(This is the fifth lesson in the series, The Church and Discipleship. The previous lesson in this series will be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/the-church-is-empowered-by-the-spirit/)
The Church is a Creation of God
I. The Church is a Creation of God
A. 1 Thessalonians 1:1 (ESV)
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
1. Do you realize what an extraordinary thing has happened?
The greetings are addressed “to the church of (the) Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” No such address had ever been written or read before, for the community to which it was directed was a new thing in the world. The word translated “church ” was certainly familiar enough to all who knew Greek: it was the name given to the citizens of a Greek town assembled for public business; it is the name given in the Greek Bible either to the children of Israel as the congregation of Jehovah, or to any gathering of them for a special purpose; but here it obtains a new significance. The church of the Thessalonians is a church in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the common relation of its members to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ which constitutes them a church in the sense of the Apostle: in contradistinction from all other associations or societies, they form a Christian community. The Jews who met from Sabbath to Sabbath in the synagogue were a church; they were one in the acknowledgment of the Living God, and in their observance of His law; God, as revealed in the Old Testament and in the polity of Israel, was the element or atmosphere of their spiritual life. The citizens of Thessalonica, who met in the theatre to discuss their political interests, were a “church”; they were one in recognizing the same constitution and the same ends of civic life; it was in that constitution, in the pursuit of those ends, that they found the atmosphere in which they lived. Paul in this Epistle greets a community distinct from either of these. It is not civic, but religious; though religious, it is neither pagan nor Jewish; it is an original creation, new in its bond of union, in the law by which it lives, in the objects at which it aims; a church in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. How did such a thing come into existence?
2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 1 Thessalonians 1:2–5 (ESV)
a. What did they receive?
b. What accompanied the Word?
c. How did they experience Paul’s message?
d. Whom does Paul thank for the existence of the congregation?
B. 1 Thessalonians 1:6–10 (ESV)
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
1. What was the result of receiving the proclamation?
e. (v. 8)
f. (v. 9)
2. What now do they do? (v. 10)
C. 1 Peter 1:1–2 (ESV)
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
1. Peter is writing to multiple congregations in what is now Turkey.
2. Who determined that such congregations would exist?
3. Who is transforming the people who make up those congregations?
4. What is the purpose of these congregations?
D. 1 Peter 1:3–9 (ESV)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1. Whom does Peter first bless? (Think back to 1 Thessalonians 1:2).
2. What has God done (vv. 3-4)?
3. What is causing the believers to kept from the present time until they receive their inheritance?
a. What is the gift of God?
b. What does the believer do?
4. What will the believers experience in this world? (vv. 6-7)
5. What will the believers receive? (v. 7)
6. What do the believers do (v. 8).
7. What is the believer’s reward? (v. 9)
E. 1 Peter 1:10–12 (ESV)
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
1. What has been announced to the believers?
2. Who made the announcement to them?
3. Who has sent the message and worked through words which have been spoken?
F. 1 John 1:1–4 (ESV)
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
1. What marvel has come into the world (vv. 1-2)?
2. What has and does John do? (vv. 2-3).
3. What is the purpose of what John is writing? (vv. 3-4).
G. Some observations on the creation of a church congregation.
1. Who determines whether a congregation even exists?
2. What must happen for a congregation to exist?
a. What can human beings do (and not do)?
b. What must God do?
3. What are the results of a congregation coming into existence?
4. “[T]he church must acknowledge that is a contingent reality, dependent for its very existence on God. John Webster defends ‘the vital consideration that the church is not constituted by human intentions, activities and institutional structural forms, but on the action of the triune God, realized in Son and Spirit…Divine action is sheerly creative, uncaused, spontaneous, saving and effectual; human, churchly action is derivative, contingent and indicative’” (Allison, 120-121).
5. Even though human beings are acting in the existence of the church, the church exists by the will and action of God.
a. Revelation 2:1-7. The church at Ephesus (which had been blessed with Paul, Timothy and then the Apostle John) is warned, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev. 2:5). It seems the people had ceased to truly love God and neighbor, and thus become turned to the world:
For more on the Nicolaitans, see below under 2:12–17. Nevertheless, the church is faulted for “abandoning the love you had at first” (v 5). They are exhorted to remember their previous condition and with that in mind to repent and behave as they once did. If they fail to do so, Christ threatens to “come” to them (not in the Parousia but in an act of temporal judgment; see 2:16) and blot their community out of existence.These are enigmatic remarks, but they may point to the fact that second-generation Christians had developed a comfortable accommodation with the pagan world. John himself appears to be a separatist and intolerant of any other stance.
