by Steven Chan
20 September 2009
The church is a divinely set up institution in accordance with the eternal purpose of God: Eph 3:10-11: “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord”. It was not set up as an afterthought of God after Israel rejected Jesus as King as some pre-millennialists claim. It had always been in the plan of God that the church would be built by Jesus (Matt. 16:18) which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28). So, we should be careful how we view the church and how we conduct ourselves in the church (I Tim 3:15) which is the household/family of God. No one has the right to set up a church other than the one established by Christ. Hence, the church bears His name and have Him as its head (Eph 1:22, 23). So when Paul wrote to the brethren at Rome, he said: “The churches of Christ greet you.” (Rom 16:16). It is important that one be a member of the church that Jesus sets up because He is the saviour of the body, His church (Eph. 5:23). If one is not in
His body, then one would not be a member of His body of which He is the Saviour. One cannot possibly join the church of one’s choice and still hope to be saved by Jesus – because Jesus only has ONE BODY (Eph 4:4) and the Lord Himself, on a daily basis, adds those who are being saved to His church (Acts 2: 41, 47; I Cor 12:13; John 3:3,5; Titus 3:5).
It is God who places each one of us in His church as He pleases: “But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.”(1 Cor 12:18). According to 1 Cor 12:24-25, “God composed the body, having given greater honour to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.” In other words, we cannot choose our members – for example to have only strong members, or members who share same hobbies and interests as ourselves, etc… We must accept all members who have been added by the Lord and placed in His Body – so that we can have the same care for one another. God knows that there will be weaker members – and they need the help and care of the stronger brethren. Using the illustration of the body, God tells us that EVERY MEMBER is NEEDED in the church and one should not despise those who are weak or not so outstanding; one cannot say to another member: “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary” (1 Cor 12:21-22). God says that the seemingly weaker members are NECESSARY. There is no place for elitism in the church. One cannot pick only the strongest to be members of the church. Every member is placed by God as He pleases for His Glory. We must accept each one and show the same care to each one. There should be no division in the Body (I Cor 12:25). “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually”. (1 Cor 12:26-27).
As regards the church, Paul wrote in Eph 4:1-4: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” As there are different personalities in the church, each member is exhorted to have the attributes of lowliness of mind (Phil 2:3: “in lowliness or humbleness of mind let each esteems others better than himself” as opposed to pride), gentleness (i.e. not provocative and calmness of mind under provocation) and longsuffering (patient bearing of injuries and not seeking revenge). Equipped with those three attributes, one is to show our love towards one another in the church by bearing with one another (being tolerant or putting up with) and doing our utmost best to preserve the unity of the Spirit, with the aim of maintaining peace that binds us together. The Bible says in Rom 14:19: “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.”
Members of the church are required to have the attributes of lowliness of mind, gentleness and longsuffering so as to endeavor always to keep the unity of the Spirit as we all pursue that things that contributes towards peace among members which keeps all of us together. There is no place for conflicts and divisions in the church. It is not uncommon to see a church in conflict due to personal pride, arrogance/harshness and desire for retribution or revenge. But we are all charged to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3). We cannot afford to be ignorant or oblivious to our obligation in this regard.
Not only are members of the church required to maintain unity in the bond of peace, we are also to actively seek to contribute towards the spiritual development and growth of each member: we are to “grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ– from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph 4:15-16) The preceding passage states the requirement of the effective working of each member/every part does its share. When each one does its share of the work, then that would cause the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. No member is excused from doing his part or share of the work of the church which is edification, benevolence and evangelism. It involves Feeding on the Word, Living by the Word and Sowing the Word. The three are inter-related in that if one does not feed on the Word (Matt 4:4), one cannot possibly live in accordance with the Word (Rom 8:5, 6) or sow the Word (Luke 8:11; Matt 13: 20-22). Similarly, if one does not feed on the Word and live according to the Word, one would not be able to really sow the Word and expect fruit that would glorify the Father: In John 15:4-6, Jesus said: Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”
Although in the church, we are not immune from falling away. The Bible warns in Heb 3:12-13: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Hence, the Bible exhorts us thus: “let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”(Heb 10:24-25). So, we do not forsake our regular assemblies because we have a duty to look out for the spiritual well-being of our fellow members and to seek ways and means to stimulate or encourage one another whenever we meet and on a daily basis.
Nowadays with the many easy and convenient ways to stay connected with one another via mobile phone, sms or email messages or the social network system in the internet whether via Twitter or Facebook, we have every means possible to encourage one another with words that will uplift the hearts of the depressed: “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.” (Prov 12:25). The NIV translates this as “an anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” Consider the importance of words of edification: Prov 12:18: “The tongue of the wise promotes health.” Prov 15:23: “how good is a timely word!” Prov 16:24: “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Isa 50:4: “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary.” Zech 1:13-14: “And the LORD answered with good and comforting words.”
Surely we can cheer up or make a brother or sister glad with a good word or a kind word. Is it too hard for us to send a short brief note to say we missed you, or we are praying for you (weep with those who weep) or we wish you a very happy birthday or happy anniversary, congratulations on your promotion at work (rejoice with those who rejoice), or we appreciate your kindness, good work, labour of love for the Lord, your kind hospitality or selfless service? Do we really care about our brothers and sisters, or are we so pre-occupied with our own lives that we do not think of the interests of others? Have we forgotten the injunction of the apostle Paul in Phil 2:4: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others”? Why are we not as “connected” with one another as we should when we have all the means at our disposal today as never before? Is it okay for us to be too busy to care for one another?
According to Eph 4:16, the whole body is to be “joined and knit together by what every joint supplies” (i.e. every member is joined and knit together in serving one another) We are to “hold fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.” (Col 2:19). When we are all holding fast to Christ the Head, we are also to be nourished and knit together by each member – and growth will be the increase provided by God. This is the kind of increase that is from God – not from man or man’s wisdom.
Brethren, look not to the world for guidance on church growth as that is a growth that is not from God. For example, one popular concept of growth is for the church to be whatever the people need or want or to introduce activities into the church that are not consistent with worship as desired by God (John 4:24). Hence, some have welcomed into their membership impenitent sinners or the sexually immoral – all those that the Bible says would not inherit the kingdom of God: 1 Cor 6:9-10: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” These can be members of the Body of Christ but only if they have repented and have been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins: 1 Cor 6:11: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” Have they been washed with water by the Word (Eph 5:26) and baptized by one Spirit into his body (I Cor 12:13) and hence born again (John 3:3,5; I Pet 1:23)? If not, the Scriptures do not permit them to be members of the body of Christ. Man can offer terms of membership which are less rigid than those stated in the Bible, but that kind of growth would be more akin to that of the growth of a destructive tumour as referred to in 2 Tim 2:17-18: “And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.”
Brethren, the church as God intended it, is clearly revealed in the Scriptures. We can know and identify the church that Jesus built and be a member of His Church. We must however also know how we are to conduct our lives in the household of God so that we may all contribute towards the growth of the body of Christ for His glory (Eph 5:27). We need to be closely knitted together and stay connected, and exhibit the same care for one another on a daily basis and whenever we meet, using all diligence to maintain unity of the Spirit, pursuing peace with another. When we all hold fast to Christ as the Head, we will be nourished and knitted together – and work together in Feeding on His Word (I Pet 2:2), Living according to His Word (James 1:22) and Sowing His Word (Luke 8:11; 1 Cor 3:6-9), and we will grow with the increase that God gives! That is the church that God intends to have on earth. May we strive to glorify Him in His church (Eph 3:21).