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Part 6: The Importance of the Local Church

“We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father” (I Thes. 1:2,3).

THREE CROWNING GRACES

If you plan to build a house, it’s often difficult to visualize exactly what it will look like from a set of architectural plans. This gave rise to the “model home” which enabled homebuyers to see the house prior to it being built. Today virtual tours serve the same purpose—they are a multi-dimensional model of how your floor plan is going to be arranged. We also have models in the Scriptures which help to point us in the right direction.

Everywhere the Apostle Paul traveled he sought to evangelize the lost to Christ, with amazing results. But his ministry among those whom he won to Christ didn’t end there; he faithfully taught them the Mystery and formed a local assembly before leaving the city. Paul was a church planter! He understood that the testimony of Grace in the regions beyond was dependent upon those who make up the local assembly. When the apostle came to Thessalonica they received the Word of God “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God” (I Thes. 2:13). Because these saints were so responsive to Paul’s special revelation they are often appealed to as being a model church.

There were three things that typified the church at Thessalonica that should characterize the local church today—faith, hope, and love. If we follow this divine pattern it will bring light and blessing to those who sit under our ministry. This assembly was well known for its work of faith. After they had turned from idols to the true and living God these saints were so grateful they wanted everyone to hear the good news of Christ and Him crucified. They were not ashamed of Paul’s apostleship and message, but had received it as the Word of God. Those at Thessalonica boldly made known Paul’s gospel, so much so that their faith was the subject of conversation as far away as Corinth, Philippi, and beyond (I Thes. 1:6-8).

Another crowning grace that characterized this assembly was the patience of hope. These brethren had received the Word in much affliction; consequently, they found comfort in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our hope (I Tim. 1:1). In Him, they had the hope of eternal life, the hope of the resurrection, the hope of heaven, and the hope of Christ’s soon return, commonly called the Rapture! Having suffered persecution himself, Paul understood better than most the importance of this grace. In fact, it was one of the first things he committed to those who trusted Christ. With hope we can face anything in Christ, even death itself.

Finally the apostle touches on this assembly’s labor of love—as Paul said to the Corinthians, this is the greatest crowning grace of all. In eternity, faith will give way to sight. Hope will give way to reality, for Paul says, “hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (Rom. 8:24,25). Love abides in both time and eternity!

The grace of God had so enriched the saints at Thessalonica that they made a conscious effort to allow the love of God to shine through them. Love enabled them to rise above a condescending attitude, petty jealousies, or the cold shoulder syndrome that plagues many assemblies. These saints loved one another and received the brethren despite their social status or lack of understanding. Love is longsuffering and kind; it is not envious, nor does it boast, or behave itself in a discourteous manner (I Cor. 13:4,5). You received a genuinely warm welcome when you visited the local assembly at Thessalonica.

So then, the three crowning graces that should characterize every assembly are faith, hope, and love. This is God’s standard for the Church today.

ACCOUNTABILITY

“For we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (II Cor. 5:10).

Whatever strata you find yourself ministering at the local assembly, there is accountability in the Lord’s work. This is true within the local assembly itself, but more importantly we must bear in mind that every believer must also appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ to give an account of his actions.

The themes of redemption and judgment are woven throughout the Scriptures. So it is important to rightly divide the Word of truth to ascertain which judgment pertains to us. Since Paul uses the personal pronoun “we” in the above passage and foregoing context, we can safely conclude that he is addressing the members of the Body of Christ. This particular judgment will be a review of the believer’s conduct and service and will take place at the Rapture of the Church. According to I Thessalonians this is a planned meeting that was kept secret since the world began (Rom. 16:25 cf. I Thes. 4:17).

Paul says, “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). The terms “every one” and “himself” clearly indicate that each of us will stand individually before the Lord to give an answer for our behavior. We believe this can only mean that others are going to be present during the course of the examination. Little wonder the Scriptures warn both leaders and those who sit under their ministries accordingly:

“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon” (I Cor. 3:10).

“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17).

While Paul makes frequent references to the Judgment Seat of Christ in both his early and latter epistles, he deals extensively with the subject in the Corinthian letters. This isn’t without rhyme or reason, the apostle wanted the Corinthians to understand the gravity of their ungodly conduct. They seemed to be oblivious to the fact, as many are today in the churches, that someday they are going to stand before the Lord and give an account of their actions.

Some may have even denied this based on the assumption that we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies. Although this is true positionally, the practical outworking of the matter is determined by our present conduct. The Corinthians would one day have to answer for the turmoil they caused in the local assembly, due to their envy, strife, divisions, carnality and immoral lifestyles.

Another area that the Corinthians were lacking was in their giving to the Lord’s work. The apostle reminded them that they abounded in all the supernatural gifts, even love, but they were deficient in the grace of giving. Therefore, he challenges them to “see that ye abound in this grace also” (II Cor. 8:7).

Giving under Grace differs from the former dispensation of the Law. The law of the tithe, while binding under the Mosaic system, has no place whatsoever in the administration of Grace. Israel was primarily an agricultural community; therefore, God only required those who owned livestock or crops to pay one-tenth of their yield. These tithes were paid to the Levites who were the ministers of God (Lev. 27:30-34 cf. Num. 18:20-26). During the harvest, the excess grain was to be placed in the storehouse which adjoined the Temple to meet the needs of the Levites throughout the year, seeing that they did not receive an inheritance of the land. Based on Malachi, many Bible teachers teach what’s known as “storehouse tithing.” In my denominational days we were taught the storehouse was the local church, which is a flagrant misrepresentation of the Scriptures. As Pastor J.C. O’Hair used to say, “Those who spiritualize the Scriptures tell spiritual lies!” We should also point out that there was a difference between the tithe and offerings under the Mosaic system. The offering of the children of Israel was something over and above the normal tithe (Ex. 25:1-3 cf. Mal. 3:8).

