Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hated and Highly Regarded



Nestled in amidst the passion, boldness, love, persecution – the absolute beauty – of the early Church, we find in Acts 5:13 the words, “they were highly regarded by the people.” It’s true that Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26) So, what’s the catch?

This passage in Acts is interesting because we see a dichotomy – not in the behavior of the Church, but in outsiders’ perceptions of it. A verse earlier, we read that the people saw miracles performed by the apostles. We also see the early Christ followers gathering in Solomon’s Colonnade – that’s part of the temple, the seat of Jewish worship. The Jews – all the people – saw them together in fellowship and worship in this very public place.

We can probably infer as well that the people saw how the members of the early Church lived on a daily basis – that they refrained from sin, that they treated people with respect, that they spoke with boldness about the One who made them different – Christ.

I believe this is why the people held them in high regard. Outsiders daily saw these Christians not just living by the rules, but they saw Christ living through His Church. It was evidenced by authentic worship, charity, love for each other. They saw there was something special.

But verse 13 also reads, “No one else dared join them” in the colonnade. Nobody wanted to be seen with them. Despite the fact that these followers of the Way healed people, showed kindness to one another, lived pure lives, nobody wanted to be too closely associated with them.

Which is to be expected. And yet, in Acts 4:14, “more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.”

They lived as they should, shared grace and love with one another, lived by the Word of God. They scared people, made outsiders want to avoid them, yet this Church was highly regarded, and its growth was unrestrainable.

I’m reminded of a message by Francis Chan in which he referenced the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-9). Jesus sat by the lake. Large crowds gathered. He told them this parable that, in all likelihood, made no sense to them. His disciple had to come ask Him what He was talking about! When the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke to the people in parables, He responded, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Matt. 13:13)

He taught in parables so they would not understand. Only the ones who cared enough to chase Him down and ask for the answers would understand.

Francis Chan said, “If Jesus had a church…, His church would be smaller than mine.” Why? Because we try to teach so everyone can understand. We shy away from teachings that may be hard to understand or that step on toes. We try to draw people in with events and programs. But Jesus taught so that people would not understand unless they sought Him out! And that comes through an act of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus didn’t obsess over the next great method for getting people to listen to Him. He drove them away!

So why are we so obsessed with reaching the most people possible? Because that’s the way our world works. The measure of success in this world is, “How many people bought my product?”

But Christ is not a product. He’s the source of life.

Acts 4 shows us that when we live as Christ lived, teach as Christ taught, love as He loves, the Holy Spirit will do something amazing. Though people disdain to be seen with us, they will highly regard us. Though no one else dares join us, the Spirit will draw people to us, and the numbers of the Kingdom will grow.

But that growth isn’t guaranteed, and it’s certainly not a measure of success. The measure of success for the Church is, “Are we a presentable bride?”

9 comments:

Russell said...

Hey Jud!

I agree wholeheartedly with you. The early church did not have EE, CWT, FAITH, or even The Four Spiritual Laws. They were totally dependent on the Holy Spirit for the spreading of the Gospel. In those days the focus was not on church growth - it was Kingdom growth. Also, they took the Great Commission seriously by making reproducing disciples not merely converts. They had a passion for doctrine and right teaching.

Today, the call of the church is to be relevant to the culture around us. The early church sought to transform the culture with the Gospel. We should not gage success by the size of our congregations. Success ought to be measured by the biblical faithfulness of pastors and the spiritual depth of our congregations. Many in the early early church were able to give their lives as martyrs because the Gospel penetrated them. Not because the Gospel was made relevant, but because it was the transforming truth of God.

Sheri said...

WOW! I agree. So often we get caught up in "numbers" when Jesus wants depth. All He wants to do is "shine through us" and we don't allow Him to in spite of ourselves. This gives me a different way to look at the way I live my life...not just by rules, but for reason. Thanks Jud!

Chris Davis said...

Jud,

Thanks for sharing this. It is a great reminder to us all. I actually needed to read this.

Patrick L said...

"Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." -Galations 1:10

I came across this verse the other day as I was reading in Galations and I've been pondering for a couple of days now. I think the church as an institution should consider this verse and ask themselves if their aim is to please men (i.e. flashy lightshows, postive/opptimistic feel good preaching, etc.)or to please God.

