Michael Youssef - Until Christ Returns - Part 7
My good friend Chuck Colson was once lamenting the condition of the church in America, and he quoted to have said: "We have a scandalously low view of the church. We have been so suckered in by radical individualism of American culture that we have stripped the church of its proper role". He goes on to say, "But God created the church for redemption of humankind, to be a witness for his kingdom". He said, "Despite the fact that 81% of American people say that they can find truth about God without reference to the church, I now believe that you cannot live the Christian life without the church".
In the last 40 years in America, there has been a movement that is creating a church of various people's own conception, a church that they like, a church that they want, a church that is accommodating to their whims and to their desires. Consequently, we have got very few biblically New Testament churches left in America. There are very few. And we're surprised why we have lost our influence on culture, why we have lost our influence in society as Christians. And here's the truth, while we're seeing this in accelerated fashion, but as long as there has been a church, there's always people who have brought in erroneous teaching about the church.
For example, Victor Hugo said: "The church is God between four walls". Others have taught that the church is basically a prestigious social club. And yet, of the more than 110 times in the New Testament the word "church" is used, never once did they use it for a building. And never once they used it for an institution or a denomination or an organization, not once. There are a number of metaphors that have been used in the New Testament to describe the church, but never once referring to a building. In fact, the church in the New Testament referred to as a family. It is where the brothers and the sisters of Jesus gather together to worship Jesus. It is called, "The body," to emphasize the fact that it is inexorably linked at the head of body, Jesus.
You see, without the head, it's useless. The Bible refers to the church as, "The bride of Christ," giving real definition to the fact that the church is only the church if it is madly in love with the Bridegroom. You see, all of that is basically telling us that the church and its focus is one person, and that's Jesus Christ. The New Testament church is defined by Jesus himself, and you find it in Matthew chapter 18, verse 20. Here's what he said: "'For when two or three are gathered together in my name,'" not just claim to be in my name, not just have my name on the door, not just, "Well, oh, yeah, yeah, we do this in Jesus' name. We serve this, and we do it all in Jesus' name". And then kind of brush him aside. No, what he means here is that he is the central focus of the church. He said, "When two or three are gathered in my name, where I am the total focus of their attention, then I am in their midst".
In that moment, it becomes the church of Jesus Christ. That is the definition of the church, that Jesus, and Jesus alone is the central focus, that Jesus, and Jesus alone is the very purpose for its existence. It is Jesus, and Jesus alone is the main object of its worship and activity. If any other things or any other person or any other program occupies the center stage, that church is not the church of Jesus Christ. I love fellowship. And important as fellowship is... I love preaching, and important as preaching is, as important as music is, as important as the outreach is, as important as the missionary activities of the church are, as important as the church programs are, as important as many of the help ministries that takes place in all of the churches, but none of these should be the focus.
None of these is the reason for existence of a church. Unless Jesus, and only Jesus is the sole focus of a given church, it is not the church of Jesus Christ. There are people who are looking for the next excitement. So they get excited about a given church, including this one, and then, when the excitement wanes, they go after the next excitement. Because many churches are built and founded and designed and marketed as for all sorts of focus other than Jesus. Now, so many people have false expectations of the church. And when those expectations fail to be met, they get disappointed. But if you have your expectations on Jesus, not a body of believers, then you will never be disappointed.
I was thinking about this, and I thought of a story of this man who got stranded in an island, and he was the only one on that island, but he survived for actually almost 2 years. He just survived. Finally, by accident, a ship found him. And so the rescuers come on shore, and they were talking to him, "How did you survive"? And he was explaining to them how he conserved the rainwater, how he ate some of the fruit, and how he did this, and how he did this. And they noticed kind of from a distance, on a little hill, there were three buildings, or really like shacks. But three buildings, and they said to him, they said, "What is that"? He said, "I built all these". He said, "Really"? He said, "Yeah, I put 'em together". He said, "What are these"? He said, "Well, the building in the middle, that's really my house. That's where I live. And the building on the right, that's my church. That's where I go to church". And they said, "You built a church just for yourself, that's great. But what about the one on the left". He said, "Oh, that's the church I used to go to".
While the church is a gathering of God's people, it is not about the pastor, and it's not about the program, and it's not about the activities. The church is all about who? The church is where Jesus is the sole focus. And the church where people are there to love Jesus with all their hearts. The church is where people have a heartfelt worship for Jesus. And that's what the Apostle Paul is trying to say here in the 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, verses 12 to 18. Please turn to it with me. And here you're gonna find four things about the New Testament church that Paul gives us. First of all, in verses 12 and 13, he said that: "That church has to value the preaching of the Word of God".
