Over one hundred years ago, E.M. Bounds opened his classic series on prayer with these words: “Men are God’s method. The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men.”
When Jesus declared He would build His church He was looking at a man. He was not envisioning a church that would derive their lineage from that man. “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Would the man Peter be the foundation of Christ’s church? No. But upon men like Peter, in every generation, Jesus builds His church. Peter was certainly an unfinished product when Jesus spoke these words to him; but he would become a mighty man of God through whom Christ would strengthen His church. “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:32)
The method of Christ in building His church has always been to find men He can mold into passionate disciples that carry His witness to their generation.
The method of Christ in building His church has always been to find men He can mold into passionate disciples that carry His witness to their generation. Paul, at first, was a far cry from a lover of Jesus. But after his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus he became a “wise master builder” through whom Christ would erect His living temple. He warned every prospective laborer in the kingdom to be careful how they went about their Master’s business.
“For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.” (1 Corinthians 3:9,10)
As the apostle to the nations, Paul traversed the ancient world in order to start and establish local churches. His method was the same as his Master’s: find faithful men who would be able to transmit their life and witness to others. To Timothy, his son in the faith, he laid down the plan:
“Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:1,2)
Paul advocates a selection process here. Even as Jesus picked twelve that they should be with Him (Mk. 3:14); and continue with Him through His temptations (Lk. 22:28); Paul chose Timothy to travel by his side and learn firsthand how a disciple is to manifest the witness of Christ in the world. He reminded Timothy of “the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses.” The word “among” in this verse is the Greek preposition dia which more commonly means “through” or “by.” Paul tells his young protégé to recall the many witnesses he gave him while they were together. Jesus dwelt among His disciples and they beheld His glory. Paul purposely let Timothy know what manner of man he was in Christ.
“But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.” (2 Timothy 3:10,11)
But if Timothy was to pass the baton on to those who had not personally known Paul, he had to endure the trials that came his way with the same virtue that his mentor did. Paul charges him:
“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (2 Timothy 2:3)
Just like Jesus told His disciples that they had their own cross to carry, Paul made sure Timothy was preparing for the suffering that all who will live godly in Christ Jesus must endure. The phrase “endure hardness” is the compound Greek word kakopatheo which means to suffer by way of trouble, distress, or affliction. A soldier’s life is not easy; neither is the life of a believer who is dedicated to his Master and His cause. Suffering is a given. “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).
A church that considers suffering to be anathema is being improperly built.
A church that considers suffering to be anathema is being improperly built. Paul and Barnabas returned to the churches they started “confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) Like Christ before them they didn’t merely teach what should be done, they modeled it in their own lives – “being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” (1 Corinthians 4:12,13)
Simply experiencing tribulation is not enough; it is our response that determines whether our witness shines with the glory of Christ and has an imprint on those watching. Paul was not merely interested in lecturing others on how the Christian life should be lived. He considered himself more than a teacher. He was a father who daily lived out the life of Christ in full view of his children who he wanted to follow him.
“For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:15,16)
And in order to reinforce his witness, Paul sent Timothy to them, a “living epistle” of what he taught, and one who walked in his same spirit.
“For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.” (1 Corintians 4:17)
Men of Paul’s caliber have always been hard to come by. But that didn’t make Paul lower the call of duty. He deemed the high and holy calling to apprehend all that Christ has apprehended us for as applicable to every believer.
“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” (Philippians 3:14,15)
Like Jesus, Paul was laser focused on fulfilling the call upon his life. He knew that only those completely sold out to Christ would make an impact on those around them. In his first letter to Timothy he charged him to fully abandon himself to the unique call on his life.
“Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” (1 Timothy 4:14-16)
In his second letter, Paul warns Timothy not to become “entangled” in things irrelevant to the fulfilling of his call.
“No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” (2 Timothy 2:4)
If the church is to grow up into Christ in all things, it will be through the focused contribution of each faithful member of the body – “according to the effectual working in the measure of every part.” Such leads to the “increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:16) Christ commissions every one of us with a call to service. Paul had a race set before him. He was equipped to run that race. His whole desire was to finish his course with joy. Simply and faithfully doing what our Lord has chosen us to do is no small thing, it is everything.
If our enemy cannot defeat or destroy us, he will detour us.
Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church. If our enemy cannot defeat or destroy us, he will detour us. He will get us distracted and caught up in other things of little or no value to the fulfilling of His call upon us. Paul warned Timothy to be singly focused on pleasing Him who chose him to be His soldier. As in the days of the early church, there is a battle raging today that needs our full engagement. We cannot afford to be AWOL.
Paul next used the example of an athlete. With stakes so high, Paul didn’t want Timothy to disqualify himself from the race by placing the end goal above the means.
