“To be willing to communicate the knowledge of the gospel was in itself a strong proof of love, even if it were attended with no self-denial or hazard in doing it. We evince a decided love for a man when we tell him of the way of salvation, and urge him to accept of it. We show strong interest for one who is in danger, when we tell him of a way of escape, or for one who is sick, when we tell him of a medicine that will restore him; but we manifest a much higher love when we tell a lost and ruined sinner of the way in which he may be saved. There is no method in which we can show so strong an interest in our fellow-men, and so much true benevolence for them, as to go to them and tell them of the way by which they may be rescued from everlasting ruin.”
– Albert Barnes
1 Thessalonians 2:3 is possibly the greatest summation of the characteristics of a faithful gospel witness. “For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:” As a Christian goes into the world with the gospel must have the right message, the right motives and use the right means.
The message of the gospel is true. The gospel is not a presentation of what Peter calls, “cunningly devised fables.” The gospel is the truth. When Paul say s in 1 Thessalonians 2:1 that his entrance into them was not in vain, he is describing the content of the message he preached. He did not preach an empty, worthless lie promoting itself as the gospel. Paul was not a fraud promising eternal life based on some wild story he had conjured up. Paul was preaching the truth! The gospel is no fraud and its truth is unaffected by popular opinion. When it is believed, received, rejected, scorned, stifled or persecuted the truth remains true. All who give the gospel are proclaiming eternal truth.
The message must be the truth of the gospel and the motives must be pure. Many false teachers preach religious messages for riches or power. The gospel must be preached for the pleasure of God. The supreme motivation of the gospel must be love for God. Is that not obedience to the first commandment? “Love the Lord thy God will all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy mind.” Should not the gospel be preached because we love God above all else? Should not the gospel be preached because the greatest desire of your heart is to do that which pleases and exalts God?
The message is true, the motives must be pure and the means have to be honest. Craft, schemes, trickery, manipulation and entrapment are all improper methods to employ in the spread of the gospel. Much of the modern model of ministry growth is built upon artful trickery with the gospel. The message of salvation gets hidden behind a carefully crafted screen of entertainment, good deeds, charisma, activity, impressive presentations or even shocking words. Once the person is enthralled with the program or has bought into the enterprise, then the gospel is given. Even worse, many change the truths of the gospel to accomodate the desires of the audience. Hard truths are neglected and forceful calls to genuine faith are forsaken. The gospel is a message to be communicated, not marketed, pandered or sold.
The message of the gospel is not second after people have bought into our product, our gathering, our people, our method or our vision. Paul told the Corinthians he preached to them the gospel “first of all.” The gospel is the starting point. The difficult truths have to be presented up front so those who follow Christ will be genuine and persevering followers. The goal of the preaching of the gospel is to glorify God by calling men to salvation. The gospel cannot be emptied of its difficult truths. Bait and switch, cunning and trickery, manipulation and theatrics have no place in the Christian’s witness. As you go out with the gospel, go out with boldness and without fear. Go out preaching the right message with the right motives using the right means. When you preach God’s gospel for God’s glory He will work powerfully in the hearts of your hearers.
The following is the full transcript of a sermon I preached at Manistique Bible Church on September 27, 2015. I do not usually post online the full text of my sermons due to the length of the material and the time required to edit a spoken sermon for online readability. Consequently, this post is much longer than my usual articles and will read differently. I post this particular sermon because it contains come key elements of my philosophy of church growth and outreach. These principles are basic to the church’s understanding of what it means for a local church to evangelize the world. Due to a mishap with the audio recording, I am using this means to make the information available to the members. For those who are not members of Manistique Bible Church, I trust the following will still prove to be of much benefit to you in your own local church.
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
How do we grow Manistique Bible Church? This is a question I am asked quite often. Most people who ask it are wanting to know what can be done to get more bodies in the pews. Leaving aside the limitations and weaknesses of that perspective, let me answer the question.
The answer is simple and directly related to the purpose and function of the church. The purpose of the church is to glorify God. God has defined two primary functions by which the church brings Him glory. In the church we edify one another. Believers gather together each week to build up one another to be more like Jesus. In the community we evangelize the unsaved. Christians go out into the world to preach the gospel. We use all holy means to edify and evangelize so that God will be glorified.
