God has afforded us insight into the character of a local assembly in the metaphors and figures He has used.
The Church of God, being of such inestimable value that its purchase required “His blood ” (the Lord Jesus Christs), it surely is the mind of God that we learn to esteem it highly in the light Gods revelation affords. To enable our appreciation to rise to the level God desires, it has pleased Him to provide us with terms, titles, and truth that are clearly calculated to heighten our estimate of a company of the Lords People gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Figures of the local entity appear frequently in the New Testament. This article will provide insight into the purpose that God has in establishing an assembly in any locality, causing us to value afresh what cost our blessed Lord so much to obtain.
THE HOUSE OF GOD – 1 Timothy 3:15 – AUTHORITY AND BEHAVIOR
This is a term which appears in several passages of the NT and usually refers to the local assembly. In the following occurrences, however, a wider scope is in view than in the verse noted above: Hebrews 3:6 (RV. Gods house), 10:21 ; 1 Peter 4:17. There is clearly something more comprehensive in view. It is the whole of the Church that is envisaged. A careful consideration of 1 Timothy 3:15 will reveal the absence of the article, so it reads literally, “house of God.” When the definite article appears the subject is identified but when the definite article is absent the subject is qualified.” Therefore Paul views the local assembly at Ephesus as being characteristically the House of God. Jacob gives us the first mention of the great term, “The House of God” (Gen 28: 17). In doing so he is conveying his sense of not merely the presence of God, but that presence in an administrative capacity, for he adds, it is “the gate of heaven.” The Sphere of Heavenly Administration is what both Jacob and Paul would have us learn from this remarkable figure. A reading of the first Epistle to Timothy will surely convey and confirm to every open heart that, whether we are men, women, overseers, servants, widows, rich or poor, our whole manner of life is to be regulated by divine principles. The House of God as presenting the local assembly denotes the GOVERNMENT OF AN INDWELLING GOD.
THE TEMPLE OF GOD – 1 Corinthians 3:16 – HOLINESS AND PURITY
Two words appear in our New Testament for temple, but the one Paul employs, is familiar to us as indicating the “inner shrine.” By this he is denoting the immediate consciousness of the One who indwells it, whether it be the Temple of Israels past or future glory, or this present ideal concept of the local assembly that Paul is advancing for the benefit of the Corinthians and then for us. The observant reader of the Old Testament will gather much that will enrich the mind on this symbol. Privilege is seen in holy reverence. Much is being lost today in assembly gatherings where there is a disregard for reverence that becomes the presence of the Lord amongst His People. Let us constantly bear in mind that the assembly is the Sanctuary of Heavenly Awareness, The figure emphasizes very demonstratively the GLORY OF AN INDWELLING GOD, which prepares us for the announcement against those who would defile the temple of God.
GODS BUILDING – 1 Corinthians 3:9 – EDIFICATION AND TOIL
The assembly is the Structure of Heavenly Architecture. It takes character from the Foundation, being designed to bear witness to the wisdom and glory of its Architect. The figure unfolds the GREATNESS OF AN INDWELLING GOD, so let us be exceedingly careful in what we build, how we build, and why we build. Not that there is space for much enlargement in an article of this compass, but it is important to draw attention to the six uses of the word “build” in its various forms. The first use denotes that it is Gods Building, a Construction of Divine Power. Paul describes himself as a “wise master-builder” by which he is acknowledging in his own labor for God, the Control of Divine Principles. He then adds, “another buildeth thereon” which serves to remind us that we are the Custodians of Divine Privilege. Advice is then administered on how we should build, so here is the Caution by Divine Prescription.
Next it is encouraging to note that Paul offers a glad insight to the material available and that the Choice of Divine Preference, so that we are not left to our own imaginations or innovations as to what will please Him now and in that Day. It is clear that proper building will bear a likeness to the Lord, in the gold of His Inherent Glory, in the silver of His Inestimable Giving, and in the precious stones of His Inimitable Graces. Perhaps the most telling is the last use that Paul makes of the word “build” when he says “If any mans work shall abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward” (V 14 RV). Here is the Consequence of Divine Probation, just to receive a reward in that Day when the fire of God will try all that we have built.
