|Vol. 14 No. 3 March 2012||
Holiness is an important factor in matters pertaining to church growth. Holiness is a way of life, that is, the character of all those people who are pure in heart (Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14). How we think, talk and live before our fellowman is important. A light that flickers and salt that loses its preserving power contribute to the stagnation of a local congregation. Christians who are living godly and involving themselves in the care of others will influence sinners in the way of the Lord. Hypocrites who deceive, negligent members who are filled with apathy and brethren who stray, injure the cause of the Lord more than they realize. Preaching without practicing prevents many from obeying the Gospel.
A congregation may possess the greatest orator for a preacher but no one will come to hear him if the church is not respected in the local community. The fact is, neighbors and friends visit mainly because of their respect for you, the life you live before them and the example you are. They may disagree doctrinally, but they will respect your convictions. A ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude turns people away; however, a true sense of concern and compassion for others will entice them to listen to what you say.
It is not necessary to wear certain kinds of apparel or to carry a placard advertising that you are member of some religious group. Your friends and neighbors already know what you are. They notice your enthusiasm or your indifference. They observe your faithfulness or your ungodliness. You are preaching and practicing before them every day.
Our peers are listening to our speech, watching what we are wearing, observing our habits, noticing our recreational activities and learning of our dealings with others, and they are even concerned with our loyalty to the Lord and the local church. In fact, someone is scrutinizing every aspect of your daily life. In fact, you may be the reason a person decides to become a Christian or to remain in sin. Never underestimate the power of your influence for good or bad!
The sentiments expressed by the apostle Paul as found in Philippians 2:12-16 should be considered and obeyed by the children of God:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His great pleasure. Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among which you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.
One of the greatest contributing sources to church growth is the individual Christian who is living faithfully to the Lord before his fellowman. What kind would your congregation be if all the members lived just like you?
It started early. Our Lord had only been on the earth for twelve years when Joseph and Mary mistakenly left Him behind in Jerusalem as they made their way back to their home in Nazareth. When they returned to Jerusalem “…they found Him sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46 ESV emphasis added).
It continued throughout a great portion of His earthly ministry. Repeatedly, our Lord taught by listening and asking. Space here does not permit even a mention of each of these instances, much less a discussion of them. Only two such examples will be briefly considered.
On one occasion, Jesus and His work were being severely criticized. The scene is recorded in Matthew 12:22-32, Mark 3:22-30 and Luke 11:14-23. The religious leaders of His day were making the accusation that He was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub. Although these Scriptures do not say that He heard them, He did know their thoughts. (Since we are not deity, we cannot know each other’s thoughts unless those thoughts are expressed and heard.) As you read about how Jesus handled that accusation, you will find that He asked them a lot of questions. Based on the obvious answers to those questions, He was able to allow them to see that their position was untenable and that they had a much more serious problem than being wrong in their thinking.
It is more than passing interest and importance that the “great confession” made by Peter as recorded in Matthew 16:16 also grew out of a period of time when Jesus did some listening and asking. When we read that wonderful statement that Peter made, we can be sure that we are reading his own carefully considered and firmly believed assessment that, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter was not parroting something that some other individual had “drilled into him.”
It seems to me that we could learn a lot from this as we deal with those today who are outside of Christ. If we “browbeat them into submission,” we may never be sure whether their “faith” is really theirs or not. In time to come, they may also have doubts about that.
How different would it be if we respected them enough and were confident enough in our own faith and knowledge of God’s Word that we would listen to their questions, concerns, positions, etc.? Would they (and we) not be confident that their faith was, in fact, their faith?
Please do not misunderstand what I am trying to communicate. I am not trying to leave the impression that there is no such thing as absolute truth. I do not believe that everything is open to question and that we all can believe different things and, at the same time, all be right. I am do not believe that it is wrong to ever make a definitive statement or take a definite stand.
What I am trying to communicate is that we would be very well advised to use one of the techniques (but not the only one) used by our Savior. We might be surprised by how much we could teach by listening and asking.
[Editor’s Note: Someone may more readily permit us to rescue him from physical peril and be assured of our favorable intentions were we to extend our hand – rather than to grab him by the neck. Likewise, if we are to be successful in rescuing spiritual victims from the eternal peril of sin, the importance of the attitude and demeanor with which we approach them cannot be underestimated. Rescue the fallen we must, and the manner in which we go about that should depend on the condition of the sinner’s heart rather than on the condition of our hearts (James 5:19-20; Galatians 6:1-5; Jude 22-23). ~ Louis Rushmore]