Gathering Unto His Name - Priviledges and Responsibilities

 We have come now to the responsibility that God has given to us to main­tain testimony and to preserve it in accordance with God's Word. We are as­sured by the Lord Jesus that testimony will continue until He comes (Matthew 28:20). There is evidence for this in the fact that from the days of Adam, God has never been without testimony in the world. It has always been a remnant testimony and has often been very weak and small. The Lord told the reli­gious leaders of Israel, "Behold the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:21. JND), and he was referring to Himself and the little band of Galilaean fishermen who gathered around Him. There will be testimony to the end. May God keep us faithful to Himself and His Word that we may form a part of that testimony until He comes!

We want to examine assembly responsibility as it relates to an assembly's testimony. What does God expect of us as a church of God in this earth?

RESPONSIBILITIES OF AN ASSEMBLY

To be a collective testimony for God in the world

We need to understand the importance of a collective testimony. There are beloved saints who individually bear an excellent testimony to the saving and keeping power of the Lord Jesus, who have not learned the importance that God has placed on a collective testimony to the peerless name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

An assembly is called a "church of God" (1 Corinthians 1:2) because it belongs to Him and is His testimony in the world. The weakness and smallness of such a testimony may be very discouraging to us, but God has ?chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty? (1 Corinthians 1:27). This is a principle of the testimony for God in the world through the ages. Human smallness and weakness are means by which God may display His power. However, this does not give us grounds for complacency, but for concern.

In 1 Timothy 3: 15, an assembly is a "church of of the living God" because it has been called out of the world. It is a "house of God" because we have been brought into it. In this epistle of stewardship, it is fitting that an assembly is viewed as a "house of God" with divine order and rule.

The "house" has beauty that adorns it. The Lord Himself is in the midst as "God manifest in flesh" (v 16). David's words beautifully express our privi­lege, "One thing have I desired of the Lord...that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to behold the beauty of the Lord" (Psalms 27:4). What a privilege to behold His beauty!

The house not only has beauty that adorns it, it has behaviour that be­comes it (1 Timothy 3:15). Rather than being a negative statement that warns against wrong behaviour, Paul is describing correct behaviour which involves the lift­ing up of holy, priestly hands in supplication, worship and blessing (1 Timothy2:8). The house also has brethren who care for it (1 Timothy3:1-13) and it has belief that character­izes it (1 Timothy3:16).

In the same context, we are told that an assembly is a "pillar and ground of the truth" (v 15). The "ground of the truth" is the thought of a bulwark that stands as a courageous defence of the faith against every onslaught of men and Satan. The "pillar" suggests four principles of testimony. An assembly is a pillar to hold up the light of testimony in a dark world. As a pillar is used to hold up a structure, so an assembly holds up divine truth. There are pillars that are used to honor a name. An assembly honors the blessed name of the Lord Jesus Christ. A pillar may be used to commemorate a great victory, some great deed of men. An assembly commemorates the great deed of Calvary, we proclaim the death of our Lord until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:27).

One of the major themes of Paul's first letter to Timothy, which is a church epistle, is the stewardship of the Gospel (1 Timothy 1:11-17). An assembly must ever be faithful in its declaration of the Gospel. "God our Saviour....will have all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). He has given to an assembly a solemn charge to "preach the Word" (2 Timothy 4:2).

These are responsibilities of an assembly.

RESPONSIBILITIES IN AN ASSEMBLY.

To give some order to assembly responsibilities, we want to look at them under nine sub headings.

1. TO PRESERVE UNITY

The first great theme of 1 Corinthians, which is the unique epistle of the gathering together of an assembly, is unity. It emphasises the Lordship of Christ in the gathering. Note the expression "The same Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:2; 12:5). "In the Lord" is used ten times and, particularly in this epistle, its context is to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ in the gathering.

a) The name of the Lord and our appreciation of it (1 Corinthians 1:1-2; 5:4).

b) The coming of the Lord and our expectation of it (1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58).

c) The table of the Lord and our separation unto it (1 Corinthians 10:16-21).

d) The supper of the Lord and our commemoration of it (1 Corinthians 11:20-27).

e) The death of the Lord and our proclamation of it (1 Corinthians 11:27).

f) The commandment of the Lord and our obedience to it (1 Corinthians 14:37).

g) The work of the Lord and our occupation in it until He comes (1 Corinthians 15:58).

The oneness of an assembly is positional truth. It has been purchased by the precious blood of Christ which is the basis of the unity (1 Corinthians 10:16). However, we have a solemn responsibility to maintain unity in practice. Compromise with error or evil is not "endeavouring to keep the unity". (Ephesians 4:3). It is only in the measure that we acknowledge the Lordship of Christ in the gathering and are obedient to "the commandment of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 14:37) that true unity can be preserved. This unity will be seen as we manifest Philadelphia, the love of brothers, and show our love and care for one another in prayer and kind deeds. The schisms in Corinth were caused by envy (1 Corinthians 3:4-8).

