Reminiscing over our church’s first 40 years presses home to me our great accountability to God as a congregation. He has given us so much that we will answer for. He doesn’t want us to be like passengers on a bus, just watching the scenery go by and leaving everything to the driver. Neither does He mean for us to resemble patients in a hospital having all our needs attended to by the staff. Some church members are like perpetual students, “ever learning, and never able.” They value doctrinal knowledge but never graduate and get a job. They remain “hearers only” and spectators, yet the Bible is full of passages which rebuke head knowledge not matched by real service for the Lord.
I read everything I can get my hands on concerning revival and how preaching has changed in modern times. Today often there is not a single word of exhortation to do something significant in the service of God. People seem to think that the spreading of the gospel and growth of churches do not depend in any way on Christians witnessing or working for God. All they need to do is believe the right things, pray, and remain at ease in Zion.
This type of Christian organizes his life as though his sole calling is to enjoy the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, live a godly life, and look after his family. But what about the work of God? If our church is right we must try to bring about total involvement of all healthy members into the service of the King.
We must labor in our churches if we are right with God. The word for Christian service most commonly used in the New Testament means “a striving.” It calls to mind scything the harvest, resulting in the laborer becoming tired or weakened. Paul said in I Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” By using that word he means to say that intensive and tiring service is what the Lord wants from us, and this is the kind of service He promises to bless. This word is used in John 4:38 to describe the heavy work of plowing. Many passages help us see the strenuous nature of Biblical service for the Lord. Today, though, this term seems to have lost its force. However, according to the Bible it is our costly, tiring, labor that will never be in vain in the Lord. Our labor must qualify.
This tiring-toil term is found in a promise in Hebrews 6:10 when the writer says, “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love.” He will always bless and reward our strenuous work for Him. Oh, how I want Fairhaven Baptist Church to continue to be productive in this way so as to continue to experience His great blessings.
The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” The writer has only one word for those who decide not to be a part of this great effort, and that is, slothful, which means slow and lazy. Fatigue and pain are necessary if we are going to be accepted Bible Christians. We cannot allow Satan to undermine a vigorous service for God if we expect His blessings to continue.
Paul used another labor-intensive word reminiscent of the great public games of his day in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” A wrestler used to be and still is prepared to suffer exhaustion for his sport. When I was in the best physical shape of my life I was introduced to the sport at Iowa State University, and after only three minutes I felt I couldn’t move. But Paul knew an Olympic athlete had no thought of his rights or comforts. He was willing to do anything—determined to do his best. This is the picture Paul uses to describe the Christian committed to God’s service—visiting for the bus routes on cold, dark winter nights or working hard and late to finish a project on a new building.
The wrestler would never walk off the mat when things got hard and change into his street clothes, but that is almost expected in today’s area of Christian service. Even church attendance is down in bad weather and people stay home from prayer meeting when they feel “down,” instead of “girding up the loins of our minds.”
We are in a life and death contest for souls and must do our dead level best. Runners are out in all kinds of weather—wind, rain, or bitter cold. They are regimented to do what they said they would. As Paul wrote, “they do it to obtain a corruptible crown.” Shouldn’t we as church members show the same single-mindedness?
We shouldn’t be seeing fewer and fewer bus ministries. Our Sunday School attendances should not be failing for lack of workers. Christian day schools should not be fading off the scene. There is no reason that our churches should not be the hives of activity we saw across our nation when Fairhaven Baptist Church was planted 40 years ago. The result of this activity is always satisfied, fulfilled, and assured people of God who are close to one another because fellowship in service always brings about the deepest and best friendships.
In Colossians 1:29 Paul uses another strong word taken from the area of sporting contests. Speaking of his preaching, he writes “Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working. . .” The word striving means to agonize in a do or die effort. He uses it again as he exhorts Timothy to, “Fight the good fight of faith,” and later declares, “I have fought a good fight.” This term tells us that our Christian service will demand times of supreme effort. We are to be like gladiators, prepared to commit our last ounce of strength to secure success and victory. See the wrestler in the last minutes of the match, between victory and defeat, or the runner, even with his opponent, running toward the finish line. More than once running the 440 in high school, I ended up in the cinders, completely “out of gas” at the end.
This “fighting verb” tells us that we are to finish the tasks we have begun for the Lord. We should take full responsibility for projects and keep going when we are tempted to let things go. No matter how tired we must make a magnificent last effort. We should want every week of this short life to count in the battle with Satan. How much blessing, victory, and spiritual happiness are you missing by not yielding up your life for His service and just shuffling through life? Christian service is a fight against the powers of darkness but also the lethargy of our own bodies.
We should be glad to sacrifice time and great effort for our King, not allowing our Lord’s work to be pushed around by our pleasures and aspirations. Ephesians 4:11-12, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists, and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” One job of the pastor is to train the saints for the work of the ministry. As boot camp is a training ground for soldiers and a college trains accountants and engineers, the church is the place to be trained for the service of the Lord. Church attendance should mean more than coming to hear a sermon but wanting to learn to be a better soldier—to be an integral part of the ministry. Romans 12:11 shows us that we are to offer up a “fervent spirit” to Him.
But what has gone wrong? I have heard of pastors pushing back the zeal of members because they themselves are backslidden and lazy. Usually, though, it’s the members who are fighting against the service of the Lord. Some have indicated that women, for instance, should do no more than stay home to raise their children and pray—and these are great responsibilities. But there is so much more a lady can do better than a man, like playing the piano or organ, being a church secretary, visiting ladies and children, or even being a bus worker. You don’t have to push the family aside to do this.
I believe it is the responsibility of this generation’s local church to raise up the next generation of Christians in our towns and communities. It is Fairhaven Baptist Church’s job not only to replace itself, but reach out to every neighborhood within reach and train many of its children to go around the world winning others. That is our job! Yet the average Christian today doesn’t seem to care that bus ministries and Sunday Schools are shriveling up, and day schools which were so prevalent are almost non-existent. Why?
The middle-aged think they have contributed all they need and are at ease. We travel on the weekends, not concerned about our local church. We love our leisure, sports, recreation, fellowship, and television. Have we lost sight of the fact that the Lord knows our accomplishments or works. When Christ says to the Laodiceans, “I know thy works,” He is referring to the entire church. He isn’t referring to their doctrinal stand or constitution but their accomplishments. They were lacking any costly toil for the Master.
One day we will stand before God and give an account of what we have done with the local church committed to us. Oh, that the Lord could turn us away from the pursuit of beautiful homes, easy lifestyles, worldly fulfillment, and excessive leisure to have a genuine dedication to the wonderful service of God. We ought to be thrilled that God still uses human instruments and be determined to allow Him to use us in a great way for the rest of our lives. There is no other avenue to prove the power of God and bring Him down in our midsts in revival—with blessings, souls, assurance, joy, and peace.
We fight the idea of working much, but real hard work is a key to Biblical lives.