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When God Comes To Church

A Serving Church

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 14, 2007

Selected highlights from this sermon

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about serving others—it’s supposed to be pure and sacrificial. We’re not to focus on our needs. By putting ourselves aside, we reclaim a heart of service which puts others first. 

When God comes to church things happen. I know that God is always coming to church because God is everywhere, but I am talking about the real, intense moving of the Holy Spirit of God. When that happens there is transformation. One of the noticeable indications that God has come to church is the willingness on the part of people to serve and say, “I am available for whatever God has called me to do. I am willing to help even at great personal inconvenience.” When you have that you know that God has come to church.

I believe one of the great examples of when God came to church was the church at Thessalonica. Just north of Athens if you go to the Aegean Sea on the map you will see the city of Thessalonica. Paul was apparently there only three weeks. He taught them so much and fell in love with them in a way that was really remarkable.

There were two groups of people in the church. There were the Jews who were the custodians of God’s revelation. You would think that would have humbled them, but in fact it had the opposite affect. They became self righteous. As Christians, the fact that you are a born again believer today, you above all people should be greatly humbled. We should be the most humble, broken people on earth. Yet sometimes it is a cause for pride and we strut and swagger. That is not Christ-like because we are undeserved recipients of God’s blessings. So there were Jews that were very proud of the fact that they were Jews and they were not interested in learning about the Messiah.

But there were also some Greeks. The Greeks were schooled in Plato. I will say this to those of you who have a Greek background: Plato and Aristotle were two of the most brilliant men that God ever created. Yet they could not get to God because human reason does not have the building blocks to solve the question of God and what he is like and his relationship to the world. Yet you had many Greeks believing in Jesus. Both groups needed the gospel.

Our text today is 1 Thessalonians chapter two, verse two, where the Apostle says, “We had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God.” That little phrase, “gospel of God,” can mean either the gospel about God, or more likely, the gospel that belongs to God.

When you come to Moody Church and we proclaim the gospel, we are proclaiming a message that no man would have ever invented. Nobody would have come up with the idea that the only way to redeem sinners was to have God himself, in the second person of the Trinity, come and be crucified and offer a sacrifice and then freely give eternal life to those who turn from their sin and believe. No one would have come up with that on their own. This is God’s gospel.

Then Paul talks about himself. He does it partially in defense, but partially also to model for us what servant leadership is really about. That is our topic for today. We will go through all nineteen verses of chapter two as one would experience a garden. You don’t stop at all of the flowers. You walk from one group of flowers to another and you simply walk past a lot of them because you can’t do it all. In order to do that, we are going to look at five characteristics of servant leadership. I want to apply this message not just to the pastoral staff and the elders, but to everyone at Moody Church who serves and to those of you who are not serving yet – but you will!

All right, everybody open your Bibles. Are we ready to walk through the garden and pick some flowers? First of all, the Apostle Paul shows us that in his servant leadership his motif was pure. In fact, in verse three and again in verse five he lists all of the reasons why he did not come to Corinth. Undoubtedly there were some people who were critical of him and thought that he had come because of greed. He says, “I did not come because of error. I wasn’t preaching something I made up. It was not because of impurity, for I was not sleeping with women on my day off. Nor was this an attempt to deceive. I wasn’t using this to somehow lead you astray and to control you as false teachers do.”

Then he says in verse five, “For we never came with words of flattery.” Flattery can either be truthful or it can be lies, but both are wrong if they are used to try to manipulate and to try to get a person to do what you want. He says, “We didn’t use flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed. We didn’t come and leave the city with bags full of money – God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people.”

Paul says, “I wasn’t among you so that others would say, ‘What a wonderful teacher Paul is! Think of how much he knows!’” He says, “We weren’t there to receive praise from men.” This gets to the heart of the motivation of what it means to be a servant. To be a servant means that you are not singing so that people will tell you how wonderful you are and how the song ministered to them, though you can use that encouragement from time to time. You don’t preach, like I have the privilege of doing, so that people will come up to you later and tell you what a great sermon it was. Paul says that is a sinful motivation.

You say, “Well what motivated him?” Well, it’s there in verse four. He says, “But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” The reason that you serve is to please God. The opinion of others might have its place, but that is not the first question that you ask. The first question that you ask is, “Am I doing this so that others will think well of me or is it being done for God?” Are you content if God is satisfied even if no one else is satisfied? God tests our hearts and God tests our motives.

