The Wonder of the Church: Part 5 – Starting from Scratch
31. Life (2)
Jn 6:54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
Pause: I was wanting to move on but then the Lord reminded me of something I saw a little while back while studying John 6. There a number of times Jesus spoke the same sort of thing we see in the verse above, and we might summarise this ‘eating’ and ‘drinking’ as a requirement of us, that we are to take Jesus fully into our lives. The Jews with Jesus struggled with this sort of language and I wrote in a previous study as follows: Talking to Jesus when you don’t understand is the answer, the path to wisdom, not just grumbling. I suspect if they had done that Jesus might have said something like, “Follow me, learn of me, live with me, watch me, share with me, encounter me, share your life with me and let me share my life with you, join with me in doing the things our Father wants us to do.” That, I suggest, is ‘eating Jesus’, taking Jesus into your life, absorbing him, feeding on him. In a later study I added, so what is that truth? It is, very simply, that you have to take Jesus fully into your life, his life entering your life. This is not about the Holy Spirit coming to indwell us but more about taking the very nature or character of Jesus into our lives so that our lives are changed by it.
Us Today? So why do I raise this again here, just after we have been thinking about ‘life’, spiritual life? Well, as I looked back, I noted that I wrote in one study as follows: In recent days I have been watching the work of erosion of faith that the enemy of souls is working in many of the children of God; good Christians, believers who are for God, and yet I watch and see an erosion of the practices that have been referred to by some as the ‘spiritual disciplines’. Prayer ceases, the Bible is rarely opened, church gets dropped and, and here is the point, I have watched an impoverishing of spirit taking place that makes them vulnerable to knocks of the world, vulnerable to anxiety and worry and an inability to cope with those knocks. What has been happening? They have stopped eating the Bread, they have stopped receiving regular life nourishment and they grow weary, downcast, and weak. When Jesus said, again and again, “I am the bread” he didn’t mean that he was to be put on some altar of remembrance, but that he was to be eaten, taken in, absorbed, become one with. Only in this way is he the source of spiritual life that we need every single day of our lives. As we focus on him, wait on him, seek his face, pray, read, worship, we are ‘eating’. This isn’t just about life after our body dies physically, this is about having ‘life’ every single day our heart beats and we breath.
And Church? Very well, let’s get to the heart of the burden I feel here. Church should be about conveying this ‘life’. Initially it is about sharing about it with unbelievers so that they become believers, become Christians, become part of the Church, become receivers of this ‘life’. Then it is about teaching them, encouraging them, building them up in their faith so that they see a fruitfulness coming from their life, a sense of fulfilment as they become part of the active body of Christ and see God using them to bless others. ‘Life’ involves conveying life to others. Where there is this ‘life’ you cannot help conveying it in some form or other. In the first paragraph above I have italicized Jesus’ call to each one of us, a call that the Church should convey and keep on conveying, not as Law that Must be followed, but as the wisdom of living out the life with Christ. In the second paragraph above I italicized what happens when we don’t do that and do it through the so-called spiritual disciplines, so that we become spiritually impoverished, weary, downcast and weak and, what I didn’t add back then, vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy and the trials of life.
Jesus’ Wisdom: We sometimes, I think, view Jesus’ parables as quaint little stories, especially good for telling in Sunday School. No more is this true than in the parable of the Two House Builders (see Mt 7:24-27) that teaches that if you want a stable and strong life that can weather the storms of life, you will base it on Jesus’ words, Jesus’ life. And again, that is not just academic knowledge but actually taking Jesus’ words and Jesus’ very life into your life so together you become one. Jesus sought to convey this sense of oneness with him when he spoke of us being yoked together with him like two oxen working together (Mt 11:28-30) and us being branches of the vine that is his life (Jn 15:1-5). This ‘life’ comes by obeying Jesus, by being tied to him, but being one with him so his life flows into us.
This happens when we pray, when we wait on him, when we read and study his word, when we fellowship together (and we’ll see this in the coming studies), when we worship, when we share him, when we minister to others in his name. In all these ways his life will flow in us. When we start giving up these things we become under-nourished and weak, vulnerable to attack and unable to cope with the storms of life that will come. It’s that sort of world and we need Jesus’ resource to handle it, cope with it, and triumph over it. And this is where the church comes in. We are not called to do it alone, we are called into a corporate experience, if I may put it like that, and that is what we will shortly go on to consider.
To Summarize: Jesus taught us, using very graphic, almost shocking language, to take him into our lives. We do that by giving ourselves to him to be our Saviour and Lord at conversion. Thereafter we are learning what it means to ‘feed’ on him, experiencing him through things such as prayer, reading his word, worshipping, fellowshipping, sharing him, ministering him, etc. This is the role of the Church, a body of people with Jesus as their head, rather like a mutual self-help group, except it is not self but Jesus through each member of the body building up the rest. The apostle Paul explained it, “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,” (Eph 4:12,13) and the Message paraphrase so graphically puts it, “until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” Isn’t that good, just like a physical body moves. But see those closing words: “fully alive like Christ”. That’s the ‘life’ bit! So perhaps we should now move on a see something of this corporate dimension of church life, first in the way we relate to one another, and then in the next Part, how God provides for us in the form of those specifically raised up to provide for and protect this body.