Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.
The text begins with a command—it’s the only command in the text and therefore probably the main point. Verse 15a: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” Everything else in the text is an argument, or incentive, for why we should not love the world.
Love for the World Pushes Out Love for the Father
The first incentive John gives is that “if any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him” (verse 15b). In other words the reason you shouldn’t love the world is that you can’t love the world and God at the same time. Love for the world pushes out love for God, and love for God pushes out love for the world.
As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). So don’t love the world, because that would put you in the class with the God-haters whether you think you are or not. “If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.” That’s the first reason John gives not to love the world.
Then in verse 16 comes the support and explanation of that first argument. The reason love for the world pushes out love for God is that “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.” Leave out those three phrases in the middle of verse 16 and it would read like this: The reason love for the world excludes love for God is that all that is in the world is not of God. In other words it’s just empty talk to say that you love God if you love what is not of God.
John could have rested his case at the end of verse 16. Don’t love the world because love for the world can’t coexist with love for God. But he doesn’t rest his case here. He adds two more arguments—two more incentives not to love the world.
The World Is Passing Away and Its Lusts
First, in verse 17a he says, “And the world passes away, and the lust of it.” Nobody buys stock in a company that is sure to go bankrupt. Nobody sets up house in a sinking ship. No reasonable person would lay up treasure where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, would they? The world is passing away! To set your heart on it is only asking for heartache and misery in the end.
That’s not all: not only is the world passing away, but also the lusts of it. If you share the desires of the world, you will pass away. You will not only lose your treasure. You will lose your life. If you love the world, it will pass away and take you with it. “The world passes away and the lust of it.”
If You Do the Will of the Father, You Will Live Forever
Second, in verse 17b John says, “But he who does the will of God abides for ever.” The opposite of loving the world is not only loving the Father (verse 15), but also doing the will of the Father (verse 17). And that connection is not hard to understand. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). John said in 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” So loving the Father in verse 15 and doing the will of God in verse 17 are not really separate things.
If you love God, you will love what he wills. It is empty talk to say I love God but I don’t love what God loves. So John is saying in verse 17, “If you love the world, you will perish with the world, but if you don’t love the world but love God, you will do his will and live with him for ever.”
One Commandment and Three Arguments
In summary, then, the text contains one commandment and three arguments, or incentives. The commandment is, “Don’t love the world or the things in the world.” The first incentive is that if you love the world, you don’t love God. The second incentive is that if you love the world, you will perish with the world. And the third incentive is that if you love God instead of the world, you will live with God forever.
Let’s meditate for a few moments on these final two incentives and especially how they relate to saving faith.
Saving Faith and Love for God
We have been well taught that we are saved by FAITH! “BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved!” (Acts 16:31). But we have not been as well taught what saving faith is. For example, how often do we discuss the relationship between trusting Christ and loving Christ. Can you trust him savingly and not love him? Evidently John doesn’t think so, because the issue in this text is whether you love God or love the world, and the result is whether you die with the world or have eternal life with God. But John knows that eternal life comes through faith.
John says in 5:13, “I write this to you who BELIEVE in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” So eternal life does depend on believing in the Christ. But what is this “believing”? If we are courteous, and let John speak for himself, his letter fills out what he means. When he says that not loving the world but loving God so much that we do his will is what leads to eternal life, we learn that saving faith and love for God are inseparable. Both are the path to eternal life because they are the same path.
In John 5:42–44 Jesus confronts the Jewish leaders who do not believe on him with these words, “I know that you have not the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name and you do not receive me . . . How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” In other words the reason they do not receive or believe on Jesus is that they do not love God. They love the world—the glory of men—not the glory of God. So Jesus taught his apostles that where there is no love for God, there can be no saving faith. (See John 3:18–19.)
One Way of Salvation
That’s why John, when he comes to write his letter, can take “love for God” and “trust in Christ”, and treat them as one way of salvation. Look how he does this in 5:3–4. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” In other words it is our love for God that overcomes the obstacles of disobedience and makes the commandments of God a joy rather than a burden. “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her” (Genesis 29:20). Love for God makes his service a joy and overcomes the forces of disobedience.
But then look at verse 4. Here he says the same thing but speaks of faith instead of love. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.” It is FAITH that overcomes the world—it is faith that conquers disobedience and renders the commandments of God a joy rather than a burden.
