God has called us to build. In the Old Testament, it was about Temples, Walls and Armies. In the New Testament, God now calls us to build people for His Kingdom.
As Christ’s followers, we are called to build. And leading up till Easter we have been looking at four areas that we to build. We are to:
Three weeks ago, we looked at building firmly on the Lordship of Jesus Christ, The Lordship of Jesus Christ needs to be our foundation. AS Lord, we affirm Christ’s deity – that He is God.
If we have a liberal watered-down version understanding of Jesus, when those storms of life do come, we will be like that person mentioned in Luke 6:49 who didn’t build their house on foundation. Jesus said, “When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins” (Luke 6:49 NLT). Not only will our faith be washed away, but so will whatever we were building.
Two weeks ago, we looked at being Kingdom Builders by Building up One Another. We recognize that many feel “small” in our community - people with disabilities, those who suffer from low self-esteem, those who have been rejected, believers who are struggling in their faith. And yet the church is called to build up one another.
“Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:2 NIV).
“But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith” Jude 1:20 NLT
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Last week we looked at Building Bridges – to those who have hurt us and those we need to reach out to. Tony preached from Isaiah 62 and reminded us that in order to build bridges with others, sometimes we have to remove those stones that are blocking us to do such building.
Today, we are looking at building churches. First, let me share what this sermon isn’t about. It is not about building our own little empire. Let me tell, too many pastors are more concerned about building their empire than the kingdom of God. This sermon is not just about constructing and maintaining facilities that house church activities and services. In fact, these days, churches are opting to lease facilities to lower the cost of maintenance and mortgage repayments. It is not about building new programs, ministry groups and events hoping that people will come, when in fact the church ought to be training and encouraging believers to reach out in their mission communities right where they work and study.
What this sermon is about is having an understanding of Jesus’ words to Peter about building the church, and other New Testament passages that speak about building the church.
Jesus took His disciples to Gentile territory, in the region of Caesarea Philippi. They were about 120 miles from Jerusalem in the northern part of Palestine. The region was strongly identified with various religions: It had been a center for Baal worship; the Greek god Pan had shrines there; and Herod the Great had built a temple there to honor Augustus Caesar. It was in the midst of this pagan superstition that Peter confessed Jesus as the Son of God. And it was probably within sight of Caesar’s temple that Jesus announced a surprise: He would not yet establish His kingdom, but He would build His church. (Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament).
And so in Matthew 16 we read what was said, “But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:15-18 NIV).
Over the years, scholars have differed as to whom Jesus was referring to when He said rock. Some say that the rock on which the church was founded was Peter. The Catholic Theologians in particular see the rock as Peter. Others insist that the name Peter could hardly be identified as a foundation rock because in Greek Peter is petros, which means “little stone”).
I believe that Jesus was referring to Himself as the rock. Many times, in the Old Testament, God is referred to as the “rock”. In Psalm 18:2, David wrote a song after God had protected him from his enemies and King Saul. He wrote: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2 NIV).
The term rock is a symbol of strength and security. It is against this background that Jesus said that His church will be built and never be overcome by the powers of evil.
For over 2000 years, the church has not been overcome by the powers of evil. The Medieval Period where the then corrupt Church ruled saw the light in Europe grow dim but never was it extinguished.
Some of us in West may be dismayed by Christianity’s dwindling impact but overall, Christianity continues to see massive growth. It’s like God has changed His address from the North – such as Europe and North America to the South such as Africa, Asia, and India. Over the past 100 years, the church has exploded in these parts of the world.
When Jesus said that He will build His church, what did He mean? Somehow, I don’t think He was meaning buildings everywhere. The word church in the language that Jesus used is “ekklēsia” and it means “a calling out, that is, (concretely) a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both): - an assembly” (Strongs Hebrew and Greek).
Jesus was speaking about first, followers of Jesus everywhere, and secondly who would come together. And it is a beautiful thing to see the church of Jesus Christ around the world in all its variety – from those who meet in homes, to those in cathedrals, to those who meet in factories, to those who meet in mud huts. Small gatherings and very large gatherings, God’s church has grown in variety and numerically.
What then is our role in building the church? Paul addresses in several of his letters, after all, his letters were written to churches about how to build their church.
The church at Corinth was experiencing some good things but they had some problems too. It was a divided church. In chapter three Paul referred to them as “infants in the Christian life” (3:1 NLT). Amongst them was jealously and arguments. Some were saying in chapter 1:12 that they followed Paul, others argued that they followed Apollos’ leadership, while others it was Peter’s leadership.
Paul then says, “so what?” “Who are we after all”? Paul answers his own questions in verse 5: “We are only God's servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us”
(1 Corinthians 3:5 NLT).
