Last time, I suggested that the experience of the presence of God is a thread that runs through the entire Bible. In the Garden of Eden and in the New Heavens and New Earth, his people have unhindered access. In between, access is available, but only through sacrifice, beginning with the sacrifice of the animal for Adam and Eve, and continuing with the sacrificial system in the Tabernacle and Temple, and culminating with the sacrifice of Jesus, which opened the opportunity for us to experience God’s presence both individually and corporately in the local church. Today I want to elaborate on how the presence of God is manifested in the local church.
As Paul says in Eph 2:18-22, the church gathered is a temple of God in which his presence is visible.
For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then 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. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.(Eph 2:18-22 ESV)
How can this be? How can God’s presence be visible in the local church in a way that is even similar to the way his presence was manifest in the Tabernacle and Temple? I suggest that the answer is in the way he lives in believers by his Spirit and how he lives through believers through his gifts. When believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit come together, God is present and when these believers use their gifts, others experience his presence. When a gifted teacher teaches, students experience the presence of God. When a gifted worship leader leads worship, the congregation experiences God’s presence. When a person with the gift of encouragement encourages someone, that person experiences the presence of God. How many times have you heard someone say, “When he speaks, God speaks to me,” or “When she prays, I am taken into the presence of God?” This is how God’s presence fills the church gathered.
There are two questions that I pose that relate to this suggestion. First – why do you go to worship services or small group studies or leadership team meetings? If you go to make friends, you may find some, but what happens if and when they move? If you go to hear great music, what happens when the worship team has an off day? If you go to send your children to Christian Education, what is there when they graduate from high school and go to college or get married? If you go to hear the pastor answer your questions about the Bible, realize that while he may have some answers, you can always find better answers in Bible commentaries or online or on the radio. All these reasons for attending church have a potential let down. But if you go to church to meet God through others, you will never have the same experience twice and you will always be refreshed and inspired. With that expectation, we should be excited to go to church!!! Second – what if you go to church and never use your gift? If you go to church and are a sour puss, people will meet a sour puss. If you go to small group with a critical spirit, people will meet a critical spirit. But if you go to church or small group and you use your gift, people will meet God!!! This is a huge motivation for discovering and nurturing your spiritual gift!
This is how God fills the church gathered. God reveals his presence through the gifts of his people as they meet together. People are hungry to meet God. Let’s take the assignment to nurture a healthy church seriously. I can’t wait to go to church this week!!!