Isaiah 56:7 NKJV
“Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
Luke 19:41-46 NKJV
“Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ “
What did Jesus mean when He said, “It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ” ? The phrase “den of thieves” could also mean den of robbers, robber’s den, robbers’ cave, or cave of bandits. Had what should have been a sanctuary ( a place of refuge or safety) for the righteous, the hurting, the needy and the sick became a hideout (a hiding place, a place of concealment) for the sinful or the wicked?
When Jesus made that comment, the high priest knew what Jesus was referring to because it had been spoken to them before, in years past. Jesus was reprimanding the leaders for defiling (desecrating) the temple.
Jeremiah 7:1-11 NKJV
“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who enter in at these gates to worship the Lord!’ ” Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.’ For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. “Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the Lord. “But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My name at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. And now, because you have done all these works,” says the Lord, “and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you, but you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to this place which I gave to you and your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren–the whole posterity of Ephraim.”
God’s desire for the temple was that it be a house of prayer. However, instead of being a gathering place for worshipers from all nations, the temple leaders had perverted God’s true purpose. When Jesus entered the temple He did not find prayers rising like incense from the faithful. God’s true purpose, a gathering place for worshipers, had been replaced with a gathering place for extortion and oppression.
Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’“
In the above passage the word knew refers to an intimate relationship. In the end, only those who have an intimate relationship with God will be allowed to stay in His presence. It never was, and never will be, about works.
Revelation 2:4-5 NKJV
“ Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent.”
Today, churches can, and some do, deviate from God’s true purpose. Much like the church at Ephesus they have left their first love. Church should be a place where leaders and people alike can join together to meet with God and worship Him. Church should not be a hide out, big business, status symbol, cliquish, or worldly. Nor should it become an idol. From the very beginning it has always been about a relationship with God, not religion.
1. CHURCH SHOULD NOT BE AN IDOL
Jeremiah 7:1-11 NKJV
“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who enter in at these gates to worship the Lord!’ ” Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.’ For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. “Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the Lord.”
The people had placed their trust in the temple instead of God.
Trust can be described as:
* a sense of security
* an assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
* one in which confidence is placed
* dependence on something future or hope
During the time of Jeremiah the temple had became the people’s security instead of God – it was a false hope (lie). They thought that God would not allow anything to happen to the temple therefore they felt safe and secure from attacks there. The reliance / trust on the temple instead of God could be described as a form of idol worship.
Some people today do the same thing – they worship church (and going to church) instead of God. For these people church is an idol. They think that just because they are attending church that they are right with God.
Isaiah 29:13 NIV
“The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”
Isaiah 29:13 NKJV
“Therefore the Lord said:
“Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths
And honor Me with their lips,
But have removed their hearts far from Me,
And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men”
Matthew 15:8-9 NIV
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”
Matthew 15:8-9 NKJV
“These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”
2. CHURCH SHOULD NOT BE A HIDEOUT
Matthew 21:12-13 NKJV
“Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ”
A robber’s den is a hiding place ( refuge), a place of concealment for the sinful, lawbreaker, or the wicked to hide out. It is also a storage place of their wealth which they acquired by stealing and deceiving. A robber’s den could be described as the place of sanctuary for those who rob elsewhere.
Over time the temple had become a hide out (refuge) for temple authorities, and a place of storage for their wealth, which they gained from the Jewish people by stealing and deceiving. Often times the temple leaders would violate the commandments, and commit crimes, then seek refuge (safety) in the temple. To them the temple was much like a robber’s den (cave). What should have been a sanctuary and a place of prayer and encouragement for the righteous had become a refuge for the wicked and sinful temple leaders.
Not only did the priest view the temple as a hideout, so did many of the people. After committing all types of sin and abominations, they would go to the temple and plead for deliverance from the consequence of those sins. They weren’t sorry they had committed the sin, they just didn’t want to face the consequences of their actions. Just because they went to the temple they thought they would be okay.
Just as the temple had became a hiding place for the wicked, churches today can become a hideout. There are many people that think just because they attend church that things are right between them and God. When we ask for forgiveness of our sins we must have a repentive heart – one that is truly sorry that we have sinned against a holy God. Being sorry that you sinned and being sorry that you were caught in your sin (or had your sin exposed) are two different things. The only way to be restored into a right relationship with God is through true repentance.
