What Is the Church?
Finding the Right Church
One of the keys to spiritual growth is to become part of a local church. In its biblical form, the church should provide biblically-sound teaching, genuine worship, an atmosphere in which Christians are able to use their God-given gifts and abilities, and spiritual leadership that will help keep believers accountable.
There are those who might say, "I don't need to go to church. I like to spend my time alone with God, and I don't need to be around other Christians." The reality is that no Christian can endure or prosper long if he or she lives in isolation without the support of a church. No matter how many Christian books, magazines, CDs, and movies you have, they can't replace the experience and fellowship you get from attending church and being with other believers.
In the book of Hebrews, it says, "Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some do, but encourage each other, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24-25).
A model for the modern-day church can be found in the book of Acts, which describes the early days of the church. The first-century church turned the world upside down, spreading the gospel around the known world.
The Bible has plenty to say about the characteristics of a healthy, vibrant church, and you can measure its vitality by comparing its qualities to the characteristics of the first-century church (Acts 2:42, 44-47).
A healthy church meets together regularly, places a high priority on Bible study and develops caring people who concern themselves with the well-being and spiritual development of each member. It recognizes the power of corporate prayer and worship and demonstrates Christ's love in meaningful ways. Its members desire to minister to others and seek to share God's good news with others.
In any Biblically-sound, God-centered church, the following beliefs should be obvious:
- The Bible is held as the inspired and only infallible authoritative Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16).
- God is eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (John 14:26, Matthew 28:18, 19).
- Salvation is the free gift of God to all who will repent of their sins and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the only way to come into a relationship with God (John 14:6, Ephesians 2:8-9).
A healthy church is also a growing church. But growth alone should not necessarily be viewed as proof of God's blessing. The first disciples had a "gladness and a singleness of heart" about the early church. Your church home should be a place you look forward to attending not only on Sundays, but throughout the week.
Conversely, if you feel uncomfortable about your church, it may be the Holy Spirit telling you that church is unscriptural. As you grow in your understanding of the Scriptures and seek God's will through prayer, you will be able to discern truth from error.
Avoid any group that teaches doctrines, beliefs, or rituals that deviate from the Bible. Many false teachers speak only parts of the truth and their messages have been aptly described as the "skin of the truth stuffed with a lie." Most cults are identifiable because they refuse to:
- Adhere solely to the 66 books of the Bible. Instead, they add their "special revelations."
- Accept that our relationship to Jesus Christ has been provided by God through His grace and is received through faith alone. Instead they practice salvation by works.
- Acknowledge Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God and give Him the full recognition He merits.
Commonly known cults are Jehovah's Witnesses, Latter-Day Saints or Mormons, Unification Church, Unitarians, Spiritists, and Scientologists.
Find Your Place
It has been wisely said, "The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints." Regular fellowship and participation in the church for a disciple cannot be overemphasized. As you come to church and find your place in it, you will then be in a position to give to others what God has given to us.
The church that is right for you will be a place where you can grow in your love for the Lord and serve Him by contributing to the life of the church. Remember, we are all sinners doing our best to follow God's teaching. Rely on Him to show you the way.
Remember that the model for a God-honoring church is in the Scriptures. Study God's design and pray to be led to the place He has prepared for you. God bless you as you grow in your faithfulness.Back to Top
The Spirit-Empowered Church
One night several years ago, hurricane-force winds battered an American town. In the morning, people emerged from their homes and shelters to assess the damage. The power of the storm quickly became apparent to one investigator, who made an amazing discovery. Imbedded in a telephone pole, he found a flimsy, plastic drinking straw. Obviously, under normal circumstances, a flimsy straw could never penetrate a telephone pole. The tremendous power of the wind had driven the straw into the wood like a spike.
As believers living in an ungodly world, sometimes we wonder if we can ever make a difference. We wonder if we can effectively penetrate our cynical culture with the good news God has given us to proclaim. The answer lies in the source of our power.
If we rely on our own strength and methods, we cannot make much of a difference. If we choose to be driven by God's limitless power, however, we become like that straw in the hurricane—nothing can stop us! We can make a dramatic difference.
Indeed, that is what Jesus wants the church—the collective body of Christian believers—to do. Like the early church in the Book of Acts, He wants us to have a profound impact on our culture, to turn our world upside-down for Christ (see Acts 17:6). It is possible—if we do it in God's way and in God's power.Back to Top
How Did the Church Begin?
In this new section of our Foundations for Living studies, we will look at the role, purpose, and function of the church today. It is vitally important to understand how the church was established. Man did not initiate the beginning of the church; Christ did. In fact, it is the only organization Jesus ever started.
Christ established it.
"Christ is the head of the Church, which is His body. He is the first of all who will rise from the dead, so he is first in everything" (Colossians 1:18 NLT).
Christ purchased it.
"Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28).
Christ will bless and maintain it.
"On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
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Who Makes up the Church?
At spiritual rebirth, we are made a part of this wonderful gathering of believers that Jesus Himself established, purchased, leads, and protects. Even more, God has a purpose for each of us individually in this great plan of His.
Tragically, many churches today are shrinking in number. Some have faced horrible and divisive splits. To make matters worse, a number of people have stopped attending church altogether because they have become disillusioned with the hypocrisy they see.
Don't forget—the church is not made up of perfect people. It is made up of people like you and me who make mistakes, and even sin. The church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.
If you really want to walk with the Lord and grow spiritually, involvement in the church is an absolute necessity. It is not an option! "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:23–25).Back to Top
What Makes Church a Blessing?
It is not an option for us as believers to take or leave the church as a whole. If we are true Christians, we will want to be a vital part of all that God is doing today in and through His people. Church should not be some place where, as Adrian Rodgers humorously put it, we go to be "hatched, matched, and dispatched." That was never God's original intention.
Church does not have to be a miserable experience. It should be an oasis in a hot desert. It should be a place where we come to be refreshed, revived, and equipped. We should not dread it, but look forward to it—even long for it. Like David, we should be able to say, "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go into the house of the LORD'" (Psalm 122:1).
"As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God."—C. S. Lewis
Church should be a place to worship God, learn more about Him, straighten our priorities, help others, and use the gifts that He has given us. That way we can be equipped to go back into the world as changed people representing Jesus Christ.Back to Top
What Makes a Church Effective?
The reason so many churches are ineffective and/or falling apart today is because they have strayed from God's original plan. The phenomenal strength and growth of the early church can be traced to this: the Spirit of God working through the Word of God in the hearts of the people of God.
Jesus describes that dimension of spiritual power in the opening chapter of Acts: "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
The effective church is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Many years ago, A.W. Tozer said, "If the Holy Spirit were taken away from the New Testament church, 90% of what they did would have come to a halt. But if the Holy Spirit were taken away from today's church, only 10% of what it does would cease."
We're not seeing the same results as the early believers because we are not relying on the same power they did and we are not operating on the same principles.
The word power in Acts 1:8 comes from the Greek word dunamis, meaning dynamic power. The word witness comes from the Greek word martus, from which we get the word "martyr." A more literal translation of that verse would be, "You shall receive dynamic power to live for Me and, if necessary, even to die for Me."
Ten days after Jesus ascended into Heaven, the Holy Spirit descended upon the obediently waiting disciples in the upper room (Acts 2:1–4). What difference did the empowering of the Holy Spirit make in the lives of these early believers? The same disciples who had huddled behind closed doors after Jesus' crucifixion for fear of the Jews could not be kept behind closed doors after they had received this heavenly dynamite. After God's power exploded in their lives, they had the courage to tell the authorities, "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).
The effective church preaches the gospel to all people.
A popular trend in many churches today is to build a seeker-sensitive church, tailored to the special needs of a specific group of people. Instead of being led by God, some church leaders are being led by marketing surveys that supposedly show them what type of demographic they should cater to in order to grow in attendance. This is called niche marketing. As a result, people in the church have become spectators instead of participators. Programs have taken the place of power. Gimmicks have taken the place of the gospel.
Jesus told us, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel" (Mark 16:15). He did not say, "Go only to the people you can personally relate to" or "Go only to a particular demographic." We should be preaching this good news to everyone: "We proclaim Christ! We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about Him" (Colossians 1:28 Phillips).
One of the beauties of the church is our diversity (see Galatians 3:26–28; 1 Corinthians 12:18–25). Neglecting Christ's mandate to preach the gospel to everyone shortchanges the church and falls short of God's objective.
