Assembly Truth (1): Essentials of an Assembly

The Lordship of Christ is Unchallenged (1Cor 1:10)

Most assembly saints know that the Corinthians had asked Paul for help on some matters that Paul does not begin to answer until chapter 7. In the meantime, he deals with more important matters. Some have wondered why Paul doesn’t deal first with the serious problem in chapter five. There is at least one good reason. The whole assembly carries out discipline but they were divided, so he deals with the divisions first, and it is instructive how he deals with it. In the first nine verses, “the Lord Jesus Christ” or “Jesus Christ our Lord” appears five times. When he writes of the Lordship of Christ (v10), it is the most important of a threefold appeal.

The first appeal is “I beseech you.” He is not commanding them, even though he is an apostle and was instrumental in the assembly being planted. The second appeal is “brethren.” When we appreciate what “brethren” means, it helps us to be of the same mind. The third appeal is the most important; “by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The epistle to the Corinthians is preeminently the epistle of His Lordship. In this epistle, our Lord Jesus is referred to as Lord 68 times – more than any two epistles put together afterwards. He will be Lord in any assembly only in the measure in which He is Lord in the hearts and lives of those who make up that assembly.

First Corinthians 1:10 is beautifully illustrated for us in 1 Chronicles 12:32, where we read of the men of Issachar “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” How good it is to have such men in any assembly! Issachar could look at the enemies on every side: the Syrians on the north, the Philistines on the west, the Edomites on the south, the Moabites and the Ammonites on the east, and the troubles within.  They knew the solution was to give David his rightful place as king. “They were of perfect heart and one heart to make David king” (v38). It is no wonder that we read in verse 40: “there was joy in Israel.” There is joy in any assembly that gives our Lord Jesus Christ His rightful place as Lord.

There are only three other chapters in the Bible that mention all 13 tribes: Numbers 1, 2, and 26. Every other tribe in 1 Chronicles 12 has the total number of the men of war. But of Issachar we read only in verse 32, “The heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment” (because what Israel ought to do so gripped the hearts of their leaders).

The Leading of the Spirit is Unquenched (1Thes 5:19, 20)

“Quench not the Spirit, despise not prophesyings.” There are born again denominational men who have written profitable things on not quenching the Spirit, such as submission to the will of God, which is right in the context (v18), but they miss something (which is also in the context) when they read, “despise not prophesyings.” We do not have prophets today, but each assembly should have an opportunity for what answers to prophesying – a message to meet a present need. God never intended that one man should do all the praying, praising, and preaching for any sizable company of God’s people.

Royal Merritt’s words illustrate this principle. His sister Mrs. Frank McMillan was in the Cliff Street assembly in Boston. Royal more or less turned his back on assembly principles and became a minister of a congregation of about 300 people. When He was nearly 60 years old, he told me that it bothered him frequently that he was a one-man minister because he knew that there were brethren in his congregation who should be free to preach the gospel, and others who should be free to give a word in ministry. His position of doing everything was something that God never intended for the gatherings of His people. Royal finished his days as an assembly missionary in Chile.

Anyone in an assembly who is anxious to preach when he has nothing to say is also quenching the Spirit of God. On one occasion I was burdened about a message to meet a present need. I believe that the Spirit can also guide a brother to give a profitable message without it being a burden. This time it was a burden. I did not consider it proper to get up to speak until the brother who put the collection box back on the table was fully seated. Before he was seated, an older brother jumped up and the first thing he said was, “Don’t expect anything because I was not exercised to preach.” I went to him after the meeting and said, “Since you told us not to expect anything since you weren’t exercised to speak, why couldn’t you have waited a half a minute to give someone who was exercised by the Holy Spirit an opportunity to speak?” To his credit, he did not say anything, but it would have been better if he had said that he was wrong. No brother should be anxious to preach when he has nothing to say, for that quenches the Spirit of God.

– To be continued