This week's Bible Study - August 31, 2014
Connected in Christ
Quote of the Week:
Without hands you cannot hold, Without lips you can't be told, Without eyes you cannot see and Without you lord there is no me.
What does it mean to be connected? In business, people often talk about their connections. One popular site for working professionals is LinkedIn, and some people have hundreds of connections. After you've worked someplace for a large company, you tend to get to know many different people. Connections are good when you are looking for a job, as they can serve as references for you and can help make you aware of job possibilities. We see the importance of being connected, as it can open some avenues for us in many areas of life. I've played basketball for several decades and over that time, I have gotten to know many athletes of varying capability. That led to being included on teams in multiple leagues. Although I am still connected to many of these people, I don't seem to get as many requests to play on teams anymore!
You might know some people that seem to know everybody. However, the most important thing in life is not how many people you know, but who you know. And, by far, the only relationship that has an eternal impact (as well as here and now) is our relationship with Christ. This lesson is entitled "Connected in Christ". What does that really mean?
Have you ever been on vacation and driven or walked past a church? Obviously, all of us pass churches all the time. If you are a believer, what do you think about that church? Some older church buildings are empty and in need of repair, but even those make me think about what they used to be like when they were vibrant. Some church buildings are no longer churches, but may serve as offices or some other function. And, in some churches buildings that are still used as churches, the beliefs of those inside may be far from what you believe. However, when you come across a Christian church of whatever denomination (or non denomination), do you see the people you encounter in a similar way as you might see family, or do you only see the building?
We are very interrelated with other believers through the commonality of belief in Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit. One of the great benefits we have is the community of believers. Even apart from the spiritual context, I believe that people are looking for a place to connect and to find others who will truly care for them and with whom they can have vibrant relationships. In churches, you will find many who will pray for you when you need prayer, laugh with you when you are happy, cry with you when you are sad, grieve with you in a time a loss and just be there for you. I know people that have become lifelong friends after meeting each other in church and experiencing parts of their lives together.
However, even within the walls of some churches, there are some people that don't really seem to want to be connected. They often have their own views of how things should be and if everyone else doesn't fall in line, they step away. Some seem to want to be connected, but they want it to be all based on what others do. I have seen some who have encountered illnesses and got upset that nobody came to see them, yet they didn't bother to tell anyone and had not really stepped up to become 'good friends' with anyone yet. There are others who have become so legalistic that they distance themselves from others within the church because of differences of opinions on all sorts of topics. There are others who have become so liberal that they want to turn the church into their own 'anything goes' type of place. Although we are connected within a church, there are some who do not have peace with other believers. We must realize that the only way that we can have peace with others in the church is for all of us to be connected to one another in Christ.
We have learned that we were once apart, needing reconciliation. Many of us grew up in the church and so we have always heard of the gospel and while we saw the need to accept it, it didn't seem as if we were that far away. There are others of us who did not grow up in church and knew nothing of the gospel, so that when we were presented with it, we knew that we were very far away from God. Whether we felt it or not, we were all far away from God, until we accepted the gospel and learned that Jesus Christ is the means of reconciliation.
Christ not only brought men near to God, but He Himself was the source of peace (and still is today). He broke down barriers that no other person could, in making both groups (Jews and Gentiles) into one. Whatever barrier you face today can be brought down and peace restored (or obtained). We see many barriers between people today - based on all sorts of prejudices. Some of them seem insurmountable, but through Christ, those barriers can be dropped and relationships can flourish.
This was not just peace between Jews and Gentiles that believed upon Christ, but even greater was the peace with God. All of the differences among people that were caused by all types of sin; these died on the cross. Jesus came to bring peace to those near and to those far. It wasn't just those who saw Him, or heard of the story in the first ten days. It's not just Americans, or any other nationality. It is all who call upon His name - from any nation, in any language. It just requires a true belief and a sincerity of heart. Through Christ, we have access in one Spirit to the Father.
