Today, many are hesitant to attend church because they don’t believe it to be worth their while. Additionally, many are skeptical of church leadership. However, the Bible’s blueprint for the church paints a very different picture. Throughout Scripture, God provides the church with clear roles and functions that are deeply formative in the life of a believer. In this session of Secret Church 9, Pastor David Platt gives the biblical precedent for worship, prayer, multiplication, and church leadership. A church that is led by qualified elders and driven by worship and prayer is sure to be a worthwhile commitment for those in Christ.
- The Church Worships
- The Church Prays
- The Church Multiplies
- The Church Has Leadership
- The Church Has a Future
The Church Worships
The church worships. “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread…” (Acts 2:42) So, the church evangelizes, baptizes, teaches, nurtures, and “the breaking of bread,” most scholars think, is a reference to the Lord’s Supper here, which was central in the church’s worship.
So, let’s talk about worship. Worship is the activity of glorifying God in His presence with our voices and our hearts. We are talking about worship here, and I want to be really careful, because when we talk about worship in the church, this has, obviously, been a fundamental part of the people of God in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Edmund Clowney said, “Corporate worship, then, is not optional for the church of God…Rather, it brings to expression the very being of the church. It manifests on earth the reality of the heavenly assembly.”
So, worship is biblically prescribed. The church gathers together for worship, but what happens, how that looks, what type of music or what type of this or that is going to be different in different places. There’s so much that’s culturally flexible in this picture. So, what I don’t want to do is talk about the way we kind of look at worship here, and maybe even hit on some things that maybe we haven’t realized may be missing the mark, but I want us to look at the foundational component of the church is worship, which is the Lord’s Supper, and then some fundamental values in the churches worship.
So, the foundational component is the Lord’s Supper. Baptism demonstrates our initial identification with Christ and His church. The Lord’s Supper celebrates our continual identification with Christ and His church. This is what we do regularly. Baptism is the wedding ceremony we talked about. This is our continual celebration of our relationship with God through Christ. You see it instituted by Christ in Luke 22 and other Gospel accounts, and then 1 Corinthians 11, Paul talks about it.
We are going to kind of treat this like we did baptism with different questions about the Lord’s Supper. Who should participate in the Lord’s Supper? Believers share in the work of Christ as they partake of the Lord’s Supper. This is a meal that is for believers. It’s when the church comes together. So, what does that mean for unbelievers? They’re just totally left out? Well, yes. They’re not partakers of the meal, but that doesn’t mean they’re totally left out. I think unbelievers see the work of Christ as they watch the Lord’s Supper. If an unbeliever is in a worship gathering of the church, then they’re not to eat the bread.
For example, in regards to a child who has not trusted in Christ, parents do not just feel sorry for them and give it to them. Teach them that this is serious, and tell them what they’re watching, and it’s good. Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper here, I say to unbelievers in our midst, “We want you to see a people who have found our life in the death of Christ, and this is central to our celebration of Him.”
Where should we have the Lord’s Supper? The only biblical requirement is among a gathering of the church. This is not something we do individually. Three times, Paul talks about “when you come together,” (1 Corinthians 11:18) “when you come together,” (1 Corinthians 11:20) “when you come together” (1 Corinthians 11:33–34) as a church. It’s not something we do alone, privately. It’s something we do publicly, together, as the church.
When should we have the Lord’s Supper? This is where we don’t see the specific requirements in regards to how many times we need to partake in the Lord’s Supper. The command is observe it often. This is central. “As often as you eat this bread, as often as you drink it,” Paul says. So, observe it often. Now, the question is, some ask, “What about weekly?” Maybe we come from backgrounds where the Lord’s Supper is celebrated every week, every time the church gathers together. From “the first day of the week,” in Acts 20:7, possibly hints at that picture, that maybe it should be weekly. Others who don’t participate in the Lord’s Supper weekly say, “Well, will it become too routine, not quite as special if you do it often?” Well, the reality is we sing every time, and that’s not routine. Or, we teach the Word every time, and that’s not routine. So, I don’t think we should rule it out, that it might be good to certainly observe it often. What about weekly? It’s not specified for sure, but it should be regular in the church’s worship.
How should we understand the Lord’s Supper? We differ from Catholic men and women in the traditional understanding of the Lord’s Supper. This is where I would say it’s even more important of a difference, more extreme of a difference than some of the things we were talking about like baptism earlier. The traditional misunderstanding: in the Lord’s Supper, there’s a change of substance that results in salvation. The two-dollar theological term for this, and I quote it from the catechism of the Catholic Church, is “transubstantiation,” where there’s a change of substance. What happens is in the official teaching there, the picture is in taking the Lord’s Supper as well as participating in other sacraments, that the grace is infused into you in the process, which makes participating in the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, extremely important. The Council of Trent summed it up, and this is part of what the Reformation was about. The Reformers were saying, “No. This is not something we do in order to obtain grace. This is something we do to celebrate grace.” The Council of Trent said, “If anyone says that by faith alone the sinner is justified, so as to mean that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification…let him be an anathema,” or let him be condemned. That’s what the Reformation was, in much part, about. It was about the fact that we don’t obtain the grace of justification. It’s grace because it’s unobtainable. It’s grace because it’s given.
So, this is not a change of substance in the body and the blood of Christ, and we need this to have grace infused into us. The biblical understanding is this is a symbolic meal that reflects salvation. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, Romans 4, Galatians 1. When Jesus says, “This is my body,” He’s pointing us to symbols of a much greater reality. He says at other points, “I’m the door.” “I’m the vine.” “I’m the light.” So, we want to make sure to avoid that misunderstanding.
Why should we celebrate the Lord’s Supper? Here is a four-fold reason. To remember the body of Jesus and the blood of Jesus. You take the bread, and you take the cup, and you remember. The Lord’s Supper is not about imagining something, channeling, dreaming, or meditating. It is about focusing our minds on a real point in history when Christ gave His body and shed His blood for our sins, with forgiveness of our sins. So, we remember the body of Jesus and the blood of Jesus.