John 3:16 NKJV
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
3. CHURCH SHOULD NOT BE A BIG BUSINESS.
Church can become a big business at the expense of people.
Mark 11:15-17 NKJV
“So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ “
Jesus knew the leaders were corrupt, and that justice no longer prevailed. The fatherless, the poor, and the widowed were abused by the leaders, instead of being helped as the Law required. People were convicted of crimes on false chargers and were killed, many times just for profit. The temple leaders legitimized oppression by their man made rules and regulations. They used these rules and regulations ( which amounted to robbery) to take everything from the poor that they could. Many times leaving the poor with nothing.
One example of how the leaders gained financially at the expense of the people was by placing moneychangers in the temple. The moneychangers (who worked for the high priest) were taking advantage of the people who came to sacrifice at the temple. The people were being charged an inflated exchange rate. Sometimes the people were falsely told that their animals were unworthy, just so they would have to buy one from them. The temple had become a big business instead of the house of God. The priests and temple leaders were more concerned with making money for themselves than they were in the spiritual well being of the people. Their focus had shifted from God to themselves. It was no longer on God (or a relationship with Him), but on how much money they could extract from the people by their man made rules and regulations. The poor got poorer (and many times starved to death) and the leaders got richer.
All across America, the church has become less a community and more of a corporation. Today the news is filled with stories of churches that are more like a business corporation than they are the house of God. Many of these churches, and their leaders, main concern is maintaining itself and its employees. Their lavish lifestyles are seen as essential to having a relationship with God. Just like the leaders during Jeremiah’s day, the leaders are focused on themselves, not on God or the people. Church has become a big money maker for them. The people’s spiritual and physical needs go unmet while the leaders makes millions.
4. CHURCH IS NOT A STATUS SYMBOL
During Biblical times people went to the temple for many things and reasons. For some it was to receive atonement / forgiveness of sins. And for some, it was to hear God’s Word taught, to present an offering to God, or to pray to God. However, there were many that viewed going to the temple as a status symbol. They went to be seen or heard.
Matthew 15:8 NKJV
“These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.”
These people wanted others to think that they were worshipping God, and they wanted everyone to see the amount of money they gave and they wanted everyone to hear their prayers.
Luke 18:10-14 NKJV
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
There are those today that see the church as a status symbol, just like in Biblical times. They view it as a place for political gain, a place to voice their opinions, a place to show off their wealth or knowledge, and a place to make the right contacts for personal gain (political or social).
Sometimes church membership, attendance, and church positions (pastor, staff, leaders…) are also seen as a status symbol.
5. CHURCH CLIQUES – GOOD OR BAD
It doesn’t matter where you go there will always be cliques – even in church. The dictionary describes a clique as a small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them. So what is the difference between a friendship group and a clique?
Friendship groups form around the things that people have in common. They are naturally drawn together because they share similar interests and experiences. Friendship groups are a part of normal life and they are healthy. In friendship groups everyone is made to feel that they fit in and are valued. In friendship groups you can receive support, share ideas and dreams, feel accepted, have fun and develop relationship skills and grow socially. The length of time that a friendship group lasts varies greatly – some friendship groups last a lifetime and some are short lived. People come and people go as the members develop new interests, make different friends, or loose commonality. Within a group, people often have a few friends they feel closest to and enjoy the most. The disciples could be considered a friendship group.
True friendship groups welcome people to join in. When a group is restricted and does not want others to join it is a clique.
Some cliques (but not all) develop along generational lines, some by race, some by economics, and some are made up of family members.
Sadly, within the church some cliques develop out of conflict. And some out of the length they have been members (new members and old members). Cliques are likely to happen when churches turn inward or inwardly focused.
Romans 2:11 NKJV
“For there is no partiality with God.”
God shows no partiality. Many of the Jews thought that God loved them more than the gentiles, but Peter knew that God did not show favoritism. He loves everyone. And He has included everyone in the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:12-31 NKJV
“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.”
Cliques in a church are not pleasing to God. A few of the things that cliques cause or lead to are: Cliques…
…are self serving.
…cause individuals to work against other.
…drive people away.
…lead to division and disunity.
…lead to jealousy.
…limit members from interacting with the entire body.
…limit where you receive support from.
…retard the growth of a church.