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How Can You Tap into the Holy Spirit's Power?
Do you desire boldness in your witness for Christ? Has your prayer life become dry and one-dimensional? Do you feel that you are lacking something in your spiritual walk? Is the world turning you upside down instead of you turning your world right side up?
This promise for power from the Holy Spirit was not just for the believers of the early church. It is for you, as well. In other words, there is a dimension of power available to the believer today that is not automatically ours! After receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter told the crowds gathered around the house, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:38–39).
We do not need to go to Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit's power—nor do we have to wait for it.
Pentecost does not need to be repeated—it needs to be appropriated.
God wants to make you into a powerful representative for Him. Ask God to empower you with His Holy Spirit and to show you how you—like the believers in the early church—can turn your world upside down.
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The Purpose of the Church
While it appears that many people have an increasing hunger for the spiritual, few are looking to the church for help in their quest. Instead, many are leaving churches in record numbers, or not even going in the first place. Perhaps it comes from a prevailing misunderstanding of what the church should be.
Why does the church exist? Is it here to help meet the needs of you and your family? Is it here to win the world for Christ? Is it here to right the world of social wrongs? You might be surprised by the Bible's answer.
According to Scripture, the church has a three-fold purpose: the exaltation of God, the edification of the saints, and the evangelization of the world.
The exaltation of God
God has called us to live "for the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:12). We are here to glorify and know the God who created us. "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
The edification of the saints
Paul said that his own goal was not merely to evangelize, but to "present every person [mature] in Christ" (Colossians 1:28).
"He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ" (Ephesians 4:11–15).
The evangelization of the world
If we are glorifying God and edifying the saints, we will naturally want to share the hope of salvation with others. We will also want to obey the Lord. Since Jesus has specifically told us to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), we should do just that.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19–20).
We must keep these principles in their proper balance. We are not to emphasize one at the expense of another.
The dangers of an imbalanced church
A church that over-emphasizes worship at the expense of teaching of Scripture and evangelism (and/or personal experience) will end up with inadequate Bible teaching for the believers, who will remain shallow in their understanding of Scripture, as well as in their understanding of the nature and purposes of God. They also become easier prey for false teaching.
A church that over-emphasizes the edification of believers at the expense of worship and evangelism easily minimizes the importance of worshipping God and reaching out to others. It will soon become ingrown and stagnant, for new believers are the lifeblood of the church!
A church that over-emphasizes evangelism at the expense of teaching and worship is in danger of neglecting the teaching of the Word and the worship of God. The church will end up with immature Christians who emphasize growth in numbers but lack true spiritual growth in their own lives. They will also become a beaten flock of guilty people because they are always being scolded for not bringing others to Christ and to church.
All of these principles must be emphasized on a regular basis to keep a church strong and healthy. Laying the foundation of a church properly is essential. As A.W. Tozer said, "A church that is soundly rooted cannot be destroyed, but nothing can save a church whose root is dried up. No stimulation, no advertising campaigns, no gifts of money, and no beautiful edifice can bring back life to the rootless tree."
I was talking with a group of pastors who asked me why our church was so large. One said, "Well, whatever works and whatever pleases God, that's what I'll do." I had to correct him and say, "Whatever pleases God—period."
"Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it" (Psalm 127:1).
"I will build My church" (Matthew 16:18).
"I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God gave the increase...For we are God's fellow workers" (1 Corinthians 3:6, 9).
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The Practice of the Church
Speaking of the church which He Himself founded, Jesus said, "On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
Although the early church lacked every worldly advantage, though it was attacked both spiritually and physically, it not only survived, but flourished! (And they even did this without surveys and church growth consultants.) What was their secret? It's found in Acts 2:37–47.Back to Top
Secrets of the Early Church
Four characteristics of the early church stand out in Acts 2:37–47. You might say that they are the trademarks of a healthy church:
- It was a learning church.
- It was a loving church.
- It was a worshipping church.
- It was an evangelizing church.
The Early Church Was a Learning Church
"They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine" (Acts 2:42).
Some might think that for a church to be spirit empowered, all use of intellect must be abandoned: Some say, "I'm not into doctrine. I just want to love Jesus." Yet, if you really want to know who Jesus is, and you want to grow in that love for Him so that you can intelligently worship Him, you must study doctrine. Moreover, if you want to be spiritually strong and useful, you must know the apostles' doctrine.
The apostle Paul told Timothy, "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you" (1 Timothy 4:16).
They relied upon what we find in Scripture.
Where do we find this doctrine? In the pages of Scripture: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
They were driven by a passion for the Lord.
To "continue steadfastly" speaks of a real passion. They were living in a first love relationship with Jesus and had burning hearts. This was not a casual attitude, such as one might have when joining a social club. There seemed to be a real excitement in what they did. They applied themselves to what was being taught from the Word.
There must be both anointed preaching and anointed listening.
We must listen not only with our heads, but with our hearts: "As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby" (1 Peter 2:2).
We must come not only to hear the Word, but we should also come with a desire to apply it. Jesus said, "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock" (Matthew 7:24).
A Word of Warning
To hear God's Word and not apply it will actually damage your spiritual life. Contact with holy things—if it does not convert—hardens the heart. And the light of Jesus Christ—if it does not convert the listener—plunges him into deeper darkness. As the saying goes, "The same sun that softens the wax hardens the clay."
These four traits of a healthy church apply not only to the church as a whole, but to individual believers, as well. If you want to be a strong and effective believer, you must be a learning Christian, a loving Christian, a worshipping Christian, and an evangelistic Christian.
Jesus said, "If you abide in My Word, you are my disciples" (John 8:31).
May we desire God's Word like a babe thirsts for milk. May we not only learn it and memorize it, but also live it and internalize it. May we be a part of His church today, turning our world upside down.
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The Church in the Word
In this mile-a-minute culture, we don't like to wait for things anymore. We are used to getting things fast and simplified. Unfortunately, it is easy to carry this attitude over to our worship life. If God has something to say, we expect it to be distilled to a 10-second sound-bite. We are still looking for a quick and easy guide to spirituality.
Tragically, many churches have bought into this consumerism thinking. But true spiritual growth is not fast and simple. True spiritual growth takes time—and lots of it.
Getting back to that one thing
Instead of seeking to find a church that is run more like a spiritual supermarket, it is time for us to slow down and consider Jesus' words to the busy, preoccupied Martha: "'Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered, 'you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her'" (Luke 10:41–42).
The Bible gives us some insight into what that one thing is.
- For David, that one thing was fellowship with God and His people (Psalm 27:4).
- For Mary, that one thing was sitting at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:38–42).
- For Paul, that one thing was moving forward spiritually (Philippians 3:13).
In the same way, we should sit at Jesus' feet, fellowship with God and His people, and want to move forward spiritually. If we don't focus on that one thing, we'll end up doing everything and accomplishing nothing!
God has provided His church as the place for this one thing to take place. It is our departure from His original principles that has put the church in the weakened state we find it today. Can you imagine what would happen if the church returned to its first-century roots and started turning the world upside down for Christ? It would have a powerful effect. Like the church after the day of Pentecost, people would be asking, "What does this mean?" and "What shall we do to be saved?" (See Acts 2:1–39.)
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Contemporary Lessons from an Ancient Church
One of the key characteristics of the New Testament church (Acts 2:37–47) is that it was a learning church.Back to Top
A Learning Church Preaches the Word
"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine" (Acts 2:42). God has given me, as a pastor, clear direction as to what I should be doing. Paul wrote to Timothy, "Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:2–4).
They preached with urgency.
In the original Greek, urgency is stressed here: preach the Word with alertness, carefulness, insistence, urgency! Some would say that the preaching of the Word is not enough today. They insist that those with deep psychological wounds must be carefully treated by trained Christian counselors before they can understand and appreciate the promises of Scripture. Yet, we do not find this supported in Scripture.
"He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions. Oh that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!" (Psalm 107:20–21).
"For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. . .But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:21, 23).
They stayed away from aberrant teaching.
A more literal translation of Paul's description to Timothy of those with itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3) would be those who have a craving for novelty, or those who are looking for interesting and spicy bits of information. Sadly, this describes many in the church today. They are willing to accept any teaching—no matter how aberrant—or any experience, no matter how bizarre. Such people use experience as their guide rather than the trusted words of Scripture.
