We have been looking at the church and our relationship to it. Two posts ago we looked at what God is doing in this age and how the church is primary in God’s plan. Last post we looked at the natural conclusion that it should be first place in the life of a believer because every believer should be part of the church. In this post there is something we need to look at which is a step further. We may agree that people cannot walk with God apart from the local church. You may agree with me on that part. This doesn’t necessarily come to the conclusion where we need to go. This is what I would like to do and I am going to do it in a thesis. You may not agree at first, but I will try to prove it in the rest of this lesson. I think we need to come to this next step.
Your service to God in the local assembly is your primary obligation in life. Unless we look right at this directly and wrestle with it, we do not get to the point. Let me suggest to you why I think this is true.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Here is the simple statement as a proof. God saved us so we would serve Him. We were created in Christ Jesus unto good works. He planned beforehand that we would engage in them. The purpose of our salvation is to serve God.
“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:7, 11-12, 16).
Lets tie all this together. Here is the proof. God saved and gifted you for the purpose of good works and this is expressed through the local church. God saved us and gifted us for good works and to serve Him. This is not some free floating thing. We didn’t do good works wherever we are or use our gifts wherever we are. The place where God designed us to do this is the local assembly of believers. We are to use what He has given us to His glory to build up the body of Christ. It is designed for purposes in the local church. Therefore, your service to God in the local church is primary in your life because this is why God saved you! He didn’t save you to be a good employee, or good family member. Those are extensions of you being saved. But the text says He saved you for you to engage in His eternal purposes in His church. I am not trying to soft pedal this. We can easily nod our heads to this but we don’t really live this way.
Now lets look at the second proof. A proper relationship to the local assembly is essential to fulfilling all of your other God given responsibilities.
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
Let’s start with the one that gets the most tension with us. Let’s look at the family. Is being a parent a God given responsibility? Yes. Here is the point. How can you raise them up in the Lord apart from the local assembly? You can’t! God’s chief work in this age is the local church and we are to be part of the local church therefore you cannot help your children to grow apart from the local church. They are to be under the teaching of God’s Word, to worship and serve God, etc. This is supposed to be done in the local church! Apart from the local church you cannot do what you are supposed to do. You must teach them to serve in the local church as part of our mandate from God to raise our children. If the church is a sidelight as you are bringing up your children, then you are working against your responsibility to train them in the fear and admonition of the Lord. You serve as a bad example. Your family responsibility as great as they are before God cannot be fulfilled apart from the local church. The church therefore must have its proper place in your life.
Your work must be subservient to your walk with God. You have no requirement to work so hard that your relationship with God personally would suffer. Your work should not undermine your witness for Christ. Your walk and witness for Christ must take priority over your work. How can your work with God then be what it should be apart from the local church? You do not have the walk you should have if you are not functioning in the life of the assembly. If your work starts to work against your time in the local assembly it is damaging your walk with God and your witness for Christ. Our jobs are not over the local assembly and cannot compete with our commitment to the local assembly. We need to recognize this.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:31-32).
Here’s another angle. Let me summarize this. Your marriage is designed by God to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church. The wife submits to the husband as we submit to Christ, the husband loves the wife as Christ loves the church. Let’s take it deeper though. Paul quotes here from Genesis 2 regarding husbands and wives. Before God created marriage he had intended a picture that marriage was to represent. Paul is saying Genesis 2:24 is speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Before God instituted marriage there was something that He wanted to portray through marriage. Which is greater then? The picture or the reality? The reality! If marriage is instituted to picture Christ and the church, therefore the great thing is the reality of Christ’s relationship to the church. Our marriages are not an end to themselves. The goal of marriage was not marriage but to portray the picture of Christ and the church. Therefore your marriage is subject to the great truth of Christ and the church. When we lift our marriage above the reality we miss the point. We are making the means to the goal the goal. It is the means by which we declare Christ’s love of the church.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26).
