As I’ve mentioned a few times – most recently in my post yesterday “” – we’re currently studying through the book of Romans together with the church. A few weeks ago, we read through the entire book together – which was extremely rewarding, by the way. Then, last Sunday, we read, studied, and discussed the first few verses of the first chapter.
Of course, as we talked about Sunday, it’s difficult to break apart a book like this into little chunks. The book is a whole entity and should be considered as a whole. When we break it up, we often miss what the author is saying. But, it took us over an hour to read through the letter, and it would take several hours – perhaps several days – to talk about meaning and application and to discuss how God would have us respond to this letter.
So, for better or for worse, we have to break it up into chunks that we can read and discuss in 1 – 1 1/2 hours. (Yes, that’s usually how long we spend working through various parts of Scripture. Of course, it’s not one person talking for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, but that’s for a different post.) And, we try to keep the whole letter in mind while discussing various parts of it.
Last Sunday, we ran across this passage that is quickly becoming one of my favorites:
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:11-12 ESV)
Now, there is so much that could be said about this short passage. But, consider this…
Paul had never been to Rome. In fact, in the very next sentence, he says that he had tried to visit them before but had been “prevented.” He knew a few Christians in Rome – obvious from chapter 16. But, for the most part, he did not know the Roman believers.
So, while he was looking forward to coming to Rome for many reasons – for example, as a base to continue to proclaim the gospel in Spain (Romans 15:24,28) – he was also looking forward to strengthening the faith of the Roman believers. He knew that God would use him to build them up and encourage them as they follow Jesus.
But, that’s no all. And, to me, this is the extremely exciting part. Even though Paul did not know many of the Romans, he knew that they would be able to strengthen and encourage him as well!
How did Paul know that his Roman brothers and sisters in Christ would be able to strengthen his faith?
1) He knew that God dwelled in them through his Holy Spirit.
2) He knew that those Roman believers would have opportunities to build him up.
Those two things must go together in order for the Romans to be able to strengthen Paul and for Paul to be able to encourage them.
I wonder what would happen if we expected God to work through us whenever we gathered with others in order to strengthen them in the faith? I wonder what would happen if (at the same time) we also expected God to work through our brothers and sisters in order to strengthen us in the faith whenever we were with them?
For me, I think this should be our attitude whenever we are with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
As I’m going through some of my research for my dissertation, I occasionally run across a quote that puzzles me. One of those is by the famous theologian and prolific writer John Frame. Frame often writes about worship, including the book Worship in Spirit and Truth which I include as part of the research for my dissertation. (By the way, for those who don’t know – and who care – the title of my dissertation is “Mutual Edification as the Purpose of the Assembled Church in the New Testament: A Study in Biblical Theology.”)
In his book, Frame comes to the same conclusion regarding the New Testament evidence as me. At one point, he writes:
Is the Christian meeting a “worship service”? Some have said no, on the ground that in the New Testament all of life is worship. It is true that the New Testament does not describe the early Christians as meeting for “worship.” Nor does the New Testament typically use the Old Testament language of sacrifice and priesthood to describe the Christian meeting as such. Much of the New Testament teaching about the meeting has a horizontal focus: the importance of showing love for one another in the meetings (1 Cor. 11–14), the importance of education (1 Cor. 14:26; Heb. 10:24–25). (pg 31)
Did you catch that? According to Frame, the authors of the New Testament do not use worship terminology to describe the times when believers gather together. They do not use the language of sacrifice or priesthood either, terminology often used in the Old Testament. Instead, again according to Frame, the authors of the New Testament – when writing about the assembled church – focused on “showing love for one another” and “the importance of edification.”
Yes, exactly. Again, that’s the same conclusion that I’ve reached through studying the New Testament.
Not only that, but Frame and I also agree when it comes to using “worship” terminology to refer to the gathering of the saints:
Traditionally, Christians have called it [the Christian meeting] ‘worship,’ having in mind a sense of the term that is analogous to its use in the temple setting. This use of the worship vocabulary is somewhat dangerous, for it may lead us to forget the vast differences that exist between Old Testament worship and the New Testament meeting. (pg 32)
Did you catch that also? Frame says that it’s dangerous for Christians to use “worship” terminology to refer to the times that we gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Why? Because it confuses “the vast differences that exist between Old Testament worship and the New Testament meeting.”
Yes, exactly. Again, that’s the same conclusion that I’ve reached through studying the New Testament.
So, what’s the problem? Well, while we agree about the New Testament evidence concerning the church meeting, Frame and I do not come to the same conclusion regarding our application of this evidence.
