(This message was originally published August 21, 2012) My family watched a portion of the recent London Olympics on television. All three of my children swim on teams, so the swimming was of major interest in our home. Also, we watched a good bit of the gymnastics competitions. In week two of the Olympics, we watched mostly track and field. One thing is for sure-Olympic athletes are STRONG! The muscles and strength of the swimmers amazed us. And to be honest with you, I'm not sure I would ever want to have to arm-wrestle a female gymnast! Those girls are STRONG!
The Lord's desire is for His Church to be STRONG! Strengthening churches and leaders is also at the heart of what we do as a coalition of churches known as the SBC of Virginia. Hebrews 13 gives us some signs that a church is strong.
Sign #1 - Strong churches care about people. (13:1-3) Hebrews 13 starts off saying, "Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality." The word "continue" teaches us that this is to be an ongoing action-not just something we do for a few minutes. We must keep it up. The Lord Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." In John 13:35, Jesus goes on to say that this how people will know we are His disciples. You see, the world, our neighbors, and the nations still take notice when we show real and genuine care for people. Jonathan Edwards wrote in Charity and Its Fruits, "What is it that makes the Church like heaven?" He answered with one word: "LOVE."
Sign #2 - Strong churches honor and defend marriage. (13:4) In Hebrews 13:4, marriage is specifically mentioned. The definition of marriage is debated in culture. Marriages must be strengthened by the church. Consider how your church can become pro-family and pro-marriage.
Sign #3 - Strong churches trust in God's providence. (13:5-6) Here is a reference to the 7th and 8th of the Ten Commandments. Do not commit adultery and do not covet. These are two areas where people get in the flesh. The point here is for us to abstain from anything that harms our faith in the Lord. Dr. Danny Akin says, "both are rooted in unbelief in God's providence and give way to idolatry and worship of a false god." We get stronger when we remember two promises the writer of Hebrews brings from the Old Testament into these verses: 1) The Lord will never leave us or forsake us; 2) The Lord is my helper, I will not fear.
Sign #4 - Strong churches remember those who lead. (13:7-9, 17, 24) Just recently, I was visiting with pastors and church planters in Northern Virginia. That evening, we were hosted for dinner by a hospitable couple from within the church. It was as if I were living in the pages of the New Testament! I was struck by the love of these folks for their church leaders. I was also struck by the testimony they gave regarding the faithfulness of the church leaders in preaching the Word, leading the church, seeking the lost, and loving the flock.
Sign #5 - Strong churches praise and serve the Lord. (13:10-16) The writer saw SIN as the great barrier-but it is now overcome! Verses 10-13 highlight the sacrifice of Christ. Verses 13-16 highlight our response to Christ.
Sign #6 - Strong churches are people of prayer. (13:18-19) The writer asks for prayer. Kent Hughes said, "If we desire power in our lives and in our churches, we must pray."
Sign #7 - Strong churches look to Jesus as Lord. (13:20-25) John's Gospel calls Jesus the Good Shepherd. Peter calls Him the Chief Shepherd. Here we have the Great Shepherd. Strong churches remember that the Lord Jesus said He will build His Church! SBC of Virginia churches, I pray we will grow stronger and stronger in the days ahead!