OPEN: At the 1st church I served, there was a man named Frank who was … difficult. He was a hardworking man with a wife and 4 kids, but he could be a hard man to get to know. His wife and kids came to church… but he didn’t. I’d go over to his house to visit once in a while trying to talk to him about Jesus and church, but it was never a comfortable situation because, as I sat at their dining room table with he and his wife, he’d constantly berate his wife – right in front of her. He’d tell me his wife was ugly, she was a poor housekeeper, she was stupid and he said she lied all the time.
(PAUSE) Now… is that any way a husband to treat his wife? Of course not… but that’s what HE did!
Now, by contrast Ephesians 5:25-30 teaches: “Husbands, love your wives, as CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, JUST AS CHRIST DOES THE CHURCH, because we are members of his body.”
Ephesians is telling us that a bride should be treated gently. She should be loved and nourished and cherished.
Now what’s intriguing about this passage in Ephesians is that it also tells us that the CHURCH is the BRIDE OF CHRIST. We’re told that a husband ought to treat his wife the same way Christ treats HIS bride. And just in case you missed his point, Paul spells it out for us – “This mystery is profound, but I am saying it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:32
Christ is the husband… the church is His bride. So when Jesus looks at a church He sees something that He loves; something He cherishes; something He wants to nourish and have grow; something… He thinks is pretty.
Now, the problem is, the church isn’t always that pretty. Sometimes churches can be downright UGLY; sometimes churches can be mean-spirited and harsh and self-centered; sometimes churches can be … well… embarrassing.
In I and II Corinthians we read about a church in a city called Corinth. And as we read those letters, we read about a really ugly church. The folks in that congregation were quarrelsome, and self-centered, and just plain mean to each other. I once said that, if I’d lived in Corinth, I’d have taken my family to any church but that one. They were on the road to hell… and someone greased the chute.
Now in I Corinthians 12 we are told about all the GIFTS God gave that church. As I’m reading this part of I Corinthians, I’m thinking - those folks didn’t deserve those gifts!!!! If I’d been God, I wouldn’t have given them ANY of those gifts. If I’d been God, I’d have backed my car up to the door, loaded up those gifts into the trunk… and I’d have driven away. And I’d have never looked back. They did NOT deserve those gifts!!!
QUESTION: Did God do that? Did God take those gifts away from them? No – He didn’t take them away did He? In fact, God gave NOT ONLY gave them all those gifts, but He gave them TWO letters in the Bible (I & II Corinthians). In those two letters, God had Paul write more stuff in those 2 letters to that church than to any other church in all of Scripture.
NOW, why would God waste His time on these folks??? Why give these quarrelsome and self-centered people all those gifts and letters? Can you guess why? (Pause) He gave them those gifts and letters because He loved that church. He had died for that church. He had given himself up for that church.
You see, for God, those gifts and letters were not a waste - they were an investment.
But now - does God EVER give up on a church? Well, yeah. On Revelation chapters 2 and 3 we read about seven churches in Asia. A couple of those churches got a pat on the back and an attaboy (Smyrna/Philadelphia), but the other 5 didn’t fare so well.
Pergamum and Thyatira were condemned for tolerating immorality and heresy and Jesus said He’d come and punish them for that.
Jesus told Sardis “If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will COME AGAINST you. Revelation 3:3
Ephesus had abandoned their first love and Jesus told them “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.” (Revelation 2:5) In other words He was taking away their status as His bride – the light would go out because Jesus wouldn’t be there anymore. They might have a pretty building and the word “church” on the marquee out front, but He would remove His presence from their meetings.
And Laodicea – that was the worst of them. Jesus said “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16)
So… yeah. There does come a point where God won’t put up with a church any longer, but you’ve really got push God pretty hard to get Him to that point!
You see, God’s attitude toward most churches is summed up by the title of our Sermon series: “UNDER CONSTRUCTION.” And on the main picture we’re using for this series, you can see these letters – “PBPGINFWMY.” Do you know what those letters mean? That’s right: “Please Be Patient, God Is Not Finished With Me Yet!” That’s not just true of individual Christians… it’s also true of individual congregations.
