“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” — Matthew 10:42
Over the past couple of years, I have been giving a lot of thought, time, and heart to this scripture as well as many like it. I have studied, prayed, meditated, and committed more of myself to these things than I can measure and gained nothing. Lately, though, the Lord has been giving me a much deeper understanding— applied and experienced understanding— of the principles He is teaching when He discusses the “little children” or when He talks about how we treat “the least of these.”
My own heart has certainly shifted in what I consider priority as I gain more understanding concerning His heart for the lost, the broken, the needy, and the poor. Of course, much self-awareness and self-evaluation have led me to ask myself a simple yet very powerful question… “Am I doing this right?”
There has to be more to this than just showing up to church on time every Sunday and Wednesday. There has to be more to this than raising empty hands and singing joyful songs. What does God actually require of me? What does He actually require of us?
I mean, I know that the bible says what He requires but do I really live according to that? Or, like we see much more often these days, is it simply a badge of honor that I use at my convenience to make myself appear more righteous? It would be foolish of us to assume that the modern church is in great condition, that it isn’t in need of correction. One good reading of the Bible will show us exactly what Jesus Himself said of this era of the church, calling it lukewarm, and concerning what they think of themselves and their righteousness He says “you say ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’— and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” Jesus Christ, Himself gives us a very clear and descriptive visual of the condition of the church as an entity that has gone from being righteous in Him to their own idea of righteousness.
Here we see a church that appears “rich,” not concerning monetary wealth but spiritual maturity, filled with blessings and working in gifts, that seems righteous and wise but they are quite the opposite. This image of the Laodicean church is not hard to place over the current church and find a match, truly as things in the world become increasingly tense we are closing in on the events that we read about but this particular thing concerns me; we are the church, we should have and maintain such a healthy love for God that we do not need to be told to seek His righteousness, wisdom, and truth. It should be our nature to eagerly and fervently chase after Him and not ourselves or our own gain.
What is even more heartbreaking is that so many are ignorant of this. The church has become a place of eating, getting fat on the wisdom of men and women who teach tasty things, the children of light a congregation of sheep fattened on what is pleasing for them to hear, and most are so comfortable with this that they give no thought to seeking deeper things but give in to the assumption that simply showing up and raising hands is good enough.
We send out missionaries to far away countries which, although it IS good work, is shallow and worth nothing more than a few likes and shares when we do not extend that same graceful and compassionate hand to the homeless and naked in our own communities. We live in delusion, thinking that raising empty hands and singing joyful songs is enough to please a God that requires our hands are emptied in giving to the poor and our voices are lifted up in unison for a cause greater than closing eyes, waving arms, and matching the notes of the worship leader. We choose what works we think are good or that benefit us and neglect the hungry, poor, lonely, hurting, and lost that are sitting on our own doorstep. We are a church full of people who are motivated by hype and lacking almost entirely in passion.
I know that this seems grim, but it is nothing different than what Christ Himself says concerning the church of the end. That church of the final era that is so absorbed with itself and its own idea of righteousness that it misses the point entirely, a people who are “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” It is a heartbreaking thing to witness, and something that is rarely spoken against out of fear of persecution or shame.
Vance Havner said, “The devil is not fighting religion. He’s too smart for that. He is producing a counterfeit Christianity, so much like the real one that good Christians are afraid to speak out against it. We are plainly told in the scriptures that in the last days, men will not endure sound doctrine and will depart from the faith and heap to themselves teachers to tickle their ears. We live in an epidemic of this itch, and popular preachers have developed ‘ear-tickling’ into a fine art.” Though his time was before mine, this man doesn’t speak ignorantly of the time that we are in or of the condition of the church and it is not wrong to say that true Christians are afraid to speak out against false Christianity because of the similarities it holds to true Christianity. It is exactly what we see. If someone stands up and says that something is wrong they are berated with insult, ferocity, and religious rhetoric until they are silenced…
How did we get to this point? How did we become a church full of people that are fattened on the words of men instead of the Word of God, whose faith is built more on conjecture than truth? It’s simple really. As much as we complain about our modern society as one that hates correction or being told that they are wrong, the church is no different. It has become an institution full of people that seek the tastiest version of the truth, leave out the parts that they do not want to hear, and who despise being told that it is wrong.
I don’t want you to think that I am just slamming the church, I certainly am not! The true church is a beacon of hope, righteousness, faith, and above all love! It is a shining example of the heart of God and the life of Christ. It simply is not the most apparent form of the church in this day, and those who truly love Christ are so outnumbered that if they do say anything they are cast out and dismissed as being hateful. I am not talking greatly of myself or boasting of myself, but I am addressing a truth that too many are afraid to address and that is that the church is by no means in a good condition. Being afraid to admit this is about as effective as covering your eyes during a bank robbery because you think the thief won’t see you if they’re covered.
