Why church?

This is the text of a sermon I preached on Phillippians 2:1-3 a couple of weeks ago.  It remains the most challenging (to me) sermon I've felt called to preach, which is why I'm sharing it here.  I was preaching to myself as much as anyone else.

What are we here for? What is the purpose of this thing we call “church”?  What makes us come each Sunday? Do we come so that we can worship God in the way that is comfortable and familiar to us? Do we come, because it’s the time of the week when we are most free to encounter God, whether that’s through the familiarity of the prayers, the grandeur of the hymns, the taking of bread and wine? Do we come, because it’s the time you have the greatest opportunity to catch up with our friends?  Do we come, because it’s what we’ve always done? Or, do we come, because we expect to meet with God and we want to learn more about him, because we expect to be challenged and equipped to live a life following Jesus the rest of the week?

When we come to church, who are we doing it for?


Let's just take a moment to be honest with ourselves for a moment.  Why are we here?


What matters more? That the service and sermon don’t go on too long, that the candles are lit and the right liturgical colours and robes are on display, that no one sits in our seat, or that we meet together and that we’ve encountered Christ, however that encounter has happened? Are we offended or put out if our expectations haven’t been met that morning?  Are we disappointed if we find we’ve not got much out of the service?


A preacher overheard two members of his congregation complaining, “I didn’t get much out of the service this morning.”  He replied, “I didn’t realise we were worshipping you!”


Who are we doing it for? Why are we here?


I think church has got far too comfortable.  We like to leave with a warm and fuzzy feeling, because our expectations have been met and we have been comforted by the nice words that have been said or sung.  If those expectations haven’t been met, we’re left disappointed.  We forget the true purpose of meeting together. 


The true purpose of meeting together is that together, we might meet with God, that we might express our praise and worship of him, thanking him and giving him the glory for all the things he’s done in our lives and in this world, to pray for each other, the world and the community, and together, as we read in our reading from Philippians 2 this morning, “continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.”  People often think that this verse means that we need to work so that we might be saved; not at all – the next verse is very clear “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” – the business of salvation is God’s work from beginning to end.  No, rather Paul means that we need together to work out the practical implications for being saved.  In other words, what does being saved look like and how could someone who saw our lives tell that we were following Jesus?


Or, in the words of a famous, but particularly challenging car bumper sticker, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Or me, for that matter?


This isn’t just a question of whether we do good deeds, because I’m sure many of us do.  Many of us could be described as being “good people” – but what motivates us?  Who are we doing it for? For whose glory?  Are we acting so that people might see us and say, “Well, Andy’s a great guy, isn’t he?”


If that’s the case, the passage is very clear, vv.3,4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”


Who are we doing it for?  Who are we living for?  Do we live for the benefits of others? This is the question we have to ask ourselves at every part of our lives, including in church.  Are we prepared to see changes in the way we worship if it means that other people could benefit and grow, even if it makes us less comfortable? Are we prepared for our buildings to be adapted (e.g. pews removed, etc.) if it means that ministry to families might flourish?


 Who are we doing it for?


Who are we living for? Why are we here?


The challenge presented to us is very clear in this passage.  We are called in verse 2 to “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”  This doesn’t mean that like some sausage machine we all come out being the same, but it does mean that we are prepared to be united in purpose, despite any differences of opinion.  And what is our purpose?  To reflect Jesus and to live to his glory.  To be sacrificial in our love of God and of each other, even if it means we’re less comfortable.  


Who are we doing it for?  Who are we living for?  We’re called to live for Jesus and for his glory. 


I know this is uncomfortable stuff to be dealing with, but sometimes we need to hear difficult things.  Jesus said many difficult things to his listeners.  He was so unpopular with the political and religious leaders, because he told some tough home truths.  He told them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you,” because the tax collectors and prostitutes had got to grips with the simplest command – we’re called to listen to God and obey him.  The word of God changed their lives.  The religious and political leaders wouldn’t be challenged, they couldn’t hack it, so they killed him. 


God help us to put aside our own selfish ambitions and vain conceit, to live for his glory. God help us to remember that one day,


10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

   to the glory of God the Father.


Rather than waiting for that last day, let’s live lives that glorify Jesus today.  Let’s crown him king of our lives, in and out of church.

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