By Arthur M. Ogden
Little study of the New Testament is necessary to learn that God expects His people to work. The saved are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained” (Eph. 2: 10), and Jesus went to the cross to “purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:14). It is plain then, God’s people have been spiritually created in Christ to be zealous of the good works God ordained.
Early Christians were made aware constantly that good works were to be performed. Titus was instructed to show himself “a pattern of good works” (Tit. 2:7). He was also to teach the brethren “to be ready to every good work” (3:1) and to “be careful to maintain good works” (3:10,14). Paul often reminded those addressed in his epistles to be ‘:fruitful in every good work” (Col. 1: 10; 2 Thess. 2:17; Heb. 13:21), and brethren were challenged to “consider one another to provoke unto love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). The works God ordained serve to draw praise and glory to Him from those who observe His people at work (Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12). These texts and many more demonstrate that God’s people are to work.
I find that most Christians understand they are to work for the Lord but somehow fail to comprehend what to do or how to perform it. God has ordained what His people are to do (Eph. 2: 10) and has revealed it for our learning in the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Failure to know what is required can be solved by a knowledge of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15) and failure to know how to do the work can be resolved by determination. We learn to do what we understand we must do. The wise hear and do (Matt. 7:24-25). The foolish only hear (7:26-27) and then do as they please (Matt. 7:22-23).
The knowledge that God’s people are to work coupled with the desire to be acceptable to Him with the least amount of effort has led to many errors and misconceptions concerning the performance of the work. Some evidently think their responsibility to work is discharged simply by attending one hour’s service a week, but a careful examination of Luke 9:23 and other related texts quickly dispels this notion. Following the Lord is a daily task that cannot be completed in one hour. Even faithful attendance of all local church services does not fulfill the requirements of Luke 9:23 for constant service. Something more is demanded and expected.
Others think passive obedience, i.e., not doing anything wrong, is all that ii needed, but James writes, “be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your ownselves” (Jas. 1:22). Action is required. The house swept and garnished (Lk. 11:24-26) must be filled with deeds demonstrating positive action (1 Jn. 3:17-18; 1 Tim. 6:17-19).
Still others think the work done by the local church of which one becomes a part by local identity, viz., attendance, giving and encouraging those who actually do the works, is all that is required. Paul’s statement in I Timothy S:16 shows the fallacy of this reasoning. He said, “If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged, that it may relieve them that are widows indeed. ” It is evident that believers are burdened with responsibilities which are not to become the burden of the local church. One cannot, therefore, fulfill all God expects of him as a Christian by faithfully discharging his duty as a member of the local church. Additional work is required.
Some even have the far fetched notion that the only way God’s people work is for the local congregation to make donations from its treasury to various organizations involved in what is termed “good works.” If this philosophy were true, one could as reasonably raise his children by the local church making a donation to “Save The Children.” Such reasoning is without logic. In the first place, there is no scriptural authority for the local church to be involved in such activities but, even if there were, it would not relieve the Christian of his responsibility to do the works God specifically requires of him. The Bible teaches, “let every man prove his own work, . . . . For every man shall bear his own burden” (Gal. 6:4-5).
Over the past third century, discussion of issues relating to institutionalism and the work of the local church have somewhat eclipsed our teaching concerning the Christian’s personal work. One could readily get the impression that God’s people only work through the local congregation, or that at least most of the work is to be done by the organized efforts of the local body. The institutionalist position in essence destroyed the need for the Christian to work. They argued that whatever the individual can do the local church can do. Naturally, if the local church does the work, the individual has nothing more to do. Some even went so far as to contend that if the Christian worked apart from the church he robbed God of the glory He expected to receive through the church (Eph. 3:21). The work God’s people are to do as individuals has in many cases been obscured.
The war against institutionalism had to be fought but the fight demanded more and more attention be given to the work of the local church and less to the individual. Hours otherwise spent teaching upon personal work were necessarily directed toward stemming the tide of digression. The result was, in many cases, brethren did not learn what God expected of them except as it pertained to their association as members of the local church. Satan could not be more pleased.
Two Ways To Work
All agree that God expects the local congregation to work. Numerous passages can be cited, and will be in future studies, authorizing the local church to function as a unit to do the limited work scripturally permitted. This is one way God’s people work, but it is not the only way. A study of the Scriptures reveal that the greater portion of work God anticipates from His people is to come from individual Christians doing their personal work. A percentage ratio might show 90% expected from individuals and 10% from the local unit. No one can do this work for us. The local church at work cannot substitute for it nor relieve us of the personal responsibility. The local church can only do what it is authorized by the Scriptures to do and, when it has done this, it still has not touched a single work assigned the Christian.
“Every tree is known by his own fruit” (Lk. 6:44), and “every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away” (Jn. 15:2). “Let every man prove his own work, . . for every man shall bear his own burden” (Gal.4:5).The burden of doing the works of God is upon every Christian. Paul “exhorted and comforted and charged every one” of the Thessalonians how to ” walk worthy of God” (1 Thess. 2:11). To the Colossians he was “warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom,, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28). Why? Because every man must appear before the judgment seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10) to give account of himself to God (Rom. 14:12) who shall judge “according to every man’s work” (1 Pet. 1: 17; Rev. 20:12-13), rewarding them accordingly (Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6).
The question then of whether the Christian must be involved personally in God’s work is answered. He must! Failure to do the work required on a personal basis would be disastrous (Matt. 25:4, 18, 45-46), and ignorance of the work to be done is inexcusable. God has ordained the works and made them known to us (Eph. 2:10; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Since God requires His children to work and since we shall be called to account for our actions, it behooves us to learn what we are to do as service to God. As pointed out previously, this involves learning what constitutes the Christian’s personal work as well as the work of the local congregation. In articles to come we shall give attention to God’s people at work from both vantage points.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 20, pp. 629-630
October 20, 1983