By Gerald Cowan
The ancient city-state of Sparta was one of the most formidable military powers of its day. There’s a story about a Spartan king who boasted about the walls of Sparta to another king, claiming that his city was invincible because its protective walls couldn’t be breached. When that other king visited Sparta and looked carefully at the city, to his great surprise there were no walls at all. When he asked, “Where are the walls you’ve been boasting about?” the king of Sparta proudly pointed to his soldiers and said, “These are the walls of Sparta, every man a brick.” To him each soldier was a living brick in a protective wall. But the effectiveness and impregnability of the wall depended on each and every member brick in it, not only some or a few but all of them. Even one defector, one renegade, one careless person, one person derelict or deficient in watchfulness and response to the enemy could precipitate a breach in the wall that could lead to the fall of the city. Could this aspect of Sparta be a metaphor of the church? Is Sparta’s living wall like the living wall of the church?
The Bible says that Christians are “living stones… being built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5). Just as Sparta had no walls, but depended upon its soldiers, so the strength of the church of Jesus Christ is not in “church buildings,” not even in the universal church itself, but in the people who are followers of Christ. Yes I know – I don’t need to be reminded – the real strength of the church is the Lord himself, a mighty tower of refuge from the enemy (Psalm 61:1), a tower to which the righteous can run and be safe (Prov. 18:10). But those living stones in the tower of the Lord are the functioning parts, the members who do the works of the Lord. They are armed to defend each other from the common spiritual enemies. It is necessary that all the member stones be faithful. One person derelict in duty can precipitate such a breach in that wall of living stones that the building itself may seem to in danger of falling to the enemy.
Most of us have no doubt felt at times the tremendous pressure we are under collectively to defend the church of the Lord against the myriad enemies and forces of evil that would bring it down. We may resist and refuse to acknowledge the importance of the individual, trusting instead the collective strength of the members and the overarching work of God. Many tremble at the thought that success depends upon the individual, not the collective. When called upon to defend the church we may feel confident in our strength and resources – good for us! But when trying to recapture, rebuild, and secure any parts that have fallen we may feel it is a hopeless task. How can we as Christians build again what has fallen down? There is an answer in the example and leadership of Nehemiah when he set out to rebuild the broken-down wall of Jerusalem, the presumptive city of God. He simply asked each family to rebuild its own part of the wall, its own back yard, so to speak. Obviously that would involve any and all members of the family. No family and no person was able to rebuild the whole wall, but each family could manage to rebuild its own part and in that way the collective could manage the whole task. It was not to be the work of one or a few, but the work of all.
You have probably said, or at least thought, that you cannot change the world. You’re right. Can you change the politics of the nation or the world? No. Can you change the religious beliefs and practices of the world? No. The same holds true in spiritual and religious matters for the church. Can you change any other person? Do not be to quick to say no to this question. If you say no here you will probably not try to change anyone or anything. Before we come back to this question let’s ask another.
Can you change yourself? Can you change your thoughts, attitudes, and actions? Of course you can! It may not be a drastic total radical remaking but only a gradual process, changing things one at a time or a little at a time. Make radical changes when you can. Do not lose heart because radical reformation and transformation are not possible for you but be patient in doing the things that take time and incremental growth. Patience – even patience with yourself while you are progressing – is a virtue. What brings about a change in you? You may not be able to change the way others relate to you or react toward you. But you can change your own character as well as your actions. Here’s how you do it. By enlightenment. By increased knowledge. By improved understanding and insight. By following the example and successes of others. By accepting the efforts of others to change or convert you. It isn’t what others do but what you do in response to it that brings about the change in you. When others whom we appreciate and trust change it affects us too. Sometimes people change but fail to tell or show it to others so, though others may guess, they do not really know if or how and to what extent a change has been made. It would be helpful if they told us how and why they have changed and if they think it is important for us to follow them.
Now I’ve just given you a key to repairing, rebuilding, and securing your part of the wall or the church. Change yourself to conform to the will of God, tell others how and why you have made the change, exhort and encourage others to make the same change or to show approval of your change by emulating it. The whole edifice and all those in it will be corrected where necessary, strengthened and inspired to build themselves up for God and set a pattern for others to follow in building for God.
Just remember how it starts. Change things one brick, one stone, one person, or one factor at a time – a little at a time – starting with yourself. You will be impressed and amazed at the eventual results.
- Gerald Cowan, a longtime preacher and missionary, is retired from full-time pulpit preaching. He is available for Gospel Meetings and he may be contacted at Geraldcowan1931@aol.com