What shall we say, then, concerning love for God and faith in Christ? The path of victory that overcomes the world and leads to eternal life is the one path of faith toward Christ and love for God. Saving faith is part of love for God and love for God is part of saving faith. There are not two ways to heaven. There is one narrow way—the way of faith which loves God and the way of love which trusts God.
Paul and James in Agreement
This is why not only John but also Paul and James hold out the promises of life only to those who love God:
- Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived . . . God has prepared for those who love him.”
- 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If any one has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed!”
- James 2:5, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?” (See 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12.)
So you can see what John is trying to do for us in verse 17 of our text. He is trying to show us that loving the Father and freeing ourselves from the love of the world is not optional. It is not icing on the cake of saving faith. It is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. It is number one on life’s agenda. Nothing in all the world is more important than experiencing love for God in your heart. This is the first and great commandment, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Matthew 22:36–40).
Two Possibilities If You Don’t Feel Much Love for God
Perhaps even as I say this, some of you are saying, “I don’t feel very much love for God right now.” There are two possible reasons for that.
1. You Are Not Born Again
One is the possibility that you are not born again. It is possible that you are a cultural Christian or a hereditary Christian. You may have developed patterns of religious talk and behavior because it is socially advantageous or because your parents or peers talked and acted this way. But you may never have experienced a deep change in your nature by the power of the Holy Spirit which gave birth to a stream of new love for God.
Henry Martyn, the brilliant missionary and translator of the last century, looked at his conversion four years afterward and said, “The work is real. I can no more doubt it than I can my own existence. The whole current of my desires is altered, I am walking quite another way, though I am incessantly stumbling in that way.”
So it could be that this has never happened to you and that your religion is all outward form and not inner experience of love for God. Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:1–5, “In the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it.” In other words we may expect that there will be numerous religious church-goers who know nothing of the new birth and genuine heartfelt love for God.
If you are among that number you should direct your heart to Christ and seek him earnestly in his Word. Peter said that we are born again through the living and abiding Word of God. So if you want to be born again, you should pour over the Word of God. You should cry to Christ that he open your eyes to know the Father (Matthew 11:27). You should plead with God to take out your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh that you might love God with all your heart and all your soul (Deuteronomy 30:6). You should forsake all known sins and give yourself to all the means of grace until the light dawns in your heart and Christ shines so bright in his power and love that he is irresistibly attractive and you fall in worship and love before him. And do not quit the pursuit until you have been born into new life. “You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart.”
2. Your Love Has Grown Cool and Weak
The other possibility is that you have indeed been born again, but that your love for God has simply grown cool and weak. You’ve tasted what it means to have a heart for God. You can recall how once you felt that to know him was better than anything the world could offer. But this morning the wick is smoldering and the reed is bruised.
The prescription for your ailment is not much different than the prescription for seeking new birth in the first place. The same Spirit that begets life, also nourishes life. The same Word that ignites the fire of love, also rekindles love. The same Christ who once brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light, can take away the long dark night of your soul. So yield yourself to the Holy Spirit. Immerse yourself in the Word of God. Cry out to Christ for a new vision of the glory of his grace. Don’t be content with lukewarmness. Pursue a new passion for Christ.
And whichever of these groups you are in—or if you are here full of love to God this morning—let the remaining admonitions of this text stir you up to count everything as rubbish compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ.
Love for God and Love for the World Cannot Coexist
According to verse 15 in our text, if your love for God is cool this morning it’s because love for the world has begun to take over your heart and choke your love for God. The love of the world and the love of the Father cannot coexist. And every heart loves something. The very essence of our nature is desire. There is nobody in this room who doesn’t want something. At the center of our heart is a spring of longing. But that’s an awkward image isn’t it? A longing is a craving, a desire, a want, a need. But these aren’t very well described as a spring. A spring of needs is a contradiction in terms. Springs bubble up; needs suck in. A longing is more like a drain—or a vacuum. At the center of our heart is a sucking drain—like at the bottom of a swimming pool. We are endlessly thirsty. But we can’t suck water and air at the same time.
If you try to satisfy your longing by sucking in the air of the world, you will not be able to drink the water of heaven. And eventually your motor will burn up because you were made to pump the water of God not the air of the world.
