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Entries in Counsel (1)

Thursday
May102012

Hope for the Church

For centuries since the Age of Enlightenment/Reason men have predicted the demise of Christianity , the Bible, and its institutions.  Others have tried to promote change in the church so that it can survive the modern era.  Both of these come from the overall impression that the Church will not survive as it is.

Let’s first recognize that there is a difference between “The Church” and “a church.”  The Church is the group of people from all generations, and all ethnic groups who have put their faith in God and believed on Jesus’ death to cover their sins.  It is a reference not to an earthly institution, but an invisible tie of faith between people of very different societies.  “A church” is a local gathering of a small subset of The Church.  Either way, it is good to distinguish that though we call the building they meet in a church, it is only because a church meets in that building.  A church does not need a building to be the church, though it is quite convenient.

When we question whether there is hope for the church, we generally have in mind denominations, buildings, real estate holdings, and such things.  But even if a local church disbands and closes its door, it does not mean there is no hope for those individuals.  They can still meet together or join other groups of believers.  They can still be a church without buildings, projectors, and instruments.  These things do not provide hope.  They only make it more pleasant to do what churches do: worship God, encourage each other, and share Jesus with those who do not know him.

We Already Have All We Need

In Acts 20:25-32 Paul knows that he is going to be imprisoned and eventually killed.  He knows that he will not see the elders of Ephesus again.  So, he meets with them and gives his last word.  It is interesting to see that he makes a huge point that they have all they need.  It won’t be easy without Paul, but Paul has given them everything they need, which he himself received from Jesus.

He had preached to them the kingdom of God, how they could be a part of it, and what it really was.  Jesus had said in Luke 17:21 that the kingdom of God did not come with observation, but was within our hearts.  One became a citizen in this new kingdom of God not by living in a particular geographical area or having a particular genetic link, but by simply having faith in the Lord, Jesus as God’s Anointed One (Christ) who has saved us from our sins.  Not only were they citizens, but Paul had given them the “whole counsel of God.”  (vs. 27)

The counsel of God is an amazing concept.  Can you imagine if there was a, for real, God.com that you could go to and put in your problem.  Then the instructions from God would come back to you.  God wants us to live wisely and so has given us counsel.  But they also had the "Whole" counsel.  The point being that they were not lacking anything.  There was no hidden instruction to be found in the 21st century.  Neither was God only giving the first century counsel, but saying to us today that we have to figure it out on our own.  God knew the church would need wisdom and through Christ and his apostles that wisdom was delivered once and for all to His Church.  We have all that we need.

We Need to Guard Our Hearts

Those who have everything have to guard it or thieves will break in and steal it.  So it is in the spiritual.  Precisely because the Church has been given such great wisdom, salvation, and Hope, the enemy seeks to steal it, kill it, and destroy it.  Paul compares The Church to a flock of sheep and the elders to shepherds.  As shepherds over God’s flock, they need to “take heed” and “watch.”

The term “take heed” means to bring something near for inspection.  Notice in verse 28 Paul tells them to inspect themselves and the flock.  If we don’t inspect ourselves first then we cannot do a good job inspecting others.  The reason this is so important is because of two threats.  The first is pictured as “savage wolves” from outside.  The second is believers who rise up from within and twist the truth in order to gain disciples after themselves.  The shepherds are to be introspective and inspective in order to ward off these threats. 

The term “watch” means to rise up as opposed to sleeping and lounging about.  To do a good job guarding the sheep, the shepherds would need to rise up and be vigilantly on the lookout.  This parallels with the “false teachers.”  Both parties “rise up,” but for very different reasons.  One leads in order to protect.  The other leads out of self motivation and with twisted teaching.  They draw disciples after themselves instead of after Christ.  These people think they are a church following Jesus.  But, sadly, they have become a lost group following the wisdom of a man.

Paul knew that this danger was so great that he warned them night and day with tears.  It concerned him greatly.  That is why in verse 20 he says, “I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you.”  Jesus has given us good shepherds to watch over the flock but they need to watch over their own hearts lest they pervert the truth of God and mislead the sheep.

Lastly Paul commends or entrusts them to God and His Word of Grace.  Grace is a gift.  Thus God’s word is a gift to us that has the power to build us up (strengthen us).  It also has the power to give us an place among his people both now and in the age to come.  So is the church going down?  Jesus said, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.   He wasn’t talking about buildings, cathedrals, and denominations.  He was talking about his true believers regardless of where they were.  Let’s quit looking at the natural and begin trusting in the one who has given us all that we need for life and godliness.

Hope for the Church audio