Wednesday, March 26, 2014

God strengthens and grows His church through preaching

Acts 5:42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

Introduction and Review:
Yesterday we considered the ways in which God strenghtens and grows His church.  We suggested that one of the chief ways is through corporate prayer.  We noted through the book of Acts that every time the church prayed in Acts 3-8, some area of ministry was strengthened.  In the Gospels we saw how Jesus had ordained the pattern to continue from what was set for the temple and synogogue of His day.  Prayer was to be priority! Then finally we looked at the New Testament epistles to see how much prayer continued on into the later part of the Apostolic era and saw the without question - corporate times of prayer and prayerfulness among God's people in the church was one of the ways used by God to strengthen and grow His church. 

As we turn our attention yet again to Acts 3-8 and other passages, we ask the question: "how is it that God grows and strenghtens His church?" We saw the first method to be that of prayer.  However there is a second important method: preaching.  Once more we will consider mainly Acts 3-8, followed by a few reflections on Jesus' pattern of ministry, with some final observations in the Epsitles to discern whether or not preaching is yet another way God has prescribed to strengthen and grow His church.

God strengthens and grows His church through preaching as seen in Acts 3-8
It is truly amazing how many sermons and instances of preaching we find throughout the Book of Acts.  Whenever we count up the sermons, addresses and exhortations given by the Apostles and their associates, we end up with roughly 20 such examples.  Just as we saw with the pattern of prayer in yesterday's post, we see that when the Word of God was preached, strengthening and growth occurred. For example in Acts 3:11-26 we see Peter preaching his second sermon, expounding further on the miracle of the healing of the lame man at the Gate called Beautiful in 3:1-10. Peter ties the miracle to the activity and person of the resurrected and Ascended Christ in heaven.  Thereupon his conclusion of that sermon, we read the outcome in Acts 4:4 
"But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand."

Then we read later on in Acts 4:5-12 and in Acts 5:29-32 of Peter preaching twice more, and with God strengthening the church in some area and conversions being the result.  In Acts 7:1-60 we see one of the fullest and complete sermons recorded in Acts.  Stephen is the keynote speaker and before it is all said and done, he will be recorded as the church's first martyr. 

Stephen's preaching undoubtedly led to persecution but also to advancement in the cause of Christ. God indeed strengthens His cause and grows His people spiritually or numerically (or both) through preaching.  

Jesus' pattern of preaching in His ministry
Mark 1:38 records for us the early conviction Jesus had about preaching: He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” In Luke's Gospel we see Jesus reading and expounding from the scroll of Isaiah, describing how He had fulfilled the contents of Isaiah 61:1-2a.  In Matthew we see recorded a number of sermons - from his inaugural Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 to his final Sermon "The Olivet Discourse" of Matthew 24-25.  It is not hard to see Jesus' priority on preaching and how He used it to advance the cause for which He came - to go to the cross and to unfurl to the people the Kingdom of God. 

How we see God using preaching in the Epistles
We could say in all fairness that the Epistles represent the outcomes of and in some cases, the preaching of the Apostles.  The Book of Hebrews for instance may very well had been a sermon and extended exposition of Psalm 110 and Genesis 14 as the author aimed to explain to His readers why Christ is superior to the Old Covenant Judaism.  The Epistle to the Romans has Paul detailing the place of preaching in the conversion of sinners in Romans 10:11-17 and the strengthening of saints.  Galatians 1 begins addressing what consistutes solid gospel preaching from counterfiet versions.  Then of course the epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus have instructions given to Timothy and Titus as to how they ought to preach in the church and how preaching equips the church to live and do the will of God.  1 Timothy 4:13-16 plainly states:  "Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. 15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you."

Today we have looked at how God uses preaching to strengthen and grow His church. We saw in Acts 3-8 how God used the sermons of the Apostles to motivate the church in its forward movement and how God brought about the conversion of many souls. In the Gospels we saw how Jesus had made preaching on of the chief priorities in His earthly ministry.  Then in the Epistles we saw how preaching is the very fabric of the life of the church, without which the church cannot be strengthened nor ever hope to grow. 

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