Then, we take the Lord’s Supper to reflect on our sin. This is why Paul talks in 1 Corinthians 11 about not approaching this casually, but examining your life in the process. So, we reflect on our sin, and we reflect on His promises. The beauty is, as we reflect on our sin, the beauty in the Lord’s Supper is we’re being reminded and reflecting on the fact that He has forgiven us, and He’s pronounced us not guilty, and our conscience is clear, and our guilt is gone. So, in a very real sense we are feasting on His forgiveness and on His faithfulness to us. As we remember Him, He reminds us, “You are mine, and you’re forgiven, and you’re cleansed.” So, reflect and remember. We renew our commitment to Christ and our commitment to each other. This is what Paul is really addressing in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, because they were taking the Lord’s Supper in a way that they were ending up ignoring their brothers and sisters in the body and not treating them well, and so when we come together for the Lord’s Supper, it’s a picture of our unity together, and we renew our commitment to each other each time we do that, and we rejoice. We take the Lord’s Supper and rejoice because He has set us free from our sin. You know, sometimes, we have the Lord’s Supper, and it’s just totally somber, and everybody walks away just kind of with this downcast look on their faces, “Yeah, we had the Lord’s Supper today.” No. Yes, we reflect on our sin, but we reflect on the fact that He set us free from it, and He’s coming back. Paul says, when we take the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. You look at Revelation 19, there’s a wedding supper of the Lamb that’s coming, and we’re looking forward to the day when Jesus comes back, and we enjoy this meal with Him. So, that’s a celebration. We don’t just cover the Lord’s Supper with sadness. No, it’s a celebration. So, that’s fundamental and foundational in the church’s worship.
Then, what I put in here are five different values in the church’s worship. Again, I’m wanting to ask, “What does Scripture say is important?” Then, for us to think through in different cultures, how does this best play out? So, some fundamental values. Number one: humility. I included Revelation 19 here because this is where the picture of eternal worship is headed. The…
Voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
It’s a reference to Babylon and the picture of worldliness.
Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.”
What a scene! The greatness of God at the center of worship. This is what I love about Tozer’s quote here in your notes:
In my opinion, the great single need of the moment is that light-hearted superficial religionists be struck down with a vision of God high and lifted up, with his train filling the temple. The holy art of worship seems to have passed away like the Shekinah glory from the tabernacle. As a result, we are left to our own devices and forced to make up for the lack of spontaneous worship in the church by bringing countless cheap and tawdry activities to hold the attention of the church people.
I want to propose to you that the greatness of God is more than enough to hold our attention, incite our affection, and lead us to humble adoration of God in worship. His greatness is what captivates us in worship.
It is delightful to worship God, but it is also a humbling thing; and the man who has not been humbled in the presence of God will never be a worshipper of God at all. He may be a church member who keeps the rules and obeys the discipline, and who tithes and goes to conference, but he’ll never be a worshipper until he is deeply humbling. (A.W. Tozer)
This is the overarching reality of Scripture. God desires our worship. He is supreme, and He desires our worship. He orchestrates all of history to display His glory, to put His glory at the center of everything. You’re not at the center of God’s universe. I’m not at the center of God’s universe. God is at the center of His universe, and He’s designed it that way so that everything revolves around His greatness. God exalts God, and if that seems selfish, you may wonder, “Well, I don’t know.” Well, who else would you have Him exalt? For whenever He exalts someone or something else, He is no longer the only one who is supremely worthy of exaltation, and He is. The beauty is in the process God orchestrates history to display His glory, and He ordains the church to enjoy His glory, and so it’s the picture in Revelation 19.
This is no boring scene. I mean, this is the people of God enraptured and enjoying the glory of God. Sometimes people come into a worship gathering of the church and say, “Well, this is not about us.” Well, in a sense that’s true because, yes, we’re centering on God, but this is totally about us. Enjoying His glory, that’s what worship is. It’s the people of God loving the glory of God and delighting in the glory of God far more than we delight in anything else. God, fill our affections for you like we see in Psalmists and Isaiah and Zephaniah as you sing over us.
God desires our worship, and God deserves our worship. See the greatness of God in worship. It’s all over Revelation 19 here. He is Savior. Salvation is here. He is glorious. All glory belongs to Him. Hallelujah! All over that passage is praise of glory to Yahweh. He’s glorious. He’s omnipotent. All power belongs to Him. He is true, and He is just. There’s praise to God given for His justice, even His vengeance on evil. He’s a true and just judge. He is eternal.
He is mighty. I love this. When John writes there, “Our Lord God the Almighty reigns,” the Roman emperor Domitian had given himself the title “Our Lord and God.” So, John is sitting in exile on the island of Patmos, exiled by Domitian, and he decides, “I’m going to show this man who God is,” and the phrase is used nine different times in Revelation. It’s only used one other time in the New Testament all together, this particular title for God, but he makes it clear all over the book of Revelation, that God is the Almighty Lord and God. He’s mighty. He is sovereign. He is holy. So, I want to remind us that we can try to fill our worship with all kinds of different stuff. People are not starved for the greatness of our music. They are not starved for the greatness of our drama. They are not starved for the greatness of our things. They are starved for the greatness of God and the need to seek God.
See the gladness of God’s people in worship. We revere Him. Worship is not a boring thing in the church. We revere him. We rejoice in Him, and we are ready for Him. The Bride has made herself ready. When we gather and worship together as the church, it’s like it should be filled with a sense of heavenly anticipation of the day when we will see Him in His fullness and enjoy Him in all of His glory. This is just a foretaste. It’s a taste of the worship of God that will fill all of eternity.
So, finally, God draws us. He desires. He deserves. He draws us to Himself in worship. Beware the pitfalls of man-centered worship. We really see a quick glimpse of them in Revelation 19, the danger of misplaced devotion. John falls at this angel’s feet, and the angel is like, “Don’t do it. Keep your focus on God.” Is it possible, in the church’s worship, to take the focus off of God and put it on other things or other people? Will we begin to worship certain styles of music? Will we begin to worship certain people who sing or certain personalities who preach? Beware of the danger of misplaced devotion and the danger of misdirected motives. We need to make sure that the picture is that we want God more than anything, not for anything else, not as a means to any end. God is the end. The danger of misunderstood success. We need to be careful not to sit around and judge, “Well, how well do you think the worship service was by this or that or this or that?” The question is, “How well does God think the worship and the church was?”
