The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
August 11, 2019
What is the Purpose of the Church?
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
For as long as I can remember there has been a “standard” questionnaire that many congregations use when they want to conduct a door-to-door survey of the community around their church. The survey begins with asking how long the person has lived in that community. It then transitions into whether or not the person has a church “home” in the community and if so, how many times do they attend per month. Normally the questionnaire then concludes by asking questions such as: The thing I look for most in a church is…. I think the program our community needs the most is…. If your church really wants to serve the people in this community, you will have to….
As you can imagine the answers to those closing questions can be all over the map! Sometimes a person will say that the church needs to be intimately involved in social issues such as helping the homeless and feeding the hungry. Sometimes a person will say that what they look for in a church is guidance on what they need to do to become a better person, a better spouse, a better friend etc.
So let me ask you: Why does our church exist? What is our “purpose” as a congregation? The way in which you and I answer those questions— both on a personal level as well as on a congregational level— will have a huge impact on the way that we view our congregation as well as the decisions that we make. On a personal level the way in which we answer those questions will be seen in our attendance in worship services and Bible classes. On a congregational level the way in which we answer those questions will be seen and felt by the entire congregation when it comes to things like our offerings, our budget and our willingness to serve in various ways here in our church.
With that in mind let’s use our sermon text for today to address the question: What is the Purpose of the Church? Using these inspired words of the apostle Paul I am going to suggest to you, my friends, that there are two main points to remember when it comes to the purpose of the church. First, the purpose of the church is to “present the word of God in its fullness.” Second, the purpose of the church is to “present everyone perfect in Christ.”
Once again I would like to give you just a little bit of insight into our text by giving you a little bit of background concerning Paul’s letter to the Colossian Christians. There were false teachers who were infecting this congregation with what has become known as the “Colossian Heresy.” The Colossian Heresy denied that a simple humble faith in Jesus and His work (Pointing to the cross) is all that is necessary for eternal salvation. The Colossian Heresy emphasized the need to follow at least some of the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament as well as the traditions of men. The proponents of this heresy advocated things such as the worship of angels and they claimed to have a knowledge, wisdom and insight that went beyond what the Colossians had learned from the apostle Paul.
In response to this heresy Paul’s letter to the Christians in Colosse proclaims the sufficiency of faith in Christ and the work He accomplished for us. And, as we see here in our text for today, Paul’s letter to the Colossians reveals the “purpose” of Paul’s ministry— a ministry which I believe reveals to us the “purpose” of the church right down to this very day.
Let’s begin by looking at verse 25. Speaking of the church Paul writes, “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness.” I have become increasingly dismayed and frustrated by churches and by Christians who “pick and choose” which parts of the Bible they are willing to believe and accept and which parts of the Bible they simply ignore or outright deny. As some of you know, I have come to call this mishandling of Scripture the “Old Country Buffet Syndrome.” Have you ever been to an all you can eat buffet? When all of our children lived at home we loved going to the Old Country Buffet! Why? Because each of us got to “pick and choose” what we felt like having for dinner! It worked out great for us!
Unfortunately, the Old Country Buffet Syndrome wreaks havoc in the church. People often ask me, “Why are there so many different Christian denominations?” I have even been asked, “Why are there different kinds of Lutheran churches?” My answer is that not every church follows the purpose that Paul gives to us here in our text: “…to present to you the word of God in its fullness.” As God’s church we are to proclaim everything God has revealed to us here in His holy inspired Word— even those parts of the Bible that we can not fully comprehend (such as the six-day Creation of the universe, the virgin birth of the Christ and Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead), even those parts of the Bible that society adamantly and angrily opposes (such as the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality, abortion and pre-marital sex), even those parts of the Bible that we personally might not like to hear (such as the powerful message of God’s holy Law). And yet, the purpose of God’s church today is to do exactly what the apostle Paul did in his ministry so many years ago— “…present the word of God to you in its fullness.”
