A major emphasis of Christianity is increase. Some of you who have read the first sentence may hear sirens going off and see red flags beginning to wave. Before anybody gets too nervous let me set your minds at rest. This article does not contain a prosperity message. I am not going to suggest that if you are a person of faith God wants you to be rich (many biblical characters were not-see Hebrews 11). In fact, I will say very little about money or material resources. The increases I want to speak about are very different. However, they are definitely about “more.”
Some might question the idea that one of the major emphases of the Christian faith is increase. They would say that the primary emphasis of Christianity is Jesus, and they would be right. Christianity is about Jesus, I would not deny that. The apostles were very clear about the priority of Jesus. Peter said, concerning Jesus, that “Salvation is found in no one else” (Acts 4:12 NIV). Paul detailed the superiority of Jesus in Colossians 1:15-20 and in Philippians 2:6-11. He also repeatedly stated that his message focused on Jesus (1 Cor. 2:2; 2 Cor. 4:5; Col. 1:28). But while increase is not the major emphasis of Christianity it is a major emphasis of our faith. As believers we are called to seek and work for the increase of Jesus’ kingdom throughout the world. We are also called to increase the presence of His character and influence in our lives. One of these increases is in quantity and the other is in quality.
The Scriptures are clear that God wants the message of Jesus to be heard all over the world. In the New Testament we have multiple versions of what we call the Great Commission passage (Matt. 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49). The versions in Matthew and Mark are Jesus’ directive to His followers to go into the world with the gospel, Luke’s version has Jesus saying that the message will be declared to all nations (Luke 24:47). On another occasion as well Jesus indicated that the world would know about Him, He said that the gospel “will be preached in the whole world” (Matt. 24:14 NIV, emphasis mine).
As the New Testament unfolds we see Jesus’ words in the beginning stages of fulfillment. Thousands of people came to faith in Jesus in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4). Philip took the message of Jesus outside of Jerusalem to the Samaritans in Acts 8. Peter went to the Gentiles and brought the gospel to them when he went to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10). Some unnamed believers took the good news to “Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch” (Acts 11:19 NIV). Their actions brought even more Gentiles into the faith. Then, beginning in Acts 13, Paul started his missionary journeys and many more people came to the Lord, both Jews and Gentiles. This, however, was not the end of it. Those who were reached with the gospel message shared it with others (which is how it is supposed to be). In his first letter to the church in Thessalonica Paul wrote “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia−your faith in God has become known everywhere (1 Thess. 1:8 NIV). And he told the believers in Colossae that the gospel was “bearing fruit and growing throughout the world” (Col. 1:6 NIV). That principle has continued right down until today; the gospel is still spreading. As believers we are all called to help spread the gospel, we are to tell people about Jesus. Jesus’ statements about the gospel going into all the world will come true. They will come true because Jesus said so (and He always tells the truth). In addition to His words in the gospels (Matt. 24:14; Luke 24:47), the book of Revelation, which gives us a glimpse into the future, confirms this in that it tells us that people “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev. 7:9 NIV) will be around the throne. What Jesus said will happen.
God’s directive to the church is to share the gospel and so increase the number of people who come to believe in Jesus (the more we sow the Word the more we will reap). The Lord has committed the evangelistic task to the church because He does not want any to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). However, increasing the number of Christians in the world is not the only increase that we as believers are called to. We are also called to pursue the increase of the presence of godly characteristics in our lives. We are to grow in spiritual depth. Our ultimate goal is to be conformed to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29), and as we know He was perfect (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22). The pursuit of this goal is one that will last our whole lifetime; we will never “spiritually arrive” this side of Heaven.
The apostles were not content to have people make a decision to follow Jesus. They wanted those who were converted to grow in their relationship with the Lord. This is understandable as it is the essence of discipleship (which Jesus clearly commanded in Matthew 28:19). The apostles urged believers to continually seek to improve themselves. In 1 Thessalonians 4:1 Paul said that the Thessalonian Christians were living in a manner that was pleasing to God yet he urged them to do so even more. In the same letter he acknowledged that the believers loved one another (1 Thess. 4:9-10). But at the end of verse 10 he urged them to love even more. He also prayed that the Christians in his churches would grow in the virtues of the Christian life (Phil. 1:9-11; 1 Thess. 3:12). Paul was not alone in urging believers to seek to improve the quality of their Christian lives. Peter urged the Christians he wrote to to make their calling and election sure by adding various virtues to their lives (2 Pet. 1:5-11). He also instructed his hearers to grow in grace and in their knowledge of Jesus (2 Pet. 3:18).
We as Christians are called to increase. We are called to labor to increase the number of people in God’s Kingdom, and we are called to pursue having a spiritual life that is marked by depth and substance. In a world that seeks more let us seek the increases that God desires. Let God’s desires be our desires. The first increase that I mentioned above is for the benefit of others, the unsaved. The second is more for our own benefit, though others will certainly receive some benefit from it as well. It is unfortunate but some Christians are more focused on pursuing the increase that the prosperity gospel speaks about than the clear “increases” that the Word of God directs us to pursue. We need money to live on, but let us give top priority to pursuing the increases that really matter- the ones which have lasting benefits not only for ourselves but also for others. Both are attainable through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; Gal. 5:22-23). Let there be increase!
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including: the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.