I was invited to speak yesterday at an event in Bibury and on being given the schedule a few days before, saw that my 'turn' would come between two readings of Scripture - Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 17:20-26. Two wonderful prayers in God's Word - actually two wonderful promises to the bride of Christ.
The first, that we might be able to lay hold of (comprehend) the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge and that doing so we, the bride of Christ, might be 'filled up to all the fulness of God'. The second, a prayer by God the Son to God the Father through the agency of God the Spirit, that we (believers) might be one as Jesus and His Father are One.
I was struck when I read them at the reality that is promised here. Of course the prayer from Jesus was answered and of course the prayer from Paul - God has united believers by the Spirit into the bride, the body of Christ and our job is simply to live like it - to live in humility and gentleness, in patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit that He has already provided.
I was struck too by the statement in Ephesians that God was able to do exceedingly, abundantly beyond anything we might ask or imagine - that there would be no end to His powerful grace at work in and through each of us and then into the body of Christ and beyond as we lay hold of this wonderful love of Christ.
Inevitably though there are questions about this unity. How do we have unity with others who are flagrantly sinning and who do not appear to care? How do we live in love with those who profess Christ Jesus but whose lives deny Him? And what about those who have a different understanding of Scripture - who disagree with us on points of doctrine - what do we do then?
This morning I was pondering it all as I was reading in Jeremiah and I asked the Lord for clarity - for wisdom. He immediately answered me.
The true bride of Christ is hidden amongst the professing church just as the remnant of Israel was and is hidden amongst the nation of Israel. Like Jesus' parable of the tares and the wheat - that the tares will be dealt with by Him at the end of the age - like Esther amongst all the concubines in the palace - shown to be a true child of the King by her obedience 'at such a time as this'.
I have been preparing for the next DT conference on 26 October - Be Ready and I want to make sure that I fully understand all of this and am able to clearly articulate it so that we are in fact ready for His return. Matthew 7:21-28 makes chilling reading and we could so easily be thrown into confusion about what this means and who the Lord is speaking of.
Here in Matthew of course we are told that the hard times - the storms - show who is true by the result in our lives. Those who have built on something other than Christ will not stand and throughout this life, right up to the end, we will see people falling away from the Lord as the world gets darker and it becomes harder and harder to live for Christ.
But meanwhile, what do we do?
We preserve the unity of the Spirit with true believers and treat all others as the mission field. We love them and seek to draw them to Christ. By what means?
By coming alongside them and lovingly speaking the truth to them. By remembering that Christ died for them and that He has put them in my life for the purpose of their knowing Him. I love them as He loved them and trust that as I do, the Holy Spirit is convicting them of sin and righteousness and the judgment to come - that the Spirit is working through me.
For those who think they are Christians but whose lives do not witness to that, I leave the judgment to God. I counsel them, I laugh with them and weep with them and all the while I seek to show them who Christ is, how much He loves us and how wonderful is the transformation that He brings to those who have received Him. I do what He left me here to do - I witness to the surpassing great love of Christ and the amazing wonderful grace of God that has moved me out of darkness into His marvellous light.
Jesus did that for Judas.
But I must know too that 'the church' is not a building - the church is the body and the bride of Christ and it is with those who understand that - who seek to live for Christ - to proclaim His excellence, to uphold His reputation in word and in deed - it is with those that I fellowship around the Word of God - that we might be taught, encouraged and edified together - that we might grow together, loving each other as brothers and sister - as the family of God, forgiving one another as we each recognise that we are still a work in progress, earthen vessels left here to shine with the glory of Christ within.
We do this until we are 'filled up to all the fulness of God' and as we do we cry 'Maranatha' O Lord come!