“And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” (2 Timothy 2:5)
Timothy was commended for his zeal. Paul was not against zeal. “But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing” (Galatians 4:18) Be zealous. Go for the gold. But don’t do it on steroids. Be careful how you build. “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” (1 Corinthians 3:13) We can begin in the Spirit and then attempt to be perfected in the flesh. We can start to run well and then get turned aside to a profitless program. “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1). What is of God must also be by God. The means matter. The work of God cannot be accomplished by our might or power; it must be by God’s Spirit. No matter how good our intentions, whatever does not proceed from God, will end up as “wood, hay, and stubble” in the day of discovery.
At the end of his race, Paul told Timothy that a crown was awaiting him. (2 Timothy 4:8) We will receive a crown of glory from our Lord in the day of reward if we have not sought our reward from men. The best way to ensure that our labor is unto the Lord, is to make sure it is of and by the Lord. As Jesus said: “He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.” (John 7:18)
Jesus will not build His church through those who are eager to point men to themselves.
Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, and everything in between. The foundation has been laid and it is Jesus Christ. Everything that is built on that foundation must also magnify the person and work of Christ and be to His glory and praise. The Spirit of Christ is not about glorifying us. A desire to gain praise or recognition for what we know or teach or do is the worst error we can fall into. Jesus will not build His church through those who are eager to point men to themselves. Paul warned about such disciple-makers. “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30) Striving lawfully requires us to do all for the glory of Christ in careful conjunction with His Spirit. Every crown given in the day when heaven recognizes its heroes will be thrown back at the feet of the One who alone is worthy of all the glory.
The final illustration Paul gives to Timothy of the type of person by whom Christ builds His church is of a husbandman who labors to bring forth fruit that can feed others.
“The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.” (2 Timothy 2:6)
This last example brings us back to the beginning charge:
“Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:1)
To the apostles, the grace of Christ was not merely a doctrine needing to be taught; it was a provision one needed to partake of in order to stay strong and stalwart in the faith.
“Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.” (Acts 13:43)
“And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)
Not only must there be a beginning by grace, but a continuation and growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ.
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)
Not one of us can be the person God wants us to be apart from His grace. An experience in and of grace is essential to our growth. Grace abounds where sin once abounded. (Romans 5:20) When life gives us less than we’d like, God gives us “more grace” to preserve us from bitter envy and strife. (James 4:1-6) When we’re at our weakest, the grace of Christ is not only sufficient to uphold us, but it gives us hind’s feet to navigate the naturally impossible. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
We all encounter both moments and seasons in which we are sorely tempted and tried. Only by grace can we stand and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:2) “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” (James 1:12) In trials we are proven. Here is where Christ’s strength is perfected in weakness. Here we can be strong, not in ourselves, but “in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
The church needs to more deeply embrace a prosperity message where godliness is great gain.
What great opportunity we have in the fiery trials of life! Christ counsels us to gain gold from Him in these times. “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich” (Revelation 3:18). The church needs to more deeply embrace a prosperity message where godliness is great gain. We need men and women of God whose souls are prospering, who have laid up within a storehouse of rich experience gained by passing the tests they have faced. We need those who can speak to the heart more than the head. These are shepherds that continually feed their flock. (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2) They are older woman who teach younger women good things. (Titus 2:3) They are those who can comfort the suffering with the same comfort they have received when suffering. (2 Corinthians 1:4)
If the church is to be edified it must have members who have godly experience to draw from. “The lips of the righteous feed many: but fools die for want of wisdom.” (Proverbs 10:21) If we fail of the grace of God, what can we give to those who are desperate for a living example of how to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil? Instead of feeding many with the Bread of life, we will defile many by the bitterness we have let fill our soul.
The next generation that is arising needs a vivid witness of how true disciples and lovers of Christ should live and walk in this present evil world.
Our ministry to others must proceed from a diligent life and walk with God. What we best communicate to others is what we have learned in the classrooms of our life. We cannot feed to another what we haven’t eaten ourselves. We must take advantage of the opportunities before us to grow in grace. The meal we miss today is the meal we can’t give others tomorrow. Our children need more than a weekly trip to Sunday school; they need parents who are passing on a rich experience and legacy in God. The next generation that is arising needs a vivid witness of how true disciples and lovers of Christ should live and walk in this present evil world.
Paul wrote this exhortation to Timothy right before he was about to leave the earth. They are among his last recorded words. He asked his son to reflect deeply on them:“Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.” (2 Timothy 2:7)
What was written then by the aged apostle, whose departure was at hand, to a faithful son in the faith who would continue to carry his witness of Christ to a new generation of faithful men is just as pertinent now to all of us. Let us also consider what Paul had to say. Let us understand the vital importance of living out a godly life before God and men. We are the light of the world. Christ is still building His church through living stones and living epistles that are seen and read of all.