Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
If Second Baptist is to become for Jesus the great church we desire to be, we must make a great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. The Great Commandment requires us to love God first (MT 22:37). Holiness matters most. Our response to this demand is worship.
The Great Commandment also requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves (MT 22:39). We exist for others. Our response to this demand is serve.
The Great Commission, given five times by Jesus, requires us to extend His kingdom. Elsewhere is the key word here. Our response to this demand is go.
Worship. Serve. Go. These three indispensable ingredients for spiritual greatness must henceforth be our mission statement at Second Baptist.
Our focus on “Worship. Serve. Go.” began with God’s call of Abram (GN 12:1). The Lord started Reclamation War by calling unto Himself a man of faith, a true worshiper, and giving him a land to begin the process of reclaiming all the earth for God’s glory. The Father sought a true worshiper, one whose life would be worth reproducing. Why would God want to reproduce spiritual mediocrity?
For Abram, everything began with God. YHWH was to hold first place in Abram’s life. Now Abram will learn, even in the second place, it still isn’t about him. Once we are okay with God, once our worship is satisfactory–this always has to come first–the second concern is still not us, but others, as our text reveals.
Gen. 12:2 “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and
make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:”
God promised to bless Abram, to make him a great nation and famous, but not for Abram’s sake. God blessed Abram in order that others would be blessed because of him. Abram was called to be a blessing, to serve. The old acronym is still valid. To have joy, practice JOY, Jesus first, others second, yourself last.
Though Jesus specifically ordered us in the Great Commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, “serve” is a much neglected word in USA Christianity.
Due to generations of Judeo-Christian influence on our government, it took on many traits of compassion. As a result, USA churches often abdicated to the government their rightful social duties. Churches, which Jesus meant to be loving organizations, relinquished to the state the very activities that made them loving.
For Christianity to succeed in the USA, we need churches to once again act like churches, to reclaim the acts of kindness and social services we relinquished.
We are in a cultural struggle where the ultimate issue may not be truth, though this is absolutely essential to our faith. The conflict may boil down to an issue of love. Many lost people are willing to believe people who care. Instead of “convince your neighbor,” maybe we need to emphasize “love your neighbor.”
Our dilemma, seeking to survive and thrive in a hostile culture, is nothing new to Christianity. Enemy territory is our native soil. Adversity is where we were born, our home address. We have faced cultures worse than ours and tamed them entirely. Without exception these victories have come on the wings of serve.
The desirable future we seek is found in the best days of our past. Twenty-first century America is in many ways duplicating first century Rome–no purpose, hopelessness, pessimism, life devalued, cynicism, immorality, etc. The superstitions we call New Age are merely ancient paganism revived. Saints, despair not. We’ve been here before, and won. We conquered first century Rome. By revisiting how we won, we’ll better understand how to win twenty-first century America.
Christianity won the Roman world by serving it in various ways. First, Christ-followers provided for the poor. We gave them money, lived among them, touched them, and whispered in their ears that they had infinite worth. Christians gave paupers decent burials, thereby making a statement on how highly we valued every human life. Believers taught people job skills and furnished employment.
Second, Christ-followers supported widows and orphans. We cared for the neglected, the forgotten. As early as Acts 6, the early church was developing organizations to make sure the elderly were cared for systematically. This was not left to chance. We adopted orphans. The church not only rescued children off the streets and from brothels. We took them into our homes and raised them for Jesus.
Third, Christ-followers cared for slaves, criminals, and religious prisoners. We cared for castaways, the hated. Truly believing God loves all human beings, early believers sought to express that love to even the worst outcasts of society.
Fourth, Christ-followers cared for the sick. Before Jesus, hospitals existed only for soldiers, gladiators, and slaves. “Non-useful” people had no refuge, none! Hospitals as we know them are a gift of Christianity. In 325 A.D., the Council of Nicaea instructed church leaders to establish hospitals wherever churches existed.
In 165 and 251 A.D. huge plagues swept the Roman Empire. Each time, a third of the population died. Pagans often cast still-living family members into the street. Christians gathered them and nursed them. Many believers died as a result.
Fifth, Christ-followers provided disaster relief. Once Jesus had come, for the first time in history, helpers started showing up in large numbers after earthquakes, famines, floods, riots, battles. It’s a shame people have not been taught these historical facts about the followers of our Master. Jesus made this a gentler, kinder world. He is the most wonderful thing that ever happened to this planet.
Sixth, Christ-followers were good citizens. We did not cheat on taxes. We served in the army. We prayed for the rulers. Justin the Martyr and Tertullian, often using these facts in their appeals to our persecutors, would argue, the finest citizens in the Roman Empire were the Christians. The early believers were, to be blunt honest, extremely nice people. Their sheer kindness wowed the world.
We astonished our critics. Now we amuse them, our shoddy lives providing ample fodder for their satires against us. Christians today often say, “Don’t look at us, look at Christ.” Early Christians said, “Look at us, and see Christ.”
Seventh, Christ-followers extended hospitality. We invited people into our homes and made them feel welcome. Our houses provided relaxed, non-threaten-
ing atmospheres where Christianity rooted and thrived. As we seek to implement home cell groups, remember our heritage. Your house is God’s house.
If we think of Second as owning only 22 acres, we are in trouble. We can’t squeeze onto this small piece of property all the people in Springfield who need help, and who are willing to give our faith a fair hearing. However, if we think of Second Baptist as owning hundreds of houses and hundreds of acres, we’ll impact Springfield. Our attitude in this matter will make all the difference in the world.
Consider two final thoughts. First, “serve” confronts us in our hometown. Jesus healed His neighbors, people who lived in His hometown, Capernaum. The Great Commission (Acts 1:8) begins with a hometown, Jerusalem. Early churches were identified by the cities of their location, Thessalonica (I TH 1:1), Laodicia (CL 4:16), Corinth (I C 1:2), Ephesus (RV 2:1). Second’s official, legal name contains the name of our city. Fields far away beckon; we must respond. Fields nearby also call. Ever remember, to the ends of the earth, beginning next door.
Second, “serve” enlists us all. The colossal challenge of trying to heal all the hurts in our city will take everyone of us. It is always an error to think only a portion of the church’s membership will be enough to do God’s work. When God returned Israel to the land promised to Abram, He required all of them to participate in the march around Jericho. None was allowed to stay home. All marched, all shouted. Thus, when God’s power fell, and the walls collapsed, all saw it.
Go to the front line of serve. Be present when Jesus stirs an unbelieving heart. We all need to hear “I had given up on God,” “I didn’t know Christians cared,” “I’ll give church another try,” “I want to know Jesus.” We all need to touch, help, heal, and host our city, to give rise to God’s love being seen in it.
Abram had to worship first, serve second. His, like ours, was a miserable, pain filled world. God expected Abram to heal some hurts. We must do the same.