TO MAGNIFY THE GLORY OF GOD’S GRACE IN JESUS CHRIST:
THE MISSION OF CHRIST COMMUNITY CHURCH
The mission statement of Christ Community Church reads as follows:
We exist to magnify the glory of God’s grace in Jesus Christ by proclaiming Him to all peoples for their everlasting joy in God.
Having a stated mission and guiding purpose is not exclusive to the business world. In fact, we might say that the reason human beings feel compelled to unite around mission statements is because we are created on purpose and for a purpose. Inwardly, we feel the necessity of moving towards goals, climaxes, and achievements.
-the athlete sets a goal for touchdowns, goals, victories, strength gains.
-parents set timelines for weaning, potty-training and developing children.
-business owners roll out 5 year plans for the progress of their organizations.
-children will scale small in-house mountains to achieve a desired, most likely, edible goal.
-the mayor of Newton recently invited us to lead our state and nation in education, innovation, opportunity and quality of life in his State of the City Address.
-President Obama gave this generation a mission, “to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth-a rising, thriving middle class,” and laid out his plan for us to follow.
This purposefulness, this movement towards and accomplishment of a stated goal is so universal, that even the world looks upon an aimless person as a pitiable one.
And, biblically, that is because we bear the image of a Creator Who is purposeful, Who has an end for which He created all things, Who has a stated goal and main point for all of history. He is a God Who employs means, mainly, human beings, and even more fully, His church, through whom He has purposed to obtain that end, that goal, that main point. And it is this: His being glorified in Jesus Christ.
Now the problem for a fallen humanity is that our intentions, goals, purposes and practices are bent inward rather than Godward. The end for which God created all things is not the end for which the sinner does anything. And that is why Christ was sent into the world, to redeem a people, not only from sin but for God and His glory. We hear this on the lips of Christ in John 17.24,
“Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given me, may be with me where I am, [to what end?] to see my glory that You have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
The holy desire of the eternally Beloved Son, the purpose for which He was sent into the world, is that the redeemed see His glory forever. The church is a people redeemed by Christ to be centered on and satisfied in the glory of God in Christ. And that is not reserved for heaven only. It is to be our present passion also.
That is why Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10.31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” He isn’t exaggerating in the least by making the glorifying of God the universal tuning fork of the Christian life. To live for the glory of God is to live agreeably to God’s ultimate purpose in everything.
Any mission statement, no matter the words used, that is not centered on this or, more importantly, any church that does not live and minister with the glory of God’s grace in Jesus Christ at its heart is, at best, sub-Christian.
The importance of what we mean by “the glory of God’s grace in Jesus Christ” and knowing how we, as the church, magnify this cannot be overstated. So what do we mean by it and how do we magnify it? This is what I want us to tackle tonight. Turn with me to Ephesians 1.3-14. As we read, I want to draw your attention to that repetitive phrase, “to the praise of His glorious grace,” or, simply, “to the praise of His glory” (1.6, 12, 14), which is the phrase we’ll be unpacking mainly.
Look with me at verse 6, “to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.” That verse is the heart of our mission statement. In it you should hear, “the glory of God’s grace in Jesus Christ,” which we magnify by our praise. And so I want to unpack it in 5 truths:
1. THE GOVERNING END OF ALL GOD’S ACTIVITIES IN CREATION AND REDEMPTION IS HIS BEING GLORIFIED.
These 12 verses capture the whole of eternity, from one side to the other and, in the middle, this blink of time that we call redemptive history. And as the description of God’s saving activity at each stage comes to a close, it is not without this phrase, “to the praise of the glory of His grace.”
When, in 1.3-6, God appointed us to be the heirs of His saving grace before the foundation of the world, He did not do it without consulting the purpose of His will. And what is the purpose of His will? The praise of His glorious grace. He was in pursuit of His being glorified.
When, in 1.7-10, we are told that God sent His Beloved into the world to shed His blood for our redemption and the forgiveness of our sins, it was not without the counsel of this purpose (1.9). In the saving grace of Christ’s cross, God was in pursuit of His being glorified.
When, in 1.11-14, we discover the future grace that Christ has obtained for us, namely, the heaven of eternal communion with God, not to mention the present reality of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Who is a seal to this great inheritance, twice it is mentioned (in 1.12, 14) that God has secured this for us to the praise of His glory. God was in pursuit of His being glorified when He predestined us for this eternal state.