Paul teaches us in Romans that we are no longer under the Law but under Grace. Today, believers are to give according to how God has prospered them, which varies from person to person (I Cor. 16:2). Giving under Grace is voluntary not mandatory! While we can never repay the debt that was paid for us at Calvary, the very least we should do is generously support the gospel. If God required ten percent under the Law, does not grace grant us the opportunity to give even more, as God has prospered us? We have freely received all things from God; therefore, we are to freely give to the Lord’s work. God loves a cheerful giver who gives with the proper attitude, not grudgingly or out of necessity, for this would only serve to bring loss at the Bema Seat. When a need is made known the cheerful giver is usually one of the first to respond! (II Cor. 8:7).

Today, our first responsibility is to support the local assembly where the gospel of the grace of God is proclaimed. As Paul says, “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel [of the grace of God] should live of the gospel” (I Cor. 9:14). We are accountable before God to support the message that has brought us into a fuller understanding of His will. We firmly believe that those who have received an understanding of Paul’s apostleship and message have a responsibility to support those who proclaim it. If we who love the grace of God don’t support it, who will? Beloved ones, you are mistaken if you think the Acts 2 brethren are going help us; they openly oppose us!

As you are probably aware, David Livingston almost single-handedly opened the door to missionary work in Africa. The story is told that on one of his return visits to England he was approached by an elderly woman who inquired, “Mr. Livingston, aren’t you in danger there in the jungle?” He answered, “I am in danger all the time.” “Would it help you if you had a servant at your side 24-hours a day?” He replied, “Most certainly!”

The elderly woman returned home that evening to get her savings and gave it to Dr. Livingston. When Dr. Livingston returned to Africa a lion attacked him in the bush and would have killed him had it not been for the servant by his side who shot the beast, saving his life. What joy this brought to this dear old saint—she had abounded in every good work!

It is our desire that you also might abound in every good work by faithfully supporting Paul’s gospel financially. Whether you support the message of grace at the local Grace assembly you attend or through a national Grace organization such as the Berean Bible Society, the goal is the same: “to make all men see what is the fellowship of the Mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3:9).

HAVE WE LIVED UP TO GOD’S EXPECTATIONS?

“For we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences” (II Cor. 5:10,11).

As the opening phrase implies, Christ will be our Judge. According to John 5:27 the Father has placed all judgment into the hands of His dear Son. He is the perfect Judge! Even though the Mystery was still a secret when the events of John Chapter five occurred, the principle of Christ as Judge certainly applies during the age of Grace.

The apostle says in Colossians 2:9, “In Him [i.e. Christ] dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” As God, He knows our innermost thoughts and motives and the intent of the heart. On the other hand, He took upon Himself the form of a human servant and dwelt among us. No one will be able to stand before Him at that day and say, “Lord you just don’t understand!” Oh, but He does, my dear friend. Christ suffered in all points as we, yet without sin. As Isaiah said, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”

The Greek word for Judgment Seat here is Bema. In biblical times it was a raised platform with ascending steps where rulers handed down decisions (Acts 18:12-16). It was also the place where the judges presided over the Greek games. From this vantage point they could see the entire field of events. To be summoned to the Bema meant one of two things; either the participant was disqualified for disobeying the rules or rewarded with a garland for winning a particular event.

When we appear with Him in glory, Christ will hold a position of exaltation. As the righteous Judge, He will be clothed in glory, honor and majesty as we stand before Him. Unlike the Great White Throne, condemnation is not the issue at this judgment. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Since the sin question was answered for the believer at Calvary, this examination has to do with whether or not we have devoted our life to Christ and faithfully served Him.

There has been an ongoing debate if the phrase “the things done in his body” is speaking of the believer’s body or the Body of Christ. It seems clear that Paul has the individual believer in mind. The original dia tou somatos has the idea of the things done through our body. In other words, there is a moral accountability insofar as our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. We are, therefore, accountable for its deeds, whether they are good or of no value. For example, we believe Paul’s instructions to the Colossians capture the moral responsibilities of slaves and masters, which translates into employees and employers today.

“Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye service, as men pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons” (Col. 3:22-25).

In the final assessment, the Lord is going to repay both employees and employers for the good they have done and whatever wrongs they may have committed. Every believer in Christ can expect to receive a reward for good conduct or loss for misconduct. Little wonder Paul adds: “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.”

While those at the local assembly at Corinth lived as if there was no tomorrow, Paul cautions them regarding the terror of the Lord. Some have concluded that the apostle is now turning his attention to the unsaved, but this interpretation does a great injustice to the context in which the passage is set. The terror or fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. But in what sense should the believer fear the Lord? Consider for a moment standing before the Lord with perfect recall of every idle word, thought and deed. We should fear the possible devastating consequences of a misspent life, not to mention the inspection itself.

With this in mind, Paul sought to persuade men as to the gravity of the occasion. Of what did the apostle seek to convince men? Since the behavior of the Corinthians left much to be desired, Paul is passionately trying to persuade them to walk worthy of their calling. This beckons the question, are we living up to God’s expectations in the local assembly in which we serve? Paul could confidently say, “But we are made manifest unto God.” You see, Paul had a clear conscience concerning his actions among them. Thus, he desired that his manner of life before the Lord would be manifested in his hearers’ consciences so that they, too, would be to the praise of His glory at that day.