The Witness of the Local Church (2)

Tony Renshaw, Heald Green, Cheshire

Part 2 of 2 of the series The Witness of the Local Church

4. The Witness of Christian Teaching, 1 Cor. 14. 24-25. Paul's immediate concern in the context of this reference is to show that strangers entering a local church meeting would derive no benefit from speech in unknown languages, but could well react in the manner the apostle describes if they heard prophecy in a known tongue. Since the gifts of languages (the word is preferable to "tongues") and of prophecy were associated with the apostolic period, the application of Paul's words today would be to a local church gathered for the teaching or preaching of the Word of God. It could be expressed as follows:

If a company of believers in a right spiritual condition, that is, in whose lives the Holy Spirit is ungrieved, unquenched and unresisted, gathers to hear the Word of God delivered clearly and in the Spirit's power, then a visitor may well feel the impact of it, sensing the presence of God and being led to faith in Christ. This can occur whether a meeting is for the observance of the Lord's Supper, for the ministry of the Word or for the preaching of the gospel. But let it be recognized that it is far more likely to occur when believers are living holy lives with clear consciences and are sincerely devoted to the Lord. If, when saints gather they harbour unconfessed sin or unkind and critical thoughts, this may well hinder the blessing which Paul describes, of which we often long to see some evidence. Attendance at meetings may become habitual and even casual; we may lack prayerfulness and expectancy, becoming insensitive to the presence of God. Over-familiarity with holy things may undermine any longing and yearning for His realized presence in blessing and power. The cynic has said, "Blessed are they that expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed". May God preserve us from such a languid and carnal attitude.

5. The Witness of Christian Character, John 15. 5-8. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit". The Father is glorified in the fruitful lives of believers and in the estimation of onlookers. The Christ-like character of the fruitful Christian glorifies God in an ungodly society. Such a life is likely to convict, irritate and annoy non-Christians, but it will also tend to impress them even though they may be reluctant to admit it. It is a living proof of the transforming power of the gospel. It demonstrates that the power and tyranny of sin, so much in evidence all around us, can be decisively broken by the almighty power of the Holy Spirit.

Branches have no independent life. They live and bear fruit only as they remain part of the vine of which they are living extensions. They are fed by its life and nourished by its sap. The key-word in this entire passage is abide, which means to dwell, to continue, to remain. To abide, we are required to maintain communion with the Lord Jesus day by day and hour by hour. As we do so we shall bear fruit, the kind that is described in Galatians 5. 22-23. The process is silent, imperceptible, unspectacular and progressive. It requires a habitual daily feeding on the Word of God, and regular, adequate seasons in the secret place of prayer. Only so is Christian character developed, but it is the potential source for good in an evil world.

6. The Witness of Christian Kindness, Gal. 6. 9-10. "And let us not be weary in well doing ... As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men". This is a vital part of Christian witness though, like the others, this is not its main purpose. Deeds of kindness are always worth doing for their own sake. They are not to be done ostentatiously. Nor should they be performed solely with a view to getting people under the sound of the gospel! If that eventually happens, so much the better. But we are not intended to abandon our interest in those who prove indifferent to the claims of Christ. J. G. Bellett pointed out that the Lord did not heal people in order to recruit them as disciples, but simply because He had compassion on them. Honesty may compel us to admit that, in assembly life, good works may never have been the strongest point. In an understandable anxiety to insist that good works cannot earn God's favour, it is possible to neglect them altogether.

Such neglect is nor endorsed by the Scriptures. Wealthy Christians are exhorted to "do good, that they may be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate (to share)", 1 Tim. 6. 18. Paul writes to Titus about "our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works", 2. 13-14. The Master Himself urged His disciples to "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven", Matt. 5. 16. We are not to parade our good works, nor to perform them in order to gain the esteem of any onlookers. The Lord's instruction is that we are to let our light shine, to radiate the light of a holy and transformed life. The result will be that men will then see our good works and glorify not us, but our Father in heaven. The implication is clear: the Lord assumes that we shall be characterized by good works. Then we shall not be insensitive to every kind of human need, whether it be sickness or hardship, unemployment or bereavement, etc. What a challenge to be faced!

We may be loyal assembly members, attending all the meetings, well-taught in the Scriptures, faithful to the principles of gathering, and active in service and outreach: nothing but sickness would keep us from the Lord's Supper, the prayer meeting or the Bible reading. But are we Christ-like, compassionate, sympathetic and active in visitation, quietly meeting material needs when we find them? Are we warm-hearted and generous, liberal with our substance and always ready to ease a burden and bring some joy into the lives of broken-hearted people who cross our path?

7. The Witness of Christian Speech, Col. 4. 5-6. These two verses conclude Paul's practical teaching in Colossians. Verse 5 concerns our walk, and verse 6 concerns our talk. The order is significant and irreversible. Our lives must be right if our lips are to be effective. Now in referring to our speech, Paul is not thinking only of our direct witness to Christ, but to our conversation generally. "Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man", v. 6. The word answer appears rather unexpectedly in this sentence. It implies that people^ will sometimes ask us questions. Our walk, our life-style will impress them probably without our knowing it. It will be different from theirs Notice how Paul desenbes these onlookers in verse 5, "Walk in wisdom toward them that are without (outsiders)". That phrase sums up their situation perfectly. They are "outsiders". They are outside God's kingdom, God's family and God's church. They are outside the sphere of His blessings, His forgiveness and salvation, His joy and peace.

How we ought to be concerned about them. We should feel for them, for we used to be among them. Their lives are empty and, in most cases, their hearts are aching. They are enslaved by the twin taskmasters of sin and Satan, so they surely deserve our pity and our prayers. If they remain "outsiders" in this life, they will be excluded from heaven forever. Who is not appalled at the callousness and lack of concern in one's own heart at times? We all should be seeking the face of God in these days, and surely we should be willing to assess ruthlessly our Christian witness in the light of God's Word, making any adjustments that are needed to bring our lives into line with His gracious desire for the ungodly society of our day.