In fact, if you’ll look at 1.11, we are taught that everything God has done in creation and redemption, from eternity to eternity, is for the praise of His glory. Remember, we have said that the purpose of God’s will in this passage is the praise of His glory. And in this verse, in passing, Paul says “having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” Paul is saying that just as God did this one work, predestinating us for glory in pursuit of His glory, so this is His pursuit in everything that He has done. When God takes counsel with His will, it is a will with a purpose to pursue His glory! Therefore, the governing end of all God’s activities in creation and redemption is His being glorified.
2. GOD PURSUES HIS BEING GLORIFIED IN THE PRAISES OF HIS PEOPLE.
1.6a, “to the praise of his glorious grace.”
1.12, “to the praise of his glory.”
1.14, “to the praise of his glory.”
In each of these verses, it is evident that God is not in pursuit of the glory of His grace apart from the praise of His people. God, in displaying His glory, pursues its being seen and enjoyed to the height of praise! Jonathan Edwards raises a very important question for us at this point: “Now what is glorifying God, but a rejoicing at that glory he has displayed?”
When God pursues His glory, He pursues our highest joy because the display and apprehension of His glory is our highest joy. In seeking the display of Himself [in creation, in redemption, in Scripture, in the gospel, in Christ, by the Spirit, in the church, in heaven], He seeks our highest happiness in Him. God, Himself, is our exceeding joy (Ps 43.4)! And when we rejoice supremely in God, He is, by definition, glorified. Therefore, He pursues His being glorified in the praises of His people.
Which leads us to the third truth, which we, along with many others, think is fundamental to biblical Christianity.
3. GOD’S PURSUIT OF HIS GLORY AND HIS PURSUIT OF OUR JOY, CLIMAXING IN PRAISE, ARE ONE PURSUIT.
When, in our passage, Paul writes that the purpose of God in all things is the praise of His glory, he takes two things that we commonly view as unrelated, God’s glory and our joy, and makes them inseparable from and indispensable to one another. When God seeks His glory, He seeks our most jubilant joy in Him; and the pursuit of our most jubilant joy is God.
How have others said this?
John Piper, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
C.S. Lewis, “Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”
Jonathan Edwards, “God’s respect to the creature’s good, and his respect to himself, is not a divided respect; but both are united in one, as the happiness of the creature aimed at is happiness in union with Himself.”
Thomas Watson, “To love God is to glorify Him. He who is the chief of our happiness has the chief of our affections.”
Augustine, “He is happy who possesses God.” [He glorifies God as he prizes God].
Jesus, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Mt 13.44-46).
So the third truth is that God’s pursuit of His glory and His pursuit of our joy, climaxing in praise, are one pursuit [one end]. The same zeal that God has for His glory is that which He has for your joy. And the pursuit of true joy rests in God alone, by which He is glorified.
4. JESUS CHRIST IS REVEALED TO BE THE EXALTED CENTER OF GOD’S PURSUIT OF HIS GLORY IN THE PRAISES OF HIS PEOPLE, EPH 1.6.
Look carefully with me at verse 6, “to the praise of His glorious grace,” and then he adds, most importantly, “with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.” In other words, this purpose, to be glorified in our praise, is granted and realized in Christ. God’s gift of Christ–living, dying and being raised from the dead as a substitute and Savior for sinners–is the climactic display of God’s saving glory. And if God has put Christ forward as the climactic display of His glory, then God has purposed that Christ should be our greatest good, our highest happiness, our most jubilant joy, and our most poignant pleasure.
And I just want to take some time to feel God’s glory and our joy in Christ together. I have four reflections that I hope are helpful in this regard:
First, the whole plan of salvation, from one spectrum of eternity to the other, [and your being invested in it] is set forth in Christ. Before the foundation of the world, God blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (1.3). In time, God sent Christ into the world to redeem us (1.7). And because of Christ’s saving work, we have become heirs of God forever (1.11, 14). So the design, aim, glory and grace of salvation was, as he says in vv. 9-10, “set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.” Christ is the sum and main point of all things! In the theatre of God, Christ is the main character.
Secondly, all the blessings of the grace of salvation are said to be in Christ. Election, holiness and blamelessness, adoption, redemption, forgiveness, heaven, the Holy Spirit, assurance, effectual calling, hope, the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us, triumph over everything opposed to God, a Head for the church, all our good works, nearness to God, reconciliation to God, peace with God, knowing God’s indwelling, truth for life, strength and weaponry to stand against every opponent, salvation are all said to be in Christ and nowhere else!
Thirdly, it appears that the employment of our eternity will be devoted to the comprehension of the infinite wealth of God in Christ. That is why Paul writes verses like these, Ephesians 2.7, “so that in the coming ages [God] might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 3.8, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given , to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Ephesians 3.18, “[that you] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of Christ], and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Beholding Christ in these ways is a task for time and eternity.
