PART 3: WHAT ARE THE STONES WITH WHICH WE MUST REBUILD THE WALLS OF THE CHURCH?
HADRIAN’S WALL IS BROKEN DOWN
Apart from the wall of Nehemiah the most famous walls of all time are probably the Great Wall of China…and, more significantly for me, Hadrian’s Wall. Built from 122AD and over 73 miles long it runs from Bowness-On-Solway in the West to Wallsend on the Tyne in the East. Those of us who have walked it are awed by its size and its beauty. It was built as a symbol of the power and authority of Rome, a wall from which armies could sally out and attack and a place of defence against the barbarians of Scotland. And yet it is today in ruins and largely missing along vast lengths of it. And why is this? The ravages of time have played its part, the lack of upkeep and care, and the theft of much of its stonework. What a picture of the church today in this nation this wall is. A Church that was built on the foundations of the Prophets and Apostles and Jesus Christ Himself has been broken down by the lack of care over time and we have allowed the ways of the world to break it down further. And is not our enemy, the devil, known as “The thief [who] comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10: 10). The devil is behind the breaking down of the walls of the Church.
Well, here is the question that we have come together to begin to answer today: What are the “stones” with which we need to rebuild the “walls” of the Church? By “stones” we mean the people, the principles, and the practices that we need to re-establish in the Church from this day onwards.
Let us identify these and then commit ourselves to being those who are going to rebuild the broken-down walls of the Church from this day onwards.
- I AM TO BE ONE OF THE STONES!
This message is very much a summary of all that we have been hearing over many weeks now.
Dudley spoke to us powerfully some weeks back, reminding us of who we are and challenging us to be the people that God has called.
He declared over us the words of 1 Peter 2: 5 –
you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house
The wall of the Church needs stones to be rebuilt. I must choose to be one of those stones!
We have been told that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down because of the unfaithfulness of God’s people. So, I must be a living stone who is faithful to God alone, committed to Him, and trusting in no-one and nothing else. The first Commandment decrees that we should “have no other gods before (or beside)” Him (Exodus 20: 3). Remember that the main reason that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down was due to Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. They SAID that YHWH was Lord…but their ACTIONS AND LIFE-STYLE showed them seeking the help of other “gods” in their lives – and thus their worship of them. When we look to our own wits, our hard work, our financial security, politicians, relationships etc to meet our needs and sort out our problems then we are serving other “gods” and are being unfaithful to the LORD. We must get rid of any other “gods” (see, for example, Joshua 24: 23) and follow God alone.
To be a living stone used in rebuilding the walls of the Church I must indeed:
“Trust in the LORD with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. I will seek His will in all that I do, and He will direct my paths” (Proverbs 3: 5-6 paraphrased)
It’s all about my personal relationship with Father God – and always has been.
And so I commit myself to this:
“as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24: 15)
What about you? I am fully convinced of this: that the rebuilding of the broken walls of the Church begins with you and me recommitting ourselves to being faithful to Him alone from this day forward.
- REBUILDING THE WALLS AS THEY WERE ALWAYS MEANT TO BE
We must return to the fundamentals – to the first principles of how the church was built. The Early Church of the age of the Apostles was the church in its purest – and strongest form. A Church where the walls were so strong that it turned the world upside down as it grew at a tremendous pace. The “stones” we must choose to rebuild those walls must be the very ones that made it strong in the first place.
And what are these “stones”? They are the ones declared by Doctor Luke in Acts 2: 42–43
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles
So, let’s look at these briefly, one at a time, before we enter into a time of prayer and meditation on what the “stones” are that we need to be using to rebuild the walls of the Church:
- DEVOTION –
Let’s get back to the simplicity and purity of the early church. This word “devoted” is important. It is the Greek word “proskartereo” which has the sense of enduring, remaining faithful to, continuing steadfastly, staying close. It is not saying that it is wrong to spend time reading or watching TV or playing sport…it is saying that the no.1 thing of importance is to ensure that we remain steadfastly faithful to these things.
