Faithfulness in the minutia of life within the context of suffering reveals far more about the eternal essence of our souls than anything that happens on a stage, screen, or social media platform. Many church goers assume the opposite to be true. They think that the great preacher with a massive congregation and an even more massive online following has been granted a direct line to heaven. Potentially he has. But according to Jesus, the massive public platform is not the main evidence of his faith. The primary evidence of faith consists of simply of doing the “will of my Father who is in heaven.” If a pastor can hold the attention of thousands for 50 minutes while spending the remaining 10,030 minutes of his week in a crumbling fortress of self-centered fear that produces frequent outburst of anger, greedy demands for more money, and a never-ending stream of insults, Jesus will have nothing to do with him come eternity. He will tell the pastor, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness (Matt 7:23).”
The same response will also greet exorcists and miracle workers who supposedly do great works for God while living lawless lives at odds with the salvation of the Lord that trains “us to renounce all ungodliness and evil passions (Ti. 2:12).” The great threat to the church is not the absence of the supernatural or the absence of human gifts. The great threat to the church proves to be the presence of the supernatural and grand gifts within hypocritical leaders. In other words, false teachers will gain entrance into the church precisely because they possess the supernatural or natural gifting needed to wow the masses. God tells Moses in Deuteronomy 13:1-4, that the false prophets will perform true signs and wonders, because
“God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Those who make either supernatural or natural ability the measure of their spirituality or of the spirituality of their leaders will be sorely disappointed. God cares far more about whether or not we love our neighbor than whether or not we can impress our neighbor.
In other words, what matters first and foremost is not someone’s ability to expand this church or that denomination. What matters most of all is the person’s faithfulness in the minutia of life within the context of suffering.
Storms and Floods > Platforms
Jesus doubles down on the importance of faithfulness when he tells the famous story of the two builders: one who builds his house upon the rock and the other who builds his house upon the sand (Matt 7:24-27). At first, both seemingly build the same structure. Both go to church, attend Bible studies, discuss the latest evangelical twitter controversy, spend a week or two on a mission trip, and read their Bible. The wolf and the sheep appear to be quintessentially the same from a distance for few can see whether they habitually lie to their neighbors or if they always speak harshly to their kids at home.
But then their circumstances change. Adversity comes in the form of everything from cancer to seeing the deacons smoking behind the shed. The foundation begins to feel the weight of physical pain, emotional anguish, and institutional hypocrisy. Though the believer may deeply feel the spiritual weight of the adversity, he or she will not turn their back on Christ as the storm rages around them. As the Apostle Peter did in John 6:68, they will declare,
“Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
They may shift their memberships from a dying church to a living church. They may shed tears and mourn the profound brokenness of this world as Jesus did when he encountered Lazarus’s death. True believers can be pushed to the brink of collapse by the intensity of their suffering, but their house will not fall. They will remain patient at the dinner table, speak kind words to their coworkers, and faithfully commune with God through prayer. As Jesus promises us in Matthew 12:20, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.” Jesus will never abandon those who have trusted in him for salvation. The righteous will withstand the storms affliction.
Conversely, the false believer, the wolf, or the hypocritical Christian will crumble when the storms beat against his home. The intensity of the storm can be as simple as a poorly timed sermon or as profound as the tragic loss of a child. But those who forsake the faith when life becomes difficult reveal that their peacetime faith was insincere. To cope with adversity, the wolf will return to its vomit for comfort, a vomit than can consist of alcohol, pornography, divorce, angry outbursts, and a host of other foul things that lead them away from worship, the local church, and Jesus.
Before the storm, the fake sheep often appear genuine. For this reason, a false Christian’s deconstruction can profoundly wound vast swaths of Christendom. As Jesus says, “the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it (v27).” Of this we can be certain, those who build their lives on the sands of lawlessness will fall and at times with a loud bang. The hypocrites will be exposed. The storms will come.
The Danger of Living in the Past
Though the discussion above can be applied posthumously to a whole host of situations, Jesus’s concern and our concern should not be for the past. We should not spend an inordinate amount of time conducting autopsies of dead churches and deconstructed believers. Rather, we should examine our own lives and the lives of today’s leaders in light of Jesus’s warning in Matthew 7. We should seek to preserve the living.
How are we doing? Are our leaders faithful in the midst of suffering? Are we faithful in the minutia of life in the midst of suffering?