Robert Jeffress - A Winning Church - Part 2
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Most Christians understand that being involved in a local church is vital to their spiritual growth. But what exactly happens in church that we can't do on our own? Well, last week we started looking at a four-letter acrostic. W-i-n-s I used W-I-N-S, wins, to describe four characteristics of a healthy church. And today I'll use those four ingredients to form a checklist for the kind of church we ought to look for. My message is titled "A Winning Church," on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
The fact is, God did not create us to try to find him or receive the nourishment we need from him apart from our involvement with other Christians. We're kind of like those two porcupines that were huddled together up in a frozen tundra region of Canada. They huddled together to keep warm. They needed one another, even though they needled one another. You know, Christians are like that. The fact is, we need one another, not just for warmth, but we need one another for the energy that flows from them into our lives. And that's the truth we're going to see illustrated this morning.
If you have your Bibles, turn to Acts, chapter 2, Acts, chapter 2. We're in our series on the Holy Spirit, entitled "Unleashed, experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit". We need to be around other Christians who will provoke us, who will stimulate us to be more like Christ. Did you know that even negative experiences in the church can help us become more like Christ? This last week I've been in two hemispheres preaching the same message. I was down in south America with the choir, preaching a message on forgiveness.
A couple of days ago, I was in another large church in another state, preaching the very same message. And I had the same response in both situations. After I finished the message, people wanted to come up and meet with me privately. And they shared the same story in the southern hemisphere and in the northern hemisphere. They said, "Pastor, we have been hurt and we had been hurt deeply in the church. But we know God wants us to forgive and tonight we're making the decision to forgive".
Now, would they have had to learn to forgive if they had not been wounded or hurt to begin with? No. No, it was that offense that challenged them to develop that quality of forgiveness that God wants us all to have. And without offenses, nothing positive can come. And that's a great reason to be a member of the church. There's no better place to get hurt anywhere than in the church, okay? I mean, if you want to learn how to be forgiving, if you want to have to learn how to be patient, if you want to learn how to have to control your anger, if you want to learn these things, be around other people. And that's why God created the church. There are both positive and negative experiences that all work together to make us like Jesus Christ.
Secondly, the church offers us encouragement when we are discouraged. Look at verse 25. "Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another". That word encouraging means to build up. I bet you've heard this before. I have. Somebody in the church who has lost a loved one or gone through an illness and the church members have rallied around them to support them. And this person will say, "You know, I don't know how people make it who don't have a church to support them in times like this".
Haven't you heard people say that? How do people make it who don't have a church? The answer is they don't make it most of the time. They crumble under the weight of life's problems. But how great it is that we have a church. We have Sunday school classes and departments that rally around people when they have times of need. And that's a great reason, by the way, to be involved in Sunday school. You know, in this auditorium, you can't know one another, you can't have interaction with one another. But in a small group fellowship, you get to know the needs of one another and are able to minister to one another. Unfortunately, too many Christians allow the problems of life to drive them away from the church, rather than into a closer relationship with the church.
I've actually had people who are going through a difficult storm in their life say to me, "Pastor, we don't want you to be alarmed now, but we're going to take a little sabbatical from church for awhile until we get through this problem, and once we get through this problem we'll come back to church". You know, I used to be a lot more diplomatic than I am now. I used to try to hide my reaction to such statements, but now I don't even try to hide it. I'll say to somebody who says that, "That is the dumbest idea I've ever heard". You're going to take a vacation from church when you're going through this storm?
And my friend, David Jeremiah, is much more diplomatic than I am. Listen to what he says about that. He says "Our faith isn't a luxury intended for periods of smooth sailing and neither is our fellowship. When trouble comes along, that's when it's wonderful to be a part of a faithful, Bible-believing body of people who will rally around you. They'll pray for you, support you with their resources, encourage you and counsel you in tough decisions". Get this. "The devil is the only one whose opinion is that you should take a sabbatical from church during hard times". A church offers us encouragement when we're discouraged.
Thirdly, the church offers us correction when we stray. Remember this book of Hebrews was written to a group of Christians who were in danger of straying away from their spiritual life, falling back into their former way of life. And so there all of these warning passages in the book of Hebrews about what happens to a Christian who falls back into his old way of life. Frankly, the writer of Hebrews, the Bible, offers no hope for a Christian who goes on willfully sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, Hebrews 10 says. He said, "There is no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment to come".
There is no hope for a Christian who leaves the faith and falls back into sin. But there is an antidote from falling away from the faith. And that antidote is given in verse 24. "Do not forsake the assembling together of yourselves". The way to keep from being attacked by the evil one, isolated from other Christians and then to have your faith destroyed, the antidote to that is to make sure you're assembled together with other believers on a regular basis. You see, one of Satan's oldest and best used and most effective tactics against us is to isolate us from other Christians. Once he has us isolated, then to attack us, and then finally to destroy us.
Listen to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said. He said, "Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him. And the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed, it poisons the whole being of a person". We need to be around other Christians who can watch out for us. And when they see us starting to drift in our relationship with God, will have the courage to lovingly confront us.
You know, I look back over my own life in ministry and I can say with absolute sincerity how grateful I am for people in other churches, people in this church who saw something that was wrong in my life or ministry and had the courage to tell me, not what I wanted to hear, but what I needed to hear. And some of you know exactly who you are. Thank you. Proverbs 27:6 says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend". We need other believers to correct us, if we begin to stray.
Notice a fourth ingredient of a church that generates God's power. That fourth ingredient, the s, stands for sharing. Look at verse 47. "They were praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved". These early Christians, they were not content just to sit, soak and sour on the Word of God, as so many people do in other churches. No, they realized that the reason they were worshiping and receiving instruction from God's word and being nourished was so that they could take the Gospel outside to the unbelievers. And that's exactly what they did.
