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Understanding Ekklesia 08 - Purpose of the Local Church, Pt 2

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The Purpose of the LOCAL Church & It’s Assemblies
& It’s assemblies
We come to our final lesson in our series of lessons titled “Understanding Ekklesia;” Ekklesia, once again, being the Greek word that is often translated as “church” in our New Testaments. The word ekklesia means a group of people, a bunch of people, or an assembly or congregation of people. It is not talking about things we commonly think of when we hear the word “church” such as the building we meet in or an organization, institution, or enterprise.
Whether the word is talking about the universal church (all of the saved of all time) or whether it it is talking about a local church — a local group of Christians, the word is talking about a group of people.
In our lesson this morning, we began looking at what the New Testament shows us regarding the purpose of local congregations and their assemblies, showing that the primary purpose of these local groups is horizontal in nature. The primary concern of it’s “members” is fellowship with other Christians. We saw a few examples of how this is the case for local congregations in our first lesson:
SPIRITUAL CARE AND OVERSIGHT - God desires that His people be cared for and taught by those who God has entrusted to their care - qualified shepherd or elders. ACCOUNTABILITY & DISCIPLINE. God desires that His people have local groups of Christians to hold them accountable to their confession of Christ as Lord, even being willing to discipline them (withdrawal themselves from them) whenever they gather together as a church. The goal of doing this would be to convict them and to show them what their sin has done to their relationship with Christ and His people. Encouragement/Edification. God desires that those who associate with local congregations would have a group of people to encourage them and edify them. God’s people need one another’s help in growing to be more like Jesus and to be faithful as individual members of the universal assembly. We need fulfill this purpose inside and outside of our assemblies.
Now, let’s consider two other purposes God has for local congregations.
A fourth reason why God has given His people local congregations is so that His people can be taken care of and helped physically. God is concerned that the physical and spiritual needs be met, so he designed local congregations to minister the the needs of His people both physically and spiritually.
All throughout the New Testament you see that God’s people are a generous and sharing people. Whenever there is a need or some kind of work that needs done, they voluntarily rose to the occasion to meet whatever needs there were. They don’t need coerced or commanded to be generous and to give. They are moved to compassion and want to care for their brethren physically. And they also cared about souls and the spiritual needs that others had, so they would do what they could to help those who were working for the Lord in teaching. Let’s consider some examples.
First, we see God’s people care for physical needs that were among them.
First, in and , we see the church in Jerusalem sharing with one another and serving each other by giving money to the Apostles that could be used to meet needs among the Christians there. As I have said in an earlier lesson, the church of Jerusalem is a difficult example to use because, before chapter 8, it seems that the universal church (at least on earth) and the local church was one and the same. But with this said, there are some great principles in these passages that show how to care for needs that are among us. They were willing to sacrifice property they didn’t have need of so that they could give money to help their brethren in need. It seems that the day didn’t even matter. They were generous and brought the funds to the apostles so the need could be met. This is what Christians do to help their brothers and sisters in Christ they work with.
Also, in , Paul gives qualifications for widows to be taken care of by the church in Ephesus — by the people of God in this city. If the widow met the qualifications, and did not have family to care for her, then the people of God rose to the occasion and cared for her. How, we are not told. They may have opened up their homes to the widows and cared for them as if they were their own parents. They could have pooled together funds to help give them a place to live and food. They could have done a combination of these. Either way, the church in Ephesus - the people would get involved and help those who were in need among them.
Paul also gave instruction to the Christians in Rome regarding their need to share with one another. In , Paul says, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (, ESV). Some other translations say, “distributing to the needs of the saints” (NKJV) or “share with the Lord’s people and be hospitable” (NIV). The idea is “meet the needs you see and even use your home that you have been blessed with to do so.”
A second context that we see God’s people rising up to the occasion to share with other Christians is whenever they hear about needs in other places in the world.
In , we read of the congregation in Antioch learning about a need that was going to come about in Judea because of a famine, and just hearing of the need moved them to want to send money to Judea to help their brothers and sisters. So they pooled funds together, and Paul and Barnabas were given the duty of taking the money to the elders (in Jerusalem?)
Then you also have the passages in , , and that describe other collections of funds for the saints in Jerusalem. The Gentile congregations, upon hearing of the need of the Christians in Judea, would reach out to Paul and ask how they could help the brethren there. For instance, the Corinthians sent questions to Paul that he responded to in regarding how they could help their brethren. Paul gave them specific directions to follow so the money would be ready to be picked up when he would be traveling through. They would weekly pool together funds that could be sent to their brethren in Judea until the need was met. Once congregations shared with Paul their desire to get involved, he would then use examples of other Christians and congregations giving to further encourage generous giving for the saints in Jerusalem. We see such encouragement in &9. Paul used the Corinthian’s example to stir upon the Macedonians, and he used the Macedonian’s example to further stir up the Corinthians in their generosity.
