The Church as Missional Community
Topic: Church Passage: Ephesians 6:10–20
Sermon from Ephesians 6:10-20 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: The Church as Community
Delivered Sunday, January 12, 2014
Today, we’ll finish our short sermon series on Christian community. Over the last two weeks we’ve addressed questions of what Christian community is and what Christian community looks like. And each week, Ephesians has been our runway by which we’ve taken off to get a birds-eye view—or even better, a heavenly perspective—on the church. The two big observations we’ve made are (1) that the church is a gospel community—the gospel explains us, and creates us, and transforms us as a people—and (2) that the church is a spiritual community—the Holy Spirit unites us and indwells us and empowers us and enables us to love as God desires of his people. So, the gospel word and the Spirit’s power set us apart in the world and characterize our relationships to one another.
Gospel and Spirit Lead to Mission
But there’s something further that happens when a community of people are defined by the gospel and have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in them. There’s something more that characterizes the church when the gospel transforms and the Spirit empowers their life together—something so integral to what being the church is, that any person devoted to the Bible would be hard pressed to call a group “Christian” or “the church” if it lacked this characteristic. I want us to look again at Ephesians—primarily chapter 6—and see that the church is also a missional community. I know, I know, I’ve already worried some of you because either you’ve never heard of the word “missional” and you wonder what I’m dreaming up and where I’m going with this; or you’ve read enough of the Christian literature being published nowadays and wonder if I’ve embraced some of the more careless thinking among younger crowds, who blunt the sharp edges of the gospel and soften the antithesis the church should bring to the world.
Defining What It Means to Be "Missional"
Well, let me alleviate both of those concerns by defining what I mean when I say—and the older guys like J. I. Packer say—the church is a missional community. Most of you are familiar with the word “mission.” We often refer to the church’s “mission” when we look at places in Scripture like the Great Commission Jesus gave the church in Matt 28:18-20, or Paul’s Gentile mission that extends throughout the book of Acts, or Peter’s explanation that we exist to proclaim the excellencies of Christ, or even Revelation’s depiction of God’s appointed martyrs overcoming evil by the word of their testimony. Our mission, our primary task as a church—we would say—is that we make disciples of all nations by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ and gathering these disciples into churches that equip them to make more disciples.
So, when I make the word “mission” an adjective and call the church a “missional community,” all I mean to stress is that the church is a community of people characterized by God’s mission to save the world. We are characterized by God’s mission whether that means we give ourselves over to local ministries, where we make disciples among people who have access to the gospel, or we give ourselves over to frontier missions—with an ‘s’—where we make disciples among people who have no access to the gospel. Regardless, Jesus says that our lives as his disciples should demonstrate on all fronts a commitment to the ongoing march of the gospel—whether that be among peoples in Fort Worth or among peoples in Southeast Asia, which Chris will come and share more about later in the service. Being missional is about helping the people around us see that, in whatever we do, “there’s something worse than death [namely, eternal punishment in hell] and something far better than human flourishing [namely, fellowship with God].” That's a quote from Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert's book, What Is The Mission of the Church (p. 242).
Everything about the Church Should Pulsate with Mission
This is what happens to a community of people when the gospel takes root and the Spirit empowers us to love. When you marvel at the mercy you’ve been shown in the death of Christ and the Spirit fills you from the fullness of God’s love, everything you are will pulsate with God’s mission to rescue the perishing, so that the immeasurable riches of his grace might be displayed among all the redeemed (2:7). Everything we do will serve the advance of the very message that created us to begin with, namely, the message of truth, the gospel of our salvation (1:13). We will advance that message, because there’s no one more beautiful to talk about than Jesus, and nothing more exciting than God establishing his rule on earth, and no one more compelling to make Jesus known than the Holy Spirit who lives within us. In that sense, we are a missional community. We’re saved from the world through the work of Jesus Christ, but God has left us in the world for mission—a proactive work, a very hands-on task that includes at least the following three actions that I want to point out from Ephesians.