You see, God has faith in his churches… because they are his bride. He believes in their potential even though they might not always live up to that potential.
Now, having said that, I want to address how WE (who are part of that bride) can honor God by how WE treat His Bride. It’s long been a complaint of mine, that there’s a lot of preachers out there who treat the church as if it were the Whore of Babylon rather than the Bride of Christ. The way they speak about the church kind of reminds me of Frank - that man who treated his wife so mean at the first church I served.
Now, sometimes they don’t come right out and say mean things. Sometimes they kind of nibble around the edges to show their disdain. Sometimes they’re like the man who was at a party with his wife and he leaned over and said “You’re prettier than half the women here.”
THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A MINUTE! What’s that man saying? He’s saying his wife is NOT as pretty as the other half of women there. He’s been doing some “comparison shopping” and his wife has come up short.
Now, is that any way for a man to talk about his wife? (Of Course not!!!) A loving husband will lean over to his wife and say “To ME, you are the most beautiful woman in the room!” In that one comment He has loved his wife and nourished her and cherished her.
Now, she may not be the most beautiful woman in the room, but she has heard him say that HE thinks she is. And that’s all that matters. He has told her what she needs to hear. What she wants to hear! He has told her that he loves her and that she’s special to him. And that’s a good thing – isn’t it????
(PAUSE) How many of you have noticed how much I brag about this church? I do it all the time. I brag to the preachers in other churches, I brag to people I meet at stores and people I meet on Facebook. I brag about just about everywhere! Do you know why I do that? It’s because TO ME you are the prettiest church around.
Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t prettier churches out there. But as long as I’m a preacher here, and there’s anything to brag about, I’m going to brag about you! I’m going to treat you like the bride of Christ, because that’s what you are!
ILLUS: I once talked with a preacher who said they’d had a man in their church who SAID he loved Jesus, but who always talked down about the church. He never seemed to have a nice word to say about anyone in that congregation. (Pause) That’s not right! That man doesn’t love Jesus. You can’t love Jesus and despise His bride.
ILLUS: Imagine a man who desperately loves his wife and another guy comes up to him and tells him how ugly and stupid that wife is. He spends his time saying how absolutely worthless she is and explains all of that woman’s shortcomings. What do you think is going to happen? Yeah… that guy will probably be picking himself up off the sidewalk – you don’t talk about that man’s wife like that and get away with it.
Can you imagine talking about the bride of Christ like that and Jesus just ignoring it? I don’t think so! One way to anger Jesus would be to badmouth his bride. It’s one good way to make Him your enemy.
I’ll always tell you how pretty you are for one basic reason - you are the bride of Christ… and that ALONE makes you pretty!
Now, that said there are a couple FINAL things I’d like to talk about today. And the 1st is this: just because you’re pretty doesn’t mean you can’t spiff up now and again!
ILLUS: Think about it this way: what does a woman do if she’s going out to a party and she wants to make a good impression? She might perm her hair, put on some makeup, and lay out her prettiest dress. In fact, she’s not just going to wear a pretty dress… she’s going to accessorize. Everything from her shoes to her dress to her earrings, etc. will all be color coordinated! And then she’ll do one more thing before she leaves the house. Do you know what that is? She’ll go to mirror and examine herself CLOSELY! She wants to make sure she looks good!
Now, what I want you to do this morning is - I want you to look in the mirror and examine yourself! Look real close and ask yourself: Do I look GOOD to Jesus? Jesus said: “If anyone SERVES me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone SERVES me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:26)
So… do you SERVE Jesus? I’m not talking about coming here on a Sunday morning and putting yourself in a seat and being entertained. I have to admit I’m grateful you do that (it gives me someone to talk at church) but that’s not what Jesus means by “serving Him.” He means actually doing stuff for Him. Getting involved in things at church or the community where you do things to glorify Him.