- THE APOSTLES’ TEACHING –
Sound doctrine – the Apostles’ Teaching of Acts 2 – not the “whatever seems right to man” that is found in the church today in issues of sexuality, marriage, other religions – the “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” of Judges 21: 25.
- FELLOWSHIP –
Fellowship – rather than get our support and pleasure from outside the church, let us return to fellowship with the church. This comes through attendance of our Celebration services, housegroups, time spent with our church family. But it also includes the music that we listen to, the clubs that we belong to, the sports that we play. None of these are bad…but if “devote” ourselves to them, then they become more important, more influential, than our fellowship with the saints. The Greek word used here – “koinonia” – means more than just fellowship, it also infers “partnership” – working together in union with others, in agreement with others, in purpose with others. Let’s get back to this commitment to working with each other, standing side-by-side, in the rebuilding of the walls of the church.
- THE BREAKING OF BREAD –
Breaking of bread – Communion is seen to be really important. The time was that communion was taken every week without fail. In so many churches this focusing on remembering the death of Christ, and sharing one-with-another in our commitment to Him and thanks to Him for what He has done has lost its importance – to the extent that some churches celebrate communion no more than once a month (or less) and there are even others that put it on a table at the back of the hall for you to help yourself to it if you so wish!
And WHY is this such an important “stone in the wall”? Surely it’s no more than a sweet tradition? No! As we take communion it re-focuses us on what is central to our faith, the One who is central to our faith, and our commitment to one another.
- PRAYER –
Prayer – like you, I am almost horrified (or is it terrified!) at the thought of the 4 hours of daily prayer observed by John Wesley. But the bottom line is that PRAYER IS THE POWERHOUSE of the Church, the place of direct communication with our Father, our General, our Hope, our Fortress. We must decide to return to our commitment to prayer – listening, thanking, repenting, asking, yielding.
- WONDERS AND SIGNS –
Strength will rise as we wait upon the LORD (Isaiah 40: 31). We need another Pentecost to be filled with the “dunamis” – dynamite power of the Holy Spirit. Rather than mocking, the world shall then again look on the church with “awe” – the Greek word employed here is “phobos” which means “fear, terror, reverence, respect, honour” – yes! Rather than ridicule, the nation shall again have a reverential honour, respect and fear of the Church…the walls will be rebuilt in this area.
Why do I speak thus? Because “wonders and signs” will only be “performed” through the Power of the Holy Spirit. Now, there are some who believe that the Power of the Holy Spirit ended with the last of Jesus’ direct Apostles. Well, just as I do not believe that the Apostolic ministry has died out, neither do I believe that wonders and signs have ended. If I am right then the call – the challenge – is to seek God for these signs and wonders to become more commonplace amongst us and to be clearly seen by the society in which we live.
These “wonders” (Greek “teras”) are portents in the sky and miracles done on earth as we see “His Kingdom come” and heaven touching earth. Why should we be uncertain about these wonders being seen through us when Jesus, Himself, promised us that we would do even greater things than we saw Him doing (John 14: 12)
These “signs” (Greek “semeion”) seem, on the surface, to be the same as “wonders” but they speak of convincing proofs to those who witness them. We need the walls of the Church to be rebuilt so that when the world sees the Church they see people giving convincing proofs, through their words and their actions, that lead people to accept that what the Church is saying is true and what the church is doing is right.
- WHAT THOSE WALLS THEN LOOKED LIKE
Look at what Dr Luke says the walls of the Early Church looked like –
44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Well, here we see the outworking of the Early Church living safely and powerfully behind fully build “walls of the Church” – we see their fellowship with one another, their care for one another, their “breaking of bread” together and the consequence that they were held in high regard by all and that they were growing in number. They loved the LORD with all their hearts, mind and strength and they loved their neighbour as themselves. There was no compromise, there was no unfaithfulness. The “walls” were very strong!
Let us notice a couple of added details here:
- Their “fellowship” – or partnership – meant that they shared everything they had with each other so that no-one was in need. We all have much to learn here.
- They met together spiritually EVERY DAY! Now, what would happen if WE did that!?