1. The Church Stands Against the World's Darkness
First, the church stands in Christ against the world’s darkness. This is integral to God’s mission, wherever we serve in the world. Read with me starting in 6:10, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
There is an aggressive resistance to evil that should characterize the church. Every believer should stand against the supernatural forces called “powers and principalities,” identified in other places as the devil and his demonic hosts. There will be a day when Jesus returns and ends their ruthless assault on the saints (Rev 20), but until then they trouble the church, they afflict God’s people, they make war on the saints. And lest we think our resistance to these enemies can be something that is fairly passive—as if to simply ignore the temptations or pretend like the darkness isn’t there or treat the devil as some sort of joke—Paul is quick to say, “Be strong! Put on the whole armor of God! These spiritual forces of evil wrestle against you.”
He’s using language taken from the sport of wrestling in his day. If you belong to Jesus, you’ve been thrown into a hand-to-hand combat against cosmic forces of evil who hate everything about what your life represents: God is bringing his reign on earth soon, and you’re one evidence of it. God has rescued you from the domain of darkness so that you might be seated with his Son Jesus in the kingdom of light and forever display the glory of God’s mercies in Christ (Col 1:13; Eph 2:7). And the spiritual forces of evil don’t like that about you; and they will do what they can to take you out of the fight or cause you to stumble in the fight. First Peter 5:8 says, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
So, Paul says, we must aim to stand firm. But look where he says we draw our strength in this active resistance. These rulers and authorities and cosmic powers are not flesh and blood. They are spiritual; and so we need the appropriate spiritual armor and strength, both of which are found in the Lord. Verse 12, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” What Paul does, here, is bring up what the gospel says is true of everyone united to Jesus and then applies it to the particular struggle against evil powers.
You see, when we were without Jesus, 2:2 says there was no struggle against these evil powers. When we were dead in sin, we followed the prince of the power of the air. We didn’t wrestle against him, we rolled with him. And had God not intervened we would have followed this evil spirit to our eternal destruction. We would have suffered under God’s just punishment, not because Satan drug us there against our will, but because we—like all of Adam’s children—found the counsel of a fork-tongued liar better than that of our Creator. We would have forever remained blind to Jesus’ glory and dead in our sins. But the Bible tells us that God intervened for us. He sent his own Son to identify with us, overcome the enemy’s attacks for us, and then triumph by disarming the rulers and authorities through his cross, which not only cancelled our sin-debt before God but also delivered us from the power of death held over us by the devil (Col 2:15; Heb 2:14). More than that, God raised Jesus from the dead, 1:20 says, and seated him at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion. And not too much further in 2:6, we’re told that by raising Jesus, God also delivered us from the power of sin, death, and the devil. He made us alive together with Christ and even raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places.
When Paul orders us to “be strong in the Lord,” his exhortation is based on where believers already stand with Christ. Based on their union with Christ, the power of God works on behalf of the believer so that he or she is able to resist the devil and overcome his schemes successfully. The picture we’re left with is that of a triumphant church, a victorious community that actively opposes the world’s darkness, remains alert to Satan’s subtle snares, and withstands the tidal waves of rebellion. It’s one that goes hand-in-hand with what Jesus said, that “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18); or with what Paul says in 2 Cor 10:4-5, that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” That’s who you are, believer in Christ, as you enter the warfare of this age.
Paul Assumes We're Confronting the World's Darkness Explicitly
What does that have to do with being missional? Everything, because in and behind this exhortation to resist the world’s darkness is the assumption that you’re actually engaging the world’s darkness. Not participating in the darkness, but engaging it, confronting it, exposing it for what it is. Spiritual warfare is the result of the world’s King on mission to rescue his people from darkness by sending his people into the darkness. This spiritual resistance should not promote isolation from the world or participation with the world; rather, it should promote a holy engagement within the world—much like that of Jesus himself who entered the world’s darkness to bring people light all the while resisting its temptations, or Paul who made the necessary adjustments to bring the gospel into this or that culture while never compromising the truth or his pursuit of holiness. So this text actually helps the home-school crowd among us see that there’s a way to engage the world that is holy, and it also helps the hipster crowd among us see that there’s a holy way to engage the world. So what might this look like from day to day?