This past week I heard a story of a man who I happen to know. He is from South Africa but he lives in Canada. This man spends most of his time in prayer. He was in South Africa and he fasted for eleven days and he believed that God wanted him to have some meetings in a church. Other people agreed and said, “You should go to that church. We have a place for you to stay. We want you to have meetings there.”

So the meetings were advertised and he went to the couple’s home where he was to stay. The wife was a believer but the husband was not a believer. But, they were glad to have him stay with them. He went to his first meeting and no one showed up at seven. He actually went to pray first for a couple of hours. He thought to himself, “Maybe there has been a mistake and the meetings were advertised at 7:30.” But, 7:30 came and went and nobody showed up.

He was very discouraged and he was about to go home when he said, “God what is this?” It was as if God spoke to him and said, “For whom are you doing the preaching? Why don’t you preach for me?” So he thought, “All right, I will preach for God. I will preach to an empty church.” So he did. He preached a sermon and took an offering - that must have been interesting - gave the benediction and went home.

The couple asked him, “How did the meetings go? How many people showed up?” He said, “Nobody showed up.” They said, “What did you do?” He said, “I preached a sermon for God.” That night the man of the house could not sleep. His wife said, “What’s your trouble?” He said, “It’s that preacher down there. He preached a sermon for God even though God was the only one who was listening.” That night that man was converted.

You say, “That’s what you get for these people who spend a lot of time in prayer. He fasted for eleven days and he goes to the church early and prays for a couple of hours. Look at how beneficial his prayer turned out to be! Nobody showed up to the meeting.” But as those meetings continued many people were converted and today there is a very strong church there.

Some of you are discouraged because you’ve chosen to pray with Christ for one hour every week this year and you’ve done it a couple of times and noticed no difference. You say to yourself, “See, God doesn’t answer prayer.” But, God is working and God will answer, even if he doesn’t answer it in the way in which you think he should and as quickly as you think he should.

When God comes to church he “house cleans” our hearts. The motives are changed. It is no longer what people will think of me but what God will think of me. It isn’t for greed or for manipulation so that you can get ahead. It has everything to do with this simple question: is God pleased?

No wonder Paul continues on and says in verse seven, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” You begin to live this way with a God directed motivation. You find that you don’t just give people your time but you also give people your self. Only God can do that and that is what happens when he shows up.

How does a nursing mother do it? Does she say, “I am on duty from nine until five and if this kid cries in the middle of the night, I’m sorry, wait until morning. Wait until nine o’clock when I get to work.” No! Why? She is imparting not only her time and her ability, but she gives herself to the children, as my wife did to our children as they were growing up.

Paul says, “That is the way ministry should be.” That is what should be happening at the Moody Church – people giving themselves to others without a time agenda. I know we can’t do it all, but we should have such a sense of devotion and commitment to one another that we give not just our time but also ourselves.

I have a pastor who was preaching on this who had a lot more nerve than I do. In the middle of the sermon he asked an usher to bring an offering plate. The idea just came to him. He put the offering plate on the platform and he stood in it. That is what we give to God when God comes to church; we give ourselves. Paul says that is the motivation of servanthood.

The second characteristic is sacrifice. Paul says in verse nine and following, “For you remember brothers, our labor ad toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” Paul says, “I continued to work on tents,” that is where the idea of tent making comes in, “so that we never even talked about money so that nobody would say, ‘Paul is in it for the buck!’” Remember, he lived at a time when there were professional orators who used to come and give speeches. They would also say in advance how much money they needed for their speech. Paul says, “I want to stay away from that.”

You know of course that the ministry has often been disgraced because people are often in it for the money. You say, “Well Pastor Lutzer, you get paid from the church and the staff gets paid from the church.” Paul is not giving here a universal principle. In fact, later on he says that those who teach the word and preach the word have a right to be taken care of.

What Paul is telling all of us very strongly is that when we do ministry the motivation is not the motivation of money, and shame on any person who has that motivation. You receive the money in order that you might serve. But you don’t serve with a view to ask the question, “How much do I get?” You don’t go into the ministry because you say, “This is going to make more money than some other vocation.” And by the way, seldom does it make more money than other vocations.

