Divine Involvement in Assembly Service
John Heading, Aberystwyth
In the same way as a growing plant botanically and the solar system astronomically show structure, so also do the epistles. Hence from the broad outlines down to the study of individual thoughts and words the reader must know the context before detailed study can commence.
Thus 1 Corinthians 11-14 displays a vital order for assembly service. First, in 11. 1-16 brethren and sisters alike display openly their subjection to the Headship of Christ; there is no rivalry for authority and glory. This must be regulated before service can begin in 11.17-34. Here service Godward first of all gives Christ the pre-eminent place by means of the Lord's supper. The Corinthians had reduced this to self-service, so Paul writes words of correction. Service saintward follows in chapters 12-14. The doctrine behind service comes first, ch. 12; Paul deals with the origin of the variety of spiritual gifts, together with God's means for preserving holy harmony and unity. Before these gifts can be practised, besides doctrine there must also be the superior lubricating action of Christian character and virtues, over and above the temporary expediency behind the use of gifts, ch. 13. Only then can there be the proper outworking of gift in a company, ch. 14; all must be done for profit and edification; gifts must be exercised in order, and must not be directed to self-interests. Finally in 15. 1-10 the gospel is recalled, the vital message directed sinnerward. Young believers should note this order, and should be moulded by it.
It is a humbling thought to realize that the Trinity is concerned with every aspect of service. This is so in believer's baptism. Matt. 28. 19, and in the believer's benediction, 2 Cor. 13. 14. Further, in 1 Corinthians 12. 4-6, the Spirit is occupied with the gifts and abilities given, v. 4; the Lord Jesus is occupied with the particular service taken up, v. 5, and God is occupied with the results of such service, v. 6. The thrice-holy character of service is thus demonstrated, making all service a serious matter indeed.
Who is Called to Service? It must be stressed that everyman is embraced, and Paul provides three lists to prove this fact. The Spirit is seen in relation to the giving of gifts, 1 Cor. 12. 7-11; "the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will”; the context stresses the sphere of the Spirit. The Lord Jesus is seen in relation to the appointment to service, for example, evangelists, pastors and teachers, Eph. 4. 7-13. "Unto every one of us is given grace", the context stressing the assembly as the sphere of the Lord's involvement. Finally, God is seen in relation to the outworking of gifts, Rom. 12. 3-17: "according as God hath dealt to every man". Romans stresses the work of God in justification, with its consequences in service and conduct. The reader should note that all three contexts deal with the one body, and also the subject of love.
The writer firmly believes that every aspect of service included in these passages is embraced by deacon service. Some think that deacons refer to a few individuals in an assembly, just as elders refer to a few men; such service, they assert, refers to lesser activity relating to material things. The writer suggests that far wider spheres of service are embraced. For deaconship is not a restricted office as the translation "let them use the office of a deacon", 1 Tim. 3. 10, 13, might suggest, since this merely means "let them serve". The word is used of the Lord Jesus, "the Son of man came ... to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many", Mark 10. 45; "I am among you as he that serveth", Luke 22. 27. For ourselves, the word is used in John 12. 26, "If any man serve me, let him follow me". The same root is used in Acts 6. 2-4 for "serve tables" and "the ministry of the word"—that is, for both material and spiritual service. The word refers to all who serve in any way: thus Paul was not only an apostle, but he was a deacon—he had been "made a minister", Col. 1. 23. Sisters also are included, for Phebe was "a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea", Rom. 16. 1.
The Spirit Gives the Gifts,
1 Cor. 12. 4, 7, 11. The blessed fact that the Lord was anointed for service during the days of His Manhood here on earth fits into our theme. The voice of God has said, "Behold my servant... I have put my spirit upon him", Isa. 42. 1. This is the Father's voice to His elect, His Well-Beloved, answering to "God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him", John 3. 34. In the same prophecy, the voice of the Lord is heard, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek . . .", quoted by the Lord in Luke 4.18. This refers to the call of the divine Man to His peculiar service here below. Finally the voice of the Spirit of prophecy is heard in Isaiah 11.2, "the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him . , .", implying the possession of a mind entirely devoted to the divine will.
As far as the believer is concerned, there are verses such as "the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name", John 14. 26, and "the Comforter . . . whom / will send unto you from the Father", 15. 26. Such verses show the three Persons of the Trinity involved in the sending forth of the Spirit who would lead into true service. Peter spoke of the same great fact, "being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath shed forth this", Acts 2. 33.
