Hardly Anybody Does This, But Everyone Should

Most people are concerned about their own interests, and it is hard for any of us to think much beyond them.

I remember one pastor had a plaque on his desk with a saying on it, “People are not against you. They are for themselves.”

As the Apostle Paul thought about the churches he had planted, he lamented, “Everyone looks out for his own interests, and not the interests of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21).

Isn’t this true? How many of us are really able to think beyond our own prosperity and comfort? How many of us can sacrifice for a cause that is truly bigger than ourselves?

As a Pastor, I need to ask this, too. Would I care about the prosperity of the church I serve if I was not its Pastor? How much do I care about church in general? Do I participate in church activities when I’m not being paid?

If we’re honest, as Pastors, a lot of our interest in church is more self-interest than we realize.

Truly, everyone looks out for his own interests and not the interests of Jesus Christ.

Why are we so obsessed with our own interests?

One answer is pride. We think of ourselves as the center of the universe and make our interests more important than anything else.

Everyone has this tendency. That’s why there’s so much conflict in the world. We are battling it out to see who gets to be the center of the universe and whose interests will predominate.

Another answer is anxiety. Pride and anxiety generally intertwine more than we think. We are worried that if we don’t give attention to our interests, then no one else will. So, we’ve got to look out for # 1.

Of course, there is no end to anxiety because we are finite. We can always put more money in savings. We receive applause, but then we want more. We always need more security. This keeps us focused on our own interests.

American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr described this trap. He wrote, “without freedom from anxiety man is so enmeshed in the vicious circle of egocentricity, so concerned about himself, that he cannot release himself for the adventure of love.”

How can we escape from this “vicious circle of egocentricity”? Trust in God’s goodness. God promises in the Gospel that He will “supply all our needs” (Phil. 4:19, cf. Mt. 6:25–34). When we know that God will care for us and love us perfectly, then we can let go of trying to desperately make sure our interests are satisfied.

Beyond that, we need to extend our imagination to think beyond our own interests.

Do we ever ask, what are the interests of Jesus Christ?

Let’s think about this for a minute, and let’s start with my county. What does Jesus care about in my county?

Here’s just a few things that come to mind:

  1. He cares about having a relationship with the people of my county.
  2. He cares about the churches of my county and that they would love one another and serve together as much as possible. His interest is the unity of the church.
  3. He cares about the marginalized: the elderly, the poor, and the fatherless.
  4. He cares about justice and that we would treat others well and live in peace as much as possible, living as good neighbors (i.e., love your neighbor as yourself!).
  5. He cares about truth. He wants to promote those things that are true and lovely and good.
  6. He cares about the creation. He wants it to be treated well, enjoyed, and beautified.
  7. He cares about families doing well and being a blessing to all those involved.

These are some of the most important interests of Jesus Christ.

What would happen if people really cared about those things the way Jesus did? What if people had a passion for helping people find a relationship with God, with making sure the elderly were cared for, with making things beautiful and good, not just getting a paycheck? Wouldn’t that give us a very different world?

People would be cared for much better than they are now. People who need love and care would not be forgotten. The world would be a much more beautiful place.

But we are all very busy. Sometimes we’re just trying to keep our head above water. How can we move out of the daily grind into concern about the interests of Jesus Christ?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Pray bigger (see the Lord’s Prayer on this one!). Pray for your community, other churches, and the broader church assemblies. Take the newspaper and pray for the institutions and events mentioned in it.
  • Get involved with something bigger. Go on a mission trip. Get involved with a cause. Visit another church, not to change churches but to get to know what others are doing. When we get involved, we will begin to get a vision of what God is doing and want to be involved.
  • Step out of your comfort zone where you are. Even in your daily life, you run into people who are different from you and represent different interests. Get to know a variety of people. This will help us begin to think about what God is doing in the world.
  • Take inventory of your gifts and consider how you could use them on a bigger scale. This may simply mean volunteering to do something at your church. You may have something to offer your community or school or business. Just think bigger than where you are.

It will not be easy. That’s why hardly anybody does this. But it’s something everyone should do. Jesus and His kingdom and the good of our fellow human beings are worth it.

Let’s pray that this vision comes true: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy kingdom come . . .”

The Progress of the Church in History

What progress can the church expect to make in history? What are the prospects of the church before Christ returns?

There are several places in Scripture that indicate a progressive growth in the kingdom of God before Christ’s return. For example, Jesus compares the kingdom to a mustard seed: “Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches” (Mt. 13:32).

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel envisions a kingdom that breaks all other kingdoms. It “became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth” (2:35).

I believe that it is very hazardous to predict the future, even with the images that the Bible gives us of the future. Most who have tried to do it in any detail have been totally wrong. It is not for us to know the times and the seasons.

That being said, I predict that Jesus will return on October 25, 2134. Just kidding. Not going to make that sort of prediction.

However, I do think that history has shown us enough for us to believe that these images of progressive progress do tell us something about the direction of history. The movement of history seems also to teach that the kingdom will continue to make progress throughout history before the consummation.

Consider the early church. It grew from a small group in Jerusalem to a multitude of congregations throughout the world.

From there, the church continued to grow until it overran the Roman Empire and displaced the pagan religions there.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Christian missionaries went out and brought the Gospel to those who had overran the Empire. The conversion of “barbarian” tribes continued throughout the Middle Ages. Continue reading “The Progress of the Church in History”