing purpose of the church today. That’s the purpose of the Penhold Church of Hope.
- Our purpose is not to make disciples – our purpose is to bring glory to God by making disciples.
- Our purpose is not to share the Good News with our friends and neighbours – our purpose is to bring glory to God by sharing the Good News with our friends and neighbours.
- Our purpose is not to care for widows and orphans – our purpose is to bring glory to God by caring for widows and orphans.
Our purpose in everything we do is to bring glory to God. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:31….
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 10:31
Of course, this verse is aimed at each person individually, but it certainly extends to the church as a whole. Whatever we do, we are to do it for the glory of God. Romans 11:36 speaks to this as well. It says…
36 For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. Romans 11:36
Everything is intended for the glory of God. And as you read through the Scriptures, this theme repeatedly pops up. We exist for the glory of God.
As I was looking at those mission statements of those different churches, I did find one mission statement that said it well. This one church said…
This church exists by the grace of God, for the glory of God, which shall be the ultimate purpose in all its activities.
I think we could adopt that statement as our own. The Penhold Church of Hope – this assembly of God’s family here in Penhold – we exist by the grace of God, for the glory of God. And the glory of God shall be the ultimate purpose in all our activities.
- We want to bring glory to God in Sunday morning worship.
- We want to bring glory to God in our potlucks.
- We want to bring glory to God in our board meetings.
- We want to bring glory to God in our summer kids clubs.
- We want to bring glory to God in everything we do.
And maybe before we go any further, we should clarify – what does it mean to do things for the glory of God? That sounds like a very Christian thing to do – bringing glory to God – but what does that actually mean?
Well, I think there is a helpful verse in 1 Peter chapter 2, verse 9. It says this.
…for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9
This verse tells us that we are God’s chosen people – his royals priests, his holy nation, his very own possession – why? So that we can show others the goodness of God. The NIV says “that you may declare the praises” of God.
We are to display, we are to proclaim, we are to illustrate the goodness of God. That’s what it means to bring glory to God. God’s intent is that, through our lives, through our words, through our conduct as God’s church – other people see the goodness of God.
It’s an awesome responsibility.
The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ took on flesh and walked the earth for some 30 years. He was the fullness of God in a human body. The Bible also says that Jesus is now seated in heaven at the right hand of God – He’s no longer physically walking the earth to display the fullness of God to the world. But that’s why we are His body – we are his representatives. God’s intent for the church is that we carry on the task of displaying God’s goodness to the world. Just like how Jesus’ whole aim was to bring glory to His father, it is likewise our purpose to bring glory to God.
I was reading a sermon by David Platt this week – he is a pastor and council member of the Gospel Coalition. But he says this about the church:
“God is saying to the world, “Look at my church, and you will see my Son.” Now, that’s huge. “Look at the church, and you will see my Son.” God has wrapped up a lot in us. Sometimes I wonder why we are the means by which God is going to make His glory known, because we fall flat on our faces so many times, because we miss the boat, and after being reminded over and over and over again, just like we see the people in the Old Testament, we fall into the same traps they do. However, don’t miss it. That’s the beauty of this picture, because God in His grace takes the people that don’t deserve it and takes the people that are unworthy and takes the people that just can’t get it on their own and shows us His strength in our weakness, and He shows His glory and His grace in our difficulties.” ~ David Platt
And I thought that was really good. The church exists to display the glory of God – to display and proclaim the goodness of God. And He does that in and through our weaknesses, in our failings, in our sinfulness. When people can see the work that God has done in our lives, when they hear the stories of how He saves and transforms sinful men and women, God is greatly glorified!
Psalm 19 tells us
1 The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
2 Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
3 They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
4 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.
When people look up into the stars, they can see God’s amazing power and his sheer grandeur… God’s greatness is made evident… His glory is made known simply by us looking up into the night sky.
In a similar, but much greater way – the church also declares the glory of God. Not only do we verbally proclaim the goodness of God in our corporate worship together, but we also silently proclaim the goodness of God as others see God at work in and through us. When people look at the church, they should see God’s holiness, they should see God’s mercy, God’s love, God’s justice, God’s compassion, God’s patience, God’s forgiveness… All those incredible attributes of God and all the incredible acts of God should be made evident through us!
So as we think about the purpose of the church – both for our own lives individually and for us together as the local church here in Penhold – our purpose is to display and proclaim the glory of God. Everything we say and everything we do must be a testimony to the goodness of God!
- How we preach must be a testimony to the goodness of God.
- How we interact with each other must be a testimony to the goodness of God.
- How we reach out to our community must be a testimony to the goodness of God.
- How we make disciples must be a testimony to the goodness of God.
Because that is our purpose. That is why God has adopted us into His family. That is why Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sin and mine – so that we can be a testimony to the goodness of God.
God has given us the privilege of being the recipients of his glory – we are at the receiving end of all his goodness – how could we not proclaim and display that goodness to the people around us!?
- When people join our worship service, at the end, they should walk away saying “Wow, what an amazing God.”
- When people see how we care for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, they should walk away saying “Wow, what an amazing God!”
- When people see miraculous changes in people’s hearts as Christ works in them through the church – they should walk away saying, “Wow, what an amazing God.”
This morning, as I reflect on what God has done for me, how he has loved me from before time began, how – even though I’ve have sinned greatly against Him – how Jesus Christ died on a cross to save me and forgive me so that I can have eternal life – and then as I reflect on how God has walked with me every step of the way throughout my life – all I can say is “Wow, what an amazing God.” And I hope that when other people see my life, they say that too!
We read that the heavens declare the glory of God – I hope that my life can be at least as effective as those burning balls of gas in the night sky billions of miles away. I hope that my life – and I hope that this church – will also declare the glory of God.
Because that truly is our ultimate purpose.
I want to close today with this benediction from Ephesians 3:20… I don’t often close with benedictions – but I think this is completely fitting today. It says this:
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21