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April 28, 2013


In this issue: Membership In A Local Church by Robert F. Turner | Sowing And Reaping by Vaughn D. Shofner

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Membership In A Local Church

by Robert F. Turner

You became a member of the church that belongs to Christ when you were baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27). The Lord added you to the number of His followers, metaphorically assembled, when you became obedient to the faith (Acts 2:36-41, 47). As a member of the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23) you accepted certain obligations: to submit to His leadership revealed in His word; and to give yourself freely to the service of your Lord (Rom. 6:17-18; 1 Pet. 3:15). This is your status whether you become a member of a local church or not. But the Scriptures clearly teach you to work and worship with other brethren (Heb. 10:25). Their presence and accessibility, present both privilege and obligation to all who would be faithful to Christ.

Saints who have agreed to function as a team, under overseers and through servants, become a "church" in the local organized sense (Phil. 1:1; 4:15). This "church" is made up of members of the universal body of Christ, yet has some distinctive roles - is not to be confused with the whole body of Christ, nor with individual members thereof. Believers are to care for their widows, "and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed" (1 Tim. 5:16). A distinction is made between a plurality of saints engaged in a spiritual work, and "the church" (Matt. 18:17). Elders are to shepherd the flock "which is among you" - they have local church obligations (1 Pet. 5:1-3; Tit. 1:5; Acts 14:23). Letters to the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 2:3) show clearly the distinctive nature of local churches. In becoming a member of a local church you accept obligations there also. You should not enter into local church membership without understanding the obligations and responsibilities that go with that relationship.

Team Responsibilities

This means you give up some independence to function collectively. There could be no effective team work if each member operated with his own judgment, with no regard for the team effort. A local church must operate with a common mind, i.e., agreement in judgment. The elders lead in forming this judgment, and as a sheep you are to follow your shepherds (1 Thess. 5:12f). For a more current illustration: to play football as a team, each player must act in keeping with the play called by the quarterback or coach.

As much of the work done will be via some medium of exchange (money), you are obligated to bear your share of this load. The collection on the First Day of the week is a means of pooling resources so that team work can be done. When a planned program is announced, and you help finance that program, you are doing some share of that work - pulling with the team. But your participation also means you share in the responsibility for what is done. If you cannot conscientiously support your local church program you had better change it, or join a team you believe is serving the Lord faithfully (Rom. 14:22-23).

Mutual Assistance

Church members sometimes seem to think their presence at service and their contribution to the treasury is the whole of their relationship to the local church. This ignores a most vital reason for collective work. Hebrews 10:25 gives "exhorting one another" (encouraging) as the basic purpose for assembling. We must learn to think of the local church as a mutual encouragement society: brethren banded together to help one another go to heaven. In public worship we "teach and admonish" by our singing (Col. 3:16). We edify one another even as we pray (1 Cor. 14:14-17). The Lord's Supper recalls Christ's sacrifice in our behalf and we "show the Lord's death till he come" (11:23-26). Every member is told: "comfort yourselves together, and edify one another. . . " (1 Thess. 5:11).

And mutual assistance goes far beyond public worship. Fellow Christians enter into a pact to "bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). This involves seeking to correct the errors of one another (v. 1). When you enter into covenant relationship with other brethren, you accept the obligation to correct and encourage others; and agree that they should correct and encourage you. You are to love your brethren, not in word only, but in deed and truth (1 Jn. 3:16-19). True love removes the chips from our shoulders. It suffers long and is kind, envies not, does not parade itself, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not easily provoked, etc. (see 1 Cor. 13). These things need to be remembered when correcting, and when being corrected. If you have missed this aspect of fellowship in a local church, you are depriving others, and yourself, of help every saint needs and has a right to expect.

People Are Different

Yes they are, and joining hands in the Lord's service does not remove all differences. Occupations, hobbies, financial status, regional customs, age, and many other personal differences will dictate friendships and associations. There is no reason to expect these differences to vanish when we become members of the same local church. But if we will concentrate on what we have in common: on our love for the Lord, and desire to do His will; we will not allow personal differences to destroy our more noble purpose. We may, in fact, learn to share with one another to such an extent that our differences only expand the field of our church work. We can help one another "fill out" what is lacking in each of us, so that our differences become our balance and our strength.

A very few, who "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel" (Phil. 1:27), will be a mighty force for good. Remember the church at Smyrna, rich in God's sight (Rev. 2:8-11); and determine to do all possible to make the church where you are a member, a Christ-approved church. ~


Sowing And Reaping

Vaughn D. Shofner

There is a close analogy between the natural world and the spiritual world. They both bear the majestic impress of the same hand. Therefore, the principles and laws of nature present the analogous types and shadows of the spiritual world. These two worlds are two books written by the same finger, and governed and kept by the same intelligence.

One can not pursue a study of plain agriculture without soon finding that chemistry blends into it. Any channel of knowledge, "science", which our minds follow will soon be found to consolidate with another, and we are thus made to understand that one divine idea connects the whole universe in one system of perfect order.

