Gallup reported this week that “U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time.” “In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999” (news.gallup.com). New Testament Christians know the spiritual value of being members of a local body of saints (1 Cor. 12:12-27). The Lord arranged local churches for our spiritual edification (which includes worship), the spread of the gospel, and relief of needy Christians (Acts 2:42-45; 4:32-35; 11:22; 20:28-35). Churches of Christ assemble on the first day of the week to offer God worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). Scripture shows how true worship honors God and strengthens Christians in the faith (1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 5:19). Therefore, membership in a local church is a responsibility of great importance to Christians (Acts 9:26-28; Rom. 16:2). Being a member of a local church identifies each Christian as part of a working group of believers striving to do God’s will (Rom. 12:4; Eph. 4:16; Rev. 2-3). Christians will be active members of faithful congregations (there is no floating membership or “membership-at-large” in the New Testament). May each Christian be committed to fully participating in assembled worship and the other scriptural work given the local church by the Lord (Heb. 10:24-25).
Jesus finished His redemptive work (Sword Tips #2133). Yet, people have devised doctrines that effectively deny this truth. 1) Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17). Yet some churches (like the Seventh-day Adventist Church) listen to Moses and the prophets for their faith practices instead of hearing Jesus. This is false (Matt. 17:5; Heb. 1:1-2). 2) Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10). Yet some churches (like the Baptist Church) reject His salvation by refusing the necessity of water baptism to be saved. This is false (Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). 3) Jesus came to give His life for all sinners (1 Tim. 2:6). Yet some churches (like the Reformed Church) teach limited atonement (Christ’s death only reaches those God elected for eternal life). This is false (Jno. 3:16; 1 Jno. 4:14). 4) Jesus came to preach the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; Mk. 1:14-15). Yet some churches of Christ teach Jesus was only teaching Jews how to be good Jews. This is false (Matt. 9:35; Lk. 16:16; Matt. 5:31-32; 19:8-9). 5) Jesus came to be a king (Jno. 18:37). Yet many churches teach the premillennial doctrine that because the Jews rejected Jesus as their King, God withdrew the kingdom promise and substituted the church. They believe Jesus will return to earth in His kingdom in the future. This is false (Matt. 16:18-19; Mk. 9:1; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4; Col. 1:13; 1 Cor. 15:23-24). One denies the truth that Jesus finished His work by accepting doctrines that contradict His work and word. Let us go back to the New Testament of Jesus, to a time before the doctrines and creeds of men corrupted the purposes and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and please God by remaining in its truth (Gal. 1:6-10).
Jesus emphatically declared He glorified the Father and accomplished the work His Father gave Him. Jesus lived each day by God’s word to do God’s will. He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (Jno. 4:34). Jesus used every day to “work the works” of the Father who sent Him, thus teaching diligence to His disciples (Jno. 9:4). With His dying breath, Jesus said, “It is finished” (Jno. 19:30). What work did the Father give Jesus? Summing it up in one sentence, He gave Jesus the work of accomplishing human redemption from sin and death. “The Father sent the Son as Savior of the world” (1 Jno. 4:14). The work Jesus accomplished is understood by how the Scriptures describe His work. Jesus came 1) To fulfill the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17); 2) To seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10); 3) To give His life a ransom for us all (Matt. 20:28; 1 Tim. 2:6; Jno. 10:17-18); 4) To preach the gospel of the kingdom (Mk. 1:14-15, 38-39; Acts 3:22-23); 5) To be a king (Jno. 18:37; Mk. 9:1). 6) To bring division (Matt. 10:34-38; Lk. 12:49-53); 7) To bring light, life, and judgment (Jno. 1:4-9; 9:39); 8) To destroy the works of the devil (1 Jno. 3:8); 9) To do the will of the Father (Jno. 6:38). This list is not exhaustive, but each one identifies the work Jesus did and the honor it gave the Father (Jno. 17:4). If Jesus failed to finish even one of these works, then He also failed to glorify the Father fully. Which of these works are you willing to say Jesus did not accomplish? Our next “Tip” will identify some doctrines that do just that.