Now you might think you can’t do important things. You might say “Well… I can’t sing or teach or drive the bus.” But maybe you can mow the grass (Dave always needs someone to ride the mower), or you can actively make it a point to greet new folks during greeting time – you ought to be mobbing them, asking their names, getting to know about their family, etc. You can make it a point to visit the shut-ins/ nursing home folk. Or you can volunteer to help with one of the ministries here, like the coat ministry, or the food pantry, or the free lunches to the community. Don’t let what you can’t do stop you from doing what you can do!
ILLUS: Some of the people in the church go help pack food packs for school kids every week. It’s kind of an assembly line where you take some milk, cereal, cans of soup, etc. and put them plastic sacks. Once all the items are in the sack, they’re tied off and tossed in a bin to be given to the kids the next day. Last week, Debb and her husband went to help out… which kind of shocked me since Debb’s been having problems with here shoulders. Lots of pain in her shoulders and yet here she was packing these sacks with food. So I asked her “how can you do this with the pain you have in your shoulders.” She responded that as long as she didn’t move here arms in certain ways, she could things like this with no pain. In other words: she didn’t let what she couldn’t do interfere with what she could do.
That’s what serving Jesus is all about. Doing what you can do for Him. Now, if you can’t think of something you can do to serve Christ… talk to me! I’ve got all kinds of ideas!
But now, here’s a question you should ask yourself: If everybody in the church did as much as you do… would ANYTHING get done around here? Or would the church just slowly die, because nobody ends up doing anything?
ILLUS: You’ve got to realize - you can make more of a difference than you might imagine. I recently read the most intriguing story from a brother preacher on FB. He wrote: “When I was a young man I experienced a little church was tight knit, loving, affectionate, friendly, and humble. They did not use their funds for programs, special effects or even the preacher’s salary- they paid his schooling. He lived off his wife's income. Their services did not have hard fixed times … they just ended when they ended, and they discussed the sermon during the sermon. They had loads of fellowship meals and shared the donations to the church with the members meeting their needs, schooling, and medical. The carpet had duct tape hiding runs and seams. But the people were well loved. I rec'd so many hugs, words of encouragement, and was made part of the family. Since then I have never been in another church like that.
DID YOU CATCH THAT? What impressed that young man? Well it wasn’t the programming - there wasn’t much of that. And it wasn’t the beauty of the building – they were holding the carpet together with duct tape. What impressed him was the people the love these people had for each other. It was a great church because their people loved each other!
But then he said this: “Those members eventually died off or moved. The church is still in existence but barely holding on. When I go to that church now and they have a nice sermon and music, but there is no fellowship, loving, talking, sharing of resources.”
You see, once those original members died or moved the church was never the same. It was the same building, but the servants were gone and the church suffered.
So the question for you this morning is this: Is the church better because of what YOU do?
CLOSE: One last observation: I Corinthians 15:58 says “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” If you think you’re spinning your wheels serving Christ - if you’re thinking that nothing you do seems to be making any difference – you must remember God has made you a promise “YOUR LABOR IS NOT IN VAIN.” He will take what you offer and make it valuable!
ILLUS: I read the true story of a church that had died. The building was still in fairly good shape, but everyone that was in that congregation had either died or moved away. There was only one old man left. What could HE do? Why not just turn off the lights, lock the door and go to another church in town?
Well, this old man was convinced that God could still use that old church building, so he chose a different option. Every week, he’d come and clean the building. And every Sunday, he’d drive into the parking lot, unlock the doors, turn on the lights, and he’d have his own little worship service. He’d sing some songs… pray some prayers… read the Bible… and he spent time with God. He was convinced that if he just remained faithful, God would rebuild the congregation. And he did this for over a year. Every Sunday, he faithfully had his worship at the church building… all by himself.
But then, one Sunday, a young couple came to the door. He greeted them and then explained what he’d been doing and asked if they like to join him. They did… and the next Sunday, they brought another couple with them. After awhile, there were several families gathering each Sunday. Eventually they got big enough to hire a preacher and began making improvements to the building. Before you knew it… they were a thriving congregation.
That all happened because ONE OLD MAN said – I can’t do everything… but I can do this! And because he was faithful he learned the truth of Christ’s promise: “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”