The apostle Paul assured the Thessalonians that they had learned how to walk pleasing before the Lord. He told them, “Ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1). Paul then added this exhortation: “So ye would abound more and more” (4:1).
To abound means to increase. Paul was saying, “You’ve been sitting under sound gospel preaching so now you have a solid foundation beneath you. Therefore, you ought to be increasing in grace in all ways—in your faith, your knowledge, your love.”
Paul also spoke of such abounding to the Corinthians: “As ye abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also” (2 Corinthians 8:7). He said, in other words, “God’s Spirit has wrought major changes in your life. Therefore, you ought to be giving more of yourself in all ways—in your time, your finances, your talents.”
These passages make it clear that everyone who has been fed God’s Word is expected to grow in grace. God has endowed gifts to pastors, teachers, prophets and evangelists for the express purpose of causing His church to grow. No believer is to remain a babe in Christ. We are expected to grow in Him so that we are not carried away by any false thing.
Jesus Himself speaks of a constant increase in our lives: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Christ commended the church at Thyatira for having grown in grace: “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first” (Revelation 2:19). Jesus was saying, in essence, “You’re more intense now than when you started out. You’ve allowed My life in you to grow more abundant.”
Proverbs echoes this: “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18). And Job declares, “The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger” (Job 17:9).
The Lord instructed John, “Unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God . . . I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Revelation 3:1).
Jesus is saying, “You may be a good person, someone who’ll do anything for anybody. You’ve got a good reputation among both the church and the world. You’re known as being truly alive in Christ, blessed of God. But an element of death has crept into your life. Something of the world has defiled you.”
“Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments” (3:4). What is the defilement referred to here? It is prayerlessness. And here is Jesus’ warning to us: “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God” (3:2).
The believers in Sardis hadn’t been alert. They hadn’t been in prayer, waiting on the Lord, seeking Him as they once had. Instead, they allowed themselves to grow careless, not coming to God daily for help. Now defilement had been laid on them. The word Jesus uses for defiled here signifies a soil of sin, a black mark on a white garment. Christ is telling us, “If you don’t pray, you have no defense against the enemy. Your negligence allows your garment to be stained.”
Yet, Jesus declares of a few, “A few names . . . have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy” (3:4). He’s saying, “You still have a small flame of desire for Me. You don’t want to lose My presence, to be given over to barrenness. Quickly now, stir up your hunger again. Go back to the secret closet of prayer and call on Me. Set your heart like a flint. Fan the flame of faith before it dies — before death sets into your soul, as it has with so many around you.”
Don’t ignore your great gift of access to God in prayer. Your eternal future depends on it. Pray and seek the Lord. He has provided you with access and He promises to meet your every need.
We are God’s temple on earth, our bodies the dwelling place of His Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19). Certain things don’t belong in our temple, however, things that can overtake our passion for Him.
When Jesus began overturning tables in the Temple (see John 2:13-17), He was overturning more than the money changers’ trade. He was overturning a religious system that for millennia had relied on animal sacrifices to please God. Christ was stating, in essence, “Your relationship to the Father will no longer be based on sacrifices of sheep and goats and doves. It is going to be based on My once-for-all-time sacrifice for you.”
That scene in the Temple offers an analogy for our time. Many congregations today are filled with noise and activity. Many programs are in place, from overseas mission trips to local outreaches, to dozens of small fellowship groups. The worship services can be full of bright lights, powerful sound and amazing energy. Yet, sometimes amidst all this lively activity, something is missing at the center: Jesus Himself.
Without Christ as the focus of our activities, our churches are dead. No matter how hard we work to do things that serve and honor His name, none of our “sacrifices” in themselves can achieve true kingdom results. From the outside our fellowships may look righteous, but if we don’t maintain a focus on Jesus, we’ll be churches full of dead men’s bones.
The system of animal sacrifice was never God’s fullest intention to represent His reconciliation with sinful humankind. Like the institution of kings in Israel, it was an imperfect system, yet God allowed it, using it symbolically to point to something higher and better.