Therefore, it is not wrong to describe the Christian meeting as, in one sense, a worship service. To say this, however, is not to say that there is a sharp distinction between what we do in the meeting and what we do outside of it. (pg 34)
So, Frame concludes, “Go ahead and call it a ‘worship service’ and describe what you do as worship – even though the New Testament authors did not refer to the gathering of the saints in worship terminology and even though using worship terminology is dangerous and even though there is no distinction between our worship when we are together and our worship when we are not together.”
Honestly, it just doesn’t make sense to me.
There are people among the church who travel around the world, following the leading of the Holy Spirit, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, and serving others in God’s name. They work tirelessly for the kingdom of God, pouring themselves out like an offering, trusting God alone for their strength and for the outcome of any of their service. I thank God for these brothers and sisters in Christ. They are important and necessary for the body of Christ to build itself up in love.
There are people among the church who never travel more than a few miles from their home. They follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, and serve others in God’s name. They work tirelessly for the kingdom of God, pouring themselves out like an offering, trusting God alone for their strength and for the outcome of any of their service. I thank God for these brothers and sisters in Christ. They are important and necessary for the body of Christ to build itself up in love.
There are people among the church who can speak or write eloquently, putting together a logical argument that can encourage others toward faith and unity and maturity in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit uses their words to teach and admonish and correct and exhort their brothers and sisters in Christ in a way that honors God and builds up their hearers or readers. I thank God for these brothers and sisters in Christ. They are important and necessary for the body of Christ to build itself up in love.
There are people among the church who cannot speak or write eloquently, but they live in a manner that encourages others toward faith and unity and maturity in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit uses their actions to teach and admonish and correct and exhort their brothers and sisters in Christ in a way that honors God and builds up those who observe their example. I thank God for these brothers and sisters in Christ. They are important and necessary for the body of Christ to build itself up in love.
There are people among the church who have been given a large amount of money and other resources. They allow the Holy Spirit complete use of their enormous finances to provide for the needs of others – to help the homeless and hungry and prisoners and sick in Jesus’ name. They often give in God’s name even when the have to go without themselves. I thank God for these brothers and sisters in Christ. They are important and necessary for the body of Christ to build itself up in love.
There are people among the church who have very little money or other resources. They allow the Holy Spirit complete use of their meager finances to provide for the needs of others – to help the homeless and hungry and prisoners and sick in Jesus’ name. They often give in God’s name even when the have to go without themselves. I thank God for these brothers and sisters in Christ. They are important and necessary for the body of Christ to build itself up in love.
Perhaps you see yourself in one of the descriptions above. I thank God for you. You are important and necessary for the growth of the body. Without you and what God can do through you, the body of Christ would not be able to grow in love and faith and maturity as God desires.
Perhaps you do not see yourself in one of the descriptions above. I thank God for you. You are important and necessary for the growth of the body. Without you and what God can do through you, the body of Christ would not be able to grow in love and faith and maturity as God desires.
You are important to God. You are important to the church of Jesus Christ. And, you are important to me.
Ok, so the title of this post is extremely “tongue-in-cheek.” I have nothing against churches gathering in homes. In fact, I think it would be beneficial for many Christians to gathering in homes. If I were backed into a corner, I would tell you that I prefer to gather with my brothers and sisters regularly in homes.
My good friend Eric at “A Pilgrim’s Progress” wrote a post recently called “Why I Am A House Church Proponent.” His post is a very kind and very well-written to a post I wrote a little over a year ago called “Why I’m not a house church proponent.”
Eric gives the following reasons for being a “house church” proponent:
- House church follows the most common biblical pattern.
- House church is inexpensive.
- House church offers a relational atmosphere.
- House church keeps numbers low.
- House church can be rotational in nature.
- House church promotes the priesthood of all believers.
(If you haven’t yet, please take the time to read Eric’s post. It’s not very long, and he explains each of his points above very well.)
And, in fact, I agree with his points. Gathering in homes with other believers (as opposed to gathering in dedicated buildings or even in rented spaces) can promote the things that Eric lists. And, those are good things.
The problem is, meeting in homes does not guarantee those things… especially the most important aspects of gathering relationally (#3) and seeing everyone live out the priesthood of all believers (#6).
In fact, in a comment on Eric’s post, someone named Seth left this comment to me:
Alan, you said “meeting in homes does not guarantee that we are meeting for the right reasons.” I agree with you. But how do we overcome that mentality of meeting for the wrong reason? What is the cure then? I’ve been in numerous house churches where it is basically an institutional church stuffed into a home. Same issue. Been wondering how to break out of that rut. You have any ideas?