The three quotations from Isaiah just given appear to answer to three objectives of the Spirit in the believer today. The first answers to the Comforter with us, sealing us. The third answers to the mind of the Spirit possessed to guide us into all truth. The second answers to the spiritual ability given in service over and above any natural ability with which we may have been endowed. We would suggest that there is here a similar principle to that found in Matthew 25. 15; the one talent that all possessed is a natural gift, with nothing on a spiritual plane. But the additional one and four talents denote variety and differing measure of spiritual gift given for the work of God. It is the Spirit's prerogative to give according to His will, yet how often this dovetails with our deepest exercises before God. Thus there can be the desire for spiritual gifts, and in particular "covet to prophesy", 1 Cor. 14.1,39, for the edification of the assembly yet such gifts come from the Spirit in line with these desires. Again, there can be the desire to serve as an overseer, 1 Tim. 3.1, yet such men are made by the Holy Spirit, Acts 20. 28. Again, movements in service can arise from personal exercise, yet the Spirit is very much in evidence, Acts 15. 36; 17. 6-10.
Three Groups of Gifts, 1 Cor. 12. 8-10. These groups of gifts given by the Spirit can be seen by realizing that there are two distinct Greek words for "another" in these verses. Without going into technical details, the first group consists of the gifts in verse 8— the ability in the exposition of truth. The second group consists of gifts in verse 9 and up to "discerning of spirits" in verse 10—the miraculous outworking of faith that so characterized the early testimony. The third group in verse 10 consists of the special ability to speak miraculously in languages. That which was openly miraculous was but temporary, relating usually to the body. But the permanent gifts for edification relate to the inner man of the heart. The same distinction can be found in Matthew 28. 20 and Mark 16. 17-18; after baptism, the former relates to teaching, while the latter to the miraculous sign gifts. God always provides particular gifts to be suited to the present need.
The Lord Appoints the Service,
1 Cor. 12. 5. We should note that in Acts 1.1, the Lord "began" His work, but in Mark 16. 20 as ascended He continued His work, as "working with them". This means that we cannot do just as we please, by adopting any methods. We must test our work to see if it is the Lord's work—could He have done it, is it for edification, does it meet spiritual and material needs? In The Acts, the methods included expounding "the way of God more perfectly", 18. 26; helping to "search the scriptures daily", 17. 11; declaring "the word of God among them", 18.11, all in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. It is not of the Lord to stir the appetite of the emotions but not the conscience; to entertain but not to edify.
As examples, we may quote the Levites in 1 Chronicles 15. 2; they carried the ark on their shoulders and not in a cart, as propounded by Moses. In Matthew 8. 9 there is the reflection of the Lord, when the centurion said, "Go, and he goeth . . . Come, and he cometh". In Luke 9. 1-2 the Lord called the twelve, and "sent them to preach . . . and to heal". Their failure is apparent, for in verse 10 they returned to tell "all that they had done" rather than what God had done through them. Happily, other verses show the right attitude: "they rehearsed all that God had done with them", Acts 14. 27; "speak ... I have much people in this city", 18. 9-10; "Christ Jesus our Lord . . . putting me into the ministry", 1 Tim. 1. 12, a truth seen in divine statements as "he is a chosen vessel unto me", Acts 9. 15, and "to make thee a minister and a witness", 26. 16. Believers, as vessels and channels, should have the same experience today.
God Grants the Results, 1 Cor. 12. 6. "All things in all men" implies a divine result following faithful service. Since all results achieved are a divine work, there can be no room for boasting. Paul recognized that he had planted in Corinth for one and a half years, preaching the gospel and laying the foundation for assembly fellowship and service, 1 Cor. 3. 6, 10; 11. 23. Apollos engaged in correction and further building up, as he "helped them much which had believed through grace", Acts 18. 27. Yet in spite of all their efforts, with Paul labouring more abundantly than anyone else, it was "God that giveth the increase" as a present continuous work. How blessed for a servant of God to see his work as the work of God! Can there be progress, blessing and prosperity in any other way? Do we believe that any soul helped is really a proof of God working ? For "ye are God's building", 1 Cor. 3. 9, but "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it", Psa. 127. 1.