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Numerical growth of God’s church

In January we began a new congregation. Our missions statement identifies four aspects of growth as God’s people: “The mission of the Urbanova congregation is to go and produce much fruit that remains, growing in number and spirit, in love and good works.”

Jesus said that few people would be saved. “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the way that leads to life, and there are few who find it!” (Matthew 7:13-14 NET.) When the disciples asked him if few would be saved, he said, “Exert every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to” (Luke 13:24). With this answer, Jesus wanted the disciples to be concerned for their own salvation, instead of speculating about other people. So the warning serves for us as well.

Our Lord also spoke about dying for “many.” “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). How to reconcile the two ideas of few and many?

In the last passage above, the term “many” reflects Old Testament usage, specifically Isaiah 53:12. Jesus came to make salvation possible for everyone. God loved the world (which pretty much includes everybody). All humanity is the object of Jesus’ death. God wants “all people” to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4: 2 Peter 3:9).

Salvation is not granted automatically. All people may be saved, but not everyone will decide to be saved. “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). Jesus made it possible for man to return to God. The invitation is open, but not all accept it. Not all want it.

What is the divinely established process like, so that people may be saved? The text above already provides a clue: by coming “to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

People come to know the truth by way of evangelism. Evangelism is the spreading, or speaking, of the gospel to those who do not yet know it.

We cannot know who will accept the gospel and who will reject it. God sends us to announce the Word of salvation to everyone. Literally, to everyone, in every part of the world. In our city, in our state, in our country, and in the entire world (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15).

God is called “the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10 ESV). The phrase shows the potential of salvation for all and the reality of salvation of only certain ones, the believers. In order for someone to believe and obey the gospel, someone must speak to them (Romans 10:14-15). The church of God is his agent for this task.

In one sense, the church does not concern itself with numbers. Growth comes from God (1 Corinthians 3:5-7). The disciples concentrate on being faithful to their Lord.

On the other hand, God wants the salvation of all. Numbers are important to him, because every number represents a precious soul in his sight.

So because of this, Christians want to grow in number. As the apostle Paul said, “I make myself a slave to all people to win as many as I can” (1 Corinthians 9:19 EXP). Every Christian shares the same attitude and follows this same example, for “the benefit of many, so that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33 NET). For this is the example that Christ set for us all (1 Corinthians 11:1).

If you are not a Christian, it is imperative that you decide to obey the gospel. This means faith in Christ, a change of life, and immersion in water for your salvation. It means to live with, by, and for him. It means to be added to the number of his followers (Acts 2:47b; 5:14; 11:24).

If you are already a follower, it is imperative that you take seriously the mission of the gospel. For the salvation of many is in your hands.

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J. Randal Matheny

Servant of the Lord at GoSpeak
Randal and his wife have lived and worked in Brazil since 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. Randal's a lefty, a chocolate lover, an author and a poet.

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