In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul wrote that the church was not a last-minute idea or an afterthought in God's scheme of redemption but in fact, it was a part of His eternal purpose in Christ (Eph. 3:7-13). But to what end did God include the church in His plans? God planned for His manifold wisdom to be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places through the church. The Lord, in His letters to the seven churches in Asia, said, "I know your works" which shows us that not only does God expect local churches to work, but He is concerned about what works they are doing (Rev. 2:2, 9, 13; 3:1, 8, 15).
How does the church accomplish its role in God's plan? How do the local churches in which you and I work and worship fulfill the great purpose that God intends? What is the work of the church and how can we know for sure?
A Divine Plan For The Church's Work
Many times, there is a temptation to be like the nation of Israel, who looked to the nations around them and asked God for a king (1 Sam. 8:1-19). Today some want to look to other churches round about them to see what work they are doing and how they are doing it as a guide for what the church should be doing. However, the Scriptures show us that sometimes churches can and do err (Rev. 2:5).
Jesus said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'" (Matt. 4:4). Paul wrote, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). These and other passages impress us with the concept that God's will is only known by what He has revealed to us in His word. Therefore, whatever conclusion we come to about the work God intends for the church to do today must come from what has been revealed in the written word of God. We must look to God's word to find the divine plan for the church to accomplish God's purposes.
The Work of The Church Is Edification
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." (Acts 2:42)
In the history of the early church we read of the brethren assembling together to hear and learn God's word. God shows us repeatedly in the New Testament that part of the work of the church is to engage in the edification of its members. Paul wrote, "What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up" (1 Cor. 14:26). In the letter to the Ephesians we read that the church is to "equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12).
This work of edification is the spiritual development of the members of a local church. God planned for various roles in the church to teach and train Christians to accomplish His will (Eph. 4:11). The apostles wrote that this is part of the work of shepherds in the local church (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-2). This is why local churches organize Bible classes in addition to other assemblies. Even when the church worships together, teaching and instruction in God's will is provided to help the brethren grow so they can glorify God together and in their individual lives in preaching, prayer, and in singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). God has told, shown, and implied in His word that the local church is to assemble to edify its members.
The Work of The Church Is Benevolence
"And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need." (Acts 2:44-45)
The early church worked to provide for the needy members among them and in other local churches. Again, we know this is true because God shows the church engaging in this work in Scripture. Luke recorded how the church in Jerusalem received money from its members to provide for its own needy (Acts 4:32-37; 6:1-6). Paul told Timothy to instruct the church in Ephesus to provide for its needy widows (1 Tim. 5:9-16).
Luke also recorded how other churches collected funds to relieve the needy of other churches (Acts 11:27-30). Paul wrote about his part as a courier in taking funds to Jerusalem for the needy saints from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia (Rom. 15:25-26). God even shows us how and when the churches gathered these funds together. Paul told the church at Corinth to take up a collection when they assembled on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2). He had already directed the churches of Galatia to do the same thing. The implication of his instructions is that the churches did this every first day of every week.
When we examine all the passages on this subject we find that God even shows for whom the church is responsible in its work of benevolence. In every instance, we see that it was believers (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35; 6:1; 11:29; Rom. 15:25-26, 31; 1 Cor. 16:1; 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:1, 12). Thus, God has told, shown, and implied in His word that the local church, through the freewill offerings of its own members, is to care for its own needy and is to help relieve the needy saints in other churches as well.
The Work of the Church Is Evangelism
"And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (Acts 2:46-47)
The early church proclaimed the gospel to the lost. The gospel is God's power to save (Rom. 1:16). God purposed to save humanity through the proclamation of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:18-23). This was Christ's commission to the disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). Thus, through the work of edification, we see that local churches equipped their own members to go and teach the lost (Acts 8:4; 11:19-21).
God's inspired word shows us that not only did evangelists work in the local churches but they were also sent out by the churches to preach the gospel (Eph. 4:11; Acts 11:22; 13:1-3). From Paul's letters, we learn that churches engaged in evangelism by directly supporting preachers in their work (Phil. 4:14-16; 2 Cor. 11;8-9). Again, God has told, shown, and implied in His word that the local church is to engage in the work of evangelism by equipping its own members and by supporting evangelists in the preaching of the gospel.
God is the divine architect of the church. The Lord promised to build His church (Matt. 16:18). Whatever work the church engages in, it must be by His authority (Matt. 28:18; Col. 3:17). When we apply Bible authority to the work of the church we find God's word telling, showing, and implying that the local church is to engage in the work of edification, evangelism, and benevolence, not business, recreation, entertainment, politics, or whatever else might seem good to us. As we said before, whatever conclusion we come to about what work God intends for the church to do today must come from what has been revealed in the written word of God (Matt. 4:4; Rom. 10:17). Let us be content with God's purposes for the church and refuse to pervert the work of the church to serve mortal aims and purposes.
- Truth Magazine, July 2017