Reflections on New Year's Eve
AFBC 2001 12 31
One might think of David and Solomon, who planned and carried out the building of one of the greatest building projects of antiquity, the temple to the worship of the lord in Jerusalem. Another such builder that comes to mind was Nehemiah, who in chapter four of the book that bears his name, undertook to organize the population of Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls in the face of enemy opposition.
Yet another was Haggai:
Zephaniah 3:1 ¶ In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest: This is what the LORD Almighty says: "These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built.'"Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: "Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?"Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it." This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,"says the LORD. "You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?"declares the LORD Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labour of your hands."
Haggai himself asked: Hag 1:4 "Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?"
Application to the Church:
What has this to do with today's church?
According to Matt 28:19-20, the business of the church is to
"go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
This is the reason one mission of the members of Aldergrove Fellowship Baptist Church is to:
equip effective disciples of Jesus Christ,
and that mission says we will do this, among other things by:
- joining together regularly for prayer and the worship of God in spirit and truth,
- encouraging fellowship with each other in the Lord,
- encouraging the exercise of our spiritual gifts,
- discipling believers to know, uphold and apply the scriptures to their lives,
That is to say, making disciples very much consists of building other people up in their faith and walk.
Romans 15:2 Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up.
1Corinthians 3:9 For we are God's fellow-workers; you are God's field, God's building.
1Corinthians 14:12 So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.
Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
1Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Jude 1:20 But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.
We could rephrase Haggai's question: Is it a time for you yourselves to be living for your own interests, while work needs to be done on God's building? Or we could again turn to examples. One thinks of Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement). (Acts 4:36) How many of us are sons and daughters of encouragement?
So, let us apply good building sense as epitomized by the great builders of old to the question of building God's spiritual building, His church.
It can readily be observed of politics, and of many other human endeavours that there are two kinds of people: those who build something, and those who criticize. In the light of this, let me identify several kinds of building activities:
1. Making a plan
No building can take place without a well-defined plan. But God has been planning the building of his church since eternity past:
Ephesians 1: 11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory.
What is the plan of God for His church? That we will all be to the praise of his glory. No more, no less. Let us never forget that our interests and our agenda and our advancement are not in the plan; only God's glory is.
2. Clearing the ground
Building sites do not come pre-prepared. There are boulders to remove, trees to cut down, stumps to remove, and ground to level. There are echoes of this kind of activity in the voice of John the Baptist: John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.'"(John 1:23)
What spiritual obstacles are there in your life and mine to the building of God's church? One is friction between brothers and sisters.
Matt 5: 23 "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 18:15 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.
Of these matters, Paul says: 1Corinthians 11:29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognising the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.
And what is the body of the Lord in this context but the Church? Paul is warning of serious consequences in the life of the church if problems in the body are not dealt with. An unkind cut here, a poisonous word there, some cancer of sin elsewhere, and soon the whole body is dying.
Is the church not well? Perhaps there are obstacles that have to be cleared away before building can resume. Who do you need to go to in order to reconcile, to repent, to ask for and give unconditional forgiveness like that which is in you from the Lord?
3. Laying a foundation
Every well-built building needs a foundation, or it will collapse in the wind and rain.
Matt 7:24 "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
1Corinthians 3:11 For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
A church can be built only on the gospel. The church IS the born-again ones, the ones who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. These are the blessed ones, the ones who know they were spiritually poor, the ones whom Christ has snatched like burning brands from the fires of hell and brought together to worship him, not because we were anything special, but on the merits and cross work of Christ alone.
2Timothy 2:19 Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his,"and, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness."
That is, what begins in the knowledge and acts of God is verified and witnessed to by actual repentance and a change of life--no mere words but actions. God's redeemed are different. They are:
Ephesians 2:20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
4. Erecting the superstructure
1Corinthians 3:11 For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
This has both negative and positive aspects, for shoddy workmanship is possible, but won't last long. The refiner's fire will burn it away. Building an edifice for our own purposes, our own pride, our own glory accomplishes nothing. But building people's lives on God's foundation with God's Word in love, righteousness, obedience, humility and kindness will produce an church of such a quality that all will know it is the work of God and not that of sinful man and women.
5. Finishing & maintaining the building
A church, once built, cannot be simply left alone, for it is always one generation or less from extinction. It must be maintained, and in the light of a new year coming up, here are some practical suggestions for doing so:
a. Blow the cobwebs off your bible and make it a functional part of your life and not merely an ornament in a dusty corner. Learn something new of God's word each day of the coming year.
b. Review the events of the last year and remove any new obstacles that have arisen. Repent of what has hurt or harmed your brother or sister, forgive and mean it. Let go of anger, hurt, resentment. Set aside idols such as greed, sin, and the neglect of God's church.
c. Resolve to say at least three positive, kind, uplifting things about other people, about the church, about life in general, before saying a single critical, complaining, or negative thing. Be a builder, not a destroyer. Actually, if you have indeed dealt with your own sins, you will undoubtedly find that the faults of others suddenly become uninteresting.
d. Pray for one another as individuals and as a church. This alone will build up the church, if for no other reason than that if you truly love God's church and bring her before the Lord in prayer, you yourself will be more inclined to listen when He tells you that he needs you to take action as part of the solution, to become a brick or two of what He wishes to build in the coming year.
e. Do random acts of kindness. Smile, hug, complement, be a friend, encourage, teach, exhort, be hospitable, generous, friendly and generally exercise the spiritual gifts--all in the name of the Lord and for his sake and that of other people. As Paul says: Romans 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
f. Draw others in by being Christ to them so that they will see him in your character and want what you have in him. We are Christ's gospel. It needs to be heard.
These are only examples of things we could do. It's not hard to find more. We can summarize in the words of Paul in Philipians 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
We will soon begin the first year of the rest of eternity. In that eternity Christians will praise God's glory together in his heaven forever. We need to practice in the here and now. Thus, do not ask what you can get out of God and his church. Rather, ask how you can build it up, to the praise of His glory in this life. It is why we are still here.