Isn’t it ironic that Churches are defined legally as “non-profit organizations”? The legal definition refers to the financial status of Churches; but for so many ‘Church people,’ the Church is a “non-profit” organization in every possible sense of the word. Jesus referred to the idea of “profit” in Matthew 16:26 when he asked, “What will it profit [you] if [you] gain the whole world but forfeit [your] life?” Too many people get lots of things out of Church but don’t get the one thing that really matters: the abundant life which Jesus promised to those who follow Him.
I’d like to describe three different people to you, and I want you to ask yourself the question: What do these people all have in common?
- First, consider a hard-working middle-aged woman who literally works her fingers to the bone serving her Church. She’s ever-present on the hospitality committee; she’s always available to teach or substitute-teach; she sings faithfully in the choir and she gives a generous portion of her income over and above her tithe. Yet, she tries day after day to ignore the emptiness that exists inside her – an emptiness that results from the fact that she really has no vibrant, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. She’s worked hard at Church, but she’s never worked very hard at that.
- Consider next a college student who’s never been exposed to Church in her life, begins attending and soon becomes good friends with some young people who are deeply involved in Church. The better she gets to know her new friends, however, the more she realises that their Church involvement hasn’t made any difference in their lives. They swear, they tell tales about drinking and partying, and they never make any ethical or moral choices that are any different from the choices made by her non-churchgoing friends. She concludes: ‘If that’s what ‘Church’ does to you, I don’t want any part of it.’
- Finally, consider an eager young believer who, after completing a study course in personal witnessing, goes out into the community to meet a lost person or two and tell them about Jesus. He makes that visit; he senses the opportunity to share the gospel; but he simply can’t get the words out. He does, however, invite his neighbour to “come to Church,” emphasizing that his Church has lots of great programs and is really very friendly. He convinces himself that he’s done his part by attempting to get his friend “to Church”; and once he’s there, hopefully then he’ll get a chance to hear the gospel about Jesus Christ.
What do these three people have in common? Simply put: They have all allowed Church to get in the way of Jesus. Whether it’s their own relationship with Jesus, the depth of that relationship, or the way they communicate that relationship to others, they’ve let “church” become a barrier separating them from truly knowing and obeying Jesus in the personal way that He desires.
From the very first days in which there was such a thing as the Church, believers like you and me have been tempted, in some way, to substitute Church for Jesus.
When we have those wonderful, God-given opportunities to share Jesus Christ with another person, we hide behind Church, and, instead of sharing Jesus, we share “Church” instead. I want you to consider Acts 2:36-38. After the disciples receive the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, Peter is filled with boldness, and he stands and shares the truth about God and about Jesus with all of the people who are gathered there in the city of Jerusalem. It says in Acts 2:37 that the hearers were “cut to the heart,” and that they pressed around Peter and the other apostles, earnestly asking, “What should we do?” and Peter declared to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.” They needed Jesus, and Peter shared Jesus. He shared the gospel message of salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life in Christ.
Can you imagine what a forget-able, tragic day Pentecost would have been if, instead of responding as he did, Peter had responded in the same way that we so often do when we have the opportunity to tell people about Jesus? “Peter, what should we do?” “Well, the disciples and I are going to be starting up a little church. Why don’t you come to church with us next Sunday? You’ll love it – the people are friendly, the music’s great. Why, we’ll even have a nursery for your kids!” What if Peter had told the crowd about Church instead of telling them about Jesus? In fact, if Peter had shared Church instead of Jesus, v. 37 would not even have happened; no one would have asked Peter, “What should we do?” The last time I checked, no one, not one single person, has ever been “cut to the heart” by hearing about Church the way those folks in Jerusalem were “cut to the heart” by hearing about the Lord and Messiah Jesus Christ. What if Peter had told the crowd about Church instead of telling them about Jesus?
Tragically, in so many of the so-called ‘witnessing encounters’ that believers have today, the saving truth about Jesus Christ is not what’s witnessed to; instead, countless believers are out there, entering into wonderful, God-arranged and God-ordained meetings with lost men and women, and doing nothing more than telling them about Church!
Have you been hiding from Jesus behind the Church? Won’t you come out of hiding today?