The “World” We Are Not to Love
But now what is this “world” that we are not to love? Verse 16 says it is characterized by three things: “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The word for “life” does not refer to the state of being alive but rather to the things in the world that make life possible. For example, in 3:17 it is translated “goods”—”Any one who has this world’s GOODS and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” Jesus uses the word in Mark 12:44 when he says that the poor widow in the temple “put in everything that she had, her whole LIVING.”
So the phrase “pride of life” means pride in what you possess—the things you have. Now we can see how the three descriptions of the world relate to each other. The first two—lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes—refer to desires for what we don’t have. And the third—the pride of life—refers to the pride in what we do have. The world is driven by these two things: passion for pleasure and pride in possessions.
And the passion for pleasure is described in two ways because there are two large classes of pleasure—physical and aesthetic. There is the lust of the flesh—bodily pleasures; and the lust of the eyes—aesthetic and intellectual pleasures. John is not naïve. He knows that the world is not limited to Hennepin Avenue.
There is the lust of the gutter and the lust of the gourmet. There is the lust for hard rock and the lust for high Rachmaninoff. There is the lust of Penthouse and the lust of Picasso. There is the lust of the Orpheum and the lust of the Ordway. This book ends with the ringing command: “Little children, KEEP YOURSELVES FROM IDOLS!”—whether they are crude or whether they are cultured.
Anything in this world that is not God can rob your heart of the love of God. Anything that is not God can draw your heart away from God. If you don’t have it, it can fill you with passion to get it. If you get it, it can fill you with pride that you’ve got it.
But against the pride of life the apostle says, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as though it were not a gift . . . Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:7; 1:31). So let there be no boasting in possessions. They are all gods.
And against the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes the psalmist says, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee.” Therefore let us desire nothing but God. Possess nothing but God; pursue nothing but God.
What Shall We Do with Our Desires?
But someone will ask, “Should I not desire dinner? Should I not desire a job? Should I not desire a spouse? Should I not desire the child in my womb? Should I not desire a healthy body or a good night’s rest or the morning sun or a great book or an evening with friends?”
And the answer is no—unless it is a desire for GOD! Do you desire dinner because you desire God? Do you want a job because in it you will discover God and love God? Do you long for a spouse because you are hungry for God and hope to see him and love him in your partner? Do you desire the child and the healthy body and the good night’s rest and the morning sun and the great book and the evening with friends for God’s sake? Do you have an eye for God in everything you desire? (See Colossians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 10:31.)
St. Augustine captured the heart of our text when he prayed to the Father and said, “He loves thee too little who loves anything together with thee which he loves not for thy sake.”
Therefore, brothers and sisters, do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. But if the love of the Father is in you, if you love God with all your heart, then every room you enter will be a temple of love to God, all your work will be a sacrifice of love to God, every meal will be a banquet of love with God, every song will be an overture of love to God.
And if there is any desire of the flesh or any desire of the eyes that is not also a desire for God, then we will put it out of our lives, so that we can say with John and with the psalmist,
Whom have I in heaven but thee,
and on earth there is nothing
that I desire besides thee.
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; 13and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. 14His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire.…
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 2I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;…
In looking at my fleshly church today I am concerned about the maturity and growth taking place within. Quantifiable numbers always signifies success or failure, but it’s not about numbers, It’s about faithfulness in the journey. God adds the increase and gives the visions needed to acquire lost souls for the hospital of faith. I sought this out this week due to my getting dealt with by God about the condition of my heart and yielding myself as a living sacrifice that will permit His spirit to give me innovative approaches to ministry and those that are essential associated with the practical applications of the Gospel.
Rule No. 1 in church expansion: Think in terms of getting ‘unstuck,’ rather than just getting bigger.
The statistics are clear: 80 percent of all churches in the United States average fewer than 200 attendees each weekend. Without major change in leadership style, congregational dynamics, ministry vision or some other significant aspect of church-life, churches that have existed for more than five years will most likely stay the size they are now, with only moderate growth over time.
One of the shame-inducing truisms floating around the body of Christ goes something like, “All healthy organisms grow.” Pastors of smaller or plateaued churches feel the implied jab: Lack of growth is symptomatic of underlying sickness. That’s not very helpful in the real church-world. To begin with, there are limits to the size any organism can reach (Trophy trout are rare–especially in small streams), and if you keep growing after the legal age, it’s called getting fat.
Most of us have been stuck somewhere, somehow–in the desert sand off the main road, up a tree we climbed in our pre-adolescence or on a tricky algebra problem. But somehow, someway, we got unstuck. When our tires spun uselessly in the sand, we tried different approaches; when the algebra equation withstood one thought, we assaulted it with another.
