WHAT IS THE WORK OF THE LOCAL CONGREGATION?
A. Attendance to worship God is extremely important, in fact, indispensable, but attendance is not the “work” of the church.
B. The “work” (function, mission) of the church is threefold: evangelism, benevolence, edification.
C. That being true, then it is the “work” of every single congregation, large or small. If these three things are not the work or function of every church, then they are not the function of any church.
D. If the five acts of worship (sing, pray, preach, Lord’s Supper, contribution) are to be practiced by every single congregation, so are the three functions of the church to be practiced by every single church.
E. So we are not discussing the “work of the church” in a broad, general way, but rather what is the work of the local congregation, any and every local church?
I. THE PRINCIPAL WORK OF EVERY CHURCH IS PREACH THE GOSPEL TO “ALL THE NATIONS.”
A. Matt. 28:19, “Go therefore[a] and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”; Mark 16:15, 16, “And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Luke 24:47, “…and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” These are the final words that Jesus spoke on earth! “He was taken up after He … had given commandments to the apostles” (Acts 1:2).
B. This is not only the Great Commission of the apostles. It states the principal work of every church of Christ on earth. The Lord wants every single congregation, large or small, to preach the gospel locally and to “all the nations.”
C. 1 Tim. 3:15, “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
D. Romans 10:14,15, “ How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent?”
E. 1 Cor. 9:14, “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” This means that preachers are to be supported from the Lord’s Day contribution of local congregations to preach the gospel to “all the nations.” Every gospel preacher should be determined to do this.
F. 1 Thess. 1:8, “For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place.” Why? Because that is what Paul taught them. 1 Corinthians 4:17, “For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church”. What Paul taught in one church he taught in every church, large or small.
G. 2 Cor. 11:8, “I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you.”
H. Phil. 1:3-5, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you … 5 for your fellowship (participation) in the gospel from the first day until now…” 4:15, 16, “ Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared (had fellowship, participated) with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.”
1. Fellowship means joint - participation. When this church sent help to Paul they were participating with him in preaching the gospel. When Airport sent Seth (Mauldin) to Africa to preach we went with him. The whole church took part with him. Fellowship means joint participation.
2. The NT reveals the work of Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Titus, Epaphras and others. Based on 1 Cor. 9:14; Phil. 4:15, 16, etc, we can conclude Scripturally that these evangelists were supported by existing churches to preach the gospel to “all the nations.” Just think! Wherever these evangelists went the churches that sent them were with them not only in spirit but in joint participation.
3. Money (the contribution) works! It does the work of the local church. (The church in a collective sense).
4. This joint participation is very satisfying. It causes much joy and rejoicing not only among the new Christians, but also in the congregation that sent the preacher. To know that we are involved in saving souls, then get to know the new Christians by visits or by corresponding with them, getting their reports of the work, exchanging pictures, encouraging each other.
4. Fellowship in the Lord’s work is a beautiful concept, very rewarding and churches that do not practice it are robbing themselves of a rich spiritual blessing. Actually, the elders or men’s business meeting are responsible for this. Some might say, “We don’t know their language” – People everywhere are exposed to English, they can figure out what you say to them or get help from someone but they will get your message.
J. As a result of this evangelistic work done by the apostles, these evangelists and many individual Christians plus the support from many congregations, the gospel was preached to “all the nations.”
1. Look at the “golden chain” of Philippi supporting Paul to preach in Thessalonica and then Thessalonica sounding forth the word in Macedonia, Achaia and “in every place”! This is the Lord’s plan.
2. Rom. 10:18, “But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: “Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.”
2. Col. 1:5, 6, “the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as it has also in all the world”; Col. 1:23, “the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven...” Remember the Great Commission -- Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15.
K. The majority of churches are – and always have been -- small and they all have “local expenses” …
--So, therefore, THEY CAN EXCUSE THEMSELVES from preaching the gospel to “all the nations”?
--What text teaches this? Jude 2:1-10?
II. THE LORD’S DAY CONTRIBUTION ALSO WORKS IN MINISTERING TO THE POOR AMONG THE SAINTS.
A. 2 Cor. 8:4, the Macedonian churches were “imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship (participation) of the ministering to the saints.” Ministering is working.
1. Here we have not only the word “participate” but also “ministering” to illustrate the work of the local congregations.
