While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18
When I was attending Bible school up in Michigan, I worked for the Sturgis Lumber Company. I remember that every October we would close our doors for business for one day and spend about 12 hours taking inventory. It was amazing how far off the computer would be on some things, while it was 100% correct on other things.
Spiritually, all believers in Christ should occasionally take time out to inventory their spiritual lives. Of course, there are also times that a church body should do the same. Once we have ascertained where we are spiritually, we can then map out the direction in which we are headed, and make any necessary changes in our direction.
One very simple way by which we may gauge where we stand and where we are headed is through our focus: that with which we are most concerned and that upon which we are most concentrated. That on which we focus is the direction in which we are headed. Paul said in Philippians 3:19, “Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” Here Paul gives us the direction of this enemy of the cross (destruction), two characteristics of this person, and finally where this person’s focus has been placed (earthly things). In this light, let us consider our own focus, so that we might discern our direction.
Looking to the Temporary
In 2 Corinthians 4:18, Paul talks about the “things which are seen,” and tells us that “the things which are seen are temporal (temporary).” Because we live in the flesh, it is a simple thing for a Christian or a church to focus on fleshly, temporary things, sometimes even counting these things as spiritual. While there are, I am sure, many things that could be mentioned as a focus on the temporary, we will confine ourselves to the consideration of three things.
The first thing on which many churches and believers focus is their popularity. In fact, many churches, pastors, and Christians are guilty of doing anything (and I do mean any thing) they can to make themselves and their churches more popular with the community at large. Paul told Timothy that the last days would be this way, and he sure was right! “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables (2 Timothy 4:3-4).” We have surely come to the point where “Christians” will not put up with sound doctrine. We are constantly bombarded with the philosophy of “breaking down the walls of division” and simply loving everyone and accepting everyone as they are. To do anything other than this is to be unpopular, and the modern religious leaders tell us that this would be bad.
On the other hand, we are not to seek out unpopularity! We are simply to live a godly life before the lost, no matter the situation. “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also (Luke 6:27-29).” When we are faithful to live a godly life before a lost world, we will doubtless put an end to the criticism, or at least, we will give the lost no grounds on which to criticize. “For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men (1 Peter 2:15):” Also, when we live a faithful, godly life we will cause others to give glory to God. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).” Please do not misunderstand. When we live a godly life before the lost, the world may respect us and our stand, but we will never be popular with the world.
We cannot be popular with the world, because the world will never like or love a Christian or a church that truly stands for Christ! “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you (John 15:18-19).” Since we have been called out of the world, and made new creatures in Christ, we will never truly be able to blend in with the world. Therefore, because we are different, we will never be acceptable to the world.
Churches that focus on popularity use church attendance as a gauge of spiritual blessing and spiritual growth in the church, but this is nothing more than focusing on the temporary! There are times in which churches would be better off with small crowds, because there is less potential for trouble in the church. “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith (Proverbs 15:17).” Another thing to consider is that Jesus never promised any church a large crowd. In fact, His promised presence was for the small group of people. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).”
The only real way by which a church can gain and retain popularity in the community is through compromise of God’s message. “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them (John 17:14a)…” If churches will just ignore the Word a little, the world could stomach them a whole lot better. If churches will just focus on the social issues, and leave off preaching against sin, they might be more popular with the world. If churches will just focus on believing in Jesus, and leave off preaching about true repentance, they might be more popular. If churches will just focus on the deeper life, and leave off preaching for holy living in every believer’s life, they might be more popular. But, our desire should be to be popular with God, rather than popular with the world!
Still, to focus on a lack of popularity can also be dangerous. “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).” Paul, in this context, is talking about the physical suffering that he and his co-workers were enduring for the cause of Christ. If we focus in on how unpopular we are with the world, discouragement is given an opportunity to spring up. With the discouragement comes a desire to quit or compromise. This focus upon our unpopularity can even breed contempt for the very lost souls we have been commanded to reach with the Gospel. We cannot afford to focus on popularity from any angle!
Churches and believers also focus on their property. The common philosophy on church growth is “If we build it, they will come.” Churches compete one with another to see which church can have the bigger and better facilities. However, I do not see that facilities, of themselves, achieve any greater outreach in the community.
Paul told Timothy, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content (1 Timothy 6:6-8).” If this is true for the individual believer, surely it is true for the church body! When we begin to equate large property and beautiful facilities with great spirituality or the blessing of God, we are allowing our focus to wander into something that is temporary. Here’s a little secret: today’s edifices will one day meet tomorrow’s bulldozers! Buildings decay and fall apart; they do not last because they are only temporary, and our focus is not to be upon the temporary.
I am not opposed to nice or beautiful facilities, but we should be grateful for whatever type of facilities God has provided for us. “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).” If we have a 150,000 square foot facility, we should be thankful, even if we have to clean it ourselves! If we have a small storefront building, we should be thankful that God has provided us a place to meet!
