Hebrews 2:10 – “God is the One Who made all things, and all things are for His glory. He wanted to have many children share His glory—
—so He made the One Who leads people to salvation perfect through suffering.” (NCV)
How many of you know what a metaphor is? If you’ve forgotten, here’s the definition. “A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true, but helps explain an idea or make a comparison.”
To help us all better understand this grammatical term I want to share sentences with actual metaphors in them written by real live high school students as real live homework. They gave me a grin. I’m hoping they’ll do the same for you!
- He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.
- Even in his last years, grandpappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.
- He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a landmine or something.
- He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.
- Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.
- She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.
- Her voice had that tense grating quality, like a first-generation thermal paper fax machine that needed a band tightening.
Not bad! Agreed? How many of you think our youth here at Redland could do better? Me too! I admit my bias—but to coin another metaphor, I am sure our guys and gals the “Albert Einsteins” of English grammar!
In any case, I bring this all up because today—as we get ready to spend the upcoming week reading about our second purpose—I want us to look at five metaphors that the Scriptures use to describe the church.
But first, let’s do a little purposeful review. As you should know by now our entire church is studying Rick Warren’s best-selling book, What On Earth Am I Here For? I love hearing from so many of you—about how much you are enjoying the reading! In the first week of our study we learned that God created us to love. Let that fact sink in if it hasn’t already: God made you because He loves you! Yes! You! Then last Sunday, Bill did an awesome job explaining our first purpose—WORSHIP—which is basically defined as loving God BACK. We worship God by loving Him—not only in this room at 8:30 or 11:00 each Sunday—but every day of our lives. In fact, Bill used a great metaphor, when he said that what happens here every week is just the tip of the worship iceberg. We worship God whenever we show our love for Him by obeying Him which is MUCH more than what happens here. Let’s say our memory verse for this first purpose together: “Give yourselves completely to God since you have been given new life.” Romans 6:13b (NLT) That’s what worship is. It’s giving ourselves completely to God—it’s living every moment of every day in ways that show we love Him.
Today we will begin our focus on our second purpose which is: to love people. Now, of course, God wants us to love ALL people—but the Bible teaches that He is especially concerned about the love we are to have for our fellow Christians. The Bible teaches that we SHOW—we PROVE—we are God’s children—when we love each other. And another WORD for loving our spiritual brothers and sisters is FELLOWSHIP. That’s our second purpose. Our first purpose is WORSHIP—our second is FELLOWHIP. I think this is a good time to remind you that the “A” in our purpose statement acronym here at Redland refers to this. Look at your bulletins. It says that, as a church, we believe God has called us to be a grace-driven church for a grace-needing world where people—see the “A” in “grace?”—AFFIRM in the body of Christ.
We put that in our purpose statement so that we would never forget God’s command in 1st Peter 2:17 where He says, “LOVE your spiritual family.” We AFFIRM each other around here! Now—God has a special name for the people He wants us to especially love—He calls them, THE CHURCH. 1st Timothy 3 says, “I am writing to you so you will know how to live in the family of God. That family is the church of the living God, the support and foundation of the truth.”
By the way, the word for “church” in the Bible is the Greek word “ecclesia.” It literally means, “the called-out ones.” So, the church is made up of people who are called by God—called through their faith in Jesus to do God’s work in this world—called to be His representatives. As I said a few months ago—all Christians—not just pastors—all Christians are CALLED by God to full-time ministry.
In any case, in the Bible the “church” isn’t a program. It isn’t a building. It isn’t a career. No—as Warren puts it, “Church is not something you GO to. Church is something you BELONG to. It is not an event and it’s not a location. Church is a RELATIONSHIP.” Here’s something else. The word “church” or “ecclesia” is found in the Bible 115 times. Twenty of those times it refers to ALL CHRISTIANS down through the ages. But 95 of those times—the VAST majority of those times—it refers to a local body of believers like the church at Philippi or the church at Corinth. One thing Warren points out in his book is the foundational truth that all Christians need to be a part of a local “ecclesia” — a local church—like the church here at Redland. There is no such thing as a growing SOLO Christian. Every Christian needs to join and get involved in a local ecclesia. You are CALLED by God to do so! After all, you have spiritual gifts from God that are intended to be used in a church like Redland. Churches aren’t just for attending. They are for joining!
