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THE MARKS OF A GROWING CHURCH
Intro: Ill. The Church at Sardis, Rev. 3:1-6. This is the sad portrait of what can happen to a church when they forget where they have come from, where they are going, and what their purpose as a church is. What are four characteristics of living things?
(1) Living things are made up of cells.
(2) They need food.
(3) They exhibit grow.
(4) They reproduce.
The church at Sardis had a reputation for being alive, but they were as good as dead. The Lord didn't give us a direct explanation for His words "you are dead" in Revelation 3:1, but it is reasonable to believe that these Christians were weak in the same four areas that are unique to a living organism.
1. First, the cells of this church body were not working well. While some members were walking with the Lord (3:4), many others had ceased to function properly.
2. Also, this church had stopped taking in the right spiritual food. The Lord admonished them to begin listening to His Word and Spirit once again (3:3,6).
3. Third, they had stopped growing as a body. Although they had knowledge, their actions left much to be desired.
4. Finally, it is probably safe to conclude that a church in such bad shape was reproducing very little. When Christians get weak and cold, they stop multiplying.
This is a far cry from what was evident in the first local church there in Jerusalem. In the verses we have read today, we can see a church that was alive, growing and serving God with a red-hot fervency. This church was being used by the Lord to impact the world.
Well, today, from these verses, I would like to share with you The Marks Of A Growing Church. These verses reveal certain marks that can identify whether we are a living church or a dying church. Statistics reveal that even though the total number of churches in the U.S. has increased in recent years, an average of seven local congregations die every day.
Now, I do not want this church to become a statistic, and neither do you! However, if we succumb to a decline in the level of our excitement and of our commitment to outreach and in our burden for the lost, then what happened at Sardis can happen right here at Calvary! I want this church to live and these verses tell us how that can be a reality for us. Let's look together at this subject, The Marks Of A Growing Church.
I. v. 42-47a MARKED BY THE RIGHT KIND OF WORKS
A. v. 42 They Were A Practicing People - These early Christians were a people after God. They were the real deal and their reality is plainly seen in the things that marked their Christian life.
They were marked by:
1. The Truth - These people were doctrinally sound. They upheld
the truths they had been taught and they did not waiver from them.
(Ill. One trait of the godly, growing congregation is their strict adherence to the truths of the Scriptures. God's Word is forever settled in Heaven, Psa. 119:89, and therefore it should be forever settled in our hearts and practice. The Bible is to be the sole standard for everything this church does. Anything less is heresy and is an abomination to the Lord. May this church ever be marked by a strict adherence to the truth of God's Holy Bible, John 17:17.)
(Ill. This world is filled with people who are searching for the truth. If a church offers truth as the only dish on her menu, then it will offend some, but others will come to hear that truth and to give themselves to it. The truth is contagious! The early church knew this a prospered. Many modern congregations have forgotten this and have drifted.)
2. The Tie - The Bible says they continued "in fellowship." These were people from many varying backgrounds. Yet in Christ, they are made one.
(Ill. This is one trademark of God's church. When He is in control, there will be love and acceptance of everyone who darkens the door of the church. This is not to say that we will condone everything everyone does, but we will love the individual simply because Jesus loves him.
While there is love for the sinner, there will also be love for the saint, too. The true church is marked by a close, loving fellowship - 1 John 3:14. When a church begins to loosen the tie that binds, look out, for they are in deep trouble at the very heart of their existence as a congregation. They are about to experience the removal of God's hand of blessing.)
3. The Table - These early Christians also found common ground in the Lord's Supper. They were quick to remember and to commemorate God's great blessings on their lives. When these people gathered, they did so to celebrate their Common Ground: The Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Ill. Things haven't changed! The same thing that brought these people together is the same thing that binds us one to another. It is the death, resurrection and return of the Lord Jesus Christ. When we come together at the Lord's Table, may we always remember that we are here, we are saved, and we are family all because of what Jesus did for us at Calvary. We were nothing when He found us, and we are nothing apart from Him today, John 15:5. Everything we have, everything we are, everything we ever hope to have or be, we owe to Jesus! When we forget this and feel that we are partly or wholly responsible for who we are, them we are in deep spiritual trouble. )
4. The Throne - Another trait that marked these early believers was prayer. They possessed an active prayer life. To them, prayer was more than just a ritual or some habit they were supposed to indulge one in a while. Prayer was their lifeline. It was their link with the Heavenly Father and the means whereby He communicated with them.
