What are some ideas that come to mind when you think of a healthy church?
Many concepts might come to mind, but the reality is that our image of a healthy church is likely quite different than what Jesus thinks. And He is the builder of the church, so only His opinion matters.
We might think of it as someone who feels ok, but visits the doctor for a routine checkup. The doctor notes something is not quite right and orders a series of tests that reveal something is wrong. The person may not have experienced any symptoms – yet – but s/he is not as healthy as they thought.
So, what we think of being healthy may not actually be healthy. And for the church, any church, health is not just what we do, it is who we are. However, who we are will influence what we do. In my weekly Preparing for Worship email this week, I mentioned a few things that has been true of our church over the past month. These are things that have happened (i.e., what has been done), but collectively they represent a bit of the health I think we have.
- We had a guest preacher while I preached at another church in St Louis on 8/15.
- We met with other churches in town on the 8/22.
- We gathered together to serve others and love our neighbor on 9/5.
It is a fact that it has been 35 days since I last preached from our series on Paul’s letter to Rome. With that truth and the other items, I just mentioned, it would be easy to surmise that our church is not healthy. (Of course, we do have room to improve, but that is not my point – yet!)
But what I see is a church that trusts their pastor to preach elsewhere. A church that welcomes others, and wants to worship with other Christians occasionally, even if all of our beliefs do not fully align. And a church that welcomes the opportunity to consider alternative expressions of worship such as not meeting to sing or hear a sermon, but to serve and pray with others.
Those are certainly marks of a healthy church. But many other marks exists as well. And this message is not meant to touch on all of them. But given our study of Romans, and the current context in Romans 15, I will touch on three that Paul mentioned in his letter. Those three are being:
- full of goodness
- complete in knowledge
- competent to instruct one another.
Paul is now in the concluding section of the letter. This conclusion is the longest of any of his letters. And he begins the conclusion by sharing his satisfaction of the church. Again, ultimately, our goal is to satisfy Jesus. But Paul had a unique role at a unique time in history and his words carry a great deal of weight. Read Romans 15.14.
Paul has written some challenging words throughout this letter, but overall he is satisfied. Remember, Paul has not yet been to Rome (1.13), but he knows about the church and gives thanks to God because of the church (cf. 1.8). Thus, he considers himself satisfied by what he does know. Let’s review these three items and compare them to our church.
Paul Is Satisfied by Their Morality (Full of Goodness)
It is not a stretch to say that what has been considered good morals in our day has changed dramatically. But as I have shared a few times in this series, where we are at today is not much worse. But what did Paul mean by the word goodness?
First, let us consider that Paul used the same word in Galatians 5.22, so goodness is a part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The word is only used four times in the NT, so Paul’s use here is intentional. The word means someone who is ruled by and aims at the good or to have moral worth. It is more than doing good, it is truly being good. Not perfect, but good.
Paul is satisfied by the goodness of the church because his audience truly reflects the church – that is, they are saints (holy ones), as he has referenced them before (the first instance being Romans 1.7). In this sentence, he uses the more familiar brothers (and sisters), not in the colloquial sense, but because they are truly members of the same family through Christ.
So, they are good. And they must do some good. And because of that, Paul is satisfied with relation to their goodness. Who they are and what they do is known – not only in Rome, but throughout the empire (1.8). This knowledge is not because of the news or internet, it is because of the testimony of others who have been helped by this church while in Rome on business. This church is authentic, not perfect. And God is making them known to others, including Paul. And the result of what is known is good, and thus satisfying.
What are others saying about Fairfax Baptist Church? Again, ultimately the only Person we have to care about is God, but if we are good, and if we are doing good, then it will be known.
Paul Is Satisfied by Their Intellect (Filled With All Knowledge)
The next area of satisfaction is that they were filled with all knowledge. If that is true, then why would Paul write? To write in that day was far more challenging. Paper was scarce. Ink cost more. You couldn’t use computers to write, edit, and then send a message. So, again, why would Paul write?