I know I'm turning the text on its head. I'm gonna explain it to you in a minute. Secondly, in verse 14, he said that: "That is a church of a Jesus Christ is a church that hold each other accountable". And thirdly, in verse 15, he said: "It is the place where you avoid personal revenge". And finally, fourthly, verses 16 to 18 is where: "You're rejoicing always, praying constantly, and thankful in everything". The New Testament church, the church of Jesus Christ is where the members value and honor the preaching of the Word of God. Look at verse 12. He's talking about church leaders. He said, "The ones who work hard". Doing what? Doing some social work? Running along doing civic duties? No, working hard instructing in the Word of God. Not in pop psychology or sociology, but the Word of God, explaining the Word of God, expounding the Word of God. Because that's where the very heart of a church must be.
Pastor and the pastors and the ministry staff have no authority other than the authority of the Word of God. And any other authority is a false authority. And Paul refers to these pastors as, "Those who are over you". Why? It doesn't mean that, you know, the pastors are the fat cats who lord it over people. That's what some people do, but that's not what the New Testament church is. They are to lift up the Word of God. They are to uphold the Word of God. They are to labor and work hard in explaining the Word of God. They are to be diligent in modeling a life that is according to the Word of God. Whether it's helping an individual one on one, and whether we're solving difficult problems, and whether they're rebuking the wayward, whether they're encouraging the discouraged, all must be done from the Word of God. Otherwise, one's opinion is as good as the other, right?
And Paul said, "Such a Christ-centered church, such a Christ-centered spiritual leaders, such a biblically-grounded leaders, such hardworking, diligent, truth-preaching, spiritual leaders must be honored". And I am personally convinced, if he's living in our culture and watching what's happening to our churches today, he would have said, "They must be honored but not worshiped". As it happens in some churches, as in the case of many in our culture. In this age of celebrititus, you know, there are many Christian leaders that honestly see themselves as celebrities to be worshiped by weak-minded people. That is a tragedy. The Bible said that "while they are to be held in the highest regard, but only Jesus is to be worshiped". A faithful congregation is a congregation that values the faithful preaching of the Word of God.
You see, God promised to honor his Word. We don't have to do marketing. We don't have to do this or we don't have to do that, because God always honors his Word. It is the New Testament church, the biblical church is where people honor the preaching of the Word of God. Secondly, it's where the congregation hold each other accountable. Hear me out on this one. There is no such thing as a perfect church simply because there is no such thing as perfect Christians or perfect people. But listen, a Christ-focused church will love each other like Christ loved. And when loving each other does not mean this horrible lie that has been sold to many churches today, thousands of churches, this horrible lie about love that if you love somebody, you let them live their life the way they wanted.
That is a lie from the pit of hell, that you never correct them, that you never rebuke them, that you never challenge them, that you never encourage them in righteousness. "Love," they say, "should tolerate sinful behavior". In verse 14, Paul is passionately urging. He said: "We urge you, brothers, we urge you to warn those who are idle and busybodies". In fact, some translation calls 'em, "Unruly". And the Greek word here comes from the context of the military, and it describes a soldier who is caught in disorderly conduct or the soldier who is not carrying his duty. It's a solder who is not shouldering his responsibility. And therefore, Paul is saying that we are to rebuke the idle. But also, he said to, "Encourage the fainthearted, those who are worried and anxious and in need of encouragement, those who are troubled and are timid and they need to feel safe, those who are feeling fainthearted because of the persecution".
Particularly at that time, in the context of which he's writing, people were beginning to lose hope and lose faith because of the persecution. He said, "These people need to be reminded constantly of the promises of God. Those who are emotionally and spiritually fragile and beset with doubt, they need to be reminded of their reward in heaven". And just as Jesus himself has been patient with us, we need to be patient with one another. Value the preaching of the Word of God. Hold each other accountable. Thirdly, avoid personal revenge. Verse 15: "Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong". Muslims believe that they're the ones who have the responsibility to avenge their god, you see? And so, they go out on a killing spree, and they're avenging their god. In their mind, they're avenging their god. While the New Testament Christian believers are avenged by their God.
You see, our God avenges us. He said, "'Vengeance is mine;' says the Lord, 'I repay.'" And when you show kindness to those who wronged you, you're heaping coals over the head of the wrongdoer. How? By heaping kindness on them. And I know that many Christians find that the most painful disappointments come not from wicked people outside but from the sheep within the flock. The most hurtful things are these false accusations that come from within the body. Sheep are very capable of hurting other sheep, gossip, slander, backbiting, insinuation. And Paul said, "Don't get revengeful when this happens to you. As much as you are tempted to hit back, as much as you're tempted to lash back, don't do it".
