By Zac Poonen
In this new-covenant age, our Lord desires “a pure testimony in every place” – in every nation from the east to the west – as prophesied in Malachi 1:11. This was the verse that the Lord gave us as a goal to pursue, when He started our church in Bangalore in 1975. Satan’s chief aim is to corrupt the testimony of a spiritually-minded church, rather than to prevent any increase in the numbers of those attending it. In fact, it may suit Satan’s purpose quite well to allow larger numbers to join such a church, because he can then infiltrate that church more easily through carnal believers and corrupt its testimony.
It is a battle to keep any church pure for the Lord. It is easy to begin well and then, after a while, to lower the standards and gradually degenerate into a dead church. This is where we must be spiritually alert and aware of the schemes of Satan. This alertness and awareness can be sharpened only as we take heed to our own lives first of all. We cannot prevent carnal people from attending our church-meetings. Jesus Himself had a Judas Iscariot sitting in His “church” of 12 people. And the church Paul planted in Corinth had numerous carnal people in it. Our churches may also have carnal people in them. That cannot be avoided. But what we must ensure is that the leadership of the church is always in the hands of spiritual men. And we must also ensure that the message proclaimed in the church is always the pure, new-covenant message.
Paul told Timothy to take heed to himself first (1 Tim.4:15, 16). Those who are faithful in cleansing themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit (2 Cor.7:1), will thereby obtain a spiritual sensitivity to the wiles of the enemy. There is no other way. Knowledge of the doctrine, eloquence and even spiritual gifts are of no use here, for our battle is not against flesh and blood, nor even against intellectual forces, but against evil spiritual forces that are waiting to deceive those who can be deceived.
Jesus said that He would build a church that the powers of spiritual death would not be able to overcome (Matt.16:18). Only the Lord can build such a church. We cannot. We can, at best, be but instruments available for Him to use, as He wills. The government of the church, however, must rest upon His shoulders alone (Isa.9:6). We must never forget this. If the Lord does not build the church, then all our labour will be in vain (Psa.127:1). Those who imagine that they themselves are building the church of the Lord in any place are unconsciously in fellowship with Nebuchadnezzar, who said, ” Is this not Babylon which I myself have built?” (Dan.4:30). Such pride can only produce a Babylonian, worldly “church” (Rev.17:5).
God is looking for humble leaders. He is also looking for those who will seek His kingdom first – those for whom building the church is the Number One priority in their lives, as the ark was for Noah. Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it (Eph.5:25). If we love the church, we too will give ourselves and all that we have, completely for it. Those who value their secular occupation above the building of the local church need never expect to build anything other than another Babylon. That does not mean that we should give up our secular occupations. No. Nowadays, it is best that we are self-supporting, like the apostle Paul was, because that is a good testimony before non-Christians who accuse all Christian workers of doing their job for money. But the kingdom of God must be uppermost in our thinking, even while we work in our secular occupations.
God will test us to see if His church is the first priority in our thinking and in our lives, before He will support us in building His church.
We must never be interested in multiplying our numbers – either of believers or of churches. We must be interested only in a pure testimony for the Lord. This is what God Himself is interested in too. Jesus taught us that our first prayer to God must always be “Hallowed be Thy Name”, and not “Increase our numbers”. It is far better to have no church at all in a place than that to have one that is impure – and thus a bad testimony for Christ.