The Church: The Purpose (1) Training Ground

We saw in the last article that the reason that we have the church is because people are broken, needing a place of refuge where they can learn to reestablish their relationship with God and with man. God sent Jesus Christ to reestablish the relationship between God and man and then form the Church so that those people who have their relationship with God restored can learn how to build relationships with one another. Now that we are in the church, what do we do?

Many people see the church as a “hospital for sinners” yet there is no such presentation of the church in the Scriptures. In this article, I would like to focus on what we do now that we have seen our need for the church and joined up. Just to help you see the idea of the church being a “hospital for sinners” is not Biblical, I would like to use a verse that I used in the last article.

And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered and said to him, You are blessed, Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but My Father in Heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:16-18)

I have heard several sermons on this passage and many of them present the church as being hunkered down praying and hoping that Satan and his legions will not break down the doors and enter in, causing havoc and destruction among the church. That may make for a good visual image to the sermon but it is not a good interpretation of the passage. If you will notice, hell has the gates, not the church. Gates are not an offensive weapon. They are a defensive tactic. Satan and his demons are the ones trying to “keep the church out”, not of hell but in the battle for the soul’s of men, Satan owns the terrain and we, the church, are the ones attacking his territory when we share the Gospel with people and see sinners transformed into saints. The church is not the hospital primarily focusing on the sick and wounded. The church is on the attack, reaching out to the sick and wounded with the message that will heal them and then bringing those healed people into the church for the next step in the process. The church is more like an army base (with a small hospital) with the primary focus of training and sending out instead of being occupied day and night with petty problems. In fact, this is exactly what Jesus Christ did when He built His church on the Rock, which is Himself. Let’s take a look at what the Savior did as He was building His church.

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent! For the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. And walking by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea. For they were fishermen. And He said to them, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they immediately left their nets and followed Him. And going on from there, he saw another two brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. And He called them; and they immediately left the boat and their father and followed Him. And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. And His fame went throughout all Syria. And they brought to Him all those being badly ill suffering various diseases and torments, and those who had been possessed with demons, and those who had been moonstruck, and paralytics. And He healed them. And great multitudes of people followed Him, from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and beyond Jordan. (Matthew 4:17-25)

If you follow (no pun intended) the bold, underlined words of the text then you will see a pattern that Jesus began and instilled in His disciples, the same pattern that they were commanded to follow as the church was formed and began to grow. He went to them, preached repentance to them, called them to follow Him, and then taught them day by day how to be disciples and how to serve the people around them. These men were being trained intensively, to be good disciples and to be good disciple makers.

One of the last teachings that Jesus gives to His disciples, after His death, burial, and resurrection, and just before the ascension into heaven, is what we call the Great Commission. It is found in Matthew chapter 28.

And the eleven disciples went into Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him. But some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All authority is given to Me in Heaven and in earth. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things, whatever I commanded you. And, behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:16-20)

Jesus does not send out men who have just repented and now are ready to take the message to the world. Jesus entrusts this mission to men who have spent 3 and 1/2 years being trained intensively in the art of being disciples and making disciples. Many times Christians are taught that they get right with God, have their fire insurance taken care of, and then go on living their lives the way they want, attending church regularly as spectators and that is about all. Jesus formed the church on the process of discipleship, not being a spectator. He did not chose Peter as the pastor of the church, who would do all of the work, while everyone else would be fed, that is, being spectators in the church. Jesus sent them all out to make disciples which would be the foundation of the church.

Peter and the crew understood this calling and immediately put it into practice.

And with many other words he earnestly testified and exhorted, saying, Be saved from this perverse generation. Then those who gladly received his word were baptized. And the same day there were added about three thousand souls. And they were continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and in fellowship and in the breaking of the loaves, and in prayers. And fear came on every soul. And many wonders and miracles took place through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things common. And they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. And continuing with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they shared food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:40-47)

Jesus ascended into heaven and then sent the Holy Spirit to the believers. They began to serve their society. They preached repentance (just like Jesus did). They called the people to dedicate themselves to following Jesus (that was done publically through baptism). They began to teach the people theory and practice (just like Jesus Christ did with them). The first believers were ordinary people like you and I are today. They had jobs, families, social lives etc. They did not remove themselves from society. They continued to work, to go to the market place, to take care of their families, to be part of society yet there was something different about them. They were being intensively trained in the Word of God and taught how to apply what they were learning. They were faithful and we know this by the fact that people were coming from society to join the church on a daily basis. Did you notice what the passage said? How often were they being taught? They were continually being taught, day by day. The first believers were not spectators, being entertained by the apostles from Sunday to Sunday, receiving a battery charge on Sundays so that they could go out and live their lives the way that they wanted the rest of the week. They were disciples, being trained intensively in the Word of God and taught how to apply what they were learning. They were positively impacting their society and that is why they were finding favor with the people. That is why people were joining the church on a daily basis. Have you ever wondered why people are not beating down the doors to join our churches? Does the church function like the First Church did? Are the men and women of the church being discipled, being intensively trained in the Word of God and how to apply what they lean? Or, are the majority of churches hospitals for sinners where most of the members are spectators and the pastor and staff do all of the work? Maybe there is a connection between the two things, do we ever consider that? The Apostles applied what they had been taught by Jesus Christ. They were well trained and they trained the new believers. The church was a training ground for battle (ministry, or, attacking the gates of hell as we say from the Gospel Matthew 16).