Believe in the power of God-centered worship. God the Father seeks us for worship. Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. In John 4, Jesus says, “The Father is seeking such people to worship him.” Oh, I love this, especially when you think about common conversations for years now in the church about seeker-sensitive worship, being seeker-sensitive to people who are seeking after God. Well, the problem is Romans 3 says, “There is no one who seeks God.” So, if we’re sensitive to seekers and no one seeks God, then that means we’re sensitive to no one in the church. That’s radical but probably not the kind of radical we’re looking for. Who is seeking here? God is the one who’s seeking, and so in our worship, we platform His greatness. We put Him on display. He’s the one who’s seeking. Let’s show His love and His grace and His wrath and His justice and His mercy and His wonder, and when we do that, He’ll take care of the seeking. He’ll do it well, so let’s be sensitive to Him. He’s the one who seeks us for worship.
God the Son enables us to worship. How do we have fine clothes in Revelation 19? By the blood of Christ. God the Spirit directs us in worship. His Spirit does this. A Father seeks. A Son enables. God’s Spirit directs us. If we minimize the greatness of God, what will we be left with in our worship? It may be fun. It’d be entertaining. It may even have a huge crowd. It may be emotional, but it will be hollow. We need humility.
Second, we need community. The New Testament talks about how every day, every moment, everything we do is worship, but this is talking about what happens when we gather together. The church gathers together for the purpose of corporate worship, communal worship. Nehemiah 12:27–47 is such a rich passage for this because the people of God, in short, had rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem. They had been mocked in the process. People from other nations had said, “You’re going to rebuild these walls? Not even a fox could walk on these walls.” So, in Nehemiah 12, they get together, and they get every musician, everybody involved, and they say, “We’re going to celebrate.” They’ve rebuilt the walls, and what they do is they climb up on the walls, and they start marching around the walls. They sing about the praises of God.
They celebrate with one another. This is what we do in worship. Corporate worship is public enjoyment of who God is. You read these passages in Nehemiah 12. They’re offering praise joyfully and loudly. They’re publicly enjoying God, celebrating God. Corporate worship is public thanksgiving for all God has done. Over and over again, as they march around the walls, they thank God for what He has done. So, we celebrate with one another in worship.
We participate with one another. You listen to Nehemiah 12:31–37. You can just look at it. There are tons of names there. It’s all these different people. You can’t pronounce half of them. All these different people coming together in this picture. There’s men, women, and children all together. When the community comes together for worship, we avoid individualistic attitudes. Now, yes, there are individuals mentioned here, but the emphasis is on how they’re all coming together in this thing. Sometimes a supposed worship leader will come in front of a group of people, and they say, “All right, I just want you to, for the next few minutes, just kind of draw a box around yourself and pretend like nobody is around you.” No, don’t do that. There’s a place for that. It’s called the prayer closet, but we’re together for a reason. What is the guy thinking next to you? “Well, pretend like I’m not here. You pretend like you’re not there.” No. We’re a community. We’re in this thing together. We spurn spectator approaches. We might be in a lot of danger in the way we even structure some of our church buildings today, because we begin to foster a picture of spectators instead of us all being worshippers together.
We encourage one another. I mean, this whole scene in Nehemiah 12, you can just imagine being a part of, and Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5, do the same thing. Yeah, I love 1 Corinthians 14:15–16. “What am I to do? I’ll pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you’re saying?”
So, what Paul is doing is he is saying, “Speak out loud and intelligibly, what the Lord is doing. Give thanksgiving, so that other people can ‘Amen.’” This is a biblical case for “amening” all over the church. So, let’s pick it up and be biblical, all right? Let’s participate together and give some feedback, but don’t do it too much because then we will be here until two o’clock. We encourage one another.
We express or unity. Now, what I want you to see here is what Nehemiah 8:1 talked about. They came as one man, and they unified around the Book of the Law, the Word of God. Then, Nehemiah 12 is an expression of that. This is key because, if we’re not careful, we’ll start to look to forms of worship to unify us, and we won’t hear the songs we like, or the music we like, or this or that, and it’ll begin to bring about disunity in the church. I mean, how many churches split, or how many people in the churches get mad because our worship just doesn’t unify us anymore, our music doesn’t unify us anymore? The reality is we’re expecting music to do what only the gospel can do. The gospel is what unifies us, and in worship we express our unity. Forms don’t create unity. We express unity.
We establish continuity with the church throughout history. I love this. Listen to this:
They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did the singers and the gatekeepers, according to the command of David and his son Solomon. From long ago in the days of David and Asaph there were directors and singers, and there were songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. (Nehemiah 12:45–46)
The picture was they were worshipping according to things that had happened way before them. We need to be really careful, especially in contemporary trends and kind of worship things, not to throw out what our brothers and sisters have done for years and generations before us. There’s healthiness in making sure to establish continuity with the church that’s gone before us.
Finally, we engage together in spiritual battle. This marching around the walls here. If you look at 2 Chronicles 20, you see a picture of Jehoshaphat going to war, and the choir is on the front lines. The choir singing is on the front lines. You get to Acts 16, Paul and Silas are in prison. What are they doing? They’re singing hymns, and there is an earthquake and everything shakes and falls apart. I mean, that’s some good hymn-singing. Yes, this is a picture of when we sing, we’re shouting the glory of God, and the earth and the heavens are proclaiming His greatness. That’s what we do as a community in worship.
Next, clarity. We’ve talked a lot already about teaching, so we‘re really going to fly here. The church’s worship involves a rhythm of revelation and response. We’ve talked about this. God reveals Himself, and we respond. That’s what worship is about. We see this all over Scripture. God’s revelation: He reveals Himself clearly in the world. This is seen in Psalm 19, and then He reveals Himself comprehensively in the Word. So, His Word is His revelation. So, it’s not even just in what we’re teaching in the church, it’s also what we’re singing and what we’re praying. The Word is central. His revelation is central. Why? Because the Word is complete. It’s perfect, Psalm 19:7–11 says. The Word is complete. The Word is relevant. It makes us wise. The Word is good. The Word is clear. The Word is eternal. It lasts forever, and the Word is true.
So, this is the revelation of God. How do we respond? Well, the Word transforms us. So, the Word does the work here. The Word transforms us. This is what Psalm 19:7–11 teaches. The Word makes us wise. The Word satisfies us. It is good to taste. The Word enlightens us. The Word awes us. This Word produces reverence for God. It’s Nehemiah 8 in particular. The Word makes us righteous. This is valuable. It does the work of worship.
