"I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18b, AV)
These are the words of Jesus Christ---a confident declaration that, as unlikely as it seems, his church is winning, not losing, in the battle against unseen demonic powers. And the apostle Paul confirms when he writes:
". . . Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27).
We see how badly the church has missed the mark and we must admit it seems highly unlikely our Lord can make good on these statements. We look at ourselves as Christians and see that we ourselves have a long way to go "to be conformed to the image of God's Son" (Rom. 8:29). Can he do it?
The world looks at the church with utter disdain. They're betting their life Jesus is a dreamer---and that we'll never make it. But I, for one, am fully persuaded our Lord will accomplish all that he said in regard to his church. Not one word of his claims can be denied! His predictions, his ministry of compassion, his miracles, his victory over death, his matchless character all shout out loud that he tells the truth because he is the truth. Even skeptics don't consider him a liar! Deluded, maybe---or naive about the facts of life (as we now know them in this enlightened scientific age) perhaps---but not a deliberate liar. His life and ministry in fulfillment of his claims do not leave us this option. So, I have no doubt. He's going to make it---and so are we, I do believe!
A Credibility Gap
But why is there such a wide discrepancy between our Lord's triumphant declaration and the sad state of the church? That's the pointed question we need to face. The answer seems readily apparent: we are just not cooperating with his program. We keep wanting to do it our way, and he keeps insisting, "Be reasonable, do it my way!" Have you ever tried to assemble a knocked-down bicycle, or puzzle, or appliance? I'll lay odds---if you're like me---you have tried to do it on your own, made a mess of it and finally said to yourself, "When all else fails, read the directions!"
The appeal of this book is to encourage all of us to read the directions. They have been on record in the New Testament for centuries. Will you review with me the way Christ has designed to build his church?
Be careful! It might mean some radical changes in your thinking!
The stakes are high for every Christian in this matter, for there is coming a day of evaluation for all of us. It's strange how many Christians seem to think that because salvation is by grace, what we do with our lives as Christians doesn't really matter. Nothing could be farther from the truth if we believe God's Word on this subject:
"For we must all be brought to the light in front of the tribunal of Christ, that each one may receive what he practiced through the body, whether good or worthless" (2 Cor. 5:10, a literal rendering).
Note that the Scripture does not say whether good or evil but whether good or worthless. It is not sin that is in view here; it is value that will count in our Lord's final consideration of our earthly life and ministry.
The Bible is very clear that there are rewards to be gained---or lost.
"For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble---each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what Sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, lie will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Cor. 3:11-15).
Builders or wreckers?
Note here the foundation on which we build is a person---Jesus Christ our Lord. But what are the exotic building materials? I've never seen a house built of gold or silver. Stones, yes, but not precious stones! So obviously this is figurative language. But what do the figures represent?
First, it seems clear that there are two distinctive kinds of material: those that burn and those that don't. Since they are to be tried by fire, it's important to build with fireproof materials. Here fire pictures the judgment of God, consuming everything that does not have lasting, eternal value. But is there further meaning in "gold, silver and precious stones"? If we believe in an inspired text there must be a reason these words were chosen. After all, the writer could have said something else, like "brick and mortar." So, we look for some deeper significance. Here's what I discovered as I thought it through.
Gold in the Bible, when used in a figurative sense, represents deity or divine activity. Remember the Ark of the Covenant in Exodus? It was acacia wood overlaid, inside and out, with gold. The ark represented the presence of God among men and was the "meeting place" where God and man could meet. Thus it pictures the incarnate Christ: the wood, his humanity and gold, his deity. Regarding our works, then, God must be in them for them to have eternal, abiding value.
How about the silver? Again, looking to the Old Testament, we see that silver represents redemption. The redemption coin, the shekel, was a silver coin. From this we understand that our works must be redemptive to have any value before God, because he is a redemptive God!
The precious stones---what are they? Well, this is not hard to discover. Peter says,
"Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Pet. 2:1-5)
The precious (or costly) stones are clearly living believers, built into a holy temple where God is resident in his people.
Thus it appears the criteria for enduring works are established here. For our work to have eternal value:
- It must be built on the proper foundation, Jesus Christ,
- God must be in it.
- It must be redemptive.
- It must involve people being rightly related to God as his dwelling place.
High stakes for us, yes---but also for our Lord. He would like to have the full use of his Body. Changing the figure, he would also enjoy the full habitation of his royal residence. This is why our Lord Jesus expressed the desire of his heart so fervently to the Father in prayer:
"As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth. I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me. I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17: 1-26)
His emphasis here is so obviously our oneness in the Body of Christ, and the expression of his life and love to a world that doesn't know him---through that Body.
So how is it with us? Are we cooperating with Christ in building his church? Are we following his plan? That which we're doing right now---is it good or worthless in the appraising eye of the One who has a right to expect results? After all, he paid a high price to redeem us. Are we giving him all he bought and paid for at such great cost to himself?
And how is your church doing? Is it dead or alive?
If it could use a new birth of freedom, read on! Let's find out where we missed the way and go back to doing it by the Book.
"You are not your own; you were bought with a price." (1 Corinthians 6:20)