Getting stuck forces us to adapt our approach to life. In fact, one theory of learning says the brain is wired to solve predicaments, and true learning only happens when the mind tries to figure something out. God designed us to keep at it–knocking, seeking and asking–but to do so in close counsel with Him.
We may find more solutions to what hinders our churches from growing larger if we think in terms of getting unstuck, rather than just getting bigger. The point is not, I hope, just to grow bigger congregations. Our true aim ought to be to grow more spiritually significant people.
Rather than trying the latest surefire program emphases just to attract more people, we can actually focus our church-growth strategies on the very things that make for bigger people. If we remember the goal has never been to put on church per se, but to develop people with the tool called church, we can still find several ways to get our people unleashed and our churches unstuck.
While we must reject too clinical an approach to church growth–making it devoid of God’s sovereign working–so too must we refuse to attribute all the growth of some churches to the arbitrary whims of God-sent revival. Thus, a healthy perspective on church growth leaves to God the things only He can do (the stuff we pray about), but willingly assumes responsibility for the things we can do something about. God gave me the teeth He gave me, but I brush them.
Just as 95 percent of all the fish in a lake inhabit a mere 5 percent of the space, and most computer problems can be traced to a limited number of common issues, so, too, do growth stick-points tend to cluster around a few factors.
Of the many such elements, there are three that seem most critical to me: staff composition, fellowship grouping and people mobilizing.
1. Who comprises the staff? This includes both paid and volunteer. A church will rarely grow beyond the capacity of its staff. One of the easiest, surest ways to foster church growth is to add people with staff responsibilities (not necessarily salary). The benefit to each of those new “staff members” and to the whole church cannot be overstated.
2. What fellowship groups exist in the church? And how easy is it for individuals to attach themselves to those clusters of people? Small churches stay stuck by trying to keep everybody doing all the same things as one big, happy family. Multiple services, small groups, choirs and other groupings within the church will gear congregations for expansion–and open more opportunities for individuals to lead meaningfully.
3. How is responsibility delegated? Have significant levels and types of responsibility been delegated to people in the church? If God entrusts His church with increasing levels of responsibility based on proven faithfulness, He will bless churches that do likewise. Besides, the more leaders are freed from doing “the same old same old,” the more they initiate new enterprises. Growing churches keep generating new ministries that inspire and challenge the congregation.
Churches get stuck at some sizes more than others, and while the plateau numbers may not be exact figurings, they do present pastors with slightly different challenges for trying new strategies in staffing, grouping and delegating. Let’s take a look at some of the most common plateau points–and how to break free from them.
UNDER 60 PEOPLE
Generally speaking, the leader feels his job involves knowing everything about each and every person in the congregation, and “being there” personally for everybody. Church is a big family at the dinner table; that’s why potluck meals work so well within this size church. The pastor cares and does so much, he lulls the congregation away from its own responsibility to bear one another’s burdens. For the most part, he responds to problems and reacts to situations that arise in the normal course of people’s lives.
Acting more as a chaplain or a concerned parent, the pastor of the typical small church delegates almost nothing. And if he does ask someone to oversee an aspect of church life, he will keep checking on it so often and so intrusively, the individual feels about as empowered as a youngster with a learner’s permit on her first driving lesson with mom.
1. Identify three ministry jobs (for example, creating the bulletin, selecting the worship songs or running the sound system), turn them over to volunteers, and after explaining the job for an hour, do nothing and say nothing related to those jobs for three months.
2. Do not attend the next church fellowship function, and for the next three months always invite someone different to open any gatherings (with a prayer or a greeting) and to close them. Have neither the first nor the last word.
3. Redirect one hour of your weekly schedule– something you normally do–and go sit somewhere, such as in a coffee shop, with pen and paper. Write down any new ideas for your church (not reminders).
90 TO 120 PEOPLE
Having broken free from the previous stick-point, churches of this size are developing into a comfortable community, not just a family. Usually, there are not (yet) many structural or logistical problems. The first faint glimpses of a leadership structure are emerging, but delegation is probably friendship-based and related almost exclusively to small or easily controlled aspects of church life. No one is really being freed to do things the way they think is best. Rather, the pastor has thought it through and merely tells someone what to do and how to do it.