Yes, unfortunately, I also know of many house churches which are “basically an institutional church stuffed into a home.” In fact, in our area, the most hierarchical, authoritarian leader who I know is part of a house church.
So, I greatly agree with Eric (and others) that meeting in homes can be beneficial for the church. I agree that for a group of Christians desiring to meet to edify one another, gathering in a house can promote that kind of mutual discipleship.
However, for a group of believers who do not understand their roles and responsibilities in building up each other in faith, unity, and service in Jesus Christ, then moving their meeting to a home will not help, and might actually hurt.
So, for me, I’d much rather see a church gathering in a dedicated building but learning to meet for mutual edification, than a group meeting in a home without mutual edification.
Two years ago, I wrote a post called “Salvation as the motivation for edification.” The post was triggered by some thoughts while reading 1 Thessalonians, specifically 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11. And those thoughts and that post resulted in a series on the topic of edification. Edification is so important for the body of Christ; and it can never be carried out through the work of one person or even through the work of a small group of people – regardless of how spiritual or mature that person (or those people) may be. Interestingly, in this passage, we find that edification is motivated by our salvation in Jesus Christ.
Salvation as the motivation for edification
This week, I read through 1 Thessalonians. The following passage jumped out at me:
For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 ESV)
Paul begins by reminding the Christians in Thessaloniki that they (and Paul and his friends and us) have been destined for salvation through Jesus Christ. He says that Jesus died “on our behalf” so that we can live with him both now and after we die. (Eternal life begins now, not after we die.)
This should give them hope and peace because they are not “destined for wrath.” Of course, Paul has already told them some of the implications of their salvation and their new life in Christ (see 1 Thessalonians 5:1-8 for example).
Next, Paul gives a command that follows from his previous statement. You could almost say it like this, “Because God has destined us for salvation, we should encourage one another and build up one another.” Thus, mutual encouragement and mutual edification are motivated by our mutual salvation.
If Paul is correct, then our salvation in Jesus Christ should urge us toward caring for our brothers and sisters in Christ with a desire to see them grow in maturity both in their relationship with Jesus Christ and in their common identity and unity with one another (Ephesians 4:13).
This passage alone is a good indication that we can’t separation our understanding of soteriology (our understanding of salvation) from our ecclesiology (our understanding of the church). In fact, if we continued to study various passages of Scripture like this, we would find that we cannot separate our understanding of the church from our theology proper (understanding of God), our Christology (understanding of Jesus Christ), our eschatology (understanding of the last days), and any other doctrine. They are all interrelated and interconnected.
Paul does not simply tell the Thessalonians to encourage and edify one another, he gives specific examples. He starts by reminding the people to respect those who labor tirelessly among them, who lead them, and who admonish them. They are to hold them in high esteem, love them, and live in peace with them (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
But, Paul doesn’t stop there, and encouragement and edification doesn’t stop with the work of their leaders. Instead, Paul tells the Thessalonians that they themselves are responsible to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, [and] be patient with all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14 ESV). And, the commands continue from there.
These commands are not just good ideas. They are not just the instructions of a mature believer and an apostle.
We are to encourage and edify one another in this manner as a response to our mutual salvation through Jesus Christ.
Some Thoughts on Mutual Edification:
Typically, when we gather together on Sunday mornings with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a plan to study through a certain section of Scripture together. We usually discuss an entire book together; so each week we know which chapter we’ll be studying that week. (When we gather together at other times during the week, we rarely have that same kind of plan.)
For the last few weeks, we’ve decided not to study through a book. We’re not setting that aside completely, because it has been very valuable for us. (In fact, we plan to start studying another book of Scripture together in a couple of weeks.) But, for now, we’re not discussing a particular passage of Scripture together.
However, when we came together last Sunday, God definitely had an agenda for us… but not an agenda that any of us planned. It turned out that as we asked for prayer for people whom God had brought into our lives over the last few weeks, a pattern emerged. We were all asking for prayer for people at different places in their walk with Christ – some of them were not following Jesus at all – and God was using us in different ways in the lives of these people.
We began to talk about how God was showing us how important it was for us to live intentionally as those he had sent into the world. Yes, it’s very important that we gather together and build each other up (the point of this blog, by the way). But, the “gathering up” suggests dispersal, and the “building up” suggests that we’re being prepared for something. In fact, we’re seeing more and more that God is sending us out to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and to help others follow him with us. (When I say, “With us,” I don’t necessarily mean meeting with us on Sundays or at other times. I mean we are helping others follow Jesus as we follow him also.)
Someone mentioned a neighbor. Someone else talked about a coworker. Someone met a person in the grocery store. There were different people at different points in their lives and at different locations.
