The Scriptural Work Of Elders
Feed The Church
The elders of the church at Ephesus were ordered "to feed the church of the Lord." (Acts 20:28.) To feed the church is to teach it the word of God. Their qualifications require this. (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9.) Without this spiritual food a Christian can not grow, nor even live spiritually. The people of God must be taught their duty as citizens in the kingdom, and they must be indoctrinated so they will not be tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine that blows. For this reason God gave some to be pastors.
Pursuant to this duty of feeding the church, elders must teach the church how to study the Bible. In 2 Tim. 2:15 Paul set forth certain requirements or rules that must be observed, if students would understand what the will of the Lord is. He said, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." To meet the requirements of this passage, students must observe five rules of Bible study, and elders should make sure that every member of the flock is acquainted with these five rules.
1. All Bible study must be for the right purpose; namely, "to show thyself approved unto God."
Those who study with the aim and the will to obey the teaching are observing the first essential rule. This evidently was the objective of the Bereans in their daily search of the scriptures. They wanted to know "whether those things were so" in order to do them and please the Lord thereby. "Therefore many of them believed." (Acts 17:11, 12.)
Jesus said, "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself." (John 7:17.) Also, "If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31.) It is given unto some to know the will of the Lord, because they want to obey it; unto others it is not given, because they do not want to obey it.
God makes no promise whatever to the person who searches the scriptures to prove a preconceived theory, or to justify an evil, or merely to win an argument, or to make a display of wisdom. That kind of student may never come to a knowledge of the truth on any thing.
Though they read the Bible daily, many will never learn how to become Christians, or how to worship God acceptably, or how to do mission work, or how to visit the fatherless and widows; because they do not study with the desire and with the determination to please the Lord by doing his will in the way he wants it done.
In feeding the church, elders should emphasize the importance of studying the Bible with the right purpose in mind.
2. In order to understand the will of God, one must observe the difference between an alien and a citizen with reference to God's government or kingdom.
An alien is one who is not in God's kingdom; a citizen is one who is in the kingdom. The Bible makes a clear cut distinction between them in God's requirements of them, and the injunction to rightly divide the word of truth makes mandatory an observance of this distinction.
During the Mosaic dispensation, only the Gentiles were said to be "alienated from the commonwealth of Israel." (Eph. 2:12.) While the law of Moses was in force, all the Israelites were citizens in what was then God's kingdom. It is said of them, "For thou art a holy people unto. Jehovah thy God: Jehovah thy God hath chosen thee to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth." (Deut. 7:6.) And in Amos 3:2 God said of all the children of Israel, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth."
Though many of the Jews were lost, they were never referred to as aliens before the death of Christ. They were called "lost sheep" (Matt. 10:6), "his own" (John 1:11), and "the children" in contra-distinction to the Gentiles who were called "dogs." (Matt. 15:24-26.)
The penitent thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) were not aliens; they were citizens of the commonwealth of Israel. The forgiveness of their sins would correspond today to the forgiveness of an erring child of God, and not to the conversion of aliens.
When the law of Moses was removed by the death of Jesus (Eph. 2:14-16,) the Israelites ceased to be God's chosen people. John the immerser alluded to that truth when he said to certain Jews: "And think not to say within yourselves, "We have Abraham to our father"; he told them that the axe was already laid to the root of the old Israelite tree and it was about ready to be cut down. (Matt. 3:9-10.) Jesus taught Nicodemus that the Jewish blood in his veins would avail nothing in the new kingdom; that in order to enter the kingdom that Jesus was about to build, one must be born anew, born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:1-5.)
Beginning on that memorable Pentecost day, according to Acts 2, the apostles of Christ preached a new birth of water and the Spirit for all who would become citizens of that kingdom, the church of the Lord.
An alien sinner by the name of Simon (Acts 8) heard Philip preach on the kingdom, and he believed and was baptized. That is, he was born of water and the Spirit, thereby becoming a citizen in that kingdom. Later, Simon sinned and was in need of forgiveness again. But he was not told to be baptized again, because he was then a citizen and not an alien. Peter who had told alien sinners to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins told this erring child of God to repent and pray God for forgiveness, thereby making a clear distinction between an alien and a citizen in God's requirements for forgiveness.
3. To rightly divide the word of truth, and to understand the will of God, students must distinguish between the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ.
The law of Moses has been "abolished" (Eph. 2:15), "blotted out" and taken out of the way by the death of Christ. (Col. 2:14.) "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law." (Heb. 7:12.)
We must look to the covenant this side of the cross to knob what to do to be saved and how to please God. "For where a testament is, there must of necessity be the death of him that made it. For a testament is of force where there hath been death: for it doth never avail while he that made it liveth." (Heb. 9:16-17.)
Looking to the law of Moses as authority for religious activities today is a dangerous procedure indeed. Such is a rejection of the authority of Christ; and Paul the apostle has said: "Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace." (Gal. 5:4.)