The Word of God evokes the worship of God. When the Word, then, is absent in our worship, our response is manufactured. What are we responding to? A cool song, cool tune, cool lyric, and cool speaker? That’s manufactured, and the result is pleasing to self because the reality is, without the revelation of God, who are we worshipping? Ourselves. When the Word is apparent in our worship, though, our response is authentic. We’re responding to divine truth, and the result is pleasing to God.
The next value in the church’s worship is honesty. The church’s worship requires honesty before God and each other. This is Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John 4 where she’s, basically, almost kind of covering up her past, and Jesus confronts her about her past. We cannot worship without being honest with God. Jesus says, “Go. Call your husband and come back.” She says, “Thanks for asking, but I don’t have a husband.” Jesus says, “Well, that’s because you’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re with now is not your husband.” Jesus does not beat around the bush. So, what’s the point here?
Here’s the deal: all throughout this book we see people trying to worship God without being honest with God about their sin. It’s from the very beginning in Genesis 3, right after sin enters the world. There are frightening passages in Malachi 1 and 2 when God basically says, “I’m going to spread dung on your faces,” because they were claiming to worship God, and yet, doing nothing about the sin that filled their lives. Is that possible for us? Is it possible for us sometimes to gather together as the church and go through the motions and never really be honest with God about the sin that we’re struggling with in our lives?
Now, Jesus just went for the jugular here in His conversation with this woman at the well. Don’t miss it. This is why it’s good to be honest with God, because Jesus desires to cover us in our sin. Sin needs to be exposed because Jesus has died for it. He covered it, and Jesus desires to comfort us in our sorrow. This woman has hurts, and the point is to bring them before Christ. Don’t hide them from Him. Sometimes we come into worship gatherings and people say, “Well, just leave all the cares and concerns of the world behind and come inside for worship.” No, worship is bringing the cares and the concerns and the hurts that we’re going through into worship. God’s big enough to handle them. He’s the only one who can handle them. So, be honest with God.
He also tells this woman we cannot limit worship to a certain place. I’ve got Scriptures there that kind of talk about the disagreement between Jews and Samaritans over whether to worship in Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim, and what Jesus is addressing is how we often misdefine worship according to external circumstances. That’s what she was consumed with. Jesus comes on the scene in the New Testament, and He redefines worship according to internal circumstances. It’s not about place. He defines worship according to the reality of His presence. He says, “I am the temple,” in John 2. “Something greater than the temple is here,” Matthew 12.
So, worship happens in response to the reality of His presence and the response of our hearts. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) Wow. I didn’t list Ephesians 5:18–19, it’s not, but it says, “Sing and make melody to the Lord with your heart,” with your heart, from the inside. Worship transcends externals.
The dangerous thing is we can have all these kind of trappings that we put together in worship. Apart from the reality of the presence of Christ and the response of our hearts to Christ, we’ve missed the whole point. Ultimately, Jesus makes it clear in John 4 that we cannot worship a God we do not know. “When you were worshipping, you were trying to worship a God you don’t know,” Jesus says. Our worship is hollow if it’s disconnected from the Word, period.
So, in our worship in the church, we value humility, community, clarity, honesty, and then diversity. The church’s worship reflects the unity and diversity of heaven. Now, this is the great picture of Revelation 7:9–17. This is where all of it is headed, and we could spend a lot of time here, but we’ll just go through these. Number one: we need to get in on a global perspective of worship. We’re part of a much bigger picture. Second, we need to get over the different styles of worship that divide Christians in the church. There is a diversity of styles, and that is a good thing. You can’t mandate style, and then go into a house-church in Asia and mandate the same style. No, this is good. Let’s not hinder the very diversity that Christ gave His blood to buy. He bought all kinds of peoples, and languages, and tribes.
We need to get involved in the joy of continual, worldwide worship. It’s happening all over the place. It’s a good thing to wake up on a Sunday morning and realize our brothers and sisters in time zones before us have preceded us in this gathering. We need to get lost in the love God has for each of us. When you think about diversity, the reality is that God loves each one of us as different people, languages, nations. We need to get on with the global mission God has called us to because this is the purpose of worship, to make the glory of God known in all nations. All right, the church worships.
The Church Prays
The church evangelizes, baptizes, teaches, nurtures, worships, and prays. The church prays. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) Three times it says they were devoted to prayer. This prayer in Acts 4 is right after they’ve been persecuted. It’s an incredible picture of the church in prayer together. There’s so much to learn there.
So, we pray. Who does the church pray to? They pray to the God who is sovereign over everything in the world. That’s how their prayer started in Acts 4, in the middle of persecution. “Sovereign Lord,” which is a good way to pray, when you know that even your persecutors are held in the hands of a sovereign God, and there’s nothing they can do to you outside of His sovereignty. That’s confidence in prayer. Then, you read these other verses in Acts 16 and Acts 18, and it’s talking about how the Lord is opening hearts. The Lord is the one who draws people to Himself. He’s sovereign.
They pray to the God who supplies everything we need. Now, let me tell you a secret the early church knew. Acts 17:25 says, “nor is God served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” The early church knew the secret to seeing the power of God in the church was not found in serving God, but being served by God. That’s why you pray, because it’s not like He needs something from us. We need everything from Him.
So, why did the church pray? They were utterly dependent on God’s power. You go through, in each of these verses that I’ve listed here, every major breakthrough in Acts comes as a result of prayer in the early church. They pray and something happens. They were utterly dependent on God’s power. They were utterly desperate for God’s grace. Acts 4:33 says, “Much grace.” Literally, it says, “Mega grace was upon them all.” The grace and power of God was working through them in all those different verses.
They prayed because they needed His power and His grace because they were utterly devoted to His mission. We’ve become lax in prayer when we are not involved in mission. If our whole goal in the church is to do business as usual, we don’t need to pray to do that. We can do that on our own. If we want to make the gospel known in the cities and the communities we live in, and we want to make the gospel known in some of the hardest-to-reach places in the world, we will need to pray. That’s what prayer is for.
I remember meeting with house church members in Southeast Asia, but it was my first time there, and they were talking about the very real threats that were involved in us gathering together. They talked about how the authorities could come and bust up the whole picture. I said, “Well, what do we do when the authorities come?” I was like, “What’s the plan?” They kind of looked around, and they said, “Well, we’ll pray.” “OK. That’s a good plan. That’s sufficient. All right, we’ll do that. See how that goes.” So, yes. We pray.
