(Sermon preached by Rev Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 10th June 2012)
- Exodus 35:30 – 36:7
- Ephesians 4:1-16
My dear friends in Jesus Christ, our Lord,
I remember my mother’s lounge room. There was nothing fancy in it, but apart from the normal things you would expect in the room, there was a showcase in the corner. It had glass doors that Mom kept locked. The shelves were something like mirrors, which made the ornaments in the showcase look like there were lots of things store in this show case. There were a few silver cups, some brassware, and also some cups and saucers Mom only used when we had important visitors.
Having a showcase like Mom’s was not always a good thing. Every so often the brass and the silver ornaments had to be polished. Mom’s urge to have them polished usually happened on a Saturday – that’s when all of us were free from school. I remember the soft cloths, the brass and silver polish, the peculiar smell of the chemicals, and of course, the black stains on my hands. After careful cleaning, these ornaments would go back to the showcase, but only after Mom had cleaned the mirrors and glass doors with a solution of vinegar and some sort of detergent.
I sometimes think that some Christians see the church as God’s showcase: He would save sinners from their sin, wash them in the blood of his Son, and then put them in his showcase as ornaments of his grace. He would then keep them out of harm’s way and show then off when the devil seems to have some sort of claim on them. In essence, saved Christians are seen as God’s trophies, safely locked away, with only the very rare occasion, like maybe a Communion Service, they are taken off the shelves for a polish and a spit – once again to go back as ornaments to just look good on the shelve.
I attended a conference one day, and the speaker used a different picture to describe some churches: the ministers are the ecclesiastical babysitters and the members like infants, who need the attention of the babysitter-ministers to stop the discontent with some of the members by plugging the dummies back.
In essence then in a church like this, only a few do the work, while others never grow to maturity in Christ. Of the service of the body as a whole, hardly anything happens. Such a church is usually inward-looking, only satisfying their own needs, doing things they have always done, and do not move out of the comfort zone of tradition.
Is this what God wants from his Church? It dare to say in big fat letters, “NO!”
The people of the Lord display his glory – Old Testament
Let’s get the picture of how things were done in the Old Testament, just after God rescued the people from slavery. We turn to Exodus 24. God summoned Moses up the mountain, and there in a cloud which looked a “consuming fire”, God met with Moses to reveal to him how He wanted to be worshiped.
In the finest of details God gave Moses the dimensions, material and plans of the ark, the tabernacle, the table, the lamp stand, the altar, the courtyard, the priestly garments, the high priestly breastplate and ephod, and other items. The Lord commanded Moses, “Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (Exodus 25:9)
If I were Moses, I would probably somewhere in this meeting with God have felt troubled in my heart, because quite frankly, one man just could not do all these things. It called for skilled people who would know how to work with gold and silver and bronze and wood; people who would know how to make the material for the priest’s wardrobe, and the curtains for the tabernacle. One person couldn’t do it. Not even a few people could do it. And God knew it full well – it was not his plan for only a few, He wanted all of his people involved.
We read an amazing verse in the Bible, almost as if the Lord would read Moses’ mind:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you:” (Exodus 31:1–6, NIV)
When Moses then, after coming down from the mountain and the presence of the Lord, met the people, this is precisely what he told them as we read it in Exodus 35:30ff. He also revealed to them this in verse 34:
both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others.” (Exodus 35:34, NIV)
Something wonderful is happening here: not only were these people able to make things, there were able to teach others to make things. They were able to pass on their skill. In other words, it was not God’s plan to use these men only, but under their leadership others would be taught to become involved in the whole building of the tabernacle of the Lord. In a sense then, God’s people as a whole were involved in his worship.
We see how it happened:
- There was Moses who received from God the plans of the tabernacle and all its furnishings.
- With him were Joshua his aide, Aaron, his two sons, Nadab and Abide, and the seventy elders who were waiting for Moses to return from the presence of the Lord on the mountain.
- What Moses received he instructed the elders and priest about, but he also passed it on to Bezalel and Oholiab. Upon these men rested, as we see, the Holy Spirit – they were directly inspired by the Holy Spirit, because what they had to do, was according to God’s instruction and needed to be precise. They in turn then taught others their skill and the work started. Was everyone skilled in the same manner? No, but everyone was involved. Listen,
“They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.” Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more.” (Exodus 36:3–6, NIV)
So, where did the people get these offerings of gold and silver from? They got it from God, who never demands anything which He does not supply in the first instance. The Bible says:
“The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.” (Exodus 12:35–36, NIV)
So, when God wants his church to worship Him, He reveals to them how it’s done through the leaders He has gifted with his Holy Spirit; he provides for them the means to do as He commands, and He involves all his people in the building and the maintenance of his work.
