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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am service, 2005-01-22

Text: Ephesians 5:25-27

In the sermon you that heard here last Sunday entitled 'The Master Builder's Blueprint,' we considered what makes a local church a true church of God. We saw that there are 5 marks which must be present in a church to identify it as a true Church that is built according to the Master Builder's blueprint. A true church would be (1) loyal to the truths of the Bible, (2) building up the saints in their most holy faith, (3) carrying the Gospel of Christ to the ends of the Earth, (4) rightly administering the sacraments, and (5) faithfully exercising Church Discipline. 

It must be mentioned however, that while a local church should bear all the five marks to qualify as a true church of God, there has never been any local church on earth that has fulfilled all these five marks perfectly and consistently. Some churches may be very strong on upholding their doctrinal standards, but are rather weak on evangelism and missions. Others may be quite strong in evangelism, but are rather weak in the area of church discipline. And yet other churches may be strong in exercising Church Discipline but not doing enough to build up the faith of its members. Thus all true churches of God will have specific areas in which they are not doing well enough, and must strive to do their best to improve.

I. We Should Not Have Unrealistic Expectations of a Church

In practical terms what this means to us, is that while we should always be careful to join or worship in a church which bears the 5 marks of a true church, we will never find a local church that is perfect. While our expectations of a local church should be high, and rightfully so, please be careful not to have expectations which are utterly unrealistic. Why? Primarily because we must understand that each local church on Earth comprises of sinners who are saved by grace, and who are still growing and being sanctified by the Lord. God has not finished with us yet. And even the very best and most godly members of a church and who are qualified to serve in its leadership are not perfect people. When all has been said and done, they are all still fallible human beings, who need much prayer and patience from the congregation and much help from God, in order to discern His will for the church, and to be preserved from falling into sin and from grievous error. Each local church will therefore have its own spots and blemishes. 

There was once a person who visited a church I was helping to serve in when I was a missionary overseas, and after the worship service I went to welcome him. I found out that he had attended about 70 other churches before. Each time he had joined a church for a few weeks or months. And he said that he still had not found a church that fully met his expectations. There was always some fault that he found in it or something that he disliked that caused him to move on to another church.

I trust that we will be careful not to have such unrealistic expectations of any local church we are in, or else we may end up becoming 'church hoppers' like the person I mentioned. The fact is, you will never find a local church which is faultlessly perfect. This fact is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith: 'The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error;(1) and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan.(2) Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to His will.(3)' (WCF 25:5)

When our Lord Jesus Christ wrote the epistles to the seven churches in Asia, He also rebuked them for certain faults and sins that each of them had. The Laodicean Church probably received the strongest rebuke of all. Revelation 3:16 'because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.' And yet Christ still loved this church deeply and chastised it in order to purify it. It was still regarded as being a true Church of God. But whether it would continue to remain one, would depend very much on how it would respond to the rebuke of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

If it did not respond well to Christ's rebuke, and allowed its faults and sins to fester and grow further, it may degenerate to a point when it can no longer be called a true church of God. But if the church responded well to the rebuke, and repented of its sin, then it would remain as a true church of God and would continue to be used of God. This leads us to the next point of the sermon:

II. We Must Respond Well as a Church to Christ's Purifying Work

It is wrong to say, 'Since no loval church can ever be perfect, there is no use in trying to be a perfect local church. So let us remain as we are.' Even though it is very much an uphill task, it is the responsibility of each local congregation to be constantly aspiring and striving after purity, with the help of our Lord Jesus Christ. We see this now in our sermon text in Ephesians 5:25-27, which teaches us about the ongoing work of Christ, of purifying the church 'Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.' There are three things about the purifying of the Church that we want to observe from here. Firstly:

A. It is Motivated by Christ's Sacrificial Love for the Church (v. 25)

The greatness of Christ's love for the Church appeared in His giving of Himself. And He did this even unto the extent of dying on the Cross for it. We should never cease to be amazed at the undying sacrificial love that Christ has for the Church. We must also be motivated by this love to respond well to Christ's purifying work in us, the work that Christ is doing now to the Church as a whole, and in each true local Church in particular. This brings us to the second thing we can observe from this passage regarding the purifying of the Church, namely that 

B. It is Effected by His Sanctifying Work on the Church (v.26,27b)

He is sanctifying the Church. This means that He is making the Church holy, or separated from the world and unto Himself. Just as God separated the light from the darkness on the first day of Creation, Christ is also separating us from the world to be a peculiar people for Himself, who are zealous of good works (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9; Deuteronomy 14:2). 