Remember—if it is not in the Word, it is not of the Lord.
We must not be like the people Paul addressed on Mars Hill, who readily believed and embraced anything remotely spiritual: "For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing" (Acts 17:21). Instead, we should heed the words of the prophet Jeremiah: "Thus says the LORD, 'Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls'" (Jeremiah 6:16).
They preached the Word.
They did not preach politics, morality, psychology or social issues. While these subjects can be dealt with, they must be presented in the light of scriptural teaching. When Jesus sent out the disciples, their primary objective was to preach the Word even though they also had the authority to pray for the sick and perform miracles.
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A Learning Church Emphasizes Personal Bible Study
Success or failure in the Christian life depends upon how much of the Word of God you get into your heart and mind on a regular basis, and how obedient you are to it. In the Book of Acts, we read of those who lived in Berea and had the privilege of hearing the great apostle Paul preach. Rather than taking what he said at face value, "They received the message with all readiness and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11).
If the Bereans did this with the apostle Paul, how much more should we do this with our modern so-called apostles and prophets! The apostle John told his fellow believers, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).
Like the Bereans, we need to receive what we hear preached with eagerness, then examine, or scrutinize, the Scriptures daily to see if what we hear is so. If we have a good working knowledge of the Bible, we will be better equipped to identify false teachings and concepts that are contrary to Scripture. The more familiar we are with the real thing, the easier it will be to detect counterfeits.
Getting back to the Bible
If we are missing the right spiritual ingredients, which can only be found in the Bible, then we are bound to be spiritually deficient and malnourished. As a result, we will also become spiritually weak and vulnerable.
By and large, it seems that the art of Bible teaching has been lost in the church, and the art of Bible study has been lost by many individuals. The remedy to this perilous spiritual situation is to follow the example of Israel. They, too, lost the Scriptures and were influenced by pagan cultures around them. Yet, under the reign of King Josiah, they rediscovered the Scriptures in the Temple, and a revival resulted (see 2 Chronicles 34:14–33).
We see the same power of God's Word in Luke 24, where we read the story of the two discouraged disciples traveling on the Emmaus road. Their hearts, which had once burned brightly for Jesus, had cooled down. Their passion had greatly diminished. Yet, Jesus found them and walked along beside them. He then did something that spiritually reignited them: He spoke to them from His Word (Luke 24:27). After their meeting with Jesus, they said to one another, "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?"(Luke 24:32).
"The Bible is alive; it speaks to me.
It has feet; it runs after me.
It has hands; it lays hold of me!"
If we want to turn our world upside down like the early church, we must get back to the principles they lived by. That includes continuing in the apostles' doctrine by being learners of God's Word. May His Word become part and parcel of our lives.
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The Church is a Worshipping Church
The early church was a learning church, a loving church, a worshipping church, and an evangelistic church (see Acts 2:42–47). In this section, we will focus on the aspect of worship.
Created to worship
God created man with an innate desire to worship. In fact, it remains one of the fundamental differences between humans and animals. God did not create that drive in animals. But, as the Bible says, "[God] has...set eternity in the hearts of man" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). This urge causes people everywhere to worship; if they are not worshipping the true God, they are worshipping a god of their own construction. Yet, a true understanding of what worship means illustrates why God alone deserves our worship and devotion.
God is worthy of our worship
The word worship comes from the Old English word "worth-ship," which means "to ascribe worth or value to something or someone." We worship that which is worthy. A god of our own making is not worthy of worship. It will only disappoint. Revelation 5:12 describes the one deserving of our praise and adoration: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" (Revelation 5:12).
In the Bible's original language, a number of words are translated as worship. Here are just two that give greater meaning to the word:
- Shachah: This word means "to bow down, to do homage." It is first used in Genesis 18:2, where Abraham bows down before his three visitors (one of whom he discovered later was the Lord Himself!)
- Proskuneo: This word literally means "to kiss toward." It conveys the idea of showing reverence.
Putting these various meanings together, we see that we worship God because He is holy. In true worship, we bow down and do homage to Him (indicating a reverence and respect for God), and we kiss toward Him (signifying a tenderness and intimacy toward God).
Jesus made it clear that there is both a right way and a wrong way to worship—a true and false worship. The Pharisees, who thought that they were experts in worship, were by and large not even close: "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:8–9).
We should not worship God for what we will get out of it; we should worship God because He is worthy of our worship. A.W. Tozer once said, "Whoever seeks God as a means toward desired ends will not find God. God will not be used."
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What Happens When We Fail to Worship God?
Worship—or the failure to do it properly—affects every aspect of our lives. Romans 1:20–25 points out four steps that lead to spiritual deterioration:
- Failing to glorify God
- Failing to give thanks
- Turning to other gods
- Degenerate living
Failing to glorify God
"Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God" (Romans 1:21a).
This is the basic expression of the root sin of pride, which is at the core of man's fallen state. While this may not seem like a serious sin to you, it is to God. When there is a breakdown here, other problems follow.
It was a failure to glorify God that resulted in idolatry and immoral living for King Belshazzar. The prophet Daniel came to him with this reproof:
"And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of Heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified" (Daniel 5:23).
Scripture continually encourages believers to glorify God. Psalm 29:1–2 (NIV) says, "Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name." Glorifying God with our lives is not something we should take lightly.
Failing to give thanks
"Nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened" (Romans 1:21b).
This step down inevitably follows the first step, for if you do not glorify God as God, you will not give thanks to Him. Many Christian homes have neglected to give thanks at mealtime, thinking of it as unnecessary. But what a wonderful habit and example it can be for your children. Daniel the prophet made a regular habit of giving thanks to God, even after he learned that it could result in his arrest and execution (see Daniel 6:10). Our gratitude toward God should be no less.
Turning to other gods
"Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things" (Romans 1:22–23).
When God is removed from your life, something or someone must take His place. People will often turn to other belief systems to seek to appease a guilt-ridden conscience. They want a religion or belief that will rationalize their lifestyle, which at this point is usually becoming increasingly sinful.
Many cling to the teachings of New Age types of religions, because they basically accommodate their lifestyle. Others embrace evolution, because if God did not create the earth, then they are not accountable to Him. But the biblical account of creation and the theory of evolution are not compatible. All those who direct their innate desire to worship toward something or someone other than the Creator Himself will ultimately be disappointed.
"And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:28–32).
Failing to glorify God and give thanks not only leads to idolatry, but to degenerate living. It begins with unthankfulness and indifference and results in the lowering of our standards. This radical downward trend begins in the realm of our thinking. So you can really trace our problems in our personal lives, society, and our country to a failure to worship the true God.
We have pushed God out of the classroom and the courtroom. We have pushed aside His standards that He has given as protection and have rewritten our own history. Now our country is reaping the inevitable results: the family is under increasing attack, we have a failing education system, rampant violent crime fills our streets, and sexual perversion is being flaunted and pushed upon us. Such is the peril of failing to worship God.
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The Right Way to Worship
The tender and touching story of Mary of Bethany in John 12:1–8 demonstrates the right way to worship God. Martha, predictably, was working, and Mary was worshipping. Mary wanted to give to Jesus something that was valuable, precious, and special. So, with complete abandon, she broke a bottle of extremely expensive perfume and wiped the feet of Jesus. The perfume was worth an entire year's salary—that's quite a gift!
Still, it wasn't the value of the gift that was significant. She could have made a bold announcement, "This perfume is worth a year's salary!" She could have even said that it was worth more to impress the others. This was the sin of Ananias and Sapphira—pretending to be something they were not (see Acts 5:1–11). Instead, with complete abandon, she broke it as though it were nothing. She knew that, compared to Jesus, it was worth nothing. That is how our worship should be.
True worship will cost us.
When King David bought the field from Oman, he said, "No, but I will surely buy it for the full price, for I will not take what is yours for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings with that which costs me nothing" (1 Chronicles 21:24).
Interestingly, in John 12:4–6, Judas protests Mary's worship, saying the money she spent on the perfume should have been given to the poor. On the surface, it looked as though Judas was the true worshipper and Mary was the wasteful one. But things were not as they seemed. Jesus looked at Mary's heart.
Like Mary, we must all be worshippers of God. We should do it because God is worthy. We should do it with reverence and intimacy, giving our all, for it was for this reason God created us: "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created" (Revelation 4:11 KJV).
