Understanding Ekklesia 07 - Purpose of the Local Church, Pt 1
The Purpose of the LOCAL church & It’s assemblies
& IT’s assemblies
We are continuing our series of lessons titled “Understanding Ekklesia;” Ekklesia, once again, being the Greek word that is often translated as “church” in our New Testaments.
REVEIW - EKKLESIA
We have seen in our studies that “church” is not a literal translation of the Greek word ‘ekklesia,’ and that this Greek word is not inherently a religious word itself. The word was used in the Greek speaking world to describe any group of people, whether they are religious or not.
Literal translations of ekklesia would be “assembly, congregation, a group or bunch of people.” It is important to see this because we can often misunderstand what the Bible means when it uses the word ‘church.’
We should not think of buildings or clergy or church leaders or organizations or institutions or business enterprises. We need to learn to think and talk about the church understanding that what the Bible teaches about Jesus’ church is that it is a group of people when we see the word “church” in our New Testaments. 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.
Last Lord’s Day, we began looking at the differences in purpose between the universal assembly an local congregations — the reasons for their existence.
DIFFERENCE IN PURPOSE
I summed up the difference last week by showing that the difference in purpose between the universal church and local churches is all about where the emphasis is placed in regards to fellowship.
The purpose of universal church is primarily vertical in nature. It’s “members” are concerned primarily with fellowship with God and it’s effects on their lives. Those who are baptized into Christ and become part of His universal church are described in many ways in the New Testament as we saw last Lord’s Day. Their focus, among other things, is to glorify and praise God as His family and as His holy priesthood. The members of the universal church, whether they serve the Lord on earth or in Heaven, have work to do — ministry to perform — for the Lord. The purpose of a local church is primarily horizontal in nature. The primary concern of it’s “members” is fellowship with other Christians. Local groups of Christians have been designed with the purpose of equipping God’s people to perform the duties that they have as members of the universal church while on earth.
Lord willing, in our lessons this morning, we will focus on the purpose of local congregations — why they are in existence. I would like us to talk about the purpose of these local groups of Christians both when they gather together as local churches and about what responsibilities that those who associate with a local church have towards the other Christians in the group.
1. SPIRITUAL CARE AND OVERSIGHT @ ALL TIMES
The first point I would like to talk about this morning is that God gave His people local congregations so that they could receive spiritual care and oversight. God wants his sheep to be taken care of, and the existence of local congregations helps that to happen.
God has given local churches the gift of men who are entrusted to lead and care for a local church. He has given local congregations overseers/shepherds/elders. I am not going to spend a lot of time on this point because we talked about elders in an earlier lesson. But it is important for us to understand that one reason God gave us local congregations is so that we can be cared for, fed, and guided by shepherds.
talks about how the role of shepherds is to “care for” the local church of God that they are entrusted with. They are those that the Lord has entrusted to make sure that the church gets the feeding and nourishment it needs. They are the ones who make sure that those who are weak and struggling are cared for at all times, inside and outside of the assemblies.
If we are humble enough to see that we, as sheep of the Lord, are in need of care and oversight, we will associate ourselves with a local congregation and submit to the shepherds of the group.
Now let’s consider our second point.
2. ACCOUNTABILITY & DISCIPLINE @ ALL TIMES
The second purpose I would like to talk about this morning is that the local congregation is designed with the purpose of giving God’s people a support group — to give them a group of people to hold them accountable, a group of people to help them be faithful to Christ and admonish them at all times. Jesus gives us other Christians who live near us who we can confess sin to. He gives us a group of people that we can go to for help in our battle against sin, and if necessary, a group of people who, if they are being faithful to the Lord, are willing to obey the Lord by even withdrawing themselves from us if we are unwilling to repent.
There are many passages we could look at that show this principle regarding our relationships with Christians that we work with. First, let’s consider . There are some great principles to apply to our relationships with Christians we work with.
“15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (, ESV)
This is one of the first times that “ekklesia”/church is used in the New Testament. The first is in . There is a principle here that continues into other passages in the epistles that whenever sin is committed, their needs to be concern for the soul of the brother who sins and the sin needs dealt with. You see this in and 6 also. First, in chapter 5, you have a brother who was committing sin that people in the world were not willing to do, and the church was doing nothing about it. It seems it was well known to the whole group, and they were tolerating it instead of mourning over it. So Paul instructs them to deal with it! To show that his sin has broken his fellowship with God and His people.
Then, in chapter 6, we see that there were brothers and sisters taking one another to court before the world instead of dealing with their disputes together and seeking help from wiser brethren. What did Jesus say in , “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” They were not doing this. They were not taking it to each other or to other brethren as Jesus instructed, but were going before the world and bringing shame on the church.
Both of these passages in Corinthians show that they did not take Jesus’ teaching about seeking restoration to heart. They were not calling their brethren to account for their sin and to change. They were not holding each other accountable as they should have been.
