Meditations on Various Scriptures 3

Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. 25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

Paul rejoiced in his sufferings, which is not the usual approach in the modern day. He rejoiced in his sufferings because they were for the sake of the church (the people that the body consisted of) of the Colossians, but he also rejoiced in suffering for the sake of the body of Christ which is the church. This is quite a profound teaching on the nature of the Church. The Church is not what it is because of a fancy building, or because it is a particular denomination, or because it is of a particular form of organization. The Church is the Church because it is the body of Christ. A church is not a church because it is Presbyterian or Baptist or whatever, but because it is united to Christ, dwelt in by Christ, and dwells in Christ.

The Church is what it is because of its being the body of Christ and nothing else. This is the essential definition of the Church which we must not lose sight of or the essential definition will be swallowed up by things that men have come up with or which are not essential. It is not necessarily wrong to be part of a local church that is part of a denomination in and of itself, but that local church must not lose sight of what it truly means to be part of the Church. This has enormous ramifications for what it means to be part of the Church and what it means to be a Christian. All Christians are united to Christ, but not all members of a local church are united to Christ. When the two are confused, as it often is, many people can be deceived.

It is a huge deception to people to tell them or invite them to pray a prayer or walk an aisle to become a Christian, but it is at least as deceiving to confuse being a member of a local church with being part of the true Church. No one can come to the Christ unless the Father draws him or her, but hordes of people can walk to the fronts of the local church buildings or answer simplistic questions from pastors and elders. This basic definition of the Church (be a part of the body of Christ, joined to Christ) must be kept in mind or the institutions and denominations will be thought of as the Church rather than churches and people will think that if they join the one they are part of the true Church. A person must really and truly be united to Christ, be indwelt by Christ, and be in Christ to be a member of the Body of Christ, which is the true Church.

Paul was given the primary duty and privilege of preaching to the Gentiles, though clearly he preached to the Jews as well. He also said he wanted to make the Jews jealous by his preaching. He suffered and preached for the body of Christ, that is, the true Church and not just for one congregation here and there. He preached and he sent letters to local churches, or the local church gathered in one town. But his ministry was from Christ to the body of Christ. He was an apostle of Christ (sent one from Christ) who was guided by Christ where to go and his letters were breathed forth by the Spirit. But again, he did not do these things just for a local congregation, but for the Church at large. This is a vital distinction to hold as people think of local churches and the best way to function and operate in them. This does not detract from the local church, though indeed it may keep some from rising to the position of dictator or pope in the local congregation, but instead it should inform the local church that it is but one aspect of the Body of Christ. It is to preach and teach so that sinners would become members of Christ and not just get people to join the local congregation. It is free-grace that makes people members of the Church, but any sinner can join a group that calls itself a “church” as s/he wishes.

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