God in sovereign love has purposed to bring His sin-ruined creation out of our sad and sorry state into godliness and redemption so we can live eternally in a new and restored world. He came here, died for our sin, rose to new life, and is in the process of restoration. The church is His instrument for spreading the good news of salvation and new life to all the world.
Paul described the church like this: “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19–21)
Luke described it less theologically and more about how it functioned . . .
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42–47)
In those days, the followers of Jesus Christ were focused. Paul was not living for himself or caring about his own comfort or reputation. He told the church at Corinth, “I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1–5)
He also said to them, “If I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16) and “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:5–6)
This does not describe most of those who call themselves Christians today. It does not describe me. I am convicted of my lack of focus and my inability to stick to the tasks I know God has assigned to me. My mind is all over the map and my goals and desires fluctuate. I could blame it on ADHD or I could say I’m merely human, but Jesus was human also, as were Paul and these early disciples who stayed on course. Paul did say, “We have this treasure in jars of clay” which could be another excuse for my wandering heart, but he said it to make the point that “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
I’ve experienced testing at every lecture and sermon I listen to and with every doctrine that I study. I am stressed by the tests and by the fact of realizing how addicted I am to personal comfort rather than bearing whatever stress I might incur by concentrating on the mission of God.
But Paul said, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:7–12)
I am aware that the Lord is clearing out the dross in me for His glory’s sake. He might use me in a greater way, or may not use me at all, but His mission is to deliver me from sin so I might live out the godliness He put in me through faith in Jesus Christ. I’d once assumed that if I were as committed to the Lord as the disciples of the early church were, then all would be peace and joy, yet I also know better.
Read just the above verses again. Following Jesus isn’t about me.