Perhaps because the false teachers in Colosse were claiming to have a knowledge and a wisdom and an insight that went beyond what the apostle Paul presented, Paul explains to the Colossians what he means when he says that he “presents” to them the Word of God “in its fullness.” Look at verses 26-27 of our text. Paul writes, “…the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
When the word “mystery” is used in the New Testament Scriptures this Greek word is used to refer to “secret thoughts, plans and dispensations of God which are hidden from the human reason, as well as from all other comprehension below the divine level, and hence must be revealed to those for whom they are intended.” What is the “mystery” that you and I could not have known unless God Himself revealed it to us? This “mystery,” my friends, centers on the three little words here in our text, “Christ in you.”
Through the power of God’s Holy Spirit working through the message of the Gospel as it comes to us in Word and Sacrament Paul assures you that Christ Himself “lives” in you! Paul expands on this glorious truth when he says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (See also John 14:23) Because Christ Himself “lives” in us, my friends, we now have as our personal possession “the hope of glory.” No matter how many difficulties, no matter how many hardships, no matter how many heartaches we encounter on our journey through this world we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the “glory” which the good Lord has waiting for us in His heavenly Home far surpasses even our wildest imagination! (See also Romans 8:18)
This then is the purpose of the church right down to this very day. As we follow Paul’s example and “present… the word of God in its fullness” the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of sinners— even sinners like you and me. Through the work of the Holy Spirit Christ Himself “lives” in us. Because Christ Himself “lives” in us we have “the hope, the confident expectation of glory.” Think about it, my friends. This world has absolutely nothing that even begins to compare to the “hope of glory” that we sinners receive from the Lord when His church is focused on presenting God’s Word to God’s people “in its fullness.”
Intimately connected with the purpose of presenting the Word of God “in its fullness” is the second purpose of the church. Look at verse 28 of our text. The second purpose is found in Paul’s words, “We proclaim him (Pointing to the cross), admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” The key word in this verse is the Greek word that is translated as “perfect.” The picture behind this Greek word is that of a person “reaching their goal.” In fact, the word used here in our text is a variation of the very same word that Jesus used when He said from the cross, “It is finished,” or that can be translated as: “I have reached My goal” (John 19:30; Matthew 1:21).
The purpose of the church, my friends, is to help God’s people “reach their goal” of becoming “perfect in Christ.” Will we achieve this goal of perfection while we are still on this side of heaven? No, we will not. (See Philippians 3:12-14) Does God expect us to strive towards this goal as we journey through this world? Yes, He does! How does the church tie in with this goal? Go back to verse 28 of our text. Just as the purpose of Paul’s ministry was to “proclaim him (Jesus), admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom,” so also that needs to be the purpose of God’s church today.
“Proclaiming” Jesus takes us right back to “presenting…the word of God in its fullness,” doesn’t it. When the church stays focused on proclaiming the Word of God without adding to it or subtracting from it people will hear not only who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for them (pointing to the cross), but they will also hear how they can say “Thank-you!” to Jesus by the way that they live their life. That means that sometimes God’s people need to be “admonished” or “warned.” As the saved and forgiven children of God we can’t simply live our life however we decide to live it. Every aspect of our entire life— whether we are at home, at work, at school or at play— every aspect of our entire life needs to be lived in the light of His cross. And if God forbid there is some part of our life that is contradicting what our dear Savior wants for us then the church has the responsibility to “admonish” or “warn” us — just as parents have the responsibility to “admonish” or “warn” their children when they go astray and are doing something wrong.
The flip side of that very same coin centers on “teaching everyone with all wisdom.” Whether it’s the Sunday morning sermon, Bible class, Sunday school or Confirmation class the purpose of the church is to “teach.” Christ Himself gave this purpose to His Church when He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). As we grow in our knowledge and understanding of God’s holy Word, as we grow in both our desire and our ability to live our life in a way that is pleasing to our Savior God, as we grow in our sanctification we will get closer and closer to the goal of being “perfect in Christ” until we ultimately attain that goal in the glory and perfection of our heavenly Father’s home.
Even though it has been a while since I have participated in a door-to-door canvass, do we need to survey the community to find out what the purpose of our congregation is? No, we do not, my friends. By the grace of God and with the insight of holy Scripture we already know the answer to the question What is the Purpose of the Church? May God grant that like the apostle Paul we will always strive by God’s grace to see the two-fold purpose of our church as to: “present to you the word of God in its fullness” and to “present everyone perfect in Christ.”
To God be the glory!