…will divide generations.
…will limit your church.
…will stunt your growth as an individual.
Some ways to guard against cliques in a church are:
Build small groups that include more than one generation.
Connect young families with grandparent age people in the church.
Encourage members to sit in different places each Sunday.
Encourage people to get out of their comfort zone and meet new people.
Include some faithful longer-term members in a new members class.
Join the young people and the older people together in doing projects, activities or ministry activities.
Match up young people with older people, and have them to pray regularly for each other.
Some ways to guard against cliques in your personal life are:
Be open to new friendships.
Be sensitive to the needs of others.
Distance yourself from people who have a negative influence on you.
Don’t allow others to pressure you into spending time and money on things that aren’t important to you.
Don’t be intimated into going along with what you don’t believe is right
Don’t spend time with people that talk in a negative manner about others – Don’t hang out with gossipers.
Interact with people of all ages.
Know who you are in Christ.
Know yourself (what you believe and why) and be true to yourself.
Sit in different places at church so you can meet new people.
6. CHURCHES SHOULD NOT BE WORLDLY
When the authority of God’s Word is lost, then man-made doctrines and worldly views creep in.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Church can become secular instead of sacred. Throughout the world we see more and more churches that are driven more by man than by the Holy Spirit. Instead of turning to the Word of God for council they are guided by worldly motives or philosophies. They allow the world’s views, practices, and beliefs to override God’s Word. The truth has been watered down and diluted so much that it doesn’t even resemble the truth of God anymore. The Bible tells us that there are moral absolutes. It also tells us that in the last days some people, and churches, will turn away from the truth and absolutes of God.
2 Timothy 3:1-9 NKJV
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.”
True believers, and churches, are encouraged to stand firm on God’s Word
2 Timothy 3:10-17 NKJV
“But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
There is danger in perverting God’s true purpose for the church. When the church stops being what God has called it to be it is no longer useful or profitable.
Matthew 5:13 NKJV
“You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”
As believers, and as the church, we are to be the salt of the earth. Like salt, purity (not being mixed with anything) helps us to maintain our flavor and our usefulness. When mixed with the things of the world we loose our flavor and are no longer good for what we were intended for. According to Matthew 5:13, when we loose our flavor we are good for nothing. God is serious about our purity and commitment. We never want to get to the place where we are unfit for the kingdom of God.
Luke 9:62 NKJV
“But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
During the Bible times, God allowed the temple to be destroyed because of the unfaithfulness of the people.
Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, “These things which you see—the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down.”
The people had defiled the temple with manmade religion and practices. They had made the temple what they wanted it to be and not what God intended. God wanted a house of prayer – a place of an intimate relationship and woship with Him, not manmade religious practices. They deviate from God’s true purpose.
It would do all of us good to spend some time in true examination and soul searching. Is our church truly a house of prayer? Or have we made it what we want it to be. Have we left our first love? Have we been so busy with ministry or the things of the world that we have forgot about our relationship with God?
To the church at Ephesus the Lord said, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.”
To the church at Smyrna the Lord said, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
To the church at Pergamos the Lord said, “Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.”
To the church at Thyatira the Lord said, “ … hold fast what you have till I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations.”
To the church at Sardis the Lord said, “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.”
To the church at Philadelphia the Lord said, “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”
To the church of the Laodiceans the Lord said, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth…..Therefore be zealous and repent.”
Basically, as a whole, the Lord told the seven churches to repent and be faithful. Faithfulness is being worthy of trust, doing one’s duty, keeping one’s promise and being true. Faithfulness emphasizes being true to a person or thing. When you are true, you will be loyal and constant. When you are loyal to a person or thing, you will stand by and fight for the person or thing, and you will have steadfast devotion. Faithfulness is very important to God. God desires for us to be faithful both to Him and to what He has called us to do. A crown of righteousness will be given to those who have remained faithful to the Lord. God desires for us to be faithful in every aspect of our life and in our church. Things will turn out well for a faithful person and church. Faithfulness to God brings true success.
Luke 19:45-46 NKJV
“Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ”
What would the Lord say to your church? When Jesus returns will He find your church faithful to Him and to what He has called His church to be? Is your church a house of prayer? If Jesus was to physically walk into your church would He say, “Well done” or would He drive out the unfaithful with a whip or with the Word of God?