The Church (3) – A Foretaste of Heaven on Earth

Ruins of an eleventh-century church. Image: © kaycco/Fotolia (www.tms.edu)

In yesterday’s article, we focused on the church as it relates to God’s eternal plan. In today’s post, we will look at two additional reasons why I love the church:

3. The Church Is the Most Precious Reality on Earth

There’s a third biblical reason I love the church: It is the most precious thing on this earth — more precious than silver, or gold, or any other earthly commodity.

How precious is the church? It demanded the highest price ever paid for anything. “You have been bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). What price? “You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet, 1:18-19). Acts 20:28 refers to “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

The church is so precious that the Son was willing to suffer the agonies of the cross and die in obedience to the Father so that this eternal love gift could become a reality. The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians of this great reality: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9). That verse has nothing to do with earthly riches or material things. Christ was rich as God is rich — rich in glory (cf. John 17:5). Neither is the poverty spoken of an earthly poverty. Christ divested Himself of His glory. He went from sovereign supernatural deity, to taking upon Himself the form of a servant — and ultimately to a death on the cross in which all the force of divine wrath was poured out upon Him (Col. 2:6-8).

So the precious value of the church is seen here in the price that was paid, when the One who was as rich as God in fullness of glory, became as poor as someone alienated from God (cf. Matt. 27:46).

And, to return to the point of 2 Corinthians 8:9, Christ did this so that we might become rich. His dying made us heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). In other words, in giving up His heavenly riches, Christ made it possible for the church to share in those riches. That makes the church the most precious thing on earth.

4. The Church Is an Earthly Expression of Heaven

Here’s a yet another reason from Scripture why I love the church: It is like heaven on earth. I don’t mean that the church is perfect, or that it offers some kind of utopian escape from the realities of a sinful world. But I mean that the church is the one place where all that occurs in heaven also occurs on earth.

Christ instructed us to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). In what sphere is that most likely to occur? In the United States Congress? Not likely. In the Supreme Court? Probably not. In the university? No. City Hall? Don’t count on it.

Where is God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven? Only in one place, and that is the church.

What goes on in heaven? If all the activities of heaven were to be brought to earth, what activities would predominate?

First of all, worship. In every biblical description where men of God had visions of heaven, the one thing that stands out most is worship. Praise, adoration, and devotion are constantly being offered to God in heaven. We see it, for example, in Isaiah 6:1-3, where the prophet Isaiah wrote,

I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”

We see it in Revelation 4:8-11, where the apostle John wrote,

And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

In other words, every creature in heaven is perpetually engaged in worship.

Worship is also one of the main activities of the church. In 1 Corinthians 14, where Paul described what took place in a typical meeting in the early church, he wrote, “When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” (v. 26). There he describes activities whose design is both to worship God and to edify the worshipers. And if an unbeliever came into the meeting, this was the desired response: “the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (v. 25).

A second activity of heaven is the exaltation of Christ. Having finished His earthly work, Christ is now seated at the Father’s right in glory in pure exaltation (Acts 5:31). God Himself has exalted His Son, and given Him a name above every name (Phil. 2:9). Christ is “exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:27). And throughout all eternity we will be occupied exalting His name (cf. Rev. 5:11-14). Meanwhile, the church is the one sphere on earth where Christ’s name is truly and genuinely exalted.

A third activity that takes place in heaven is the preservation of purity and holiness. Heaven is a holy place. Revelation 21:8 says “the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars” are excluded from heaven, consigned instead to the lake of fire.

Revelation 22:14-15 underscores the perfect purity of heaven’s inhabitants: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.” No one is admitted to heaven who is not holy (Heb. 12:14).

Likewise, the church on earth is charged with preserving purity within her own midst. Matthew 18:15-20 lays out a process of discipline by which the church is to keep herself pure, if necessary through excommunication of members. It’s not necessary in this context to outline the whole discipline process, but take note of the promise Christ makes in verse 18: “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Binding and loosing were rabbinical expressions that spoke of dealing with people’s guilt. An unrepentant person was said to be bound to his sin, and a repentant person was loosed. Here Christ suggests that when a church on earth follows the proper procedure for discipline, they in effect mediate heaven’s verdict in the earthly church. Heaven is in agreement with their decision. When the church on earth excommunicates an unrepentant member, the elders of that church are simply declaring what heaven has already said. Church discipline is therefore an earthly expression of heaven’s holiness.

Another activity of heaven that occurs in the church is the fellowship of the saints. Our fellowship in the church on earth is a foretaste of the perfect communion we will enjoy in heaven.

The church, then, is like an earthly expression of heaven. It is the closest we can get to heaven on earth.

The apostle Paul wrote of “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). More than any other institution on earth, the church is where the truth of God is upheld. The church is called to lift up the truth and hold it high. Employing the truth as a weapon, we are to smash the ideological fortresses of Satan’s lies (2 Cor. 10:3-5). And it is in the pursuit of that goal that the church will ultimately realize her greatest triumph.

All of that is why I love the church. And as long as the Lord gives me breath, I hope to invest my life and energies in the ministry and advancement of the church’s mission.

(<– Back to Part 1)

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* Reblogged from:  Preachers & Preaching – Timeless Truth for Today’s Church, March 26, 2015  Grace to You. All rights reserved.  Used by permission.)

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