“Purpose. Words. Action.”
August 26, 2018*
By Pastor John Partridge
1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43 John 6:56-69 Ephesians 6:10-20
Have you ever gone on a vacation?
Or, have you ever turned a corner in a part of town that you don’t visit often, and discover that there’s a new building that you’ve never seen before?
Often, for both vacations and construction, as well as almost everything else, things seem to happen suddenly, almost magically. We even talk about it that way. We say things like, “We’re going to disappear for the weekend.” Or, “We just took off for a quick holiday.” But, even something as simple as a weekend getaway doesn’t “just happen.” We had the idea that we might want to do that, we coordinate schedules, we take time off of work, kennel the dogs, get a cat-sitter, we plan where we’re going, make reservations, pack suitcases, get the car serviced, or at least buy gas, and only after all of that do we “disappear for the weekend.”
Getting from point A to point B takes planning and preparation.
But it also takes purpose. Before you go on a vacation or build a building, you must have a reason to do so. It might simply be that you’re tired and need a break, but something made you decide. You had something in mind as a goal even if your only goal was to relax. A new building is, from the very beginning, designed with a specific goal in mind and, as a result, a church looks very different than an office building, or a factory, or a doctor’s office. This idea is so common, that we have an expression for it, “Form follows function.”
The church is no different. And so, when we read the story about the construction of the temple that Solomon built to honor God, we discover not only the purpose for which the temple was built, but also the purpose that God has for his people and for his church. (1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43)
22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven 23 and said:
“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. 24 You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.
25 “Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before me faithfully as you have done.’ 26 And now, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.
27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.
41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— 42 for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.
I think that it’s worth noting that God promises Solomon that his descendants will continue to sit on the throne and be blessed by God only if they are careful in all that they do and walk faithfully with God as David did. We must be careful in what we draw from this because none of us are likely to be descendants of King David and this promise is therefore not directly aimed at us, but all the same, as a general guideline, this tells us a lot about how God might choose to disburse his blessings upon his people. We cannot reasonably expect that God will bless what we do, if we are not careful in what we do and walk faithfully with God.
But even more importantly, I think, is that after Solomon prays that God’s name will “be here” in that place, he prays that God would hear the prayers of the foreigners who have come from far away because they had heard of the greatness of Israel’s God. Solomon prays that God would answer the prayers of the foreigner so that…, and here I need to interrupt myself. Whenever we encounter words such as “so that” or “therefore” we need to sit up and pay attention because those words signal a conclusion that summarizes everything that came before. And so, having built a great temple for the God of Israel, and having prayed that God would be present in it, and that God would answer the prayers of his people as well as the prayers of foreigners from far away, Solomon declared that the reason for all of it, is so that all the people of the earth would know God in the same way that the people of Israel knew God and that they would know that the temple that Solomon had built was a place where God was present. Solomon wants the world to know that this is not Solomon’s temple, but that it is God’s Temple.
Fast forward three thousand years and that same purpose is easily transferable to us. The purpose of this church, and of this people, is that all the people around us would know God the way that we know God and that everyone who encounters us would know that this is a place of prayer where they can meet God and experience his presence.
The purpose of the church has not changed.
Having established the purpose of the church, let’s return to the story of Jesus as he explains the idea of sharing his flesh and his blood in John 6:56-69.
56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” And if you remember, last week we learned that John described Jesus by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And from that we understand Jesus’ references to flesh and blood to be a connection not only to his bodily sacrifice, but to the words that he said and the things that he taught. Jesus emphasizes this in the passage that we just read when he said, “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” We see this again when Peter says, “You have the words of eternal life.”
Even Jesus’ own disciples knew that this was a difficult teaching. We must feed on the word of God to sustain our spiritual lives, just as we must eat food for our physical bodies to survive. Jesus has the words of eternal life. We must always keep this in mind as we set out to be the church and to save the world. We cannot save the lost, or rescue the hurting, or be a lighthouse of hope, or even truly feed the hungry or clothe the naked unless we share with them the words and the Good News of Jesus. What good would it be to save physical lives and, at the same time, make no attempt to rescue them for eternity?
But what else?
We know the purpose of the church, and we know that we need to consume the word of God and we know that we need to be about the business of saving the world by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, and his words, with them.
But what else?
And again, Paul has something to say about that, this time in his letter to the church in Ephesus. (Ephesians 6:10-20)
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Paul emphasizes that our choice is more than just sharing or not sharing, and even more urgent than just reading the word or not reading it. Paul explains that this isn’t the same as choosing between a stop at Sunoco or a stop at BP for fuel. This is not a picnic, or even a friendly competition. When we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we are thrust into the middle of an all-out war. There can be no casual observers because once we put on the uniform, we have taken sides. As followers of Jesus, we are identified as such and become the enemies of his enemies. For our own self-defense, and for the protection of our families, friends, and fellow believers, we must arm ourselves for the fight that rages around us. Paul urges us to put on the armor of faith, defend ourselves from the enemy, and fight against him with everything that we have within us. Stand your ground against evil, stand for truth, be righteous and stand for righteousness, be ready, spread peace, have faith and arm yourself with the Spirit of God. At the same time, pray for your leaders, pray for your pastor, pray for our missionaries, pray for one another, and pray for all of those whom we might reach with the message of God’s rescue. All of these have already been identified as the enemies of Satan, all of them will fall under the attack of his armies, and all of them are in need of God’s protection. Your prayers, for yourself, and for others, is needed, necessary, and helpful in the fight against evil and for the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ.
In short, if we know the purpose of the church, and if we are fed with the words of Jesus Christ, we must also know that stopping there simply isn’t good enough. There is work to do. We are at war. And every single soldier is needed for the battle.
Let us encourage one another.
Let us pray for one another.
Let us ready ourselves.
We are at war.
We must take action.
Let’s fight to make a difference.
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