I'm so thankful that I lived long enough to see so many of these promises of God come true. And I can testify to the fact that God does a far better job avenging than you can. Value the preaching of the Word of God. Hold each other accountable. Avoid personal revenge. And fourthly, rejoice always, pray constantly, be thankful in everything, verses 16, 17, and 18. When you're talking about rejoicing, always. I have talked to enough people to know that often, they think that the Bible is just not realistic. How can you be joyful always? When you're discouraged, when you're suffering, when you're ill, when you're experiencing pain, how can you rejoice always? I'm gonna give you ten reasons why you can rejoice always. Before I give you those ten reasons for rejoicing always, I wanna first tell you something very important most people miss. The Apostle Paul did not say, "Be happy always".
See, that would not be true. That would be unrealistic, right? "Don't worry, be happy". No, that's not biblical teaching. Because happiness depends on the circumstances. You passed that exam. You got that bonus. Something happened, and it makes you happy. But joy is dependent on what is true about God. And here are the ten reasons why you can rejoice always. You rejoice always in God's righteous character. You rejoice always in God's redeeming love. You rejoice always in the Holy Spirit's ministry to you. You rejoice always in the gifts and the blessings of the Holy Spirit. You rejoice always in God's working all things for your ultimate good. You rejoice always in anticipating your coming glory. You rejoice always in your past answered prayers. You rejoice always in the gifts of God's Word. You rejoice always in God's fellowship with you. You rejoice always in the fact that God is going to be glorified in whatever circumstances you are in.
And so you rejoice always. Secondly, he said, "You pray without ceasing". Well, this is probably the admonition that fits our time and our culture more than any other time. So many Christians, so many believers, they're great prayer warriors, and they pray, you know, and asking God for something. They are burdened to pray if they want something, and they pray, and they pray, and they pray. And then, either they get what they prayed for or they didn't get what they prayed for. In either case, they give up, "Bye". But listen to me. That is a faulty understanding of what prayer is. You see, prayer is more than just petition. Prayer is submission. Prayer is praise and thanksgiving. Prayer is a confession. Prayer is petition, but prayer also is intercession on behalf of others.
And what Paul is saying here, that all of our life should be an attitude of prayer. You see, when your desire is to glorify God in prayer, when your desire is to drink deeply in fellowshipping with God in prayer, if your desire is believing that God will meet all of your needs in prayer, when your desire is to see God's wisdom in prayer, when your desire is to be delivered from temptation in prayer, when your desire is to be delivered from worry and anxiety in prayer, when your desire is to be set free from the guilt of sin in prayer, when your desire is to grow into Christ's likeness and become fruitful believer, when that happens in prayer, then you're gonna find yourself praying without ceasing.
Can I get a witness? Rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and finally, he said, "Give thanks in everything". I don't know about you, but one of my quirks is when I find Christians misquote the Bible. When someone's, "Thank God for everything". What? "Thank God for everything". So, I thank him for cancer? And I thank him for... He didn't say that. This is what the Bible said. That's when people misquote the Bible. That's not what he said. He didn't say, "Give thanks for everything".
In fact, you're gonna find that rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and thankful in everything go together. We're big on bundling these days. There's a bundle. They go together. All three are constant activities, are constant, all three. You may not feel like being thankful for your circumstances. Ah, but that is not what he said. He said, "Be thankful in your circumstances". Listen, there's a world of difference between thankful for something and thankful in something. Because being thankful in your circumstances, he said, "Because that is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus".
Let me explain this. Even in your worst paralyzing situation, you trust that he is working things, often behind the scenes and you cannot see it at the time. And you feel that God is silent, but he's working, make no mistake about it, turning things around. Even in the confusing events in your life, that you are contented to thank him in those circumstances. Why? Because you believe with all of your heart that he is working things for your good. Be thankful in everything means that you're believing that his will for you is absolutely perfect. Oh, my goodness, I can stand here for hours and testify for things that I see the will of God. I said, "Oh, God, why did you..."?
As I told you, I'm glad I lived long enough I can look back and say, "Thank you, Lord. I can see your hand". I may not have been able to thank him for that thing, but I thanked him in that thing. Now, people have a confused view of God, really messed up. They think he's after them. He's gonna do something to them. He loves you. He died for you. And his will is always perfect for you.
Henry Frost was a veteran missionary to China, great man of God. And here's part of his testimony. He one day received bad news from home. Well, that bad news caused him to put it in his own words. He said caused a deep shadow to cover his soul, so he did what most of us do. He prayed and he prayed and he prayed. And again, he said, "That inner darkness just would not vanish". Weeks passed in that very pitiful condition. And then finally, he decided that he's gonna go into the inland and visit one of the mission stations there, hoping that he may talk to somebody, that somebody will talk to him, and something, you know, just goes over there. Before he even sees anyone, he opens the door of that building, and there on the wall is a big sign that says, "Try thanksgiving, try thanksgiving". He said, "I did, I tried thanksgiving". And again, in his own words, he said, "At that moment, every shadow was gone". And that is why the psalmist said, "It is good always to give thanks".