The Biblical functions given to the church are also the Biblical means given to increase the church. God has designed the church to add to its numbers through the edification of it’s members. Edification involves the training and equipping of believers to preach the gospel. The church gathering is not intended to be the place where ministry primarily occurs. The church gathering is the place where believers are prepared to go into the world and minister. The equipped believers then go into the community with the gospel. The local church will grow as you give the gospel to your friends and neighbors.
This model of ministry growth is not the modern model of church growth. Some have come from a church background in which the church sought to grow through the effectiveness of programs. Whether it was through a bus ministry, VBS program, calling program or series of special meetings, the increase of the church was centered around church based programs. Not that the individual programs are wrong in themselves. The problem comes in when the program becomes the primary means of evangelism. More modern churches use marketing techniques to appeal to a target audience. Many churches attempt to make the church service as user friendly to the unsaved as possible. Church growth in the modern era is centered around bringing the unsaved into the building so the pastor or church leaders can preach the gospel to them. This church growth model overlooks a key reality. The unsaved have no desire for the gathering of believers, the singing together in praise and admonition, the prayers of the saints, the teaching of the Word or the proclamation of the gospel. The only to make a church service genuinely appealing to the lost is to replace core Biblical components with events calculated to appeal to the unsaved heart or to provide superficial inducements for church attendance.
The Biblical model does not focus on attracting the lost into the church gathering, but on taking the gospel to the lost. One danger of the attractional model of evangelism is it implies preaching the gospel is best left to those who have special training. The pattern shown in the New Testament is that of all believers giving the gospel, not just a select few. How do we grow Manistique Bible Church? We grow this church by each member proclaiming the gospel to the individuals you meet in this community. This idea is not complicated, revolutionary or likely to sell books, but it is the Biblical model. If you want to see Manistique Bible Church grow, give the gospel.
The giving of the gospel begins with the reception of the gospel. As was mentioned last week, The Thessalonians believed the gospel. “ For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:” The gospel worked with such power in them that they received it even though they were surrounded with intense afflictions. They believed the gospel, and joined Jesus and Paul in suffering. The Thessalonians were not alone in their suffering. Jesus suffered far more than any man. Paul and Silas bore the initial brunt of persecution in Thessalonika. The Thessalonians became imitators of Jesus and Paul by entering like them into suffering for the gospel’s sake. This suffering was not a cause for discouragement. Jesus declares that when the Christian is persecuted, reviled and suffering for Christ’s sake he is to “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad.” Suffering is not a cause for the believer to despair, but is an evidence that the preached was genuine and that the faith of the believers was real.
The Thessalonians suffered. They suffered loss of friends, rejection by family members, loss of employment and the physical deprivation that comes with it. Some of them were very probably suffered physical violence against them. The Thessalonians did not just endure suffering. Many men have been able to endure suffering for a good cause. Many have stoically born up under great physical distress. The Thessalonians “received the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost. Joy in suffering does not minimize the severity and anguish of suffering. Joy in suffering does not minimize the guilt of the ones who inflict suffering. Joy in suffering is not some sort of self help technique that teaches you how endure the pain. Joy is not a discipline of the mind that helps you keep the right positive mental attitude during life’s difficulties. Joy is a spiritual reality that rejoices in the Lord in the midst of searing pain. Joy is the fruit of the Spirit. Joy is the supernatural gladness of heart and soul that delights in God at all times. Joy looks to the Father and rejoices in His good purposes and His perfecting work through the difficulties of life. Joy remembers the character and work of God while in seasons of great sorrow.
The Thessalonians joy was not in themselves. It was not in their church. It was not in their family. Their joy was of the Holy Ghost. True joy is supernaturally produced. As long as you try to make yourself joyful, you will not be. When you turn your gaze to the Lord, immerse yourself in His Word and strive to glorify Him in all things, He will produce the fruit of joy in you. Joy is not a fake smile that tells everyone the problems aren’t that big a deal. Joy weeps. Joy grieves. Joy hurts. Joy rejoices in God when the body is bowed with agony and care. Joy does not just put on a happy face, joy is a reality of the heart that is content in the Father, that trusts His good purposes, that is produced by the Holy Spirit and that continues to rejoice in God no matter the suffering.