'Church' has become so ritualistic that you can go to practically any church nationwide(baptist anyways...) and get the same formula. Welcome, praise and worsip, prayer, sermon, alter call, offering... its so predictable! I would venture to guess that if Jesus came back to Earth and took a tour of some churchs today he would be utterly confused! I'm sure he would be saying... "No, no, no, this isn't what I meant! Why are ya'll(the Texan Jesus) so worried about how many people you have in attendence or how to impress them this week? Are you here to please men, or God the Father?"

Take a look back at the first century Christians... They met in people's houses and shared stories about how great Jesus was! I heard a recent poll that stated something like 85% of Americans claim they are Christians, but around 30% say they are "practicing Christians". I believe that this is partly the fault of the "megachurches". They are taking over the country! Their teachings are lacking in the "holy living" and "obediance to the Word" departments to say the least. They preach (Joel Osteen especially) about how to be a better you and all of the fluffy stuff about God. It's like going to a motivational speaker every Sunday just to make yourself feel better. But where is the Biblical teaching in that?

So what is the solution? I have no idea... but I think we should start with the thought... "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?" I think it is time for a major turning point in American Christianity in hopes to save our complacent religion. Call me radical... but we need some help... Just a thought.

Jud Kossum said...

First, I'd like to say to Chris, I'm glad God used this in your life. That is truly a blessing to me.

Second, to Patrick, I think it's a serious generalization to say that all "megachurches" are functioning on a self-help level. I certainly wouldn't compare every megachurch in the country to Lakewood (I'm no Joel Osteen fan)!

I do agree, though, that this is a major issue in churches - the desire to please people.

However, I don't think it's the primary problem. I think the primary problem is that (and you alluded to this) we - the church - think like the world. The world judges success by how many people buy a product or go to an event or use the services of a certain company. But how many people come to a Sunday service is not an accurate measure of the success of ministry. Spiritual depth is the only accurate measure, and it's sometimes hard to get a handle on.

I think the numbers issue and the people pleasing issue are symptoms of the same problem. We need to learn to stop thinking like the world and start thinking like Jesus. Or, as Paul put it, "...be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)

Patrick L said...

You're right, that was a huge overgeneralization. I apologize. I was really just trying to get some stuff off my chest that I've been bottling up since some bad experiances. I just kinda exploded there... sorry if I offended anyone. I know not all megachurches are like that but I was mostly referring to the megachurch as the institution that models themselves after Lakewood and similar churches as opposed to the megachurch that is so called because of its congregation size.


As I learn more about ministry I learn more and more about the politics involved in the church and most of it is sickening. The emphasis on numbers, the legalism, the bickering over sensless things, and on and on...

...for the record, I don't hate church and I think it is absolutly neccessary.

Kiezel said...

<< Colossians 1:24 >>
New American Standard Bible (©1995)
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions.

FILLING UP WHAT IS LACKING IN CHRISTS AFFLICTIONS.

That is something to meditate on. I recommend Pipers book Desiring God and the chapter on suffering as an aid to flesh out some of the ideas in this text.

Av a Nize Day said...

First time visiting your site and enjoyed catching up. I found the below excerpt:
I’m reminded of a message by Francis Chan in which he referenced the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-9). Jesus sat by the lake. Large crowds gathered. He told them this parable that, in all likelihood, made no sense to them. His disciple had to come ask Him what He was talking about! When the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke to the people in parables, He responded, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Matt. 13:13)

He taught in parables so they would not understand. Only the ones who cared enough to chase Him down and ask for the answers would understand.

Francis Chan said, “If Jesus had a church…, His church would be smaller than mine.” Why? Because we try to teach so everyone can understand. We shy away from teachings that may be hard to understand or that step on toes. We try to draw people in with events and programs. But Jesus taught so that people would not understand unless they sought Him out! And that comes through an act of the Holy Spirit.
interesting from this blog and just wondered how "coming to Christ as little children" became "us having to ask what Jesus was talking about" in His Parables. Children came and listened and learned. Jesus told so we could understand. Said things simply. Would one agree or disagree with me on this thought? I do admit that I am not fully aware of all that this book had to share. I plan to read it in the near future.

Jud Kossum said...

Well, Av a Nize Day, I think little children have the humility to ask questions. Sometimes grown ups don't.

I would say it's obvious from some of His parables that Jesus didn't always say things simply. His disciples often came to him and said, "Teacher, we don't understand." There's a lot in God's Word that is easy to understand, but there's also a lot that is hard to understand.

But it's not really about having to ask what He's talking about. It's about seeking Him out, believing that He knows what He's talking about and wanting to understand more.