There will always be exceptions, but generally speaking, a church of 90 will stay stuck without a full-time pastor and a half-time assistant who keeps regular office hours.
1. Legitimize your operations by making the “office staff” more substantial–setting prescribed hours when you’re (always) open, filling those hours with workers (paid and unpaid), getting a “real” piece of office equipment, having a “staff lunch” for volunteers, and so on.
2. Begin to establish multiple gatherings of the same kind. Some examples: dividing into two weekend services even if your building is not full, starting three breakfast groups for emerging leaders, for five months discontinuing regular meetings with your elders so they can each meet during that time slot with their own group of the same size/gender composition as the former elders’ group.
3. Identify three main areas of ministry (for example, children’s ministry, worship or men’s meetings), and invite at least five people in each area to two brainstorming sessions to dream big. Delegate specific jobs and responsibilities to each participant. Help them to do it if they need the help, but expect them to do it. Leave it in their hands.
The vast majority of all U.S. churches stay stuck here because it marks the limit to the number of people with whom the pastor has the time, energy or personal reserves to stay close. People drift in and out of the church because the pastor has unknowingly set up the expectation that he, personally, is going to attend to them. Sooner or later, the pastor will unintentionally violate that agreement, and they will feel as though things “just aren’t the same anymore” since all the new people came.
The pastoral strategy must be to remove himself slightly from the whole congregation in order to concentrate on a few present or prospective leaders. Forced to become more strategic and long term in thinking, the pastor must back away from the people and get ahead of them.
1. Consider hiring more staff. Staffing plays an especially critical role in pushing past the 200 barrier. Even if it seems as though the money is not there, seriously consider “hiring” two full-time, pastoral-level staff with two full-time support personnel. Begin by paying salaries to the two support personnel, and add pastors to the payroll as you can. (They’re much more expensive to hire and far more likely to be excited about the role–even as a volunteer.)
2. Identify a fairly major work project and bond people to one another by getting them to work together on it. If people scrape paint side by side, they will feel as though they are a part of the body, and the church will begin to grow. It builds esprit de corps, a vital replacement to the “big, happy family” feeling.
3. Write down the names of the seven most active-in-leadership individuals or couples in your church and the “hats” they wear; ask each individual or couple to help you think of other people to whom you can delegate all but two of your leaders’ jobs.
The pastor is absolutely convinced he or she cannot and should not pastor all the people in the church, so significant administrative and discipleship measures to utilize “the few” to pastor the many have already been adopted. Pastoral care, along with virtually every other ministry segment of the church, must be delegated the way Jethro instructed Moses. Church is administratively and relationally complex. Individuals and groups shift the focus of attention, and some “widows” are not going to be serviced properly.
The church becomes its own mission field, needing sub-congregations almost like new churches pioneered within it. Leaders are beginning to have an ambition for the people they directly oversee, and sometimes that internal ambition will cross grains with the whole program. Internal expansion and program needs should win out over the larger church program at least some of the time.
It’s time for the youth pastor to be his or her own person. The senior pastor should welcome times when various ministry leaders “buck the system” (developing kingdoms within a kingdom), not in the spirit of Absalom, but in the spirit of true servants who, like you, are in the business of ministry because they see the sheep needing more shepherds. Commission and appoint people, full of the Holy Spirit and power, to oversee areas of ministry responsibility.
1. Staff for sanity and for growth. If you keep an appropriate ratio of staff to people, sanity calls for the equivalent of six full-time staff, and growth will likely require a couple more than that. Make a list of everyone you would hire (and what they would do) if you were given $500,000 to be used only for salaries. Don’t wait for the money. Ask the people on the list to start doing what you’d like them to oversee.
2. Appraise and repair the church-program offerings to increase the number of strands–fellowship situations or opportunities–in the net you’re using to fish for people. The two main types of groups are getting (people come for care and nurture without having to do anything) and giving (people come in order to provide service for others). With an apprentice leader at your side, start two new groups, one of each variety, with very specific focuses–for example, one targeting fathers in blended families and the other developing prayer teams.
3. Provide opportunities for sharing. One of the most substantial ways to build team spirit and cooperation is to encourage members of the team to share their stories, successes and struggles with the whole group–especially with the primary leader present and attentive. Pastors who do all the talking at leadership gatherings miss a great opportunity to promote others into greater involvement and service.