Because the gospel had worked so powerfully in the Thessalonians, they preached it powerfully in their city and wherever they went. Their joy in persecution became a model for other believers to follow. “So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.” The Thessalonians were imitators of Jesus who became examples for others to imitate. They were followers of Christ who led others to follow Him. The testimony of these believers was so powerful that it filled the whole of Greece! The gospel trumpeted from Thessalonica to the hearing of the whole region. “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.” The sounding out of the word was more than just a declaration, it was a trumpet blast of truth. Their testimony and teaching blasted forth far and wide the message of salvation. The gospel reverberated from Thessalonika to fill the region with the noise of their conversion and the power of the gospel.
Their witness was so clear and so powerful that Paul and his companions did not even need to preach. People had already heard the word and believed. They were working Paul out of a job! The testimony of the Thessalonikans was not just the rumor of their joy or their repentance. Their testimony was the preaching of the truths of the gospel. Paul did not need to preach because those going out from the city of Thessalonika were preaching the message for him! This is how Christians are to be acting! The job of preaching the gospel is not just for the pastors, missionaries and evangelists. The job of preaching the gospel is for every Christian. If your expectation is for the church leadership to give the gospel while you enjoy the comforts of a warm pew, you are deeply mistaken. The natural response of the Christian is to give the gospel. The newly saved Christian naturally tells others what has happened to him and invites others to follow Jesus. You don’t grow out of this witness. You may wilt and wither out of it, but you will never grow out of it. Those who believe the gospel are to be amplifiers who receive the message of salvation and then send it out farther into the world.
As Paul preached throughout Greece, it was not long before the testimony of the Thessalonikans passed him and reached into cities before he arrived. As Paul saw the effect of the gospel in these other communities, he knew the fruit of the Thessalonians faith. He heard from other believers and saw by the spread of the gospel the kind of impact the Word of God had on the Thessalonians. “They themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you.” The Thessalonians conversion was reflection of the apostle and his gospel. Converts reflect the character of the messenger and the message preached. One test of the legitimacy of a gospel is the effect the message has on those who believe it. A true gospel preached by a faithful messenger will produce other gospel messengers who live lives that glorify God.
This is why it is so important we give careful attention to our message and to the methods we use to distribute that message. The methodology of communication is itself a form of communication. The way we say something says volumes about the message. A church that is a halfway house between the world and religion will always be moving with the tides of the world, drifting further and further from the Christ, to continue to appeal to the desires of the irreligious masses. All converts to such a middling gospel will bear in their lives the marks of truth marketed, compromised, trivialized and stultified. The impact of such a church on her community will be one which minimizes the power of the gospel, the evilness of sin, the severity of God’s wrath, the need of salvation and the glory of Jesus. If you doubt this, consider the state of America and her churches today.
The true gospel will not appeal to the masses, but those who believe it will be transformed. When the gospel is preached in clarity and truth it will show itself to be far more effective than a negotiated gospel calculated to appeal to the maximum number of people possible.
“For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols “ Those who believe the gospel will turn to God from idols. The true gospel will be shown in repentance. The gospel does not allow you to keep your idols. Do not think America is not idolatrous. We have a pantheon of gods that rivals any of the ancient systems. An idol is anything that becomes more important than God or anything which you rely on as a source of ultimate blessing. An idol replaces god as the ultimate end or is relied upon to rely that which only God can provide. Common idols in America are work, money, sports, recreation, prestige, skill, position, influence, health, marriage, family, success and entertainment. When one is saved he turns from his idols to God. Though many of the idols of America are not evil in themselves, they become gods when they are treated as the ultimate source of good. The idol becomes the end instead of a means to an end. When one turns to God from idols they are recognized to be mere tools and resources which are to be used for the worship of God. One who desires both God and his sin, the blessings of eternal life and the satisfaction of earthly desires has not understood the gospel. Turning to God is always a turning from idols.
