Matthew 16:13-20. Caesarea Philippi was long associated with idol worship; the site for pagan worship centered on a massive stone façade, which Jesus referred to in His play on words concerning “rock”. Worship was directed to the pagan god Pan who was the Greek god of shepherds and flocks and was characterized by goat horns. The title “Son of Man” was a messianic title and a reference to Daniel 7:13-14, which speaks of a heavenly figure who God will entrust with authority, glory and sovereign power. The word “Christ” means anointed one. In the Old Testament it referred to a person who was chosen by God, consecrated to God’s service and was empowered by God to accomplish a given task. At the end of the Old Testament period, it referred to a political Messiah who would deliver Israel from its physical enemies. Jesus rarely used the title of Himself because of the political and national overtones.
Peter’s statement in verse 16 is literally “the Son of the God, the living one.” This is a clear testimony to the deity of Christ. Jews understood that to be called the Son of God meant that person shared in the essence and attributes of God. The name “Peter” refers to a detached stone, but the word “rock” refers to a bedrock or cliff. There are various interpretations of this bedrock. Some believe that it refers to Jesus Himself; others believe that it refers to Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Some think that the rock refers to the teaching of Jesus, while others think that it refers to Peter (this is the general Roman Catholic view, although some evangelical theologians share this view).
The gates of Hades refers to all forces opposed to Christ, although some believe that it simply refers to death and that what Jesus was saying was that the church will not die. According to the Full Life Study Bible, “This passage does not mean that any particular believer, local church, fellowship of churches or denomination will never fall into immorality, doctrinal error, or apostasy. Jesus Himself predicted that many will fall from the faith, and He warns churches that are abandoning the NT faith to turn from their sins or face removal from His kingdom (Mt. 24:10, 11; Rev. 2:5, 12-29; 3:1-6, 14-16; 1 Tim. 4:1). The promise of verse 18 does not apply to those who deny the faith or to lukewarm churches.”
The keys, spoken about in verse 19, represent God’s delegated authority to Peter and the church. The Full Life Study Bible mentions the following: by these keys, the church rebukes sin and carries out church discipline (Matthew 18:15-18); prays effectively for God’s cause on earth (18:19, 20); binds the demonic and looses the captives; announces the guilt of sin, God’s standard of righteousness and the judgment to come; and proclaims salvation and the forgiveness of sin for all who repent and believe in Christ. Verse 20 presents something of an enigma, but Jesus simply did not want the disciples to publicize who He was because of the false ideas that the Jews had about the Messiah; such false ideas could have resulted in a revolution against Rome.
A proper revelation of Jesus means that you will have a proper understanding of His church, which is His body. Jesus is Lord of the church. To serve Him as Lord includes serving the church, to act in the best interest of the church. Ephesians 5:25 is instructive, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” To this we can add Ephesians 5:29, “After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church.” These verses clearly show the importance of the church to Jesus Christ. People claim that they love Christ, but they don’t demonstrate love to the people in the church. The apostle John challenges that dichotomy: How can you love God whom you have not seen but you cannot love the people around you whom you can see? We are either building or destroying the church.
Building the Church
People who build up the church do it out of a love for God and a love for the people in the church. There are various ways in which we can build up the church, but I will only mention a few. We build up the church by praying for the church. We are to pray for the leaders of the church. Leaders have an awesome responsibility and have to competently manage the whole church. Leaders have a greater accountability to God: James warns the saints that not many should be teachers, because teachers have greater accountability. Additionally, the enemy targets leaders and their family. We are to pray for all believers, particularly the ones that we may have some challenges with. The Bible tells us to bless and not to curse. Pray for others as you would pray for yourself: if you pray for favor, breakthrough, provision, healing and other benefits for yourself, then pray these same things into the lives of fellow believers.
We build up the church by maintaining the unity of the church. We need to be humble and have a right attitude to all believers. All believers are valuable to God and it is our responsibility to serve them as we would want to be served. We need to practice forgiveness. Jesus modeled this by asking for forgiveness for those who had crucified Him. Persons will do things against us whether intentionally or unintentionally. It is our responsibility to forgive them and to restore the relationship wherever possible. We need to deal with conflict in a biblical way. The first step is to talk to the person who has offended or sinned against you. If the individual shows no sign of repentance then you return to the individual with a witness. If that is ineffective then you take the matter to the leader who meets with the individual. If the person is still resistant and stubborn then the matter is taken to the church. Persons who reject discipline at this level are to be treated as unbelievers and barred from church fellowship. Maintaining unity also involves seeing things from other people’s perspective: we need to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes.