There is a story of some elders in a small church who prayed, “Oh God, if you keep him humble we promise to keep him poor.” The other day I said to the staff with a smile on my face as I was admonishing them regarding the need to do something, “Remember this: we here on the staff are paid to be good. There is an expectation. All of the people at Moody Church who volunteer, they are good for nothing.”

Paul says that we have to be willing to make financial sacrifices in ministry. If our ministry does not in any way effect our checkbook and the way in which we give, if it does not effect our motivation, we are not Christ-like in our service. God has not yet come to church as long as we are hung up on all of these things.

So Paul says, “I made that sacrifice and the sacrifice of devotion.” He says, “We were holy and righteous and blameless before you.” I say this to the pastoral staff and all the leadership at Moody Church that we who are in leadership should be more holy, more righteous, and more blameless than we even expect our congregation to be. That is a note of conviction for all of us. Paul says that there is a sacrifice to servanthood.

Then he says, “What is the goal?” The goal here is in verses eleven and twelve: “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God.” What is it all about? What are we trying to do with our teenagers? What are we trying to do with our leadership? What are we doing in our Adult Bible Fellowships? What are we trying to accomplish? At the end of the day what we want is character; people who walk worthy of God and are in keeping with the dignity of belonging to God.

When I was growing up we as kids used to say to our mother and father like most kids do, “Well, why can’t we do this? Look at the neighbors? They are doing it.” Our parents used to always say, “Their name is,” and then they would give the name. And then they would say, “But you know you are a Lutzer and this is a different family.” I don’t know whether or not that helped, but it should have.

So I say to those of you today who are Christians, the world can do this or that but you can’t because you belong to a different family. We are to walk worthy of God. Husbands should treat their wives in a manner that is worthy of God. Teenagers should watch television programs that are worthy of God. That is the goal of it all.

It is said of Alexander the Great that one of his generals became a coward and turned away in battle. Alexander the Great found him and shook him and asked him this question: “What is your name?” And the general said, “My name is Alexander.” Alexander became enraged and shook him even harder and said, “Either change your character or change your name.” God says to us today, “You are mine and you are to walk worthy of me. Either change your character or change your name.” That is the goal of discipleship and the goal of servanthood.

Then there is the challenge in verses thirteen to sixteen. I will simply refer to them but please read them on your own. Paul says, “You went through a lot of affliction in receiving the word of God. That affliction came to you and it was a very difficult experience because you were persecuted. Verse fourteen says, “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out.”

You see, America has spoiled us. We always think to ourselves that the state and the laws should be favorable to preaching the gospel. In America it has been that way though it is rapidly changing. You and I are going to have to face the fact that it is going to become harder to be a Christian. Sometimes it is Christians who make it hard to be represented as Christians, by the way, and not the people who are non Christians. It is going to be harder.

Even now in your work tomorrow your integrity should get you into some trouble. If it doesn’t I wonder if you are really honoring Jesus. A person of integrity means that he should keep his promises. It means that if he promises money, then the money will be there. Integrity means that we keep our word. Integrity means that we do not engage in all the things that the people of the world engage in because we are different.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my name. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.” If you have ever been fired from a job because you are a Christian, do not bemoan your fate. Instead, rejoice and be exceedingly glad, Jesus said, because you are entitled to a great reward. All of this is a part of what is called being a servant.

Now the question of course is what is the reward to all this? What do you get out of it? The typical American question is, “What’s in it for me?” Isn’t that right? Isn’t that what we are all interested in? What are the perks of being a servant?

Today I am speaking to people who say, “I volunteer in the nursery and I don’t get paid for it. What are the perks and what is in it for me?” I’m speaking to some people who help with the parking, and some of them aren’t here because they are missing this service because of parking duty. They say, “I volunteer and I even skip church. I go and work and I volunteer as someone who is involved in ministry. What is in it for me?” Some of you work in Awana or you work as a tutor at Kids Club. You say, “This business of being a servant, what’s in it for me?” You’re obviously not doing it for the money, I can tell you that because zero times ten is still zero!

What is the payoff? Why would Paul leave a well paying job that he probably could have had being a tent maker working long hours and serving people? He mentions what the reward is in the last part of the chapter. He says in verse nineteen, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before the Lord Jesus at his coming?” “What is it that is going to make me happy when Jesus returns? What is it that’s going to give me a great deal of satisfaction and joy?” He says, “Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.”

