Loving The Bride-Part Two
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 11:28
Loving The Bride-Part Two
2 Corinthians 11:28
November 6, 2004 • Grace Church of DuPage Men's Retreat
Pastor Randy Smith
As we concluded the first session on how to love the church, I mentioned that much of it can be summed up by developing a heavenward focus.
I am not alone in that conclusion. According to C.S. Lewis, "The Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have begun thinking less of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you get neither." The great puritan, Richard Baxter remarked, "Why are not our hearts continually set on heaven? Why dwell we not there in constant contemplation?…Bend thy soul to study eternity, busy thyself about the life to come, habituate thyself to such contemplations, and let not those thoughts be seldom and cursory, but bathe thyself in heaven's delights."
Naturally, if we contemplate the activities of heaven, our hearts will desire those activities here on earth. And where else can we see the activities of heaven, worshipping God, serving God, speaking to God and learning from God in the great company of other Christians better demonstrated than in the life of the local church. Maybe this is what David Brainerd meant when he said, "I love to live on the brink of eternity."
In Colossians 3, verses 1-2, the Apostle Paul spoke of the heavenward focus. "Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth." The man who penned this principle, lived out this principle. In his desire to seek the things above, the Apostle had a great heart for the church.
Remember in the last session I read about Paul's sufferings (which by the way he received because he loved the church). And following the agonizing list he said, "Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches" (2 Cor. 11:28). We have to ask ourselves, how did Paul develop such a heart for the church? Let's see if he implemented the four steps we have already discussed in our last session.
Last session we initially mentioned that a heart for the church can only come from God. And the way we receive anything from God is through the discipline of prayer. Therefore, we should continually pray that our heart and the hearts of our fellow Christians will grow in their love for the body of Christ. And then as we see these prayers being answered with people maturing in their passion for the church, we thank the Lord and praise His name. In this process from beginning to end, from supplication to thanksgiving, from prayer to praise, we express a dependence on God and glorify His name.
The story is told about some young students who came for the first time to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, the church were C. H. Spurgeon preached. The sanctuary, as always was full so Spurgeon asked them if they would like to see the heating apparatus of the church down in the basement. The students initially balked, but Spurgeon insisted. Together they proceeded to the basement where Spurgeon kicked open the door and the students observed 700 souls on their knees asking God to bless the service upstairs with great power. "Gentlemen," said Spurgeon, "This is the heating apparatus of this church."
Possibly one of my greatest encouragements at the Grace Tabernacle is the flock's commitment to the Wednesday night Prayer Meetings. These meetings not only accomplish much through answered prayer and fellowship, but they also reveal our flocks' childlike dependence on the Lord for all things. Remember Jesus said, "Apart from Me you can do nothing" (Jn. 15:5). What it must communicate to our Savior when we corporately gather on a weekly basis and say, "Lord, we need Your help."
Someone rightly said, "You can tell how popular a church is by who comes on Sunday morning. You can tell how popular the pastor or evangelist is by who comes on Sunday night. But you can tell how popular Jesus is by who comes to the prayer meeting" (Author Unknown).
On the average Wednesday evening we see well over fifty percent of the church return for the purpose of corporate prayer. People may show up on Sunday morning out of duty (look at all the unbelievers), but even duty is not enough motivation to get one back at the church on Wednesday evening for prayer. The people come for only one reason; they believe in the power of prayer. And because of this belief, they experience great joy in prayerfully gathering with the other saints.
Through the years we've seen some incredible answers to prayer. Other times, to the best of our finite understanding, we believe God has chosen to answer in other ways. Yet one thing is always consistent. Prayer does not change the will of God, but prayer does change the hearts of God's people.
I believe it is more than a coincidence that those who pray the most for our church are often those who are the most dedicated to our church. Prayer for the church increases their heart for the church. And then their heart for the church is demonstrated in the best way possible - praying for the church.
Paul loved the church because he was a man committed to praying for the church. He was devoted to prayer (Rom. 12:12; 1 Cor. 7:5; Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2). He prayed for both unbelievers to be a part of the church (Rom. 10:1) and believers who were already in the church (Rom. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:9; Eph. 1:16; 6:18; Col. 1:3; 1 Thes. 1:2; 3:10; 2 Tim. 1:3; Phile. 1:4). He asked for prayer from others in the church (Rom. 15:30; 2 Cor. 1:11; Col. 4:3). He believed that prayer accomplished great things (Phil. 1:19; Phile 1:22). And he offered every prayer with great joy (Phil. 1:4).