At your next churchwide leaders’ meeting, ask at least eight people to give a five- to seven-minute presentation (complete with handouts) on the current condition of and the future vision for the “department” they oversee. And you take notes while they are speaking!
Bottom line: If we’re going to burn the hell out of our world, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a few bigger bonfires. But there’s a lot to be said for firing the flames of even the smallest campfire, so that it will jump outside whatever presently rings it in. The kingdom principle has always been multiplication. We find our spiritual significance not through collecting people, but in gathering them for the purpose of sending them out to replicate their experience with us.
Remember what we’re supposed to be growing: congregants not congregations. For some amazing reason, Jesus did not choose to bequeath to His church a special potion to be poured on pews to attract people like bees come to honey. He didn’t give us a franchise-church-in-a-box or limitless sources of money to erect impressive buildings.
Instead, He gave the church people-gifts (prophets, mercy-showers, exhorters, and so on) and a prayer focus (more laborers). Hmmm…
So, whether a church has big or small numbers, God’s interest is the same. And even more to the point, that interest is a sobering reality check for us pastors, regardless of how big or small our congregations may be. The true question is not, “How can I get a bigger church?” but, “How can I empower more of my church in ministry that really matters?”
Take Your Church’s PULSE
How do you diagnose a church’s health? Here are some distinguishing characteristics.
If size alone is not a legitimate indicator of spiritual health–since political conventions, Mormon Temples and stock car races all attract crowds–are there other more telling signs of well-being in church? Here are some of the pulse points I keep my finger on in my congregation:
Leaders’ lives. As in the lives of the Old Testament prophets, the true leaders in my church are experiencing the strange and marvelous reality of “living out” stuff God is doing in the whole church. For instance, recently–over the course of one week–four different men told me of their desires to volunteer one afternoon a week at the church. Coincidence or Godincidence?
What is happening in leaders is especially diagnostic of seasons God may be bringing our way. Look for changes in the prevailing winds.
Post-service conversations. Do people want to stick around after “church” is over? What are the subjects of their conversations with one another?
If the same groups of friends are just chitchatting or tacking down details, I’m not nearly as excited as if I notice the normal groups are split up among newer people, and they’re talking about what God has done in them recently.
Expectant worship. Regardless of the piano player or song selection, I’m curious about the atmosphere in times of corporate celebration of the Lord. Are people leaning in or back? I am thrilled when many individuals seem to form their own little pockets of personal intimacy with the Lord in the midst of the whole congregation–not doing their own thing apart from the rest of us, but “lost” in communion in the midst of us.
Stories. The more I hear testimonies about what God is doing or saying in people’s lives (as opposed to just the normal goings-on), the happier I am. And when the talk around church moves a bit further toward friends’ and neighbors’ encounters with God through evangelism, the more certain I am that we’re healthy.
Affection levels. Godliness (the whole hope for churchgoers) shows up more in qualities such as kindness, patience and tenderness than in thunderous pronouncements and self-righteous judgments. People on whom God has been working tend to manifest soft hearts, and Jesus’ trade secret says, “Who has been forgiven much, loves much.” Beyond what is normal for friends in a Rotary Club, what signs of affection do I pick up in my church?
Cheerful, heartened buzz. Forgive the pagan allusion, but the best way I know to describe this attribute in church is to call it pixie dust. When that stuff gets sprinkled on a congregation, it creates an excited joy, a sense of expectation about the future, coupled with such enjoyment of the present that no one is in a hurry to move on. It’s like enjoying a fabulous meal and spying–at the same time–the dessert tray with its exquisite possibilities. Such timelessness and inability to contain the entire blessing is a touch of heaven to come.
I read a few books “Evangelism and Church Growth by Elmer L. Towns, and Church For The Unchurched by George G. Hunter III and Grace God’s Unmerited Favor by C. H. Spurgeon and Concentric Circles of Concern by W. Oscar Thompson, Jr. With Carolyn Thompson. Self improvement develops the presence of the holy spirit when you search the scriptures and other divine writings.
Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.
One of your biggest problems and mine are people problems – learning how to get along with other people. There is a short poem that goes –
“To dwell above with those you love – that will be glory.
To dwell below, with those you know – that’s a different story.”
