Its Ministry

W Threadgold, Purley

Part 3 of 4 of the series The Church

IN THIS ARTICLE we shall consider the provision God has made for Scripture teaching, for Christian witness, and for the maintenance of order and discipline in the Church; if the Church, the body of Christ, is to grow and flourish there must be both a collective and personal responsibility in these matters. A re-study of Rom. 12 and 1 Cor. 12 will be helpful so that the outline given here may be filled out in detail from your studies. In the first of these chapters we learn that every member has some part to play in the healthy functioning of the body, and that each member has been given a measure of faith for this purpose. From verses 9 to 21, the instructions apply to every one in the body, and they show how each member should behave in order to promote the well-being of the whole. In verses 6 to 8, different gifts are set before us which are to be exercised by different persons. In the Corinthian passage we are told that God has set some in the Church and endowed them with special gifts to be used for the common benefit of all. Read Eph. 4, and compare what is said there on this matter.
What constitutes a gift of the Spirit? Who has such a gift, and how may these gifts be recognized? These questions arise at once and are very important. It is clear that special gifts are given to some 'for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ', Eph. 4. 12. The possession of such gifts depends on the sovereign choice of the Holy Spirit and not upon education, natural ability, or a pleasing personality. These gifts are varied, and they may be neglected or quenched or hindered, with subsequent loss to the Church. This idea of varying gifts exercised by different people cuts across the modern notion of a one-man ministry, but it does not for a moment allow of the idea of an any-man ministry; both alike are unknown in Scripture. Gifts are to be coveted and desired, but this does not mean that there is nothing we can do but wait and see. Diligence in the study of the Scriptures, continuance in prayer, patient waiting for God-given opportunities to use the talents He has given, and a spirit of meekness to receive help and advice from our brethren, are all needed. What a tragedy it is when persons of no real gift attempt to teach or exhort or edify the Church, thus taking up time that the Spirit of God wishes to use profitably! It is equally a tragedy when those who are gifted fail to exercise their ministry, and so deprive the Church of much needed help.
A few words may be helpful on the character of some of the gifts mentioned. Prophecy means telling forth the mind of God. In Old Testament times the message often came to the prophet directly from God; today the message is given by the Holy Spirit from the Scriptures, and those who have the Holy Spirit indwelling them are able to recognize that the message is of God. Exhortation is urging on, admonishing and encouraging. Most of the New Testament Epistles end with special words of exhortation. Ministering is not necessarily speaking, it is the exercise of some kind of service to the Church. Teaching is exposition of the Scripture rather than its application; it is an explanation of its meaning. According to 1 Cor. 14, the three main functions of Scripture teaching are to edify, to exhort and to comfort. We may ask ourselves after careful and prayerful attention to an address: Was I taught anything? Was I urged to take some action which I knew to be necessary and good? Did I receive any comfort of mind and heart? If any or all of these questions can be answered affirmatively we may be sure that God has spoken through His servant and we are responsible to Him for the way we receive the message. We come now to another important matter. The Scriptures speak of elders, bishops, overseers and deacons; these are men who have been fitted by spiritual experience and by knowledge of the mind of God as revealed in the Scriptures to exercise a spiritual control, a shepherding of the flock of God. The tone of a local church is largely set by the elders and overseers, and they must command the respect and wholehearted allegiance of the members. This they do not by an overbearing, despotic authority, but by their jealousy for the glory of God. Such men will be marked by humbleness of mind and by unswerving faithfulness to the Word of God; every spiritual person in the assembly will recognize them without difficulty. Their special care will be the spiritual well-being of the assembly. Deacons, ministers or servants, are terms which cover a wide range of service including care for the church in natural things, such as assembly finance and the maintenance of the building and its furniture.
We close this article with the matter of finance. It is clear that money will be needed for the upkeep of the buildings, for the sending of gifts to missionaries, and for the support of the Lord's servants who depend on Him for their sustenance. The principle of setting aside a proportion of income for God was taught under the law, and a tenth was to be the Lord's portion, i Cor. 16 also shows that this matter of laying aside the Lord's portion is no less essential now. It is not now restricted to one tenth; it is assumed by Scripture that there will be sufficient support from the people of God to carry out the duties noted above. In these days it seems that not enough attention is paid to the needs of the Lord's servants, many of whom have to accept a very much lower standard of living than those of us whom they serve. It is not enough to say 'The Lord will provide', when we know that He has entrusted the means to us; many unnecessary hardships would be avoided if Christians accepted their responsibilities in this matter. The same thing is true of support for missionaries abroad. May God stir our hearts to receive His Word, to honour those who rule well as overseers, to seek His will for our own pathway, and to act truly as stewards in what He has so lavishly given to us. (To be continued)