GODS HUSBANDRY – 1 Corinthians 3: 9 – CULTIVATION AND PRODUCTION
In the previous figure considered, the emphasis lay in the Foundation and subsequent Formation, but here this figure emphasizes Fruit. One planted, a most positive activity, the other watered, a most precious ministry, both co-ordinating in relation to the divine intention of the assemblys very existence, that there will be fruit unto the Glory of God. This brings us to learn that the Assembly is the Scene of Heavenly Abundance. God intends it to be a spiritually productive allotment of His creation. Here the teacher is seen as having special responsibility to “dress” (Heb.6:7) in such a way that there will be promoted within the assembly, growth and produce for God. The figure stresses the assembly to be The GOAL OF AN INDWELLING GOD. It is the tragic divergence of teachers and teaching that sows a field of nettles and hurt in assemblies today by having one kind of approach in one place and another type of approach in another place, not realizing that it is the same Lord that governs the allotment wherever it may be. Divergence from principle and practice is the greatest dishonesty in these diverse times among acknowledged teachers.
FLOCK OF GOD – Acts 20:28 – FRAILTY AND RESPONSIBILITY
Paul is conveying to the elders of Ephesus just how dear the assembly is to God, as he employs the diminutive form poinion, “little flock.” The assembly is seen as being composed of The Sheep of Heavenly Affection. Surely the purpose of this figure is to stress the propensity of saints to wander and emphasizes the need of shepherding (Prov 27:23). All we have to do is to turn to those severe chapters as found in Jeremiah (23), Ezekiel (34) and Zechariah (11) and listen to Jehovah denounce those who professed to be shepherds, claiming power, place, and prestige yet not fulfilling one vestige of their responsibility to succor the flock. It is most heart rending to trace in Scripture the term “no shepherd” and learn just what it means to God to see a flock unattended, unguided, and unfed. This figure discloses the GUIDANCE OF AN INDWELLING GOD.
BODY OF CHRIST – 1Coritnhians 12:27 – UNITY AND HARMONY
As we had above with the word “House,” a similar situation appears with respect to the word “Church.” Paul by the Spirit of God uses the word “church” in its most comprehensive form in his letter to the Ephesians nine times. In one of the important forms he explains that the Church is the Body of Christ. Here, and as it is used throughout the epistle, he wishes his readers to recognize the most comprehensive aspect possible the word church conveys as in keeping with the use the Savior made of it in Matthew 16:18. Again the word “church” for example in 1 Corinthians 1:2 is that form which the Lord Himself presented in Matthew 18:17, referring doubtless to the local assembly. Now in the passage before us the church of God in Corinth is addressed as “body of Christ.” Again notice the absence of the definite article.
Therefore the assembly is to be understood as being characteristically the body of Christ. Ponder thoroughly the use of the word “body” in this twelfth chapter. It appears in Figurative use (v 12), then in an Illustrative use (vs 14 – 26), and finally in a Distinctive use (vs 27 – 31), where Paul is dealing directly with the assembly in a locality. In using the word “characteristically,” let me explain what is being conveyed. When the assembly is all Head, Foot, Ear, or Eye, then it is a monstrosity. Just as our own body would also be if should such a counter-reaction of creation appear. This is one of the determinable features of difference between an assembly and a denomination. Any monopoly of gift distorts the concept of “body of Christ.”
EPISTLE OF CHRIST – 2 Corinthians 3:3 – LEGIBILITY AND CLARITY
The well known word, epistle, is epistole, a message, easily deciphered, a letter readily read. The assembly is required to be as transparent and as translucent as a readable letter. Many of us are glad for the incoming of various adept forms to handle our script. But the assembly being governed by the Spirit of the Lord is to be lucid in terms of teaching, living, serving, and testifying, so that all may be capable of gathering from it the mind and will of God for men today.
CHASTE VIRGIN – 2 Corinthians 11:2 – CHASTITY AND FIDELITY
The terms the Apostle uses here drive us to our knees beseeching the Throne of God that He would preserve us to maintain at all costs the moral implications as well as the doctrinal inferences this figure imparts. The word “chaste,” hagnos, occurs eight times in the NT. Its last use heightens its tremendous demand, “even as He is pure” (1 John 3:4). Then the word, “virgin,” occurring fourteen times, makes itself perfectly understandable by the examples presented, as in Mary (Matt.1:23). Certainly there can be no misunderstanding of what Paul expects the assembly at Corinth to be: holy, separate, and faithful until the day when the nuptial glory and oneness will dawn. The serpent is ever so subtle, ever anxious to beguile and to corrupt the testimony from its simplicity, fidelity, and purity in Christ. May we be found clean, clear, and consistent right up until the day when we are linked with Him in glory unsullied.