We have been going through the book of James and in James chapter two he tells us how to get along with people – how to treat people right. He gives us the principle, the problem and the prescription on Treating People Right. Let’s look first at:
I. The PRINCIPLE
Follow along as I read James chapter two verse one:
“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.” James 2:1 (NKJV)
Whenever James begins a sentence with “My brethren” – watch out! He’s getting ready to nail you. He’s getting ready to talk about prejudice, partiality and favoritism. Go ahead and circle the word “partiality”. The Greek word is a compound word that means “to receive” and “face”. It literally means “to receive someone because of what you see” – by outward appearance. But beware – outward appearance – what we see when we look at a person – is a superficial judgment of someone. James is telling us, “Don’t do that. Don’t accept people based on what you see on the outside. The Good News Bible says:
“Never treat anybody in a different way according to their outward appearance.” James 2:1 (GN)
All of us do it though – don’t we? If someone has an outward appearance that is pleasing to us – we treat them differently than if we don’t like what we see. Here are some common ways that we judge people:
GENDER – Is the person male or female. Depending on your gender you respond in different ways.
APPEARANCE – We discriminate often because of appearance. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” There is a lot of truth in that statement. In various cultures and generations our concept of beauty changes. How do you judge people? Do you judge them immediately on how they look? How they dress? If a man has long hair and a beard – do you threat them different than if they were clean shaven? Do you judge a person based on how many body piercings or tattoos they have? Do you judge a person because they are wearing overalls rather than slacks and collared shirt?
ANCESTRY – is another area we judge people. What is their family background? Who do they belong to? Do they come from good stock?
RACE – What is their ethnic background? What is the color of their skin? What is the language that they speak?
AGE – How old are they? Are they from my generation – or are they too old or too young?
ACHIEVEMENT – Our society gushes over winners and forgets losers. One minute you’re a hero – the next you’re a zero.
WEALTH – This is the most common distinction around the world. Are you rich or are you poor? What is your economic status? What attitude do you have about people who have more money than you?
II. The PROBLEM
All of us judge others by a variety of factors. All of us show favoritism base on a variety of elements. This is the area that James picks up on in verses two thru four of James chapter two:
“For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” James 2:2-4 (NKJV)
Two guys are strangers. They arrive at the church at the same time. The first guy is wealthy – that can be seen by the clothes that he wears. The other guy doesn’t have much money – that can be seen by the clothes that he wears also. The ushers standing at the door take the wealthy man and seat him in the place of honor. The poor man they tell him to go and stand in the corner. James tells us that it should not be this way. James tells us that we should not show favoritism because of a person’s affluence. We should not show favoritism because of the amount of money a person has in his or her bank account.
James says there are three problems with favoritism.
1. Favoritism is UNGODLY
If you want to be Godly – if you want to be more like Jesus – you can’t play favorites. Look at what James tells us in verse nine of chapter two:
“If you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” James 2:9 (NKJV)
In Romans chapter two verse eleven it says:
“For there is no partiality with God.” Romans 2:11 (NKJV)
The word partiality can also be translated as “favoritism”. Faith and favoritism are incompatible. We are to respect all people – we are to treat them fairly. Jesus treated everyone with dignity. God loves – every one. If there is one place in the world where there should NOT be any kind of discrimination – it is in the church. The church ought to be a place where all people are welcomed – no matter how they dress or the color of their skin or how many tattoos they have. Jesus does not show favoritism – and if you do – you are not acting in a Christian manner.
Not only is favoritism ungodly:
2. Favoritism is UNREASONABLE
Look at what the Bible says in James chapter two verses five and six:
“Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man.” James 2:5-6 (NKJV)
Go ahead and circle the phrase, “God has chosen the poor”. The Bible is not saying that it is good to be poor and bad to be rich or poor. James is not saying that only the poor will be saved. Every one in this room is rich – wealthy – compared to the majority of the world. What the Bible is telling us is that, “Wealth in itself – does not deserve special treatment – it does not deserve special attention. Every one has been made into the image of God – regardless of how much money they have in their pocket, wallet or purse.
Do you remember the first beatitude? It is found over in Matthew chapter five – do you remember what it says? It says:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3 (NKJV)
A few months back I did a whole series on The Beatitudes titled – “Nine Attitudes to Live By”. Do you remember what I said this beatitude dealt with? It dealt with the attitude of humility. When we compare our holiness – our righteousness – our purity with that of God’s – all of us are paupers – all of us are bankrupt – all of us are poor. God has chosen the humble of this world – the poor of the world – to show those who are full of pride how to receive a blessing. God has chosen the poor of this world – to show the rich how to be rich beyond compare. Favoritism became of what one has in one’s bank account is not only ungodly it is also unreasonable.
