Jesus told his followers, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV).
Jesus is describing a work ethic that leads to kingdom growth. Focusing on building wealth alone shows where your heart is. In the end we will be judged on how we used our gifts to benefit others in need, not by how much we bought throughout our lives. Since WWII, consumerism became the metric for how successful people are. The economy’s strength is now measured by how much people buy. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught in Matthew 6.
If we truly want to grow the kingdom we will spend less time buying and more time investing in people. Jesus’ conclusion is very true: “You cannot serve God and money” (vs. 24).
Paul addressed divisions in the church in Corinth and in the process he describes quite well how God provides the increase in His church. Paul’s demonstrating what can and should happen when people are unified in purpose. Paul said, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants or waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:5-7 ESV).
Paul says that he who plants and he who waters are one, and each receives his own reward for the work they did. When we look at the very early church after Christ ascended, it grew quite rapidly. The church today is still in a fast decline and we could easily model what the early disciples did to plant and water. Afterall, God is still the one who gives the growth. The early disciples did not have a goal of reaching masses. In fact, they often traveled to small towns and villages to preach. But they still planted and watered. And God gave the growth.
This message is very important for us as families, because we can (and should) work together to plant and water. Our theme this quarter is God and family. There’s no better way to connect to God than to work together to bring people closer to God. There are ample opportunities to do so too. If we really believe that it is God, not us, who provides the growth then we will easily share the Good News with people and see what God does with that!
Jesus’ first recorded miracle was when he turned water into wine. At a wedding in Cana, Jesus’ mother told him that the wine had run out. Then, ordering some men to fill the six purification water jars (each holding 20-30 gallons) with water, the master of the feast tasted a glass and was impressed with the good quality of the wine. He didn’t know where it came from, but the men who filled the jars knew. Jesus took twelve apostles and multiplied his disciples. Jesus took five loaves and two fish and multiplied it into enough food to feed 5,000.
Over and over again, Jesus multiplied blessings for people. And he did this with virtually nothing. In fact, he told his twelve apostles to “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart” (Luke 9:3-4 ESV).
It’s important to note that Jesus told them to take away, not add, resources that could potentially help them in their ministry. Money is generally considered a necessity when serving other people. Ministry can be extremely difficult without it. Shoes and clothes were generally considered necessary for travel. But Jesus told them to take nothing beyond the clothes on their back. The church was birthed out of a need to depend on both God and the goodwill of other believers.
The COVID pandemic has stripped a lot of churches down to bare bones. We can look at it either one of two ways. We can either say that the church is doomed and can’t go on without the resources it once had or we can trust that God will multiply. Already we are seeing some surprising (and healthy) trends emerging from churches that have had their resources stripped away. God is blessing and there are many good things to come!
I love the book of Acts! It chronicles the genesis of the church all the way through Paul’s missionary journeys and final arrest. If ever there is a potent book on churchology, Acts is it. Acts 2 gives, in my opinion, the “sweet spot” of productivity. All the ingredients are present for productivity, and we see the church quickly flourish and thrive.
Certainly conditions were right for this kind of initial growth, but it’s the sustained growth that is also impressive. In Acts, the common theme among Christians is commonality–everyone had all things in common. This is incredibly rare in divisive environments. But in Acts, the Christians didn’t lay claim to their own possessions and their foundation was built upon sharing. They shared meals together. They shared possessions and gave to the needy. They shared their time together. They were the polar opposite of possessive.
Luke records it this way: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. . . And all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:42, 44 ESV). They were glad, thanking and praising God! They were genuinely thankful to be in one another’s company. This really is the perfect combination of factors that lead to productive growth and sincerity in faith.
While it’s very important to equip people for works of ministry, it’s just as critical to equip people to be selfless and to devote themselves to fellowship, instruction, and prayer.
Last week we talked about how Paul, a former persecutor and enemy of Christianity, was given God’s grace and revelation to preach to the Gentiles. Paul went to great lengths to describe the mystery of the gospel that was revealed to him by the power of God. But before Paul mentioned the need for unity and the equipping of saints for works of ministry, he had one more focus: a prayer for the Ephesians to have spiritual strength.
Paul bowed his knees before the Father and prayed, “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. . . ” (Ephesians 3:16, 17 ESV). This was incredibly important in Ephesus, especially, because there was already animosity between the pagans and Gentile Christians. In order for Christianity to survive, the Christians had to be bold.
The Christians in Ephesus were first generation Christians, which means they couldn’t rely on the faith of their parents and grandparents. Their strength had to come from God, and God alone. Paul’s prayer apparently helped to strengthen the Christians, because we know from history that the church in Ephesus was extremely significant. In 431 A.D. there was a major convention of Christian leaders, known as the Council of Ephesus. We still are reading about the church there, 2,000 years after the fact.
We, too, can be a significant congregation if we rely on the power and strength of the Lord!
It’s vital that we equip the saints for works of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). The word for ministry is the word that we get “deacon” from (diakonia), a word that means “service” or “ministry.” The Bible is pregnant with examples of the body of Christ working together in unity–both with one another and with the Lord. The clearest example probably comes from 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
In this passage, Paul makes the strong point that the body of Christ (the church), much like our physical body, is made of of many different members that each have their own specific function. The members work in perfect unity, ebbing and flowing together as the body functions as one single unit. Paul asks, “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?” (1 Corinthians 12:17-19 ESV).
Paul says that no certain part of the body can disregard another and say there is no need for it. Nor can a member of the body refuse to be a part because it doesn’t have the same function (giftedness) as another. The human body is a great example because of the complexity of the many different parts juxtaposed with the simplicity of the body functioning flawlessly syncretized. The church should not be clunky, non-functioning, or worse, having members working against one another.
Equipping the saints for works of ministry requires each member to know what his or her function is. We cannot be doing each others’ jobs. We cannot be getting in the way of each other. Instead, we need to each do what God has gifted us with doing, and do it with excellence.
Paul talked a lot about unity in the church in Ephesus. He urged the Christians to live in a manner worthy of their calling, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, and bearing with one another in love. The purpose was to maintain the unity in Christ through the bond of peace. As Paul says many times elsewhere, the body of Christ is made up of many parts. Each member of the body has a different function, and one is no more or less important than the other. Some of what could be considered less noble parts are actually indispensable.
The model was healthy and holy. Paul intensifies the purpose of maintaining this unity: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and to the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the of the stature of the fullness of Christ. . . we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13, 15 ESV).
It’s important now, more than ever before, that we live this out. The church in this nation is on life support in many respects while it
could should be thriving. We Christians have an amazing opportunity to turn the weakened body into a unified, holy body that is bound together by peace through the Holy Spirit. But to do so takes equipping of the saints. We have our work cut out for us, but as followers of Christ we can do it.
There are countless opportunities to serve people in need and to teach them the good news of Jesus Christ. This coming year will be one of equipping, equipping, equipping!