GETTING THE MESSAGE/What is the local church?

GETTING THE MESSAGE/What is the local church?


The apostle Paul, in the city of Lystra on his first mission trip, is stoned and dragged out of the city, assumed to be dead (verse 19). This happened after he had preached the gospel and the Lord had miraculously healed a crippled man at Paul’s command. The crowds had responded by attempting to worship both Paul and Barnabas as gods. Paul had rebuked them, teaching them the vanity of false gods in comparison to the blessedness of the one true God who made all things.

But then Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and persuaded the crowds that Paul was worthy of death by stoning. They thought Paul dead and left him, but Paul rose up and went to the next city, Derbe, continuing to preaching the gospel. He then traveled back through all the cities he had visited to strengthen believers, and soon after he returned to Antioch and gave a full report (verse 27). Paul is an example for Christians of perseverance in the faith.

We see Paul’s singlemindedness in service to Christ and the church. James says the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (James 1:3). Paul was certainly steadfast in trial. He had been threatened in city after city and finally stoned in Lystra. Yet he moved on to the next city and preached the gospel, knowing he would face similar dangers.

Paul also was tempted. The crowds in Lystra wanted to offer sacrifices to him. He could have been worshipped as a god. He could have received monetary riches, but he sought no gain; rather, he longed for Christ to be set up in the souls of the people.  He was aghast at being exalted in the place of the Lord Jesus.

James says a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). He means pretending one thing and meaning another or floating between two opinions. Fear of circumstances, interests in the world, and carnal hopes can make us unstable in the faith if they dominate us. “Help me Lord, but don’t make me wholehearted,” is the hidden desire of the double minded. Paul resisted this tendency.

The apostle Peter instructs Christians to always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in them (1st Peter 3). Christians are to know what they believe and be able to explain it in order to exalt Christ, help souls that are lost, and promote their own steadfastness in the faith. If we are half convinced, we will not be ready to explain our faith or be firm in it.

Psalm 112 speaks of the spirit of the godly like Paul: “The righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” Worldly men’s hearts rise and fall with the news, but the godly look to a sure rule: unfailing promises that the Lord has given to his people.

Paul also persevered in the faith because he expected tribulation. When he visited the churches to strengthen them in the faith, he warned them to expect trials: “Through many tribulations we enter the kingdom of God “(verse 22). He did not say that afflictions in this world would be lessened because you belong to Christ. He taught them to not be surprised by it, but to remember the Lord.

In Galatians 6, Paul said he bore the marks of Christ in his body, meaning the scars he had from beatings, imprisonments, and stoning. No doubt when Paul passed back through these cities on this first missionary trip, the marks of his stoning would have been prominent. Still, he encouraged them to continue in the faith, being thankful for how great a salvation they had been given in Christ.

Another vital help to Christian perseverance is the local church. Paul placed a great deal of importance on it, planting churches in all the cities and helping appoint elders in every church (verse 23). Teaching, leadership, fellowship, corporate worship, and prayer are all necessary for the Christian life.

In tribulation, mutual encouragement and prayer give strength to the life of the church. The preaching of the word in the church is ordained by God for the growth and stability of our faith and fellowship together as Christians. The local church is where you serve the body of Christ. The church is an enduring community by Christ’s love to her. The Lord gave himself for the church and Paul was devoted to its service, and thus served the Lord by doing so.

The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.

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