MY PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
Let me begin this article by asking a question: Do you feel any personal responsibility to the congregation that you are a member of? Do you feel any responsibility to contribute to the work of that congregation? I don't mean just giving money on the first day of the week, but actually being involved and active in the work of your home congregation.
Paul wrote, "So then each of us shall give account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12). The Bible also says, "For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Ecclesiastes 9:10). These passages teach that we will each, as individuals, stand before God and give an account of our lives. I will give account of how I used my talents and abilities in fulfilling my personal responsibility in the church.
Our individual responsibility in the church might be compared to a clock: In order for a clock to keep good time each part, however small, must do its work and do it well. If one part stops working, it will slow the clock down or stop it altogether. Each part must do it's work and it's own work.
This simply illustrates that each member of the Lord's body has work to do in the church -- in the local congregation they are members of. We cannot expect others to do the work that we should be doing. We cannot expect others to do our work for us. We cannot expect the work of the church to go smoothly and be successful if we do not do our part.
The Lord has not given us all the same talents and abilities, but He has given us all talents and abilities. In Matthew 25:14-15 Jesus said, "For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey." Notice that Jesus says that talents were given "to each according to his own ability." Some may have more talents than others, but we must each use the talents we have to serve Christ. Just as in the case of the one talent man (Matthew 25:14-29), if we hide our talent (fail to use it) we will be lost. (See The Parable of the Talents).
The Bible uses several figures to illustrate this great personal responsibility we have in the church. Let us study them together at this time.
THE CHURCH IS COMPARED TO A HOUSE
The apostle Peter wrote, "...you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ". Notice that Peter refers to members of the church as "a spiritual house." Paul defines this spiritual house by saying, "These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, 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" (1 Timothy 3:15). Paul says the spiritual house is the church. We as individual Christians are each one a living stone in this spiritual house. Together we make up or compose the spiritual house which is the church. We are built up to support the whole structure.
I cannot get by on the fact that other stones fit into their places and do their work well in supporting the building. I have responsibilities -- I must support my part of the building or do my work in the church. Now we don't expect a house to stand for very long if you start taking a brick out here and a brick out there. Each time you take a brick out, the overall structure gets weaker. If you take enough bricks out, the structure is going to fall.
The same thing is true of the church. When an individual member fails in his responsibilities in using his talents and abilities, it weakens the church. If enough members fail, the church will fail in carrying out it's mission as set forth by Jesus Christ.
Peter also shows that it's not just up to one group to be involved in the work of the church. He says that members are "a holy priesthood," and as such each individual is a priest and is to be offering up spiritual sacrifices. How different this is from the so-called clergy in denominationalism who the people expect to offer up the spiritual sacrifices for them. Unfortunately, it is true that in many congregations of the Lord's church, everything is left up to the preacher. If the preacher doesn't do it, it doesn't get done. But there is no special group in the church of Christ. Each member is a priest.
The spiritual sacrifices referred to include worship, but they are not limited to worship. "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Hebrews 13:15-16). The Hebrew writer here teaches that doing good and sharing the things we have are sacrifices that God is well pleased with. Yes, honoring God in worship is a sacrifice that God is pleased with, but we must also honor Him by doing good to all people as we have opportunity (Galatians 6:10)
The lesson is this: don't fail to take your place in the house of God. Don't fail to do your part in supporting the building. Use your talents and abilities in service to God. Take your place, fulfill your responsibilities working together with all the other stones in the building and the church will stand.
THE CHURCH IS COMPARED TO AN ARMY
Paul often compared the church to an army. In 1 Timothy 1:18 he encouraged Timothy to "wage the good warfare," In chapter 6 and verse 12 he tells him to "Fight the good fight for the faith" (HCSB). In Ephesians 6:10-18, he speaks of the armor that a Christian must put on as a part of his life.
The church is compared to an army because we are in spiritual warfare with Satan. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). We are not fighting our fellow man, but the evil agents of Satan. Our commander-in-chief is Jesus our Lord. He has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). His orders are strict and demanding. Our allegiance cannot be divided between our enemy and our commander, because Christ demands total allegiance. According to Ephesians 6:10-18, the weapons that we must wield in order to defeat Satan are the gospel, the faith, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.