Turning to God results in a life of service for God. “How ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. “Before their salvation the Thessalonians worshiped false gods made of dead stone and wood. The sacrifices they gave and the time spent on their idols was wasted service expended on lifeless lumps and mythological creatures. The God of the Bible is the true God, alive and powerful. Because God is the living God, service for Him is the only reasonable response to salvation. Those who are saved are saved to serve Him.
Turning to God from idols necessarily involves turning to Him to serve Him and turning to Him in expectation of His coming Kingdom. Paul obviously preached to the Thessalonians that Jesus is the coming king. One of the accusations brought against him by the unbelieving Jews was that he was preaching Jesus as king instead of Caesar. The Thessalonians believed Paul’s message and were anxiously awaiting the second coming of Jesus. “Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus,” The return of Jesus is a key component of the gospel. He is not just the suffering servant who died on the cross for our sin. He is also the conquering king who is returning in wrath and judgment.
The child of God is waiting for the return of Jesus. Jesus promised that though He would depart He would return again for His own. After He ascended to Heaven, the angels told the wondering disciples He would return to the earth. Through the apostles, God repeated that promise over and over again to all Christians. The expectation of the believer, the hope of the believer, the joy of the believer and the longing of the believer is the return of Jesus. He is coming again! On that truth we hang all our hopes.
As the angels said it, “This same Jesus.” The Jesus who lived on this earth, who died, who rose again is the same Jesus who will descend from heaven. He will come the second time in conquest and judgment. His kingdom will be a righteous kingdom ruled by Him, the righteous King, and people by His children whom He has made righteous. He will overthrow and punish all those who have rebelled against Him. Jesus is returning to reign over all. He will come again. This is our hope and joy!
This same Jesus who is returning is the Jesus who has delivered believers from the wrath of God. “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” You that are the child of God are no longer under His wrath and condemnation. God promises, “He that believeth on Him is not condemned.” Because Jesus has come into the world to bring salvation to the world through His death for our sin, all who believe Him to salvation are delivered from the wrath of God which already rests on the lost. We wait for Jesus with joy because, though His coming will be one of great destruction and misery to the lost, it will bring deliverance and victory to the saved. Jesus has delivered you who believe from the wrath of God.
Let me conclude by calling your attention to the Christian’s faith, hope and joy. Christian your faith is a transforming faith. It changes everything about you. I know the tendency for all of us is to become stagnant in the faith. The pressures of daily living and the philosophies of the world seep in to the soul and stifle the work of the Holy Spirit. Be diligent, be careful, to attend to walking closely with God. Don’t be content with the promise of heaven to come without giving thought to how Jesus changes you right now. Do not misunderstand this transformation either. The work of the Holy Spirit in you is not defined by the length of your skirt, the quality of your friends, the movies you don’t watch and the places you avoid. The work of the Holy Spirit in you is defined by His joy in your life during troubles. The work of the Holy Spirit in you is defined by your clear and bold testifying of the gospel. The work of the Spirit in you is declared by your rejection of false saviors, false gods and false worship. The work of the Spirit in you is seen by the devotion of your life to serve the One True God. The work of the Spirit in you is a manifest readiness for the return of Jesus.
The readiness for Jesus’ return is not only the believer’s faith, it is his hope. The transformed Christian will be living for the returning Jesus. I don’t mean you will sell all your things, build a bunker in the backyard or spend every night watching the skies. That’s living for the apocalypse. Living for the returning Jesus is living of a life of holiness, a life in which you love the things of God far more than the things of this world. A life of readiness a life of prayer, of obedience, of hospitality to believers and of love towards all. If you are genuinely looking for His return, you will be living so that He will be pleased with you when He comes again..
As a result of this faith and hope, the believer has great joy no matter the events of life. The believers joy is not found in circumstances, success, security, people or possessions. The believer’s joy is found in God. When we turn to God from the idols of this age, we find joy beyond description. The Thessalonians joy flowed from the abundant supply of the Holy Spirit. Because they had the Spirit they had joy though it may have seemed that all the world was against them. So you too can have the joy of the Spirit as you live out your faith in this world.