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The Worshipping Church
What is God seeking in this world?
Jesus said that He had come "to seek and to save that which was lost," namely us in our lost state of sin (Luke 19:10). But God is also seeking something else: true worshippers.
Jesus gives us insight into this important aspect of the Christian life when He talked with the Samaritan woman at the well.
"'Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.' Jesus said to her, 'Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth'" (John 4:20–24).
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What Is True Worship?
True worship is not merely the singing of songs to God, but it is the living of our lives in a way that pleases God. In fact, our singing and prayers are but the outward manifestations of a life lived daily for the glory of God.
Hebrews 13:15–16 gives us a good overview of the kind of worship that God desires: "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased"
True worship includes:
- The "sacrifice of praise to God" (or the fruit of our lips)
- Doing good and sharing
True worship is not just the singing of our songs, but also the sharing of our resources. It is not just the lifting of our hands in praise, but also the giving from our hands to others.Back to Top
The Fruit of Our Lips Is an Act of True Worship
Our sacrifice of praise to God is something that is unique and special to the church alone. No other religion sings like the Christian faith.
"He has put a new song in my mouth—praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord" (Psalm 40:3).
"God inhabits the praises of His people" (Psalm 22:3).
When an unbeliever comes into a Spirit-empowered, biblically grounded worship service, it can dramatically impact his life. He will be spiritually touched by seeing and hearing God's people in loving communion with their Lord.
The apostles Paul and Silas sang worship songs at midnight while in prison (see Acts 16:16–40). "But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16:25).
Instead of groans, songs issued from their mouths. Instead of cursing the men who had arrested them, they blessed God. Instead of complaining or calling on God to judge those who had inflicted their pain, Paul and Silas worshipped!
The other prisoners listened because they knew that whatever was making Paul and Silas sing in their terrible condition had to be real. Certainly the jailer was listening, as he later asked them, "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30).
When you are in pain, the midnight hour may not feel like the best time for a worship service. Nevertheless:"God my Maker. . .gives songs in the night" (Job 35:10).
"The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me—a prayer to the God of my life" (Psalm 42:8).
In his sermon, Songs in the Night, C.H. Spurgeon said: "Any fool can sing in the day. . .It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is he who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by. . .Songs in the night come only from God; they are not in the power of men."
Worship in song can be a powerful tool for evangelism. Nonbelievers will sense the presence of God and see that the relationship the worshippers have with God is genuine. This, in turn, helps to prepare their heart for the message to follow from the Word of God.
Worship is a part of our prayer.
A unique, spiritual dynamic takes place when we exalt the Lord and remind ourselves—as well as the enemy—of His power and goodness to us. We see this dynamic of worship in spiritual battle when David sang for King Saul. Whenever an evil spirit tormented King Saul, he called for David, who played his harp and worshipped the Lord. David's anointed music caused the spirit to leave Saul for a time. As David worshipped God, his songs of praise and adoration had an impact on the forces of darkness.
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The Giving of Our Money Is an Act of True Worship
Paul thanked the believers in Philippi for the gift they sent to him "Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God" (Philippians 4:18).
Martin Luther astutely observed, "There are three conversions necessary; the conversion of the heart, a conversion of the mind, and a conversion of the wallet." The way we live, serve, give, and sing are all part of our overall worship of God.Back to Top
The Giving of Our Time and Service Is an Act of True Worship
The usher who helped you find your seat, the Sunday School teacher who is looking after and teaching your precious children, that counselor who prays with you, the attendant who helps you get in and out of the parking lot—they are all worshipping God with their service.Back to Top
The Fundamentals of True Worship
This is how Jesus described the fundamental elements of true worship: "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24.)
Worship in spirit
You can be completely orthodox in your beliefs, yet fail to express your praise toward a God this wonderful. Yes, our worship of God should be based upon truth, and it should engage the mind and intellect. Yet, worship also engages the affections, the heart, and the emotions. That does not mean that worship will always be an emotional experience.
Think about it: people express their emotions at weddings, football and baseball games, and political rallies. But if they do it at church, they are branded as fanatics! Yet, the Bible encourages us to openly express our praise to God.
"Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name" (Psalm 63:3–4).
Worship in truth
Bible study and worship go hand in hand. When the two are separated, problems begin.
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Colossians 3:16).
Worshipping in truth means that we will avoid that which is unbiblical. If we cannot say, like Peter, "This is that which is spoken of," we should not engage in it. We should worship the God of Scripture, the God of holiness, righteousness, love and mercy—not a God of our own making.
God is looking for true worshippers today—
- True worshippers who will worship God not necessarily because they feel like it, but because God is more than worthy.
- True worshippers who will sing their songs in the night.
- True worshippers who will worship in song, service and giving.
- True worshippers who will worship in spirit and in truth.
May we be those true worshippers today!
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The Loving Church
At a time when our society seems to be more disjointed and divided than ever, people are looking for a place to belong.
Jesus gives us insight into this important aspect of the Christian life when He talked with the Samaritan woman at the well. The church should be
- A community where they feel safe
- A family they can belong to
- A place to genuinely love and be loved
What they are looking for can be found in the church.
No, the church is not perfect, and we certainly have our flaws, however there is nothing like it in the world. It is the only organization Jesus ever started—and it is still going strong.
Nothing prevails against it.
History tells us that the emperor Diocletian set up a stone pillar on which was inscribed these words: "For Having Exterminated the Name 'Christian' from the Earth."
Needless to say, the emperor failed miserably in his attempt to eradicate that which Jesus established and maintains—His beloved church. Jesus Himself promised that "the gates of Hades will not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
Its fellowship is unique.
One of the distinguishing traits of the early church was its love for one another. The believers looked out for each another.
"Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart" (Acts 2:44–46).
The Greek word used in the original text is koinonia. It can be translated as "fellowship, communion, distribution, contribution, partnership, and partakership." By having all things in common, the church was implementing this principle. Though a communal situation was initially established, it was soon done away with. Still, the koinonia principle behind it remains: it simply means that God's people take care of one another.
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Believers Are Called Out and Called Together
We are called out.
God has a unique plan and place for His church in this world. Paul tells us in Romans that we as Christians are "The called of Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:6). What does this mean? The Greek word for church is ekklesia, which comes from the verb meaning "to call out." So, this verse means that God's people have essentially been called out of the world system that is hostile to God.
Jesus, speaking of His followers, said, "They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world" (John 17:16).
That does not mean that we are to isolate ourselves from this world, for Jesus also told us that we are to "let our lights so shine before men" (Matthew 5:16).
We are simply not to love it.
"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15–17).
We are called together.
As God's people, we are not only called out; we are also called together. Remember, Acts 2:44 says, "All who believed were together."
- They worshipped and prayed together.
- They studied the Scriptures together.
- They ate together.
- They gave their tithes and offerings together.
- They shared the gospel together.
Compare this description with what we find among churchgoers in this age. The New Testament church knew nothing of the trend among many today, where people shop for a church as though they were looking for a supermarket. They embark on a quest to become more spiritual, wanting nothing to do with anyone else.
This problem arises when we think of ourselves as consumers instead of as a congregation. The minute we feel a bit uncomfortable or challenged, we leave. Yet, a pastor is to both comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
The Bible compares the church and our involvement in it to being in a family. It also compares being part of the church to being a part of the body. A hand cannot exist without the rest of the body to support it. God has commanded each of us to be a functioning, vital part of the church:
"Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work" (Ephesians 4:15–16).
Everybody has a part to play, a job to do, a need to serve.
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The Church Should Be Characterized By Love
Jesus said, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
What does this type of love entail? Scripture gives us the answer.
The most comprehensive description of love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7. Paul shines love through a prism, and we see 15 of its colors and hues. Each ray gives a different facet of what is called agape love. The passage does not focus so much upon what love is, but upon what love does and does not do.
Agape love is active, not abstract or passive. It does not simply feel patient. It is patient! It practices patience. It does not simply have kind feelings. It does kind things.
Love is fully love only when it acts!
Scripture tells us, "My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18).
The purpose of Paul's prism in 1 Corinthians 13 is not to give a technical analysis of love, but to break it down into bite-size pieces so that we may more easily understand it and apply it in a practical way.