Within the scope of this great principle Christ did much of his teaching. As a man, and unto mankind, yet in perfect harmony with the divine system, he revealed the connection of things, and read the will of the eternal Father in the simplest laws of nature. For instance, to elucidate and emphasize the authoritative decree, "ye cannot serve God and mammon", the information he used was derived from facts lying open to the observation of all. "Behold the fowls of the air," said he, and, "consider the lilies of the field." The great principle was there which reached to the Creator, and explained that God supplies the needs which he has created. He feeds the ravens, he clothes the lilies, he will supply the physical needs and feed the craving spirits of his children; agreeable with the immutable order of his universe.

The inspirational power of Paul revealed this principle which reaches far beyond what is seen, when he declared: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Galatians 6:7,8). This principle of analogy expounds the laws of sowing and reaping; that is, tare seed comes forth as tares, and corn seed comes up corn, and the harvest in both cases is in proportion to the labor, and the quantity committed to the soil. So it is with the spiritual: whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap; not something else, but "that". The proportion holds in kind, and it holds in degree also. "He which soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap bountifully" (II Corinthians 9:6). If we could understand and properly expound that lesson, it seems that we should be saved from the disappointment which comes from extravagant and misapplied expectations.

Gentle reader, according to God's natural and spiritual laws, there are two kinds of good possible to mankind: one for the benefit of our animal being, and the other for the benefit of our spiritual being. Then there are of necessity two kinds of reaping, and the labor necessary for them respectively is of very different kinds. The labor which procures the harvest of the one has absolutely no tendency to secure the harvest of the other.

I state as humbly as possible, I have no desire to depreciate the advantages of this material world, for it is also the handiwork of God. I reckon the comfort, success, freedom from want, in the material way, to be real and good and necessary; but I intend to try to behold the difference between the spiritual and the natural. The labor bestowed upon the goods of this world, although planned to meet the needs of mankind, will not procure one single blessing that is spiritual. God "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust" (Matthew 5:45), and consequently I have no authority to claim the right to more material blessings as a child of God than the evil and unjust person.

On the other hand, kind reader, the seed which is sown for a spiritual harvest has absolutely no tendency to procure temporal well being. For example, "the pure in heart" are promised that they shall "see God." Those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness" are told "they shall be filled." They that mourn are told that they 'shall be comforted," and the believers are told to "repent, and be baptized ... for the remission of sins." Those persons who are "faithful unto death" are promised a "crown of life." It is very difficult to try to read material blessings into these promises. Any harvest demands its own preparation, and that preparation will not produce another sort of harvest. The body and the spirit belong to different existences and that which may be appropriated to one cannot be appropriated to the other.

Weary Christian, let us silence the sentimental wonderings about the unfairness of the distribution of the material things of life. To be sure, the rich man has his good things, and Lazarus has evil things, but this very fact marks the distinction between the two worlds, and shouts of a future life where things will be made fair by the bounties of a different harvest. God made this world better than I could, better than you could, and before we covet the enjoyments others possess, may we count the cost at which they were procured!

Be of courage, gentle reader, from time immemorial the children of God have had closed to them many of the avenues to the riches and pleasures of this world. A body "presented a living sacrifice" has never had the guarantee of bountiful physical blessings. No apostle was promised that he would reap bountifully of this world's goods for sowing to the Spirit, but the apostles were told that they "would be brought before governors and kings for my sake." They were told, "ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake," but to "fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul." They were told to be mindful always of the fact that they could not expect a material harvest for the spiritual sowing they engaged in, but "he that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 10). How can preachers promise physical blessings to those whom they desire to urge to greater activities in spiritual sowing? Whatsoever a man soweth, "that" shall he reap!

And how hard it is today, kind sower, to find a disciple of our Lord who fills the praiseworthy description of the widow indeed (I Timothy 5). However, she did not reap bountifully of this physical world for her diligent sowing to the Spirit, but waited as an indigent saint for that bounteous harvest of eternal life.

Kind friend, a person reaps what he has sown! The harvest of sowing to the Spirit is life eternal. The destiny of all souls, good and bad, is unending life, therefore a spirit may live forever, yet not enter into this promised blessing. When God blesses with eternal life, it is duration of existence, yes, but it is also that heavenly quality of existence which never fluctuates, but is the same unalterably, forever in the life of God; to see him as he is, for those so rewarded shall be like him.

Sowing to the flesh includes the sinful, licentious ways of countless worldlings, to be sure, but one can live by strict moral and civil standards and sow to corruption. The many joys and comforts of this life, honestly and justly procured, if that is the extent of the sowing, will terminate with time. Even the pyramid crumbles into dust at last. The grave to them is not the gate of paradise, but simply the impressive mockery which the pale hand of death writes upon that body for which they lived, and with which all is gone. They reap corruption, for all they have toiled for decays! ~


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