¡°FACTORS OF A STRONG CHURCH¡± By Pastor YAU
Text: Colossians 2:1-7 June 1, 2014.
1) Your definition of a strong church? How do you define a strong church? Some may see the need of a pastor with a strong background, education, experience, leadership skills. Others may see the need of group of strong lay people with strong commitment and support. Still others may see a strong church is one with a large number of attendance, huge budget, lots of money, large buildings, multiple programs. Others may define strong as famous and great influence in the community or on national fame and status. What is your definition of a strong church? What else will you add to the list above?
2) Paul's definition of a strong church: In all his writings to churches, Paul always included his dream of churches, and Christians, grow and become strong in Christ. I am sure we all agree with his dreams. But what does it mean to be strong in Paul's mind may not be the same as in our mind. In this letter to the Colossian Christians Paul organized his dream of a strong church in ways that is very different from our thoughts or dreams. While most of the factors listed above are not bad for any church to have, but they are vastly different from factors Paul had included in his letter to the Colossian church.
THESE THE PREACHER CAN DO: (Colossians 2:1) Things that preachers could do to build strong churches. God didn't call preachers only to give them a job, some empty titles or to rule over God's people for their selfish purpose. God demands that preachers do their part to help building strong Christians and churches. Let's see what Paul did his job as a preacher in God's work:
1) His struggle in praying: ¡°I want you to know how much I am struggling for you.¡± (6:1) At the moment of writing this letter to the Colossian church, Paul was in prison at Rome. What and how could he do to contribute to the growing and strengthening of that church? When Paul used the word ¡°struggling¡±, agon in Greek, from which we have the English word agony, he tried to tell them how much he ¡°strive, labored hard, agonizing and wrestled in prayers for them. ¡°Struggle¡± doesn't mean reluctant but straining energy in doing something so important as praying for the saints in that church. One of the most contributions of preachers to their churches is his praying ministry for and on behalf of his people. In Paul's writing, he mentioned frequently his prayer support of churches and the saints. (Romans 1:9-10; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Phil. 1:3-4; Col. 1:3) If you believe the power of prayer, you should know how important it is for preachers to pray for you and the church.
2) His struggle in loving: ¡°I am struggling (endeavoring in prayers) for you and for those in Laodicea and for all who have not met me personally.¡± (2:1b) Laodicea and Colossi were neighboring cities in the region where Paul had labored with the gospel message before. Since his imprisonment, there must be others had joined the churches whom he had not met. Paul wanted them to know that even in prison, his love to them, including those whom he had never met, has not changed. How would anyone pray for someone whom he hasn't met unless he has a strong sense of love for that person. Ask yourself how often do you pray for someone, then ask it again why do you do that? The answer is because you love that someone so much so you pray for him. No one will pray for anyone whom he doesn't love or care. Right? Preachers need to not just love God, they also need to love God's people. They need to love not just those in his care in the church, they also need to love those out side his church, people whom they don't know.
3) His struggle in teaching: If you read through this letter to the Colossian church, and other letters written by Paul, you will find lots of important teachings he was trying to impart to the saints in early churches. Although he was in prison, he was determined not to be hindered from teaching the early believers many important teachings both in doctrine and in practical Christian living. Many Christian doctrines were written in the books Paul wrote to the early churches. Besides the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, Paul's writing is full of important doctrines in Christian faith. Besides prayer, the next important contribution of preachers is their teaching of God's word to God's people. Preachers may not be very good in administration, not very good in organization or promotion, but they must be good in teaching God's word to God's people, feeding God's lamb.
THESE THE SAINTS CAN DO: (2:2-7) Preachers are not the only ones responsible to build strong churches, God has put countless faithful, able and effective helpers in all churches to work with their preachers to build strong churches. It is a wrong idea that only preachers are responsible to build good and strong churches. All those whom God has called into a church should do their parts to build their churches strong, vibrant, effective and fruitful.
1) They need to be strong in heart: ¡°My purpose is that they may be encou-raged in heart.¡± (2:2a) ¡°Encouraged¡± comes from para-kaleo, to call to stand alongside, to exhort, to assist, to find comfort or to strengthen. In the context of the letter, to ¡°strengthen¡± or to ¡°become strong¡± is the best. This is what Paul has in mind that the Colossian Christians need to be strong in their hearts to help build their church strong. ¡°In heart¡± would be more accurate if it is ¡°in spirit.¡± This is not about emotional strength or mental power in their life, but the inner spirit that comes from connecting with Jesus. Often times, we see once strong Christians become weak, fervent helpers dwindled away, courage and faith disappear and the zeal is lost. This all come from a weak heart or weak in the spirit. People may give you all kinds of excuses from external circumstance why they can't do it any more, but the truth is they have become ¡°weak in the inner spirit.¡± Paul listed this up front as his hope and purpose for very good reason because this is the most serious, even fatal problem happens to many Christians: they become weak in their heart. When one becomes weak in his heart, he has no desire, interest or power for God.