Besides sanctifying the Church, v.26 tells us that Christ is also cleansing the church. He cleanses it to remove the guilt of sin, the effects and pollution of sin, and the dominion of sin. There are three terms used in v.27 to represent these: the first is the word 'spot.' This refers to stains which spoil the precious beauty of an object. One stain that mars the purity of many local churches is worldliness. In our Lord's sight, worldliness is like an unsightly stain in the Church which He wants to remove. When Jesus came to the Temple and saw how the world had crept into it in the form of vendors marketing their wares, he was moved to remove them from the Temple. This is why James 1:27 tells us that we must keep ourselves unspotted from the world.

The second word that is used to represent imperfections in v.27 is 'wrinkle' - this word refers to unwanted lines or creases. When a crease forms in a wrong place on a piece of fabric, it may be a potential weak point where the fabric may tear. These lines or creases may therefore be likened to the lines of division that threaten to break the fellowship and unity of a church. It is sad to see this happening among God's people when they disagree with one another. 

Instead of trying to iron out these divisive lines with love, we allow them instead to grow deeper and deeper. The Lord dislikes such a divisive spirit when He sees it in the church (1 Corinthians 1:10) and He will seek to remove it.

The third word that is used to represent imperfections in v.27 is the word 'blemish' - this refers to defects. It is a term often used in the description of the condition of sacrificial animals - they must have no defect or blemish. A lamb is considered to be blemished if it is blind in one eye, or lame in one of its legs or even if it has an extra leg. In 2 Peter 2:13, false teachers are called blemishes in the Church. And these all have to be removed in order to restore wholeness to the church.

Now, in v.26, the process of removing all these imperfections can be likened to the process of washing with water. When we wash our clothes we let it soak in soapy water first, and then we scrub away every spot and stain that we can find on it. 

What does Christ use as the equivalent of water to sanctify the Church? John 17:17 gives us the answer, 'Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.' The Word of God is the means that God uses to sanctify the Church. Whenever the Word of Truth is rightly divided in a Sunday sermon, or in a Sunday School lesson, or in a Bible study lesson conducted in a church fellowship group, or even in a printed church weekly bulletin, the Lord lets us all soak in His Word. Then Christ Himself applies His Word to our hearts to deal with the specific faults and weaknesses that are in us, until we recognise them, yield to Him fully, and have them removed. And sometimes there are some very stubborn spots and stains that cannot be removed without going through the pain of chastisement. 

Dear friends, whenever the Lord cleanses or purges a Church of all its spots, wrinkles and blemishes, there is bound to be some discomfort, anguish and even pain. The church in Corinth endured much sorrow and distress together with the apostle Paul who had to make several trips to the Church just to deal with all its problems, because it was undergoing a purification process. This church had grave problems such as divisions, immorality, profaning of the Lord's Supper, and false teaching. But Paul did not give up. He persevered with them because the Spirit of Christ was moving him to purify this church, as he himself wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:2 'For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.' 

In this verse we can also see that the end result (to be able to present the Corinthian Church as a chaste virgin to Christ) is the ultimate reason for enduring all the unpleasantness of the purifying process. And this is the same reason for Christ's work of purifying every Church that belongs to Him. 

C. It Results in a Satisfying Holiness of the Church (v.27)

We see this in v.27 of our text of Scripture: 'That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.' Now the glorious and holy state of the Church that is described here is not temporary, but meant to be permanent. It refers to the final state of the Church, after the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the saints have taken place, at the time when the Bride of Christ is finally revealed in all her fullest resplendent beauty for all Creation to behold (Romans 8:19-21; Revelation 21:9). Therefore this verse does not teach that a local church can reach a state of perfection in this present world. 

There is no doubt that the Church will be perfect one day - Christ Himself will see to that. But it will not happen while the Church is still in this world. It will only happen after this present world is destroyed and gone forever. For the present time however, it is God's will that each and every local Church should be striving toward perfection. This is why no Church should be satisfied with just keeping the status quo, but always seeking to reform itself, by conforming its work and practice more and more to the Holy Scriptures, particularly in those areas where it is still lacking. 