There is only one person whose name could be substituted for love in these verses: Jesus. In essence, this passage is a portrait of the Savior. At the same time, the goal of the Christian is to be "conformed into the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29). Thus, our goal should be to demonstrate this kind of love one to another.
Love is patient.
The word patient literally means "long-tempered." This word is common in the New Testament, and it is used almost exclusively in being patient with people (rather than circumstances or events).
Love-patience is the ability to be inconvenienced or taken advantage of by a person over and over again. Steven's last words were those of patient forgiveness: "Lord, do not charge them with this sin"(Acts 7:60). As he lay dying, his concern was for his murderers rather than for himself.
This is the love that Jesus speaks of that turns the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). Its primary concern is for the welfare of others, not itself.
"Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3–4).
How different this is from the secular thinking of our day, where everyone wants their rights. The slogan of the day is, "What about my needs?" We don't forgive. We get revenge. We sue. But the love we are to have for others is the direct opposite of that.
Love is kind.
Just as patience will take anything from others, kindness will give anything to others. To be kind means to be useful, serving, and gracious. It is active goodwill. It not only feels generous; it is generous. It not only desires others' welfare; it works for it. God is our supreme model in this:
"Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience? Not knowing that the kindness (goodness) of God leads you to repentance?" (Romans 2:4).
Love does not envy.
This is the first of eight negative descriptions—what love is not. There are two kinds of envy:
- We want what someone else has. If they have a better car, house, job, or even wife or husband, we secretly wish that we had the same.
- We wish that someone else didn't have what they had. This is more than just selfishness; it is desiring evil for someone else. There will always be someone out there doing better than you. You can either live with it and be content with such things that you have, or you can be eaten up with envy.
"But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there" (James 3:14–16).
Love does not parade itself.
In other words, love does not brag or parade its accomplishments. Bragging is the other side of envy. Envy is wanting what someone else has; bragging is trying to make others envy what we have. Love does not remind a person of the great sacrifice you have made for them.
Love does not behave rudely.
True love has good manners. That is something that is largely lost today. But love cares about others and is mannerly.
Love does not seek its own.
This speaks of that aspect of fallen nature where we always want to have our way. The world should revolve around us, we think.
Love is not provoked.
To provoke means "to arouse anger, a convulsion or sudden outburst." Love guards against being irritated, upset, or angered by things said or done against it. Ephesians 4:26 reminds us, "Do not let the sun go down on your wrath."
Love believes all things.
In other words, love believes the best of every person. It is not suspicious or cynical. If a loved one is accused of something wrong, love will consider him or her innocent until proven guilty. You will stick up for them!
Love endures all things.
It refuses to give up, surrender, stop believing or hoping. Love will simply not stop loving.
May God help us to be loving Christians, and may this be a loving church.
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The Giving Church
Money is the main subject in nearly half the parables Jesus told. In addition, one out of every seven verses in the New Testament deals with the topic.
Money and the believer
The Bible certainly has a lot to say about the believer and his money. While Scripture offers about 500 verses on prayer, and fewer than 500 on faith, there are more than 2,000 verses on money! Perhaps that is why the early church placed such a high priority on giving. In Acts 2:45 we read that they "sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need."
The early church looked out for one another and invested financially in what God was doing. Unfortunately, the concept of giving today has become somewhat distorted. On the one hand, we have those who tell us that we must take faith vows and send in our "seed money" so that God may prosper us. On the other hand, we have those who see no need to regularly give of their resources to God.
Yet, this aspect of our lives tells a great deal about our spirituality. You can tell a lot about a person by taking a tour of his checkbook. It reveals that individual's real value system. Jesus Himself said,
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:21).
It is sometimes said that we should give until it hurts. But Jesus teaches that it should hurt when we cease to give.
Giving: A real test of faithfulness
Jesus said, "So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own" (Luke 16:11–12).
To God, the faithful giver is one who understands that he is not the owner, but the steward of his resources. Martin Luther once said that three conversions are necessary: the conversion of the heart, the mind, and the purse (or wallet).
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Biblical Principles of Giving
The apostle Paul clearly sets forth the biblical principles of giving in 2 Corinthians 9:6–11.
Our motive in giving is important.
"So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7).
The word for cheerful in this verse could also be translated "hilarious." We should give hilariously, joyfully, not out of mere duty or guilt. As Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).
As we give, God will give to us.
"God is able to make it up to you by giving you everything you need and more, so that there will not only be enough for your own needs, but plenty left over to give joyfully to others. God . . . will give you more seed to plant and will make it grow so that you give away more and more fruit from your harvest" (2 Corinthians 9:8,10 TLB).
God promises that if we have the right attitude and are generous, He will bless us. In reality, if our financial condition is bad, it could be because, in a sense, we have reaped what we have sown (we've sown little, we've reaped little).
"With what confidence can we ask the Lord for more substance if we have not honored Him with the substance we've already been given? What we withhold, withers, but what we scatter, gathers. What we lay aside spoils, but what we release, returns. If we fulfill another's needs, God will fill our needs!" —J.H. Pickford
"Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:38 NIV).
"Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the first fruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine" (Proverbs 3:9–10).
"And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).
Let us not misunderstand this great truth. Some people think that they can ask or claim anything their greedy little hearts may desire. Philippians 4:19 does not say that God will supply all your "greeds" or even your "wants" or "desires." That is because God knows that for some, too much materially could hurt them spiritually.
A writer of proverbs insightfully describes the relationship of our material status to our walk with the Lord: "Give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with the food you prescribed for me, lest I deny you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of the Lord" (Proverbs 30:8–9).
Our giving should be sacrificial.
The context of this familiar promise of God supplying our need in Philippians is significant. At the time Paul penned those words, the Philippian believers had just helped Paul in his hour of need. They believed that love should not just be in word, but also in deed. So, they had given Paul a financially sacrificial gift. As a result, they had a need. Their need was not created by bad stewardship or an unwillingness to work, nor by extravagance or foolish spending. Instead, it came from a heartfelt desire to assist a fellow brother in Christ in his work for the Lord.
Because their hearts were right, Paul assured them—and all believers—that God would indeed supply their needs. God would not be their debtor.
Some may say, "I can't afford to give!" In reality, you can't afford not to give. David said that he would not give to the Lord that which cost him nothing (2 Samuel 24:24).
Our giving should be generous.
Generosity is not measured by the size of the gift itself, but by its size in comparison to what is possessed.
The widow who gave two mites to the temple treasury gave more than the many rich people who gave large sums because, as Jesus said, "They put in out of their surplus, but one, out of her poverty, put in all she owned" (Mark 12:44).
Some might say, "If I had a million dollars, I would give more to the Lord." But that is not necessarily true. It is all relative. The person who has a million could easily say, "If I just had ten million. . ."
Are you being faithful with what God has given you?
The question God would have for us is this: What are you doing with what I have given to you? Are you being faithful with that?
God promises to meet our needs, but that does not mean that we can strike a bargain with God, in which as we give to God, He must give back to us in a multiplied way. That would be giving to get. God will not honor that type of giving because it comes from an impure motive.
Instead, we should give because God has so graciously and generously given to us. As Christians, we have received the gift of forgiveness and the hope of eternal life. Others may have also received the healing of a marriage or the mending of a home. And you have received it from the Lord free of charge. We should give because we have received.
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The Right and Wrong Ways to Give to God
Matthew 6:1–4 tells us that there are a number of ways that our giving to God can be wrong:
- We can not give at all—or give sporadically, at best—and disobey God, missing many of His special blessings in our lives.
- We can give, but have the wrong motives.
The wrong way to give
"When you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly I say to you, they have their reward" (Matthew 6:2).
The word reward in this verse means "paid in full and receipted." In other words, if you give of your money or of your time or do something in such a way as to draw attention to yourself, you are giving with a wrong motive. You have already received your reward, and "you have no reward from your Father in Heaven" (Matthew 6:1).
The right way to give
God wants us to give with the right motive. Jesus explains,
"But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly" (Matthew 6:3–4).
In that culture, the right hand was considered the primary hand of action. In a normal day, many things would be done with the right hand that would not involve the left. The idea here is to do our giving quietly, not proclaiming it, announcing it, or bragging about it.
We should also give in secret—no matter what kind of gift it is. Whether you give of your finances, in faithful prayer, or by serving in Sunday school or some unknown region in the mission field, it should be done unpretentiously, with no thought of recognition or appreciation. Then, "your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly" (Matthew 6:4).