2) They need to be knit in love: ¡°(They) having been knit together in love.¡± (2:2b) ¡°Knit together,¡± sumbibazo, means to unite, bring together, or be woven. This aorist participle explain the main verb, be strengthened in the heart with the weaving of love as the catalyst. This word is used in Ephesians 4:16 and Colossi ans 2:19 as the power to unite parts of the body. Fervent love is a necessary part to a strong heart. Christianity is not a mindless enthu-siasm, neither is it a lifeless intellectual orthodoxy, but a living love in heart.
Christian unity is the central point in Jesus' prayer before his crucifixion. (John 17:20-23) It is also a major concern of Paul when he wrote to the early churches: ¡°Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of the Lord, that you all agree, and there be no division among you, but you be made in the same mind and in the same judgment¡±. (1 Cor. 1:10) Humility is the key that opens the door of love and unity. If there is no love, there isn't unity.
3) They need to deepen in God's word: ¡°And attaining to all the riches that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery that is in Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.¡± (2:2c-3) Paul also desired the Colossian Christians experience all the wealth or fullness of assurance of God's knowledge and understanding. Sunesis, understanding refers to the ability to apply biblical knowledge to everyday life. This is exclusive to God's people because ¡°a natural man does not accept the things of the spirit of God, they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them.¡± (1 Cor. 2:14) No church could be strong without the deepening of God's word among the people and their obedience to follow through. This is particularly true to those who may sit in positions of decision making. If we want to see our church become stronger, we need to deepen in the power of His word. We may achieve this by actively participating in worship service where word of God is expound, in Bible class and discipleship where people share their life experience of applying God's word. If you are shallow or lazy in deepening in God's word, you can't and should not be leader of your church. Christians who are weak in God's work will cause the church to become weak.
4) They need to walk in Christ: ¡°As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in him.¡± (2:6-7a) The familiar term ¡°walk¡± refers to daily conduct, continue to believe in the teaching of Christ. In broader terms, walking in Christ means living in union with Christ. This means to maintain a life style patterned after that of Christ. ¡°Being firmly rooted,¡± errizomenoi, means to take root deep into the soil, in this case, in Christ. We can build a strong church when Christians are willing to grow their spiritual roots in Jesus not in the world or in themselves. Where we put our roots of life has much to do if we are able to build our church stronger, healthier and more productive.
When Paul symbolized parts of a human body as Christians parts of God's church in 1 Cor. 12, we need to know we are the material with which God builds his church. If we are weak in our spiritual quality, we can't build a strong church. A building is as strong as the material used to build it. Same thing happens to a church. A church is as strong as the members in it.
5) They need to strengthen in faith: ¡°Be strengthened in the faith as you were taught.¡± (2:7b) If love is the seed of Christian life, faith is the watering of the seed to fruition. Faith is what it takes to lead us step in and go forward in our personal life as well as our collective commitment in building a strong church for the Lord. None of us may bring sufficient contribution for a strong church. None of us may see what kind of a church it may become. But we are here to follow Paul's faith that we can only sow seeds and keep watering, that God is the only one who can cause it to grow and bear fruits. (1 Cor. 3:6-7)
We also need to have faith on each other. We need to believe the good will of all brothers and sisters and their commitment to God in building his church. God places us in this church for good purpose to build his church, so we need to trust each person God brings to us and support each other for the good of our church. Faith is the chain that connect us to anchor in God.
1) Preachers need to be faithful: ¡°So, men ought to regard us as servant of Christ and as those entrusted with the sacred things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must be proven faithful.¡± (1 Corinthians 4:1-2) ¡°Sacred things¡± refer to the gospel, salvation through faith in Jesus, refers to the Bible, the word of God. Those who were entrusted with all these are the preachers and pastors. These people have been entrusted with the message, the word, the command of God to preacher, to teach, to enable the people of God, so together, they may build strong churches. It is required of preachers and pastor be faithful of God's trust that they do this with utmost dedication, diligence, accuracy and commitment. They need to take their trust with all their energy, time, efforts and devotion. Pastors and preacher do have the influence on their people. If the goal is to build strong churches, they need to be on the front-line, taking the lead, direct the followers and do their best as good examples to their people. If preachers and pastor are not faithful in what they were called to do, how can they lead their people to do what God want them to do?
2) The people need to be faithful: ¡°It was God who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to equip God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ (the church) my be built up.¡± (Ephesians 4:11-12) ¡°Built up¡± means ¡°be strengthened.¡± God call some to be leaders like apostles, pastors, teachers to equip, teach, help, strengthen God's people, the saints, so they may work in cooperation with one another to build up (strengthen) churches. Preachers and pastors are called to equip, train, help, assist and lead, but the major part of building strong churches lies squarely on the shoulders of the people, those God call into his churches.
This is like a mighty army. Generals and officers were given the job to train the soldiers, the mass body of the force. The officers are important to an extend. But it is the soldiers who will do the actual fighting and winning the battles and the war. It is like a team work in a sport. Both the coaching team and the players must do their job to the best of their ability so they can win a game, one game at a time, to pursue to the Super Bowl. If you want to be in a winning team, you need to work hard to keep your team winning.