Enjoying The Favour Of All The People
I once heard Martyn Lloyd-Jones say that ‘the greatest enemy of the Christian faith has always been the Christian church.’ I was a little taken aback, but a few moments thought was enough to feel that he had a point. The pristine church that explodes into existence in Acts 2 does not stay pristine for long. In fact, as Lloyd-Jones often pointed out, the only reason the church still exists is because the risen Lord, whose church it is, has constantly sustained it, often pouring out his Spirit afresh and leading his people to rediscover the reality, joy and power of the gospel.
At a practical level this talent for decay means that we, the church, must always keep the vision of Acts 2 before us. Here is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we need; here is the gospel of the crucified and risen Lord we need; here is what we are meant to be and here is what we can be.
One of the more intriguing aspects of Acts 2 is verse 47 where it says that the church was ‘enjoying the favour of all the people’. It is an interesting phrase and I wonder what you make of it.
My first thought is ‘well, not always’. At this point in Acts, Luke is describing what was happening then rather than prescribing what should always be true of the church. After all, it won’t be too many chapters before the approval evaporates and all but the apostles are scattered from their homes. The crowd is fickle.
We must go further. Let no one suggest that ‘the favour of all the people’ is something a church should deliberately aim at. That would spell disaster. We face a constant choice: do we please God or do we please people? In a fallen world you cannot always do both.
On the face of it, it seems simple enough and, in our best moments, we are clear where our allegiance lies. Yet it is not just other people that are fickle; throw into the mix our fear and pride, and compromise can quickly happen.
We need to realise that if our western culture is to have a future, it needs the church to be its salt and light. Unless the church is different to society, it will quickly become invisible and irrelevant. It certainly helps us to remember that we are not loving a fallen world if we do nothing but mirror it and affirm it. In the end, for the church, the most powerful thing is to remember that this is a simple matter of Lordship and loyalty. Who is in control? Is it culture, our fears, our pride or is it Jesus?
Make good people glad you are there
My final thought is that we should love and serve our community so well that good people will always be glad we are there, even if they don’t accept what we believe. I once heard someone say that the church should always touch a community where it is hurting. Like Jesus himself, we should move towards need and suffering with compassion and grace, not shy away from it in fear or self-righteousness.
Of course, that doesn’t just happen. A church like that would need a vision that, maybe, many of us do not have: a vision, not just for our church, but also for our community.
This is the sort of vision that St Mungo once had for what is now the city of Glasgow. His words are inscribed on the bell of the Tron Church: ‘Lord let Glasgow flourish through the preaching of thy word and the praising of thy name.’
Imagine what your church would look like if it were shaped by a vision like that.
‘O Lord, let our community flourish’.