It comes down to this: if we remember, God will forget; but if we forget, God will remember. We need to leave the bookkeeping to God, realizing that we have only done that which we ought to have done.
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Our Giving Reveals Our True Priorities
In the Old Testament, the prophet Haggai addressed the needs of the people as they lamented that no matter how much they made, it was never enough. God then revealed to them that their real problem is not material but spiritual. They had experienced a spiritual breakdown. While they had plenty of money for their own needs, they had nothing left for the work of God and the maintenance of His temple.
God reproved the people for thinking only about themselves and not about His work or the needs of others. "You eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes" (Haggai 1:6).
God goes on to tell these people, "What you brought home, I blew away. Why? Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house" (Haggai 1:9). The people's improper priorities, their selfishness, and their failure to seek to please God caused their lives to be out of balance, frustrating and unfulfilling.
The joy of giving is an outgrowth of a life that is right with God.
We need to discover the joy of giving—sacrificially, hilariously, regularly, and quietly. Remember, God is not asking us to give because He needs our resources. The whole world is at His disposal! In essence, He is challenging us to make Him the focus of our love, rather than our money and possessions. Then, as we express our love to God by freely giving him a portion of our resources, He will tangibly display His faithfulness to us in return.
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What Is Giving?
We would like to think that our money belongs to us, and that we can pretty much do with it as we please. Yet, Scripture reminds us that it is God who has given us the ability to produce wealth:
"But remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth" (Deut. 8:18).
The Lord can and may bless you with riches. That does not mean that you have to be a millionaire. Being rich is somewhat relative—especially if you compare your wealth with a good portion of humanity in the rest of the world.
"Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share" (1 Timothy 6:17–18).
If God does bless you materially, the Bible says that He requires three things of you:
Do not be arrogant or place your ultimate hope in wealth.
Your wealth will soon be gone. You can't take it with you after you die!
Use your money for good.
You are not an owner, but a steward of your money. For that reason, you should do good with what God has given you. Along these lines, Paul told the believers in Philippi that their financial gift to him would result in a reward for them, "fruit that abounds to [their] account" (Philippians 4:17). Then he went on to promise "God shall supply all your need" (Philippians 4:19). From this we see that when you invest your money into the work of the kingdom of God, you are actually laying up for yourselves treasure in Heaven (see Matthew 6:19–21).
Enjoy what God has given you.
God richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. We should not feel guilty about the blessings God has given us.
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Principles for Giving
The apostle Paul was not afraid to talk about the giving of money. Although he never over-emphasized it, he never neglected its importance. In 1 Corinthians 16:1–3, he details some important principles regarding the subject.
Giving is a universal practice.
"Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches in Galatia, so you must do also" (1 Corinthians 16:1).
This was not just something that the Corinthians had to do. Everywhere Paul went, wherever he founded a church, he taught them to give, because giving is an essential part of the Christian life. We need to freely give as we have freely received. After all, He has freely given us His unconditional pardon and the transformation of our lives and families—things we would never have been able to buy with any amount of money.
Giving should be done regularly.
"On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside . . ." (1 Corinthians 16:2). This is one of the first indications we have in the epistles that the Christians had begun to gather regularly to worship, to pray, and to give on the first day of the week, Sunday. We see that this was done on a consistent basis.
Giving is a personal act.
"Let each one of you lay something aside" (1 Corinthians 16:2). He does not leave anyone out. Even children should be taught to give. It may be only a few pennies, a nickel, or a dime, but they should be taught the importance of giving at an early age.
We should be prepared to give.
"Lay something aside and store it up" (1 Corinthians 16:2). We should set aside money for the work of the kingdom out of every paycheck. Some may say, "But that is legalism!" Is it legalistic to say a prayer of thanks over a meal? Is it legalistic to set Sunday apart as the Lord's Day, in which you will go with your family to church? Is it legalistic to discipline yourself to read your Bible on a regular basis? That's not legalism. That's good planning, obedience, and wise stewardship. It represents a life that has been dedicated to God.
God will meet your needs and prosper you as you give.
"God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8). God will give you more seed to plant and will make it grow so that you give away more and more fruit from your harvest. (2 Corinthians 9:10).
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God's Promise to Those Who Give
God promises to bless and provide for the faithful giver. In fact, God makes a dramatic promise if we obey His command to give in Malachi 3:8–11.
This passage contains several key points:
- If we fail to bring our tithes and offerings to God, we are actually robbing Him (Malachi 3:8). This reminds us again that giving is not an option in the believer's life.
- God makes a distinction between tithes and offerings. The word tithe actually means "one-tenth." In the Old Testament, we read of several instances where a tithe was given: Abraham presented a tithe to the priest-king of Jerusalem, Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18–20); and Jacob pledged to offer God a tithe of all of his possessions (Genesis 28:22). In the New Testament, Jesus mentioned it as well, though He warned that strict tithing must accompany concern for the more important demands of the law—namely those that dealt with just and merciful living (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42).
Israel practiced both required giving and freewill offering. Within the required giving, three tithes were specified:
- First was the Lord's tithe;
- Second was the festival tithe;
- Third was the poor tithe, collected every third year for the needy.
Israel's practice of tithing (not even including freewill offerings) totaled between 20% and 25%. At that time, the Israelites' government and religious life were closely intertwined. Today, we are all taxed heavily by our government, and Scripture teaches that we should obey the laws of the land, including the giving of taxes. But our giving to the Lord is a separate matter.
Should we still tithe today?
While we are no longer under the law, as we live under the new covenant in Christ, that does not mean that we disregard Old Testament law. Instead of doing it out of mere duty and fear, we now do it out of love. We as Christians should give a minimum of 10% to the Lord (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42). The tithe should go to the church you attend. The tithe for Old Testament believers went to the maintenance of the Temple. The tithe for New Testament believers should go to the maintenance of the church.
God makes an incredible promise to those who obey. He actually challenges you to test Him in this area:
"'Try Me now in this' says the LORD of hosts, 'If I will not open for you the windows of Heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field'" (Malachi 3:10–11).
This challenge is for us today, to give our tithes and offerings to the Lord and see if God is as good as His Word. He is—and you will see that for yourself.
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The Evangelistic Church
Are we making a difference?
The first-century church did not leave their world the same way they found it. This group of committed, Spirit-empowered followers of Jesus made a difference. They turned the world upside down for the sake of Jesus Christ (Acts 17:6).
How different that is from the church today. We are well into a new century, our numbers have never been greater, our opportunities are unparalleled, we have the greatest technology available to reach more people than ever before. Yet we have become increasingly distracted from the commission the Lord left with us: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel" (Mark 16:15).
- While the world is going to Hell in a hand basket, we are having holy laughter.
- While people desperately need others to tell them about the hope of Christ, we are lamenting about how dysfunctional we are and how much we suffer from lack of self-esteem.
- Instead of spending our valuable time preaching the gospel, we argue about whether or not a person has been predestined to eternal life.
The distraction factor
The devil has always had his counterfeits and distractions for the church. Remember, Satan is a master-counterfeiter (2 Corinthians 11:14–15). Not only does he flood the market with these distracting issues, but he clouds the water with cheap imitations of the real thing.
For instance, what some are now hailing as a revival involves receiving some sort of blessing that is characterized by falling on the floor, laughing, and making animal noises. Yet, if it is truly a revival, where is the repentance (see James 4:8–10)? And, most importantly, where is the evangelism?
Still other churches seem fired up for social action. They are eager to participate in the latest boycott or protest, but they seem far less eager to preach the gospel message. While these activities may have a place, they only have a limited effect, at best. And Jesus never tells us to make these things a priority.
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A God-Given Opportunity
The Book of Revelation gives a brief description of the church in the last days. The second and third chapters describe seven different churches, portraying both their strengths and weaknesses. This is Jesus' message to the church of Philadelphia:
"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, 'These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens: "I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name"'" (Revelation 3:7–8).
"He who opens"
In the phrase, "He who opens and no man shuts," the word opens signifies that God is opening the door of opportunity, with the key being the symbol of His authority.
Paul spoke of this when he wrote, "When I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel,. . .a door was opened to me by the Lord" (2 Corinthians 2:12).
