Friday, January 11, 2008

THE GREATEST NEED OF THE CHURCH


What is the greatest need of the church in our day? Is it better methods? more programs? effective leadership? a more active and vibrant membership? All of these things and many more have been proposed as crucial to the success of the church’s mission in the world; but are they? What does the church really need? I believe that the greatest need among those who have joined together in one body by a common faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:4), in a common ministry (Matthew 28:19-20), must be defined by the Word of God. God’s Divine revelation in Scripture opens the window of heaven so that we can see more clearly the work of God in human endeavors and earthly affairs. Present day surveys may help to identify the degenerate condition of the church, but only God’s Word addresses the cure. When I look at the history of the church in the book of Acts, I see only one plausible explanation for the impact it had as it crossed geographical, cultural, and religious barriers to change the lives of people through the good news of the gospel. The explanation I see is the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those first followers of Jesus Christ who called themselves Christians. As the growth of the church continued throughout history, nothing else could account for its survival and expansion in the face of many hostile forces. The Holy Spirit appears over and over again in the Bible, not only in connection with powerful preaching and spiritual teaching, but also with holy living. The latter is the visible essence of the reality of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

Last Sunday in my morning sermon I briefly touched upon the lives of Enoch and Noah. It was said of them that they “walked with God” (Genesis 5:22 and 6:9). What a wonderful testimony these two saints of God had as they lived Spirit-filled lives in earthly tabernacles, prone to all the proclivities and temptations arising from the sinful nature within. This is authentic Christianity, long before the dawn of the New Testament era. How can we explain it apart from the presence of God’s Spirit upon them? George Whitfield said, “Walking with God implies that the prevailing power of the enmity of a person's heart be taken away by the blessed Spirit of God.” In the case of Enoch it is written, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5). This is the highest testimony one could have. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ spoke from heaven concerning His blessed Son in language adorned with similar praise, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Oh that our lives might be pleasing to God!

Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). To preach righteousness in a wicked world as Noah did for one hundred and twenty years required a constant yielding to God’s Spirit, whose presence was not a permanent possession until the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit would begin (John 7:37-39). It has been said that the church-growth experts are looking for better methods, but God is looking for better men. I wholeheartedly concur. Noah was such a man. The church stands in need of men like Enoch and Noah, men who do not follow God from a distance but who draw near to Him. The church needs men like the shepherd-king, David, who said, “My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me” (Psalm 63:8) and women like Mary of Bethany, who sat at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:39), and who, prior to His death, took a pound of costly ointment and anointed the feet of her blessed Master, wiping them with her hair (John 12:3). This is devotion in its purest form. This is worship that cannot be arranged, rehearsed, and presented on a Sunday morning. This is the fruit of a life that treasures a nearness to God.

Brethren, if we choose to walk with God, the supreme attraction of our lives must be God himself. No Christian duty should be neglected, but none is as important as the time spent alone with Him who promised to be always near to us (Hebrews 13:5; James 4:8). This is a blessed promise and one that exceeds every earthly reward. To know the presence of God is to experience the power of God, not for personal gain, but for His eternal glory. Enoch knew the intimate presence of God for three hundred years before God called Him home. That is a slow, persistent walk. One little girl told the story of Enoch in a beautiful way. Her version went like this: “Enoch used to take long walks with God. One day he walked so far God said, ‘It's too far to go back; come on home with me.’ That is what happened to Enoch.” Perhaps that little girl knew something about theology that many of us don’t. How far do we walk with God every day before we part company and go our own way? But this is not a fair question to ask; God never parts company with us, “for he hath said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’” (Hebrews 13:5b). The problem is that we allow the busyness of life to keep us from enjoying the sweetness and beauty of His Divine presence: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

In Ephesians 5:18 we read, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” This characterizes the course of a man who walks with God; he is influenced and controlled by the Spirit just as a sensual man is influenced and controlled by the intoxicating things of this world. Such a person will be noticeably different from those whose lives are always occupied with matters of no eternal value. This man or woman may not stand out in a crowd, nor receive the applause at large Christian gatherings, but I know that God takes special note of him or her, just as He did with Enoch. In the end, at the judgment seat of Christ, this is all that matters: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

I could write much more on the subject of walking with God, but that must come at another time. Certainly we lack nothing now which would enable us to enjoy His presence except the desire to experience it. With such desire there is always a cost. That cost will always include a radical change in one’s prayer life. The high peaks of a spiritual journey are reached only in the solitude of prayer. There are no shortcuts.

Brothers and sisters, I do not pretend to have achieved as close a walk with God as did the saints of old, or as some have done in our day, but I would ask you to pray that God might stir up an ever increasing desire within my heart to draw nearer and nearer to Him. Pray that I will not be content with anything less. Pray that my time in prayer will increase yet more and more. I will pray for you in the same way, so that the prevailing power of the Spirit of God might take hold of your heart, mind, soul and strength.

"Oh, the closest walk with God is the sweetest heaven that can be enjoyed on earth!"
- From the diary of David Brainerd:

May the Lord have His way in our lives,

Pastor Tom