We build up the church by being committed to the church and its leadership. David had mighty men who were committed to him and to the nation. At one time, he and his men were under attack, but he expressed a desire for water. A few of his mighty men broke through the enemy’s ranks to get him that water. These men were not bewitched behind David. They simply loved and were loyal to their leader, a man who provided godly leadership and would have gladly risked his life for them. Our commitment to the church is demonstrated in regular attendance at church, which is important for several reasons. The book of Acts indicated that the believers were committed to the fellowship, the coming together of the saints. Regular attendance can foster unity as we bond together during times of worship. Numbers tend to attract numbers; more believers are encouraged to attend when the numbers are up. Regular attendance allows you to be ministered to and allows you to minister to others. It also adds prayer support: you can see or hear about what is happening in people’s lives and you can add your voice of prayer and faith.
Our commitment to the church also involves our generous giving. There are a number of Christians who do not give anything significant to the church. It is imperative that we give the very best that we can because giving is an important act of worship and because the church cannot fulfill its mandate without money. Our commitment to the church means that our ministry is important. It is crucial that you find a place of service to add value to the church. God has gifted you; every believer has at least one gift that can be used for the glory of God and for the edification of other believers. Further, this gift may open doors for you nationally, regionally and internationally. In ministry, you need to overcome fear, insecurity, doubt, self-consciousness and concern about criticism, which can seriously paralyze the call of God in your life. Know that God has called you and has anointed you to make a difference in your church.
Destroying the Church
When we destroy the church, it shows that we do not love the Lord Jesus Christ and that we do not love people. Like Peter told Simon in Acts 8:21-23, “You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
We destroy the church when we gossip and talk negatively, even contemptuously, about other believers. Some people like to talk about others; they feel empowered to be able to say negative things about other people. This is often fueled by a spirit of pride: we think that we are better than other people and that we know more than they do. It is also fueled by a spirit of jealousy or envy. Jealousy typically leads to competition, impatience, bitterness, strife, covetousness, control and retaliation. It is also based on deception: persons mistakenly believe that they are doing the Lord’s work, but really they are doing the devil’s work.
We destroy the church when our spiritual lives are weak and ineffective. Believers are to worship God in spirit and in truth. We are to be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Further, we are to be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Christians that remain immature have little to offer the body of Christ. In fact, such persons act like babies – always taking, always wanting and always creating problems. If some leaders are truthful, they are glad when such persons leave the church. Believers are to be filled with the Spirit of God. When we are not filled with the Spirit, we leave so much room for the enemy to come in and to develop strongholds. We start to operate in the flesh and not in the spirit.
We destroy the church when we tolerate sin and immorality in the church. The Corinthian church experienced the gifts of the Spirit (charismata), but it was an immature, divided and carnal church that tolerated sexual immorality “of a kind that does not even occur among pagans.” The fear of God needs to return to the church; fear referring to the awesome, reverential respect that we must have for a holy God. God has called the church to holiness, to be separated from sin, Satan and the world and to be dedicated to Him and His service. We have to be different from the world. For example, we cannot derive our values from Gossip Girl, Scandal and Being Mary Jane. In fact, we shouldn’t even be watching these pictures that clearly promote values contrary to the values of the Word of God. We can’t talk about worshiping God in spirit and in truth when we spend more time listening to ungodly secular music than to Christian music.
Many of our young people and some adults have a legalistic way of thinking about sin. Sin is murder, lying, adultery; sin is not attitudes, thoughts and motivations. This leads people to rationalize sin, to attribute sin to the “major things.” Sometimes, we know that people are sinning in the church, but we adopt the mindset that it’s not my problem; it’s not for me to deal with it. In the Old Testament, Achan’s sin resulted in Israel’s defeat: sin in the camp affects the whole camp.
Building up the church is a choice. In what ways are you building up your local church? Destroying the church is a choice. In what ways are you destroying your local church? Jesus wants his church to be built up. Whether the gates of hell prevail against your local church or not is in a significant way dependent on you. Choose wisely!