One reason God calls us to join a church is because a church provides benefits you cannot get on your own. And, as I said there are five metaphors of the church—in the Bible—each of which helps us understand these BENEFITS. Let’ look at them. We’ve already used the first metaphor but let’s look at it more closely. The Bible says that the church is a FAMILY. As Ephesians 2:19 puts it, “Now therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints of the household—or FAMILY—of God.” Here’s the benefit of being in a church FAMILY. Fill in the blanks on point one of your outline.
(1) In God’s FAMILY I learn my true IDENTITY.
A church family helps you understand WHO you are—WHY you are here.
I remember years ago hearing Tony Campolo tell about his days as a professor at Eastern University. He said from time to time sophomores would come in his office and say something like, “Professor Campolo, I’m going to take a year off from my studies so I can FIND MYSELF.” Campolo laughed and said, “No student ever came back and said, ‘Professor I found myself—just west of Detroit.’”
The fact is we can’t find ourselves—we can learn our true identity—on our own. We need the help of others. And that’s the way it works. Our relationships help define us. Here’s a few examples of what I mean:
- I’m a son.
- I’m a grandson.
- I’m a father.
- I’m a grandfather.
- I’m a husband.
- I’m a pastor.
- I’m a friend.
- I’m an American
All of these relationships help define who I am and why I am here. You could each make a similar list. The problem is—if my relationships get broken or are poor, then my identity is threatened. Anyone who’s gone through a divorce knows after the divorce they ask, “Who am I now?” because their relationship—their identity—was tied to that person. Or when someone has been married to someone for a long time and that spouse dies, it’s very common, very natural and normal for people to think, “What now? Who am I now? What’s my place? What’s my role? My identity is not the same.” The sad fact is most earthly relationships don’t last—they change or end. Even our identity as AMERICANS could change. I mean, we have to guarantee that the U.S. will last any longer than any other nation has. The Hittites are gone—the Romans are gone—the Babylonians are gone. Do you see what I mean? If the Lord tarries, there’s a good chance America will be gone someday.
Well, this is where the benefit of a church family comes in. You see, the church will never end.
And a healthy local church is full of people who know they are spiritual brothers and sisters. These super-siblings—these “friends who stick closer than a brother” remind us that we are a part of an eternal family.
I think churches in the south affirm this more than we “Yankees” do because decades ago when I served down there they would say things like, “Brother Mark—after church why don’t you stop by the house for lunch?” Or “Sister Sue—can you share a testimony in worship this morning?”
And we ARE a family. If God is your Father and God is my Father—then we are siblings! The wonderful thing is the fact that as a Christian—you have siblings all over the world. This week Cathie Burke let us know that one of the women we visited when we were in Kenya earlier this year—an 80+-year-old woman named Patricia—was hit by a motorcycle. When I heard that—it was like my sister had been hurt—because, like me, Patricia is a Christian. I enjoyed meeting her and getting to know her—touring her farm—holding her grandson. Cathie also asked us to pray for hers and the Amani women’s safety in the coming week as the Kenyan elections continue. I fear for my sisters’ danger—so I am praying.
Well, this is another reason it is so important to join a church wherever Uncle Sam or your company sends you because we need the connection of aa healthy church family. Plus—that connection reminds us of our true identity—it reminds us that we are first and foremost a child of God.