Life Church is no exception to this. Although the five marks of the church which we studied last week are present here to varying degrees, there are definite areas in which we are still lacking, and in which we are required to strive toward full conformity with God's will. By human standards we may seem to be doing well as a Church. But by Christ's standards we are definitely lacking and there are areas in which improvements must be made.

III. We Must Take Heed to What Christ Says to Us (cf. Revelation 2-3)

Earlier on in our study of the Scripture text, we had seen that Christ uses His Word as the sanctifying agent to remove every spot, every wrinkle, and every blemish from His church. And our part is to see to it that we respond faithfully to His Word, whenever He speaks to us from it. 

Let us look at some of the things that Christ has spoken to some local churches in order to purify them of their spots, wrinkles and blemishes. Perhaps He may be speaking the same things to us as well.

To the church of Ephesus, the loveless Church, Christ said, 'Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.' (Revelation 2:4-5) The leaving of their first love was the great blemish that stook out in the otherwise spotless record of this church. Dearly beloved, let us see if we as a Church have also left our first love for Christ. That first love that we had for Him matters more to Him than all the good works that we can do.

To the church of Pergamos the compromising church, Christ said, 'But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.' (Revelation 2:14) The doctrine of Balaam here refers to Balaam's devious scheme to turn the Israelites away from God by seducing them with beautiful Moabite women. Dearly beloved, perhaps we have also allowed compromising relationships to draw us further and further away from God. Let us examine our hearts carefully.

To the church of Sardis the dead church, Christ said, 'Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent' (Revelation 3:2-3) The interesting thing about this church is that it had a name or reputation of being alive, but in reality it was a spiritually dead church! Dearly beloved, like the church at Sardis, we too have the name Life Church, and outwardly we have many activities and ministries for all age groups, but is Life Church actually spiritually alive? Or has Christ found our works to be imperfect in His sight?

To the church of Laodicea, the complacent or lukewarm church, Christ said, 'Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.' (Revelation 3:17-18) 

The main problem with the Laodicean church was that it was totally unaware of its own sorry state. It proudly assumed that it was fine and did not need anything, until Christ revealed how badly it needed to come to Him for help! Dearly beloved, let us not assume that all things are perfectly all right in Life Church. 

You know, our Church may look very impressive outwardly, blessed with a good attendance and with good offerings every Lord's Day, but inwardly we may be a spiritually destitute Church in need of revival from God. If this is really the case, then we must all get down on our knees as a Church and pray corporately and earnestly that the Lord will be merciful to revive us and awaken us out of complacency!

As your pastor, I am most concerned about how the Lord Jesus Christ perceives all of us here in Life Church, and what He wants us to do as a Church that we have failed to do. I am certain that Life Church is far from being a perfect church in the eyes of our Lord, just as I am painfully aware that I am far from being the kind of pastor that I ought to be to all of you. I would be the first to regretfully confess, as I stand before the Lord Jesus, that I have many weaknesses and shortcomings as a pastor. I believe that there are some shortcomings that I am not even aware of! 

And in this I would ask you now for help - that if God should show you any shortcomings in me, that you think I may not be aware of, please do not keep it to yourself, but share it with me. You will be doing me a tremendous favour! I assure you that I will be most grateful to you, because I believe that it will help me to grow to be a better pastor to God's flock, and perhaps it will at the same time also help every one of us to grow as a Church, towards the purity that Christ wants us to have.

Dearly beloved, the responsibility to strive toward becoming a pure Church, without any spot, wrinkle or blemish, rests not only on the Leadership of the Church. The responsibility also rests on all of us who are members as well. You will notice that when Christ spoke to these local churches in Revelation 2 and 3, He addressed not only its leaders, but its members as well. 

And for each of them, the last word that He left with them was always the same: 'He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.' (Revelation 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22).

In closing, I would really like to urge you now to take heed with me to what the Spirit is saying to our Church this morning, and also to respond together as a Church, to Christ's loving work of purifying us of every spot, wrinkle and blemish that He sees in us. May the Lord do a mighty work in our midst as we look to Him who is the Head of our Church.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25