Well, we’re given some very concrete examples back in chapter 5. Verse 3, “Sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you.” That means when some email advertisement flashes across your screen, or some revealing magazine on the shelf at CVS lures you, or some immodest fashion comes out on the shelf, or some lady flirts with you at the office, or some guy tries to “wow” you with his muscles and his money, or one of your unbelieving neighbors calls you over to gawk at another lady, you resist the temptations by looking to Christ and who he’s made you to be in the heavenly places—the riches you possess there with him, the intimacy you share with God through him, the power you receive to overcome through him, the contentment you know in him, the eternal pleasures you will gain through him. Let the explicit treasures of Christ revealed in Scripture keep you from subtle snares in the world.
Or what about verse 7? “Therefore, do not become partners with [the sons of disobedience]; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light…[verse 10] and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” This is part of standing in Christ against the darkness: expose the unfruitful works of darkness. Call them what they are when your boss tells you to fudge the numbers on year-end spending. Point the people at work to Scripture when you decide not to participate in their unethical business practices—with compassion and gentleness of course. Tell your family members or friends back home why you stopped watching these kinds of movies or why you refuse to join their vain talk and gossip. Help a brother or sister in Christ flee from foolish living by setting their sinful choices up against the wisdom of Christ and his values.
Here’s another—verse 15—“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” How many times would you say you ask the question, “Can I do this and still be a Christian, or watch this and still be a Christian, or buy this and still be a Christian?” Wrong question when you stand in Christ against the world’s darkness! Rather, we ask proactive questions: “How does this serve the advance of the gospel? How is this helping to spread the light of Jesus? How will this purchase affect and even strengthen the church’s mission?” When you belong to another kingdom—a heavenly one instead of an earthly one—and to another Master—the Lord Jesus instead of Satan—you ask different questions about your life and your practice and your hobbies. You have different priorities, different goals, and different affections than those of the world, I hope.
When you take such a stand in Christ against the world’s darkness, the world begins asking questions about why you are the way you are and what’s so great about your King and why you have the hope you do. The world isn’t helped when we have and do everything they have and do. The world is only helped when the church resists the darkness and thereby embodies what the world does not have, namely, the power in Christ over sin and the devil. So that’s one action: being a missional community means we stand in Christ against the world’s darkness.
2. The Church Proclaims the Gospel to Rescue People from Darkness
Second, the church proclaims the gospel to rescue people from darkness. If the first action was more about resistance, now we turn to the offensive strike. Even more, Ephesians 6 guards us from becoming a community of people who love our books but neglect our neighbors, or who talk theology on Sunday but ignore the world on Monday, or who become so inwardly focused that the outward thrust of the Bible gets lost. There are two pieces of God’s armor that explicitly reveal the offensive nature of our role in spiritual warfare. Now, nearly all these pieces of armor allude to places in the Old Testament where Yahweh or his Messiah comes to fight for the salvation of his people (Isa 11:4-5; 42:13; 59:17). So when Paul speaks of putting on God’s armor, essentially he’s telling us to put on Christ, to take on his character, to live in accordance with our union to him. Part of what that means for our battle is that we look a whole lot like the One who came and preached peace to us when we were once far off.
Chapter 2 says that at one time, we were cut off from all of God’s promises; we had no fellowship with him in the covenant. But then he sends Jesus, our victorious warrior to do battle with sin and bring us peace with God and peace with his covenant people. Chapter 2, verse 17, “He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” When we put on Christ, Paul says it’s a lot like putting on our feet “the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (6:15); it’s like taking up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (6:17).