3. Favoritism is UNLOVING
Look at what James tells us in verses eight and nine:
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors (sinners).” James 2:8-9 (NKJV)
The Bible says that how you treat people matters – how you treat people counts. We are to treat people in the same way that we would want to be treated. That is “the royal law.” God is appalled if we treat people unfairly – if we treat people unjustly – if we show favoritism. Look at what first John chapter four tells us:
“If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” 1 John 4:20-21 (NKJV)
The Bible says that how we relate to people shows how much we really love God. Folks – favoritism is unloving.
How then should I treat people? Let’s now look at:
III. The PRESCRIPTION
In order to treat people right – you must love people. In order to be a person that people are attracted to – you must love people. In order to become a strong healthy church – you must love people. In order to follow the commandments of God – you must love people. People are attracted to a place where they feel loved.
A survey was conducted of 8,600 people from congregations in 39 different denominations. What was found should not surprise us. They found that growing churches are more loving to each other and to visitors than declining churches. Loving churches attract more people regardless of their theology, denomination or location. Most churches that are growing today have learned how to love. Overall – a church that loves people – is a church that grows. It’s love that reaches people. You don’t argue a person into the kingdom of heaven – you love them into the kingdom.
How can we show love? There are three steps:
1. ACCEPT everybody
Have you ever been in a church of spiritual snobs? I have. They act like they are better than you. Do you know why people have a hard time accepting others? They confuse acceptance with approval. There is a big difference between acceptance and approval. You can accept a person and still not approve of their lifestyle. They may be doing something totally contrary to the Word of God, but you can accept them as a person.
The Bible tells us:
“Accept each other in the same way that Christ accepted you. He did this to bring glory to God.” Romans 15:7
Christ accepted us while we were still sinners. We need to do the same with others. The church is to be a hospital for sinners – not a hotel for the saints. Jesus said, “I have come to seek and to save – those who are lost.” We need to accept those who have lost their way. It should not matter where people have been – what dark alley they have be down. Some of us have been down dark alleys too. We need to accept people – just as they are.
The second thing we need to do is:
2. APPRECIATE everybody
This goes further than acceptance. To appreciate someone you need to find something that you like about the person – something that you admire. With some people this may require a little creativity. You may have to look for a while. If nothing else you can value them for their uniqueness. We need to appreciate everyone. Look at what Philippians chapter two says:
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4 (NKJV)
All of us are different from one another. God likes it that way. He has created each of us unique. We need to not only accept one another – with all our differences – and we need to value one another – we need to appreciate one another.
The third thing we need to do is:
3. AFFIRM everybody
Give everybody a lift whenever you can. Don’t tear them down. No one likes to be told how bad they are. But they sure like to get a pat on the back. Look at what the Bible tells us in First Thessalonians:
“Speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (MSG)
Be an encourager not a complainer – be an encourager not a condemner – be an encourager not a critical person. When people stumble, don’t criticize – sympathize. Lift people up – don’t tear them down.
Jesus gives us the best example on how people are to be treated. Do you remember the story of the woman that He met at the well? It’s found in John chapter four.
It seems that Jesus was passing through the land of Samaria – a practice which many Jews would not do – because they considered the Samaritans unclean. But there in a village Jesus stopped because He was tired and thirsty. There He met a Samaritan woman. There all the barriers were in place. She was the wrong race. She was the wrong gender. She had the wrong lifestyle. She was a sinner – and yet Jesus showed her love and compassion. He accepted her – He appreciated her – He affirmed her – even with all the barriers that would keep most of us from talking to her – He talked to her. He loved her. He forgave her. He showed her how she could enter the Kingdom of Heaven – how she could have a relationship with God.
Do you remember the verse from Romans chapter fifteen that we read earlier? Let me quote it again just in case you forgot:
“Accept each other in the same way that Christ accepted you. He did this to bring glory to God.” Romans 15:7 (GW)
Folks – how do you treat people? Jesus set the standard. The Bible tells us to, “accept each other in the SAME way that Christ accepted you.” Do you treat people in same way that Jesus treated you? Do you treat people in a way that would bring honor and glory to God? James tells us that the royal law is this:
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – this is the “royal law”. This is the way we are to treat one another.