As I write, September stretches before us and it would seem that the church calendar is pretty full. Children are back to school and our respective ministries within the church have begun. The week of prayer is yet to begin, as well as the Harvest weekend. In the natural world September is a busy month as the harvest is concluded in preparation for winter. Similarly the work of the church can be particularly demanding. It is all too easy to get so busy in the work of the Lord that we forget that it is the work of the Lord, His work and not ours. There is however the equal danger of allowing our faith to be little more than mindless fatalism – it will happen, no matter what we do. That attitude is not Biblical Christianity. In this letter therefore I want to remind ourselves of the Biblical tension of Christian work.
Jesus Himself said, “… I will build my church, …” (Mt 16:18). This echoes the statement of Ps. 127:1 “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.” The facts are that God alone is able to save a soul and therefore He alone is able to add members to His Church. This gives us great encouragement. He will not fail, His church will be built and those chosen to be saved will be brought in. It is impossible for God to fail.
The tension of this truth however is that Christ commissioned His disciples, the church (as it then was) to go and make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:19f). The church in every age has a responsibility to preach to lost sinners with the desire that they come to faith. In the same way, those who come to faith are to be built up in their faith, by older Christians and by those appointed to teach within the church. Paul was conscious that with all his failures God had put him into the ministry or Christian service (1 Tim. 1:12). As Christians we so often feel inadequate, but we do have a responsibility to serve God and our generation. We are not to shirk that.
These two truths are not a contradiction, rather they are 2 sides of the same great truth. Christ’s church will be built as each member of that church fulfils his/her responsibility. We are not all gifted in the same way and therefore should not try to imitate another’s work when in fact God is calling us to do something different. A house is not simply built on the site. It begins as trees are cut in a forest; as stone is collected in a quarry; as steel is smelted in the forge. On a building site the tea boy or hod-carrier is as important as the brick layer or the surveyor. You might argue, but anybody can do those jobs. That’s right, but not everyone will. It is the same in the Lord’s work. Not everyone is willing to serve unseen.
As we each settle after the busyness of the summer it would be good if we were to consciously ask ourselves how we can be involved in the service of building the church. Introducing the week of prayer I referred to Rom 12 and Paul’s call “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice”. He then went on to give a number of his lists concerning spiritual gifts and marks of Christian service writing,
“let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (vv 6-13)
If you take time to read that list again you will see that Christian service or worship is not limited to the public meetings of the church. It is right that we encourage and develop the teaching gifts of all members of the church, but Christian service goes on in every part of our lives. We equally serve Christ by showing ‘acts of mercy’, for example making sure that someone has a lift to that hospital appointment. Do we consciously ‘show honour’ to other people, either as one created in the image of God, or as a person that Christ died to save? Is our worship ‘slothful’ or ‘fervent’? Our approach to life reflects on our God. Although we are in recession we still remain a wealthy people, do we give freely to the work of the Lord, inviting people to sit at our table for a meal or treating them to a coffee in Starbucks, or a local cafe?
Let us serve together with zeal and joy.
Bernard Lewis October 2012