The call to Christian discipleship clearly places following Christ above all human relationships. This is the reality of it. We know this. We confess this. If we talk about it in its most basic issue. If someone says if they trust Christ someone will be upset with them, we would say you need to turn to Christ. Your parents, your wife, your husband, your children, no one should mean more to you than Jesus Christ. You must in comparison to Christ you consider all others that you would set aside for Christ. This means that our commitment to Christ supersedes all other human relationships. Acts 5:29 says that we must obey God rather than men. Our obedience to Christ must supersede even our obedience to civil government. Someone might say though that this has to do only with our salvation.
“And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27).
He is not just talking about a momentary decision. It is the life of the Christian He is talking about. We have one Lord of our life and it is Christ. He takes precedence and priority over all other relationships. It doesn’t mean we abandon them but that we subordinate them. You cannot be a husband that defies Christ to meet the needs of your wife. You must put your commitment to Christ above all others. It means we have a commission and responsibility from Christ. If we are to follow Christ we have taken from His hands an obligation, i.e. unto good works, therefore we must follow His Great Commission. That cannot be done apart from the local church. If I am a follower of Christ and this is what Christ is doing then I cannot be following Christ faithfully and do my thing over here. He is building His church and we are to be part of that. We are to go and make disciples of all nations. The local church is the pillar and support of the truth! If we are going to follow Christ we cannot do that walking away from where He is going! We must bring all of our human relationships into subservience to that. They must take their proper place below what the will of God is.
“What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none” (1 Corinthians 7:29).
Do not mistake the reason why I look at this text. The principle here is that the primary obligation of any believer is undistracted devotion to the Lord. We are to live for and serve God. That is why we were created and saved. As we pick up responsibilities in life they are legitimate concerns (Paul is not against marriage) but they are responsibilities submitted to our chief and primary purpose. We live in the world but do not make full use of the world. If we are married as believers and can have a marriage that enjoys all the things of the world that unbelievers in the world can enjoy then there is something out of wack! There should be a measurable difference between how our families and marriages operate because we have a higher purpose than those who live for this world! If we know Christ we live for something else! So sure we do things the world does, i.e. we play sports, we enjoy recreation, we remodel the house, but if our whole life becomes preoccupied with these things as if we were an unbeliever then something is wrong! We have lost sight of the fact that we are different! We are not to have a fragmented devotion to God. We are not to fit Him in around our schedule! If we commit more to our families or to our work than to Christ and His church then we are demonstrating we are much more worldly than we realize! Christ and the church is our first commitment.
Let’s clarify some things here. Do not conclude from what I have said that serving God in the local church is never justification for neglecting your other responsibilities. I am not saying do not do well at work. What I am saying is work cannot draw you away from your primary responsibility. You are here to serve Christ and not to work. This is the same about the home. A husbands responsibility is to reflect Christ. A parent’s responsibility to their children is to raise them in the Lord and cannot be done outside of the church. Do not neglect those things. They are brought into focus when we see God’s purpose for us. The purpose of marriage is not to end with a great marriage. Its focus is to portray Christ. The point of raising children is not to raise well adjusted adults but to raise servants of Christ. The point of working is not to make money but it is to carry out God’s purposes in this world. I am not creating a pecking order by throwing out one or the other. We are to do all God gives us to do! When we use family or work or whatever, hobbies, sports, whatever, that stands in the way of us serving God in the local church then we are off course. You have to navigate it! I am not going to tell you how many hours to work or how much sports your kids are to be doing. That’s not my job. What I am telling you though is that if you are out of balance you are making an eternal mistake. You are accepting a small payback now that cuts into eternity. Long after this life is over, what you have done for Christ is what matters. You may be tapping into things which are good and fine and fun now which someday will amount to nothing. And therefore I am not doing you any good service as a shepherd to warn you of this. Your title in your job won’t matter. What size house won’t matter. How many trophies won’t matter. Only what you have done for Christ to carry out His purposes is what will matter. That is why it must be at the centre of our lives.