Let me stop here to chase a small rabbit. You might even call this a small hobby horse. While there are some who focus on having the biggest and best facilities, there are also others who focus on having the smallest and worst facilities. To some, it is a badge of spirituality to have a building that has not been painted in the past fifty years, with dilapidation and disrepair all around. This is not spiritual at all, it is a disgrace! God’s house ought to be taken care of to the best of our abilities, no matter how old or new, no matter how large or small! Haggai said this about taking care of the Temple, “Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD'S house should be built. Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste (Haggai 1:2-4)?” We ought always to do our best for God and for His House. Our best may not be as nice as another church’s best, but we aren’t comparing to another church, just seeking to do our best before God!
When we are focusing on our property, we are guilty of ignoring our commission. Jesus said, “Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you (John 20:21).” How was Jesus sent? “And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head (Matthew 8:20).” Jesus wasn’t sent on a glorious building project, except that of building a church. When He left this church in Jerusalem, they held no property at all, and were meeting in the place where several of the apostles lived. Yet, they were so used and blessed of God because their focus was in the right place.
One final thing on which many churches and believers focus is their prosperity. This focus has been popularized by the modern charismatic philosophy, which says that Jesus wants us all to be healthy and wealthy. Sadly, good churches have fallen into this very pit. You hear them say things like, “God is really blessing our church! We just had $X in this Sunday’s offering!”
There are two truths about money, in relation to a church. First, churches need money to operate. Somehow, the light company feels that even churches ought to pay for their lights! The same is true for the telephone, water, sewer, and garbage companies. The second truth about money, in relation to a church, is that God has ordained tithes and offerings as the manner through which the needs of the church are to be met. God doesn’t authorize garage sales, bake sales, or other fundraisers to raise money for the work of the church. No, God expects each member to faithfully tithe and give offerings above their tithe, and in this way the needs of the church will be met. God talks about the tithe in Malachi 3:10: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it (Malachi 3:10).”
When a church has prosperity as its focus, compromise is right around the corner. Pastors must be very careful what they preach, so as not to offend the “money people” in the church, when their focus is on prosperity. There is a need to “tiptoe through the tithers.” There are also churches that change their stand to please givers in the church. I know of one church that took a stand for the King James Bible, until objections were raised by some big givers in the church. Now the church refuses to take any stand for or against the Bible, leaving the decision to each member, Sunday School teacher, etc. This is the kind of thing that happens when prosperity is the focus of a church.
We need to look beyond these temporary things and focus on that which is truly important.
Looking to the Timeless
Again, in 2 Corinthians 4:18, the Apostle Paul talks about “things which are not seen,” and tells us that “the things which are not seen are eternal.” There are some unseen, eternal things on which we can and should focus. And when we focus on these things, we can be assured that we are headed in the right direction.
The Apostle John tells us about our walk. “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ … If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:3, 6-7).” There are three things that John mentions about our walk with God: 1) The Word of God makes our walk with God sweeter. In fact, without the Word of God, there would be no possibility of a real walk with God. 2) Our manner of life will affect our walk with God. The idea that we can live as we please and still have a close relationship with God is just not based upon Scripture. 3) Our walk with God increases our fellowship with other believers who also walk with God. We can have fellowship with carnal Christians, but there is nothing sweeter than having fellowship with someone who has a definite and real walk with God.
When our focus is on our walk with God, we do not have time to focus on popularity with the world, our personal or church property, or our personal or church prosperity. Our walk with God consumes us, fills us with true, full joy, and heads us in the right direction.
James tells us about having our witness as our focus. “Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins (James 5:20).” True, it is our responsibility to be a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 16:15), but it is also a privilege to be used to God to convert the sinner, save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins! Those who have never had the opportunity to lead a precious soul to Christ have no conception of the excitement, joy, privilege, and pleasure that overloads the heart of the soul-winner. Words could never describe what goes through the mind and heart as we witness a new birth into the family of God.
Sometimes we can become discouraged when our witness seems futile, but we must keep in mind that God blesses faithfulness. “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him (Psalm 126:5-6).” The harvest may not come when we think it should, and it may not come in the way that we believe it should, but God will always bless faithfulness.
When our focus is on our witness, we are focusing on that which is eternal. It is so needful for each church member to understand that this is the focus that God desires for every one of us. This is not to be the focus of the Pastor, or a select group. No, every church member is to focus upon his own witness for the Lord.
In focusing upon the timeless, we must also focus upon our welcome. We will be welcomed into a new city prepared by Christ for us (Hebrews 11:10; John 14:1-3). But, our focus should be upon what kind of welcome we will receive. Will we be received into heaven by the back door, just slipping in without any recognition? Or will we be received into the Lord’s presence with great fanfare, as He says those words every believer should long to hear: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21)…”
When our focus is upon the welcome we will receive before the Lord in Heaven, it will make a difference in how we conduct ourselves in this life. It will make a difference in the places we allow ourselves to go, and the things we allow ourselves to see. When we focus on our welcome before the Lord, it will make a difference in the friends we make and keep, and every other aspect of our lives.
Where is your focus today? Are you focusing on the temporary or on the timeless? The one focus promises judgment, while the other promises eternal blessing!