Jesus is essentially telling the church of the last days that He is going to open doors for us as never before. Certainly that is the case today. Just look at the opening of doors for missionaries to formerly closed countries, the increased use of computer and video technology to reach people around the globe, and other new opportunities.
"A little strength"
This alludes to a sick person coming back to life. In other words, this particular church is getting back to the strength it once had in its early roots and regaining its health. It is not some super church taking dominion over the world. Likewise, there is hope and opportunity for the church today if we regain our spiritual health and vitality by returning to the basic essentials needed for a dynamic church.
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Remembering the Three-Fold Purpose of the Church
Scripture lays out three primary purposes for the church:
The exaltation of God
God has called us to live "for the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:12). We are here on this earth to glorify and know the God who created us.
"But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
The edification of the saints
Paul explains that his own goal was not merely to evangelize, but to "present every man perfect in Christ Jesus" (Colossians 1:28).
"He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God's people to do this work and build up the church, the body of Christ, until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ. Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth. Instead, we will hold to the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ" (Ephesians 4:11–15 NLT).
The evangelization of the world
This is the natural outgrowth of the first two purposes, and Jesus specifically addresses it. In what has been called the Great Commission, Jesus says, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15).
Jesus said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19–20).
Our country is in such dire spiritual and moral shape that our only hope is the message of the gospel. There will be no moral awakening in our country apart from a work of God. For that reason, we must preach the gospel and pray for revival.
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Evangelism Begins with You
When the subject of sharing our faith comes up, we often come up with a long list of excuses for why we cannot do it. A recent survey among Christians revealed that 95% of those surveyed had never led another person to Jesus Christ.
Why are so many of us reluctant to share our faith? The reason many of us rarely share our faith is because we do not want to. And the reason we do not want to is because (if we are completely honest) we do not care.
We hear so much about the need for evangelism. We have sermons on how to do it and programs designed to mobilize the church in this area. Yet, all this is of no consequence if we are lacking one simple basic: a burden and concern for the lost.
The famous preacher C.H. Spurgeon said, "The Holy Spirit will move them by first moving you. If you can rest without their being saved, they will rest, too. But if you are filled with an agony for them, if you cannot bear that they should be lost, you will soon find that they are uneasy, too. I hope you will get into such a state that you will dream about your child or your hearer perishing for lack of Christ, and start up at once and begin to cry, 'O God, give me converts, or I die.' Then you will have converts."Back to Top
A Compelling Compassion
We should not share our faith with others out of obligation, duty, or guilt, but out of a God-given burden for their lives.
Compassion motivated Jesus.
"But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest'" (Matthew 9:36–38).
Everywhere Jesus went, He was surrounded by people. Many wanted something from Him: a healing, a resurrection, or a deliverance. But Jesus saw their deepest need. He saw them as sheep without a shepherd, going astray, and He had compassion.
- When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, He could have lectured her on the evils of immorality. Instead, He looked beyond her sin and saw her spiritual emptiness, and appealed to her longing for God (John 4:7–30).
- When Jesus saw Zacchaeus, He could have rebuked him for his greed and theft. But Jesus said that He had come "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). And separating the sin from the sinner, He met with this short, despised tax collector and led him to a saving knowledge of Christ (Luke 19:1–10).
- When Jesus saw Mary and her friends weeping over the death of her brother Lazarus, "He groaned in the spirit and was troubled" (John 11:33). While He knew that He would bring Lazarus back to life, He was still seized with grief when He saw the pain that death brought upon this loving family.
- When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, His concern was not for Himself, but for His disciples. He told the soldiers, "If you seek me, let these men go" (John 18:8).
- Even while on the cross, Jesus showed concern for the welfare of His mother, telling John to take care of her (John 19:26–27), and He prayed for the forgiveness of His persecutors (Luke 23:34).
Obviously, Jesus cares about people. Likewise, if we are going to be used of God in any capacity to win others to Him, we too must care.
Compassion moved Paul.
"I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race" (Romans 9:2–3).
Paul cared for his kinsmen so much that he was willing to go to Hell (if necessary) so that others could go to Heaven. No wonder he had such a powerful and effective ministry!
Evangelism is the responsibility of every Christian.
Evangelism is not just for preachers and evangelists. In the Old Testament, Nehemiah was not a priest or prophet, but he was genuinely touched with the needs of the lost. While in Babylonian captivity and serving as the king's cupbearer, he learns that the walls of Jerusalem lie in ruins. Realizing that the walls were but a symbol of a people who once stood with God, separated from the pagan nations around them, Nehemiah wept. Then, he realized that as a layman, he could make a difference by working to rebuild the walls. Then he prayed for God to guide and help him in this endeavor. And God did, providing him with fellow laborers for the project.
God wants you to be a laborer in the harvest!
- The spectators are many
- The complainers are many
- The compromisers are many
- The fair weather followers are many
- But the laborers are few
If you ask the Lord to stir your heart and to give you a burden for those who are like sheep without a shepherd, you will not be disappointed. He may call you to cross the sea as a missionary—or perhaps just cross the street! So the next time you pray for God to send out laborers in the harvest, don't forget to include yourself in that prayer.
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How to Lead Others to Christ
One day a lady criticized the great 19th-century evangelist D.L. Moody for his methods of evangelism in attempting to win people to the Lord. Moody answered, "I agree with you. I don't like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?" The lady replied, "I don't do it." Moody then said, "Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it!"
Do we really believe what we claim to believe? Do we really believe that there is a Heaven and a Hell? Do we really believe that the wages of sin is death? If we believe that, how can we be so casual about telling others of Jesus Christ? Once you pray for a God-given burden for those who do not know Christ, I believe you are more than halfway there in leading others to the Lord.
- You do not need to be a theologian to share your faith. . .though you need to study and know your Bible.
- You do not have to know the answer to every possible question. . .though you can find them once you are asked.
- You do not need to be a master communicator. . .but you will grow more effective as time goes by.
You simply need to be willing and available!
Remember the story of the woman at the well? Once she realized that Jesus was the Messiah, "The woman left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, 'Come, see a man who told me all things I ever did. Could this be the Christ?' Then they went out of the city and came to Him" (John 4:28–30).
Through that woman's simple testimony, many Samaritans came to the Lord that day (John 4:39).
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Basic Principles for Sharing Your Faith
Next to personally knowing Jesus and walking with Him, I know of no greater blessing or privilege than actually leading someone to Jesus Christ.
God used Philip to lead others to Jesus with two forms of evangelism. In the early part of Acts 8, Philip is engaged in what you might call mass evangelism. Later, we see him doing personal evangelism, as he talks one-on-one with the Ethiopian.
God uses both forms of evangelism in getting out the gospel. Interestingly, surveys have shown that 85% of those who come forward at a crusade have been brought by a friend. In a sense, it is one-on-one evangelism using an event to expose someone to Christ.
Acts 8:26–40 lays out several important principles you should follow in witnessing to others.
Principle 1: Have a God-given burden and compassion for the lost.
We never know when we start the day whether the Lord has plans for us to share His gospel with a whole roomful of people—such as a group of friends or family—or just one individual. But our witness will be empty if we have no compassion for the people we are sharing with. With that in mind, here are four essential truths about people that you must understand:
- Every life without Christ has a basic emptiness.
- Every individual experiences loneliness.
- Everyone has a sense of guilt.
- There is a universal fear of death.
Some people may appear to have it all together, but no matter how much money, possessions, sex, or power they have, they still have a basic emptiness. Everyone longs for inner security and peace—and nothing outside of Christ can fill that need. As you recognize the fullness that a life in Christ offers, and you understand these basic facts about people in general, you will have a greater desire to share the hope that is within you.
Principle 2: Go to Those Who Need Christ.
This probably explains why Philip, though forced to leave the city he knew as home, still preached the message of Christ wherever he went—even if it meant preaching to a group of people he had previously been taught to hate. In this case, he went to Samaria (Acts 8:4–5).
As a Jew, he would have been raised with a natural prejudice against the Samaritans. Yet, Philip was simply following the lead of his Lord, Jesus, who had planted the first seed in Samaria through His conversation with the woman at the well.
The apostle Paul reminds us of the mysterious work of conversion through sowing and reaping: "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but God, who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor" (1 Corinthians 3:6–8).
This passage illustrates that God often uses a number of Christians to reach someone for Christ. Consider the story of the four men who brought their crippled friend to Jesus for healing (Mark 2:3–12). The four of them, working in harmony, were able to bring that man to the Lord.