At one point while we were talking, one of our sisters described how God had brought a young man across her path. She was with some friends when this guy made a comment about God. She started talking with him, and eventually the young man started asking her questions. This happened over the course of several weeks. After not seeing each other for a few weeks, the next time she saw him, the young man continued the conversation by asking questions about what they had talked about previously.
Our sister asked the church some questions about talking with him. She wanted wisdom for how to answer his questions, and how to approach him with the gospel. She expressed her desire to see him walk with Jesus, and at the same time expressed her frustration with not being able to make him understand. It was a great time of building up our sister and praying for her and the young man.
By the way, this young lady is 13 years old, and these conversations have taken place in a public school.
Like I said, I’m excited about what God is doing in our group of brothers and sisters in Christ, and I’m excited about what God is doing through us as well… from the oldest to the youngest. I’m also glad that our young sister felt comfortable enough to ask questions and seek wisdom from the church as we gathered together.
She was a great example and a great reminder that we are to live as those who are sent by God wherever we are and whatever we do.
Last week and the beginning of this week, I wrote a series called “To equip the saints for the work of ministry.” The point of that series was to consider how variously gifted individuals might prepare Jesus’ followers to do the hard work of serving others. But, this entire series was based on an important premise.
That premise is that God works through all of his children in various ways to build them all up in unity, faith, and maturity (edification). In other words, without mutual service, the equipping that Paul mentioned in Ephesians 4:12 is impossible. Without mutual service, the church will not be built up in unity, faith, and maturity the the level that we could be.
I’ve been excited recently to read several other posts (and series even) that are focused on this same topic and related topics.
For example, Jim at “Crossroad Junction” wrote a series on the topic of “Ekklesia and Diverse Gifts,” and he touched on the importance of mutuality in his post “The Imperative of Participation.” Here’s an excerpt from his great post:
Time and again Scripture exhorts us to avoid passivity. As such, God intends for our meetings to be incubators where we identify, develop and learn to use our gifts for our mutual growth and edification.
That’s because God’s gifts are not given for purely personal or individualistic purposes. Rather, when we meet we should be ministering to each other, each according to our unique gifts. Using our gifts within the church, in turn, allows us to become a gift – to each other, the world and, most importantly, to Jesus.
As Jim explains, mutual service and participation in each other’s life (even and especially when we gather together) is an imperative (command) and works against a natural tendency toward passivity.
Similarly, Eric from “A Pilgrim’s Progress” deals with this issue in his post “Priesthood and Reciprocity.” But, Eric looks at mutual service from a different (but just as necessary) perspective. Here’s a snippet from his post:
There is a tendency (and I’m not sure why this exists) among some Christians to be always serving but not receiving it. If you ask them if they need help, they almost always say no. I think they do this because they don’t want to cause any work for anyone else; therefore, their motives seem pure. However, in doing this they actually stunt the growth of their brothers and sisters. This is because they are keeping them from serving.
The one-anothers have a reciprocal nature. We all grow up together in Christ as we serve one another. We help others grow by one anothering together. This involves both giving and receiving. If we only focus on the giving, we end up inadvertently hurting both ourselves and others.
Eric’s is absolutely right… Mutual service means that we must be active (not passive) in serving others, and it also means that we must be willing to receive (even welcome) the service of others.
But, if we are serving one another, another question pops up…
I think that leaders are important to the body of Christ, but not for the reasons that are usually presented. I’ll leave my answer to Miguel’s question for later, but for now, I’ll leave this post with this question for you…
What are some issues that keep the brothers and sisters in Christ who you know from mutually serving one another?
The title of this blog post is the subtitle of a blog that I’ve recently started reading and enjoying. The blog is called “Synerchomai,” and it’s published by Tim, who often reads and comments here.
If you’ve been around my blog for even a short time, you know that I focus on followers of Jesus gathering together in order to build up one another. So, I was very interested to read Tim’s blog as well.
In fact, like I said earlier, I’m really enjoying his post. They do not come from theory or idealism, but from the real world of gathering together with brothers and sisters in Christ.
Here are a few of Tim’s posts that I’ve enjoyed the most:
- Simple Evangelism Lesson, and a Question
- Why Study Church?
- Does it Annoy God when I don’t Sing during Worship?
- Why I Can’t Chill Out Over Leadership
- Organic Church is not Always Fun: Dealing with Issues
I love the fact that Tim interacts with other bloggers and other blog posts, and I love that Tim writes about real world issues and problems. So far, he’s written about evangelism, singing, leading, children, and many other topics… and not just the idealistic principles behind these, but the blood-and-guts, down-in-the-mud true life version.
