Build the Church
Lately we've been going through the major themes of Nehemiah as a church. And we've done it all under the banner of Build the Church. We have been taking the great story of Nehemiah, seeking to understand it in its original context, but then leaning heavily into application for us in the church today. We've talked about Building from the Ruins, Building in the Presence of our Enemies, and lastly Building with Joy. We have been applying Nehemiah through the lens of Jesus' words to Peter: "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). We have been learning lessons from Nehemiah's building project and applying it to the project that we are a part of, that of building Christ's church here and now.
What has been quite apparent to me at least, is that Nehemiah is truly a book for our time. We, like Nehemiah, are in a period of decline and upheaval. When we survey the Western world in the 21st century, we look upon the ruins of much that was once great, and God-glorifying. In the culture and in the church, we see ruins of what once was, and we see only a shadow of what we know ought to be. Like Nehemiah we are also surrounded by enemies who oppose any attempt at rebuilding these ruins. We have to fight every step of the way to rebuild and to do the good work that God is calling us to do. Like Nehemiah, this is a task that takes great faith and courage, and it is something that will only be done if the Lord does it. "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain" (Psalm 127:1).
But for many of you, you might be wondering how you might personally apply this to your life. Isn't planting and seeking to build up churches a job for pastors? And isn't expanding the kingdom of God into the world the work of missionaries and other so-called "full-time Christian workers"? Well, yes, it is, in part – but I would argue that most of the Christian ministry that happens in our world is carried out by the average, everyday Christians in the pew. And according to God's Word we are all not only part of the building project, but part of the building itself.
"As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5).
So, what I would like to do here is give you five practical ways that you could build the church today. How can you take up the call to build? What can you do right now?
1. Be Solid
As the British would say, be a brick. That probably sounds strange, but what I mean is, build a solid Christian life. If God is building a spiritual house brick by brick, meaning person by person, then we need to take care that the bricks are of good quality. We should not be interested in simply seeing many people come to church, or many people claim the name of Christ. We should want to see God transform each one of those people into new creatures in Christ. God wants a holy church, not just a huge church. So, as we labour to build the church, we should take great care that real discipleship is happening, and that we are not in any way superficial.
What does that look like for you and for me? It means be solid. Live a life worthy of the gospel. Be who God is transforming you to be in Christ. Let his work have its full effect in your life. As Paul said to the Philippians:
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
We are called to work out what God is working in, to go on the journey of sanctification. We want to fight sin, grow in virtue, and in a word – be solid. The quality of individual Christian lives is critical to building the church. It is hard to build God's work when you are simultaneously tearing it down through sin and immaturity. So, point one, be solid.
2. Show Up
This might seem overly simple and easy, but I do think it is crucial and worth emphasizing. If you want to build up the church, if you want to grab a trowel and do something for the project, then here is something you can do – show up. Go to church. Come to the event. Come to all of the events. Be there early. Be there with bells and whistles on.
We all underestimate the importance of presence. We can think, I can miss this Sunday, and nothing will skip a beat. We can think that, but we should ask the question, "what if everyone did that?" We know that it would have an impact if half the church all decided that today was the day to stay home. Perhaps we think that we are a special case, or perhaps we think the opposite, that we are dispensable. But how many bricks can you remove from the arch before it falls down? Do we really want to find out?
Consider how each Sunday that you attend you are another person making up the crowd, another smiling face, another voice in the choir, another voice adding an "Amen!". And beyond that you can also say words to people. Imagine that! You could be the person who encouraged a struggling brother. You could be the kindly adult who helped yet another tiny person get some juice. You could be called upon to pray for your friend. You, through conversation and warmth, could be the reason why a visitor decides to come again. Don't underestimate the power and importance of your presence.
During the "Covid-Times", may they perish forever, many of us leaned on this verse for our conviction of why we must gather:
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
This verse was a battle cry. And with it adding steel to our spines, many of us braved the potential consequences and met freely with the people of God. We felt that we must do this, out of love and obedience to God. Let us not now in times of peace grow slack in our convictions on this matter. Gathering together, just showing up, is crucial.
3. Lend a Hand
But maybe you want to step it up a bit. You are working on being solid, you are showing up, maybe it's time you lend a hand. Just think of all the jobs that the Israelites had in building Nehemiah's wall. Some were laying bricks, some were finding bricks, some were mixing mortar, some were directing labour. And beyond that you could imagine the meals, the cleaning, and all of the background work. Well, like in Nehemiah's day, there is no shortage of things to do in the church. Just consider the list of gifts given in the letter to the Romans:
4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:4-8)
And this is no exhaustive list. Some of us will find that we are gifted evangelists, or apt to encourage. Others of us will find that we can just serve, serve, serve. We love to do the practical work that needs doing. Some of us will find that we are gifted with hospitality, and we welcome newcomers with joy. Whatever it is, the Scriptures are clear – do it! Each Christian has something to give, because each Christian is a gift. As we build the church, you might find you serve in a support role. Don't be discouraged by that, but lean into it, knowing that in the end the last shall be first. Jesus calls us to be faithful servants and to make a return on whatever number of talents we have been given.
4. Invest in People
We do not have a physical wall to build, but we are building the church. But again, what exactly does it mean to build the Church? It is ultimately Christ's work, as he is the one who does the building. But Christ uses means, he advances his work through his body the church. This means that the very thing being built is also the thing doing the building. We point at it with amazement, exclaiming, "It's alive!". And indeed, it is. When we sign up to build the church, we sign up to build up people. People that in turn will build us up and build others up. That is the miracle of the whole project.
But what this means is that the type of work we ought to be investing in is people work. The church is not for the anti-social. At least you can't remain that way. The great marker of God's people that all the world is supposed to stand up and take notice of is this – we really love one another. Jesus said,
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
If you want to build the church this is the kind of work we are talking about. Make the phone-call. Give that brother another text. Go babysit for that mom. Sit down and ask good questions of that couple, and really listen. Share a Bible verse. Pray with the teenager. Invest in people.
5. Don't Give Up
And lastly, don't give up. Just keep building. It takes faith to build something that only God can build. It takes faith to endure through times that are dry. It takes faith to know that in the end Christ will indeed build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. The Lamb who was slain will have the reward for his suffering. There will be discouraging times, especially as we invest in people. People will desert us, people will betray us, and people will disappoint us. But we must not let that dampen our resolve. God has called us to this work, and it is a good work whether we see the fruit or not. It is our job to keep at it. So never give up!
One of my favourite Bible verses was spoken to me at my graduation from Bible College over a decade ago. Warren Charlton, the pastoral chair at the school, shook my hand and said to me these words from 1 Corinthians 15 – and they were forever branded onto my soul:
"My beloved brother, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."
In the end we work because he works in us. We have a heart to build because he is building us. All of our labour is in the Lord. We work in him, and we work for him. In light of where we should have been as sinners, it is a grace just to be a part of his church in any capacity. We need to remember that. And when we understand that, we can abound in the work, working with joy as we do the great works that he has prepared for us.
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