15 not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but having hope, that as your faith is increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere, 16 to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s sphere of accomplishment. 17 But “he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” 18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends. (2 Corinthians 10:15–18, NKJV)
The apostle Paul energetically preached the gospel and fulfilled his ministry with faithful zeal. We can learn lessons by observing his gospel labors. First, Paul did not boast in other men’s labors (v. 15-16). That is, he gave credit where credit was due. He did not take credit for another person’s work. This trait of genuine meekness always serves the cause of the gospel. We should imitate Paul by admiring and encouraging others’ faithful work instead of trying to “ride their coattails” and elevate ourselves. Secondly, Paul did not boast in himself (v. 18). Self-commendation can color an honest examination of ourselves and our work for the Lord (Gal. 6:3-4). “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips” (Prov. 27:2). Thirdly, Paul boasted in the Lord instead of himself (v. 17). He could say, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” in the Lord (2 Cor. 12:10). Our faith must be in the strength of the Lord, not ourselves. Fourthly, Paul sought the Lord’s approval above all (v. 18). So, he worked diligently to be approved by God (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15; 4:7-8). In whose approval do we boast, men’s or God’s?
15 Thus says the Lord: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” 16 Thus says the Lord: “Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; For your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. 17 There is hope in your future, says the Lord, that your children shall come back to their own border.” (Jeremiah 31:15–17, NKJV)
The horrors of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (586 B.C.) and exile were followed by a remnant of the people returning to their land (Ezra 1-2). God gave hope to the exiled people through Jeremiah, assuring them their “work shall be rewarded” and “your children shall come back to their own border.” It is telling the Lord said their “work” would be rewarded. (See Jeremiah 29:1-11 for a description of their “work” and God’s promised reward.) Many teach any rewarded work of man is meritorious and against the purpose of God. This verse teaches otherwise. So, the “faith only” people have a problem because Jeremiah said God would reward their work. There are Messianic undertones to the passage. Matthew applied verse 15 directly to Herod’s slaughter of the young male children in Bethlehem and its districts (Matt. 2:16-18). Jesus survived that horrific event, and our hope is redemption from sin’s captivity in Christ Jesus (Rom. 5:1-2, 8-11). Works of faith do not merit the reward God promises us any more than the remnant’s faith earned their return to the land. Works of obedience show our faith in God and the hope we have in Jesus (Jas. 2:17-18; Heb. 10:36-11:1). Remember, God rewards the faithful (Heb. 11:6).
John, now the aged apostle, expressed a three-fold love of Gaius, which was no doubt prompted by the disciple’s faithful walk in the truth (3 John 3-4). John’s love for Gaius prompted prayer for his health and prosperity “in all things” as his soul prospered. Is this proof of the “prosperity gospel” that many preach? Hardly. The word “prosper” contains the idea of progress, of “help on the road,” and thereby to successfully reach one’s destination (Strong, G2137). Gaius’ spiritual life was progressing – he was on a spiritual journey. (So are we, 1 Peter 2:11.) John prayed that his health and all things would progress well, too. Christ did not mandate material abundance as evidence of spiritual fullness. Indeed, the Son of Man did not have a place to lay His head (Matt. 8:20). Far from covetous enrichment for selfish pursuits, the gospel teaches material wealth is a blessing that gives opportunities and the spiritual responsibility to be “rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share,” and to do so thankfully (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Gaius was undoubtedly doing these very things when he hospitably supported faithful workers for the truth (3 John 5-8). May our souls faithfully progress on our pilgrimage with the health and the means to do the work our hands find to do “while it is day,” for “the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).
18 Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. 19 As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18–20, NKJV)
The human lot in life is labor. Solomon sees work as a blessing from God, not a burdensome punishment. “It is good and fitting” to work and to enjoy the fruit of one’s labor (v. 18). Solomon sees the increased fruit of labor (“riches and wealth”) as a heritage in which a person can rejoice (v. 19). God designed work to keep us busy as we produce the wherewithal to provide for ourselves and others (v. 20; Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 5:8). But beware. The temptation to love money is strong – Loving money leads to ruin (1 Tim. 6:9-10). Do not turn labor’s increase into the covetous endeavor and purpose of your life. Wealth does not define your life’s value and purpose (Lk. 12:15). To make that mistake (and to leave God’s will out of your life) is tragically foolish (Lk. 12:16-21). Keep a contented outlook on labor and its reward. Work diligently. Trust God (not riches), be “rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share” (1 Tim. 6:6-8, 17-19).
