The Church At The End Of The Age
The Church At the End of the Age – Is Our Love Growing Cold?
“…let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith...Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:21-25)
“Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27
Paul wrote these words to a local Church in Corinth over 19 centuries ago. Most of the New Testament, in fact, consists of letters writen to local gatherings of believers. Jesus' followers, the Apostles, were trained and sent out by Him to establish churches all over the world. Church planting was the master plan of evangelism - it was at the center of God's plan to reach the world with the Good News of the Gospel.
But it seems that today that just about everyone can produce a quick and detailed list about what’s wrong with the Church. It’s even become “hip” and acceptable for believers to stay away from Sunday gatherings. Many have developed complex, and elaborate reasons about why they won’t attend a local Church – the list is long and easy to compile – “they’re just a bunch of hypocrites”, “I don’t believe in organized religion”, or “ I’m part of the revolutionary church”, “that’s not in the New Testament”, or my personal favorite “I can worship anywhere, so why come to Church?”
Today, we are rich with self-styled, self-appointed, and self-serving critics – but poor in love. Poor in humility. Wretchedly impoverished when it comes to serving – wealthy in information - bankrupt in mercy, affluent in judgment, but penniless in grace and forgiveness. What a sad state.
Despite a profusion of critics, the local church has a few champions. Bill Hybels (Pastor of Willow Creek) is one – the man lives to encourage leaders – God bless him! Hybels has stated more than once in my hearing that he believes that the “local church is the hope of the world”. Every time I’ve heard him say that he has said it with a broken voice and tear filled eyes. He is so right. I believe he stands as a significant prophetic voice against the onslaught of those who would decimate the local church.
Why is attendance and involvement in the local church so vital for the world? Simply because of what the local church is. The Apostle Paul comes right to the point in 1 Corinthians 12:27-28. Remember that he writes this to a real, body of local believers – imperfect, complicated, sinful and sweaty as they might be! (Read the letter if you don’t believe me)
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.”
Did you catch that? He says – “you are the body of Christ.” It’s almost as important to consider what he didn’t say. He didn’t say, “now you are becoming the Body of Christ”, or “one day you will be the Body of Christ”, or “when you start behaving yourselves you will be the Body of Christ”. He says, “You ARE now the Body of Christ.” (ESV - the more literal translations include the word “now”) Then he adds, “and in the church…each of you has a part in it…”
The word “church” in the original language is “ekklesia.” Ekklesia was a word used to refer to the local Christian community. This was also the Greek version of “sunagoge” – or the transliteration synagogue as we know it today – which was the Hebrew word for the gathering of believers. The transliteration of the Hebrew word is used in the Epistle to the Hebrews chapter 10 verse 25:
“…not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
Who was the author of Hebrews referring to? Clearly it was to some who were forsaking assembly on a regular, habitual basis (for whatever reason – I listed some earlier). Notice how he clearly juxtaposes “forsaking assembly” and “encouraging one another.” The idea is plain and clear - skipping church habitually is wrong because the Holy Spirit commands it – but it is also discouraging – literally, it weakens and deflates you spiritually.
Furthermore, the injunction to not “forsake assembly” comes at the tail end of three straight “let us” appeals - in the Greek they are all one word.
• First in verse 22 “let us draw near” – prosérchomai – it refers specifically to approaching God in prayer – together – not alone.
• Then “let us hold fast” - katéchō - let’s hang in there with our faith – together – not alone!
• Lastly, “let us consider” – again, one word in the Greek - katanoéō - meaning - “let’s contemplate, plan, brainstorm together – how to do more together as a local church body. Not, how can we criticize and judge one another, or backbite one another, or come up with reasons why we can’t hang around one another”….instead – “let’s figure out how to do this better together – how can we love each other more and do more good things together.”
Oh God, for more people like this in the church today! They are the blessing and inspiration not only of local church pastors, but for all the flock. They give us life, hope, fill us with faith, and…literally…they “encourage” us in the ministry.
We are almost two and a half years into this wonderful work – the planting of a local body of Christ – in Doral! There have been many “ups” and “downs.” We have labored to bring people together in love, acceptance, and forgiveness – and there have been some great victories along the way. There’s been a lot of pain, many setbacks, lots of tears and anguish on the path – but always hope and many times, tears of rejoicing!
One thing is for sure – we could not have lasted this long without a number of you at the Doral Vineyard who have served, not with a self-centered perspective, but with this beautiful “one another” heart! Cathy and I have been the beneficiaries of the love of Jesus shinning though your lives!
“…let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds..”
Notice the word “love” right next to “good deeds”. You know the reason - they belong together. You’ve probably all heard this before, there are at least 4 words translated “love” in the New Testament – but the greatest “love” is “agape” love – it’s the love modeled by the Father in John 3:16 - “God so loved the world that He gave…” There is no better verse to demonstrate the meaning of “agape” love – quite simply – it just “gives.”
Matthew 24 as Jesus describes the conditions at the end of the age, He speaks to the condition of His Church in “that time”:
“At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other….because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:10-13)
I believe “that time” is the same “day” which is approaching in Hebrews 10:25.
In the words of the 19th century German scholar Franz Delitzsch that “day” and “that time” speaks of “the bloody and fiery dawn of the great day; that day is the day of days, the ending day of all days, the settling day of all days, the day of the promotion of time into eternity, the day which, for the Church, breaks through and breaks off the night of the present world”
But who is He referring to? Whose love will “grow cold?” Those outside of the Church? The Lost? Those sinners out there? In a word, no. The context and a single word reveal the chilling answer. Verse 10 mentions a “turning away from the faith.” In verse 12 the word love appears as “agape” in the original. Only a believer in Jesus Christ can have “agape” love. These who are “hating each other” and turning away from the faith are not those outside the Church – but “cold as stone” believers within the Church. (By the way, the stark implication of this verse is that to "hate a brother" in Christ IS to turn away from the faith)
We don’t need to project this out to some future time frame – these words are alarmingly descriptive of what happens too often in the Body of Christ today. Don’t give into the spirit of the age. Don’t let your love grow cold. There is no such thing as loving Jesus and hating Christians (see 1 John 4:20) – draw near to other believers to love and encourage them to be everything God wants them to be. Jesus loved the Church – a real, local, imperfect flesh and blood Church - and gave His life for her – we’re called to do the same.
Type rest of the post here