One of the purposes of the local congregation is to help us be faithful to Christ and be willing to show some tough love in helping us to get back where we need to be. We need to help those who are part of the local group we associate with.
If we know about sin, or if sin is committed against us, we need to show love. We need to go to the person who sins to try to lead them to repentance. If they are unwilling to repent, then we are to take two or three more. And if they still won’t change, what do we do?
WHEN YOU GATHER TOGETHER…
The issue needs brought before the church.
This is where this issue of accountability has application in the assemblies of local congregations. When a congregation comes together as a church, there are things the group as a whole must do in this area when there are brothers or sisters who are unwilling to repent of sin.
“4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (, NKJV)
They were to “deliver him to Satan” since he was living as though he was part of his camp, with the hope that the loss of the physical relationship, the man had with the church would lead him to godly sorrow and repentance.
This is one of the biggest problems in churches today. When was the last time you have heard of a church doing what Paul describes in this passage? Whenever sin is made public, often churches approach things exactly how the Corinthians did. They tolerate sin. They decide to be patient with the person in sin or think it is best for them to remain in the group so they can hear Biblical teaching. They may decide only to deal with the “big sins” instead of all sin. Paul says, “no, deliver them to Satan.” Get the leaven out before it leavens the whole lump. Don’t diminish the impact that allowing sin can make on a group of Christians.
Usually one of the first questions I ask myself whenever I see a congregation or it’s leaders not deal with sin is, “Is this how they would treat me if I fell into sin and was being hardened by it?” Would they just hope the problem would fix itself as I attended worship? Would they just hope that I don’t do too much damage before I end up leaving and falling away altogether? We can be as nice as we can to one another, but if we are not willing to do the hard things to show our concern for each other’s souls, telling one another “I love you” is deceptive. Our words would say, “I love you,” but in our lack of action would be saying, “I don’t really love you, or even, I hate you.”
This is sobering to think about…
Our third point:
3. Encouragement/Edification @ ALL TIMES
A third reason God’s gives His people local congregations is so they can have a group of people to encourage them and to edify them. I love the word edification. The word was commonly used at the time to talk about building a structure, but in the New Testament, especially in the epistles, it is used figuratively to talk about how Christians work in each others lives to help one another grow. Consider two passages that show this.
First, . In this passage, Paul is instructing the Thessalonians about the day of the Lord — and he encourages them to live as children of light and to live with hope. Paul closes this section saying this:
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (, ESV)
A second passage: . In this context Paul is talking about how Christians need to live with each other peacefully even when there are different opinions among the church. He tells them what they need to focus on in verse 19:
“19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (, ESV)
God desires that His people to be stirred up and helped by one another to grow spiritually so they can be able to fulfill their responsibilities in the kingdom as individuals, and we see in this passage that this is something that we all have a responsibility to do: Paul says to pursue “mutual upbuilding.” This is not just for the elders and the evangelists. It is for everyone. Each one of us should seek to be built up and each one of us should seek to build others up.
And this is something we need to do for one another, not just when we are here in the building, but at all times. The Hebrews writer says in :
13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
We all need encouragement every day, and we all need to encourage one another.
WHEN YOU GATHER TOGETHER
And when we do come together, our time together is not about just being an audience and watching things going on. Our goal needs to be to find ways to encourage and help each other spiritually. The Hebrews writer shows us this:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (, ESV)
This passage gives us the principle that we need to give some forethought regarding how we can encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ when we come together. This is one of the main reasons why we are here.
At least five times in the , Paul tells the Corinthians that when they gathered together as a church, their goal needed to be to build one another up.
In spite of the fact that local congregations, including us, have a stage and spotlights, we don’t come to this building to be an audience watching a performance. We are not spectators that are here just for what we can get out of it. We are here to do something for God’s people — our purpose in being here is to stir one another up to love and good works.
Let’s stop here and pick up on our next point in our third hour.
Here are some questions I would like us to consider about ourselves as a local congregation of Christ’s people:
Are you and I “devoted to the fellowship”? () Do we show our devotion to one another and the relationship that the Lord gave us with one another?Do we limit our service to our brethren to only what happens in our meeting place, or do we show our love for one another at other times also? Do we show in our actions that we believe that God’s people are only priests a few hours per week or all week? Do we try to find ways to encourage and edify one another outside of our assemblies? Do we deal with sin when it is known, or do we “sweep it under the rug,” tolerate it, or allow it to continue? Are we doing what is necessary to show love for the souls of our brothers and sisters here? Or, as is often the case, are we too afraid of upsetting people to do God’s will in trying to bring someone back to the Lord?
These are all responsibilities that we as Christians have towards those we work with and worship with. I would encourage you to examine your own life and ask yourself if you are showing the kind of devotion to the relationships that the Lord has given you in Christ that you should be showing.