Principle 3: Be open and available to the leading of God's Holy Spirit.
Philip was told where to go. He heard the leading of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:26). This can make all the difference in sharing one's faith.
What does God's Spirit say to us today? Remember Paul's words to Timothy, "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season" (2 Timothy 4:2). We need to be listening to the Lord. As Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). It may come in the form of an impression, or a sense of burden for an individual. But you must take it as a possible leading from the Lord Himself.
Principle 4: Be obedient to God's leading.
We read that Philip "arose and went" (Acts 8:27). He was obedient to the Lord's calling. God told another individual to get up and go—and he got up and went the opposite direction! His name was Jonah, and after a little gentle persuasion from the Lord, he saw it God's way. God then used him to lead the greatest revival in human history (See the Book of Jonah).
Philip could have easily questioned the logic of such a decision. After all, he was in the midst of a full-scale revival in Samaria, with many coming to faith, miracles happening, and people being delivered from demons. He could have argued with the angel, "What? Leave this mighty work in Samaria to go to the desert? I'm 80 miles from where you want me to go. The apostles and other believers are at least 30 miles closer. Why don't you just use one of them?"
But Philip did not argue. He obeyed—even if he did not completely understand why God was having him do this. And God knew that Philip was the right man for the job. God had uniquely prepared both Philip and his subject for this very moment.
God has uniquely prepared you, as well. But if you do not seize the moment, He will find another to take your place. In the story of Queen Esther, Esther's cousin Mordecai understood this aspect of God's work on earth, and he told Esther, "If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. What's more, who can say but that you have been elevated to the palace for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14).
When God tells you to go and do something, He sees the big picture, while we are limited to the small one. God does not usually give us a detailed blueprint, but instead leads us one step at a time. If you are unwilling to take the first step, don't expect Him to give you the second!
Interestingly, God decided to move Philip out of a great revival to reach one single man. This shows that God is keenly interested in individuals. As in the parable of the lost sheep, He is willing to leave the 99 in search of that one lost lamb (Luke 15:4–7).
Principle 5: Be tactful and clear.
When Philip approached the Ethiopian eunuch, he asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" (Acts 8:30). He does not start out with a statement like, "Are you saved?" or "Do you know that you are going to Hell?" Instead, Philip carries on a dialogue with the man. He speaks, and then he listens.
One of the best ways to share your faith with someone is to listen to that person for awhile. Ask him about his opinions, his situation, his thoughts. Then build from there. That is certainly the model Jesus gave us in His one-on-one encounters with individuals (e.g., the woman at the well in John 4:7–30).
Responding to Philip's tactful statement, this empty man from Ethiopia found Jesus Christ. He asked Philip to guide him, or show him the way.
God wants to use you to show the way to others.
"How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14).
"For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Corinthians 1:21).
This last verse does not say that it pleased God through foolish preaching to save, or it pleased God through Christian entertainment to save those who believe. It says "through the foolishness of the message preached." In other words, God saves people through the simple message of the gospel. In the words of the blind man healed by Jesus, "One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see!" (John 9:25).
An opportunity seized.
In November of 1996, the news media covered the story of a hijacked jet with 163 passengers and 12 crew members that crashed near the Comoros Islands because it ran out of fuel. What we did not read or hear was a dramatic story of what God did in the final moments of that ill-fated flight. There was a man on board named Andrew Meekens, an elder in the International Evangelical Church of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He was on his way to a Bible conference. He was described as a reserved man, yet deeply committed in his faith. According to survivors of the crash, after the pilot announced that he would be attempting an emergency landing, Meekens, seizing the moment, stood up and quickly shared the gospel message with all on board, and invited people to respond. A surviving flight attendant said that about 20 people accepted Christ, including a fellow flight attendant who did not survive the crash.
While the opportunities God gives you to share your faith may not be as dramatic, they are just as significant to the Lord. If you follow these biblical principles for personal evangelism, like Philip from the early church, you will surely see God use you in amazing ways.
Principle #6: We must adapt to the situation
God led Philip to a visiting dignitary from Ethiopia who had actually come to Jerusalem searching for God and was now reading from the Book of Isaiah. You could call it a divine set-up.
Philip assessed the situation by asking the man about his reading material (Acts 8:30). When he found out that the man was reading from Isaiah chapter 53 (a chapter that speaks prophetically of Jesus), he adapted his message accordingly: "Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him" (Acts 8:35).
Philip found some common ground upon which to build his message. The apostle Paul spoke of this in 1 Corinthians:
"I have become a servant of everyone so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with the Jews, I become one of them so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with those who follow the Jewish laws, I do the same, even though I am not subject to the law, so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with the Gentiles who do not have the Jewish law, I fit in with them as much as I can. In this way, I gain their confidence and bring them to Christ. But I do not discard the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are oppressed, I share their oppression so that I might bring them to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring them to Christ. I do all this to spread the Good News, and in doing so I enjoy its blessings" (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NLT).
Fishers of men
Jesus said: "Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19).
A more literal translation of that verse is, "I will make you catch men alive." This Greek verb is used in only one other place in the Bible. In speaking of the unbeliever, Paul says: " . . . that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive (caught alive) to do his will" (2 Timothy 2:26).
In other words, according to these two passages of Scripture, either we can catch men alive, or the devil will catch men alive.
Principle #7: We must find the right bait
Just as experienced fishermen use specific baits and lures to catch certain fish, we need to use different bait as we go fishing to catch men alive in the sea of life. Jesus gives us the perfect example in this regard. Throughout the gospels, He never deals with any two people in exactly the same way.
- To a woman who had spent a lifetime trying to fill a void in her life with failed relationships with men, Jesus spoke of the deepest spiritual thirst (see John 4:5–29).
- To a man of tremendous intellect who was an expert in theology, Jesus spoke in almost childlike terms about the need to be "born again" (see John 3:1–21).
- To a lonely, friendless outcast perched on a tree to simply catch a glimpse of Jesus in the crowd, Jesus offered friendship, calling him down to have a meal together (see Luke 19:1–10).
- To a woman actually caught in the act of adultery, Jesus spoke of mercy (see John 8:3–11).
Like Jesus, we need to recognize the specific needs of individuals as we present the gospel. God is looking for responsible sharpshooters, not haphazard machine gunners.
Billy Graham has said: "Time and time again in my ministry, I have quoted a Bible verse in a sermon—sometimes without planning to do so in advance—and had someone tell me afterward that it was that verse which the Holy Spirit used to bring conviction of faith to him. 'Is not my word like a fire . . . and like a hammer that shatters a rock?'"
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Our Simple Message
God has given us a simple yet profound message to deliver: the gospel. We don't need to candy-coat it, gloss it over, add or subtract anything from it. We must present it as God presents it in His Word.
A technical definition of the word gospel is "good news." Yet, to truly appreciate the good news of God's love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, one must first understand the bad news about sin and judgment.
The bad news is that we all stand as sinners before a Holy God. No matter who we are, we have all sinned—sometimes in ignorance, but often on purpose. For that reason, we are condemned:
"For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10).
Seeing our complete weakness and inability to do anything to alleviate our wretched condition, God did the ultimate for us: "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
Paul gives a summation of the gospel message in 1 Corinthians: "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:1–4 NIV).
The cornerstone of the gospel message is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul was a brilliant orator and communicator. He was thoroughly schooled in biblical law, as well as in the wisdom of Greece. Yet, he never leaned upon his intellect in his preaching. Instead, he stuck to the basics of the gospel message.
"When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1–2).
"For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power" (1 Corinthians 1:17).
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The Power of a Personal Testimony
Another interesting thing about Paul's preaching of the gospel was his use of his personal testimony. When Paul shared the gospel message with powerful government leaders, he would often begin with his personal testimony. Then, he would always key in on what happened when Jesus died on the cross.
We should follow the same pattern. We all have a testimony of how Christ has changed our life. In sharing it with others, however, we should keep from exaggerating or glorifying the past. Instead, we should focus upon what God has done for us.
Your testimony is one way to build a bridge of communication with an unbeliever. And it is an excellent way to return to the source of our hope and power: Christ and the cross. Like Philip, as you follow these essential principles of evangelism, God may use you to lead a searching man or woman to Jesus.Back to Top
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version™. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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