How did the church pray? They prayed with structure. When it says they devoted themselves to the prayers, some people think that’s likely more formal prayers, even from the Old Testament, and they prayed with spontaneity, too. We see this picture of the Spirit of God leading them in prayer, which we’ll talk about in a moment.
When did the church pray? They participated in concentrated prayer. We see them gathered together to pray, and then, they scattered to pray in continual prayer. Where did the church pray? They gathered together to pray. Acts 1:14 and Acts 13 shows us a picture of when they sent out Paul and Barnabas to carry on the Christian mission. I mean, you look at Acts 13, and you realize that from that prayer meeting, that changed the course of history. Paul and Barnabas go out, and they start planting churches. 13 of our 29 books in the New Testament are a result of the ministry that was launched in that prayer meeting. Then, they scattered apart to pray. I love Acts 16 and 18 and 20 talking about how the Spirit was leading and guiding along the way.
What did the church pray for? I want you to see how they prayed for the same things that we’ve talked about, the activities of the church and teaching. They prayed for the success of God’s Word. “Enable your servants to speak your Word with great boldness,” they said in Acts 4. In Acts 12, they’re praying for the Word of God to spread.
So, they prayed for the success of God’s Word and for the needs of each other in the world. They prayed specifically. They’re not praying, “God, somewhere somebody is in prison.” They’re praying for Peter. They’re calling out for him and for the spread of God’s worship. There are thirty-six references to the church growing in Acts. 58 percent of them, 21 out of 36, are done in the context of prayer. The church is growing. The worship of God is spreading by prayer.
The Church Multiplies
So, the church evangelizes, baptizes, teaches, nurtures, worships, prays, and multiplies. Here’s what I love: The church devotes themselves to these things, and in Acts 2:42, it says, “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” The Lord added to them. When the church gives herself to what God has said is important, then He will add to our number. He will do the adding. When the church evangelizes, God will add.
We baptize. We teach the Word. We nurture one another, and we worship together, and we pray together. God is going to bless, and this will look different at different times, but I want you to see just a picture of church growth in the book of Acts. The church is unifying and expanding at the same time. This is what I love here. We see intimate unity and wonderful expansion. We differentiate those. We separate them. We say, “Well, our church is just kind of growing inward. We’re just focused on each other.” Others say, “Well, our our church has gotten so outward focused, we’re no longer focused on each other.”
It’s never supposed to be an either/or. It’s always a both/and. True biblical community is inseparable from evangelism in the church. As we grow in community, it will enhance our evangelism. True biblical evangelism is inseparable from community in the church. Disciple-making is where community and mission collide together. Francis Schaeffer had a great quote, “Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether or not our message is truthful – Christian community is the final apologetic.” We won’t read through it, but when you see a picture of an apologetic defense of the faith here, there are a lot of people in our culture and in many cultures around the world that are very hard toward the gospel, and, yeah, it would be good to have some arguments for the existence of God or the exclusivity of Christ or this or that, but what if what it takes to soften the hardest heart will actually be the picture of the gospel in the church?
It was unifying and expanding and showing quantitative growth and qualitative growth. I put all these verses here where Luke is telling us, “Hey, we have numbers advancing here,” and that was good, but he’s also highlighting, all throughout Acts, people like Stephen and Peter and Paul to show us the kind of people who are giving their lives to make the gospel known.
So, one question in the church is how many people are coming? That’s an important question, but it’s not the only question. You can gather a crowd for anything, but how many people are coming? That’s an important question, but another question the church is: what kind of people are we producing? What are they like?
Unifying and expanding, quantitative/qualitative, and they were worshipping and witnessing. We’ve talked about this. Worshipping and witnessing. They’re unified through their worship, and then they multiplied through their witness. Unified through their worship, and they multiplied through their witness as they went out. Our worship is empty if it is disconnected from expression in the world. Worship fuels mission. If worship is not fueling mission, then worship is not really happening. Mission is driven. We behold the glory of Christ, and we proclaim the gospel of Christ. We’ve talked about that.
Next, the church both gathered and scattered. We see both. We see the church gathering together for intimate times with one another, and then we see them scatter, and we see the Spirit take and fill up, and even take them out in the middle of the desert to share the gospel with an Ethiopian eunuch. In Acts 8, they scatter.
So, we need to be careful here. Dangerous misunderstandings: If we’re not careful, the church will begin to view leaders as professional performers and members as amateur spectators. We need to make sure that we don’t come in and walk away thinking, “Well, the music today was pretty good, and the preaching was not as good as it normally is.” No, this is not the picture. We talked about this earlier. Every single person in the church has the Spirit of God living in them, so the evangelism strategy of any church is not, ultimately, about what happens just when we gather together. It’s about when we scatter apart, too, to make the gospel known all across in places where we live.
The church measures success more by what happens when we come in than by what happens when we go out. If we’re not careful, a dangerous misunderstanding is we’ll say, “Well, what happens when we come in is all that the church is about.” No, what happens when we take on the world with the gospel?
A biblical understanding: The church gathers together to train one another in the gospel, to pray, to study, to hear the teaching of the Word, break bread through communion and worship, encourage, love, and sacrifice for one another. That’s what happens when we gather together, and then we scatter apart to penetrate the world with the gospel.
So, finally, church growth in the book of Acts is both local and global. It was here and there, local and global. It is the gospel going from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. They’re sharing the gospel wherever they are, and they’re taking the gospel to wherever it’s not. That’s the picture we see.
A dangerous approach: there are two phrases we oftentimes use. First, “I’m not called to foreign missions.” Oh, don’t say that as if it’s some program in the church for a few people. This is the purpose for which we were created: to make the glory of Christ known in the ends of the earth. It’s why we’ve got breath. You don’t need a calling. It’s why we have breath, to make His gospel known globally. If we have this understanding of missions, than this reflects an unbiblical understanding of salvation. This is why we’ve been saved: for the glory of God and the gospel of God to go to the ends of the earth. Paul, in Galatians 1, equated his salvation with his responsibility to reach all nations. In Romans 1, he says, “I’m in debt. I’m under obligation to take the gospel to the nations.”
Oh, and then we say, “Wouldn’t it be better for me to give than to go?” Yes, giving is extremely important, but that reflects an unbiblical understanding of the gospel. Yes, giving is important, but when God decided to bring salvation to you and me, He did not send a check, cash, or gold or silver. He sent Himself. That’s how we’re going to make the gospel known to the ends of the earth, by going and giving.