- Their attitude, as seen by all, was that of praising and not of moaning – focusing on the goodness and greatness of God rather than on themselves. Where is our focus?
THE CHALLENGE OF CHURCHILL
In the late 1920’s and into the late 1930’s Winston Churchill wrote books and built walls at his country home of Chartwell. He himself would often say at the end of the day: “I laid about 200 bricks and have written 2,000 words.” And why did he build walls? He was in the political wilderness and maybe, just maybe, his wall-building was symbolic or his needing to rebuild his whole career, his whole life, which had collapsed in ruins. And the result of his rebuilding of his life?…He became the greatest PM of all times leading the nation to victory over the Nazi menace. We need to rebuild the walls of the church which over the years have collapsed into ruin. Let us rebuild with the same passion that Churchill showed. And maybe, just maybe, we might see, in our lifetime, the Church in this nation becoming everything that God ever meant it to be – a Church that will be at the forefront of the final victory over the greatest enemy of all time – the devil.
WHAT TO DO NOW: INDIVIDUALLY OR IN GROUPS
- Take time to pray and seek God on what the stones of the wall are that you must put back into place. These are the “stones” that the Church is built on. The foundation is Jesus – His teaching and His sacrifice for us. But we are looking for your ideas as to what the “stones” are that we need to begin to put back into place.
- Make a note of what you believe these stones to be, write them on a post-it note, stick this on the “walls of the church” – it will then be written up carefully.
- Remember the recent message on our being called to be “Living Stones”…if you commit yourself to being a living stone in the “wall of the church” then write your name down on a post-it note, maybe with a verse that you want to live by, and this will be added to the “walls of the church”.
SOME OTHER THOUGHTS…
LOVE NOT LEGALISM:
As we rebuild the walls let us watch out that we do not fall back into legalism…
‘If someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves…you also may be tempted’ (Galatians 6:1 NIV)
“Jesus is our example. Jesus had no time for the Pharisees who hid their sins behind a religious mask. But not one time did He condemn someone who was caught in sin and overtaken by temptation and failure. The minute they reached for Him, He willingly restored them. Someone has said the church is the only army that shoots its wounded. Today, others are watching us to see if the grace we preach to others is the same grace we extend to one another. Let’s not disappoint them.” (UCB Word for Today – 28 Mar 22)
ONE COMMENTATOR WRITES THIS REGARDING NEHEMIAH
The parallel of course, seems to fit with the people of God today, the church. With the wall that separates us from the world being taken apart brick by brick, many in the western church don’t seem to know the difference between godliness and worldliness anymore. Like Nehemiah, our thoughts go back to how it all began where “they continually devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common … praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their numbers daily those that were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47). The question must be asked – Is the Laodicean Church that we see in the west today, any better off today than Israel was in Nehemiah’s day?
i.e. we must return the church to its fundamentals of Acts 2: 42-47 – “walls” that have been broken down because a lack of teaching, lack of commitment, lack of faithfulness, means that we don’t “seem to know the difference between Godliness and worldliness any more”.
We have to go back to our foundations:
‘Then I passed on to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was no place for my mount to pass…’
Enough moaning. What was the solution? What had to happen first? We read that when Nehemiah inspected the wall he “passed on to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was no place for my mount to pass.” (vs 13) In other words, the rubble from the smashed stonewalls was so high that he couldn’t get past. Obviously, the first thing that had to happen if any restoration was going to take place was to get rid of this stinking rubbish! They had to get back to the city’s foundation. There is no way that they would have tried to build a wall on top of a huge mound of broken stones. Not very smart, not very secure! No, they had to get rid of the rubble because it was preventing a solid wall of protection from being built, and it clogged up the gates denying the people of God access into his presence.
No prizes for guessing what foundation they had to get back to. “According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 3:10-11) The only foundation given in the word is Jesus himself , and any work built upon any other foundation will always end in how Jerusalem is pictured here – rubble! Years of hard work had gone into Jerusalem’s walls and it had all come to nothing. Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead gives us both the foundation and the means by which we can actually begin building our lives (or the church). The bible tells of those who remain spiritual babies being “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” because they are “not accustomed to the word of righteousness…” (Eph 4.14, Heb 5:13). They have little protection because they still don’t understand the foundation that Jesus himself is their righteousness. They don’t understand the implications of his death, so can never progress onto his resurrection.
