If it is not of God it will fail, and fail spectacularly. If it is of God, you cannot stop it. That is the advice from Gamaliel, a famous teacher of the Law, a Pharisee who apparently also trained Saint Paul in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament.
Although Gamaliel was not a Christian, certainly not an apostle or disciple of Jesus, he speaks the truth. If the 12 disciples of Jesus were simply a fringe group of lunatics then their crazy cult would end in destruction for them. The Romans would put an end to it.
If, however, they spoke the truth, if their message and their movement were of God, then there was nothing in this world that could stop them. God is the master of history. He is the Lord of time and space. Things always work out according to His will and you cannot oppose Him.
And what was it that these men were doing? They were preaching and teaching that Jesus was the Christ, the prophesied King of Israel. They made known publicly that, although He had been executed on a Roman cross, God raised Him from death and made Him the Leader and Savior of the world. Through the death and resurrection of this Christ God gave repentance and forgiveness to all people.
It is called “the Word of God” and it has endured to this day. It has flourished to this day. I guess that means this Word must have been “of God”.
Too often the church, however, has not acted as if it were of God, but rather of the world. It happens to whole Church bodies, what we call denominations. These church bodies become so enamored with the world, with its definitions of success and relevance, that they forget who it is that called them in the first place.
Sometimes this takes the form of putting one part of God’s Word over against the other. Too much Law, and church becomes a motivational speech on how to be a better person. Too much Gospel and church becomes a feel-good session where we are all just supposed to get along and ignore our sins.
Other times it happens that denominations reject all of God’s Word and simply do whatever they think will make them popular with the world. All of these efforts are futile, of course, because they are not of God. They are of the world, and they will fall.
Congregations can be tempted in this direction too. We want more members, more money, more participation, and so we try to draw people in with gimmicks, schemes, and trends. We change and adapt to give people what we think they want, rather than what God says they need.
One big problem is that people’s desires are always changing, trends are fleeting by definition. And so you become the church that is always chasing the wind trying to keep people in the pews rather than the congregation of the unchanging truth of God’s unchanging Word.
Christian families, too, are tempted to be of the world, rather than of God. The family is not man’s invention any more than the Church is. God created it and He has very specific ideas on how it ought to operate. Husbands and wives, parents and children, extended relatives are all part of God’s plan to create firm and established societies where the Gospel can flourish.
Now we have begun to think that we can redefine the family. For married couples it is often an arrangement of convenience, either financially or emotionally, or both. People get married because it suits them, for now. And when it doesn’t, well, goodbye.
Children, in some cases, have become accessories, or pets, who are to be taken when wanted and rejected when not. They are given what they want, after all, it would be a horrible thing if someone told them “no”. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, they are disciplined and pressured into being perfect, faultless kids with straight A’s, and a shining athletic record, on their way to achieving the world’s definition of happiness and success.
Speaking of happiness and success, even individual Christians get pulled down into the mire of worldly definitions of these things. Happiness is getting what I want, whether it is a pint of ice cream or a vacation or my dream home. Success is what everyone else says it is: money and power so that I can do and have what I want, so that I can be happy.
Forget God’s definitions. Forget what God has called you to be, what He has created the family to be, what He has called the congregation to be, what He has said the whole Church on earth should look like. We know better. The world knows better. And we are of the World.
But that is precisely the point of the ministry of Jesus Christ, that we would no longer be of the world, but of God. The death and resurrection of Jesus has redeemed us, purchased us from all sin, from death, and the influence of the world. You belong to God and so you are of God.
The Church is not ours to shape according to our will, but God’s to follow where He leads. This congregation does not belong to you, nor to me. It has been purchased with the blood of Jesus and called by His Gospel. Your family, too, is God’s family, His creation, with a calling from Him. And you, you are not your own, you were bought with a price, therefore glorify God with your body.
You may have noticed that our congregation has a new mission statement: “Compelled by the grace of God, Trinity Lutheran Church and School forgives, teaches, and serves in the name of Jesus.” This did not come out of thin air, but was drawn from the Scriptures through much study, prayer, and discussion.
This is what it means to be of God. This is what we are called, by the grace of God, to be and to do: His people who forgive sins because we have been forgiven, His people who teach His Word because it is precious and life-giving, His people who serve others with the same love and compassion that Jesus Christ has shown us.
The reason churches and individuals get lost is that they forget the proper order. Everyone wants God to be on their side. But the truth is that we are called to be on God’s side. And God never fails.
We do not need to spend any time at all wondering what God wants us to do with our Church, our family, our selves. He has told us what He wants us to do with His Church, His family, His son or daughter.