Think of what this ideal church might be: A church that could produce true believers who persevered under great stress. These people would be able to tell what true teachings were and spot falsehoods in an instant. A church like this wouldn’t grow tired and burn out. This church would hate evil and love truth.
This sounds great doesn’t it? There was a church just like this in the Bible (Revelation 2:2-6). The church in Ephesus was doing everything right. Though externally their performance would seem perfect to us today and even a model for us to build on, Jesus admonishes them for leaving their first love!
How many institutions today are so focused on buildings, funding, programs, attendance, doctrine, and even outreach that they’ve forgotten about Jesus in all their efforts?
How many believers sit in a building week after week knowing in their heart that they desire more, but being too afraid to truly seek that relationship with Jesus?
How many have been told that they have “it” because they follow all of the bylaws and initiatives they’ve been told to all their life?
How many still go empty 90% of the time because the water they’re drinking doesn’t satisfy?
Ironically, the Bible has a solution to all of these conundrums—Jesus. He’s not just a past figure that is also returning again “someday.” He exists in the here and now. The kingdom he brought isn’t man made. It is a spiritual kingdom instituted by God. Our best efforts to replicate this kingdom physically will only leave us burnt out, empty, and frustrated. All we have to do is accept and live in the reality of the kingdom that is already.
The religious leaders during Jesus’ time were looking for a kingdom and had built their own based on scripture (Luke 17:20-21). What they didn’t realize and what we still struggle to understand today is that the Bible is not a rule book. It is a book that reveals Jesus as he himself stated (John 5:39). Remember, when Jesus was speaking of the scriptures to the Pharisees, he was talking about what they were studying. At that time, they only had the Old Testament writings. Yet Jesus still states that these were speaking of him. Just like the church in Ephesus, they knew the scriptures in making them into a code of conduct, but they missed who the scriptures were actually about. Today, we still study the scriptures as legal code to prove ourselves righteous but miss that the Bible reveals Jesus to us and that he is our first love. We are his body and not a body that can be constructed by our human means.