A dynamic alternative: world-impacting disciples. What happens when Paul and Peter and Timothy and Barnabas and Silas and John, Mark, and Philip, and Stephen and Aquila and Priscilla, when those kind of people are all over the church? The church produces world-impacting disciples and ever-multiplying churches. I’ve talked before about the persecution of the church in Cuba. One small, impoverished church in Cuba had planted 60 other churches. We went to one of these other churches that they planted, and this church had planted 25 other churches. I mean, they’re just multiplying churches everywhere, and I go to the pastor of this one church, this older brother in Christ, and I say, “How do you plant all these churches? How are you multiplying churches everywhere?” He said, “We make disciples.” So, let me write that down. Make disciples.
A Case Study in Church Activities: The Church at Antioch
So, all right. What I put here in the end of your notes is a case study in church activities at the Church at Antioch. Oh, you just follow the story of the Church of Antioch, and it’s incredible. The church at Antioch was born in the context of mission. This church was started because Stephen was killed, and believers were scattered in Acts 8. They came to Antioch, and they began a church. This is how the church was birthed, through the death of Christians. They were radically identified with the person of Christ. They were first called Christians at Antioch. They were identified with Him. Nobody is saying there, “Well, I don’t know if I need to be baptized.” No. They cared sacrificially for local churches around the world. I love this. This is a picture of how they were making known the gospel around the world, and they were doing it. They were proclaiming the gospel, and they were demonstrating the gospel with care for needs and giving.
They were diversified in their leadership. You look at Acts 13, and you see diversity there. You see how God was creating this beautiful family there. They blessed the Lord through corporate worship. That’s what they’re doing in Acts 13. It literally says, “They’re blessing God in their worship.” It’s the churches worshipping, and the mission is resulting. They bless the Lord through corporate worship.
They were desperately dependent on the Holy Spirit for direction and power. They send out Paul, and the Spirit operates by sending Paul in all kinds of different directions in Acts 16:6–10. Paul goes on this way, and the Spirit says, “No, don’t go that way.” He goes this way. “No, no don’t go that way,” and one night he has a dream, “Come to Macedonia,” so he gets up and goes to Macedonia. It’s just the Spirit leading and guiding, and they nurtured an atmosphere for sending people out.
Do our churches nurture atmospheres for sending people out? Don’t miss it. They weren’t afraid to send out their best. I mean, if you have Paul in your church, you keep him, and Barnabas, I mean, that’s how the whole picture started. These are two of the most important guys in church history, and the church sends them out. They advanced the kingdom through multiplication, and then planting churches all over the place. They grew in Christ at Antioch because of their ministry around the world.
The beauty is they’re sending people out. When those people come back, they’re encouraging one another, and they’re growing in Christ at Antioch. It’s not, “Well, if we get focused on the world, we’re not going to grow here.” No, it’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and. Then, they were ultimately renowned in Scripture for reproduction. May our churches represented in this room be renowned for reproduction.
How is the Church Led?
The Organization of the Church
OK, here’s the deal. How is the church led? These last two sections are much shorter, but they’re important. The church is an organism and an organization. So yes, it’s a living, breathing, vital organism, but there’s also structure in the makeup of the church, good structure, healthy structure, God-designed structure. There’s a lot of talk, and church talk, about the church being fluid and organic with no structure. No, God set up some structure here.
The church is an institution. An institution is defined as an organization or establishment devoted to the promotion of a particular cause. Is the church an institution? Absolutely, in that sense, a divinely instituted organization with a definite cause. Now, it’s comprised of individuals, of people. We can’t get focused on trappings and miss people. We’ve got to be careful there, yes, but there is organization here, and Christ is Lord of the church. Everything is centered around Him. That’s where the structure starts. He’s the head. Matthew 16 says He builds the church. Everything flows from Him. He’s the head, Colossians 2.
Christ is the Lord of the church, yet He gives leaders to the church. He sets up leaders in the church, and we’re going to see them in 1 Timothy 3. Both of these leaders and offices, God has given us. The first are elders, who I’m calling here servant leaders in the church, and deacons, who are leading servants in the church. Now again, this is one of those points where, around this room, there are probably all kinds of different churches with all kinds of different leadership structures represented. So, I want to be careful here because I think we don’t have a ton of specifics about exactly how some of these things look in Scripture, but we do have some essential truths that we need to make sure are in our churches.
How Should the Church Be Led? Elders: Servant Leaders in the Church
Elders are servant leaders in the church. Deacons are leading servants in the church. We see elders and deacons clearly. Now, what do we mean by that? Even as soon as I say those terms, I know that, based on religious backgrounds among people going through this study with different denominational backgrounds, you have all kinds of ideas coming in your head about what is an elder or a deacon. So, let’s just try to think of what the Scripture is saying? Elders: the church chooses and follows elders as servant leaders who are wholeheartedly committed to accomplishing the mission of Christ. That word, “elder,” is a pretty common term in Scripture. It’s used in the Old Testament, but even in the New Testament, it’s used about 20 different times in the book of Acts and other New Testament letters. This is referring to a group of leaders in the church. You see Acts 20. You’ve got elders in Ephesus. You get to 1 Timothy 3, and it says, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer.” The same picture is painted in Titus 1, but there the reference is to appointing elders. 1 Peter 5 is talking about elders.
So, what we need to realize is that elder, pastor, and overseer are interchangeable terms and titles in the New Testament. That’s key. If you’re thinking, “Man, you’re one of those elder guys,”…well, elder/pastor/overseer are interchangeable terms in Scripture. So, we’ve got pastors, elders, and overseers. The New Testament pattern is a plurality of elders in the church. Just about every time “elders” is used in Scripture, it’s mentioned in the plural. There’s something there.
So, four responsibilities of elders that we see in the church: elders lead under the authority of Christ. They belong to the church. The church is, ultimately, accountable here. They are raised up by the Spirit of God. The Spirit raises up leaders in the church. Elders belong to the church, and the church belongs to Christ. Elders are responsible to the Son of God, Acts 20:28 says. This is one of the most humbling verses for me as a pastor. Paul is talking about two elders, and he says, “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” I am overseeing a local church that He has obtained with His own blood. I and the other elders around me.
