3 Characteristics of the Church

by Darin Smith September 1, 2017

It is hard to believe that three little words can change the landscape of a company forever.

In 1988, with the help of advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy, Nike introduced their now-famous slogan: “Just Do It.”  From your neighborhood basketball court to the most popular stars in every sport, “Just Do it” reigns king for those who look to take their athletic greatness to the next level.

We interpret everything we experience through slogans like “Just Do It."

In the New Testament, one teaching that was pronounced repeatedly – but that is almost invisible today—is the teaching of the local church.  If the measure of a successful church according to the Bible is simply the programs, attendance, and building size, then we could say, like Nike, our efforts and advertising have achieved our goals. 

However, we have missed the mark on this issue, because we define the church and its success not by corporate identity (“The Body of Christ”), but rather by individual preferences (“My church does this.  What does yours do?”).

Shouldn’t the questions of “Why does the church exist?" and  "What is it there for?” be easily answered by pastors and members alike? The answer so often, though, is what the church does for us rather than what it is before God.

The church doesn’t exist to do things for us. Rather, it exists because of what it does for God and His gloriously-purchased Bride through the gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11). According to Scripture, the church is the demonstration of the living, triune God in this fallen world for His glory. The local church is the voice of Jesus and an outpost of God’s kingdom. 

What are the characteristics of the church, both locally and universally? Here 3 simple characteristics from the book of 1 Corinthians.

1. Holiness

"To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours." (1 Corinthians 1:2) 

"Who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 1:8)

"If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple." (1 Corinthians 3:15-17) 

"Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did." (1 Corinthians 10:5-6) 

This sounds simplistic. But holiness is strange to individual believers and to the church at large. Holiness is not strange because we cannot become holy this side of heaven, but because we become something we are not.

The heart of holiness is that God’s people—those truly saved members of the church—are special to Him. This is, perhaps, why Paul uses chapter five to teach on church discipline and chapter six to teach on how our bodies are God’s temple.

God cares what is done in this life to the body.  This is why He calls us to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:14-16).  Without any hesitation, Paul makes clear that all facets of corporate, not individualistic, church life are important because of the holiness of God and His people.

2. Unity

"I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment." (1 Corinthians 1:10) 

"For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?" (1 Corinthians 3:3)

"To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?" (1 Corinthians 6:7)

Ironically, the church of Corinth's strive for holiness that was to set them apart from the world actually served to separate them from each other. The church was a mess! They even sued—or attempted to sue—each other in open court.

Even in the Lord’s Supper, they were divided!

"For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part." (1 Corinthians 11:18)

In Paul’s day, the world couldn’t understand how or why Jews and Gentiles could come together.  he only reason they came together was because the gospel unified them. If we are to be a true local church, our unity must focus on the essentials of the Christian faith, not just a shared interest or moral values.

3. Love

"Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up." (1 Corinthians 8:1) 

"Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor." (1 Corinthians 10:24) 

"Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy." (1 Corinthians 14:1) 

"Let all that you do be done in love." (1 Corinthians 16:14) 

Have you ever noticed that Paul places a priority of prophecy over tongues? Why is that?

Because prophecy builds up the church, while tongues are more focused on one’s self. This goes against the corporate attitude Paul develops in the letter (See 1 Cor. 14:6-12).

When it comes to “love” in 1 Corinthians, we quickly go to chapter 13.  How many wedding ceremonies and sermons are preached on this text? Yet, according to Paul, chapter 14 is just as much about love as chapter 13.

Perhaps Paul was most tender to this truth because he himself was a persecutor of the church.  What a miracle it is that God took one who had been a stark enemy of the church to be its biggest and greatest builder and cherisher!

Are you helping your church grow in holiness, unity, and love by your cherishing of the entire Body, instead of your individual preferences?

How does God's Word impact our prayers?

God invites His children to talk with Him, yet our prayers often become repetitive and stale. How do we have a real conversation with God? How do we come to know Him so that we may pray for His will as our own?

In the Bible, God speaks to us as His children and gives us words for prayer—to praise Him, confess our sins, and request His help in our lives.

We’re giving away a free eBook copy of Praying the Bible, where Donald S. Whitney offers practical insight to help Christians talk to God with the words of Scripture.