This command is accompanied by a serious warning of the consequences the church faced if it did not repent: I will … remove your lampstand. Although Christ has promised to build his church worldwide (Matt. 16:18), he guarantees permanence to no individual congregation. A loveless church is no longer truly a church, and Christ has the right to extinguish such a congregation. Tragically, the Ephesian church ultimately succumbed, and neither the city nor the church exists today.
b. Revelation 3:15-22, Laodicea: This congregation refused to be a witness to Christ and thus faced their rejection by Christ:
However, the above analysis has concluded that the particular “work” which is viewed as ineffective is that of their efforts to witness. The unbelievers of the city were receiving neither spiritual healing nor life because the church was not actively fulfilling its role of witnessing to the gospel of Christ. Two reasons suggest that the issue of witness was the specific concern: (1) this is the issue for which all of the other churches are either applauded or condemned, and it would be unusual that the Laodicean situation would be different from the others; (2) Christ introduces himself as the “faithful and true witness,” and since all of the self-descriptions of the other letters are uniquely suited and related to the situations of the particular churches, the same is likely the case here. If the Laodicean Christians will not own up to their identity with Christ, he will not acknowledge them at the judgment but will “spew them out.”
c. Although not a direct parallel the story of these churches mirrors the story of the Children of Israel coming into the Promised Land. Their strength rested solely in God; when they had failed to seek God, God left them to the world:
2 Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? 3 So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” 4 As soon as the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. 5 And they called the name of that place Bochim. And they sacrificed there to the LORD. Judges 2:1–5 (ESV)
Even though they were still engaging in some sort of apparently godly act, it meant little to nothing. The remainder of the book describes how little their “repentance” meant and how deeply they were shaped by their world.
From these actions it appears their repentance is genuine. They seem to acknowledge that they have fallen short of the covenant obligations and declare their devotion to Yahweh by cultic actions. But the reader will be disappointed to learn that this will be the last time in the book they respond this way. Subsequent events will prove how short-lived this revival was.
If God does not act in and through his people, not even their apparently correct religious actions will mean anything. God was leaving the Israelites to what they desired. By the end of Judges we will see that Israel looked no different than the Canaanites they had come to displace.
d. “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” Romans 11:22 (ESV).
It is not here ethical uprightness which the believer must exhibit and which is involved in the perseverance. The thought is that he must continue in the enjoyment of God’s goodness and is identical with Acts 13:43 where the devout are urged to “continue in the grace of God.” the implication, however, is that this continuance is conditioned upon the lowliness of mind and the stedfast faith upon which the accent falls in the preceding verses.
e. Objection: Matthew 16:18, “the gates of hell shall not prevail” against the Church:
This stability must not be meant of any particular church in the world. Particular churches have their beginnings, progresses and periods. Many church, as well as many persons, have apostatized from the faith; many candlesticks have been broken in pieces, and yet the candle not blown out but removed and set in another socket….There is no absolute promise given to any particular church that it shall be free from defection….It is not, indeed so fixed in one place but the cords may be taken up, the stakes removed, and the tents pitched in another ground. It is spread through the world wherever God will set up the light of his gospel.
II. The Humility of Being a Creature
A. Romans 1:18-25
1. Human beings have not been content to be creatures and thus rebel against their Creator, who is blessed forever.
2. It has been this way since the beginning. Genesis 3.
3. This state of trying to live independently of the Spirit’s work bringing us into union with Christ:
The characteristics of life in the flesh include self-absorption, self-reliance and indulgence, dependence upon outward ceremony and ritual instead of inner spiritual reality, and clinging to the shadow rather than to the fulfillment in Christ (Gal. 3:3, 5:19-21).
This is, in fact, but the breathing out of an atmosphere of spiritual pollution which has been earlier breathed in. The flesh is an entire world of existence. It stands alongside Adam and the present aeon as a fragmented world order….
Thus, life in the Spirit is not yet lived in the context of the final resurrected order…The Christian belongs to the community of the resurrected order, but lives in the context of the present order. Even new life in Christ, lived in the Spirit, has it context bodily and mental existence which has long been dominated by the flesh.