The Apostle Paul, another disciple trained by Jesus Christ, also worked along these same lines, comparing believers to soldiers in training in the church. He taught the new believers on a daily basis, training them in the Word of God and teaching them how to apply what they were learning. Here is what Paul says about the life of a true disciple (Christian), a follower of Jesus Christ.

Therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one who wars tangles with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who chose him to be a soldier. (II Timothy 2:3)

Paul was on his way to Jerusalem to be arrested and then taken to Rome. On his trip to Jerusalem, he stopped in Ephesus, a city where he had planted a church, and met with the believers there. From the dicussion that he has with the leaders in this passage, we see how Paul caused the church to grow and what kind of believers were in the church. Here is the passage.

Therefore I testify to you on this day that I am pure from the blood of all. For I did not keep back from declaring to you all the counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God which He has purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also men shall arise from your own selves, speaking perverse things in order to draw disciples away after them. Therefore watch and remember that for the time of three years I did not cease to teach everyone night and day with tears. And now, brothers, I commend you to God, and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no man’s silver or gold or apparel. Yea, you yourselves know that these hands have ministered to my needs, and to those who were with me. I have shown you all things, that working in this way we ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. And saying these things, kneeling, he prayed with them all. And there was much weeping of all, and falling on the neck of Paul, they ardently kissed him, grieving most of all over the word which he had spoken, that they should see his face no more. And they went with him to the ship. (Acts 20:26-38)

Paul preached repentance to the people of Ephesus. Those who believed the message joined the church and Paul began to teach them day and night, both publically and privately for a time of 3 years. The believers were being trained. They were not spectators. They were taught to apply what they were learning and as a result, they had an impact in their society. Here are two more passages that explain the way that Paul worked according to Jesus’ example.

And going into the synagogue, he spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. But when some were hardened and did not believe, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and separated the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of one Tyrannus. And this happened over two years, so that all those living in Asia heard the Word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks. (Act 19:8-10)

Here, the church is more like a school instead of an organization that meets once a week for training and teaching. They were meeting on a daily basis. Again, the people were not removing themselves from society. They still lived among the people, went to work, went to the market place etc. The difference was that now they had a passion to be trained in the Word of God and taught how to apply what they were learning. That is what they began to do. That is why the text says that all in Asia heard the Word. The believers were being equipped on a daily basis to minister to their fellow man. They were attacking the gates of hell with their water pistols drawn.

And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. And the Word was heard in the ears of the church in Jerusalem. And they sent out Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch; who was glad when he had come and had seen the grace of God. And he exhorted all with purpose of heart to remain near to the Lord. For he was a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and faith. And many people were added to the Lord. And Barnabas went out to Tarsus to seek Saul. And finding him, he brought him to Antioch. And it happened to them a whole year they were assembled in the church. And they taught a considerable crowd. And the disciples were first called Christian in Antioch. (Acts 11:21-26)

They first time believers were called Christians is in the context of discipleship, believers being trained as disciples of Jesus Christ.

The final passage that I want to look at is Paul’s description of what it looks like to be trained in the Word of God, or discipled if we want to use the term that describes the process of being trained in the Word. As we have seen, this is not something that you can do in 5 minutes, or even 5 short weeks. This process takes years. In fact, once you start the process it never really stops until your heart stops beating or Jesus returns to take you home.

But continue in the things that you have learned and have been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from a babe you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine [teaching or training], for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfected, thoroughly furnished to every good work. (2Ti 3:14-17)

The only way that the Word of God is profitable to us if we are being trained in it, meaning , being taught from it. It shows us where we are wrong and then helps us get right. Once we get right, we are kept on the right path as we apply the things that we learn. This is what it means to be a Christian, to be trained in the Word of God, apply what you learn, and then go out and impact the world through your good works. When you impact the world, you then have a chance to preach repentance to them, call them to a relationship with God and then train them to do the same.

Why do you go to church? Are you a spectator or a soldier in training? Are you being taught by the Word of God? Are you being challenged to apply what you learn? Are you impacting your community? Are doors being opened so that you can preach repentance and call people to follow Jesus? Are you discipling others?

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