Why Does the Church Exist?
A sermon on Romans 15:1-6 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 1/1/2006
Why does the church exist? What is the goal of the church? What is the purpose of the church?
Why does the worldwide church exist? Why does Desiring God Community Church exist?
Why do you go to church on Sunday morning? Suppose you stop people at the University City Target and ask that question. What answers might you get?
Why does the church exist? For one of those reasons?
The church does not exist so that we might relax or be uplifted. The church does not exist so that we might be comforted. The church does not exist even so that we might learn the Bible or evangelize our neighbors.
Why does the church exist? Romans 15:6 tells us: The church exists so . . . “that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The church exists for the glory of God. Ultimately, this is the only reason for the church’s existence. If we accomplished every other secondary goal -
And none of this led to God’s glory, all would be completely worthless. The church exists for the glory of God.
Why do I say this? Because all that God does He does for His glory!
God created man for His glory (Isaiah 43:6-7);
God called Israel for His glory (Jeremiah 13:7);
God rescued Israel from Egypt and from exile for His glory (Psalm 106:8, Daniel 9:19);
God forgives our sins for His glory (Isaiah 43:25);
Jesus returns again for His glory (2 Thessalonians 1:10).
Indeed, Paul tells us that even those activities in our day that seem most trivial – eating and drinking – are to be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). And around the throne of God, every creature sings to His glory (Revelation 5:13).
Therefore the mission statement of Desiring God Community Church begins, “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things.” The only reason we exist, the only reason the worldwide church exists, is to magnify God’s worth.
This is not to say that comfort, evangelism, learning the Bible, and missions are unimportant. No! Every one is a biblical command! But the aim of every one of those is the glory of God. If we separate these from God’s glory, if we take God’s glory for granted, we miss the whole point of those commands. Learning the Bible becomes an academic exercise; missions and evangelism and comfort become man-centered.
So we exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. That’s our mission statement.
But what does a church with that biblical mission look like? This is the question we asked ourselves three years ago, when a few of us were studying the book of Ephesians together on Wednesday evenings at my house, planning to start this church. On New Years Day, 2003 we did not yet even have a name. But we saw the grand biblical vision for the church, and we were excited and privileged to have the opportunity of forging a local assembly following that biblical vision.
Within the next few months we identified ten core values that together communicate the main emphases of the biblical vision for the church: We are God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, prayer-powered, missions and evangelism mobilizing, disciple-producing, family-strengthening, diversity-loving, joy-pursuing, and we practice expository exultation.
It seemed good to me to begin 2006 by spending two weeks looking at these core values using Romans 15 as our starting point, for this chapter either directly mentions or alludes to all ten core values. Then, two weeks from tonight, we will gather for an all church strategy meeting, to discuss answers to questions such as: How can we build on our strengths? How can we strengthen what needs improving so that more and more we live out these values? So pray fervently. Ponder these issues. To help you think about these issues biblically, I heartily recommend a new book by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel (Crossway, 2005). Although directed at pastors and elders, much of the book provides an excellent summary of what a biblical church might look like today in our cultural context.
During the rest of this morning we’ll look at two of our core values after a few words about the setting of the passage: Today:
In Romans 14 Paul has been dealing with differences of opinion within the church at Rome concerning what could be eaten and concerning whether or not one day is more important than another. Paul’s key point is: Do not despise each other (verses 10-13). It is possible to abstain from meat or observe a day to the glory of God, and it is possible to eat meat and not observe a day to the glory of God (verse 6). Each person is to be convinced in his own mind (verse 5), acting out of faith (verse 23) and acting out of love, for the good of your brother being willing to restrain yourself from exercising your freedom (verses 15, 19-21).
Paul continues on this theme in the first verses of chapter 15:
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. Romans 15:1-2
Earlier in Romans, Paul said:
Owe no one anything, except to love each other. Romans 13:8
That’s our obligation: Love each other. Build each other up in Christ. The central idea is not for us to feel good or uplifted or smart or satisfied. The central idea is for us to love and to serve.
Why should we act this way? Paul tell us in verse 3: “For Christ did not please himself.”
Did Jesus aim to please Himself? If that had been His aim, He would never have become incarnate. He would never have gone to the cross. Now, in going to the cross He was pursuing His ultimate joy (Hebrews 12:2); more on that next week. But He did not aim to please Himself, in that He was not aiming at His own pleasure at the expense of others or in violation of the Law. Jesus did not aim to please Himself – nor should we.
