by Francis Dixon (Scripture Portion: Nehemiah 4: 1-15)
The two verses which introduce the theme of this study are Nehemiah 4:8 and 1 Corinthians 9:12. In the first reference we read of those who conspired to hinder the work that God’s people were undertaking in the Lord’s name; and in the second reference the apostle indicates his concern that no action should be taken which could possibly hinder the progress of the gospel. It is clear, therefore, that it is possible for God’s work to be hindered, and no-one will disagree with the statement that God’s work is being hindered today and that there is a paralysis in the life of the Church. If we compare things as they are today with the record of the early Church in the Book of Acts, we soon conclude that today the Church is powerless and ineffective. What is wrong? What is it that hinders the work of the Holy Spirit? Why is it that God’s power is not more evident in the preaching of the Word and through the testimony of His people? Consider the following five factors in the life of the Church now and which explain, at least to some extent, the Church’s paralysis and ineffectiveness.
1. UNCONVERTED MINISTRY
It is very solemn to realise that there are many people engaged in God’s work who do not know the Lord. They seek to serve Him but have no saving experience of His grace. They are like those described in 2 Timothy 3:5 and in Titus 1:16, like one of old who came to Jesus (John 3:1-16). The first requirement, if we are to serve the Lord, and if we are to be a channel through whom the Holy Spirit can work in bringing blessing to others, is that we should know the Lord for ourselves, know that we have been born again (John 3); that we are a child of God (1 John 3:1); and that we know what it is to be washed in the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7). One reason why the Church is powerless is because many who are working in the Church do not know the experience of Romans 1:16. Look up Matthew 25:11-12 and Luke 13:25-27. Is it possible that you are an unconverted minister, or deacon, or church member?
2. UNSURRENDERED MEMBERSHIP
There are two kinds of Christians: those who are surrendered to the Lord and those who are not; and the apostle had this in mind when he wrote Romans 6:13 and Romans 12:1. It is possible to be a Christian, but not a separated Christian (2 Corinthians 6:14-18); to be a Christian, but worldly and not spiritual (1 Corinthians 3:1-4); to be a Christian, but not disciplined (Matthew 11:29); to be a Christian, but walking after the flesh and not after the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). God’s work is hindered because those who are involved in it are not wholly dedicated to Him. They are not like Caleb, who followed the Lord “wholeheartedly” (Joshua 14:14). They love the world (1 John 2:15-17); they neglect meeting for prayer (Matthew 6:6); church attendance is not a priority (Hebrews 10:25), and their lives are inconsistent and ineffective.
3. UNCERTAIN MESSAGE
Over and over again God’s prophets stood up to say, ”Thus saith the Lord…” (KJV); and when the Apostle Paul gave his farewell address before the Ephesian elders, he said that he had declared ”the whole will of God”. So often today, however, the whole will of God is not declared. Many great truths in God’s Word are not proclaimed with authority and power. There is little mention of sin, judgment, heaven, hell, of the need for repentance and for personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Is it any wonder that the Church is powerless when God’s message is not proclaimed, or when ‘a different gospel’ is preached? (Galatians 1:6-9); or when men apologise for the true message!
4. UNSCRIPTURAL METHODS
Another reason why the Church is so powerless is that she often employs unscriptural methods for delivering her God-given task. For example, worldly methods are adopted for attracting the unbeliever, and instead of the Church going into the world and fulfilling her commission, the world has come into the Church (Matthew 28:19). Unscriptural methods are used for raising money for God’s work; the scriptural method is to honour God and He gives us a special promise when we do this - look up 1 Samuel 2:30. In all situations we are to look to Him in prayer and trust Him to do His gracious work in the power of the Holy Spirit. Then God will work, but while we rely on man’s methods, the Holy Spirit ceases to work, for He is “grieved” (Ephesians 4:30).
5. UNENERGISED MACHINERY
Years ago we visited a factory where electric light bulbs were manufactured. At that time it was one of the most modern factories in this country, equipped with the latest machinery; but everything was silent and still. Why was this? The reason was that no power was switched on, so no machinery could work. It was polished and beautiful to look at, but it was ineffective and unproductive.
This is the situation in the Church today; we lack the power of Pentecost, the power of the Holy Spirit whose power alone can sweep aside every hindrance and can accomplish the true work of the Church, which is the salvation of souls, and the building up of the Body of Christ in anticipation of when the Lord Himself will come and gather His people to Himself (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). The one urgent word for us today is the word of the Saviour Himself, recorded in Acts 1:8. The fresh anointing of the Spirit for service will bring about fruitfulness and effectiveness in the lives of God’s people for His glory.