Last week we began a series that considered three
institutions that shape and form us. The focus of
today’s reflection is to consider how the church forms
us as the people of God. Here are three ways God uses
the church to shape His people.
Nowhere in Scripture is it taught that we are to go
about our faith alone. There certainly are times where
God’s people practiced solitude and Jesus himself spent
some time to be alone with the Father. But while God
certainly cares about us as individuals, the greater
emphasis in Scripture concerns the covenant people of
God rather than the individual.
But relationships in churches don’t have a neutral
existence. The New Testament understands that
relationships in the community can shape people
positively or negatively. In 1 Corinthians 5:6, Paul
writes to the church in Corinth rebuking them for not
just tolerating an inappropriate sexual relationship, but
celebrating it. He writes, “Your boasting is not good.
Do you not know that a little leaven, leavens the whole
lump?” This baking illustration was used to
demonstrate how a few bad ideas or a person’s
influence can affect the whole community. On the
positive side, Paul also encourages the church through
examples of individuals in the community. In
Philippians 2, he encourages the church to consider the
lives of Timothy and Epaphroditus and how they reflect
Christ through their character. As we consider life in
the church, we should be thoughtful in who we elevate
into leadership. We should also consider if the advice
we give whether in casual conversation or even outright
counsel is Biblical and godly.
On one hand, worship should encompass our whole
lives. But it also is a special time set aside week to week
to focus our attention on the Lord. This regular routine
of going to church shapes us. It teaches us to set aside
time for the Lord. It engages our souls and our bodies
in an act of honoring and exalting God.
But worship is not just something we do, it also shapes
who we are. Regular worship reorients the priorities of
our lives. It helps us remember what is ultimate and what really
matters. Does the score you get on your SAT matter? Yes. Does getting
that promotion or gaining the approval of your boss matter? Yes. But
none of these matter in the ultimate sense. They are important, but
they are not as important as God.
Psalm 73 describes a man who was extremely distraught over seeing the
success of wicked people. He observed how evil people seemed to be
healthy, strong, successful but those who were faithfully following God
seemed to suffer. He envied the wicked and thought about giving up
but experienced a new perspective when he entered into the presence
of God. He understood the human condition in the light of eternity.
Let us not give up worship so easily. Let us allow God to shape us
through singing, through confession, through listening and responding
to God’s truth.
When Scripture speaks of God’s Word, it is not characterized as being
flighty, insignificant or superfluous. God’s Word is weighty. It’s not
always loud, but it’s powerful. It’s the voice that spoke creation into
being. Psalm 29 describes God’s voice thundering over waters, breaking
cedars, shaking the wilderness, making deer give birth and stripping
forests bare. But God’s voice also spoke in a quiet whisper to an
exhausted and depressed Elijah. In the New Testament, God’s Word is
described as putting on flesh and walking this earth. It is the gospel that
is proclaimed throughout the world.
In the past few decades, preaching has come under criticism. It has
been seen as a weak and ineffective tool. One person talks while the
congregation passively receives. But to view it in such a way reveals a
cynical view of the way God works. In one sense, preaching seems
weak. But on the other hand, it has the power to raise the dead to life.
The steady rhythm of hearing solid biblical preaching week in and week
out has the power to shape our spiritual lives. In preaching, our
perspective is corrected with God’s truth as revealed by Scripture. Our
priorities are challenged by God’s priorities. Our ideas of spirituality and religion are humbled by the Gospel. By God’s grace a person growing in
Christ should say, “I used to think thus, but now I understand that God’s
ways are higher than my own.”
How do we let God’s Word shape us? Here it’s helpful to turn Jesus
himself to teach us what we need. In Jesus’ parable about the four soils
we are taught that a seed planted in the right kind of soil has the
potential to bear fruit a hundred or a thousand times. When we come
to service, are our hearts softened to hear God’s Word? If we were
honest we could think of many reasons how our hearts fail us. But the
Gospel reminds us that the Lord has the power to soften our hearts. If
we ask for it, He will not reject our request. What is impossible for man,
is possible for God.