During a brief meeting with the elders of the young church of Ephesus, knowing that he faced imprisonment in Jerusalem and would never see these young believers again, Paul spoke these encouraging words:
"Now I'm turning you over to God, our marvelous God whose gracious Word can make you into what he wants you to be and give you everything you could possibly need in this community of holy friends.” (Acts 20:32 MSG).
Or as expressed in the Amplified Bible:
“And now [brethren], I commit you to God [I deposit you in His charge, entrusting you to His protection and care]. And I commend you to the Word of His grace [to the commands and counsels and promises of His unmerited favor]. It is able to build you up and to give you [your rightful] inheritance among all God's set-apart ones (those consecrated, purified, and transformed of soul)” (Acts 20:32 AMP).
It is well known that the “Word of His grace” is there to help us cope with the challenges that come our way—to comfort us in times of distress, to guide us in times of perplexity, to encourage us in times of apparent failure, and to build our faith in the face of “impossibility.” What is not considered quite so often is—as the Apostle Paul said above—that the Word was given for the purpose of changing . . . us. To make radical—and lasting—changes in our thinking, our personality, our emotional being, and our lifestyle. To become what the Word says, not just know it. To become what God wants us to be, not just act that way once in a while.
The second part of Paul’s statement—about the “inheritance” we can receive in the fellowship of “holy friends”—seemed to me, at first, to be saying that the Church is a place in which we can receive great care and blessing. It puzzled me to notice that Paul seemed to be saying that it was the Word that made it possible for us to receive this inheritance. “So what, exactly, is he saying," I thought. "How do we receive this blessed inheritance? From the Word? Or from the saints?"
I finally saw that it is this transforming Word which makes it possible to receive the fullness of the benefits of
a) being a Christian and
b) belonging to the Church
That is because the Word, little by little, takes us from being “baby Christians” to being Christians who are “consecrated, purified, and transformed of soul.” As we become more and more like this, we will naturally live in more joy, peace, wisdom, self-control, and faith—instead of struggling under discontentment, anxiety, uncertainty, impulsiveness, and fear.
We will also have a mature, blessed, and profitable relationship with other Christians. We will see them in a favorable light—as God does. We will appreciate the kindness and support they show us, and be able to understand and forgive their lapses. We will gratefully depend on their prayers, counsel, help, and example, but not depend on them so much as to become disillusioned when they fail us.
In a time of wholesale exit from the church, could the key to profiting from Church membership be to allow the Word to change us?