A popular saying attributed to St. Francis of Assissi declares, “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words.” No evidence exists that St. Francis actually said these words or accepted the sentiment. Unfortunately, many today are convinced the gospel can be preached by compassion and kindness. To those ones, the only response is, “Preach the gospel at all times. Words are always necessary.” The gospel is a message of essential truths about an individual. Those truths cannot be communicated by good deeds, gracious living, hard work and general compassion. Delivering a meal to a needy family by itself can never say, “Jesus is God the Son and God the Savior, who died on the cross suffering the punishment of your sin and rose to life again three days later. He is eternally alive and will give full forgive to all who seek it of him.” Unless you have a very remarkable can of Alphabet Soup, just doing a good deed will never give the gospel. The gospel is a message that must be preached. The gospel is communicated by word.
However, the gospel does not become effective merely by oratory, lecture, dialogue or pithy quotes. The gospel is not preached apart from words, but it is not effective by words alone. The gospel must be communicated with power. The gospel is a call to repentance and faith. The aim of the gospel is much greater than convincing someone to change their opinion about religion. The gospel is not like knocking on someone’s door and trying to convince him he needs new windows. The gospel is a call to become a follower of Jesus. The gospel is a call to a radical rejection of the old life to embark on a new life. In the end, the gospel transforms the entire person, heart, soul, spirit, mind and body. Faith, repentance, justificaion and sanctification do not happen by impressive speeches or compelling proofs. Gospel transformation only happens by a remarkable, super human power.
The power of the gospel comes from the Holy Spirit. The gospel was effective in the city of Thessalonika because Paul and Silas preached it in the power of the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is not empowering the gospel, there will be no salvation. The success of the gospel is completely dependent on the power of God. The eloquence of the speaker, the strength of the argument, the force of the personality, the persuasiveness of the presentation or the emotional impact of the testimony never make the gospel powerful. A skillful presentation does not make it more likely the gospel will save. The gospel itself is the power of God to salvation. Adding a couple nice potted plants and a carefully selected painting to the Grand Canyon does not make it magnificent. Saying boom does not make dynamite more explosive. So it is with the gospel. The gospel doesn’t need human help, decoration or improvement. The gospel is powerful on its own because it is the power of God to save.
God is Sovereign. He rules over all affairs in all the universe. From the tiniest atom to the greatest empire of man to the most massive galaxy God rules supreme over every detail of them all. While explanations vary among Christian traditions of how this sovereignty is worked out in relation to sin and human freedom, the supreme rule of God is a truth recognized by most Christians. God is Sovereign, but His creation is not all equally submissive.
God is the Supreme Lord over a world in rebellion and a creation under the curse. God’s sovereignty is unchanged, but His sovereignty is currently exercised over intractable subjects. Some of creation submits itself willingly to God’s rule and some of His creation resists His authority. Though the rebel seeks to oppose God’s will he discovers like Nebuchadnezzar that “He doeth according to all His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand.” (Daniel 4:35) In His sovereignty God uses the rebels rebellion to accomplish His Divine purposes. In His sovereignty God uses the cursed to accomplish His perfect will. He is God who “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” (Ephesians 1:11) These truths give rich comfort to His servants who suffer under the onslaughts of insurgents and the sorrows of sin. The comforts of God’s sovereignty are unfolded in the promise, “And we know that all things work together for good, to them that love God.” (Romans 8:28)
The Sovereignty of God condemns the hopelessness which imagines events are arbitrary, accidental or arresting God’s plan. God is in control. This truth shouts aloud God’s good purposes in the midst of a world of seeming chaos. This truth whispers the comfort of God’s eternal plan during the long, dark nights of sorrow. This truth sits by the bedside, holds the suffering one’s hand and speaks quietly of a Divine work that is greater than temporary ease and pleasure. This truth declares God is doing something good, something great, something eternal in the Christian’s life. This truth declares God is doing something good, something great, something eternal in current events. God is in control. Though billions of men and demons mean to do evil, God uses their evil to accomplish His good work.