How do we know that about Jesus? It is written in God’s Word:
For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me." Romans 15:3
This brings us to one of our core values: leads us to our next heading:
Paul quotes Scripture, Psalm 69:9, to support his point that Jesus did not please Himself. In the quote, “you” refers to God. Paul quotes this verse because it shows that Jesus willingly took on Himself the hatred men had for God. Jesus spoke the truth about God; therefore, those who rejected the true God rejected Him. He was whipped, mocked, crucified. Some of those who engineered His death claimed to be acting for God. But they were acting for their imaginary god, not the true God. They hated the true God. And so they hated - and reproached - Jesus.
We could profitably spend much time considering that point, and applying it to the present day, when many of those who reject or mock Christ in the name of God actually reject God. But our point this morning mainly comes from verse 4, Paul’s explanation for his Old Testament quotation:
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction. Romans 15:4
Do you see what Paul is saying? All Scripture was written for our instruction. Paul expands on this idea in 2 Timothy 3:16:
All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
So Psalms and Proverbs, Isaiah and Ezekiel, Exodus and Leviticus, Micah and Habakkuk all were written so that we might learn who God is, so that we might learn how to become more like Him.
In the second half of the verse, Paul tells us specific ways that God’s instruction through Scripture works in our lives:
So that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Do you see what he is saying? Our instruction in the Scriptures leads to endurance, to bearing up under difficulties and pressures. Our instruction in the Scriptures leads to the encouragement of the Scriptures. Then together, endurance and encouragement lead to hope.
How does instruction in the Scriptures lead to endurance and encouragement?
Furthermore, Hebrews 4:12-13 tells us that God’s Word is:
living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
So God’s Word not only teaches us valuable lessons. In addition, God has chosen to use His Word as His active agent in convicting and changing us. We hear or read God’s Word, and it penetrates our hearts, dwelling in us richly. When that happens, we become more and more like Him. We endure. We are encouraged. We have hope.
The Word of God is the basis for all our encouragement, all our hope.
So a true church of God must be Bible-saturated. Oh, how we want God’s Word to penetrate our individual and corporate lives! So we try to live this out, even on Sunday morning. Paul tells Timothy:
Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13)
The public reading of Scripture is one important way that God gets His Word in His people. It is also a wonderful picture of our submission to God’s Word. Hear how Dever and Alexander make this point:
Scripture is powerful- even when the person reading it doesn’t try to explain it. . . . Carving out time in our Sunday morning services to read Scripture aloud, without comment, every week, makes a statement about the value we place on God’s Word. It says we are eager to hear the Word of the Lord – we desire it. It acknowledges that the life and growth of our local churches depend on the power of God’s Word, and that we really believe that “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). It acknowledges our own weakness in that we continually need to be reminded of what God has said. It says we’re willing to listen to Gods Word, to sit under it in order to be instructed, assessed, and evaluated by it. It says we’re willing to agree with its presentation of reality and with its estimation and judgment of us. It says we’re willing to submit to its verdict and commands without qualification. Yet if the regular public reading of Scripture says all this, what are we saying if we neglect it?
Oh, may God bless the public reading of His Word at Desiring God Church! May He convict us, encourage us, and exhort us, just through His living and active Word!
In addition to devoting ourselves to the public reading of Scripture, being Bible-saturated colors all else we do: Our Core Seminars, our Sunday School classes, our Small Groups, our Bible memory Fighter Verses, our individual reading of God’s Word.
Let me say a bit more about individual reading. Today is New Year’s. Are you committed to reading God’s Word daily in 2006? It’s written for your instruction! Use it! Does your Bible reading lead to endurance and encouragement? It should! As John Piper told his congregation five weeks ago, if it doesn’t you’re not reading the Bible right!
Yesterday around noon I completed the last chapters in my Bible reading plan for 2005. In the rush of Christmas activities I had gotten behind and had a few days of reading to complete on the 31st. So my time in God’s Word could have been dry, simply letting my eyes pass over the page so I could check off the last few entries. By God’s grace, that time was especially rich. My last Old Testament reading was Proverbs 31 about the godly wife. I see so much of my wonderful wife in this chapter:
29 "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." 30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Proverbs 31:29-30
So I got up from my desk and went downstairs to praise her. Later that evening, I praised her before our five boys. This passage reminded me again that there are many any things I love about Beth, including her charm and beauty. But far and away God’s greatest gift to me through her is her fear of Him, the wisdom He has forged in her.