Have you ever noticed all the efforts that unredeemed mankind has put together to try and bring groups of people together? There are racial, cultural, social and many other divisions in society. Pulling people of different backgrounds together for anything more than a single event is nearly impossible. Each seems to be more concerned about its own specific plight, rather than the common goal of the group. In Christ, things are meant to be much different. Christianity has broken down all types of racial, cultural, social and other barriers in society. Concerted efforts are often noticed in working together for a common cause. But this is not always the case. While many Christians talk about this reconciliation, several are unwilling to walk the talk. We see major schisms in denominations. Many churches view other churches in their neighborhoods as rivals, or perhaps even enemies. Can you imagine the impact we could have on our society if we really did exhibit this common purpose, as the result of our reconciliation with God?
Throughout His ministry, Jesus didn't just focus on one group of people. He ministered to the Jews and the Gentiles, the rich and the poor, free and slaves and men and women. We should do likewise.
While we shouldn't dwell on our past, we cannot forget that we were once alienated to God by choice. Do you recall the alienation that you once experienced? Can you recall the barriers that Christ abolished in your life? Are there other barriers that Christ continues to abolish? Unfortunately, we all still sin and are reminded of that fact. You can't experience reconciliation until you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. It's not what your family or your church believes. As much as others might like to get you right with God, it's a personal thing. Have you accepted Christ? Are you part of the family?
In America, there are people that will go through many steps in order to become a citizen. In a given year, over hundreds of thousands of new citizens will satisfy the requirements for U.S. citizenship. There are residency requirements, moral character requirements, language requirements, a test on U.S. government and history test, and an oath to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
In many ways, more seems to be required to become a U.S. Citizen than to become a Christian, a citizen of God's kingdom. In some ways, this may seem to be true. Acceptance into God's kingdom, His family, is through Christ alone and not based on some other 'qualification' that any church will have you meet. We bank everything on Christ and Christ alone. The moment in which you place your faith in Christ is the moment you become a Christian. It seems incredibly simple to accept Christ.
In other ways, what is required of us as citizens of God's kingdom is much more difficult than becoming a citizen of the U.S. A country is looking at coarse behavior that aligns its citizens. Christianity wants your heart, your motives and your thoughts. This isn't what brings you into the family of God, nor does it keep you there, but it is a sign of who you are. We should consider the responsibility that we have as citizens of a higher kingdom.
Paul indicates that the building is being fitted together. You can imagine a construction site that requires all types of material to create a building. As they are being delivered to the site, it may not look like much, but as skilled carpenters and electricians and plumbers begin to put things together, it becomes something beautiful. The heavenly kingdom on earth - made up of different believers - is very similar. We are the different pieces, serving different purposes. You can think of these as the gifts that we posses and have been given by God. Together, we are always growing into the intended dwelling of God.
Built on the foundation of the apostle and prophets, with Jesus as the cornerstone, we have become fellow citizens with God's people and members of His household. Because of this fact, we join with others to create a holy church, in which God dwells by his Spirit. The church building itself is only a building, where the real church meets. God dwells among His people - not the building. However, we must note that this does not mean that every church falls into this same 'temple'. The key point is that the true church is based upon Jesus Christ. He is the figurative mortar that holds the walls together and keeps the church standing in the midst of strong storms. Without Jesus Christ as the cornerstone, the church is the same as any other organization in society. It may have some good days, but it won't possess the power and presence of God.
This passage drives home the point that we are no longer foreigners and aliens. We were once the outsiders and have become one with the insiders (those connected in Christ). We are fellow citizens of the kingdom of God. Are there groups of people that perhaps you have not allowed yourself to see as fellow heirs? Sadly, there is still racism prevalent amongst many Christians. Can this be? No longer are there separate entities in Christ, but one.
It is possible to have peace in your life with God and others, but it requires action on your part and on your thinking. First, remember that, on your own, you would be far from God - regardless of the family in which you grew up or any other good thing you may been a part of. We are shaped by these things, in one way or another, but if these are the defining factors in your life, you won't find this peace.
The church is composed of people who, once apart from God, have been reconciled to one another and to Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." Are you a new creation? Have you sold out to God or are you holding a lease that is renewed each year (or day or week or month)? Pull up the title to your life and sign it over to God. Then and only then will you find yourself at peace with God and others. Perhaps then you can realize the power of seeing churches and other believers wherever you go and finding 'family' when you visit.