I am always eager to know how the story ends. Sometimes I will read the end of a book before I start at the beginning. Maybe that explains why, before I became a Christian, I wanted to understand the meaning of life and how it will all end.
A few months after I gave my life to Jesus, I was baptised with the Holy Spirit. It was then that I discovered that God had answers to all my questions. I remember feeling overwhelmed with love and wholeness and joy that filled my whole being. At the same time, suddenly, I knew how it ends – not all the details, but the important part … WE WIN! I felt like jumping up and down, shouting, ‘We win, we win, we win!’
Filling the earth with glory
This could be why a favourite verse of mine in the Old Testament is Habakkuk 2:14. This often-quoted verse tells us that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (1) God promises that He will overcome all the evil in our world with His goodness!
In his second letter to Corinth, Paul has given us a run-down on how this is going to happen. I encourage you to read 2 Corinthians 2:14 to 4:18 as there is more than I can summarise (2). Here are some of the key points:
- Every believer is intended to experience God’s glory in regular encounters with the Holy Spirit
- We are transformed by these encounters
- It’s a process of continual increase – from glory to glory
- We experience His glory like a light shining in our hearts
- As we are transformed, we bring transformation to the world around us
- We have the potential to take His glory wherever we go
- It is like a fragrance affecting everyone we meet
- Some will love it, and others will hate it
- But ultimately this glory will fill the whole world through ordinary lovers of God, like you and me.
The earth will be filled through ‘ordinary’ believers showing His glory in our lives wherever we go. Stephen in the book of Acts is a great example. He was a regular believer, full of faith and the Holy Spirit, who blazed a trail from here into eternity through His revelation of God’s glory. Imagine the world filled with people like Stephen! It gives us a glimpse of what’s possible.
So how can we ‘do church’ in such a way that God’s people are quickly helped to become mature, and we really start to fill the earth with His glory?
A king like all the others
A significant challenge for the church is to avoid the mistake made by Israel in the days of Samuel. Not content with having God as their King, they insisted on having “a king … like all the nations”. (1 Samuel 8:5) The centuries that followed demonstrate that having a human king is no substitute for having God as King: Every king of Israel and Judah messed up at some point; David was the only one who was still walking in God’s ways at the end of his life. Even the righteous kings ‘lost the plot’ at the end of their lives.
People expected too much of human kings and relied on them instead of cultivating their own relationship with God. When there was a crisis, everyone looked to the king. He was expected to know what to do.
Too often, the people of God expect their leaders to be like these kings. The leader makes the key decisions about church life, and we are happy to let him get on with it. Unfortunately, this is not effective, in the long run. Nor is it a pattern that we find in the New Testament.
‘I will build My church’
Have we fully understood what Jesus meant when He said, “I will build My church”? Or are we trying to build His church for Him? In principle, we believe Jesus is the Head of the Body. But, in practice, we act as though He had abdicated His Headship to us.
A little while ago, I read through the book of Acts. It struck me that, for much of the time, the apostles had little or no idea what they were doing. They were reliant on Jesus, through His Spirit, to lead them and show them what to do. In Acts 2:47 “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Jesus was building His church. This is so different from what we often see today.
There can be a lot of human control in the way church is organised. I don’t believe people always intend to be controlling. Often, the fear of allowing someone else to be in control has led people to take control themselves. Church programmes have kept people busy, so no one has time or energy to get involved with their communities or fulfil their personal callings, except in the context of the local church.
The church has an urgent need today for leaders:
- who trust the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth, as individuals and collectively too, just as Jesus promised;
- who see their role as helping to create an environment in which God’s people will grow in their own walk with Him, and be safe to explore, take initiatives, make mistakes.
Throughout the New Testament, leadership in the church appears to be always plural. Since Jesus is our living Head, alive and with us, is it even helpful or necessary to describe men or women as ‘senior pastors’?
How many church structures and hierarchies are based on unbelief, providing a safety net in case God doesn’t show up?
We are a community of believers filled with the Spirit of God Himself! If one man, Abraham, could live in a materialistic world and direct his life according to the voice of the invisible God, how much more can we trust Him to lead us collectively in His ways!
As I conclude, I recognise that we can rarely achieve an overnight paradigm shift, however much we would like to. But I invite everyone who reads this to join me on a journey of discovery. Let’s find out how we can each play our part in becoming the end-time church which Jesus wants to build! Let’s set our hearts on becoming an army of mature believers, taking the knowledge of His glory into every corner of our planet! I encourage you to pray this with me:
Father, thank You that we are alive at this time. Thank You for the opportunity to be part of a move of Your Spirit that will change us and transform the world. We are sorry where we have lost sight of the reality that Jesus is our Head. Please forgive us where we have attempted to build Your Church in our own wisdom and strength. We ask You to open our eyes to see Your church as you see us and help us turn from every man-made way of ‘doing church’. It’s so good that You have a plan to fill the earth with the knowledge of You! Please show me what I can do now to play my part. For Your glory. Amen.
- All scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible.
- It is noteworthy that, in 2 Corinthians chapter 3, the word “glory” (Greek doxa) appears eleven times - plus another four in chapter 4.