Six characteristics of a healthy church

hospitalI’m sure you know of the couple who woke up one Sunday morning and the wife said to her husband, “Get up or you will be late for church!”  Her husband replied, “I really don’t feel like going to church and I don’t like the church people that much anyway.   Give me 3 reasons why I should go this morning.”  The wife responded, “Number 1:  Church is beneficial because your hear God’s Word.  Number 2: The people at church actually care for you.  3.  And number 3: You’re the pastor!”

It sounds like that church may not be the spiritually healthiest church around – at least not the minister!   Of course we should not expect perfect churches because churches are made up of sinful people.  We are forgiven, but not sinless.   God doesn’t call Christians and churches to perfection, but he does call us to make progress.

The Church in Corinth was certainly not a perfect church and it had a number of issues and challenges.  As we come to the last chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he makes some closing remarks and we see what Paul considers what’s necessary for a healthy church – a church that’s progressing.   How do you and your church match up?

1. Zeal for evangelism

v15 Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia

Originally Paul went to Corinth in the province of Achaia and told people the truth about Jesus’ death for sins and subsequent resurrection.  Stephanas and his household believed the gospel and were the start of the church.  Here is an important observation: there is no other way to grow the church than through evangelism.  The church grows as people hear the gospel, repent of sin and believe the gospel.  All other methods of growth are false, deceptive and wrong.  Many churches seek to grow by presenting an entertaining programme or by watering down the gospel.  Without the continued, faithful proclamation of the gospel (in big groups and small conversations) there can be no real church growth.

2. Devotion to serving

v15 Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints

No-one asked or appointed Stehanas’ family to serve, they just did.   They ministered in Jesus’ name to others in the church. In 1 Corinthians chapter 12 Paul pictured the church as a human body with its different members all having different abilities and functions working for the good of the one body.  Jesus served us so we serve each other.  Note: in the Bible all Christians are called “saints”.

3. Respect for godly leaders

v15 Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— 16 be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and labourer.

As Christians we are told to submit to Christ as Sovereign King.   In the future the Bible says that every knee will bow before Christ – either in worship or terror.  Paul also wrote in chapter 14:37 that they should submit to him as Christ’s Apostle.   Here we are told to submit to godly leaders in the church.  The church cannot be made up of people all trying to do their own thing.  Marriage is a good illustration.  If both spouses pull in their own direction it is a recipe for divorce or an unhappy marriage.  Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church.  Wives are commanded to submit to their husbands in the Lord.  Marriage, like a ship, simply can’t have two captains.  So too the church.  We are called to submit to, i.e. voluntarily place ourselves under the authority of, godly leaders.

v17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

Many people today don’t want to submit to anyone – it’s a characteristic of the age we live in.   Yet, as Christians, we humbly submit to those over us in the Lord.   We give them the recognition they deserve.  Are you willing to receive instruction from your church leaders, even rebuke, if necessary?

4. Desire for fellowship

v17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours.

I’m sure you’ve experienced what Paul is talking about here as you re-connected with long-lost friends.  Normally we make friends and spend time with people who are like us, are our own age, have a similar income bracket and culture, and share our hobbies.  Church is different.  We know that the church is made up of all kinds of people.  It’s great news that Christ calls all kinds of people to be part of his family.   No-one is too bad,  too evil or too sinful.  In Christ, because we are united by a far greater reality, we are able to transcend income-brackets, culture, background and personal likes.  We are brothers and sisters in God’s family.

v19 The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. 20 All the brothers send you greetings.

In those days there were no designated church building and the church met in houses.   The church in Ephesus, meeting in the home of Aquila and Prisca, sent “hearty greeting” or literally “many hugs” to the Corinthian church.  They were far apart but their fellowship in the Lord was strong.

V20 …Greet one another with a holy kiss.

This simply means that they should greet one another warmly in a culturally appropriate way.   In our context, Paul would have written, “Give one another a hearty handshake!”  It was also meant to be a “holy” kiss.   That meant that if there were any issues between people that caused them not to greet, they were to sort it out, so that their greeting could be holy.  Fellowship is an essential part of Christianity and not an added-extra.

5. Commitment to love Jesus demonstrated by holiness

v22 If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.

What does Paul mean by, “has no love for the Lord”?  Can he see into his readers’ hearts?   The word “accursed” comes from the Old Testament word meaning “devoted to God” – normally devoted to God for destruction.   Accursed means to be under the judgment of God

According to the Bible, humanity is divided up into two groups.  (a) Those trying to earn their own righteousness and (b) those who accept the righteousness that comes from God.  The Bible says that those who try to earn own rightness before God are under the judgment of God, or accursed.   But those that accept the rightness of God that comes through faith in Christ are the total opposite, they are blessed.

Paul writes at the end of his letter, “Some of you listening to this letter being read out don’t love the Lord!”  How does Paul know?  They’ve shown it by their actions and attitudes that Paul had written about earlier in his letter.  Some were living in sexual immorality and didn’t care about it.  Some were giving their allegiance to idols.  Some were using the Lord’s Supper as an opportunity to get drunk and thus bring dishonour on Jesus.  Some had forsaken the gospel that was preached to them.  Some believed that this life is all there is.  Some created factions, divisions and disunity in the church.   These Corinthians demonstrated by their sinful lifestyle and ungodly attitudes that although they were in the church, they had no love for the Lord.   They thought they were blessed, but Paul says they are under God’s judgment.

V22 Our Lord, come!

Paul is not referring to the second coming, but that the Lord (Jesus) should come in judgment against those who would defile his church.

6. Passion for sound doctrine

v13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

The imposters and so-called “super-spiritual” Christians were saying that Jesus is not enough and the gospel is not sufficient for Christian living.  Paul, however, says, “Stand firm in THE faith”.  There is only one true faith, one sound body of teaching and one sure foundation.  In the midst of a world that would change the gospel, reduce the gospel, or add to the gospel, Paul instructs, “Stand firm in the faith.”   Is the preaching of God’s Word the main focus of your church service?  Do you listen more than you sing?  Does your pastor explain the Bible and remind you of the gospel each Sunday?