Elders lead under the authority of Christ, and they care for the body of Christ. Elders protect the flock. They guard the flock. This is so important. Elders are on guard for the flock. They watch out for the church. They guard the church. Elders nurture the flock. Pastors don’t just pet the sheep. They feed the sheep. Elders care for the body of Christ. Elders teach the Word of Christ. A pastor must be able to teach. An elder must be “able to teach,” 1 Timothy 3:2 says. So, an elder must know the Word extensively, and elders communicate the Word effectively. That’s how they lead in the church, by the Word.
Elders lead under the authority of Christ, care for the body of Christ, teach the Word of Christ, and elders model the character of Christ. What we see in 1 Timothy 3, 1 Peter 5, and Titus 1 are early character qualifications of elders. It’s interesting, when you look at those lists, you don’t see age on the list, which is helpful for a younger pastor. You don’t see success in business. This is not just good guys. No, you see guys who are modeling the character of Christ. I say “guys” because you don’t see in any of those lists women mentioned. Biblically, elders are men, leaders in the church in this way. In the same way, picture it just like in the home, what God has designed in Ephesians 5. This is not an equality discussion or a value discussion, but this is the way God has designed our homes and our families and our spiritual family.
So, the whole picture is, when you look at those lists, the primary question is what will happen if the church imitates this leader? That’s the picture of modeling. In his personal life is he self-controlled? Is he wise? Is he peaceable? Is he gentle? Sacrificial giver? Humble? Patient? Honest? Is he disciplined?
You know, when you read the lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, it’s really things that are expected of all followers of Christ in a sense, except for being able to teach. It’s a little separate in that, but the reality is this is where elders are supposed to be models. In his family life, is he the elder in his home? How can he lead the church if he’s not leading his home? If he is single, is he self-controlled? If he is married, is he completely committed to his wife? If he has children, do they honor him? These are penetrating questions, particularly, when you think about being an elder or a pastor.
In his social business life, is he kind and is he hospitable? An elder can’t be a recluse, always keeping to himself. Is he a friend of strangers? Does he show favoritism? Does he have a blameless reputation? It doesn’t mean he’s perfect, but 1 Timothy talks about him being above reproach. In his spiritual life, is he making disciples of all nations? It’s foundational. How is he going to lead the church to do that if he’s not doing it? Does he love the Word? Is he a man of prayer? Is he holy? Is he gracious? Even reading through those questions, that is a humbling list of questions.
Deacons: Leading Servants in the Church
Then, we see deacons. The church affirms and honors deacons as leading servants who use their gifts to build up the body of Christ. We see this in Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 3. It gives a list. Three responsibilities of deacons: deacons meet needs according to the Word. So, what happens in Acts 6 is there is a specific servant’s message that arises that we need to care for widows and folks in the church, and so, they arise from specific circumstances, and they’re accountable for specific commands. God has said, “Care for them.” At that time, they were not doing it. They needed to have some kind of way to do that.
Deacons meet needs according to the Word. Deacons support the ministry of the Word. This is where deacons serve elders, so that they can lead. The whole picture in Acts 6 is, when deacons are raised up to do this, the apostles are freed up to focus on prayer and ministry of the Word. So, deacons serve elders so that they can lead, and deacons lead others so that they can serve. It’s not just any servant in the church that’s called a deacon, because everybody in the church is supposed to be a servant. It’s people who are leading out in service in different ways.
Then, deacons unify the body around the Word. The unity of the church was what was struggling there in Acts 6. What they do when they step up is promote unity. To make sure, when we think about deacons, deacons don’t divide, they unify. So, qualifications of deacons: Number one: a mission mindset. You look in Acts 6, you certainly see that and you see the guys that are raised up, people who see the mission of the church and supporting the mission of the church, and a Christ-like character. I put Acts 7:54–60 there in your notes. This is just a picture of Stephen, a deacon giving his life as the first Christian martyr.
So, ask questions that are very similar to 1 Timothy 3. Is this person honorable? Is this person genuine, authentic, and sincere? Not a gossip? Is this person self-controlled? Is this person a sacrificial giver? Is this person devoted to the Word? Is this person faithful? They must have proved themselves faithful in serving Christ. You see blameless again. You’re morally pure, not perfect, here, but the picture of above reproach. Is this person honoring Christ in the home? Then, here’s the question. Is the person faithful? Is this person blameless? Is this person honoring Christ in the home?
The last question there in your notes: what about women? We’ve seen that elders are men. What about deacons? Basically, there are two schools of thought on this one. One says, “yes,” and the other says, “no.” So, here’s the deal, and this is where there are, obviously, a lot of different views among people going through this study, and there are Bible-believing scholars and pastors that I respect greatly that are on both sides of this picture. Some of you might be thinking, “Well, look at 1 Timothy 3, and it’s pretty easy. It says, ‘Deacons must be dignified, not double-tongued,’ etc. Then, it says in 11, ‘Their wives, likewise, must be dignified, not slanderous, but servant-minded, faithful in all things. Each deacon can be the husband of one wife.’” So, some say, “Well, it’s that easy.”
I don’t think it’s necessarily that easy here. Four things I want you to think about that point to, what I think, is a possibility that, yes, women can be deacons in the church. I want you to follow with me. Number one: consider the translation. When you get to verse 11 there, and you probably have a note in your Bible at the bottom of the page that says the “their” there, referring to their wives there, is not in some manuscripts. The picture is, many people, many Bible scholars, believe that this is just talking about women. There’s ambiguity there. Consider the transition here. Paul transitions at that point in the same way that he transitioned when he went from elders to deacons, then to the third picture of what some would say deaconesses.
Consider the elders’ wives. Why did he not say anything about elders’ wives, especially when an elder had more responsibility in the home and more leadership responsibility in the church in a sense? They said nothing about elders’ wives. Then, consider what I call the Phoebe factor. Romans 16:1, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,” and the Word there for servant is “deaconess,” which would seem to point to a deacon role.
Now, here’s the deal. This is what I think is important, because there are all kinds of different pictures of church structure represented around this world. There are churches represented around the world that, if I could be honest, deacons basically serve as elders, and deacons are more of an overseeing body. If that’s the case in a church, then I would not say, then, that women should be deacons, because they’re basically serving as elders in an overall role. However, when it comes to somebody leading out in a hospitality ministry, somebody leading out in a variety of different ministries, and you look in the New Testament, you see 17 different women that Paul mentions that are in significant leadership positions in the church doing different things in the church, serving in different ways in the church. I think the reality is, if we have a proper understanding of elders and deacons and where they fit, I think it makes total sense that it’s certainly possible for women to be deacons.