You see, God's plan is for this church, any church, to be an equipping station. Remember Ephesians 4:12? He gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, to do what? To equip the saints! That's you. For the work of ministry, to the building up of the body of Christ. That word equip is the Greek word katartismon, and it literally means to load up a ship with supplies before that ship sets out on a long journey. Now that's God's plan here. God's plan is for us to meet on Sundays, for me, the pastor, to give you the supplies you need so that you can go out and do ministry six days a week. To equip the saints for the work of ministry, to the building up of the body of Christ.
That word "Building up" or oikodome in Greek, is a word that refers to the physical building of a building. But listen to this. While we're building the physical structure of the church, God is building the spiritual structure of the church. And he's not doing it beam upon beam or brick upon brick. He's doing it life upon life. See the church, I Peter says, is a spiritual temple and it's composed of living stones, individual lives. And every time there's a new convert into the Kingdom of God, they are added to the church. And the church is getting larger and larger and larger. That is God's plan. He said, we are to equip the saints for the work of service, you're to go out so that we can build up, not just spiritually, but numerically, the body of Christ.
How many people believe here that God would like to rescue as many people from hell as possible? How many believe that about God? That's what God wants to do. He's not trying to save as few people as possible, like some people teach. He's trying to save as many people as possible. And he uses you and me to do that. God has commanded his church to be built, but we're the workmen that go out and we gather the bricks, we gather the stones, as God adds them to the church. What happens to a church that's involved in worship and instruction and nourishment, but fails to go out and share the message with unbelievers?
I know I've shared this with you before, but I'm going to do it again because it's so effective. Max Lucado talks about a fishing trip that he took when he was in high school with his dad and his best friend, Mark. Unfortunately, weather made them stay inside instead of going fishing. And this is what Max writes.
"The inclement weather kept us from fishing. Instead, we spent several days cooped up inside the cabin perusing old copies of reader's digest, and playing endless rounds of monopoly. I began to notice a few things I hadn't seen before. I noticed that my friend Mark had a few personality flaws. He was a bit too cocky about his opinions. He was easily irritated and constantly edgy and he couldn't take any conservative criticism. Even though his socks did stink, he didn't think it was my business to tell him. And dad, why he couldn't do anything right. I wondered how someone so irritable could've had such an even-tempered son like myself. We sat in that cabin in misery the whole day. I learned a hard lesson that week. Not about fishing, but about people. When those who are called to fish don't fish, they fight. When energy intended to be used outside is used inside, the result is explosive. Instead of casting nets, we cast stones".
What a contrast to this first century church. They expended their energy casting nets for converts, fishing for men rather than fighting with congregants. And the result was, "The Lord," verse 42, "Was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved". What are the principles from this message? Let me share two timeless truths from this passage with you today. First of all, principle number one, we should view the church as God's creation, not our organization. I'm amazed at how many Christians fail to understand that the church, the local church is not our idea. It was God's idea. It wasn't a group of people sitting up at Baptist headquarters in Nashville saying, "Hey, I've got an idea for a new program. Let's create something called the church and we'll have a pastor and we'll have deacons, and we'll do that".
That's not how the church was instituted. It was God's plan. God created the church to fulfill his purpose. But listen to this. He also created the church to provide the things he wants to give to you. The things you most need in your spiritual life. Challenge, encouragement, correction. The church is his instrument for pouring those things into your life. Yes, the church is filled with sinful people, just like you and i. The church is filled with sinful people who create all kind of messes. But I remember what my friend and mentor, Howard Hendricks, used to say. He said, "The church is a lot like Noah's ark. If it weren't for the storm on the outside you couldn't stand the stench on the inside".
That's true. Yes, we do need the church. It is God's creation, not our own organization. Secondly, we should choose a church that is based on God's principles, not our preferences. We should choose a church based on God's principles, not our preferences. You know that I'm speaking to some of you who are guests today. Some of you on television, radio, and you're in the process of looking for a church. Hopefully, none of our members are looking for a church right now. But some of you are looking for a church. Or God may put you in a situation where one day you're in a different city and you have to choose a new church.
Let me suggest that these four ingredients of a winning church really form a checklist for the kind of church we ought to look for. Worship, instruction, nourishment, sharing. For example, is the Bible the foundation of the pastor's message and all the teaching in the church? Does the music, regardless of whether it's contemporary or traditional, does the music direct our attention toward God? Does the church offer small group opportunities, like Sunday school or other small groups that enhance our fellowship with other believers? Does the church care for and pray for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of all of its members? Is there an active evangelism and missions program that takes the Gospel outside the four walls of the church into the city and into the world? And is there something supernatural that is happening in that church that cannot be explained any other way than through the working of the Holy Spirit of God? That's how to choose a church. Based on God's principles, not on our preferences.
In 2002, CNN carried a story entitled "The Miracle of Quecreek". It was about nine miners who were trapped three days in an underground, water-filled mine. The story said the miners decided early on that they were going to live or die as a group. The 55-degree water threatened to kill them slowly, according to the report. When one would get cold, the other eight would huddle around the person and warm that person. And when another person got cold, the favor was returned.
One miner, Harry Mayhugh, said, "Everybody had strong moments, but any certain time maybe one guy got down and the rest pulled together. And then that guy would get back up and maybe somebody else would feel a little weaker, but it was a team effort. That's the only way we could have ever survived". What a great picture of what God meant for the church to be. Our lifting up one person who has fallen, so that they can renew their strength, so that they can be encouraged in the faith. You know, to paraphrase John Donne's word, "No Christian is an island unto himself". We're like those porcupines. We need one another, even though we occasionally needle one another. The church is not some necessary evil. It is God's provision in your life for worship, for instruction, and for nourishment, so that you can experience the incredible power of the Holy Spirit.