The Sovereignty of God declares the futility of opposing God’s will. He is a fool who resists the commands and purposes of God. God’s purposes will always be accomplished. The wise man submits to God’s will. Submission is not fatalism which stoically endures all that may come about in one’s life. Submission to God’s will is not a passive response to events since, “God is going to do His will anyway.” Submission to God’s will is obedience which seeks to further God’s purposes in all circumstances. Submission to the Sovereign God actively works to participate in and promote that which God is doing.
Paul’s letters follow a very consistent pattern in their opening statements. The Pauline pattern includes an expression of his desire for the readers to know the grace and peace of God. Though Paul’s introduction is somewhat formal and standard, He does not use these concepts as mere polite nothings. Paul is expressing to the churches his desire for them to have of God all the resources needed to live as a Christian community in a hostile world.
What are these two things? Grace is the abundant treasure of God given to believers through Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. It is the grace of that God that gives salvation. The grace of God gave His Son to die in place of man. The grace of God gives His Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts to believers. The grace of God enables His children to do good works and service for Him. The grace of God is the host of spiritual blessings that are are the Christian’s. God’s grace is that which enables you to live the Christian life.
God’s grace to the Christian is more than a feeling of kindness towards him. The grace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ is grace that is sufficient for every need. Sometimes such grace is viewed as a way out of troubles, but most often God’s grace is not shown by removing the problems. God’s grace is most often His giving the spiritual ability needed to live obedient and glorifying lives in times of troubles. God is not as interested in the believer’s physical comfort as He is the Christian’s spiritual character. His grace is at work in you to make you become more like His Son. His grace is at work in you so that it will be seen by others and He will be glorified. You have abundant grace in God. Rely on Him for the spiritual capabilities you need to live a God honoring life in all things.
Peace is the supernatural repose of heart that is undaunted by the troubles of life. Physical peace was something distinctly lacking in the city of Thessalonika. When the gospel was first preached the Jews stirred up a riot in town. In the months following the church faced continual opposition. Persecution was the regular reality of their lives since coming to Christ. Peace had been notoriously absent and turmoil could be expected to continue for some time to come. Into this season of great stress and distress, Paul sends to them greetings of peace. Paul reminds them that God gives peace, no matter what the circumstances.
God’s peace is not found in circumstances. The peace of God comes from the perpetual presence of the God of peace. Circumstances will always change, God never will. To the troubled Thessalonians Paul can send peace. Not the peace found in the absence of problems, but the unmoveable peace found in the person of God. God’s peace will rule your hearts and minds through Jesus if you will remain focused on Him. Troubles come and the Christian loses perspective. The child of God begins to focus on the problem, the possibilities, the potential solutions and the probable bad outcomes. Seeing all these things the heart quakes. The mind is agitated and the emotions are inflamed. The troubled soul becomes like an infected wound, tender and upset by the least touch. Peace is found in continuing to trust God’s power and His good plan throughout all troubles. Recognize the hand of God at work in the Christian’s life through circumstances. The saved are in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. The child of God has available grace for every day, every need, every blessing and every trial. Depend on God’s grace. The Christian can have the peace of God. Trust Him. In all troubles remember His goodness, His perfect care, His perfect plan, His eternal purposes and He will give calmness of soul no matter the storms of life.
Paul was not a church planter. The apostle whose ministry was responsible for the formation of dozens of churches across the Roman Empire never defined his ministry as one of church planting. Paul described himself as a preacher of the gospel. He desired to preach the gospel where it had not been preached, and in those areas where the gospel was known, Paul worked to strengthen the church in that community. This is not to imply the church was secondary or that starting churches was unimportant to Paul. Rather, Paul never set out to plant churches because he did not have to. When people believed the gospel, they naturally joined themselves together under the teaching of the apostle and his associates. The church is more than a happy side effect of the gospel. The church is not something created to keep Christians busy after believing the gospel, but is the inevitable and primal fruit of the gospel. The local church is the eternally planned produce of the gospel.
