|Assembly Characteristics - 04 Work|
Work in the Local Assembly
1 Corinthians 3
The New Testament pattern and teaching for the local assembly makes it unique and distinct from religious organizations of the world. We have seen that it is “the church of God,” it acknowledges the Lordship of Christ in practice, and it maintains a Scriptural gospel testimony. From 1 Corinthians 3:6-17, it is clear that the local assembly is the result of the material that is being built into the assembly by saints in their different capacities and responsibilities. This passage considers the work of Paul, Apollos, and others who were laboring with them and who followed them. Teachers should be building that kind of truth that edifies into an assembly; this passage gives a solemn warning against building into it anything that proves to be worthless.
There are three aspects of the work that are of great value. Paul writes, “As a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation” (1 Corinthians 4:10). Today as then, there is need for men who go forth with the gospel to see souls saved and assemblies planted. Paul did that work, teaching the saints the great truths of Scripture that established the foundation for the assembly. Possibly, he was also thinking of the great mysteries that the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he passed on to the saints. The foundation laid is CHRIST (1 Corinthians 3:11), not only in the gospel, but also in all doctrines touching on His Person and work.
Other men followed with teaching that was fully compatible with what he had taught (1 Corinthians 3:6, 10). There was no difference between their object and his, nor the means they used to accomplish it. Though the Corinthians mistakenly placed one man over another, the laborers were actually “workers together with God,” seeking to see the work flourish and the assembly edified. Their teaching was of equal value and profit as was Paul's work so that with the Spirit of God guiding them, they taught truth of the highest character as they considered what the recently saved saints of God needed.
Then there were other men (1 Corinthians 3:12), as the assembly matured, who continued to be spiritual builders. This passage mentions their “work” four times; this indicates that they were putting great effort into what they were doing. What was at stake, however, was the quality of materials they were building into the assembly by their teaching. One might work actively, but the test was faithfulness to the pattern and standard of Scripture.
The Quality of the Work
Men who teach or give help in any assembly need to consider their teaching or work. Does it follow the pattern of the foundation that was laid? Is it possibly introducing elements in doctrine or practice that are going to mar that work that has preceded it? Will it meet the test of God's Word presently and the test of God's Judgment in a coming day?
Many assemblies are lacking good teaching today and the results are being seen in the loss of strength and spirituality. We do not know all cases, but we wonder if lack of exercise on the part of responsible brethren does not lead to a lack of good, solid material being brought to the saints. Teaching doctrines, reaffirming principles, and seeking to bring truth to bear on present issues are vital for the health and well-being of the believers. Exhortation is needed, but without the solid basis of teaching, it may have little effect. To teach good, solid truth in the assembly requires spiritual exercise and much effort in study so that what is ministered will prove to be of the most profit to the assembly. In a wider sense, could this principle not apply to all the believers in any assembly? While primarily referring to men who have responsibility to teach the saints, is it not true that all believers in fellowship are bringing into the assembly some kind of material? Saints in fellowship in an assembly are not mere spectators, depending on others to do the work. Do we not all have a responsibility to contribute the things that will build it up and give help to the testimony?
We see this principle illustrated in the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:1-8). In building that sanctuary of God, all exercised souls had a part and brought materials according to their ability and exercise. The tabernacle they built was the result of the materials that they brought. In a similar manner, the character of the local assembly is the result of what each believer is building into it. If we build the things that are of precious, enduring character, the things that stand the test of the Word of God now, the assembly will be blessed and we will receive reward in a coming day. On the other hand, one can bring into the assembly things of lesser value, only temporal in duration, or not honoring to the Lord and true to His word. The results that are seen in the assembly will reflect the quality of what we are building, and there will be present and eternal loss or reward.
Personal Responsibility for Exercise
This unique characteristic of an assembly places responsibility on all who enjoy its fellowship. One cannot sit back and complain when conditions are not right, when others are not doing the work correctly, or when there is a lack in assembly function. At the very least, we have a responsibility to earnestly pray for God to work to change conditions. We must also personally consider what we are contributing to the assembly. Is there the exercise in our own souls that there should be? Are we trying to introduce any practices or ideas that are not supported by the Word of God or which will bring harm to the assembly? The truth of fellowship also involves responsibility and all share some measure of responsibility for what is being built into the assembly.
Without doubt, anything of this nature requires spiritual exercise and willingness to sacrifice our time, our energies and our persons. Haggai and Zachariah stimulated and guided the rebuilding of the temple in a day of restoration by their ministry. Haggai’s exhortation to them comes to us as well: “Consider your ways” (Haggai 1:5-7). Then “Go up to the mountain and bring wood and build the house...I will be glorified in it” (1:8). Work in any assembly does not just happen; it is the result of saints being stirred up in their hearts and spirits as they see the need and value of exercised labor to contribute to the up-building of the local assembly of God. Assemblies can die or be ruined by simple lethargy on the part of the saints, and in some cases it seems to be happening today. Only as we see the assembly as God displays it in its value and importance to Him will we contribute positively the materials that will enhance its testimony and preserve its character until the Lord comes.
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