B. The trouble of the individual human being living life in the flesh can both infect a local church and destroy a local church. The same aspects which will destroy an individual human being and obscure any evidence of Christ can also show itself within a congregation:
3 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 1 Corin. 3:1–4 (ESV)
Paul plainly is not speaking solely of salvation or not: Has already referred to these people as “saints” (1 Cor. 1:2). And yet the trouble is no mere weakness. Godet explains, “The matter in question is no more a simple state of weakness which continues in spite of regeneration, but a course of conduct which attacks the new life and tells actively against it” (1 Corinthians, vol. 1, 168).
2. Galatia: While Corinth was destroying itself with over wickedness, Galatia was threatened with legalism. Both were set in the belief that a human being can live in some measure independently of God’s gracious love of the Spirit:
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:13–15 (ESV)
Paul defines such a manner of life in contrast to a life of “walking in the Spirit”.
C. Both an individual’s salvation and a congregation’s existence as a true church require one to live by faith and exhibit that faith in love. Galatians 3:1-3; 5:16-22; 1 Corinthians 13; James 2; 1 John 3. It is only in the active recognition of ourselves as dependent, both individually and collectively, that we truly express the faith we are called to express and exhibit the love we are called to exhibit.
1. The message we must proclaim is not our own. 2 Corinthians 4:5; 5:20.
2. The Spirit which works in us is a gift of God, received by faith. Galatians 3:2.
3. Our entire salvation, by grace through faith, is a gift. Ephesians 2:8
4. The love which we are required to exhibit both toward God and neighbor is a gift of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22.
5. “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” 1 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV)
D. Thus, what must we conclude?
1. The Church (universal and local) is a creature of God: God alone makes and sustains the true Church. Without the work of God, a congregation is just a club.
2. A church, like an individual, must walk in the Spirit.
3. This requires faithful and humble submission to God’s Word: “All the Christian’s strength and comfort is fetched without doors, and he hath none to send of his errand but faith; this goes to heaven and knocks God up, as he in the parable his neighbor at midnight for bread” (William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armor).
4. This will result the exhibition of the fruit of the Spirit.
5. All the things which we desire in a church, fellowship, praise, mutual exhortation and encouragement, worship, proclamation to the loss: all of the elements of discipleship and its effects are gifts of the Spirit and come from walking in the Spirit. Another way to understand this is all that we desire and must exhibit personally and collectively come from union with Christ.
III. The Humility of the Church is Her Glory
A. The Church has no true spiritual strength in herself; her existence, her sustenance and her strength come from the Holy Spirit supplying the Church with the graces of Christ.
B. This is a joy, because in Christ are all spiritual blessings. Ephesians 1:3-4.
C. God exhibits his power in our weakness.
1. 2 Corinthians 1:3-11.
2. 2 Corinthians 2:14.
3. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18.
4. 2 Corinthians 4.
5. 2 Corinthians 5:1
6. 2 Corinthians 6:1-11
7. 2 Corinthians 11:30-33.
8. 2 Corinthians 12:7–10 (ESV)
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
9. This same operation of God which takes in each person takes place in the congregation of God’s people. Thus, the humiliation of the Church becomes the inlet for the power of God. When seek to rely upon ourselves to build Christ’s church we seek to evict Christ from his Church, to divorce him from his Bride, to tear the branches from the vine. When the Church fully realizes that it is a creature whose very existence hangs upon Christ’s power, the Church becomes the exhibition of eternal treasure:
5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:5–10 (ESV)
Look in this passage and note: 1) The exhibition of Christ’s glory. 2) The centrality of the Word of God. 3) The power of the Spirit. 4) The humility of the creature. There is the core of the Church’s existence.
D. A knowingly humble Church, fully dependent upon the work of the Spirit through the Word is a place of something supernatural:
1. There is an encounter with the living God.
Paul actually expects Christ to be encountered as he people share with one another a whole range of verbal ministries in congregational gatherings…As the gospel, or ‘the word of Christ’ is proclaimed and applied in the congregation, so Christ himself makes his character and presence known and impresses his will on his people.
I mean nothing so crass as some of the strangeness which passes for the work of the Spirit. I mean a true real exchange with the living God which takes place in the work of the Church. Our prayer must be prayer to an actual person. Our praise is heard by someone. Our lives are transformed by someone.
