The Importance of Numbers

Church Attendance Board

This is a follow-up to the previous article about things that are more important than numbers. There are certainly things we must not sacrifice for the sake of larger numbers; however, we should not overreact and think that smaller numbers are inherently good. Large or small numbers could be good or bad, depending on the circumstances.

We need to remember that numbers represent people – those who have been made in the image of God and those who He wants to save. With that in mind, let us consider some points in view of the previous article.

Seek the Favor of God, but Strive to Live at Peace with All Men

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).

As we noted in the previous article, it is certainly better to seek the favor of God than the favor of man (Galatians 1:10). However, that does not mean we should actively seek man’s disapproval. As Paul stated in the verse above, we are to do what we can to be at peace with others. It is not always “possible” (Romans 12:18); however, there are times – as was the case in the earliest days of the church – when we can faithfully serve the Lord while also enjoying “favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47). As long as we are faithful to the Lord, this is a good thing as it will usually help the church to grow.

Preach the Word, but Speak the Truth in Love

But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

We are to “preach the word…in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2), which means we must teach the truth even when people want something different. Yet we are still to speak the “truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), even when we must “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3) and “demolish arguments” of error (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV). Paul told Timothy, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged” (2 Timothy 2:24). Too many people will reject the gospel no matter how it is presented. We do not need to turn even more people away by our poor attitude.

Warn against Sin and Error, but Remember That We Are Trying to Turn People to the Truth

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

People will often be offended when we point out their sin and error (Matthew 15:7-14). Yet this does not mean we should try to be unnecessarily offensive. Instead, we are to correct “with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:25) and show mercy to those we are trying to save (Jude 22-23). Our goal must be to restore the penitent (2 Corinthians 2:6-8), not drive them further away.

Keep the Church Pure, but Also Help the Weak

We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

Sin cannot be tolerated or celebrated (1 Corinthians 5:1-7). However, there is a difference between one who refuses to repent and one who is weak and, therefore, struggling with sin. Paul told the brethren in Thessalonica that they were to “help the weak” and “be patient” with them (1 Thessalonians 5:14). He told the Romans, “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves” (Romans 15:1). We are to “encourage one another day after day…so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). If someone is struggling with sin, we need to help them overcome it rather than being too quick to write them off.

Strive to Maintain Unity, but We Must Not Pass Judgment on Matters of Opinion

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:1-4).

We saw in the previous article that a factious man is to be rejected (Titus 3:9-11). We also need to understand that “the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3) is not uniformity of opinion. As Paul explained to the saints in Rome, we must not divide over matters of indifference to God (Romans 14:1-4). Instead, we are to “[show] tolerance for one another in love” as we strive to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3). We cannot maintain unity by insisting that everyone conform to our opinions.

Value Committed Disciples, but We Must Still Be in the World

I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14-16).

The Lord’s disciples must put spiritual things first. This was the point Jesus was making when all but His twelve apostles left Him (John 6:60-68). As spiritually-minded disciples, we should naturally value the encouragement and support we receive from being around other spiritually-minded disciples. Yet we cannot isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. We will still live among worldly-minded people. While we are among them, we need to be sure we are an influence for good as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14).

Follow the Narrow Way, but Do Not Make It More Difficult Than It Needs to Be

The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger” (Matthew 23:2-4).

Jesus said the way to life is “narrow” because it is difficult (Matthew 7:13-14). However, it is possible for us to make it more difficult by adding requirements to God’s law and binding what He never bound. We need to learn from the sins of the Pharisees and not add “heavy burdens” (Matthew 23:4) on top of the requirements that have already been given in God’s law. This constitutes an unbearable yoke (Acts 15:10). Furthermore, adding commands on top of what God has required is actually “of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Colossians 2:23). We need to be content with the laws and instructions that God has given and not bind man-made laws upon others.

Conclusion

As we noticed in the previous article, there are certain things that are more important than numbers. Jesus said there would be “few” who would follow Him (Matthew 7:14). Yet we must not drive people away or isolate ourselves unnecessarily.

Each person is someone who has been made in the image of God. Jesus died for each one. We should never compromise the truth in order to obtain larger numbers. At the same time, we need to be planting and watering and allow God to give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6).


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