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"Whose Praise do You Seek"
Today's Scripture Reading: John 5: 31-45
"You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life."
Whose approval do you seek when you attend church? Do you seek approval from the congregation by dressing in the most respected fashions or driving a fashionable vehicle? Perhaps you seek approval from church leaders by affirming your belief in a common theology that is based on human influence rather than spiritual influence. Today, it seems that people seek a church that will fit their personal lifestyle. Sometimes, it appears that people are on a mission to bring God down to a human level and to disguise human ideas and beliefs as God's will.
I attend a church with a small congregation. While we may be small in number, we make up for our size in Christian fellowship in love. We believe in providing a place for people to come and to meet Jesus. Worship is a time to encounter Christ and to listen to His Word. However, when visitors attend our worship services, they rarely return. When the pastor follows up with visitors, he is told that the church did not meet their needs. The people were friendly, but it just wasn't enough. Later, we learn that these individuals are attending the large, aesthetically pleasing church around the corner.
What happened? Why do people flock to certain churches and avoid others? In order to answer this question, it is important to understand the concept of motivation. Each person is motivated by different things. Some people are motivated by power, while others may be motivated by wealth or prestige. Others may be intrinsically motivated and are fulfilled by an inward desire to help others. We usually apply motivational theories to the workplace, but these same theories can be applied to the church as well. With this concept in mind, we must ask ourselves, "What motivates us to attend church?" Are we truly seeking God or are we looking to better ourselves socially?
In the case of my church, we often feel that we are just not "good enough." It has been suggested that we take on debt to build a huge sanctuary in order to compete with with other growing churches. I think this attitude can be damaging to the church. The church is not a recreational facility. More importantly, the church is not a business and should not be run like a business. The church belongs to God and should be concerned with teaching and emphasizing God's word.
We are quickly becoming a society that uses the church a place to network or as a way to garner respect in the eyes of the community. People seeking to improve their social status often seek churches that are attended by powerful, well-respected people. In John 5, we are told that this behavior does not find favor in the eyes of Jesus.
Religious leaders during Jesus' time were well respected in the Jewish community. They knew every word of the law and enjoyed the power that their position in the establishment grated them. However, Jesus quickly tells the religious leaders of the day that although the scholars and leaders knew the scripture, they were missing the most important part: they were missing Christ!
Are we missing Christ in our churches today? Are we so self-consumed with society that we fail to see God's true will? The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks "What is the chief end of man?" The answer to this question is to "Glorify God and enjoy Him forever." Are we fulfilling this mandate? Are we attending church to glorify and LORD and enjoy being in His presence? In John 5, Christ chastises religious leaders for seeking eternal life in the scripture yet refusing to come to Jesus who is the giver of eternal life. Today, we have to ask some serious questions. We have to look at the factors currently motivating the 21st century church to ensure that they are Christ-centered factors and not secular factors. Finally, we have to evaluate the factors that motivate us to do Christ's will. Are we truly imitators of Christ or are we imitators of society? In other words, whose praise are we really seeking?