“”I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17:23)
The focus of Jesus’s ministry was always to glorify the Father, and to demonstrate that He was the Son whom the Father had sent, because He loved it so much, to bring eternal life to all who accepted Him. His master plan – His only plan – was to build His church to destroy the works of the enemy and reveal the love of the Father that He poured out into the hearts of His children by the power of the Holy Spirit. The church is the chain that makes the wheels of the bike go round: unless we are linked in with other believers our discipleship is not going to progress.
Paul prays: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3: 15-17) The pre-requisite to knowing the love of Christ and being filed with all the fullness of God is being “rooted and grounded in love.” The arena in which we fulfll the command to love one another and keep pedalling forward (as I wrote earlier in this series) is the local church, where Jesus is Lord, the Father is glorified, and the life of the Holy Spirit flows; where believers pray for one another, serve one another, minister to one and other and are accountable to one another.
If there were a prize for the most-quoted verse of scripture, Matthew 18:20 would probably be in contention for runner -up: (the winner, of course, being John 3:16.) “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Jesus “in the midst” is the essence of church. I think if we all took discipleship a lot more seriously Jesus would probably be a lot more evident in the midst than He often is, but that’s not for this chapter. I think what is important here is for us always for us to remember where we are headed as we cycle up the mountain:
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.” (Eph 1: 7-10)
God is gathering us together in Christ, and His vehicle is the church. “He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Eph 1:22-23) This is the goal of our discipleship, and it’s why we cannot follow Jesus on our own. It’s why Jesus prayed “May they all be one as you and I are one” (John 17:21). And it’s why we cannot be walking in the Spirit if we “bite and devour one another” (Galatians 5:15)
Because the heart of God breaks at division in His church. Revival will sweep the nations when brothers and sisters in Christ set aside petty doctrinal and stylistic differences and gather round the standard of our Saviour to destroy the works of the devil in His name. But when one ministry denounces or criticises another, they are allowing those very works of the devil into their own ranks. For what is more important: what we think we know about what God thinks, or whether we obey His commandment to love one another? Whether we criticise and condemn one another, or whether we are “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you?” (Ephesians 4:32)
The Lord needs His chain to be well-oiled. Jesus is always there, ready to pour the oil of the Holy Spirit onto each one of His links. We need to be connected to one another with links that are supple and yielding. Without the oil of His anointing we become rusty and rigid, set in our ways, insensitive to one another and out of touch with the three cogs on the crankshaft – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is for each one of us to keep seeking the Lord so that we remain well-oiled individually in order for the corporate chain of the life of the Body to function smoothly. Again, as I wrote above, it is not for one link to assess whether another is functioning as it should, or even whether or not it should be there. We are nothing on our own: it is only through our connections to those three cogs and to one another that we have purpose. Paul writes this to the Galatians:
“If anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.” (Gal 6: 3-5)
Jesus says to the church at Sardis: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.” (Rev 3: 1-2). The “things that remain” are Faith, Hope, and Love, and the greatest of these is Love. (1 Cor 13:13). These three are the gold, silver, and precious stones that remain from our works after the wood, hay and stubble have been consumed in the fire. (1 Cor 3:12) We are alive in Christ to the degree that we are linked to one another in Love, and the body of these connections is the Church of Christ. To be disciples we must be in the chain, and we must be vigilant to overcome any thoughts and attitudes that would tempt us to break our connections.