We might think the easiest place in the world to obey the
scripture is within the local congregation. However, my experience
has been we botch Christ’s sermon in the local congregation as
much as we do in every other aspect of our lives. I have heard
some of the worst possible behavior between brethren, including
physical violence. How does that happen? We have heard great
lessons about living this Sermon in
marriage, as parents, on the
job and in school. However, we must not overlook how the Sermon
ought to impact the local congregation. When the Sermon impacts us
right here, then we will be a growing and vibrant body of Jesus
Christ. If not, we will only be a mediocre attempt at greatness.
What is the local church?
The Sermon begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for
theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew
5:3). It is predicated on the rise of the heavenly
kingdom. Those who keep the commandments are great in the kingdom,
those who do not are least (Matthew
5:19). If our righteousness surpasses that of the scribes
and Pharisees, we enter the kingdom (Matthew
5:20). We are to pray for the spread of the kingdom (Matthew
6:10). We are to seek God’s kingdom (Matthew
6:33). According to passages like Matthew
16:18-19, the church is the earthly representation of this
heavenly kingdom. While the kingdom of heaven is the collective of
faithful Christians and not of faithful congregations, each
congregation is to be a manifestation in microcosm of this
kingdom. Thus, by virtue of our membership in this local body, we
demonstrate we are in the world, but not of the world. We might be
Americans and Tennesseans, but we are more importantly Christians
whose citizenship is in heaven (Philippians
The local church is the light of the world (Matthew
5:13-16). Candlepower is one measurement of light’s
strength. Envision that as you think of the local church. Each of
us is a candle, set on a stand in order to provide light to the
whole house. As we are combined in this collective, the
candlepower increases. While we gather together to provide solace
and comfort from the world, the local church is not people taking
their lights into a cave to protect them from the dark world.
Rather, we come together in this relationship to provide strength
and increase our brightness. As we join together in this
fellowship, our candle power increases and our lights shine ever
brighter. The local church is a beacon we must ensure stays lit.
Of course, that means we will also be a city set on a hill.
We are the city the world wants to attack. They will attack us.
They will embitter people against us. They will call us names.
They will tell lies. They might even physically attack us. The
reality is we cannot be the light of the world without being the
city set on the hill. We must remember that and be prepared. When
they attack, we are blessed and our reward is reserved in heaven (Matthew
What is the local church’s foundation?
The church is made up of the few walking the narrow way (Matthew
7:13-14). It does not merely call Jesus “Lord,” but
does the will of God (Matthew
7:21). We have one foundation—Jesus Christ through His
word. Jesus’ parable of the foundations demonstrates a local
congregation must heed the word of Jesus. Otherwise, we are
building on an unstable foundation.
This means a local congregation with Jesus as Lord will
look different. We will not have creed books, manuals or
confessions telling us what to believe, teach and practice. We
will have merely Jesus’ word. According to II
Timothy 3:16-17, the Scripture is enough to equip us for
every good work to be the light of the world, turning the
world’s attention to God. We do not need councils to vote on
correct doctrine. We do not need hierarchies and legislatures to
develop laws. We need Jesus’ word. Others will scoff. But only
the local church founded completely, totally and solely on Christ
through His word will prevail in the storms.
How do we relate to God within the local church?
When we look to most churches today, we might think the
church has been provided so God could cater to our needs. Worship
is entertainment. Fellowship is food. Teaching tickles itching
ears. Evangelism means social welfare. This skews the relationship
with God found in the local church, making the church about God
catering to us, not us humbling ourselves before Him.
lays the groundwork for our relationship with God. “Blessed are
the poor in spirit.” We have nothing. We are nothing. Like the
Canaanite woman of Matthew
15:27, we recognize that we are but dogs hoping for crumbs
from the master’s table. He owes us nothing. There is nothing we
can do to put Him in our debt. We must not be part of a local
congregation to relax and be entertained. We must not be here to
have our ears tickled or fleshly desires fulfilled. We do not come
because we are the elite of society forming some spiritual country
club. We come together because we are sick with sin and in need of
the healing He offers through His grace.
One of the saddest problems in most congregations is the
picture that we have all already achieved righteousness. We dress
in our best clothes. Put on our best faces. We act as though we
have it all together. If I hear one thing repeated more than any
other in discussions with other Christians, it is the fear we have
to let our guard down, confessing to one another. We do not want
anyone to know we are less than righteous. However, we are not
here because we are righteous. We are here because we hunger and
thirst for righteousness (Matthew
5:6). God has established congregations so we can help one
another, stimulating one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews
10:24). Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will
be satisfied. They will receive righteousness. But one of the
means through which God satisfies us with righteousness is our
relationship to one another.
Finally, we are here to pursue righteousness not minimum
requirements. We want to excel in God’s righteousness. Matthew
5:21-48 is a picture of minimalism and reductionism. The
scribes and Pharisees were not interested in God’s kingdom and
righteousness, they wanted to know what was good enough. Where is
the line drawn? The commandment said don’t murder. I will not,
but I will hate. The commandment said don’t commit adultery. I
will not, but I will lust and fantasize. The commandment said I
must keep my vows to the Lord. I will, but I will not keep vows I
have made by the earth or heavens. The commandment said I must
love my neighbor. I will, but I am free to hate my enemy.
