The State of the Church, Part 24

In the past several newsletters the effort has been to show the dismal state of the professing Church in America and perhaps beyond. This is not to say that there are not many outward things going on and perhaps pockets of spiritual life in a few places, but the effort has been to show that the congregations and ministers alike are under the judgment of God. The main evidence for this is that there seems to be very little to no seeking of the Lord for His sake. There is a lot of seeking the Lord in name for larger congregations and more money. There is a lot of seeking the Lord for financial and physical health. But the reality should break in upon us and we must begin to see that we are seeking the Lord for things rather than seeking the Lord for Himself. We are even seeking the Lord for spiritual things but even those seem to have been averted from what the Lord has intended for them to our selfish interests.

We see a picture of this in Philippians 2:19-21: “But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.” This is a brutal text in terms of ripping the veil from the covering of American versions of Christianity. Paul wanted to send a man to the Philippians in order to teach them the Word of God and shepherd their souls, but he had no one available at the moment. Why is that? He had no one who would truly be concerned for the welfare of the people because the ones he knew about were those who sought the interests of self rather than of Christ.

How many men who want to be pastors today have so died to self-interests that they truly seek the spiritual welfare of the people and the interests of Christ? The so-called ministry has become about salaries and total packages. We now look for ministers who have are more like CEO’s who can run a business and get people in the door rather than those who seek the true welfare of the souls of the people. Of course those “CEO’s” want larger salaries and bigger perks to do the work. This type of situation is really a ministry sent from hell with the blessings of the devil rather than sent by Christ regardless of the numbers of people coming or the amount of the offerings. It is still seeking after the interests of self rather than the interests of Jesus Christ though we will offer words and statements that make it sound like we are after the interests of Christ. That is deception.

But what kind of minister do people desire today? They want someone who will make them feel good about themselves and who will not make them endure a long sermon or one that searches their hearts. They desire a minister who is moral and so they end up applying the qualifications of a minister like a Pharisee to make sure the man has been morally qualified since he was fed his formula. However, if we get beyond the outward qualifications do they really want a man that is sold out for the interests of Christ? If a man is focused on the interests of self he can be controlled in many ways. But a man that is sold out to Christ and is dead to the praise and honor of men is not a man that can be controlled by anyone other than Christ. That is a dangerous minister to the congregation that wants ease and comfort in the world. So congregations do not really want a man that is sold out to Christ though they think they may. A man like that is one that will not be hired or at least not for long.

What we are left with is a terrible picture. Ministers seek the things of self rather than the interests of Christ and the true spiritual welfare of the people. Congregations, though they might not admit it, really want a man given to the interests of self because a man like that will not make them uncomfortable and will give them essentially what they want. We can smile knowingly and point to the people down the street, but it is true of us all. Reformed ministers want to go to Reformed congregations because they think that they can preach Reformed teaching without being persecuted. Reformed congregations want Reformed ministers because they are comfortable with that type of teaching and it all goes under the guise of truth. But where is God? Reformed people no more want to have their hearts exposed than anyone else. Reformed ministers can preach what is intellectually Reformed and do so from self-interests as well. It is easy to stand up and preach and teach an intellectual doctrine and never really get to the heart. Oh, we may say words about the heart and tell people it must be from the heart, but if we never get beyond that we have only given lip service to the heart rather than exposing the heart for what it is before God. All sin comes from the heart and until we get to the source of the sin we have not exposed sin for what it is. If we reach the heart the people will get uncomfortable and that means we will get uncomfortable and will have complaints. It is much easier to be orthodox and moral and go on with the way things are rather than to deal with the hearts of the people. We simply must not offend anyone but Christ. After all, He will forgive us. Right?

We don’t like to see what is going on and we may not even believe it, but the spirit of the Pharisee is alive and well. It is not that we have to be just like the Pharisees in order to have the spirit of the Pharisee, but we can be like them in some ways. The Pharisees were religious in all that they did out of the interests of self. They did all in the name of God but they did not really do what they did out of a true love for God. Perhaps the deepest issue with the Pharisee was his devotion to self and the effort to have self honored while doing so in the name of God.

One of the things brought out in the last newsletter was the lack of true prayer in the churches and as individuals. What is at the root of hearts that lack true prayer? It is the heart of a focus on the interests of self rather than the interests of Christ. We see many in our day praying for wealth and riches and we have little trouble identifying those people who are really praying for self. But of course they will say that they want God to be honored and for God to be seen as great when He gives them all of the stuff that they are asking for. We know that those people are deceived and we wonder how they can be so blinded to it. But are they all that different than most of America today? If we are doing the same thing in a different way, perhaps we are blinded to ourselves as well.

Why do we evangelize? Why do we pray for results from evangelism? Is it from self-interests or is it truly for the glory of God? The Pharisees traveled over land and sea to make one convert and we know they did not truly love God but were in the service of self. Could it be that churches have evangelism programs that are driven by the interests of self rather than the desires from the heart for the glory and honor of God? Could it be that we are more interested in numbers and success in order to make ourselves look good and in order that we can be part of a successful church than we are truly interested in the honor of God and the true spiritual good of other people? When we go out evangelizing, could it be that we have a program designed to make it easy to get decisions and to avoid conflict with people? Could it be that we will not deal with the sin of people’s hearts in order to avoid any sort of trouble and conflict? But if we do not really deal with the sins of the heart, we have not dealt with sin at all. We are only skating along on the outside and we are not dealing with the issues of salvation. If we only deal with the outside we are only dealing with moral reformation at best. Is that really being interested in the souls of people or is that being interested in numbers?

We say that we are going to have prayer meetings, but do we really pray for anything but the external? The Pharisee spent a lot of time in what he called prayer but it was in order to make a show. Are our prayer meetings, if we still have them at all, more than anything but a way for people to show up and fulfill a duty? Are they any more than people praying for physical issues or external issues with the church? Where is God in our love and in what we truly desire? Are we seeking the interests of God or of self? Are we willing to pray prayers that will cost us for them to be answered? Ah, now we get to an entirely different level. Even if we pray for God to change another person’s heart, are we willing to talk to that person about the issues of the heart? Are we willing to be mocked and spat on in order to speak to another person about the real issues of his or her heart? Perhaps down deep we know that it is much easier to utter words than it is to be willing to suffer in order for God to use us.

It is easy to shrug off dealing with the hearts of others by stating Arminian or Reformed theology. The Arminian will state that the person is simply obstinate and will not make a choice. The Reformed person will say that God needs to change the person’s heart. Either position can simply be an excuse not to be the instrument of God by speaking to the person in such a way that exposes his or her heart. The heart is so deceitful it will look for any excuse to make it easy on self. But down deep it is the same spirit of the Pharisee that keeps coming up and lying to us. It is that we are in the service of the interests of self rather than the interests of Christ.

One of the hardest judgments of God is to give a people over to themselves. They will then follow their own selfish interests and do that in the name of religion. This is true of Arminians and Reformed, of liberals and conservatives, of Christian and non-Christian, of minister and non-minister, and of politician and non-politicians. Men are lovers of self and follow the interests of self rather than Christ. Some people in the interests of self become atheists and others become conservative “Christians.” But all are born dead in sins and trespasses and at enmity with God rather than lovers of God. All are born with deceitful hearts and trust in self rather than in the wisdom of God. But when true Christianity has been so engulfed with the tsunami of selfishness and self-interests rather than men seeking the interests of Christ as in our day, it shows that we are under a terrible judgment of God. We must repent of our self-interests in order to seek His. Only then have we repented and been saved from sin.

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