Jesus even goes on to say, as He addresses the Laodicean church, “I counsel you to buy My gold that is refined in fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve that you may see,” which is a call to repentance. He is urging them to turn from this lifestyle of self-absorption, self-righteousness, and being wise in their own eyes and to seek His righteousness. There is an opportunity, given by Christ Jesus Himself, to turn back to Him. He is literally telling us that this is an issue and we should turn from it. The problem, however, with a people that are beyond reproach is that in their hatred of correction they will not see what is right but only what is tasteful to them.
We need to be willing to address these issues! We need to be willing to let go of our need to be right and understand that, besides Christ, no one is! We need to stop being so uncomfortable with correction and so eager to only listen to what sounds good, turn to Christ and His truth, and set aside our own ideas of what righteousness is— Christ Jesus alone IS the wisdom and righteousness of God!
The longer that we despise correction, remain unwilling to evaluate ourselves and see where we stand, and the longer that we ignore the truth for a version that sounds good we will continue in a path of ignorance that leads to destruction. The Word itself says that “the wrath of God will fall upon the sons and daughters of disobedience,” and surely it will. Do not be mistaken, although sinners will face the wrath of God they are not held to the same standard of obedience as those who call themselves the children of God. For us to say that we love Him and not obey Him is nothing less than a lie. “This is how we know that we know Him, that we obey His commandments. Anyone who says ‘I know Him’ and does not obey His commandments is a liar and the truth is not in them.” Even Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will obey Me.”
Are we so foolish that we would miss the truth for the sake of filling our own bellies with doctrines that please us? We are not called to anything less than death. Dying to ourselves, completely, and seeking Him with ALL of ourselves— with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your mind, and with all of your strength— every part of our lives should reflect a passionate love for God and embody that love!
We are not a people who are edified by likes, shares, and popular opinions of self. We are a people who are called to be a beacon to this world! Neglecting to love ourselves above others but to love others as we love ourselves, and to do everything that we do as though we were doing it to the Lord! There are churches out there that are filled to the brim with people who love Christ, I am sure. It cannot be something that is so rare that it is not seen anywhere, at least hopefully not. That being said, it is a sad thing when the people of the church rally together over something that causes hype but not over something that exudes passion and produces sustainable change.
We heap together over hashtags, travel to countries beyond our own borders, say that we want to improve our communities, and call it righteousness but that assumption could not be more inaccurate if it tried… When it comes to true righteousness we fall short. The moment that the hype dies down we fall away and the movement dissipates. The countries we travel to are not actually improved, and people on our own streets are still cold and hungry. The likes and shares that we receive online produce temporary highs and after a few moments, it is forgotten until Facebook reminds us a year later. The pictures we take in groups supporting the newest movement are forgotten and the naked are still not clothed. Our buildings and streets are made prettier, but the people sleeping in our alleys are still dirty. Our posts generate hype and movement, but the homeless are not in our homes and the jobless are not given work. The marks we draw on our hands fade and the broken are still broken.
To say that we are not living in an era of the church that is more concerned with selfish ideas of righteousness and self-promotion is nothing short of denial and foolishness. We need to stand up and address these things! We need to go out into our communities and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give place to the homeless, and mend the broken instead of relying on our own ideas of what makes us righteous for the sake of a good picture and a few likes that do not actually add to our heavenly value!
We are living in an era of the church that will stand before Christ and say, “Lord, Lord, have we not” caught up in delusions of grandeur without any actual good fruits, but Christ said “the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”
We are called to more than what we see today, movements fueled by hype and lacking entirely in passion, messages that please the ears that are listening instead of urging them to do good and correcting them for not, ideas of righteousness that carry no heavenly weight or power, and a culture that emphasizes gifts above the love of God— calling ourselves rich and saying that we have everything we need— using this as a sign of righteousness while in truth we are poor, blind, naked, and destitute concerning true righteousness.
The truth is that the work of God is not in an abundance of words that sound good, produce attention and hype, generate likes and shares, but lack any power! It is in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and taking in the homeless. It is in that man or woman sleeping under a newspaper on the bench in the park, in the single mom or dad struggling to feed their children, in the poor who are unable to clothe themselves. It is in our compassionate and loving embrace of those people that God is witnessed, and not in all of our ideas, words, or opinions about what righteousness is! There is truly no number of times that we can raise empty hands in the church that could possibly compare to even one time of emptying our hands holding them out to fulfill the needs of the broken!