Hungering and thirsting after righteousness means we do not seek
the minimum requirement for getting into God’s kingdom. Rather,
it means we strive for excellence in His service, fulfilling every
intent of His law. We do not argue about how many times we have to
assemble. We do not argue about how often do we have to pray, how
much do we have to study the Bible, how much time do we have to
spend with brethren, how much evangelism do we have to do. We do
not argue those things because we are not seeking to get just
inside the kingdom of heaven’s gate. The kingdom of heaven is
our lives, our everything, our prime mover. Thus, we strive for
excellence and not minimum requirements.
How do we relate to others?
In his book Winning
with People, John Maxwell pointed out, “With one
minor exception, the entire world is made up of other people.”
The same is true within the local congregation. Look around you.
What do you see? Other people. There are more of them than there
are of you and me. This alone should tell us something. This is
not about me. It is about them. We ought not be gathering here for
ourselves, but for them.
6:1-6, 16-18, we must not be here to be seen by men. I’m
not sure how many complaints I have heard about people unable to
lead prayers, lead singing, wait on the table or preach as much as
they would like. These kinds of complaints often generate in a
heart that sees service as mostly a public issue. We don’t need
more people willing to lead public prayer; we need more people who
are getting in their prayer closets. We don’t need more people
who will lead the congregation in singing, we need more people who
will proclaim the joys of their salvation to a lost world. We do
not need more people who will wait on the Lord’s table; we need
more people who sacrifice themselves in service to others. Our
light is to shine so others will see God and glorify Him, not us (Matthew
5:16). Further, we are not to seek honor for ourselves but
prefer others in honor (Romans
Because the congregation is made up of people, there will
be problems. Yet, Matthew
5:21-26 demonstrates we must deal with those problems
quickly. We do not allow our anger to seethe unresolved. We do not
call each other names. Further, when we have an issue with
someone, we go to them. We do not go to the elders, the preacher
or our favorite brother or sister. We go to the person who has
angered us and deal with the problem. When we have done something
wrong, we do not simply go to God seeking reconciliation. We lay
our gift at the altar, reconciling with our brother or sister
first. Then we reconcile with God. We should be a group of people
constantly meeting each other on our way to reconcile and forgive.
Jesus said the merciful are blessed in Matthew
5:7. That should be our watchword within the
congregation—Mercy. Mercy is more than forgiveness; it is
actively relieving the suffering of the afflicted. We must be on
the lookout for suffering among our brethren and seek to relieve
it. Whether it be caring for the sick and shut-in, strengthening
the weak, lifting up the fallen, encouraging the disheartened,
visiting the widows and orphans in their distress, teaching the
young, we must extend mercy. But this is also seen in forgiveness.
If we wish to be forgiven, we must forgive (Matthew
6:14-15). It is too sad when brothers and sisters in
Christ allow schisms in their relationships, withholding
forgiveness and mercy from one another. Far too often, Christians
spend their time trying to figure out what everyone else in the
congregation is doing wrong instead of striving to help them grow
in the Lord. This is the heart of Matthew
7:1-5. Instead of sitting on high, dealing out judgment
and retribution, we should be among our brethren striving to help
them overcome sin. We are all here because we hunger and thirst
for righteousness not because we are already perfectly righteous.
If we look hard enough we will find reasons to pass judgment on
everybody and they will find reason to do so with us. But that is
not why we are here. We are here to offer mercy, helping people
out of the affliction of their sins.
demonstrates we should be far more concerned with our
relationships than our rights. It has happened to all of us. At
some point in time, whether by word or deed, someone has wronged
us. What is our proper response? Revenge? Retaliation?
Retribution? After all, we have our rights and God certainly
couldn’t possibly expect us to put up with that from them. Or
does He? I
Corinthians 6:7 suggests otherwise. To God, the
relationship between brethren is far more important than a brother
standing up for his rights. It is better to suffer wrong and
maintain a relationship in which we can help one another enter
heaven than to destroy our relationships with one another in order
to prove we were in the right or we were the victim. As such, when
we are insulted, we offer the other cheek. We go the extra mile.
We give to him who asks. Why? Because we want to be like our
Father in heaven who loves even His enemies. When our enemies are
within the congregation, we love them as well.
Of course, it all boils down to the “Golden Rule” (Matthew
7:12). We treat others the way we want to be treated. Do
we not want forgiveness and mercy? Then we offer it. Do we not
want others to grant us honor? Then we grant honor to them. Do we
not want others to go the extra mile with us? Then we will go the
extra mile with them. As we do so, everything this Sermon teaches
us falls into place.
How will the local church succeed?
The local church is the light of the world, the salt of the
earth, a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden. We have a
mission to glorify God. We relate to God by hungering and
thirsting for righteousness. We relate to one another by pursuing
peace and mercy, treating each other the way we want to be
treated. We want the kingdom of God to be spread throughout the
world. How can we succeed in our mission?
says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will
find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” If we wish to
succeed we must pray. Ephesians
3:20 says God is able to do far more abundantly beyond all
we ask. That means we must ask. However, we must do more than ask,
we must seek and knock. Having begged for God’s aid, we must
act. We cannot pray and then sit on our hands. We must get busy
doing the will of the Lord. When the asking is coupled with
seeking and knocking, God will work through us and we will succeed
in His cause. We will be the light of the world, spreading the
kingdom through its uttermost regions.
God did not establish local congregations to be wrapped
around our fingers and provide for our every whim. Rather, He did
so that we might be His holy offspring, satisfied with
righteousness through the stimulation of one another. He did so
that we might glorify and praise His holy name together. This is
not about us. It is about Him. May we glorify Him by living His
Sermon in our relationships here.
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