A third context in which we see Christians sending funds out to other Christians is in the context of supporting preachers and teachers of the Gospel.
We see this in passages such as & and also in teaching that Paul gives in and . Congregations would send money to workers of the Lord in order to give them more opportunity and time to teach the lost and to encourage God’s people. They supported these men so spiritual needs among God’s people could be met and so that more people could be added to the kingdom of God and to His universal assembly. Paul would often have multiple congregations sending him funds to support His work for the Lord, at times not even the congregation he was currently working with. And there were times he would not have support coming in, so he would need to work in order to support himself so that he could continue preaching and teaching the gospel to people. Churches cared about souls so they would do what they could to support men who were doing God’s work, so they would pool money together in some way (we are not told how) and send it to support these men — to have fellowship with them in their work.
And when the local congregation comes together as a church, this provides a convenient time to make sure any needs are known to the church so they can be met and so that the group can be informed about any men that are being considered for support so that the group can give feedback regarding whether or not they want to get involved in helping with a specific need or support specific men…
Then, upon deciding to be involved in helping to either support preachers or teachers or to help specific Christians in need, generous giving to those specific things can be encouraged.
And when God’s people come together, it is certainly a convenient time for them to pool together resources so that they can send funds to their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Before we consider our final point, there are a few other things I would encourage you to consider regarding our service to the saints in this area of sharing and giving.
Collecting funds for meeting physical and spiritual needs is often an area that Christians can treat the church as an institution or organization or enterprise, making the church something that it is not. Let me give some examples.
Sometimes we may view the church as an institution that we give our money to like the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, and we entrust the organization/institution to take care of the needs that come about among God’s people. But as I have said in every lesson in this series, the church is not an organization or institution. It is a group of people. The simple picture that we see in scripture is that local groups of people heard of or saw needs, and they pooled money together to send to other areas or to give to other disciples so the need could be met. Christians did not channel money through an organization or an institution to take care of their brethren. The local church is not an organization or institution. The local church is simply a group of Christians pooling resources together to minister/serve other Christians. They pooled funds together and decided what work they wanted to be involved in together. Second, and this one is a common one: In regards to supporting those who are doing the work of the Lord, congregations often act like they are organizations or enterprises that hire and fire people to do the work of the Lord FOR THEM as either their employees or as representatives of their organization. This mindset comes from a mistaken notion of the nature of the local church. Churches are simply groups of people who pool resources together to meet the physical and spiritual needs of God’s people. Nothing more and nothing less. They are not businesses or enterprises that hire and fire. And one last fact for us to keep in mind: preachers and teachers of the Gospel are not official representatives of local congregations like pastors are today in denominational churches. This is one area where we may say, “preachers are not pastors” but then show the opposite in how we talk about evangelists. Local churches support men who are doing the Lord’s work here and abroad — men who are working for and serving the Lord as His representatives, not as official representatives of local churches.
I would like to talk about one more purpose that local congregations have, and this one is specifically one that we only done when Christians come together as a local church in the New Testament.
Their primary purpose for getting together, besides to encourage and edify one another, is to break bread () — to partake of the Lord’s Supper together.
The Lord’s Supper was something that the early Christians devoted themselves to doing (). Luke says that those who devoted themselves to the Apostles doctrine also devoted themselves to the breaking of bread, which is, in my judgment, a reference to the Lord’s Supper. Also in , Luke says, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” (, ESV)
I like this passage in because it shows how central the Lord’s Supper/breaking bread was to their gathering together. This doesn’t mean that they spent the same amount of time on it than they did Paul’s preaching, but it in the very least shows it’s importance to their coming together.
The Lord’s Supper is also is an important thing God’s people do each Lord’s day to show the communion and unity that they have together as Christians. The Lord’s Supper, in a sense, is a “fellowship meal” that we have together to show our common faith in the Lord and to remember the sacrifice that brings us together as brothers and sisters. It is called “communion” in , showing us this idea of the unity the meal shows we have together. This is something the Corinthians were forgetting as they were gathering together to partake. The divisions among the group impacted their taking of the Lord’s Supper also, and Paul had to correct their understanding of what the Lord’s Supper was meant to remind them of in regards to the Lord’s selfless sacrifice and the common union they have as Christians.
These are many of the purposes that God gives us as a local congregation.
I have some application questions for you to consider in the bulletin that I don’t have time to consider this morning. I would encourage you to look at them and meditate upon them.
I hope this series of lessons has been as helpful to you as it has been for me. As I have aid in an earlier lesson, there were many concepts that I have seen that I was mistaken on as I have studied to put together these lessons.
This is a topic that we all need to study and meditate upon so we can be challenged to think, speak, and act as we should as members of the universal church and as members of the local group here.
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