Ezra 3:10-12 “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: ‘He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.’ And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid…”
A new house of God is a good thing, right? Yet many of the people in Ezra’s congregation were weeping, and they weren’t tears of joy. They were old enough to remember the glory of Solomon’s temple. Over twenty tons of gold lined the walls and covered the floors and went into the furnishings of that temple. I have seen the largest church in the world today, St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. Its size is impressive, but it doesn’t have twenty tons of gold in it.
What did the size and glory of Solomon’s temple get for Israel? What did it do for them? It didn’t make them love God more. It didn’t keep them faithful. It didn’t prevent their priests and prophets from becoming corrupt. It didn’t make their young people more inclined to stay with the Bible faith. It didn’t convince people to resist the temptations of religions that were more fun, like the cults of Baal or Molech.
It didn’t prevent God from getting fed up with them, and letting their neighbors invade them and whittle away at their borders. Eventually the Assyrians and Babylonians came and took everybody away. For about 350 years the Jews had the pride of having a cool-looking place in which to worship. But true worship isn’t supposed to be focused on us. It is supposed to be focused on our God and Savior.
Maybe your church seems small. The only gold hangs from the ears and necks of the worshipers, or it is wrapped around their fingers. They take it home with them after each service.
We need to be aware of some small-church temptations. One is becoming falsely critical. Small size is not a vice, but it isn’t a virtue, either. It’s not a badge of honor to wear. It doesn’t make “us” better than “them.” We may have our theological differences with some particular big church. The number of people in attendance isn’t one of them. Pride in self, the “I’m-better-than-you” attitude, is never good for churches or individuals.
There is ditch on the other side of that road as well. Don’t make too much of how negatively others may view small size. Some people may dismiss a church because it can’t support a hundred different programs for a hundred special interest groups. I’ve actually heard people suggest that the bigger a church is, the more God must favor it. You can draw your own conclusions as to what that means for the small church. But don’t buy into the “bigger-is-better” propaganda. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t question whether God smiles on little churches or has a plan for them.
Remember, God still loves small things. “He is good; his love to Israel (and to us) endures forever.” In the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord reminded Israel, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery…” (Deut. 7:7-8). At the height of their glory as a little empire under King David, Israel’s borders didn’t encompass much more territory than the state of Kentucky or Tennessee, perhaps about the size of the nation of Portugal. God loved them anyway.
Jesus encouraged his little band of followers this way during his ministry: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). His flock may have been little, but his Father was still pleased to give them his gifts.
He even has a special place in his heart for the little people. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven…See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:4,10).
Little building, little flock, little people–it doesn’t matter. We may be small, but the Lord is good to us anyway, and his love endures forever.