The Lordship of Christ in the Local Assembly (Part 2)
John Heading, Aberystwyth
ACTS 11. 19-26; 13. 1-4
In our first paper, we considered three aspects of the subjection of the believers in Antioch to the Lordship of Christ. We now consider three further aspects.
4. To "cleave unto the Lord",
11. 23. The news of these conversions in Antioch now reached the original centre of gospel testimony, namely Jerusalem. There, "the ears of the church" were open to good news, and they were prepared to listen to "things ... of good report", Phil. 4. 8. Consequently they sent to Antioch a proved man, Barnabas, one who had previously been faithful in material riches, in that which was least, and also in spiritual riches, "faithful also in much", Luke 16. 10. Barnabas knew that the believers in Antioch, having turned unto the Lord, must now continue with deep spiritual exercise of heart; they must "cleave unto the Lord" as a permanent experience of faith.
The idea of cleaving is demonstrated very clearly by Ruth, who "clave" unto her mother-in-law Naomi, Ruth, 1, 14, and this was done with a "stedfastly minded" spirit, v. 18. She would not leave her, nor return from following her. Ruth said, "whither thou goest, I will go", v. 16. This is not always so. There was no cleaving to the Lord when a man said, "Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest", Luke 9. 57. Others made plenty of excuses, and the Lord used the metaphor of putting a hand to the plough and looking back; such a man was not "fit for the kingdom of God", v. 62. Again, Ruth said, "where thou lodgest, I will lodge". If we cleave to the Lord, we would express a similar sentiment. Andrew had asked, "Rabbi . . . where dwellest thou?", John 1. 38. The invitation was given, "Come and see", with the result that two disciples abode with Him that day. Cleaving to the Lord means that we must be heavenly minded, recognizing that He does not dwell in the world or in its affairs. Again, Ruth confessed, "thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God". Our fellowship must be with the Lord's people if we are cleaving to Him; otherwise James warns us that "the friendship of the world is enmity with God", James 4. 4. Finally, Ruth declared, "where thou diest, will I die". The apostle Paul knew what this meant. "I am crucified with Christ", he wrote, Gal. 2. 20; he was dead to all that the law stood for, and alive entirely to the Son of God and His love.
Such cleaving should have a profound effect on our lives. For example, any spiritual man must acknowledge that the writings of Paul represent the commandments—the authority—of the Lord, 1 Cor. 14. 37. Cleaving implies that this is permanently recognized. "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts", wrote Peter, 1 Pet. 3. 15, meaning that there is ever an inward cleaving to the One set apart in our hearts. Whatever we do, we must do it heartily as unto the Lord, and not as unto men, Col. 3. 23; here is cleaving unto the Lord in ' every aspect of life.
In all these six aspects, we are concluding with a reference to the work in Corinth. The work of Barnabas amongst the new converts in Antioch answers to the activity of watering, 1 Cor. 3. 6. Planting corresponds to turning unto the Lord; watering to Barnabas' exhortation to cleave, while God giving the increase answers to being added unto the Lord.
5. "Much people was added unto the Lord", v. 24. The local church is not like some society on earth, where either a new member can add himself by paying a fee, or a new member is elected by existing members. Rather, addition to a local assembly (and certainly to the body of Christ) is a divine operation according to the divine purpose. In the Old Testament God used His servants to add the stones and fabric to the temple that Solomon was building, yet really the Lord was building the house, Psa. 127. 1. In the New Testament, Paul laid the foundation and others built on it; yet the building grew because it was God's work. In the spiritual house, there was growth because God introduced the living stones, 1 Pet. 2. 5.
By this process of being added, we have been "called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord", 1 Cor. 1. 9; we are introduced to the deity, Saviour hood and authority of the Lord. Such an addition cannot embrace unbelievers, whatever may happen in the churches of Christendom. Multitudes of "believers" were added to the Lord; yet everyone else was excluded, since "of the rest durst no man join himself to them", Acts 5. 13-14. God makes no mistake, though men may try and do His work in a sense opposite to His will. (Some tried to do so in John 6. 66, but ultimately they went back and walked no more with the Lord.)
In Antioch, this adding occurred because the work was done by Barnabas, described as a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, Acts 11. 24. He then sought the best possible teaching, and thought immediately of Saul's abilities, this man waiting at that time at Tarsus for service to be opened up. Barnabas would not invite anyone else apart from the Lord's servants; he would not glean in another field, Ruth 2. 8. Thus Saul in Antioch would engage in things pleasing to the Lord, and this service of teaching lasted "a whole year". During this time, we do not believe that there were many absences from the meetings, with the believers adopting a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. They would continue stedfastly in the teaching, being present because they had been added ; there was nothing in God's plan for any to be subtracted again, even temporarily. A local assembly should not be like a set of college lectures, where the lecturer is always present, but where certain students seem to come and go as they please. The full recognition of having been added to the Lord, and the desire to cleave unto Him, prevent deliberate absences from the gatherings of the saints.
God uses sanctified vessels to accomplish this process of adding. In 1 Corinthians 3. 10, He worked through "a wise master builder". The work of the flesh builds but "wood, hay, stubble". But when the gold, silver, and precious stones are added, this is permanent; one cannot escape from the building, and neither would one desire to do so.
6. "They ministered to the Lord",
Acts 13. 2. There is a difference between a call to general service and a call to specific service. When the Lord said to Peter, "from henceforth thou shall catch men", Luke 5. 10, this was a general call, since nothing particular was implied. But when He chose twelve apostles, 6. 13, this was a special call, since it marked out the men from all others, and indicated an apostolic service that no one else could do. For some years after Paul's conversion, he was called to general service only, being in Damascus, Arabia, Jerusalem, Caesarea, Tarsus and Antioch. But there would follow his specific service—his mission as an apostle to the Gentiles. Hence, when the prophets and teachers in Antioch realized that the assembly in Antioch was mature, and that some at least could move on, they needed to know how their service could be expanded in the divine will. Consequently they "ministered to the Lord, and fasted", Acts 13. 2. We believe that these prophets and teachers would, as a group, engage in prayer to ascertain the divine will, and also in the searching of Scripture. The non-necessities of physical life were put on one side, so that the things of God might dominate. Under such circumstances, the Holy Spirit made God's will known, no doubt by speaking through one or another of the prophets present. Paul and Barnabas would be sent forth, like Abraham before them, "not knowing whither he went", Heb. 11. 8. Paul and Barnabas were then commended by the other teachers and prophets, Acts 13. 3, who let them go from their company. These two had commenced in the presence of God, and they continued in that way. At the end of the first journey, they rehearsed to the assembly in Antioch "all that God had done with them", 14. 27; 15. 4; 21. 19. Here was apostolic zeal and diligence, those to whom the Lord would say, "Blessed if that servant, whom his Lord where cometh shall find so doing", Matt. 24. 46.
Paul stressed in his Epistles this divine call to particular service. He wrote, "even as the Lord gave to every man", 1 Cor. 3. 5, and "there are differences of ministries, but the same Lord", 12. 5. marg.
The lessons behind our studies should be evident. Each member of a local assembly needs to be more faithful in remaining subject to the Lordship of Christ, recognizing the various vital principles that are closely associated with His divine authority over His people and their service.