2. They participated in ministering (serving, working).
B. 2 Cor. 9:1, “Now concerning the ministering to the saints …” V. 12, “for the ministry of this service … supplies
the needs of the saints…” v. 13, “your liberal koinonía (fellowship, sharing, participation) with them …” Paul meant “money” but said “fellowship.” This joint-participation in ministering was done by the Lord’s Day contribution.
C. Rom. 15:26, 27, “But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints.26 For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution (koinonía, fellowship, participation, sharing) for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. 27 It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.”
D. These Scriptures clearly speak of using the Lord’s Day contribution of the local church in participating or joining with others in serving, working in preaching the gospel and ministering to the needs of the poor among the saints. The text says “contribution” but Paul said koinonía (fellowship).
1. There is speculation about the cause of the poverty among the saints of Jerusalem – famine, persecution – but the Bible does not supply this information. It is not Scriptural to say they were destitute, devastated and indigent.
2. We should let the Bible itself illustrate the word “poor” and leave it at that. The Scriptures that describe the “poor” do not describe them as devastated. According to Leviticus the “poor” still had possessions they could sell, they could still offer certain sacrifices, they could glean after the harvesters, etc.
3. A major cause of poverty is sickness and inability to work. That’s why Jesus includes it in Matt. 25:35,36 and Luke 14:13.
E. There can be no doubt about these churches of Macedonia and Achaia being examples for churches of Christ in every age and in every place. If not, then there is no point in contending for a pattern in anything else, not even for the worship of the church. It all goes together.
1. If “collection for the saints” (1 Cor. 16:1) is not a pattern for us neither is the “collection” itself.
2. If 1 Cor. 16:1, 2 is not a pattern for us neither is 1 Cor. 11:23-26 (the Lord’s Supper). Same letter!
3. And if the “contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem” was a one-time-event (and therefore, no example for us), so was Acts 20:7, “Now on the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread …”
IV. ANOTHER VERY IMPORTANT FUNCTION OF THE LOCAL CONGREGATION IS EDIFICATION.
A. Eph. 4:11, 12, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
B. We think of the preaching in the assembly and the Bible classes as being designed to edify the church and this is true. To do this the lessons need to be the genuine milk and meat of the word of God.
1. Much of what passes for “preaching” in some churches should be classified as entertainment.
2. Very few sermons are preached in the services (usually two each week) so it is imperative that they be Scriptural lessons that really edify.
C. Likewise all the Bible classes should be instruction in the word of God. The smallest children are very intelligent. They can and will listen to and repeat and ask/answer questions about Bible stories (especially about Bible characters) presented on their level.
D. But notice the language carefully: Notice what Paul says is “for the edifying of the body of Christ.” It’s the “equipping of the saints for the work of ministry.”
1. In other words, merely hearing good preaching and having good Bible classes are not an end in themselves and do not edify by themselves.
2. A body needs good food but it also has to have exercise. Without the “work of ministry” – evangelism and benevolence -- there is no real edification.
3. WORK EDIFIES: The “ministry” (work) of evangelism and benevolence!
III. BUT WHAT ABOUT LOCAL EXPENSES? This is the major concern of elders/men’s business meeting.
A. There are many small churches and they all have “local expenses,” but first things first!
1. What do the Scriptures say? Send support to a preacher (Phil. 4:15, 16) and send help to a church “for the poor among the saints” (1 Cor. 16:1,2; Rom. 15:26).
2. But what about “local expenses”? This primary concern of many churches is NOT the primary concern of Christ.
3. His concern is preaching the gospel “to all the nations.” He died for them, and millions are dying unsaved and unprepared to meet God. So far as they are concerned Christ died in vain.
4. Just think a moment. There are millions of people today living in misery, not only being poor but also trying to survive under an oppressive government. This is the way they live now, and if they die unprepared to meet God what awaits them? Can churches of Christ, even small ones, be indifferent to such lost souls? I assure you that JESUS is not indifferent toward them.
5. “But after we take care of local expenses there is nothing left for foreign evangelism and helping poor saints.” This is the tail wagging the dog, the cart before the horse, etc. In the Scriptures, what comes first?
B. Are we saying that it’s unscriptural to use the contribution for church buildings, supporting preachers for local work, etc.? Of course not. “Well, we HAVE to build a nice air-conditioned church building with padded pews, and if we do have a church building and support our preacher we just can’t support preachers to go preach to all the nations and help needy saints.