Fourthly, this Sum of all things, this Locus of every divine blessing, this Christ, infinite in glory, grace, and saving and satisfying riches, is the Beloved who bled for sinners like us. One of the most powerful turns of phrase in Ephesians comes in 1.6-7, where Christ is called “the Beloved” [and he means the eternally Beloved Son of the Father in whom He has invested all the blessings of His glorious grace], and then he writes, “In Him we have redemption through His blood.” That is the price of grace. That is the cost at which redemption has freely come to us, and is freely offered to all the world: the blood of the Beloved! The glory of God’s grace!–Christ bleeding out on the cross as a sinless satisfying sacrifice for sinners like us! There, at one and the same time, God’s glorious grace is ultimately displayed in Christ crucified, and Christ crucified becomes the boast and joy of every believing heart. The center of God’s pursuit of His glory in the praises of His people is Christ exalted on the cross. This is the whole heart of the mission of Christ Community Church.
5. WE EXIST TO MAGNIFY THE GLORY OF GOD’S GRACE IN JESUS CHRIST.
The last time I took to preaching was nearly one month ago. Since then, I have had the privilege of meditating on two verses in relationship to our mission statement, Eph 6.24 and Rev 2.4-5.
Eph 6.24, “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.” I think that this, incorruptible love for Jesus Christ, is the great aim of Ephesians. It is to be the legacy of every church, a love for Christ that refuses to be corrupted or corroded by the love for anything else that is not loved for Christ’s sake. This is how Augustine put it, “He loves thee too little who loves anything together with thee, which he loves not for thy sake.” We call this supremely treasuring Christ! This is Paul’s closing desire for all the Ephesian churches; the Spirit’s for every church.
But then there is Revelation 2.4-5, “[After some commendation, Jesus, Himself, says to the church in Ephesus] I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” Jesus is here preserving them by warning because they had allowed various things to dim the light of their love for Jesus.
So my thoughts have been centered, not just on the present but the future life and ministry of Christ Community Church. The question is not just, “how do we presently magnify the glory of God’s grace in Jesus Christ,” but “how do we procure and persevere in treasuring Christ?”
My answer is: be a community fixated on Christ and safeguarding the magnification of His glory through the church to all peoples. In other words, this as a community project, to never lose sight of Jesus Christ and to steward His glory to the subsequent generations of this church. Paul doesn’t leave Christ behind after the first 3 chapters of Ephesians. Every level of the life of the Christian and the church is fixated upon Christ: diversity, unity, gifts, equipping, ministry, maturity, holiness, newness, happiness, worship, marriage, parenting, working, spiritual warfare–in all these things, Christ has been given by God to be the apple of our eyes! And it is the glorious calling of the church to steward His supremacy to one another and to the world.
So my contention is: As we are a Christ-treasuring community, we will be a Christ-treasuring community, insofar as we take personal responsibility to safeguard and steward the magnification of His glory in the life of this church.
So I want to lay out 8 things that should mark us, now and in the future, as a Christ-treasuring church.
1. We will be a community that intentionally pursues diversity. Eph 3.8-9, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.” And what was given to Paul is ours from Christ. In other words, the value of Christ is put on full display as the church proclaims Christ to all peoples, and begins, in our makeup, to reflect something of the glorious diversity of the redeemed scene in heaven, where the worshipping congregation, right now, is said to be from all tribes and peoples and languages. We will be a community that passionately and impartially and wisely proclaims Christ to sinners, no matter ethnicity, socio-economic status, level of education, political party or any other dividing respect.
2. We will be a community that is eager to preserve unity. Eph 4.3, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This is the first resolve of our church covenant, that as we pursue peoples for Christ from all the families of the earth, so that, by God’s grace our cultural diversity increases, our eagerness to maintain the unity as one new family in Christ also increases and triumphs. And that means that we will be a community that deals with our providential differences by emphasizing our supernatural similarities in Christ: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. The cross will counsel our cultural crises.
3. We will be a community, therefore, that is passionately evangelical. If, as I have argued, Christ is the ultimate revelation of God’s glory and, thus, the ultimate good and happiness of all peoples, it would be incredibly sinful for us to be anything but passionate about proclaiming the gospel of Christ and defending its purity. As a community, we need to feel the weight of Paul’s refrain, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9.16)!
