If you have listened to enough sermons over the years, you might have realized that you often hear different preachers using the same illustrations. My dad has always referred to those as “Preaching 101” stories. One of them concerns a church building in a certain community that was on fire. Naturally, that kind of news spreads fast, and the entire community rushed out to see the excitement and watch as the firemen fought the flames. Among those drawn to the spectacle was a non-believer. A church member looking on said to him, “This is the first time I ever saw you run to church.” He replied, “Well, this is the first time the church has been on fire.”
The truth in that statement is, unfortunately, too near the surface to need a lot of elaboration. The church that gets down to business and does the work it is supposed to do will attract people. At no subsequent point in its history has the church experienced growth and success on the scale of the first century. Those believers started from nothing and with nothing, as far as worldly goods were concerned. Yet, by the end of the century, hundreds of thousands of people had been added to the church; benevolence was carried on unlike that which any age since has produced.
How is it that they were able to do so much and accomplish such great things with so little? The answer is simple: they took the message of Jesus to heart. They sought the kingdom of God first. Everything else – their business, their homes, their families, even their own comfort – was secondary. Their real purpose in life was to serve the Lord, to be the body of Christ in continuing his ministry in the world. No sacrifice was too great. No work was too difficult. They were real believers. They were sold on their religion.
And the world saw that and was attracted to it. The early church had favor with all the people (Acts 2:47). This good report did not come because of a weak and compromising attitude toward the ways of the world. It did not come because of outstanding facilities or groundbreaking programs. It came because they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts. (Acts 2:42, 44-46). People saw the way that they lived and they saw Jesus living in them. They were the shining city on the hill. And as a result, the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:47).
Their example confronts us with a challenge: are we doing everything possible to see that the Lord’s church in Liberty, Texas accomplishes great things for God? Can people look at us and see God being glorified? Will our actions cause outsiders to see our good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation? (1 Peter 2:12).
If we are to do a great work for the Lord here, we must be on fire! We must be excited about the work of the church, about saving lost souls, about doing good. But getting on fire for God is an individual duty. It is a personal responsibility to be involved in the work and worship of the church. No one else can accomplish it for you; no one can “set you on fire” so to speak.
Often, when we speak of a church that is on fire for God, we get the idea of something that we are far removed from. We think of what others need to do – we sure wish they (whoever they are) would get on fire for God. But let’s make this personal. Are you on fire for God? Is your zeal such as would attract others to Christ? Our community is filled with unchurched people. How many have you simply invited to come and visit with us? And that’s only one, easy example.
Will you take the challenge personally to get on fire for the Lord? When the church catches fire, people will come running.