If I were the devil teaching the church how to grow, I would try to convince them that an increase in numbers is the true gauge of spiritual growth and that large numbers indicate approval from God. But Jesus said this: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Large numbers cannot be considered the mark of spiritual growth. Peter exhorted brethren to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
On the other hand, if I were the devil teaching the church how to grow, I would be happy if they were convinced that their growth is somehow solely personal and does not involve teaching the lost. And thus I would divert their attention from an evangelistic spirit to a completely internal focus. This of course would violate the first part of the great commission – to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19).
If I were the devil teaching the church how to grow, I would convince them to create programs of entertainment and fun that attract people socially. But the divine record contains no evidence the apostles used such approach. To the contrary, Paul writes, “For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17). God’s drawing power is simply the gospel: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (John 6:44-45). Jesus rightly charged men of his day with seeking Him “not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26). Were those people unique to that day? I think not. An assembly composed of unconverted people attracted by carnal tactics, with full bellies and good feelings, would be the devil’s delight.
If I were the devil teaching the church how to grow, I would convince them to broaden the bounds of fellowship, for this would increase their numbers and make them feel good about their growth. But this is wrong, for the apostle John taught that not just anyone should be received into one’s fellowship: “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him” (2 John 9-10). And wouldn’t it be helpful to the devil’s cause to convince people that to refuse fellowship with a man who is not in Christ, or who is impenitent, or who is a teacher of error, is to be ugly, judgmental, and makes a person a Diotrophes who loves the pre-eminence? Yet the Lord and the apostles expected the people of God to judge righteously (John 7:24).
If I were the devil teaching the church how to grow, I would convince Christians to abandon apostolically-directed discipline of impenitent members because, according to the world, it is “unloving and discourages others.” Yet quite to the contrary, the apostle Paul said to do so “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:4), for its purpose is to both save the erring (verse 5) as well as to protect and save the rest of the flock (verse 6).
If I were the devil teaching a church how to grow, I would convince Christians to be sure they find a preacher who preaches only “positive” sermons and does not identify specific sin. That, coupled with personal stories that emphasize feelings and popular psychology instead of objective truth, would ensure his teaching is more attractive to more people. I would convince Christians that the teaching should be evaluated by how interesting and unique-sounding it is and how eloquently it is delivered. This would draw more people. However, this “positive approach” would contradict the clear command of Paul to Timothy to preach the word of God, including bot the positive and the negative aspects: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
I’m not the devil nor do I intend to be his advocate in his false measures and methods of growth. So the question is this: How do we think about the church growing – the way the Lord wants us to think about it, or from a worldly or carnal view? Let us be desirous to grow in the way that pleases God. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
- Larry Jones