In recent times however, other builders have told us that they have found a new type of foundation upon which you can build very successfully. A very old builder called Geshem said that money and success laid a great foundation to build on. The builder Tobiah recently said that good works were the way to go (actually many builders have tried to use this for years). He also stated that some magnificent buildings had been made on this foundation once the builder had increased their effort, cleaned every spot off their garment and were up to date confessing every bad thought and deed. Do this and he guarantees it will work. Well, we’ll see later what became of this builder. But in the mean time some still prefer that old foundation being “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph 2:20-21)
So, we’ve got to clear away all the rubbish in our lives and in the church first:
‘Then they said, ‘Let us arise and build.’ So they put their hands to the good work.’
So, we know what the foundation is, but how do we get to it? Who wants to be a rubbish removal man? Not a very nice job. For the saved individual who has just seen how desolate his life is, and has prayed in faith based on the promises of God, there is a new life awaiting him. But it involves a new way of thinking and a clearing out of the rubbish that would seek to bind him to his old life. This rubbish is simply the remains of your own attempt to build your life independent of God. It may be your worldly thoughts and attitudes or maybe something of your past associations with Sanballat as in Acts 19:19 where “those who practised magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone.”
For the church as a whole the rubbish is obviously more public and therefore the removal of it causes a bigger stink. There are always a lot of people who want to build the walls of the church, but not a lot who are brave enough to suggest that there is a heck of a lot of rubble, and rubble can’t be built on! It was even discouraging in Nehemiah’s day, as in Judah it was said “The strength of the burden bearers is failing, yet there is much rubbish and we ourselves are unable to build the wall.” (Chapter 4:10). Not a very rewarding job clearing rubbish. But at least in Nehemiah’s day they knew that they had to remove the rubbish before they could build on a solid foundation. We just seem to carry on building as if everything is fine and then watch it drop. And surprised that God didn’t come through or allow it to stand, we then double our efforts and find, like Israel travelling in circles throughout the wilderness, that more effort only brings you back to where you began quicker! Surely all the calls stating that the next great revival is just around the corner are not taking the current rubble into account. No, Nehemiah did it right. See the depth of the problem, cry out to God, get rid of the rubbish, build and restore glory to Gods name on the only foundation worth mentioning – Jesus.
APPENDIX: COMMENTS PENNED BY CHURCH FAMILY IN DISCUSSION OF “STONES”
The church family was divided into groups on Sunday 3rd April 2022 to discuss the “stones” that they thought should be added to the rebuilding of the walls of the church.
Here is their feedback in summary form – comments that shall be used in the “Wall” that will be put together on the church notice board at the back of the main hall…
STONES TO BUILD THE CHURCH IN OUR NATION
|WHAT WAS WRITTEN
|Make sure our own church is strong
|Relevant sermons – Biblical, moral, no compromise
|More emphasis on the Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts
|Sure of our beliefs
|Work with other churches
|Exercise more faith
|Involve the community
|Grow fruit of the Spirit
|Personal devotion to listen to God and His plans
|Increase commitment and connection between each other
|Plumblines and measures
|Christian standards and doctrines
|Spreading Gospel between believers and non-believers
|Unity and passion for Jesus
|Encourage one another
|Build on stones that are still standing
|Me, you and us
|Bind us together in a common purpose
|Building with a sword in our hands because the world seeks to destroy what we are building
|We need to be above reproach
|Read the Bible
|Preach a simple Gospel
|Pray for Holy Spirit power
|Be generous with love and helps
|Be slow to judge
|Take a stand and be obedient to God – dare to be different
|You are my strength and my shield, Be bold for the LORD your God is with you
|Appreciating differences and each other
|More uplifting praise and worship music
|Join with others who are rebuilding
|Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly
|Inviting people to church
|“be rather than seem”