Advancing the Gospel across Enemy Lines
Both of those images help us understand what our Christ-like community ought to be about, namely, advancing across enemy lines through proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. This shouldn’t surprise us. After all, it was through hearing that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead that God transferred us from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved Son. Paul says in 2 Cor 4:4 that Satan, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” And what is it that rescues them? Proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and the Holy Spirit shining in their hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:5-6).
Paul characterized his entire mission this way when he testified before King Agrippa in Acts 26:16-18. Jesus told me, “Rise and stand upon your feet [Paul], for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you [And get this!] to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” How are they turned from darkness? How are they rescued from the power of Satan? Yes, through the work of Jesus ultimately, but not apart from Paul being a witness to the things Jesus has done. The proclaimed word is the means God uses to rescue people from darkness.
Your Footwear Blows Nike & Reebok Out of the Water
Your holy footwear blows Nike and Reebok out of the water! You possess the gospel that brings people peace with God; and to put it on your feet means that there’s a readiness about your life to announce it and share it with others wherever God leads you in a world of people ruled by the evil one (1 John 5:19). There’s a reason some of you face fears when given an opportunity to share Christ with a neighbor: the cosmic powers of darkness don’t want you to. Your fears make sense in a world with evil forces as ferocious as the ones mentioned here. But you should also receive great strength and encouragement from the spiritual equipment God has given you in Christ. He hasn’t left you alone to fail or to cower or to be defeated. He’s given you himself; he’s given you the sword of the Spirit, identified here as the word of God. As one author put it, “The Word of God and the work of the Spirit are the means by which the people of God step out in defiance of Satan and rob his domain” (Arnold, Powers, 157).
The regular proclamation of the gospel must characterize us as a church. We must be ready to proclaim peace to our neighbors and take initiative in wielding the sword faithfully. If our community structures—our corporate gatherings, our fellowship meals, our care group meetings—become an end in themselves instead of a means of saving the world, then we’re losing the spiritual battle. Are we simply organized for our own survival and convenience—to maintain this institution—or do we come together to grow in loving God and serving the neighbors in closest proximity to us with eternal life in Christ? Is Discipleship Hour merely about dishing up another Bible lesson, or is your time together in the word compelling you to make more disciples? Have our care groups become so inwardly focused that perhaps we’ve lost sight of why we ultimately care for one another with the gospel, namely, to see God treasured among all peoples, not just our care group members or even Redeemer, but every tribe and tongue and people that will be represented before the throne, some of whom may live one street over from you, or who play at the same park that you do, or who work in the same facilities as you do, or who check their mail the same time you do?
A Few Concrete Examples
The point is “Does readiness to share the gospel characterize your life and our church’s life together?” Because, according to Ephesians 6, this is what ought to characterize those united to Jesus. There are a number of ways I’ve observed some of you walking with this readiness and taking up the sword of the Spirit to rescue others. And I’m going to call you out as examples to myself and others who may be less clear on what this looks like from day to day. I imagine all of you agree with what I’m saying, but some of you just need help doing it. So here are some concrete examples from some of our own church members on what it means to live as a missional community.
It means that when your cell phone and money get stolen by a family member at a family function, you turn to the Lord in prayer, like Dale did a week ago, and ask the Lord what opportunity he’s giving you through this occasion. And sure enough Dale wielded the sword of the Spirit and proclaimed the gospel of peace. He told his family members that because God had forgiven him through Christ, he was able to extend the same forgiveness to his family members. This kind of life looks like Paul and Kristen Drake’s involvement with the NET of Fort Worth. Through this non-profit organization, Kristen serves in ways that provides special care to women rescued from prostitution; and Paul is meeting with a newly formed group of Christian brothers that are seeking to address the demand for prostitution among men in this city. You don’t have to be involved in the NET, but this is one way Paul and Kristen are intentionally seeking to bring gospel light to people trapped in severe darkness.
