The Church: God’s Plan for the Church
Jesus said, “I will build my church, and not even death will ever be able to overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). This is a wonderful promise! This verse tells us several important things about the church. Let us list them:
The church is Jesus’ church—“My church.”
Jesus has a plan for His church—“I will build.”
Jesus’ church will not be defeated—“Not even death will ever be able to overcome it.”
God had a plan for the church from the beginning of the world. It was a hidden plan. Then, at the right time, God revealed His plan. We will see that God’s plan reaches into the future also. God has prepared great things for us! Even if we have problems now, we can look in faith to the future.
The Beginning of the Church
Where did the church come from? Perhaps the church has been in your area for many centuries, or for only a short time. Perhaps someone in your community began preaching the gospel, or maybe someone came from another place to tell about Christ. Before the gospel came to your area even before anyone knew the gospel, God had a plan. God’s plan did not begin in your lifetime. It did not begin at the cross where Jesus died. God’s plan began before He created the world. Paul told the church at Ephesus about this plan: Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him. Because of his love God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his sons—this was his pleasure and purpose (Ephesians 1:4-5).
Then, at the right time, Jesus came. (See Galatians 4:4.) Jesus taught the truth about God and did many miracles. Men refused to accept Him. They crucified Him. But God raised Jesus back to life!
Jesus began his ministry among the Jews. Many of the Jews refused Jesus. But God went right on working out His plan. Again Paul explained this to the church at Ephesus:
In past times mankind was not told this secret, but God has revealed it now by the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets. The secret is that by means of the gospel the Gentiles have a part with the Jews in God’s blessing; they are members of the same body and share in the promise that God made through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:5-6).
The church, then, is all those who believe in Christ, from every nation. Through the gospel, they have now become part of His church.
The Glorious Future of the Church
God was working out His plan through Christ. Man’s rejection of Christ did not stop God. Christ’s death did not stop Him. God kept on working out His plan.
God has a plan for the future, too! At the right time, God will finish His plan. He has not been defeated. He will not be defeated! The Bible tells us some of the things God has in store for His church. Just before Jesus was put to death, He prayed: Father! You have given them to me, and I want them to be with me where I am, so that they may see my glory, the glory you gave me; for you loved me before the world was made (John 17:24).
Sometime at the right time God will answer that prayer. Someday the church will be with Jesus and we will see His glory. No one knows completely what heaven will be like, but it will be wonderful to be with Jesus Christ!
The Bible tells us how this will happen. Jesus will come to earth again for His church. Paul told the church at Thessalonica about this event:
There will be the shout of command, the archangel’s voice, the sound of God’s trumpet, and the Lord himself will come down from heaven. Those who have died believing in Christ will rise to life first; then we who are living at that time will be gathered up along with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
We do not know when this will happen. It could be very soon. God knows the right time.
Present Condition of the Church
The church has a wonderful past and a glorious future, but it must live on earth now. We do not live in eternity, past or future, but we live now. How can these truths we have studied help us now?
The Purpose of the Church
List two of the present purposes of the church. Later we will look at the duties of the church in more detail, but now we must see some overall goals. We read in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus: God gave me this privilege of making all people see how God’s secret plan is to be put into effect. God, who is the Creator of all things, kept his secret hidden through all the past ages, in order that at the present time, by means of the church, the angelic rulers and powers in the heavenly world might learn of his wisdom in all its different forms (Ephesians 3:8-10).
The words heavenly world mean “the area of spiritual conflict.” The words angelic rulers and powers mean “the evil spirits which cause men to do evil.” Paul explains that God’s purpose for the church is to defeat the evil spirits in this world.
Look at the rest of chapter 3. The Bible says that because the church’s purpose is to defeat evil, we can come boldly before God in prayer (Ephesians 3:11-13).
Also because of this, we stand strong in God’s power (Ephesians 3:14-16). Finally, we must be united in love (Ephesians 3:17-19).
A second general purpose of the church is found in the last few verses of this chapter.
To him [God] who by means of this power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21).
The Suffering of the Church
Sometimes Christians suffer because of their belief in Christ. Sometimes the church is harmed. Maybe you have been treated badly because you are a Christian. Sometimes people are hurt or misunderstood and other people fight against them because of what they believe. This is called persecution.
Such pain is hard to understand. Sometimes you might ask, “If God has such great things planned for me, why am I hurting now?” This question is not easy. Let us look at what the Bible says.
Some suffering is normal. Everyone goes through times of suffering, whether one is a Christian or not. Even Christians must suffer. Paul told the young man, Timothy: “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). But it is wonderful to know that when we suffer God is with us and He gives us strength.
Suffering is a privilege. We know that it is an honor to suffer for Christ. Because God has special rewards for those who are persecuted, it is special. Paul told the church at Philippi, “For you have been given the privilege of serving Christ not only by believing in him, but also by suffering for him” (Philippians 1:29).
Suffering is temporary. Suffering will not last. Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “I consider that what we suffer at this present time cannot be compared at all with the glory that is going to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
Suffering is rewarded. During periods of suffering, we can look to the future. We look beyond earth to heaven. God will reward us. The Bible says, “If we continue to endure, we shall also rule with him” (2 Timothy 2:12). God is keeping a record. As we have seen, God has great things planned for the church. We can be a part of that great future. But we must be faithful now even during difficulty.
You might say, “My father has rejected me because I am a Christian.” That is painful. But such suffering is normal. You can say, “God has rewarded me with many spiritual fathers. This pain, and many others, I will leave behind when Jesus comes for his church.”