But why are all who seek to justify their religious practices by the law of Moses threatened with such severe penalty? Because a return to the law of Moses and to the things that God tolerated under the law, would result in a restoration of animal sacrifices, David's dances and instruments of music, the keeping of the Sabbath day, burning of incense, polygamy, divorce and remarriage for every cause, and the practice of many other things which Christ died to abolish, and which he forbids in the New Testament.
A failure to make a distinction between the law and the gospel will surely lead to a misunderstanding of God's will.
4. Each passage of scripture must be read in the light of other passages bearing on the same subject.
By taking verses of scripture out of their context, isolating them from other passages, many erroneous conclusions have been reached. Satan tried to lead Jesus into this faulty method of interpretation. When Jesus was on the pinnacle of the temple Satan said to him, "If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down"; then he quoted a Passage of scripture trying to prove that the angels would protect Jesus, even if he deliberately cast himself down. But Jesus understood that passage quoted by Satan, in the light of another verse on the subject, and he said, "Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God." (Matt. 4.5-7)
Some people today read Paul's statement to the Philippian jailor, "Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31), and they stop right there. They do not read the next two verses to see what else the jailor was told to do, but jump immediately to the conclusion that man is saved by faith only. Of course if they would read the next two verses they might see that that jailor's faith led him that very hour to do just what Peter commanded the Jews to do in Acts 2:38 — repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. Or if they would read Paul's answer to the jailor in the light of James 2:24, they might be able to see that faith only never did save anybody. For James says, "Ye see that by works a man is justified" and not only by faith."
When we read in Hebrews 11:7 that Noah built an ark by faith, we should not conclude that he did it by faith only, for other passages teach that he had to "pitch it within and without with pitch."
When we read in the Bible that we are saved by faith, we should not conclude that it is by faith only, for there are other verses that teach we must repent and be baptized. (Acts 2:38.)
Much of the misunderstanding on the part of our premillennial brethren can be traced to their failure to read Revelation 20 in the light of plain passages on the same subject.
In feeding the church, elders should emphasize the importance of reading each passage in the light of other passages on the subject under consideration.
5. Students must observe God's law of exclusion, and respect the silence of the scriptures. That is, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God." (1 Peter 4:11.)
About four hundred years ago, two great religious reformers failed to agree on this principle, and they went their separate ways. Martin Luther believed that anything and everything was permissible in the worship and service of God, except the things that were expressly and specifically forbidden by the scriptures. Ulrich Zwingli believed that nothing should be done in the worship, except what the scriptures authorized by command, example or necessary inference. Zwingli was right, and Luther was wrong.
When the Lord uses a generic term in telling man what to do, then names the specific of that generic, man is forbidden thereby from employing any other specific of the generic term.
God told Noah to build the ark of gopher wood. Wood is a generic term. There are many kinds of wood: pine, oak, gopher, cedar and others. Each kind is a specific of the generic wood. But God mentioned one specific: gopher. God's law of exclusion forbade Noah's using any kind of wood, except gopher wood.
When God specified bread and fruit of the vine as elements of the Lord's supper, he thereby excluded all other food elements.
Worshippers are taught to make melody; but God specified the kind of melody: singing. All other specifics of the generic melody are forbidden by his law of exclusion.
When the Lord uses a generic term, but does not name any specific of that generic to the exclusion of others, then man is at liberty to employ any specific that may prove to be expedient.
The apostles were told to "go" into all the world and preach the gospel. But Jesus did not name any method of travel to the exclusion of other methods; therefore the apostles could select and employ specifics of the generic "go" as they chose. They could walk, ride, sail, or fly.
Christians are commanded to teach the truth. The generic "teach" has many specifics; there are many methods of teaching: speaking, writing, visual aids, object lessons. All these methods may be used, because the scriptures do not specify any one to the exclusion of the others. But a failure to understand this generic term "teach," and the specifics that compose it, is leading many good brethren today into some glaring and egregious errors. For example, some think that the church, a Bible college, a publishing company and a missionary society are methods of teaching. They are not specifics of the generic "teach"; they are not methods of teaching; they are institutions that employ methods of teaching.
We are commanded to "visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction." The word "visit" is a generic term. As used in James 1:27, it has many specifics. We may "visit" by supplying food, or clothing, or shelter, or medicine, or treatment of wounds and diseases; all these are specifics of the generic "visit" as James uses it. But the church, or the Salvation Army, or an orphan home, or the Red Cross, or any other benevolent society is not a method of visiting. It is not a specific of "visit": all these are institutions that employ methods of visiting.
When you hear a brother trying to justify church donations to a man-made missionary society, or a manmade benevolent society, on the grounds that said society is only a method of teaching, or a method of visiting, you can conclude right then that he does not know very much about God's law of exclusion. (To be concluded.)