Prayer and a love for the church are two inseparable links on the same chain.
2. A HEART AFTER GOD'S
I also mentioned in the last session that a way to develop a heart for the church is to grow in our heart for God. God loves the church and a man or woman after God's own heart will naturally love the church as well.
Paul called us to be "imitators of God as beloved children" (Eph. 5:1). Yet he boldly went further. He is also the man who said, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1).
Paul loved the church because He imitated God. He encouraged us to mimic his example. Do we see in Paul a heart after God's own heart worth imitating?
God loves the lost and desires them to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). Paul said, "I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the (salvation) of (the Jews)" (Rom. 9:3). God drives after holiness (Lev. 11:44). Paul called us to "(perfect) holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1). "God is love" (1 Jn. 4:8). Paul said, "(Without) love, I am nothing" (1 Cor. 13:1). God is committed to His glory (Isa. 42:8). Paul said, "To Him be the glory forever and ever" six times in His letters (2 Tim. 4:18; cf. Rom. 11:36; 16:27; Gal. 1:5; Phil. 4:20; 1 Tim. 1:17). God loves the church (Eph. 5:25). Paul said, "I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen" (2 Tim. 2:10a).
Paul demonstrated a human example of Jesus worth imitating. Are we following the command to imitate his love for God which was demonstrated in his love for the church? Do we as Paul said, "Walk in a manner worthy of (our) calling (Eph. 4:1)? Does our love for the church esteem the great name of God?
When Alexander the Great discovered there was a coward in his army also named Alexander he told the soldier, "Renounce your cowardice or renounce your name." Those who claim publicly to be identified with God and take His name for their own must imitate His character. We cannot say we imitate God or moreover know God or moreover love God if we fail to love the church which is so dear to His heart.
3. LOVING THE PEOPLE
In the last session we said that another way to develop a heart for the church is to develop a heart for other Christians. If we love our brothers and sisters in Christ we will love the church because our brothers and sisters in Christ are the church! To say you love other Christians, but fail to love the church is a blatant contradiction! It is no different that saying you love bike rides, but hate bicycles. To say you are saved, but fail to love the church is a blatant contradiction as well. The Bible says, "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren (the church). He who does not love abides in death" (1 Jn. 3:14).
The allegory we examined was the Vine and the branches found in John chapter 15. Jesus said He is the Vine and we are the branches. As we abide in Jesus through the Holy Spirit we experience the great love He has for us. We also allow ourselves to be filled up with His love whereby it can spill over to other believers. We don't produce this love ourselves as a factory. On the contrary, Christ produces this love in us and we distribute it to others as a fountain. And it's only natural that the church, other believers, should be the primary recipients of this love since we have a common bond by abiding in the same Vine. As we mutually abide in the Vine, this divine love should pulsate from one branch to another (cf. 2 Cor. 2:4; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4;l 1 Thes. 4:9; 2 Thes. 1:3).
Paul loved the other branches (the church) because Paul was a man who loved God's people.
A good example of this is found in Colossians 2, verse 1. "For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face." We have many examples in Scripture where Paul, through his words and actions, expressed a great love for other churches he was identified with. Yet here, Paul gives evidence of his love for churches "who have not personally seen (his) face." The man loved more than "his" church. He loved the universal church, even those he had never seen. He testified to it when he spoke in verse 1 about the "great struggle" he endured on their behalf.
The Greek word for "struggle" is agon. The word was originally derived from the place where the Greeks assembled for the Olympic games, a place where they struggled in wrestling and footraces, where they fought to win. From this Greek word we get the English word agonize. For the sake of the church, Paul had been agonizing, fighting for them with everything he had.
Examples of the way he agonized for the church are found throughout his epistles and the book of Acts. He agonized with unceasing prayer, severe opposition, dangerous journeys, emotional torment and endless instruction. Why? Why was he most gladly spent for (their) souls (2 Cor. 12:15)? Because He loved them! His great relationship with Christ compelled him to great love for other Christians.