The reason we so quickly and foolishly rely upon our own powers and our own wisdom and our own means is because we secretly carry about a doubt that God is really in this. But consider these words by Peter:
It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 1 Peter 1:12 (ESV)
2. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book Preachers and Preaching writes, “Regarding preaching as I do as an activity under the influence and power of the Holy Spirit” (98). The Spirit must be in the sermon or it is a lecture. “True preaching, after all, is God acting” (108).
3. Dr. Baker (TMC), speaking of counseling, has frequently noted that in the act of counsel we contend deity is present in the room with those searching the Scripture to live in obedience to Christ.
4. Thus, where the true of God will be had, something wonderful, thrilling takes place. You have known these times if you are a Christian. I do not mean something mysterious where the band plays well and the lights are down and an emotional state is substituted for the Spirit’s true work. I do not mean manipulation. I do not mean what is called “Charismatic” strangeness. I mean the honest work of the Spirit which convicts us of sin, presents Christ as beautiful; drives us from the vanity of the world and sets our hope fully upon the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. We are not speaking of some mystical experience which is a feeling had but has no content. We are speaking of the true ministry of the Spirit through the Word of God. We must contend and believe that the Church is truly a supernaturally created and sustained entity.
IV. How Does the Church Exercise Her Humility?
A. A full discussion of humility would take a sermon and more in itself. In short, Christian humility is a willing submission to and faithful reliance upon God.
B. Humility is seen in a willing, trembling submission to the Word of God.
1. Isaiah 66:2, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
2. Jeremiah Burroughs gives six attributes of a heart that trembles at God’s Word:
a. Such a heart has “high, honorable and reverent thoughts of God’s Word”.
b. When the Word is rightly taught and preached, such a one comes to hear the Word—but not with a casual spirit as if to spend some time before something else should happen. Rather, one comes with a reverent, trembling heart to be instructed by God. “Fear fastens the eye.”
c. When you hear the Word you do not rise up against. “It’s true, you may examine the Word that you hear preached, but not cavil against it.” Test what you hear preached. If it is not true, reject it. But, if it is the Word truly put forth, we do not raise our hearts against and complain.
d. “The heart that trembles at the Word accounts it a most dreadful condition to have the Word speak against it.” If the Word speaks against me, I must not rest until I have come to conform myself to the Word.
e. “A hear that trembles at the Word receives, with all reverence and humility, every command of the Word and submits itself unto it; it dares not resist any part of the Word, neither a commanding part nor a threatening part, but open itself to receive it.”
f. “It receives with trembling even the promises that are in God’s Word, that is, upon apprehension of the infinite distance that there is between God and it, and its own infinite unworthiness of mercy that is reached out in the promise. The heart, though it takes of it [the promise], yet takes hold of it with reverence and fear.”
C. Humility is seen in prayer.
1. “What [true] prayer is. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate, pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God.” (Bunyan, Prayer). Prayer is an acknowledged dependence upon God.
a. God sends us troubles so that we in dependence must seek his aid. Psalm 50:15.
b. God promises to aid us in our troubles, should we pray. Philippians 4:6.
c. Prayer “is a special means of acknowledging God as the fountain of our strength and the author of our blessings.” (12 Manton 231).
d. If an individual acknowledges a dependence upon God by prayer, then a congregation must likewise acknowledge a dependence upon God by prayer. See, e.g., Acts 4:23-31.
2. Prayer may be accompanied by fasting.
a. While fasting may accompany prayer, particularly a prayer seeking some special grace of God, the purpose of such fasting with prayer is to acknowledge the humility we must have before God. “Fasting when practiced with the right motives is a physical expression of humility before God….[But] Remember that fasting is not humility before God, but should be an expression of humility before God” (Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 172).
b. We see examples of congregational fasts in Scripture. Joel 2:15-16; Acts 13:2.
c. There are examples of such fasts throughout the history of the Church. Calvin encouraged such fasts. The Puritans would hold congregational days of “humiliation”, prayer, preaching and fasting.
James Denny, The Epistles to the Thessalonians (1899), 8-9.
David E. Aune, Revelation 1–5, vol. 52A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 155.
Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 35.
G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: a Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 303–304.
John Murray, Romans, vol. 2, 88.
Stephen Charnock, “The Church’s Stability”, collected works, vol. 5, 322-323.
Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 154-155.