The Bible knows nothing of Christians who are not a part of a church. In Biblical terms, a believer without a church is mythological creature. Though some have somehow managed to argue otherwise the Bible definitively commands believers to be faithful attenders in the church gathering. (Hebrews 10:25) Aside from the clear command of Hebrews, the universal assumption throughout the New Testament is that the Christian will be a part of a church. Refusal to add oneself into the church was strong evidence the professed Christian was not really part of the body of Christ. 1 John 2 speaks of those who left the gathering of believers and describes them as ones who were “not of us”. John’s reasoning was that those truly of the body of Christ- the body of genuine believers- would not forsake the local expression of that body. Church attendance is the natural result of believing the gospel and a distinguishing mark of genuine faith.
For the early Christians, and indeed for most Christians throughout history, the church provided essential support, comfort and assistance to believers. Those who converted to Christ were often ostracized from family and friends. Many new Christians lost jobs, homes and possessions. The church provided for the needs of persecuted brethren. The church was necessary spiritually and physically. For the most part this has not been the case in America. For many decades being a Bible believing Christian was viewed by American culture as a good thing. In recent decades, Biblical Christians have been tolerated though not particularly appreciated. Now the culture is changing. Soon those defending Biblical truth will be shunned by friends, cut off from family and fired from their jobs. Soon the church will once again take on a role of friendship and encouragement that it was intended to fulfill and that it held in the earliest days of church history. When those days come, many will bow before the onslaught of the world because they do not have the support and strength of a church family. When those days come, every believer will desperately need a church family to give aid and comfort. Why wait until troubles surround you? Avail yourself of that vital support now so you will not find yourself lacking a fundamental help in the difficult days ahead.
Fortunate are those Christian’s whose pastor preaches straight through a book of the Bible one section at a time. Those believers who know what to expect from the pulpit each week have a great advantage in preparing themselves for the preaching of the Word. Knowing what is coming up next week provides a great opportunity for the Christian to study ahead and ready his heart to hear the preaching of the Word. Here are some suggestions to help you get ready for next week’s message.
Read and re-read the book being studied. Some books can be read in a single sitting. Some may require breaking down into smaller sections to read a piece at a time throughout the week. Most books of the Bible can be read once or twice a month by reading a chapter a day. Reading regularly through a single book of the Bible is not out of reach for most Christians and will be of great use when it comes time to listen to the message. The process of reading through a book of the Bible over and over will help the hearer become more familiar with the overall theme and flow of the book. As the pastor preaches the hearer will be well grounded in the particular passage and it’s role in the overall teaching of the book.
Do not stop with reading, but study ahead. If the pastor announces ahead of time the upcoming sermon, you have an opportunity to dig into the text for yourself. Study the selected section. As you study seek to discover the major theme of the section. Create your own outline of the passage or summarize in a sentence or two the entire paragraph. Apply the methods and principles you follow in your devotional Bible study to the passage being presented from the pulpit in the upcoming week. Take note of the people, places, major events and key doctrinal truths in the section. Find the explanation of difficult words or concepts in the passage. Read through good commentaries to learn how great preachers of the past have taught the passage. Just an hour or two of study during the week will greatly aid your understanding and appreciation of the pastor’s message on Sunday.
As you read and study, pray. Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you understanding of the Word. Pray for the Spirit to apply the Word to your own life. Pray for the pastor to have understanding and wisdom as he studies. Pray for a heart ready to hear and quick to obey. Pray the passage. Claim it’s promises. Pray for strength to obey it’s commands. Pray the accomplishment of God’s revealed purposes. Pray through the text that it may saturate your soul.
Spend time during the week to ready yourself for the preaching of the Word on Sunday. Keep in mind the goal of Biblical preaching is not to impress the hearer with the creative, alliterative, illustrative and oratorical abilities of the preacher. Expositional preaching aims to teach the hearer the truths of the Word and apply the truths of the Word to the individual life. The process of explanation and application is richly benefited when the hearer comes to the service with a good understanding of the truths found in a section of Scripture. The application of the Word will be much more effective when the Holy Spirit has been teaching and applying the passage to your heart throughout the week. This kind of study prepares the heart of the hearer to receive maximum benefit from the pulpit ministry. When God’s Word percolates in the heart all week long, the impact of the Word will be much stronger.