We hear a lot about declining church attendance and the exodus of young people from the church. Many reasons exist for such trends, but one in particular is well-illustrated by an interesting and surprising contrast. Community proves important: if many do not feel any pain about what the relationships are leaving or losing when departing from the faith, why would we be surprised to find them departing?
When most people in the world think of a “church,” they think of a building. The Greek word ekklesia, which is most often translated as “church” in the Bible, never refers to a building, but always a group of people. The church is not a building: this is a message which requires proclamation to the world and reinforcement among the people of God.
Christians in a local church are to meet together to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25); local churches therefore must give some thought to facilities. But what kind of facilities are necessary for the church to do its work? Such has proven to be a contentious and divisive matter, sadly. We do well to search the Scriptures and gain principles from its pages.
God has an eternal purpose in Christ for the church. The local church has its place in that purpose; we do well to explore it and manifest it to the glory of God.
Jerusalem was in disrepair, lowly and humiliated. Nehemiah had a heart to restore its standing. God would support and sustain them; the people needed to work; they needed to be encouraged. And they needed each other.
But it came to pass that, when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews.
And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, seeing they are burned?”
Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, “Even that which they are building, if a fox go up, he shall break down their stone wall.”
Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn back their reproach upon their own head, and give them up for a spoil in a land of captivity; and cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee; for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders.
So we built the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto half the height thereof: for the people had a mind to work.
But it came to pass that, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem went forward, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth; and they conspired all of them together to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to cause confusion therein. But we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.
And Judah said, “The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall.”
And our adversaries said, “They shall not know, neither see, till we come into the midst of them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease.”
And it came to pass that, when the Jews that dwelt by them came, they said unto us ten times from all places, Ye must return unto us. Therefore set I in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in the open places, I set there the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows.
And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, “Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, who is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”
And it came to pass, when our enemies heard that it was known unto us, and God had brought their counsel to nought, that we returned all of us to the wall, every one unto his work. And it came to pass from that time forth, that half of my servants wrought in the work, and half of them held the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the coats of mail; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah. They all builded the wall and they that bare burdens laded themselves; every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other held his weapon; and the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.
And I said unto the nobles, and to the rulers and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and large, and we are separated upon the wall, one far from another: in what place soever ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us; our God will fight for us.”
So we wrought in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared. Likewise at the same time said I unto the people, Let every one with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that in the night they may be a guard to us, and may labor in the day. So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard that followed me, none of us put off our clothes, every one went with his weapon to the water (Nehemiah 4:1-23).
We are hearing all sorts of news about abuse, assault, and harassment allegations now brought to light. #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements have exposed the prevalence of such behaviors, even unfortunately among those who would profess the Lord Jesus. What do the Scriptures teach about abuse, assault, and harassment, and how should Christians respond to such claims and behaviors?
Paul had never met the Colossian Christians; he nevertheless sought to strengthen them in their faith and assurance in Jesus. Jesus is the treasure of all knowledge and wisdom; we have no need to look elsewhere.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church; whereof I was made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which was given me to you-ward, to fulfil the word of God, even the mystery which hath been hid for ages and generations: but now hath it been manifested to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ; whereunto I labor also, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.
For I would have you know how greatly I strive for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; that their hearts may be comforted, they being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the mystery of God, even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden. This I say, that no one may delude you with persuasiveness of speech. For though I am absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ.
As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and builded up in him, and established in your faith, even as ye were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (Colossians 1:24-2:7).
From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, “Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
The Kingdom of Heaven is a crucial element of the preaching and work of the Lord Jesus. But what is the Kingdom? Who is in it? Where is it? How is it manifest? Join us as we explore the Kingdom of Heaven in Scripture.
Ye yourselves know that these hands ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. In all things I gave you an example, that so laboring ye ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:34-35).
Paul’s recorded saying of Jesus is consistent with everything He taught and practiced; Christians are to be people who give. Why is giving so fundamental to Christianity? How has it become so countercultural?
Judges 7:5 and 1 Samuel 20:19 speak of “a mother in Israel.” Deborah’s administration provided benefits to the people, but it is the image of a city as a mother that persists. Jerusalem of old nourished and sustained its inhabitants in community; new Jerusalem, the church, ought to serve the same function!