Decades ago my dad told me a story about a famous preacher and teacher named, Fred Craddock. One summer Craddock was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, TN. They were eating breakfast at little restaurant in that Smokey Mountain town, hoping to enjoy a quiet meal—just the two of them—and that’s the way they wanted it. While they were waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. Craddock leaned over and whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here. We’re on vacation and I just want to be left alone!” But sure enough, the man did come over to their table. In a friendly voice he asked, “Where are you folks from?” “Oklahoma,” Craddock answered—a bit tersely. The stranger didn’t notice and said, “Splendid state, I hear, although I’ve never been there. What do you do for a living?” Attempting to disguise his occupation for fear of even more interaction, Craddock, said, “I teach homiletics at the graduate seminary of Phillips University.” The man said, “Oh—you’re a preacher! Well I’ve got a great preacher story to tell you.” And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down at their table. Craddock winced and said to himself, “Great—Just what I need another preacher story!” The kind old man ignored Craddock’s facial expression and said, “See that mountain over there?” pointing out the restaurant window. “Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up, because every place he went, he was always asked the same embarrassing question, ‘Hey boy, Who’s your daddy? Who’s son are you?’ Whether he was at school, in the grocery store or drug store, people would ask the same question, ‘Who’s your daddy? Who’s your father?’ This boy would hide at recess and lunch time from other students. He would avoid going in to stores because that question hurt him so bad. It was agonizing to be reminded of the fact that he was illegitimate. Things have changed since then—but in those days, being born out of wedlock was a shameful thing. Well, when this little boy was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church to lead a revival. That’s another change. Revivals were a big deal in those days. The boy would go to the services with the rest of the town—but he would go intentionally late to avoid having to talk to anyone. And he’d slip into a back seat so as to be able to leave before the others. He did everything he could to avoid hearing someone ask him that painful question, ‘Who’s your daddy?’ But one night the preacher said the benediction quicker than normal and the boy got caught up with the rest of the people as they left the church. The boy tried to hurry out but about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him,
‘Son, who’s your daddy? Who’s your father?” The whole church got deathly quiet. The boy could feel every eye in the church looking at him. He felt so embarrassed—he knew what they were thinking. He could feel the judgment in their eyes. He didn’t want to tell this preacher—what everyone else already knew. But the evangelist sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, he smiled and said, ‘Wait a minute! I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. Son, you are a child of God!’ With that he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, ‘Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.’ The boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. Whenever anybody asked him, ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ he’d just tell them, ‘I’m a Child of God.’ And from then on the people of that church welcomed me in that way.”
The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, “Isn’t that a great story?” Craddock who had been as enthralled as you guys agreed! And when the gentleman got up and turned to leave, he said, “You know, if that new preacher hadn’t told me that I was one of God’s children, I probably never would have amounted to anything!” With that he walked away. Craddock and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over and asked her, “Do you know who that man was who just left that was sitting at our table?” The waitress grinned and said, “Of course. Everybody here knows him. That’s Ben Hooper. He’s the former governor of Tennessee!” Then Craddock remembered that on two occasions the people of Tennessee had elected an illegitimate man to be their governor and their guest had been that man.
That’s one wonderful benefit of the FELLOWSHIP of other Christians. They help you learn that as a Christian, you are God’s child—that first and foremost—that’s your identity. That’s who you are! Is that a benefit or what!?
Here’s a second metaphor. It’s found in 1st Corinthians 3:16-17 where it says: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s TEMPLE and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” Here’s the benefit that this metaphor teaches us.
(2) In God’s TEMPLE I’m SUPPORTED by others.
Like the columns of a temple that holds the entire structure up—the members of a local church hold each other up. They help them as they endure the storms of life. I mean, in a church we’re not alone. This is a wonderful benefit because as we all know, there are times in life when we NEED others to hold us up—times when we can’t stand alone. Looking at Ephesians 2 again—verses 18-21 say to all Christians, “You are fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household—built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”
This verse reminds us that in the local church, like two-by fours nailed together—we get the inter-connectedness that we all need. And this is wonderful because we weren’t meant to go through life UN-connected. We weren’t meant to go through life alone. There are times when we need people who will help us bear our burdens. We need others to help us endure life’s trials—and I will testify that the best “others” are our spiritual brothers and sisters—members of our local church.