It is in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 that the language of unity is found. Fellow­ship is a common sharing of privileges and responsibilities. Communion is the joy of oneness. Concord is a sounding together, the opposite of discord. Agreement is to have one mind and one heart as we unitedly submit to Christ as Lord.

2. TO MAINTAIN PURITY

The second great truth related to the assembly at Corinth is moral righ­teousness and purity (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). An assembly is the residence of the Spirit of God. Because of His presence, it is a holy "temple of God". False teaching or moral impurity can mar it, but for anyone who mars the temple there is a solemn recompense, "that man will God mar".

The man in chapter 5, marred the assembly by his sin. He was put away from the assembly as a wicked man and the assembly was thus cleansed of the defilement. It was for an act of sin, an act of fornication, not for a wrong atti­tude that the man was excommunicated (5:2, 3). The attitude of the assembly and of the man was wrong, but the cleansing from defilement was necessary because the assembly is holy. This is a far larger need than the offender?s pun­ishment or recovery. But he was recovered (2 Corinthians  2:6-11).

3. TO GUARD SIMPLICITY

Simplicity and godly sincerity are wonderful preservatives (1 Corinthians 3:18-23; 2 Corinthians 1:12). The ?church of God? belongs to the God who searches hearts. When I come into His house (the assembly), I am confessing that I recognize that He is jealous of the hearts of His own (1 Corinthians 11:2) and a divided heart or duplicity in my motives must be judged in the light of His presence (1 Corinthians 10:22).

There should be no activity in an assembly that is merely a display of flesh. We have enough of the flesh in our ways to mar an assembly, but flesh and fleshly activity must be judged, exposed and rejected. This also means that any mere display of human talent is wrong. There is no room in an assem­bly for entertainment. The attraction to an assembly must be because of "the beauty of the Lord", not fleshly attraction. We confess that in all we do there is sin - "iniquity of the holy things" that needs to be confessed and judged.

4. TO SHOULDER RESPONSIBILITY

There is a balance in Scripture between privileges enjoyed and responsi­bilities accepted. "They continued steadfastly...in the fellowship" (Acts 2:42). It is not possible to do this without assuming responsibility and every believer in an assembly shoulders some of it.

The teaching of Romans 12:6-11 is that all are able to serve. Whatever ministry has been given to us, we should give ourselves to it (v 7). Feet, hands, eyes and ears are necessary in service, but first of all it must be heart work. It is no coincidence that Romans 12 begins with a total yielding to the Lord of our bodies (all we are and have) (v 1) and then moves on to our responsibili­ties to one another (v 4), to the assembly (v 6-11), to the world (v 14-21, the powers that be (Romans 13:1-7) and then to our neighbors (13:8-21).

Assembly responsibility is more than what we do in outward service. We add to the assembly's spiritual weight or detract from it according to our spiri­tual condition. In Revelation 11:1 there is a divine measurement that weighs and measures worshippers. If we come with unexamined hearts or lives we diminish the assembly's worship, weight and power. We wrongly affect our fellow believers as well as bringing chastisement on ourselves (1 Cor 11:27-32). A right spiritual condition can add much fragrance to an assembly?s offer­ings to the Lord.

I have heard it said of a believer, "All he knows to do is to attend meet­ings." This sounds as if attending meetings was somehow a small matter. It is not. No fellowship can be maintained unless it is a wholehearted oneness and this means whenever a meeting of the church is held, I will be present unless attendance is impossible for me (Heb 10:25). The truth about ?not forsaking the assembling of youselves together? is deeper than meeting attendance, but the exhortation to meet around the Lord and recognize Him as the Gathering Center cannot be obeyed without attendance at all the meetings of the assem­bly when it is possible.

5. TO ALLOW SOVEREIGNTY

An assembly is the residence of the Holy Spirit on earth (1 Corinthians 3:16) and He must have sovereign control in it. The tendency to human organization has often stifled the operation of the Spirit. It is possible to quench His work by failing to respond to His leading. This leading is not a vague emotion, but rather it is simple obedience to the Word of God. To be "filled with the Spirit" in Ephesians 5:18 corresponds to allowing "the word of Christ" to "dwell richiy" in us in Colossians 3:16. The Holy Spirit speaks in the words of Holy Scripture and we must allow His authority to rule in an assembly.