The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge. (Ruth 2:12, NKJV)
Ruth (the young Moabite widow whose loyalty to her widowed mother-in-law Naomi is memorialized in the book of Ruth) is acknowledged and blessed by Boaz, a wealthy landowner, and kinsman of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. Ruth had pledged faithfulness to Naomi and Naomi’s God, even when she could have stayed in her homeland where family and familiarity would have (Ruth 1:16). Ruth clung to Naomi when returning to her family would have brought her familiarity and security. And so, Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem. There, Ruth joined the gleaners during barley harvest to gather leftover grain to feed herself and Naomi. Upon seeing Ruth’s self-sacrificing devotion and diligence, Boaz showed her great kindness. Indeed God was blessing her (and Naomi) for her labor of faith. Eventually, Boaz and Ruth married and became the great-grandparents of David, king of Israel. Thus, a Moabitess of courageous faith and humble service is in the ancestral lineage of the Messiah. The Lord rewarded her work, not because Ruth earned her way into God’s favor, but because God blesses faith that graciously serves others (in this case, Naomi). God still rewards the work of faith, not because we deserve the reward, but because our faith relies upon His grace to bless us with His salvation (Rom. 5:1-2; Jas. 2:14-24; 2 Tim. 4:7-8).
45 Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (Luke 19:45–46, NKJV)
The corruption of God’s house of prayer is on full display as Christ’s indignation raged against those who had turned temple worship into an oppressive and lucrative business enterprise (Matt. 21:12-13). Jesus used Isaiah 56:7 to expose and condemn their unholy treatment of God’s house and God’s people. Now, the church is God’s holy temple (Eph. 2:19-22). Despite Christ’s pointed warning against defiling God’s house, people continue to defile God’s house of prayer, the church. The reconfiguration of the church constitutes a departure from the faith the Spirit expressly warned would happen (1 Tim. 4:1-3; Gal. 1:6-10). Over time, the church’s worship became polluted with rites and rituals not found in the covenant of Christ. The church’s organization was turned into an ecclesiastical hierarchy ruling over independent congregations of saints. The church’s work became contaminated by material pursuits as people made merchandise of the gospel (2 Cor. 2:17). Jesus does not look on approvingly while the will and wisdom of men corrupt His church (Col. 2:8, 20-23). The church does not belong to us; it belongs to Christ. Christ’s gospel continues to disrupt the innovations that defile God’s house under the guise of progress and advancement (1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Jno. 9).
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58, NKJV)
The Corinthian church had problems. Every church does. That’s because every church is composed of sinners, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We struggle with temptations and sins, with our faith and our failings. Christians in every congregation must address weakness and weariness, responsibilities and relationships, and much more (Rom. 12:3-21). Paul exhorted the Corinthian brethren to remain true to the Lord as they faced spiritual challenges from within themselves and from the world without. Like them, we must be “steadfast” (settled, firmly situated) in our faith. The roots of our faith must run deep within us, anchored by the word of God, in order for spiritual growth to flourish. By building our personal faith we become stabilized, standing firmly in the faith, and able to resist the enticements of sin (Col. 2:7; Jas. 1:14). By such steadfastness we become “immovable” (unmoved) against the external forces of error and evil (Col. 2:8; Eph. 4:14-16; 1 Pet. 4:1-3). (Remember, the devil is always probing for our vulnerabilities, 1 Pet. 5:8.) Spiritual stability enlivens our duty (“work”) in the Lord with purpose, devotion, endurance, and fullness. Our incentive to fulfill our duty to the Lord is clear – our labor is not useless in the Lord. A full, everlasting harvest awaits the faithful (Gal. 6:7-8).