Built to last!
Updated: Jul 4, 2018
Between the polar extremes of the career pastor and the itinerant evangelist there exists an apostolic paradigm, which, if rediscovered, could change the face of the church and the world.
In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul expressed his long-held desire to visit the imperial city, stating that “without ceasing I make mention of you in my prayers, making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you” (Romans 1:9-10). The purpose of his visit: “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established.”
Paul saw his visit as a means to an end – the end being that the saints may be firmly established in the truth of the gospel. Moreover, he believed that a spiritual impartation would take place through his presence and his preaching that would, in turn, lay the foundation for God’s purpose to be fulfilled among them.
The idea of laying a foundation was very dear to the heart of the apostle. In First Corinthians he described the church as ‘God’s building’ and himself as ‘a wise master-builder’. And he warned the other builders who followed in his wake to be careful how they built on the foundation he had laid, declaring.
If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward … (1 Cor. 3:12-14).
The point is: everything that is built in Christ’s name will be tested; everything that purports to be of God will be tried. And only that which bears his imprimatur – that which is imbued with his nature and character – will survive. As far as Paul was concerned, the church (the living organism of the Body of Christ, not the human institution that calls itself ‘the church’) must be BUILT TO LAST!
It takes time to lay a foundation
Although Paul travelled a great deal, he tended to spend significant amounts of time in key centres that would, in due course, become ‘hubs’ for the proliferation of the gospel. Paul often used the metaphors of farming and building to depict spiritual leadership. He understood that it takes time to prepare the ground and sow the seed for a bountiful harvest; likewise, it takes time to lay the right foundation for a strong and durable building.
Unlike many modern day evangelists, Paul did not flit from place to place holding two or three night ‘revivals’ or weekend ‘miracle crusades’. For example, when he came to Corinth, that great commercial centre of the ancient world, notorious for its immorality and indulgence.
The Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them (Acts 18:9-11).
It took Paul eighteen months to lay a foundation for the manifestation of the kingdom of God in this city of sin – eighteen months of systematic teaching of the word of God. And what was the result? Reviewing his visit to the city some years later, Paul wrote
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:1-5).
When Paul preached about Jesus’ sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection, the Spirit confirmed the word with signs and wonders. Such was the effect on this city of fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, sodomites, thieves and covetous parasites, Paul said to the believers, “Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God!” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). A city was transformed and a community of faith was established through eighteen months of spiritual foundation-laying by a wise master-builder!
Another case in point was Paul’s visit to the port city of Ephesus, site of the famous temple of Artemis, the Greek goddess of love and fertility. In Paul’s own words, “For three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears … I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught publicly and from house to house, testifying to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ … I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:17-35).
The historian of the early church, Luke, says that Paul went into the synagogue of Ephesus and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. Later, he withdrew from the synagogue and commenced daily teaching sessions in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:8-9). According to Luke, Paul’s style of teaching was one of ‘reasoning and persuading’. The Greek word ‘dialegomai’ translated reasoning means to say thoroughly, to discuss in detail. The Greek word ‘peitho’ translated persuading means to win over, prevail upon, induce a change of mind by the use of arguments.
These two words indicate that the apostle was both systematic and methodical in his approach to foundation-laying. Indeed, there was nothing haphazard or random about his handling of the word of God. After all, he was trained as a Pharisee, and Pharisees were noted for their accurate exposition of the Law.
The impact of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus was both immediate and extensive. Again, in Luke’s words,
This continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks. Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them…. This became known to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practised magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totalled fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed. (Acts 19:10-20).
The Scripture says that a great commotion arose in the city about the Way (the faith in Jesus that Paul was advocating) when a silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, called a crisis meeting with his fellow craftsmen, and said
“Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. Moreover, you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship” (Acts 19:23-27).
Even allowing for some exaggeration on the part of the emotionally charged Demetrius, it is clear that a shift was taking place in the balance of power in the spiritual world. Perhaps this was what Paul was alluding to when he wrote to the believers in Ephesus some years later: “Put on the whole armour of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil; For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:11-12).
Again, I point out that this kind of city-wide transformation was not accomplished through a weekend miracle crusade but rather, through three years of apostolic building and planting.
Stay until the foundation is laid
Luke says that “when these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem and then to see Rome” (Acts 19:21). When what things were accomplished? The purpose for which God had sent him to Ephesus in the first place: to lay a foundation for the building of the house of God in the years to come. Paul hinted as much in his final address to the elders of the church: “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).
Whether it was Corinth, or Ephesus, or Thessalonica, or Antioch – Paul’s objective was to impart a spiritual gift and thereby lay a foundation for the purpose of God to be fulfilled in that particular church and city. Unlike many modern day preachers, he was not interested in recruiting partners for his ministry or in asking for donations toward his latest building project. In other words, wherever he went, Paul came to serve, not to be served. He sought God’s purpose for the particular church and city to which he had been sent, and then gave of his time and energy and spiritual resources to enable them – the people - to fulfil it.
Paul revealed his unique perspective on leadership and ministry in Ephesians 4:11-12; “And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.” Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are, without exception, servants of the saints – charged with the responsibility of equipping believers to do the work of ministering and thus fulfil the purpose of God on the earth.
About fifteen years ago my father’s church in Melbourne, Australia, hosted the visit of an American television evangelist. People gave freely of their time and resources to promote the event, believing that the man’s ministry would make a lasting impact on the church and the city. However, to our utter dismay, the evangelist seemed more intent on raising money to purchase a bigger and better airplane (he already had one), so that, in his words, he could travel around the world faster and conduct more meetings in the space of a calendar year.
The evangelist seemed to have little or no interest in what God was doing in our local church and city. Rather, it seemed as though the meeting was a marketing opportunity for the promotion and expansion of his ministry. Clearly, he didn’t come to serve, but to be served – to put it bluntly, to take the money and email addresses and run. As you can imagine, many of our hardworking people felt used and abused. I remember sitting in this man’s meetings thinking, “This is so far removed from mainstream orthodox Christianity, it isn’t funny!”
If the evangelist in question truly possessed an apostolic understanding of the kingdom of God, he would have recognised that speed does not equal effectiveness. It’s not a matter of how fast you travel, how many places you visit, and how many meetings you conduct – it’s a matter of being sent to a place and staying there long enough to lay a foundation for the manifestation of God’s kingdom.
May God help us become teachers and preachers after His own heart – builders of quality spiritual houses that last.