Then Paul launches forth by writing about building the church by working together with the same purpose. Paul says in verse 6, “I planted the seed”. Paul was the one who planted the church in Corinth. In Acts 18 we are told that Paul while on his second missionary journey he went from Athens to Corinth and there found a synagogue. Verse 5 says, “…Paul spent all his time preaching the word. He testified to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But they opposed and insulted him…” (Acts 18:5-6 NLT). Building the church is hard work but it does have its rewards. Look at the next few verses: “Then he left and went to the home of Titius Justus, a Gentile who worshiped God and lived next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, and everyone in his household believed in the Lord. Many others in Corinth also heard Paul, became believers, and were baptized. One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, "Don't be afraid! Speak out! Don't be silent! For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to Me." So Paul stayed there for the next year and a half, teaching the word of God” (Acts 18:7-11 NLT). Through hard work the church was planted at Corinth.
Paul says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it…” (1 Corinthians 3:6 NIV). Again, in Acts 18, we read how Apollos helped to disciple these new believers in Corinth. Verses 24 and 25 says, “Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy…” (Acts 18:24-25 NLT). Paul planted the church while Apollos built upon this pioneering work. Teamwork. Look at verse 8: “The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work” (1 Corinthians 3:8 NLT). Circle the word “together”.
Its takes togetherness to lead a Christian school. Its takes togetherness to run effective Playgroups and Sunday School and Youth Groups. It takes togetherness to lead worship services every week. It takes togetherness to pastorally care for people, to run groups for teenagers and seniors, lead an effective Boys and Girls Brigades. It takes togetherness to support the work of missionaries and chaplains and the administration functions of the church. It takes togetherness of the whole church to break down any barriers we have built and be on the same page working hard to fulfill a united vision to see God’s kingdom grow.
Paul continues in Corinthians with a further message of inspiration and hope. Paul reminds us that God must be a part of our teamwork. Paul says that he may have planted the church and Apollos disciple the new believers, but it was God who caused growth. Paul says in verse 6, “…but God has been making it grow.”. He says it again in verse 7, “What’s important is that God makes the seed grow”. What I see in this term “grow” is God doesn’t want Christians or churches to remain static. He wants growth – and if we are willing to work together with our gifts and abilities with the same purpose then God will give the increase.
Then in verse 10 Paul says, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care” (1 Corinthians 3:10 NIV). Two points here – “We are to build” and “we are to build with care”.
How are we to build? Later in this letter Paul talks extensively about spiritual gifts and then he says in chapter 14 verse 12, “try to excel in those that build up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12 NIV).
I am very passionate about the church. I have been a part of the church all my life, 30 of my years as a pastor. I have seen the ugly side of church life. It appalls me when abuse occurs within the church. It completely saddens me when conflict destroys friendships within the church. And I get completely stressed when things aren’t going well in the church. And yet God has given me calling to serve in the church to build it. And when God’s people pulled together and build, the local church can be such a wonderful group to belong to. Hearing stories of transformation, being loved and accepted and not judged, bringing hope to people who are doing it tough. I mean, the church can be such a positive force in our lives and community. I have again seen it just this past week, God people in this church pulling together for someone.
Life has changed though, and this has impacted the church in general. In some areas I am so grateful that church has changed. Years ago, it was more legalistic, and minorities felt like second class citizens. Ask any Christian who were divorced 30 years ago how they felt around other Christians? While I am grateful for all the positive changes, there are many other changes that make church life today different and building the church is harder. My dad wrote to each of us four Moyes siblings a letter a few years ago and filed it away until he passed away. 3-years ago when he passed away we were each given our hand-written letter. For me, among the many things he wrote, one was about how much ministry is harder these day than when he started.
I think that in this wonderful country of bountiful opportunities we have kinda made our life more complicated and busy and stressful which has impacted what we do to build up the church. Fortunately, there are still those who make it a priority to use their God given gifts to build up the church.
For the Early Church, there was a defining moment that change their mindset of who they were and what they were about. It happened with the persecution and death of Stephen. When Stephen was stoned to death, we read in Acts 8:1, “And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1 NIV).
They had a choice. Where they going to go quiet on their faith or something else? I mean, we are told in verse three that Saul went from house to house rounding up Christians and putting them into prison. What were they going to do? Verse 4 tells us what they decided to do: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4 NIV). They decided to build the church wherever they went. They were so convicted about the Lordship of Jesus that they decided not to have a quiet faith but preach about Jesus.
When Jesus rode in Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday, it was a defining moment for various people. For the Pharisees, the parade and the crowds were the last straw and so they went away plotting His death. For Jesus, it was a defining moment. He was going into the very city where He knew He was going to be killed. There was no turning back now. It was a defining moment because He knew what He was doing would trigger the process of his killing. For the crowd, was not a defining moment which meant that one moment they would chant for Jesus but a few days later, they would shout for His death.
For you, what would you say were some defining moments in your faith? Perhaps it was when you asked Jesus into your life? Perhaps it was your baptism or a miracle in your life? What about a defining moment about your role in building up the church? I appreciate that for most there hasn’t been, maybe it was more of a God process overtime. This morning, please be challenged that Jesus has called you to be a builder in His kingdom. It’s intentional. It’s commitment. It’s obedience. And it’s a change of mindset.
When more and more build together, just watch what God does in people’s lives and even in yours..