John Knight and Denise Knight were happily anticipating the birth of their first child, a son. They had already decided to name him Paul. But when Paul was born, there was a big problem: Paul was born without eyes. John and Denise would later discover that their son had other serious issues, including severe autism and a growth hormone deficiency. Two months after Paul’s birth, as John was looking at his son hooked up to tubes and sensors and surrounded by medical professionals, he quietly told God, “Father, You are strong, that’s true, but You are also wicked. You are mean. Do it to me—not to this boy. What did he ever do to You?” Shortly after that prayer, John and Denise quit going to church. They were angry at God. But one couple from the church, Karl and Gerilyn, refused to give up on them. Understand—they never pressured John and Denise about spiritual issues. Instead, they would often stop by and leave simple gifts, like a loaf of fresh bread or a basket of soap and shampoo for Denise. John said that it was like Karl and Gerilyn were saying, “I notice you. I see you. I know you’re hurting and I love you. I’m here for you. You aren’t facing this alone.” Eventually John and Denise accepted a dinner invitation from Karl and Gerilyn. During dinner John told Karl, “You can believe whatever you want. I don’t care. I have evidence that God is cruel.” Karl softly replied, “I love you, John. I have regard for you, and I love your boy.” Karl and Gerilyn’s four children also displayed unconditional love for their son. John described it this way: “They’d throw [my son] up in the air and make him laugh and do funny bird sounds and—and that was confounding, because most people, most adults couldn’t do that. And so I would have this extraordinary expression of love and affection at the dinner table here, and I would turn to my left—and there would be at least one of these children playing with my boy like he was a real boy. I confess—I wasn’t even sure he was a real boy at times.”
Based on this family’s quiet, persistent love, John and Denise finally returned to the Lord and to their local church. And when they returned Karl and Gerilyn stayed by their side, making sure their son made it into the nursery. John would later say, “They persisted. That was a big deal that they persisted with us.”
How many of you have had Christian friends—fellow church members—who have persisted in various ways—persisted in holding you up? Isn’t that a wonderful benefit of Christian fellowship?! I will testify that I wouldn’t have made it through the difficulties of life without Christians—fellow FAMILY members—like you guys.
The third metaphor of fellowship is found in texts like Romans 12:5 where it says “In Christ we, though many, form ONE BODY, and each member belongs to all the others.”
And here’s the benefit.
(3) In Christ’s BODY I discover my unique VALUE.
This metaphor reminds us that like different parts of a body—we each have an important role to play in the church. Look around—we are all different. Do you see any other “you’s” looking back? No—of course not because we are all unique. We have different talents—different insights—different spiritual gifts. We have different life experiences. And that’s God’s plan. He loves variety so He made us different which means we all have a unique role to play—an important role. Listen to how Paul puts it in 1st Corinthians 12: “The body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
Did you get that? You cannot be what God purposed you to be without doing YOUR part in a church family. Without a local church you’re just a “hand” or a “nose” floating around on your own. Every part of the church is vitally important. Every part—every person—is incredibly valuable.
- Jim Mitcham has the gift of mercy—which makes him great at working with prisoners up in Hagerstown.
- Bill Archer has amazing musical gifts—which makes him perfect for leading our worship ministry.
- Cheryl Burba is a great cook with amazing administrative gifts. Without her we wouldn’t be able to enjoy our midweek fellowship meal.
- CC Day has the gift of teaching—an important part of equipping the rest of us to understand and obey God’s Word.
- Andy Johnson and Verk Eubanks have a God-given passion to help us keep our campus looking good—a great “first impression witness” to the thousands of people who drive by.
- Bobby Rivas has life experiences that most of us don’t. So, he helps us see needs we would miss otherwise.
- Ronda Mayberry has an incredible HELPING heart. If you’ve ever been on the receiving ends of one of her comforting hugs, you know what I mean.
- Grant and Clara Struthers are AMAZING at IT stuff.
- Marcus Day has a gift of design. I can hardly wait to show you the graphic he has come up with for next year’s vision.
I could go on and on because every one of our church members is AWESOME—every single member of this church has incredible value. I constantly pray that God would send us more members—not because I want to be able to brag to fellow pastors about our size as a church—but because I know every believer has gifts and talents a church needs to do what God calls us to do and so the more members we have—the more we can do for God. And there is nothing more WONDERFUL than doing things TOGETHER for God—things we could not do alone. Each of us finds our VALUE—our TRUE value—as members of churches like Redland.