Well, verse 15 says that Paul was bold on some points of the letter. It was not that the church in Rome knew everything, but it did know enough. As Paul was with the word goodness, his word choice here is intentional. Again, consulting Greek is helpful. The verb tense of this word is not that they are fully filled, but that they are being filled. However, their knowledge is sufficient for Paul to write about some challenging concepts, as he has done in this letter (e.g., propitiation at the end of Romans 3).
A real challenge though is that Paul wanted to ensure what the people discussed (and taught) was right. So, he wrote this letter to make sure that the knowledge they had was correct. Again, Paul had not been there, and Scripture does not tell us who started the church in Rome. Perhaps Paul did not know. Rome was strategic to reach the western part of the empire (he had already covered the eastern portion, see v. 19), so his letter was to strengthen the church in their understanding (beyond knowledge), to encourage them, and to help them be better prepared as they taught others.
Again, let us consider Fairfax Baptist Church? What do we know? Are we being filled with knowledge that would be satisfying to someone like Paul? To God? And, if so, what are we doing with that knowledge?
Paul Is Satisfied by How They Function (Able to Instruct)
The church at Rome was not just about knowing, it was about doing. And part of that doing including helping others to know. The goodness, and the knowledge, the church had was not just for themselves. It was meant to be shared with one another (and certainly with others).
If we think back to Romans 14 (just a couple of paragraphs prior), we can see that a part of the instruction they need from one another (and part of the reason Paul wrote boldly) was to help them overcome the division between the strong and the weak in the church. This idea of being strong and weak was about knowledge, and specifically how they interpreted the knowledge they had. It was leading to division within the church, so Paul wrote that they need to take time to instruct one another.
But remember, the faith of the church was being proclaimed throughout the world (Romans 1.8). So, as I mentioned above, their goodness was known by others, who then took the news of that goodness throughout the empire. Those kinds of stories, and that kind of news, only comes from people who are actively engaged in the culture around them.
Of course, in that day, it was risky to be labeled a Christian. (See the Weekly Nugget for why Paul was considered an atheist.) And how much more would that be true in a place like Rome. But those who identified with Christ, did not do so in name only, they also did so in deed. Sure, they took precautions, but their love and service for others is undoubtedly why the church was so well known beyond Rome.
Again, let us relate this to our church. Would Jesus be satisfied with how we function? Would Paul appreciate the things we do? Or is something missing?
Paul was satisfied with the church at Rome. However, that did not stop him from writing, and from challenging them to do better, and to be better. He wrote to remind them, to encourage them, to inspire them. And a part of his satisfaction was because the church was not doing what it was doing for themselves, but for God, and for His glory.
But any good qualities or challenges the people then had are gone. Now, we read the letter in light of a new day, a new country, and new challenges. The question is: Can we be a church that is satisfying not just to Paul, but to Jesus?
Some of what we do, and even who we are, may be good. We may be being filled with knowledge. And we may function ok in some areas and/or at some times. But just as Paul had to write to that church then, God needs the words of this letter to speak to us today.
Where are we lacking? What do we need? Are we learning that we may then teach others? Are we making a difference in our community so that it is known abroad? Our purpose in doing those things should not be to get recognition, but we should do them because that is what Jesus called us to do – to love our neighbor (as we love God), and to make disciples.
I do believe some aspects of our church are very healthy. And I say that despite our attendance being significantly lower than it has been in the past. Is that due to COVID? Partially, but that isn’t everything.
But again, I do think we can find elements of health. In a period of four Sundays, we did not meet for regular worship on two of them, and on a third, we had a guest preacher. That all happened in a month. For some churches, that doesn’t happen in a year. That shows a degree of health. But where else can we be healthy? Or healthier?
We have our ministries for all ages of children (K-12th grade) kicking off within a matter of weeks. We have our mission offerings currently, and more to come. Those are all good things, but what is God calling you to do? For us to do? Amidst COVID? Because of COVID? Beyond COVID?
I will be sharing more ideas in the coming weeks, but as you have ideas, please share them with me as well. In the meantime, let us be about sharing love and bring hope to others – including those here today.
What’s Next?: Be on the lookout to help others. As I have stated so much over the past year, people are in need of love and hope. So, this week, who will you love and help to find hope? As you do, you will find yourself sharing goodness, sharing knowledge, and proving yourself faithful to the function that God has given you.