By Ramon Madrigal
Most Christians realize that the first century church experienced tremendous growth both in numbers and in spirit. Indeed, about 3000 repentant sinners were converted in response to the very first gospel sermon. What we often overlook is that this notable increase occurred under very hostile circumstances. Perhaps the presentation of a television miniseries like “A.D.,” aired last spring, helped graphically illustrate the problems and dilemmas our early brethren had to face. While much of the material in that movie was inaccurate and speculative, the Christians were, indeed, “fed to the lions” and treated cruelly. It was under such circumstances that the Apostle John wrote the book of Revelation and admonished his brethren to be “faithful unto death” (Rev. 2:10). Stephen was the first martyr, but certainly not the last (Acts 7).
So how is it in modern times that many churches seem “dead” spiritually and show little growth? We enjoy relative religious freedom and little governmental persecution at the present time. If the kingdom was able to grow in the first century within a belligerent environment, should not the modern church abound in growth and maturity?
Let me suggest to you that affluence and prosperity present special problems and trials to contemporary Christians. People who enjoy good health, a stable economy, and untold luxuries and leisure have a tendency to forget about God! Who needs the Lord when everything is going so well? The lesson of early Christianity is unmistakable: Growth is a product of dependence on God. This is why Jesus taught that the “poor in spirit are blessed” (Matt. 5:3). We need to humble ourselves before God and before our fellow-man. We ought to entrust to God our lives, expressing our humility and dependence to our Maker. Every Christian can do this in the following ways:
(1) Prayer. I suppose that there is no act or event that so vividly expresses our humility and lowliness as prayer. Yet this is our avenue of communication to God. Through prayer we can come boldly before the throne of grace and discuss life with our Lord. He will give us the strength and stamina we need to carry our crosses. How else could Paul and Silas endure the prison of Philippi?
(2) Singing. It is written that “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Perhaps there is nothing as powerful to stimulate and motivate the mind as music. That is why the advertising industry uses musical “jingles” to sell products. That is how a lustful and sinful world sells a lascivious lifestyle to young and nimble minds. On the other hand, it is also how Christians can keep their thoughts on honorable, just, pure, and lovely things. Why not begin each day with a spiritual song? Like certain culinary foods, it is likely to “repeat” all day in your heart!
(3) Study. The Psalmist declared that he meditated on God’s law both day and night. So must we! The most effective way to eliminate evil and corrupt thoughts and desires from our minds is to fill and refill our minds with “things that are higher” and “things that are nobler.” Study also prepares us for the most important work of communicating our faith to others who “see our good works and glorify God” (Matt. 5:16). How else can we be ready to give answer to those who ask us to explain our hope (1 Pet. 3:15)?
(4) Sharing. By this we mean the deliberate and conscious effort to evangelize a lost and dying humanity. All have fallen short of God’s grace and stand condemned before God without Christ. Do you know of a friend, relative, or neighbor who needs the blood of the Lamb? Of course you do. Share your faith with him or her! Invite them to the services of the church; write a letter or send a tract; make that phone call and express your love and concern. We can do all things “through Christ who gives us strength” (Phil. 4:13).
While each of these items can be expressed in our assemblies together, I believe that the greatest growth is accomplished “behind the scenes.” Personal growth is primary and preparatory to church growth. Constant and fervent prayer “in our closets” shows God (and no one else) that we are aware of our need for Him. While our co-workers may sing along with Kenny Rogers or Juice Newton, we should sing spiritual songs and hymns to the glory of God. Who knows, maybe we’ll actually influence somebody for good rather than being influenced by evil. Although it may be relaxing and entertaining to watch 3-6 hours of television each night, can we not find 10-30 minutes to meditate on the Word? Can we not scrape together 20 minutes to regularly share our faith to others in some way?
These are things that we all can do, whatever talents and abilities God has given to us. The preacher cannot pray or sing for you. That is your responsibility both in and out of the church building. Neither can the elders study and evangelize for me. That is my responsibility and opportunity. May God give us the wisdom to recognize our utter dependence on Him, the courage and confidence to continue in the faith, and the zeal to evangelize the world!
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 18, pp. 545, 566
September 19, 1985