Paul was filled by the love of Christ. He loved the church with the love of Christ. But it doesn't end there. I believe we can safely say that Paul expected the demonstration of his love for the church to compel other believers to exercise great love with each other. In 1 Thessalonians 3:12 he said, "And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you." Even in the context of Colossians 2:1 we read in verse 2 that Paul desires to see the church "knit together in love." One chapter later in 3:14 we read, "Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity." Paul knew that his love for the church would encourage others to love the church.
As branches that abide in the same Vine, Christians need to understand their inseparable affiliation with each other. Once they understand this mutual bond to which they are knit together and exercise biblical love for each other, they will naturally love the church.
I mentioned earlier that one way we can move our heart in a particular direction is by making an investment in that area. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Mt. 6:21). It's only natural that if I invest my time, treasures and talents in the local church, I will have a greater heart for the local church. Based on this principle from our Lord and even clear observations on our part, we can safely say that those who invest the most in the church are those who have the greatest heart for the church.
We can't deny that Paul greatly loved the church. Could it be that he loved the church because he greatly invested in the church?
Please turn in your Bibles to the book of Acts, chapter 20. Let's examine some of the ways Paul invested in the church.
Beginning in verse 17. "From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church." Due to time constraints, Paul had the Ephesian elders meet him 30 miles south in Miletus. Paul invested a lot in these men and their congregation. In verse 31 Paul affirmed this reality. "Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears."
Verses 18-19, "And when they had come to him, he said to them, 'You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews.'" Paul's goal was to serve the Lord and the way he served the Lord was to minister to the Lord's body, the church. He made an investment. This service first resulted in "tears." The only times we read of Paul crying in the Scriptures were over the affairs of the church. He wept for those without Christ (Rom. 9:2-3). He wept for carnal and sinning believers (2 Cor. 2:4). He wept for over false teaching (Phil. 3:18). His service also resulted in "trials." Turn to any chapter in the book of Acts to read about these. Consider what he says beginning in verse 22. "And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God" (Ac. 20:22-24).
How did he develop such a passionate concern for the church? How could he endure such continual affliction for his ministry? We see it once again - Paul made an investment! His heart was where he placed his treasure!
Look at verses 20 and 21. "How I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house. Solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." What did he proclaim? He proclaimed that which is profitable. What's profitable? Scripture is profitable! "All Scripture is inspired by God and (is) profitable" (2 Tim. 3:16a). Where did he proclaim the whole counsel of Scripture? Everywhere from the synagogues (Ac. 19:8) to the house churches (Ac. 20:20) to the school of Tyrannus (Ac. 19:10). To whom did He speak? Everybody, both Jews and Greeks. When did He preach the Word? "In season and out of season" (2 Tim. 4:2), night and day without shrinking back from difficult or offensive doctrines regardless of the persecution
Did Paul make an investment in the church? You bet he did! I believe we can say that his heart for the church and his God-honoring ministry flowed from giving not getting. Paul gave himself to God and others with such intensity that he forgot himself and his life was consumed with the affairs of the church. Should we be surprised that he closed this section in verse 35 by quoting our Lord, the ultimate Giver, the ultimate Church-lover, saying, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Jesus was our model for giving. Words cannot express the investment He made in the church. But Paul did pretty well himself. Because of their investment there's no doubt that both of these men greatly loved the church.
Men, how about you? Do you also love the church? How would your actions answer that question? There's no doubt that all of us fall short this area. But by the grace of God, we can grow! God is more than willing to give all of us a greater heart for the church. And the means He often uses are: A greater commitment to speak to Him in prayer, a greater desire to be like Him, a greater love for His people and a greater pursuit to invest more of ourselves in His causes.
I trust we all long for the day we will depart for heaven. Yet how many of us really possess a heavenward focus that desires to engage in the activities of heaven here on earth? The puritan, George Swinnock, once said, "Heaven must be in thee before thou canst be in heaven." Heaven was in the Apostle Paul. Is heaven in you? If so you'll love the church, since it's the closest thing to heaven we can now experience in this life.
In 1897, R.W. Church said of the church, "If there is a place on earth which, however faintly and dimly shadows out the courts of God on high surely it is where His people are met together in all their weakness and ignorance and sin in their poor and low estate yet with humble and faithful hearts" (Village Sermons).
May God find us faithful in our love for the church!
More in Loving the Bride of Christ
November 6, 2004Loving The Bride-Part One