Paul speaks about faithfulness in terms of crowns. These crowns are not necessarily literal medallions that we wear, and even if we do wear them we will cast them at the feet of Jesus anyway. Crowns have to do with positions of responsibility within the coming kingdom. That is why service here is so important.

There are two different words for crown. There is the word “diadem,” which is worn by kings, and then there is the word “stephanis.” That is the word that he uses here. It is the word from which we get the name Stephen or Stephanie. If you are a Stephen or a Stephanie your name means “crown.” You are indeed very special, as all of us with different names are also. Paul uses that second word here. In other words, this is the victor’s crown. This is the crown that is given to those who run the race well.

What is our crown? What is this thing that we are going to throw at the feet of Jesus, this thing that is going to sit on our head like a halo? No, no! Paul says, “You are our crown! You are our rejoicing in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is the reward. It is the people whom we influenced. It is the lives that we touched. It is the kindness that we showed out in the parking lot. It is the ushers who are faithful and dependable who we know will be here. It’s the people who are involved in children’s ministry. That is our crown and that is our joy.

Samuel Rutherford was a theologian and author. He was in prison and while there he longed for the believers in the church in Anwoth. He wrote these words: “If one soul from Anwoth shall meet me at God’s right hand, my heaven shall be two heavens in Immanuel land.”

What is the payoff? The judgment seat of Christ where there is a child from Cabrini Green who says, “You led me to faith in Christ and you encouraged me in my walk.” We say to ourselves, “That makes a double heaven for me.” To be with Jesus and then to be with people that are influenced will be the payoff. If I stand at the judgment seat of Christ, as I will, if there would be one person who says, “I came to saving faith through your ministry and you encouraged me along in the way,” I would say, “This is my joy and this is my crown. This is the payoff!” Is it not you, members and those who attend Moody Church, in the day of the judgment throne of Jesus Christ? That is the payoff.

You say, “Well, I am still not convinced. I am into my own schedule and I am busy. I don’t like inconvenience and I like my freedom. I don’t want to be tied down and I don’t want to volunteer for anything because it means that my own private schedule has to be rearranged. I just want to do what I want to do.” So that is what you are saying? Not many of you, but some of you are saying that.

Well, I have a verse for you. If this passage of Scripture does not change your heart today it may be that you have never been converted. No converted person can read this and then leave the same. And I want you to know that the verse I am going to read is in your Bible, too. The Bible that I have here is not different from the one that you have. What I am trying to say very clearly is that I am not making this up.

I am not even going to give you the reference yet because I don’t want you to be turning lest you miss what this is saying. Jesus says, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.” Now here comes the verse, and I don’t know if I am going to get through this because it is very difficult for me to read this verse. “Truly I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at the table, and Jesus, the master, will come and serve them.”

Imagine in the kingdom that Jesus is going to say to you and me, “I want you to sit at the table and I am going to gird myself so that I can serve you.” He is willing to do that and yet some people will not lift a finger to be involved in God’s work and with God’s people. They will not lift a finger to serve. But someday he will say, “Sit down and let me serve you.” That is found in the twelfth chapter of the book of Luke.

I do need to end today by saying that if you want to be served in the kingdom by Jesus you have to first of all be served by him now. He said, “The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve.” How does he serve? He serves by giving his life away as a ransom for many. He says, “First of all, if you receive the service that I performed on the cross and how I served you, if you believe in me and you trust me for forgiveness of your sins and you are born of the Spirit, someday I will say to you, ‘You sit down and enjoy the meal and I will be your servant once again.’” So to your heart I ask, why are we not willing to serve the Master who serves us?

Let’s pray. “Father, when you come to a church there are people who are willing to serve. When you came to Thessalonica Paul served and he modeled service. He was only modeling what Jesus had done earlier to come to serve. We ask today Father for our indifferent, selfish hearts that are so intent on our schedule and our needs that we have neglected serving others in your congregation. Help us Father, we pray, and have mercy upon us. And for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior and received the benefits of his first service, we ask Lord that they will reach out and say, ‘Jesus save me.’ I pray in his blessed name, amen.”

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