God demonstrated this with Abraham. In that ancient time, eastern cultures sacrificed animals and even children to appease their angry gods. When the Lord instructed Abraham to take his son to the mountain to sacrifice him on an altar, Abraham obeyed unquestioningly. That reaction may seem strange to us today, but it suggests a trembling fear that ancient people had toward their gods. When your god spoke, you jumped—otherwise, you might face famine or pestilence. It was fear-based obedience.
But Abraham sensed his God was different. And, in truth, God was about to show Abraham He wasn’t like Moloch, to whom people sacrificed children. When Abraham raised the knife over Isaac, God stopped him (see Genesis 22:11-12). God then provided a ram to be sacrificed. He declared to His servant—and to every believer in every age—“I don’t need you to sacrifice for Me. I’m going to sacrifice for you.” God turned the tables completely, just as Jesus did when He entered the Temple.
Prayerless Christians don’t realize what danger they are in. You may object, “So what if some Christians don’t pray? They’re still believers—blood-cleansed, forgiven and going to heaven. Where’s the danger in growing a little lukewarm?”
I believe our heavenly Father realizes we live in a busy age, with many demands on our time and energy. And Christians are caught up in busyness and activities as much as anyone else. Yet I cannot believe God takes lightly our rejection of His access, which cost His only Son His life.
God has made Christ our strong tower. But only those who “run into it” are safe (see Proverbs 18:10). If you don’t go in, then you’re still outside the door. You stand where Israel stood but God doesn’t meet anyone at the door anymore. All the provision we need is inside: forgiveness of sin, mercy in time of need, power to overcome.
Imagine the pain of rejection felt by the Father and Son. I envision this conversation taking place between them:
“Son, You were beaten, mocked, crucified, buried. It so pained me, I shut my eyes at the sight. Yet You fulfilled the everlasting covenant. You provided acceptance and access for all who would trust in You. Because of You, a last-days people would be able to come to Me. And they would grow mighty in My strength, building reserves of faith against a devil who would tempt and try them as at no other time.
“Yet, where are our beloved children? Monday passes and we never see them. Tuesday arrives, and still no children. Wednesday comes, with no sight of them. Thursday, Friday and Saturday pass, yet still we don’t see them. Only on Sunday do they approach us, while they’re in church. Why don’t they come? Don’t they love us?”
God asked Adam the same question when he hid from the Lord in the Garden of Eden: “Adam, where art thou?" (Genesis 3:9). The Lord knew where Adam was all along. He really was asking Adam why he had rejected fellowship and showing him that there was danger in hiding from His presence.
Indeed, Christians who don’t appropriate access to the Father end up in a “Sardis condition.” The Lord instructed John, “Unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God . . . I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Revelation 3:1).
When Jesus walked the earth, He made Himself accessible to the whole population. He taught in synagogues, on hillsides, on boats. He healed the sick, performing wonders and miracles. He lifted His voice at the feasts, crying, “I am the living water. Come to Me, and I will satisfy your thirsty soul.” Anyone could draw near to Him and be satisfied.
But our Lord’s invitation was mostly ignored. He cried over the people, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathered her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37). He was saying to Israel, “I’m here now, available to you. I’ve told you to come to me for healing and to have your needs met. But you won’t come.”
How did Jesus respond to the people’s rejection of Him? He declared, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (23:38). The word Jesus uses for desolate here signifies loneliness, waste, unfruitfulness. He said, “Your church life, your household, your spiritual walk—they are all going to dry up and die.”
Think about it. If parents don’t seek God daily, their children certainly won’t. Instead, their home will be filled with worldliness, spiritual barrenness, a loneliness beyond description. Eventually, that family will end up in total desolation.
Keep in mind, Jesus spoke these warnings in a day of grace. He added, “Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:39). The meaning here is, “I’ve given you all the access you need to live an overcoming life. But you’ve ignored My offer. I’m sorry, but your decision is going to bring desolation to your life and home. And you won’t see Me again until eternity.”
When was the last time you came to God to find everything you needed for life? Were you in trouble, facing a crisis with your family, your job, your health? There’s nothing wrong with appropriating access to God in times of severe need. Isaiah writes, “Lord, in trouble have they visited thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them” (Isaiah 26:16). The Psalmist testifies, “I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication. I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble” (Psalm 142:1-2).