But as in all armies, there are always those who desert the ranks. Paul wrote, "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all" (1 Thessalonians 5:14). The word "unruly" was a military term that meant disorderly, one who leaves or deserts the ranks or deserts his post. The fact that we are admonished to warn the unruly, to warn against deserting the army of Christ shows that it is possible for a Christian to do so. Paul wrote, "You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier" (2 Timothy 2:3-4). A soldier is to be totally dedicated to his work. He does not get entangled in the affairs of his life. He depends on his king or his nation to support him. He serves so that he may please him who has chosen him to be a soldier. This is the picture of a faithful Christian. One who will not desert the ranks of Christ's army. One who will suffer hardship. One who will not become entangled in the affairs of this life. One who is faithful to his responsibilities no matter what.
Brethren, let's not desert the army of Christ! Let us remember Paul's admonition, "This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us" (2 Timothy 2:11-12). My friend, on the day you stand before Jesus do you want Him to deny you? Certainly not! You want to live with Him! But we cannot do that unless we endure -- unless we fulfill our responsibilities to Him as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
THE CHURCH IS COMPARED TO A BRIDE
"For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:2-3). Paul, through preaching the gospel, had betrothed the Corinthians to one husband -- Christ. He wanted to be able to present the Corinthian congregation as a chaste (pure) virgin to Christ. But he was fearful that just as Satan had deceived Eve that the Corinthian's might have been corrupted, and thus could not have been presented to Christ as a chaste bride.
Paul again uses this figure in Ephesians 5:25-27 where he wrote, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish." Christ wants His church to remain holy and spiritual pure. The only way the church can be such is for each individual member to realize his personal responsibility in this regard. Just as we would be deeply hurt if our wife or husband became unfaithful to us, so also Christ is deeply hurt when we become spiritually unfaithful to Him.
Our individual responsibility is to be faithful to the bridegroom.
THE CHURCH IS COMPARED TO THE HUMAN BODY
Paul wrote, "Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually" (1 Corinthians 12:27). Just as there are many parts in the human body functioning in different ways, so the church has many individual members all working together for the good of the body. Paul wrote in verse 12, "For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ." Christ's body (the church) is like the human body, in the sense that it is one body, yet made up of many individual members. In verse 14 he said, "For in fact the body is not one member but many." Just as the human body is made up of many members, so also is the church. "But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it" (1 Corinthians 12:24-26). Just as the human body gets its direction from the head, the church gets its direction from its head -- Jesus. Christ directs that there be no schism (division) in the body. God has composed or mixed or blended the body together in order to accomplish the overall good of the body. Division within the body of Christ indicates that some member is not submitting to the directions of the head. Within the body or between the individual members of the body there is to be a sympathetic concern for each member. We are to be so close that when one member suffers we all suffer. When one is honored, we all rejoice with the one who is honored.
When a member of the human body becomes diseased and stops doings its part all the body suffers. When a member of the church becomes diseased (with sin) and stops doing his part, then the whole church suffers. When any part of the physical body loses blood, the rest of the body will deprive itself of blood in order to share with that part that is losing it. This love for the disabled or diseased part causes members of the spiritual body (the church) to seek to restore the member that becomes unfaithful.
It could be at some point that the condition of a member of the physical body becomes so diseased that it is beyond cure and unless removed will kill the whole body. So it is with the spiritual body. Sometimes a member of the body is so spiritually corrupt that it influences other members to become unfaithful. If this takes place, and the erring member cannot be restored to spiritual health, it must be removed. Paul taught this in the matter of the man who was guilty of fornication in the congregation at Corinth. He told the Corinthians, "Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?" (1 Corinthians 5:6). The leaven is sin. Paul realized that if they allowed the unrepentant sinner to stay in the congregation then his influence would soon spread and infect the whole body. So he says, "Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened" (verse 7). This is why Paul wrote, "But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us" (2 Thessalonians 3:6). It is a terrible thing for a member to have to be severed from the physical body. It is far more terrible for a spiritual member (a church member) to be severed from the body of Christ (the church). However, sometimes it is necessary in both cases in order to save the rest of the body.
The lessons from these comparisons should be clear. Just as stones in a house we must do our part to support the work of the church. We must never be guilty of becoming a deserter from the army of Christ. We must never become unfaithful to Christ the church's bridegroom and we must all work together under the direction of our head for the good of the body of Christ. (Suggested reading: The Church that Jesus Built; The One Church)