(Ill. In the modern church, prayer has, too often, become the ugly stepchild. People just don't pray like they ought to. They don't place as high a priority on prayer as they place on other things. Churches are better organized, more prosperous and better educated than they have ever been. Yet, at the same time, the modern church is weaker than she has ever been. The reason? Christians simply do not pray as they should!)
Ill. Ralph Neighbour tells about meeting with well- known Korean pastor David Cho in Seoul several years ago. He had an appointment, and they talked for some time. Then, says Ralph, "his secretary entered the room to inform him it was time for his next appointment. I dismissed myself and sat in the waiting room outside his office to wait for a friend who was coming to meet me. Curious about who his next visitor would be, I observed his office door to see who would follow me. "Fifteen minutes later, no one had entered that door. Tactfully, I said to his secretary, 'Has Dr. Cho's next appointment been delayed?'
"She smiled and said, 'Oh, no. They are together now. You see, each day he uses this time to talk to the Lord.' The secret of his church's phenomenal growth(it is now the largest church in the world) was revealed to me by this experience. Dr. Cho has learned the priority of prayer in his life and ministry.")
(Ill. Many of us need to reread the Scriptures and once again place the proper priority on prayer in our lives - 1 Thes. 5:17; Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2)
(Ill. With all our modern advances, a little "kneeology " would do a lot more good than a lot of theology!)
B. v. 44-46 They Were A Practical People
1. They Were A Single People - These early saints were a true body in every sense of the word. There was a mutual concern that is lacking in these modern times.
(Ill. According the Bible, there is only one body, 1 Cor. 12:12. The members of that body, being one, are responsible to look after the needs of that body. When we practice mutual love and concern for the other members of the Body of Christ, we are literally fulfilling the Law of God in Christ Jesus - Gal. 6:2)
2. They Were A Sacrificial People - They freely gave to meet the
needs of others in their Christian family.
(Ill. This is the calling card of Christianity! The world may promise man many things, but only a true, Spirit filled congregation can offer the seeker undemanding, selfless, never-ending love! The true church does this not out of compulsion, nor of Law. The church does this because it is what God wants us to do. The hand cares for the foot, the eye for the ear and the entire body profits from the love displayed among the various members.)
(Ill. The world will forget our messages, our revival service, even our names and faces, but they will never forget the genuine display of Christ-like love, when it dwells in our lives. Our love is our statement of Faith! John 13:35)
(Ill. A shabbily dressed boy trudged several miles through the snowy streets of Chicago, determined to attend a Bible class that was conducted by D. L. Moody. When he arrived, he was asked, "Why did you come to a Sunday school so far away? Why didn't you go to one of the churches near your home?" He answered simply, "Because you love a fellow over here." Like that lad, people all around us are still looking for love. They are longing to be warmly accepted by someone who really cares. Shakespeare said, "They do not truly love who do not show their love.")
3. They Were A Spiritual People - These people didn't just dress up in spiritual garments on Sunday! They were Christians 7 days per week. They made their way to the Temple and worshiped with other believers.
(Ill. A growing, living congregation is marked by people who are spiritual. They are not just "Sunday Saints," but they are, and act, just as saved on Monday - Saturday. When people's priorities are in order and their hearts are right with the Lord, they don't have to be begged and prodded to go to church. They don't have to be encouraged to do their jobs at church correctly and with joy. They don't have to be reminded to live for Jesus during the week. When the people in a church are spiritual, there is an automatic gravitation toward the House of God and the Lord's work. When this pull is missing, it indicates that there are problems of the heart that need to be addressed!)
(Ill. Notice that they enjoyed being with one another. Another trait of the healthy, growing congregation is a desire to fellowship on with another. In fact, the believer will often come to see his/her church family as being closer than blood relatives. I don't know about you all, but this is my crowd!)
C. v. 47a They Were A Praising People - Notice that we do not find these people complaining, belly-aching, whining, fighting, etc. They are engaged in the practice of praising the Lord Jesus. They are using their moths for a noble pursuit!
(Ill. A growing, healthy church is marked by their praise. I know that in these days, there are those who feel that we have become to modern and too sophisticated to be praising the Lord. Well, God still likes it and it is still in the Book, Psa. 47:1; Heb. 13:15. Therefore, it is still in order and God still likes it! A praising church is a lively church, it is a happy church, it is a victorious church, it is a blessed church and it is an exciting church! Calvary Baptist Church needs to be known as a place where people can come and praise the Lord Jesus Christ.)
