“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Ephesians 1:18-19
What makes a person a Christian? You’ve made a commitment to Christ. You’ve said the sinner’s prayer and been baptised. You attend church every Sunday. You play Christian songs on your CD. You can recite several Bible verses by heart. Is that all?
There are lots of things about the Christian life which can be deeply indicative of a person’s relationship with Christ, yet at the same time can be superficial artifices if not accompanied by the heart. The Pharisees and Sadducees play an important role in the gospels. We are aware of how hypocritical it is possible to become within a religious community. Christ had harsh criticism for those who had all the trappings of office and respectability but no comprehension of who Jesus was. Pride and judgement crept in and destroyed them. Lord, save us from this, we pray.
In the past few days I’ve been reading through the book of Ephesians. Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus is one which reminds us how much God values each of us – individually and as part of His church. His church are the men and women throughout this world who have committed their lives in faith to Jesus Christ, receiving Him as their Saviour, believing that He is the Son of God, our only possible way of being saved, forgiven and in restored relationship with our Heavenly Father. The church is not a building, or denomination, although these can be part of the outworking of God’s people. The church is people.
Such is the relationship between God and His church that the Bible tells us that
“His [God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms according to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ephesians 3:10). Angels and demons will marvel at what God reveals to and through His church.
This is why the church itself is such a target for satanic attack and throughout the centuries has been plagued with rifts and dissent. The most powerful tool on earth for benefitting mankind – individuals, communities and nations can only be effective if it maintains unity, integrity and love. The final chapter of Ephesians includes the well-known passage regarding the spiritual armour of God needed to withstand the attacks of the enemy.
God has really laid two points on my heart here. We should never be critical of church communities which are very large and growing in numbers rapidly. When we reach Heaven, God’s church will be praising Him throughout eternity, thousands upon thousands. Also, we should be concerned about the many Christians who no longer attend church at all, for whatever reason. It was never part of God’s plan that Christians should be so hurt or so distracted that they discontinue meeting together. Church communities and they as individuals are the poorer without them.
So what’s the whole reason for the church? What’s the reason to be a Christian? First and foremost, it’s to glorify God. God made the heavens and the earth and everything in it to display His glory. Secondly, it’s all about relationship – a love relationship between the Trinity – God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, which has now been expanded, as is written in Ephesians chapter 1, to include God’s adopted children – us! Other chapters in Ephesians describe how this love of God is to be reflected in our relationships with others.
How do we change from superficial church attendance once a week and lip service to God to deeply committed Christians who try their utmost to live a life pleasing to the One who has given us everything? How do we grow in faith and relationship?
In chapter 1 of Ephesians, verses 15-23, Paul prays for the church, outlining attributes which assist both personal and corporate growth. The church at Ephesus was reputed to be faithful to Jesus and loving to all the church there. To begin with, they have an overseer in Paul who is praying over them and giving thanks for them. We need to be responsible and thankful for those whom Jesus has trusted us with.
Paul asks God to grant them wisdom and revelation to know God better.
He wants them to be aware of the hope that they have.
He wants them to know of the riches that they have in Jesus.
He wants them to understand the power that they have at their disposal, through Jesus Christ.
These are just as much available to individuals and communities today as they were at the time that Paul wrote those words.
We were all once dead in sin, unable to make things right with God. The devil still tempts us and lies to us, trying to convince us that we will never be able to be right with God. Jesus alone makes it possible to change our status before God, and our lives here on earth, and our relationships with others. The chronic drunkard becomes sober. The hopeless depressive becomes joyful. Marriages are healed. Broken lives are restored. These things in themselves are cause for celebration, but there is a deeper, everlasting joy that underpins it all, because a new found relationship with God means more than any earthly happiness.
In one of David Wilkerson’s sermons, he makes the point that when a bride is ready for her wedding ceremony, she looks at her best, beautifully clothed and radiantly anticipating her new life with her greatest love. David postulates that when Christ returns to this earth to take His bride, His church, to Heaven to be with Him, He will not be collecting a scruffy, ragtag remnant. I believe, with David, that there will be a great revival in the church before Christ returns, and many saints will be added to congregations throughout the world. The book of Revelation tells us that there will be great tribulation in this world before Christ comes again. It is the role of the church to be God’s witnesses throughout the nations. In a world which seems to be becoming increasingly dark, God’s light will shine out, a beacon of love and hope.
Dear Heavenly Father God,
I come to You in prayer, with praise and thanks for who You are, almighty and wonderful Father. Thank You for the privilege of prayer. Thank You for the gift of Your Son, Jesus, who honoured You in all He did, and who paid the price for my sins, that I could come to You in faith through Jesus. Thank You for Your Holy Spirit who is with us in this life as Comforter and Counselor. Father I pray for Your church in this world, that You would equip us as communities and individuals for ministry in the many and varied places and tasks that we are called to. Give your church wisdom, power, love and unity I pray.
I pray in particular for those Christians who are holding fast to their faith in countries where they do not have the freedom to practice it openly, and in situations where they are being persecuted, imprisoned and suffering. May they know the fellowship of prayer which is being offered for them and may Your mighty presence, power and provision be their comfort and strength.
Thank You for this opportunity to reach out to others over the internet and I pray Father for anyone reading this who does not yet have a relationship with You through Jesus Christ, that they would be encouraged to know You through talking directly to a Christian minister and by reading Your word, the Bible.
Lord, we love You and long for the day when You will be known throughout this fallen world, and when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.
Father we give You all the praise and honour which is so rightly yours.
We come to You in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.