Mary Ledbetter is another sister who has volunteered some of her time at the Pregnancy Help Center of Fort Worth, to expose the darkness of abortion and speak the hope of the gospel to the women entrusted to her care. John Seago, who will be preaching for us next week on the Sanctity of Human Life, uses his wisdom and skillset in the political world to put laws in place that honor what God calls “good.” He, too, has many opportunities to speak the word of truth to those he encounters in the workplace. Also, Chris Cronenworth, who works at Lockheed, had a coworker who was put in the hospital for lung cancer, and Chris made efforts to visit him and make himself available for God to use him in declaring the truth. Another story I love repeating is the relationship that Joe Campbell built with James Hubbard when they worked for the city together, and Joe intentionally brought the gospel of peace into James’ life and challenged his nominalism; and God used that word to bring James to genuine faith in Christ.
Gary Brumley and Dan Hilmers like to run—really, really far distances…they even find it enjoyable. But one of the things I’ve noticed is that nearly weekly I hear about a gospel conversation they’ve had with another runner, and they’re always very welcoming when a lost person joins them for a jog, anticipating how God may use them to win another trophy of his grace. In a lot of ways, their interactions embody the command of Col 4:6 to “let your speech be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
So a missional life need not be a complicated life, but certainly it’s an available life, a life given over to the priorities of advancing the gospel at every turn. One way that we would even encourage you in your care groups is to make the second Wednesday of each month a special day for outreach with one another. Part of the care group restructure was to strengthen mission to your neighbors; we want the word of the Lord to sound forth from you in all the respective neighborhoods we meet in just as it sounded forth from the Thessalonian church in Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thess 1:8). You live where you live and you meet where you meet that you might be salt and light to those in closest proximity to you. Why not make the second Wednesday of each month a day your care group might be intentional in reaching a targeted neighborhood for Christ. You might plan a backyard Bar-B-Que and invite the neighbors, or cook an early breakfast for a few folks in the morning. It might be that just you and one other family partner and show hospitality to a needy neighbor or repair a fence for someone less able. And then treat every occasion as an opportunity to proclaim Christ in the darkness.
If second Wednesday doesn’t work, use Friday or Saturday or another day; but find ways that you can be intentional together. Such intentionality together will provide opportunity for a dark world to observe you loving one another in ways Jesus said they would; it will help train those who are more fearful to interact with lost people about Jesus; and it will keep our sights set on upholding our primary task as a church, namely, making disciples of Jesus Christ.
3. The Church Prays for God to Prosper the Gospel Despite the Darkness
Lastly, the church prays for God to prosper the gospel despite the darkness. This text was a real source of encouragement to me this week as I was feeling not just weak in prayer, but even wondering again exactly why I’m praying sometimes. Paul’s words were a helpful reminder: we pray for God to prosper the gospel despite the darkness. He puts it like this in 6:18 “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
Lest we leave today thinking that our own abilities or skills will ultimately advance the gospel, Paul is quick to remind us of our whole dependence on God. He alone has the power and the authority to advance his word and make it effective in the lives of others. And thus we should be quick every day to ask his assistance, praying by name that God would save your coworker, pleading with God for more opportunities to proclaim Christ at the grocery store or at the restaurant or in front of your house. Pray that God would put his gospel word on your lips and make you ready with the gospel of peace. And may the Spirit keep you alert in this present darkness.
I won’t go much further into application, here, only to say that we have opportunity to practice such prayer this morning for the [name removed] family before they return to Southeast Asia. [Our brother and sister] will be finishing their state-side assignment within the next week and leaving on the 17th to return to the field. [Our brother and sister] are Redeemer missionaries sent out through the IMB. What that means is that we partner with the IMB to assist us in equipping and supporting [our brother and sister] on the field, but we consider them missionaries belonging to our covenant family, to our corporate care. And more than that, I want you to start seeing them as an integral part of this church’s mission. God has gifted them and given them to us not just so we can pray for them from afar, but so that we can learn from them about making disciples, about being missional. Because, ultimately, what they aim to see among the Dai people ought to share lots in common with what we aim to see among the people we encounter in Fort Worth. I’ve asked Chris to come and share for a bit, and then we will practice our third point about prayer as we commission them to the field once again.