2. I have news for you: Jesus is not blind. He can see our vehicles, our houses and furnishings full of electronic gadgets, He knows how we “fare sumptuously every day,” spending on ourselves for conveniences, luxuries, pleasure, recreation, entertainment, “travelling” and vacationing, sports and what all else?
3. In this country many if not most of our brethren are affluent, the Lord has prospered us greatly and we may need to simplify our lifestyle but we must do whatever it takes to be a Scriptural church and the Scriptures are very clear in emphasizing the responsibility of the church, as individuals and collectively, to preach the gospel to all the nations and send help to the poor among the saints wherever they are.
4. So what’s the problem? So let no one be deceived, God is not mocked, don’t tell the Lord what we “can’t” do! The problem is not a lack of funds, but rather it’s a matter of indifference on the part of the leadership of many churches. Indifference toward the millions who are living in misery and dying without the gospel and also toward our own brethren in Christ who are poor and very much in need.
5. This church is on the verge of appointing elders. Sheets are being passed out today for the members to start presenting names and asking themselves if the ones proposed are qualified. So here is a major consideration: Will these men be willing to put first things first? Will they lead this congregation in meeting its Scriptural responsibilities to preach the gospel to all the nations and minister to the poor among the saints?
6. “Oh, but the congregation won’t go for it, they won’t contribute that kind of money!” I beg your pardon, you are very wrong about that… A short time ago I read a letter from a church in Matamoros, Mexico asking for help for their preacher, Florencio Casillas who is very ill with cancer and in less than 15 minutes the members here handed me nearly $1000 to send to them. And they had already made their contribution to the church! And they did not know that such a request would be made!
7. We must choose elders who will carve out a good sensible program of foreign evangelism and help for the poor among the saints and the members will respond. There is no doubt about it -- the contribution will meet it.
8. So lets not sell this church short! The real need of this church is for SCRIPTURAL LEADERSHIP!
9. Members have to be motivated to give. Look at 2 Cor. 8:4 … Phil. 4:15, 16 … Give members something more satisfying than SUVs and sports and the mall and vacationing and they will GIVE! The money will be there!!
10. LET GODLY SHEPHERDS LEAD AND THE FLOCK WILL FOLLOW!
A. 1 Cor. 15:58, “ Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
B. 2 Cor. 9:8, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” And he says this in the context of “ministering to the saints” (v.1) and “supplies the needs of the saints” (v.12).
C. THE LORD’S DAY CONTRIBUTION WORKS. IT HAS POWER. IT ACCOMPLISHES THE PURPOSE AND WORK OF THE CHURCH AS A COLLECTIVE.
D. The money from the contribution enables preachers to travel all over the world to preach the gospel, save souls, establish and confirm new churches. Money works, it has power, it does the work of the church.
1. The church that “sends” (supports) an evangelist has fellowship (participates, has a share) with that evangelist.
2. The congregation can truly rejoice when there are conversions, restorations, new churches established, preachers trained, etc. This results in genuine edification for the church and is very encouraging.
E. Phil. 1:3, 5, “I thank my God … for your fellowship in the gospel.” 4:15, 16, “no church had fellowship (participated) with me concerning giving and receiving but you only, for even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.”
1. “Fellowship” is not a vague, indefinite, abstract relationship. It is practical; it means participation. The Philippian church had an active part with Paul in preaching.
2. “How shall they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:15). Both the preaching and the sending are involved in the work of the local church.
F. And money from the contribution also ministers to the poor among the saints. 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:1; Rom. 15:26, 27. It works! It accomplishes something!
G. When we teach that the work or function of the church consists of evangelism, benevolence and edification, this has to be applied in each congregation, large or small. This is not mere “teaching.” It must be PRACTICED!
H. The congregation that fails to carry out this threefold function simply is not doing the work that the Lord expects of it. Many churches, especially the smaller ones, feel that they are exempt from this. They think the Lord will excuse them because of their local expenses but no Scripture teaches this. Moreover they are robbing themselves of the joy of genuine Bible fellowship.
I. Without a doubt Jesus wants every church of Christ to be engaged in local evangelism and in preaching the gospel to all the nations. And likewise, without a doubt, He is displeased with the congregations that ignore this responsibility!
J. Then as we preach the gospel to “all the nations” there will always be “poor among the saints” to whom we should minister. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember that Christ preached to the poor (Luke 4:18) and so must we and “the poor you have with you always.” To ignore them is to ignore Christ Himself!
K. So we need to heed what Jesus said: “lift up your eyes and look on the fields for they are white for harvest” (Jn. 4:35).