(Ill. All the reasons we have for praise! All summed up in Luke 10:20! How are you doing in the praise department?)
II. v. 43A MARKED BY THE RIGHT KIND OF WITNESS
A. v. 43 The Community Was Attentive - The people outside this congregation sat up and took notice of this group of saints. The reason? This church was still pure and they were on fire for the Lord. He was working in their midst and the community could not deny that Jesus was there in power!
(Ill. Today, 99.9% of all we do can be explained away as human effort and human skill. What we need is for God's people to start seeking the Lord for some God sized things. We need to get very dependent on the Lord once again. When the community sees God doing in us that which can only be done by God, then they will take notice of Calvary Baptist Church.)
B. v. 43 The Community Was Astounded - Notice that "fear" was on
these people who lived around this church. They were afraid to attack the church because the power of God was on that place. They were astonished at what they saw taking place. Again, the reason for this was that the early church was a group of holy individuals. They were sold out to the Lord and operating under the power and energy of the Holy Spirit of God. He made the difference and the world took note of it.)
(Ill. I think it would be safe to say that the modern church doesn't inspire much fear in the hearts of the world around us. We have lost that element known as the power of God. Too often, the church is the center of controversy in the community and not the seat of God's power. These things ought not to be! The church has reached a place where we fear to stand on the standards laid down in the bible for fear of offending some individual or group. We have come to tolerate slackness, immorality and meanness among the membership. This should not be either.)
C. v. 47b The Community Was Affected - Notice that souls were saved by the Lord. This church grew because it was what God wanted it to be and He blessed it in return.
(Ill. When the church comes to the place where it is pure and clean in the eyes of God, devoted to the mission of God, and working together for the glory of God, then ,and only then, will the church see God extend the influence of the church beyond the four walls of the building. We all want to see people saved, right? Well, it will happen when the church lines herself up with God’s plan for the ages and goes with Him. It will not happen until then!)
III. v. 47b MARKED BY THE RIGHT KIND OF WONDERS
(Ill. It is a great day when people become involved in the work of the church, but business really picks up when the Lord gets personally involved in the work of the church.)
A. v. 43, 47 The Wonder Of His Blessings - God said "Amen" to this congregation's efforts in some very real ways:
1. He blessed them with His Peace (Unity) - God’s church is to be a united church, and unity among people so different can only be the result of the Lord's work in our lives! (Ill. We may not always agree on everything, but when the chips are down, the people of God will stand together, work together and die together!)
2. He blessed them with His Power - They saw miracles done in their midst. The unexplainable was commonplace in those days. Again, this can only come from the Lord. When we get were He can bless us as He wants to, we too will experience the unexplainable in our midst.
3. He blessed them with His Presence - When they met, they did so amid the presence of the Lord. He has promised the same for His people wherever and whenever they may meet, Matt. 18:20. Sadly, too often when we meet, we fail to do so in His Name! If we will rediscover the lost art of true worship, we can once again experience the Lord's overwhelming presence here in this church!
B. v. 47 The Wonder Of His Building - The Lord added to His church! When God begins to pour His blessings out on a hungry, holy people, one of the advantages is that souls will be delivered from Hell!
(Ill. "Daily" Apparently, people were being brought into the church there daily. No church that I know of is seeing this happen, but rest assured that God is still adding to His church on a daily basis. Ever since the day of Pentecost, somewhere in this world, souls have been brought into the Kingdom of Our blessed Savior the Lord Jesus Christ. Having said that, there is no reason why we cannot see it here. If that is, we are willing to pay the price for it!)
Conc: If Jesus, The Great Physician, were to walk into this building tonight and place His finger on the spiritual pulse of Calvary Baptist Church, would He say we were dead or alive? What if He were to do the same to you as an individual? What would He The bottom line is this: Our church will only grow in relation to God's ability to bless and work among us. As you've listened to this message, I trust that the Lord has pointed out areas where you need to make improvements in your own life. If so, I invite you to bring those needs to Jesus and let Him take care of them today.
As you are strengthened and walk in full fellowship with the Father, your church is also strengthened. Whatever your needs are today, please bring them to Jesus and let Him take care of them for you. If we will respond to Him, walk with Him and honor Him, He will visit this church with His power and we will experience His best plan for this ministry! Will you do what the Lord want's you to do today?