Back upstairs, I finished my New Testament reading, ending with Revelation 22:20-21
He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
He is coming again, He will right all wrongs! He will wipe away all tears! He will bring to fulfillment His entire redemptive plan! He will rid me of all my sinfulness, and enable me to worship Him face to face! He will give me a new body that will never wear out!
All this was written for my instruction, so that I might have hope through the endurance and encouragement of Scriptures. All this was written for your instruction too, so that you might have hope through the Scriptures.
As I made my final checks in my reading plan, I was overwhelmed with thankfulness to God for those who, like John Piper, set an example for me of being personally Bible-saturated, reading the entire Bible year after year. I have now read through the Bible in a year about 10 times, including each of the last five years. By God’s grace, I will read the entire Bible every year for the rest of my life. This gives me hope: Despite continued sinfulness, despite failures to love effectively, despite the continued ugliness of pride and laziness and self-centeredness, God through His Word is refining me, transforming me. He has started a good work through His living and active Word. He is faithful to complete it. I won’t change myself. But His Word has changed me, and will continue to do so.
Thus, Desiring God Church is committed to being Bible-saturated. We make this commitment not so that we might come to know the Bible, but so that we might come to know the God of the Bible. He is at the center! This book is God’s chosen tool to provide us with endurance and encouragement, so that we might have hope, and therefore be transformed into those who live lives worthy of His calling, to His great glory.
This brings us back to our main point. Having said that the instruction that comes from Scriptures gives us endurance and encouragement, leading to hope, Paul then writes:
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6
Note that Paul here is giving the ultimate goal of our endurance, encouragement, and hope.
He gives us endurance, encouragement, and hope so that we might all together glorify Him! He is the ultimate! He is the purpose! As John Piper says,
The ultimate aim of Christ and his apostle is to display the glory of God — the beauty of God, the greatness of God, the many-sided perfections of God. All of creation, all of redemption, all of church, all of society and culture exist to display God. Nothing and no one is an end itself, but only God. All things are “from him and through him and to him” (Romans 11:36). Church worship services, church Sunday School classes, church nurseries, church committee meetings, church small groups, church evangelism, church missions—all of them exist for this one ultimate thing—to make much of the greatness of God.
Nothing we do is of any value unless it serves to make much of God. God works all things together so that He might be magnified. We as Christians must do the same in our individual lives. We as a church must do the same in our corporate life. The only reason Desiring God Community Church exists is to glorify God. Thus, in core values statement we say,
We value putting God at the center of all that we do. We put His glory and His honor first, asking in every decision, “Will this bring the greatest glory and praise to our God?”
My friends, what would a God-centered, Bible-saturated church look like? Dream with me, and come in two weeks to the strategy meeting to dream together. But here are some aspects of what such a church looks like:
My friends, that is the only reason to live - indeed, that is the only way to live eternally with joy.
My friends, our hope is not in our resolutions or good intentions. Our hope is not in our ability to change who we are. Our hope is in the God who created us, who sent His Son to die for us, who says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
This communion table is a picture of what He has done for us: Each one of us was lost and without hope. Each one of us fails to fulfill the purpose of our creation: to glorify Him in all that we do. Each one of us subject to His just condemnation. But God sent His Son to suffer and die, taking on Himself the penalty for our disobedience, so that we, saved through Him, might live to His glory. That is His free gift. You must receive it. You must respond. You must repent. Do so even now. Then throughout 2006 may we together live to God’s glory through the power of His Word.
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This sermon was preached on New Years Day, 2006, at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC. The John Piper quote is from his sermon of 11/27/2005, “Welcome One Another for the Glory of God” on Romans 15:1-7; this is available online at http://www.desiringgod.org/library/sermons/05/112705.html . The Mark Dever and Paul Alexander quote is from The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel (Crossway, 2005), p. 81-82.
Copyright © 2005, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, posted on the internet, copied for resale or incorporated in any products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, PO Box 620099, Charlotte, NC 28262.