What is your attitude toward the church? Some people seem to think that churches are just money grabbing groups, hungry to take advantage of the feeble minded. Others think the church doesn't matter, that you can find God in your own way and on your own terms. Some consider the church very important, but worry about its future. What is your attitude toward the church?
When we look in the New Testament we meet a man who loved the Lord, who worked tirelessly for the risen Savior. This man, the apostle Paul, often reveals how he felt about the church. This was true even for a church he had never met. When Paul wrote to the Roman church, he had never been there. But, he clearly reveals his attitude toward that church.
"First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the Will of God I may succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine. And I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented thus far) in order that I migh abtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. Thus, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome" (Rom. 1:8-15). In these eight introductory verses to his letter, Paul reveals himself and his mindset concerning the church.
Paul Was Positive: -- I suppose it is human nature to see the negative. Most of us will notice what is wrong a lot more quickly than we notice what is right. It seems we see the mistakes and fail to notice the strengths in churches. Paul however, starts by commending the Roman church in the fact that all over the world people had heard of their faith.
This was not a perfect church. As you read the entire letter you will see they had much to learn in Rome about the gospel. Yet, Paul (as he does in most of his letters) started with the positive.
I think most of us need to learn this lesson. When we speak of the church, let us start with what is right about the body. Is the church with which you meet perfect? Probably not. Does the church with which you meet need to improve at anything? Probably so. But, when you speak of the church of which you are a member, do you speak of the positve, glowing, warm terms first. Let us learn the hard lesson to be positive, even when we speak of churches that have imperfections in them.
Paul Prayed: -- This should not surprise us. Paul prayed for all the churches to which he wrote (Eph. 1; Phil. 1; Col. 1) and so on. But, now he is praying for a church, a group of Christians, he has never met. He knows some of the members there (see Rom. 15,16), but has never been in Rome to be with the entire church. Nevertheless, he is praying "unceasingly" for them.
What a great example for us. We too should spend time in prayer simply asking the Lord to build up and watch over the churches wherever they may be. This is especially true when you think a congregation is not all that it should be. Instead of sitting back and criticizing such churches, try spending time on your knees on their behalf, asking God to help the members and the leaders to be what He wants them to be. I believe it is almost impossible to be highly critical of anyone or any church for which we have spent significant time in prayer. So, when you sense the church is in need or facing a challenge, or is in danger of digressing, the first thing to do is to pray on its behalf. That is what Paul was doing.
Paul Was A Partner: -- Paul wants to come to Rome to impart a spiritual gift to that church. We are not sure what he had in mind, but as an apostle he had the authority to share the Spirit's power. What is interesting, though, is that Paul admits he needs their encouragement too. That is, the work of the members of the body is always a two way street. Paul wanted to minister to them, but he counted on them ministering to him as well.
Whatever your role in the congregation, I hope you feel this way. I hope you share your God given gifts, abilities, to build up the body of Christ with which you worship. At the same time, I hope you depend on the church to build you up as well. No one in the kingdom of God works or ministers alone. All of us are connected and mutually dependent on each other.
That is what Paul meant when he said, "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ" (1 Cor. 12:12). So, no matter what your role in the congregation is, big or small, you are needed and important. And, every other member, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is important too. Paul was a partner in ministry with the church that met in Rome, and so we are to be partners in prayer, praying for each and every congregation of the Lord's people wherever they may meet.
Paul Planned: -- The apostle tells the Roman congregation that for a long time he has been planning to come to see them. Paul's life was not a series of accidents. He carefully planned and prayed as he ministered among the churches of his day. His method was to go into a large city, start teaching in the synagogue and then branch out into the Gentile community as well. He did this over and over again, establishing congregations everywhere he went. Now, he plans to go to Rome, as he has wanted to do for some time.
What is your plan when it comes to the church of which you are a member? What is your thinking when it comes to the future of that particular body of the Lord's people? I think too many members wait for others to lead and then choose to jump in or not. But, way too few of us have real plans to grow, to get more involved, to start new activities and efforts that will help the congregation to grow. Paul approached his work with congregations with a serious and workable plan that would help the particular congregation to overcome their problems and purify themselves from sins that might be among them. We should too. So, instead of just going to worship, why not start planning what you can and will do to grow in the faith and knowledge of the Lord. Thereby helping the congregation to also grow.
Paul Had Priorities: -- The apostle reminds us all that he had an obligation. He owed it to Greeks (civilized, settled, educated people) and barbarians (uneducated, less civilized people) to share the gospel. He never lost sight of his first calling and the priorities that calling gave him. Paul was committed to sharing good news with those who had never heard of Jesus.
This is where too many Christians and too many churches break down. We get so caught up in keeping the church right, or deflecting Satan's attacks, or just keeping the doors open that we forget that we are to be a light in our community, a city set on a hill that should not be hidden. The church was never established just to exist. The church of Christ is here in order to share the good news of the gospel, even with people who have never even thought about God.
Paul was not interested in just keeping the doors open. He wanted to go out and knock down the doors of peoples' hearts. When churches and Christians turn outward, all of a sudden the petty little things that bugged them are less important. And, when people come to the Lord and are saved from their past sins by faith in the Lord, repenting of their sins, confessing the Lord as Christ, and being baptized by a burial in water for the remission of their past sins, then the church rejoices and all other issues seem to be much smaller.
So, if you are unhappy with the direction you think the church is going, the best thing to do is what Paul did. Start sharing the gospel more and more among the people of your community. Start making your focus the saving of souls and the problems of the church (and every church has its problems) will get smaller and more manageable. Paul was under obligation to share the good news of the gospel. The sooner we all rekindle that same feeling the sooner the church will thrive again.
Paul Preached: -- Paul was eager to preach the same gospel in Rome that he had been preaching everywhere else. This was Paul's mission, his simple priority. Again, too many Christians and congregations have lost this focus.
Paul was centered in the good news. He wanted to share the gospel (good news) with everyone he could. Whether he was in Ephesus or Corinth, Antioch or Jerusalem, Paul wanted to preach about Jesus and the salvation that comes through Him. This is our mission as well. Oh, you may not speak in public like Paul did, but you have friends, neighbors and co-workers who need some good news. Share the Lord with them by your words, your actions, your prayers. Let us all make the effort to preach and teach the good news in any and every way we can to everyone we can.
You And The Church: -- How do you feel about the body of Christ? Are you discouraged, worried or afraid? Are you tired, or burned out? Paul's approach to the Romans can give us renewed hope. When we are positive, praying , partnering, planning and keeping the priority of preaching good news, the church will all of a sudden look better. God will seem powerful and people will be saved.
But, what is your relationship to the church? If you have not been baptized into Christ, you are not yet part of His body. You need to put your faith in Him and let Him take away your guilt, your sorrow, your worries. When you are baptized you will be added to the body of Christ, by the Lord Himself (Acts 2:47). Then you too can have the priorities that Paul had. Come to Christ today, repent, and be baptized for the remission of your past sins, continue to worship and serve the Lord according to the teaching of His Word.
By David Thurman in Gospel Minutes, Vol. 57, No. 45, Nov. 7, 2008.
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