The Mission of the Church
The second great phase of the church's mission, as outlined by Paul in Ephesians 4:11, 12, is "for the work of the ministry." One of the fundamental principles taught by Christ was that men should have the right attitude toward one another. This is essential to the Christian character. It is evidenced not only in attitude, but must be exercised in actual service rendered. "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth." (John 3:18.)
In this area belong many of the "good works" which believers in God are to maintain. (Titus 3:8.) It is a fruit borne by Christianity in the life of a disciple of the Lord, and through which God is to be glorified. This grace begins at home in the Christian's obligation to care for those who have the right to depend on him for support. Paul taught that "if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." (1 Timothy 5:8.)
Paul gives very specific and detailed instruction concerning the duty of Christians to provide for their own family and relatives. "But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to show piety at home, and to requite their parents, for that is good and acceptable before God."
Again, in that same chapter (1 Timothy 5), he says, "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."
From these passages we learn that the church is not to be burdened with the care of people for whom Christian individuals are responsible. But we also learn that the church is to recognize its duty in providing for others whose care is the obligation of the church. "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." (James 1:27.)
Paul exhorted Christians, "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." (Galatians 6:10.) This doctrine was demonstrated in the contribution that was made in behalf of the saints in Judea, suffering because of famine, and "Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul." (Acts 29: 30.)
It was to this same kind of work that the Corinthians had promised beforehand a bounty, and Paul gave them the plan for raising the fund, "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come." (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2.) In his second letter to these same people he had much to say about the grace of liberality which they should exercise in raising the fund which they had promised. (2 Corinthians 8 and 9.) The very nature of this Christian function shows that it is a fruit of the teaching of Christ, and is based upon the proper attitude toward one another.
It must be obvious that the very nature of this work "of ministering" subordinates it to the preaching of the gospel and the saving of the souls of men. This work of ministering has to do with physical necessities and physical sufferings; preaching the gospel has to do with eternal salvation and the forgiveness of sins.
For the church to burden itself down with benevolences of every kind, much of which is the obligation of individuals or of the state, tax supported, so that it cannot preach the gospel, is to defeat its primary purpose. Hence, God placed around these works of benevolence the restrictions which we have already noted. It cannot be right to let the eternal souls of men go down to destruction because of the church being overburdened with caring for temporal wants and necessities.
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