Man is capable of many amazing feats because of the gifts God has given. The work of man can be flashy, impressive, massive, loud, exciting, fun, and crowd-producing. St Peter’s Basilica is a testament to the fact that man can build truly magnificent church buildings. In some of the business meetings I have been able to attend with Kristian, we have heard stories of great entrepreneurship—where, out of nothing, talented and winsome men have built impressive multi-million dollar international companies, providing livelihoods for hundreds of families. And I need only flip on the television in our hotel room to see how people who once were “nobodys” in this world have now acquired great fame and following for themselves.
For some reason, all of these things got me thinking about growing a church. Maybe it is because we had our church retreat right before we left for Italy. In the middle of the whirlwind of our trip, I sat down and opened my Bible to Ephesians 4. I was struck by how God, by His Spirit, builds a church.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
There is no talent, no strategy, no act of man apart from God’s Spirit that can build a church like this! Church “growth” here is attaining unity of faith and knowledge of Jesus, maturing to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, growing up into our head who is Christ, and being built up in love.
There is no mention here of church attendance, or giving amounts, which are usually the measures of growth used in churches today. There is no mention of innovative church programs, charismatic speakers, a particular type of music, or strategic locations. The image here is a unified Body where every part is stewarding his or her gifts and lovingly speaking the truth of the gospel in such a way as the Body grows in maturity that is marked by love. This kind of growth may or may not be in impressive numbers in any particular church, but this is kingdom growth—the kind that will truly transform hearts at home and in the world.
This reminded me that, although man can do so many marvelous things, the truly lasting fruit of this world is only Holy Spirit-wrought. The Bible tells us that much of what we see will fade like the grass. The work of God’s Spirit remains. The work of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control. Spirit work is humble, peace-loving, full of grace that bears with one another in love, and committed to unity in the Spirit. If God’s Spirit is the driving force in a movement or in a work, no matter how massive or tiny, it will look like this. There are many works of men cloaked in pious words...history has shown us that men have done many horrific things in “God’s name” and for “ministry”, all the while mistreating each other, stepping on one another, sacrificing one another, turning a blind eye to injustice, boasting, pursuing selfish gain, ignoring correction, and harming others. But the hallmark fruit of the Spirit is gospel love—love that is pure, enduring, humble, and sacrificial.
If any of these thoughts have stirred your heart too, let me encourage you towards these Scriptures as you process and pray: Ephesians 4; 1 Cor 12-12; Galatians 5.
Oh, Lord, build these kind of churches among us! May we seek to participate in these types of churches—where growth is measured in terms of maturing in you, in the truth of your gospel, and in scandalous gospel love amongst one another!! Where our hearts are motivated by other things, correct us and bring us to repentance. Open our eyes!!! Father, we confess our shortsightedness and arrogance and the harm it has caused to our brother. We confess being dazzled and distracted by the things of this world and all the while missing the marvelous way you have wanted to show us. Help us to seek peace and unity and the good of one another. Where we have used one another, failed to stand up for one another, failed to seek each other out, failed to act justly with one another, or failed to do the hard things of love, please forgive us and help us to seek out those against whom we have sinned. Where we have been damaged, help us to forgive. Help us be healed and restored and help us to be a hand of healing and restoration of others, even when it costs us. Create in us a new heart. Create in us new clean motives. Fill us with your measure of fruitfulness and let us not get distracted by our flesh and by what we see around us. Fill us with your love, the kind of love that will change our lives and this world! Help us to remain steadfast in your truth and love. In Jesus Name, Amen