In the aftermath of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, back in 1995—author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada was invited to be part of a Christian counseling team that helped victims. Joni is a quadriplegic. She writes: “Upon arrival, I had to go to the American Red Cross center to be cleared and credentialed. And I will never forget wheeling into that low, flat, red brick building. There were people setting up chairs and tables, stacking forms, and putting out doughnuts and coffee. And across the large room was a tall, officious-looking woman in a white lab coat. When she saw me wheel through the door, she quickly turned around with her clipboard, put down her glasses, and said, ‘Oh my, are we glad to see you here!’ That sparked my curiosity, and I said, ‘Why?’ She responded, ‘When people walk up to you in your wheelchair and see you handle your personal crisis with that smile of yours, it speaks volumes to them. It assures them that they can handle their crisis too. We need people like you in here. Please, help us go out and find more individuals like you who can assist us.’
The woman in the American Red Cross white lab coat had caught the drift of 1 Corinthians 12:22-23, which says, “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts [of the body] that we think are less honorable we treat them with special honor.” In a church family—you learn that God made EACH OF YOU unique. You each have an important part to play in the local church—and that gives you confidence and value.
Here’s the fourth metaphor. It’s in John 10 where Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them, too. They’ll also recognize my voice. Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd.”
Here’s the benefit.
(4) In God’s FLOCK I’m PROTECTED and CARED for.
And isn’t that an important thing—a precious thing in this fallen and falling world of ours!? In her book Grapes of Wrath or Grace, Barabra Brokhoff tells the story of a group of American tourists were taking a bus tour in Rome led by an English-speaking guide. Their first stop was a basilica in a piazza, which was surrounded by several lanes of relentless Roman traffic. After they were all safely dropped off, the group climbed the steps for a quick tour of the church. Then they spread out to board the bus, which was now parked on the other side of the street. The frantic guide shouted for the group to stay together. He hollered out to them, “You cross one by one, they hit you one by one. But if you cross together, they think you will hurt the car! They won’t hit you.”
That’s the way a church is—in it you find people to stand with you in this fallen world—and sadly life is full of times when we need others to stand with us. But there’s more to it than that—in a local church where you get to know others—that fellowship gives you people who will care for you when you need it—whether that caring means just sitting with you when you are grieving—or giving you a ride to the doc—or bringing over a meal when you just got out of the hospital—or babysitting your kids so you and your husband can have a date night—or just a friendly ear when you need someone to listen. When we allow Jesus to use our hearts and hands and feet to minister to other church members—it’s a wonderful thing.
Okay—I’m almost done. Here’s the final metaphor. It’s in verses like 1st Corinthians 3:5-8 where Paul says: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. You happen to be God’s field—God’s garden—in which we are working.”
And here’s the benefit:
(5) In God’s GARDEN my life becomes PRODUCTIVE.
Jesus referred to this aspect of church fellowship in John 15 when He said that a branch that is severed from the vine cannot produce fruit. The fact is God has incredible fruit for His kingdom that He wants to bear in your life but He can’t do that unless you are connected to the Vine. And a church is where you learn to do that. It’s where you CONNECT to the vine. It’s where you become a part of God’s garden. I mean, a church nurtures you—grows you—admonishes you—“weeds you” when needed—helps you discover your spiritual gifts—all to help you bear fruit.
Daniel Meyer tells the story of an elderly woman who heard a sermon in her church—in which she felt God encouraging her to look for ways in which she could use her particular gifts and situation to minister to the needs of others. She thought about her gifts and realized that she’d been told by others that she had the gift of hospitality. She lived alone in a small apartment near a large university and had afternoons free. She pondered the needs around her and the people who tugged at her heartstrings. To her mind came the students nearby who were so far away from home. It was then that an idea both strange and simple suddenly arose. She got a stack of three-by-five cards and wrote on each one the following words: “Are you homesick? Come to my house at 4:00 p.m. for tea.” She included a phone number and address and then posted the cards all around campus. After a slow start, homesick students began trickling into her house each week for tea. When she died ten years later, eighty honorary pallbearers attended her funeral. Each one of them had been a student who, once upon a time, found a hot cup of tea, a sense of home, and the gospel of Jesus in the hospitable heart of this faithful servant. Who can guess all the fruit that came from the life of this woman.
How much fruit are you bearing? How are you changing this fallen world for the better? You can’t do that—without being a part of a local church—where you find people who help you grow.