4. We will be a community that is relentlessly edifying. In this we recognize not just the gift of Christ, Himself, but the gifts that Christ has given to the body and the goal of our salvation, which is to grow up into Christ. What should be happening when we meet together, a brother with a brother, a sister with a sister, brothers and sisters together, a husband with his wife, a parent with their child? What should be our goal in gathering corporately, in discipleship, in counseling, in ministering to one another, in community groups? What are we talking about? What is our aim? Paul says, “[Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4.11-13). Christ is treasured where our relentless pursuit in all of these settings is one another’s conformity to Christ.
5. We will be a community that is anchored doctrinally. The reason what I have just said is so important is because children, that is, the immature in Christ, are [Eph 4.14] “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” But the task of the body is to “speak the truth in love [so that] we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4.15). In other words, Christian maturity is not less than doctrinal maturity. There is little more shocking and antithetical to this culture than being a convictional Christian. And it is our calling to anchor the body in the doctrine of Christ that we may stand against the waves of error.
6. We will be a community that is pervasively Christian. Where do we learn holiness but the school of Christ?! Eph 4.20, “[Contrary to the walk of unbelievers] that is not the way you learned Christ!–assuming that you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” And that means that we will be a community marked by truth-telling, by the pursuit of relational peace, by honest work and wise generosity to those in need, by the recognition of the value and impact of words, by kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness, purity and, above all, sacrificial love.
7. We will be a community that is armed for battle. [I think Paul ends here (6.10-20) because he sees it as consummative of the Christian life, anticipating assault and extending our weaponry at the same time.] We will be attacked by the devil at every level of our aim to treasure Jesus Christ. He will seek to turn diversity into an opportunity for the sins of racism and elitism. He will seek to usurp our unity by drawing us away from the reconciliation forged in Christ’s cross. He will attempt to silence us by persecution, by guilt, by unworthiness, by ease of life. He will try to abort our growth by pillaging our gospel doctrine with human cunning and craftiness in deceitful schemes. He waits to tempt us to sin, and so corrode our love for Christ.
And in all of this he may succeed–if he can get us to lay down our arms, or if he can get us to think that the war is not already decided. But our armory is Christ and our weaponry is evidence that he is a defeated and retreating foe. Christ has won the war already, and when we stand in Christ’s strength, in His truth, His righteousness, the readiness of His gospel, His peace, in faith, in His salvation, in the Word, and in prayer, we are on the offensive, make no mistake about it. We are proclaiming over and over again the accomplished triumph of Christ. This is invaluable to the life of this church. If Satan can deceive us into thinking that Christ has not yet won, that we may be yet defeated, then he can perhaps get us to compromise. If you can’t beat him, join him. You see, he knows what we need to know and remind one another of every day: treasuring Christ is inseparable from the decided triumph of Christ. Where we fail to live in the triumph of His cross and resurrection, our love for Him will corrode. And that is what the devil is after, which is why we must be a community armed for this battle.
8. We will be a community that is steadfast in prayer. In light of all this, there is no greater exhortation I can give to you than to be earnest, persistent, steadfast in prayer. Our success as a church in magnifying the glory of God’s grace in Jesus Christ will be supernatural. It cannot be anything else. To know the glories of the grace of salvation, Paul prays (Eph 1.15-23). For the comprehension of the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ and His love, Paul prays (Eph 3.14-21). And for the advance of the gospel and the proclamation of the unsearchable riches of Christ, Paul asks for prayer (Eph 6.18-20). On January 6, we heard the Word of Christ on prayer from Matthew 6.5-15. 42 days later, I ask you, brothers and sisters, how have we received that Word? Have we become a more prayerful people? More watchful? More mindful? More sober-minded? More earnest? More consistent in prayer? Treasuring Christ so that the grace of the gospel of God is magnified to one another and to all peoples is the business of prayer. It is, alas, in Christ that we have boldness and access with confidence to commune with God in prayer. Let us be, then, the most prayerful people we can be.
What will be the legacy of Christ Community Church?
My hope before our God and Father is that Christ Community Church will be a church resolved, both in word and deed, to magnify the glory of God’s grace in Jesus Christ by proclaiming Him to all peoples for their and, consequently, our everlasting joy in God. That is the sum and substance of our mission statement. May the Lord give us grace to live it out faithfully and fruitfully.
A closing and fitting word from Samuel Rutherford, “I urge upon you . . . a nearer communion with Christ and a growing communion. There are curtains to be drawn by in Christ that we never saw, and new foldings of love in him. I despair that ever I shall win to the far end of that love, there are so many plies in it; therefore dig deep, and sweat, and labour, and take pains for him, and set by so much time in the day for him as you can: he will be won with labour.” And I would add, magnified!