The apostle John tells us: "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him" (1 John 4:8-9; compare John 3:16-17; Titus 3:4-7).
As we have previously discussed in this lesson, God demonstrates His love through His many promises that relate to our receiving salvation and eternal life. God the Father personally desires to be involved in our daily lives. As Paul said, "it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). Paul explains that Jesus Christ, our elder Brother, lives in us if we are converted Christians (Galatians 2:20).
What assurance do we have that the Father and Jesus Christ will assist us when we need spiritual help?
"For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16).
"Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him" (1 John 5:14-15; compare Matthew 7:7-8; Philippians 4:6).
Relationships are built on good communication. God's Word reveals that He listens to us and answers our requests according to His will and our best interests. He wants us to respond to His love. We speak to God in our thoughts and prayers, and He speaks to us through His Word, His Spirit and His servants.
How should we express our love towards God?
"Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (1 John 2:3-6; compare 1 John 3:22).
"By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:2-3).
As John explains, God expects us to demonstrate our love to Him and others by keeping His commandments. We have the life of Jesus Christ as a model of how we should live. Jesus kept the commandments of God (John 15:10). He pleased God because of His obedience and His desire to do the will of God. (For more information on this subject, please be sure to request your free copy of the booklet The Ten Commandments.)
As we are recipients of God's love, He expects us to share that love with others. That love, Christ said, would characterize His disciples through the ages. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35; compare 1 John 4:11).
What other spiritual qualities should be evident in our lives as we strive to live according to God's will?
"For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: for yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him" (Hebrews 10:36-38).
"And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ" (Colossians 3:23-24).
"And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last" (Revelation 22:12-13).
The life of a Christian is not easy (Matthew 7:13-14; 2 Timothy 3:12). We are expected to endure, wholeheartedly seeking God while we patiently wait for the fulfillment of His promises.
As we consistently follow God and respond to His will, we enjoy the spiritual blessings He promises. But many of the most important promises and blessings become a reality only when Jesus Christ returns. Jesus tells us that "in the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). One of the great blessings we receive is the strength, patience and ability to endure the problems we encounter in "this present evil age" (Matthew 10:31-38; Galatians 1:4).
Is it important that we live according to God's will to inherit His promises?
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven'" (Matthew 7:21; compare Luke 6:46).
Our living according to the will of the Father is important to Christ. He considers those who do the will of God to be His close family members. "For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother" (Matthew 12:50).
Those who only appear to serve God—but in reality practice lawlessness, willfully breaking God's spiritual law—will not be included in God's Kingdom (Matthew 7:22-23). They will not be a part of His eternal spiritual family.
Who are members of God's household, His family, in this age?
". . . I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).
The Church is the house, or household, of God. It is those who respond to His call and follow the divine will. Paul wrote to the Christians in his day: "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:19-22).
But what is the Church of God? In any discussion about the Church, we should first define its meaning. In the Bible the word church comes from the Greek word ekklesia. In essence it means "called-out ones." This term is used to describe the believers whom God has called out of this world to follow Him.
The word church in the Bible never means a building, as some incorrectly believe. "It always represents either a group of committed Christians in any given locality [who] met to practice their religion, or the totality of these groups scattered throughout the world" (Translator's New Testament, glossary, pp. 557-558).
Paul defines the Church as "the Body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Among its members, it has elders who lead and teach the congregation.
"And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them" (Acts 15:4). Here the "church" is identified as those apostles, elders and other members in Jerusalem. Other scriptures refer to "the church" in other locations (Acts 13:1, Romans 16:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2).
Who founded the Church of God?
". . . On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
Jesus Christ is the founder of the Church of God. He promised the Church would always continue to exist after its founding during the first century. It remains to this day.
What clearly distinguishes people who are a part of God's Church?
"But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (Romans 8:9).
Those who have the Spirit of God dwelling in them are God's true disciples and form the true Church of God. The Body of Christ is those who have the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13).
"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Romans 8:14). God's Spirit distinguishes people who are His sons and daughters from people who are not yet called.
Who leads the Church of God?
"For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything" (Ephesians 5:23-24, compare Colossians 1:18).
Jesus Christ, as its Head, leads the Church of God. Christ loves the Church and constantly nurtures and works with the Church to prepare it as His bride (Ephesians 5:25-27).
What role do the elders of the Church serve?
"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Jesus Christ chooses some to serve the Body of Christ and help members to grow spiritually. The word minister means "servant." Pastors and other elders are called by God to serve the spiritual needs of His called-out ones. Sound teaching is one of their important responsibilities (Ephesians 4:12-15).
The elders are to instruct in doctrine as well as helping Christians grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Paul told the elders he had personally taught: "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28).
On another occasion he explained the approach he and the other apostles took in serving the Church. "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24).
The responsibility of the elders of the Church includes overseeing the flock of God, gently leading and caring for them as a good shepherd does his sheep (1 Peter 5:1-3).
What is the mission of the Church?
"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you . . ." (Matthew 28:19-20).
God calls people for several reasons, one of which is to help fulfill the commission given the Church to spread the gospel and instruct those God calls so they can understand and live His way of life. It is through the combined efforts of God's called-out ones that this commission is fulfilled.
Paul says the church should always endeavor "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). Paul encourages members of the Church to work for unity and to build on that unity as they spread the true gospel and make disciples.
Paul describes the kind of humble attitude that leads to true spiritual unity within the Church: "Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:1-5).
Members of the Church are admonished to love and care for one another as Christ loved His disciples and cared for them. This involves a collective as well as individual effort.
Are members of the Church expected to assemble together regularly?
"And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24-25; compare Leviticus 23:3).
Members of the Church are to work together to fulfill the commission Christ gave it, assembling together to encourage one another and be instructed in God's truth as they show love and support for one another.
What else do those in the Church do?
"But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24).
The Church also meets together to worship God. Notice that Christ said His followers would worship the Father in "spirit and truth."
What is the "truth" Jesus Christ mentioned?
"They [Christians] are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:16-17).
Christ indicated that His disciples would be those who were sanctified—set apart—by the truth of God. For centuries mankind has debated what truth is. Adlai Stevenson, 20th-century American statesman, noted that "you will find that the truth is often unpopular and the contest between agreeable fancy and disagreeable fact is unequal."
So many have accepted fanciful traditions and customs as part of their religion that God's truth is obscured. The truth of God is in the entirety of God's Word, the Holy Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4; 2 Timothy 3:15-17).
The Word of God must stand as the basis for our beliefs, rather than the traditions and customs of men (Mark 7:9-13). Jesus said: "And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men" (Mark 7:7-8).
Did Christ say His Church would be a large, influential body?
"Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32; compare Deuteronomy 7:7).
Christ indicates the body of true believers would be a "little flock," a relatively small group.
Where is that Church today? The Church is not a building. It is the people called by God to enjoy a special relationship with Him. It is the called-out ones who have responded to the invitation to receive God's Spirit. The Church is a relatively small number of believers who follow the truth of God and the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. These people also emulate the examples of the apostles of the first-century Church.
The Church is a spiritual organism that includes elders to help with the edification and spiritual growth of its other members. Members of the Church work together toward the goal of spiritual maturity. Working toward a common goal, members of the Church are dedicated to accomplishing the mission Jesus Christ gave them almost 2,000 years ago. (For a better understanding of the Church, be sure to request your free copy of the booklet The Church Jesus Built.)