The Spirit raises up overseers and fits them to shepherd, feed and guide. The recognition of His work in the government of an assembly is submission to the Spirit. He empowers the preaching of the Gospel. There is no substitute for the awakening and convicting power of the Holy Spirit in His preparation of hearts to receive Christ. God by His Spirit still must command the light to shine out of darkness as He did at the beginning (2 Corinthians 4:6).

To control the function of priesthood is an operation of the Spirit that is unique to assemblies. He guides and sovereignly controls the holy and royal priesthood in supplication and worship. This is a divine arrangement and the order of a meeting where He is allowed to control gives glory and preemi­nence to the Lord Jesus (1 Peter 2:5-11, John 16:14).

6. TO PROVIDE LIBERTY

The Holy Spirit uses the gifts of the evangelists, pastors and teachers and controls their activity (Ephesians 4:8-13; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 1 Corinthians 14:26-36). He also energizes these gifts as they function under His control for the edification, exhortation and comfort of the saints. An assembly that is obedient to the Word of God allows liberty for the function of gifts. The gifts are never all given to one man who functions as pastor, teacher and preacher. In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, the expression "to another" is given gifts is used seven times. Gifts are given ac­cording to divine choice and do not function because of an official position. We should recognize godliness, grace and gift, but not offices. Official posi­tion is not a part of assembly order.

We have much cause to grieve over the lack of gifts and their profitable function. This is the reason for the exhortation, "But covet (desire) earnestly the best gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31). This is an earnest desire that God will raise up gifts in the assembly. It is not a personal coveting of gift for myself. If God has given you a gift, be certain that you "Neglect not the gift that is in thee" (1 Timothy 4:14). A diligent, holy cultivation of gift is necessary. "Stir into flame the gift of God that is in thee" (2 Timothy 1:6 RV). Diligent work is a major part of gift and its function.

When there is liberty for the function of gifts, the little flock will be fed. The wise and faithful steward gives the right portion of food in due season (Luke 12:42). It is tragic when God?s people are not fed (Acts 20:28).

7. TO DISPLAY AUTHORITY

It is a divine and eternal purpose that the church that is the body of Christ should be an object lesson to heavenly hosts of "the manifold wisdom of God" (Ephesians 3:10-11). It is also in the divine purpose that an assembly should be a display to men and angels that God has destined His Son to have eternal and universal Headship over all things (1 Cor 11:2-16). The covered heads of sis­ters in an assembly and their long hair is a fore view of truth that the universe will see in a coming day. God has given Christ to be "Head over all things" (Ephesians 1:22). An assembly exalts Him in a world that rejects Him. We have the privilege of owning in a rebel world, His supreme Headship over all things.

Sisters show submission to the authority of the Lord Jesus with their long hair. They display the great truth of His Headship with their covered heads. The two coverings of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 are to be practiced "when ye are gathered together" (v 16, 18,20,33). The key to understand the coverings is in verse 3, and the spiritual meaning of the coverings is found in verses 4 to 16. There are two coverings as verse so plainly says. The "also" is from the origi­nal text and cannot be deleted without doing damage to the meaning. A veil is put on the head (v 6), long hair is a covering around the head (v 15). Even the position of the coverings is distinct.

Many have asked why Paul does not forbid the women to pray and proph­esy in 1 Corinthians 11, whereas in 14:34, he distinctly forbids them to speak at all in the church. This problem is best explained by the order of the teaching. The subject in chapter 11 is headship; the subject in chapter 14 is edification. Paul deals with each subject in its own order. Were women taking audible part in Corinth? We don?t know, but the degree of disorder that was in the assem­bly does not make this improbable (11:20-22). When a brother is taking au­dible part, he functions in priesthood for the assembly and the offerings to God are the offerings of all the assembly, therefore the coverings of the women are needed.

8. TO UPHOLD SPIRITUALITY

A major theme of 1 Timothy, a church epistle, is personal godliness. An assembly is only as godly and spiritual as those who form it. Paul gives a true test of spirituality in 1 Corinthians 14:37, "If any man among you think him­self to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandment (singular) of the Lord." All of the teach­ing of this church epistle is put under one heading, ?the commandment of the Lord? and spirituality is measured by the degree of obedience to it. Genuine spirituality and true love for the Lord Jesus and my fellow believers is proven by obedience to God and His Word (1 John 5:2).

9. TO CONTRIBUTE TO LIBERALITY

Our offerings to the Lord begin with ourselves. The "fellowship of the ministering to the saints" meant that the Macedonian believers "first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God" (2 Corinthians 8:4-5). But the great pattern for giving is, "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor" (v 9). The offer­ing of ourselves, our songs, our substance and our service is our reasonable service (Romans 12:1).

I have never heard assemblies beg for funds.God?s order is a voluntary offering on the first day of the week (1 Corinthains 16:2).