I hope you enjoy Tim’s blog as much as I have.
As I mentioned in my post “To equip the saints for the work of ministry,” for the last several posts I’ve been considering the work of the gifted individuals listed by Paul in Ephesians 4:11 in equipping Jesus’ followers for doing the hard work of serving others. Remember, in Ephesians 4:12, Paul wrote that this is one of the reasons that Jesus gave these spiritual gifted people. I’ve already written about some ways that some of those spiritually gifted people can equip the saints for the work of ministry: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers.
So, since I’ve covered apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers, what’s this post about? Well, this post is about everyone else. Now, some people think that all possible spiritual giftings are variations of the ones listed in Ephesians 4:11. And, that might be true. However, there are many, many followers of Jesus who – for various reasons – do not recognize themselves as apostles, prophets, evangelists, or shepherds and teachers.
What about these brothers and sisters in Christ? Can they also prepare their brothers and sisters in Christ to do the hard work of serving others?
Yes, I think so.
But, I don’t think it’s necessary to figure out what spiritual gift you have in order to begin preparing others. Don’t try to find your place. Simple live and serve where you are and in the circumstances you’re in.
What am I talking about?
Do you know of people who have physical needs? Then, as you give to help them, also prepare your brothers and sisters to be givers as well. Do you know people who need to be served? As you serve them, equip other followers of Jesus to serve as well. Do you know people who are discouraged? While you are encouraging them, prepare other saints to serve them as well.
The most obvious scriptural examples of this idea is found in the “one another” passages. It’s not only the teachers who are told to “teach others,” but it’s all believers who are told to “teach one another.” It’s not just the servants who are instructed to “serve others;” all followers of Jesus are exhorted to “serve one another.” The spiritually gifted exhorters are not the only ones who are told to encourage others. Instead, all believers are to “encourage one another.”
Has God given you opportunities to influence others for the kingdom of God? If so, use those opportunities to equip others also. This is possible if the opportunities include giving or prophesying or serving or evangelizing or encouraging or shepherding or helping or teaching… in fact, it’s possible to equip others in many, many different ways.
And, not only is it possible… it’s necessary and important. We need to provide opportunities for God to work through us by his Holy Spirit to equip our brothers and sisters in Christ (and to BE equipped by them) so that we can all build up one another toward unity and maturity and faith in Jesus Christ.
Series: To Equip the Saints for the Work of Ministry
As I mentioned in my post “To equip the saints for the work of ministry,” for the next several posts I’m going to consider the work of the gifted individuals listed by Paul in Ephesians 4:11 in equipping Jesus’ followers for doing the hard work of serving others. Remember, in Ephesians 4:12, Paul wrote that this is one of the reasons that Jesus gave these spiritual gifted people. I’ve already written about some ways that some of those spiritually gifted people can equip the saints for the work of ministry: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds.
So, in this post, I’m going to consider the fifth and final gifted group in the list: How do teachers equip believers for the work of serving others?
Of course, as I said for apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds, teachers (and any other follower of Jesus Christ) can build up and encourage their brothers and sisters in Christ in many different ways. But, in this passage, Paul is focusing on the spiritual gifts that God gives to his children through Jesus Christ. So, how does someone gifted as a teacher prepare the church for works of service because of that gifting?
Now, as we consider the role of teachers in equipping the saints, we need to remember something important: While Paul connected teaching and shepherding closely (they are actually one “item” in the list – i.e., shepherds-teachers), the fact that he used separate terms shows that there is some difference in the two. So, I’ve decided to deal with them separately.
Interestingly, as with the other spiritual gifts and spiritually gifted people, the terms teach and teacher are not defined in Scripture, even though those terms are probably used more than any other term related to spiritual gifts. Many people are described as teachers in Scripture, and even more are said to teach. (In fact, in several places, all believers are called to teach, but that’s for a different post.)
It would seem that a teacher’s primary role is to explain in ways that many can understand. This is important to me, because teaching is often only associated with knowledge or facts. But, knowledge – even true knowledge – is not beneficial to others if it is not explained in a way they can understanding. Often, this type of explanation occurs with words. But, just as often – perhaps even more so – explanation occurs in action.
Thus, teachers would equip the saints by helping them learn to explain as well. This means that teachers how to help their brothers and sisters to know how to ask questions, how to listen to other people, and how to determine whether or not people are understanding.
I think there are many examples of this in Scripture. For example, we see Jesus explaining the parables to his disciples. This passage also gives a good example of this type of equipping:
Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:24-28 ESV)
As a teacher, have you ever helped others learn to explain the things of God to others? Has a teacher ever equipped you to teach?