A type of what was fulfilled in Christ
In the Old Testament, everything in the worship was like a type or shadow of what would happen in the fulness of time when God would give them the Messiah.
In a sense the work of the Old Testament Church was nationally restricted to the nation of Israel, but with the arrival of the Messiah everything would change.
- The temple, the tabernacle, the altar, and all the other furnishings would become obsolete.
- The office of Priest became obsolete in the Person of Christ.
- Further, the outpouring of the Holy Spirt then restricted to only a few people at appointed times for specific tasks, would become a general anointing for all the people.
- Further, the boundaries around Israel would be removed, with the nations of the world now to be reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The shadow was removed and the light shined. The prophecies were fulfilled, and everything was made new in Christ. Every member of the church of Christ is now prophet, priest and kings in the office of believer.
The people of the Lord display his glory – New Testament
The principles are the same. Let’s look at it. We turn to what we read in Ephesians 4.
One major theme, in fact the main theme of chapter 4, is written to point to the fact that the church of Christ should operate as one unit. Paul writes:
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3–6, NIV)
Verse 13 once again touches the matter of unity, and verse 16 refers to the church as one body.
But Paul immediately points out, that although we are one body, we are members with each a different gift “as Christ apportioned it”, he says in verse 7. In other words, he says, you’ve got a job in the body of Christ, and all do not have the same function. You are not an ornament in the God’s showcase. In fact, He does not have a showcase. You are a living member in the living body of Christ. Others need you to function well, and you need others to function.
If it was said that one does not need to have your name on the books of the church to be saved, let it then be said that everyone needs to function in harmony with the rest of the body to function well. Arms cannot function on their own, so can yes or feet not do their own thing and expect to remain alive. If you are on the fringe, be sure you are going to die a spiritual death – in the end you might need to be amputated.
Like in the Old Testament God does not demand before He enables and provides. This is why Paul says that Christ apportioned. He took the whole world as his store room to provide his church with the means to do his work.
Christ is the one then who appoints, or give gifts to his church. What are they? First like in the Old Testament, He provides leaders. A list is given: apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers. We don’t exactly know how all these offices functioned in the time of Paul, but one thing stands out: God provides leaders. He calls them and enables them.
But they are not like the players on the footy field. They are not the members of the team playing the game under the minister who acts as some referee, while the pavilions are packed with spectators cheering them on, while they themselves are unfit, and sometimes do not even know the rules of the game, but somehow still enjoy the game. The church is not a footy match where only a few leave the field with bruises and sore joints. There is no pavilion, and there is no spectator, and there is no member who only pays club money and never attends to action.
Listen, Christ gives these leaders for a reason. What is it? Listen,
“… to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12–13, NIV)
We are all in the army of Christ, we are all soldiers, we fight together on the Lord’s side and together we face the enemy. And under our Commander in Chief we share in the victory.
See, the problem with the church is struggling is the problem of spiritual immaturity. It has at least two devastating consequences: fist, because we are under-equipped, we cause the body to limp. There are parts of the body missing or underdeveloped. The body does not function at full strength. It is like a car on one or more flat tyre, missing a few spark plugs, with the headlights out and no fluid in the brake lines. It is outright dangerous and inefficient.
This leads then to the second consequence: we take any untrained mechanic or salesman that comes along to tell us how to fix it. We fall for every new form of teaching. We are unable to defend the truths of the Scripture, because we are ecclesiastical infants. We expect about all from the few leaders,and because they are sometimes so exhausted they can’t do more to that just plug the dummy back to avoid trouble. If not, we go our own way, gather our own teachers and so have new churches spring up all over the place – and the unity of the church is shattered, and we almost become useless.
The problem can only be solved if we understand the Scriptures well:
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:15–16, NIV)
We have to once again see ourselves as part of the whole, and if we don’t function as a whole, we cannot be effective. We need to grow up. We need to become spiritually mature. It was Christ’s plan to grow his church through the teaching of the Word by giving the church leaders to train every member up to do works of service.
We need to support one another just as every ligament in our bodies hold the body together. We need to always look and have our eyes fixed on Jesus, our Head. He died for us; He forgave us our sins; He made us righteous; He justified us; He sanctifies us; He gave us his Spirit – not to sit idle in a show case or only to become enthusiastic spectators on the pavilions of the footy matches, but to be on the field, trained and fit for the game.
Only, and the average church member does not want to hear this: it is not a game, it is a battlefield. There is an enemy to conquer. One might lose one’s life in the process. Apart from the tender love of Christ holding us safe, there is nothing tender about the Christian walk: it’s a brutal war. Are you ready?
May God help us.