Scripture is such an incredible gift from God. His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths. We learn about God not only through the instructions He provides in His Word but also by observing how people in the Bible lived and responded to His commands. It’s through their actions and relationships with God that we learn from their successes and failures how to love God better.
We live in what we refer to as the “Church Age.” Over the past 2,000 years the church has looked different in many ways. Many churches have indeed fallen away from truth, as some have become more business-oriented than spiritually focused, and others have fallen too far either into the patterns of legalism or liberal theology. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said of the apostle Peter, “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” We see the fruition of this promise through the first half of the book of Acts, which records Peter’s journey in building the church, followed by Paul’s missionary journeys in the second half.
Back in April we speculated what the great Jewish saints of the Old Testament would think of the modern nation of Israel. It was fun to think about them walking the land today! As one encouraging commenter then suggested, a natural follow-up would be to examine what the New Testament saints would think of our 21st-century church. We’re doing just that in this week’s blog!
Here are five men of God from the New Testament who might have something to say about the church today:
Let’s be honest: Peter was all over the place. He had a penchant for making rash decisions—cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant, vowing never to deny the Lord immediately before denying Him three times, and rebuking Jesus, to name a few. We can expect he’d make a snap judgment on today’s church. Yet he also showed growth in admitting his mistakes and changing thereafter. Whereas he failed Jesus before His crucifixion, he became the pillar of the Lord’s church for the rest of his life. So we can probably expect two reactions from Peter: one an overreaction and the other a more measured approach.
Whereas Peter failed Jesus before His crucifixion, he became the pillar of the Lord’s church for the rest of his life.
Peter’s thoughts: “The church has gotten messed up! We might as well start the whole thing over!”
Or, “Maybe it looks a bit different from the first church, but as today’s church faithfully proclaims the gospel and obeys His Word, God’s glory is revealed to the world.”
After his conversion, Paul was one of the greatest ministers of God’s Word. He was God’s spokesman to the Gentiles, traveling throughout the inhabited world at that time, bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who needed to hear the truth. He was responsible for a large portion of the growth of the early church. Having helped establish many local churches in the first century, Paul might be best qualified to compare these two eras. Though I’m sure he would expect nothing less, he would no doubt be happy to see that those little churches he visited throughout Asia Minor gave rise to churches in every corner of the world, and that the Bible and the gospel of grace is being preached from Scripture as it was 2,000 years ago. But I also think his disappointment in weaker churches would still spill over today, and he wouldn’t hold back in his criticism of such congregations.
Paul’s thoughts: “I’m happy to see the words I’ve written are still being read. But can you please do a better job of following my example?”
Timothy would be pleased to see how modern church leadership follows the example he and Paul set in mentoring and training younger believers in the Word of God.
Timothy carried the baton that Paul, his spiritual mentor, handed him. He developed the same love for the church that Paul had. The proof: He was willing to be circumcised for the sake of Paul’s ministry and the sake of preaching the gospel to the Jewish people to attempt to bring them to Christ and His church. Timothy became an integral part of the early church. After traveling with Paul on his second and third missionary journeys, he took the lead in getting many churches off the ground: those in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1–2), Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17), Philippi (Philippians 2:19–22), Berea (Acts 17:14), and Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3),1 according to Scripture. He would be pleased to see how modern church leadership follows the example he and Paul set in mentoring and training younger believers in the Word of God.
Timothy’s thoughts: “Keep developing churches full of leaders who are willing to sacrificially share the gospel with everyone!”
Perhaps no one was more intimately connected with the birth of the church from start to finish than Luke. He wrote the Gospel of Luke, having faithfully researched the life and ministry of Jesus through eyewitness accounts, and the book of Acts, documenting the church’s growth from Pentecost to Paul’s ministry in Rome. That means He probably learned every instruction Jesus outlined for the church while seeing every aspect of those instructions being put into action. He could effectively be an arbitrator of today’s churches, weighing which ones have been faithful and which have strayed from God’s Word.
Luke’s thoughts: “Some of you are doing great, following God’s Word in the 21st century with obedient hearts. Some of you need to go back and read Acts to learn how the church was meant to be!”
John’s heart was always on fire for Jesus. He was often called “the disciple Jesus loved” and was a faithful follower of the Messiah. He of course wrote the Gospel of John as well as four books at the end of the New Testament: 1, 2, and 3 John and Revelation. In fact, writing to churches was one of John’s most noteworthy acts in His authorship. In Revelation John wrote what God told Him to write to the seven churches of Asia. He knew just what God wanted to say to churches of all kinds—faithful, unfaithful, lukewarm, and others—and he’d know how to address the same type of churches today. He certainly would have preached to the church what he preached in his writing: Love should be the cornerstone of our lives. There are churches that fail to love God properly, churches that fail to love people properly, and churches that fail to love either properly. John would correct these churches while praising those that fulfilled the spirit of his writing.
It’s our responsibility as believers and members of the church to steward our individual local churches in a way that helps everyone who attends to learn to love and be faithful to Christ as He instructed.
John’s thoughts: “Don’t forget to keep love at the center of all you do. Follow the example of the churches that God commended, not the ones He condemned.”
The church, imperfect and flawed as it may be today, is a gift from God. It’s our responsibility as believers and members of the church to steward our individual local churches in a way that helps everyone who attends to learn to love and be faithful to Christ as He instructed. It’s hard to evaluate the church in blanket terms, but you can certainly evaluate your own local church according to the New Testament principles laid out for it. I think these New Testament saints would not be surprised but still be pleased that the church has endured for the past 2,000 years as Jesus promised in Matthew 16. Let’s help our local churches endure and thrive however we can!
1“The Life of Timothy.” Bible Study. Accessed September 22, 2020. https://www.biblestudy.org/bible-study-by-topic/people-in-the-bible/timothy.html.