Christ’s Vision for the Church (4)
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” John 13.14
“For what does a mortal man imagine himself to be, when he refuses to bear the burdens of brethren, to accommodate himself to their customs, and, in short, to perform those offices by which the unity of the Church is maintained? In short, he means that the man who does not think of associating with weak brethren, on the condition of submitting mildly and gently even to offices which appear to be mean, claims more than he has a right to claim, and has too high an opinion of himself.”
- Calvin, comment on John 13.14
Built by ministry
We have mentioned that the Lord Jesus is building His Church as a glorious temple and a holy nation unto the Lord. We’re not talking about buildings or denominations here, but of people, men and women redeemed by Jesus Christ and called together into local fellowships, where they labor to build the Church according to Jesus’ designs and plans. The Lord’s vision of His Church is as a holy temple and a holy nation. If we are not preaching and working for this vision, we are not following the lead of our King.
We are the Lord’s temple; we are His holy nation. We must devote ourselves to discovering more and more of the glorious privilege and radical power such a calling entails.
But how does a church get built-up like this, so that it becomes, increasingly, a beautiful temple and a holy nation?
Paul tells us that, as church members take up works of ministry, Jesus uses them to carry out His plan for building the Church (Eph. 4.11, 12).
This means that every member of every local church is a vital brick in the temple of the Lord, a contributing citizen to the holy nation. Each of us must submit to the teaching and equipping we need in order to carry out our callings as ministers and servants of the Lord. We are called to the Kingdom and glory of our great God (1 Thess. 2.12). And the road that marks our journey is the way of service.
Every member a minister
The service we offer will be unique to the places we go and the people we meet there. Each member of a local church has a Personal Mission Field to which he or she has been sent by the Lord Jesus, to bring near the Kingdom of God, hoist the banner of God’s glory, and minister the grace of Jesus to those around them (Jn. 20.21; 2 Cor. 10.13-18).
A Personal Mission Field entails an orientation toward others that seeks to be a channel of God’s grace in every situation. Unhappily, many Christians are of the mind that their faith in Jesus should do something for them, that others are supposed to minister to their needs, do whatever is necessary to comfort and encourage them, and that the whole idea of church is that they should be looked after, encouraged, edified, assured, and not troubled too much by any ongoing obligations.
There is, of course, truth in such an understanding of the faith. But the larger truth is that this is neither the end of the Christian life nor the primary purpose of the local church. In a healthy, growing church, pastors and teachers equip church members with the truth that is in Jesus, so that they might be conduits of grace to all the people to whom God sends them day by day. Jesus’ vision for His Church is that it is a temple and Kingdom of servants.
Every day we encounter people who need to know the touch of Jesus’ grace, a word of truth from His mouth, or the presence of His comforting Spirit in the kindness of a caring friend. Church members are called to be conduits of grace, truth, and comfort to the world, just as Jesus was when He walked among us.
But the life of service doesn’t come naturally to us. Rather, we must accept the teaching of Jesus concerning this calling, embrace it in prayer, prepare for it by study and training, and fulfill it in all our relationships, roles, and responsibilities. Only by meeting with the Lord daily in His Word and prayer will we be able to make the most of our time, as He shows and leads us into the particular work of service that each person we meet may require (Eph. 5.15-17; Ps. 90.12, 16, 17). And we must be ready, when the opportunity to serve arises, to deny ourselves and consider others as better and more important than ourselves (Matt. 16.24, 25; Phil. 2.3). We must not underestimate the power of a word fitly spoken or a gesture of love offered in a timely manner.
No local church can seriously regard itself as the temple and nation of the Lord which is not diligently equipping and sending every member of its body for works of ministry. This is how local churches grow in unity and maturity; this is how, by word and deed, church members proclaim the excellencies of Christ to their world. The temple where Christ dwells, swells with His presence and issues in rivers of living water through the citizens of His Kingdom, as they are dispersed throughout the neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools of our communities to serve (Jn. 7.37-39).
Gifts for serving
To help us in this high and holy calling, Jesus has provided gifts for ministry which He bestows according to His good pleasure by His Spirit (1 Cor. 12.7-11). Every church member has access to all the gifts for ministry Christ would give us, according to the opportunities for serving others that crop up before them each day, because the Spirit Who gives these gifts dwells in every believer.
It will help us be more alert to opportunities for serving, and ready to draw on the gifts of the Spirit, if we pray more consistently for the Lord to use us as His servants, and if we will prepare ourselves through training and discipline for whatever situations we might expect in our Personal Mission Fields.
The Church is called to be the servant of the Lord, and to reach out in love to those around it with the same love that Jesus showed when He walked among us. Unless equipping all the members for works of ministry is our objective, our churches will not grow in unity in maturity and the Lord, and we will not be building the Church as Jesus intends.
“Somehow we are always grasping after what is greater, and the empty honors of life are always persuading our weak minds to vault up toward a more glorious position. In order, therefore, to save ourselves from this disease and obtain final relief from such a loathsome passion—for the passion of vainglory is a mere fraud and nothing less—let us engrave on our inmost hearts the memory of Christ, the King of all, washing his disciples’ feet, to teach us also to wash one another’s feet.”
- Cyril of Alexandria (375-444 AD), Commentary on the Gospel of John 9
Shepherding God’s Flock
Jesus described the work He did in preparing His disciples for ministry as shepherding.He outlined the requirements of such disciple-making in John 10. The apostles readily embraced that idea to describe their own work. Jesus made disciples by shepherding. The apostles built His churches by shepherding. Is this the model you are following in your church? Order a copy of our workbook, Shepherding God’s Flock, and learn how you can equip your people for service like Jesus did (click here). When you order, we’ll send you a free copy of Bricks and Rungs: Poems on Calling.
Please prayerfully consider sharing with The Fellowship of Ailbe through your giving. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452.
T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).