How Should the Church Be Led? How It All Works
So, how it all works: every member of the church as a minister of the gospel. Ephesians 4 makes that clear. Every member of the church is a minister. Leaders serve the members. That’s what leaders do. They serve. Jesus served and mandated servant leadership for leaders in the church, and it’s important here because elders, for example, their authority is conditional. My authority as a pastor in this church is conditional. I must teach the Word accurately. If I’m not teaching the Word, then I can’t lead this church, because the Word is the only basis by which the church is led. So, elders must teach the Word accurately, and they must live the Word faithfully.
There is accountability there that’s conditional, and it’s serious. Elders serve leaders and serve the church carefully. They keep watch, and they serve responsibly as men who must give an account. They serve joyfully. That’s in Hebrews 13:17. So, they serve carefully, responsibly, and joyfully.
When leaders are serving members, then members submit to leaders. Now, “submit” is not a popular word in many of our contexts today because we think of so many different things. Submission is a good thing. The Son, Jesus Christ, submitted to the Father. That’s a good thing. It’s not a picture of inequality. It’s not a picture of some abuse in power. It is a picture of loving, glad submission. What does submission look like in the church? Members obey the Word that leaders teach. It only makes sense. If leaders are teaching the Word of Christ, then members obey the Word of Christ.
Members are under the authority of Christ, so they’re accountable to follow Christ. Members are under the authority of Christ, and, ultimately, accountable to Christ for the things we’ve talked about in matters of dispute and in matters of doctrine. Members of the church are accountable in matters of discipline. We’ve talked about all those things.
So, members listen to what is being taught from the Word. They imitate the faith that leaders have, and they, in the process, maximize the joy that leaders experience, which is what we see in some healthy ways in books like Philippians and 1 Thessalonians. There is supposed to be a beautiful, harmonious picture between leaders and members of churches. When leaders are serving members and members are submitting to leaders under the authority of Christ, the church is edified, and Christ is glorified.
How Should the Church Be Led and Where is the Church Going?
The Future of the Church
What is the future of the church? I, basically, just want to close with four exhortations as the people of God called by God’s grace through faith in Christ to glorify Him by serving in this world. I am just going to sum it up here. Number one: let us lean on the faithfulness of the Lord. I hope we’ve seen that God has always been gracious to His people. He has shown Himself gracious from generation to generation. God has always been sufficient for His people. Even in the midst of difficulty, He has held up His church. He has sustained. His purposes will triumph. God’s purposes will triumph, and His promises will prove true. His words will never pass away, guaranteed. So, as the people of God, as the church, let’s lean on the faithfulness of our captain.
Let us learn from those who have gone before us. I love Hebrews 11 and the “Hall of Faith” there. You just think about this picture of those who have gone before us. They knew that God’s call in their lives was only due to God’s grace in their hearts. This is how the whole people of God started in Genesis 12 when God took an idolater from Ur of the Chaldeans and poured out His grace. They were not afraid to leave the familiar for the unknown. The people of God have never shrunk back into the known and the safe and the secure in this world, because they were clearly out of place in this world. I meant to put Hebrews 11:13 right here. Hebrews 11:9–10 is mentioned twice, but verse 13 in Hebrews 11 says, “They were aliens and strangers here.” You could tell they didn’t belong. Church, we don’t belong here. Let’s not live like we belong here. We’re aliens, and we’re exiles here.
They patiently trusted in the promises of God. There were times when they had nothing but His promise and that was sufficient. They believed that God could accomplish the impossible. Abraham and Sarah were approaching 100 when they had Isaac. That’s old for a baby to be born. God could accomplish the impossible, and they believed it. Their lives counted on earth because their eyes were fixed on heaven. People say, “Well, some Christians are so heavenly-minded that they’re no earthly good.” Wrong. You fix your eyes on heaven, and it changes everything about how you live on earth. Church of God, this world is not our home. Wherever you live is not your home. We’re living for another city and another country, a better city, a heavenly country. We’re only here for a short while.
We don’t need bigger houses and nicer comforts, which is why their radical faith led to radical sacrifice. They risked it all. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son because he trusted God. This is my favorite part, Hebrews 11:39–40. They were willing to die living by faith. Let us learn from those who have gone before us. Let us live for those who will come behind us. Let’s live for the future church to pass this gospel on. Psalms 78, 1 Thessalonians, this is the picture of Thessalonica. Let’s share the Word with others. Let’s evangelize. Let’s proclaim. They’ll receive the Word. Paul had preached the Word in Acts 17 in Thessalonica, and they received it. Then, let’s show the Word to others. They will model it. Let’s show what the Christ-life looks like to each other as we share life together.
Let’s teach the Word to others. They will spread it. It’s said of the Church in Thessalonica that the Word rang out from them. Stop receiving the Word. Start reproducing the Word, and then, let us long for the end of the world. End of the world? What do you mean? You’ve lost it. No, I haven’t lost it. “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) God’s purpose for the church is clear: get the gospel to every nation, every people group. There are over 11,000 people-groups in the world, and over 6,000 are still not reached with the gospel. How is that possible, church, with all that we have? Jesus has died to purchase a people from every language and tribe. There’s coming a day when they’re all going to gather around His throne. That’s what we live for church. We want the church universal now to be complete.
However, don’t miss that God’s plan for the church is costly. Right after He says what He says in Matthew 24:14, He says, “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my sake.” (Matthew 24:9–13) Paul said it. He said in Acts 20:24, “My life is of no value except for one thing: make the gospel known.” Your life, Christian, in the church, is of no value, but for one thing: testify to the gospel of the grace of God. It’s costly. It cost Paul his life. It’s costing our brothers and sisters their lives all around the world.
Let’s give our lives for this. God’s promise to the church is coming. “There will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man…he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:30–31) He will return for His church. Revelation 1:7, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.” We will reign in His kingdom. “They shall reign on the earth,” Revelation 5:10 says, and we will rejoice forever in our God. Revelation 22, church, this is where we’re headed. We’re headed to the day when we will see His face, and together with every people group on the planet represented, we will enjoy His glory and declare His praise. Cherish the church. Love the church. Commit to the church. Devote your life to the church. Advance the church, and one day we are going to experience an eternal reward that belongs only to His church. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.