Friday, November 17, 2017

Two Main Tasks In The Church

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
(2 Corinthians 5:17)


Paul's declaration in 2 Corinthians 5:17 is one of the most well-known and oft-quoted verses in Scripture. It speaks of the beautiful truth of salvation. The old things passed away. New things have come.

Praise God!

Much less quoted are the next verses.
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20, bold added)
If you are in Christ, you are a new creature. The old has passed away. The new has come. The "new" includes a ministry of reconciliation.

This isn't for some. It's not for those who are spiritually gifted for it. It's for anyone and everyone who is in Christ. All of us.

Every Christian is an ambassador for Christ. Every Christian has received the ministry of reconciliation. Every Christian. Period.

If 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 is quoted infrequently, I think the sentiments leading up to the "Therefore" in 5:17 are quoted even less.
Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. (2 Corinthians 5:9-11, bold added)
Paul lived his life in light of the truth that Christians must appear before the Lord. This truth led Paul to have as his ambition to live a life that is pleasing to Him. Living with a healthy fear of the Lord caused Paul to persuade men. Paul engaged in this task because, as a Christian, he had received a ministry of reconciliation.

Paul knew he must stand before the Lord and give account for his ministry of reconciliation. Paul figured he should spend his life trying to persuade men to be reconciled to God.

Fairly simple.

The disconnect for many Christians is that we think this was all well and good for Paul. But it doesn't apply to everyone. Yet, Paul didn't let anyone off the hook. His language is inclusive. It's not just for him. It's for everyone who is a Christian.

And the famous declaration about the old passing away and the new coming fits snugly in the middle of this context.

If we fail to understand this truth we can skew the entirety of Christianity. All of the New Testament instruction fits within this important framework.

A Firm Foundation

If we trace God's work of salvation from beginning to end we see that He is making a people for Himself, redeemed from the curse through their faith in the Messiah. God promised to Adam and Eve that a Messiah would come. God promised that through Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed. God chose Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David, and the nation of Israel to be a light to the nations and the nation through which the promised Messiah would come.

Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of these promises.

But Jesus has not yet fulfilled all of them. The Old Testament promised that the Messiah would suffer, die, rise to life again and enter into His glory. The Old Testament foretold that repentance in His name would be proclaimed to all the nations of the earth, then the end would come.

Passages like Psalms 2, 8, and 110 declare that the Messiah will sit at the right hand of the Father until all things are fully subjected to Him. We are currently living in this time. Jesus is risen and ascended. He is reigning in heaven. He has promised He will return. He will not return until the Great Commission has been fulfilled.

In order to fulfill the Great Commission, God has left the church to be the Body of Christ on earth. The church - comprised of all born-again believers, both Jew and Gentile, in whom the Holy Spirit of God dwells - has been given the gift of salvation. We are new creatures in Christ.

And God has entrusted a ministry of reconciliation to each of His children.

It's not the work of a few. It's our mission from our Lord and Savior. It is literally the purpose for our existence.


That God May Be Glorified

Paul wrote about the purpose of the church: "to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:12).

The church exists to glorify God. We don't exist to plan for retirement or to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of this world. We exist to glorify God.

In order to glorify God the church has two main tasks:
  1. Edification of the saints
  2. Evangelization of the world.
This is an internal (edification) and an external (evangelization) task. But these tasks are not contrary to each other. They don't compete with one another. At least, they're not supposed to. As designed by God these tasks complement and support one another. Therefore, it is not our task to pick one and ignore the other. It is not our task to participate in whichever we are most comfortable with.

We must embrace both because the Great Commission is made up of both.
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20, bold added)
Disciples making more disciples. Go (evangelize). Teach (edify believers). Repeat. Edified believers will faithfully represent God in the world. As every member evangelizes, we should see persons added to the kingdom of God and His Christ. In this way, the process won't end until Jesus returns.

Some stumble on other aspects of Christianity. But these shouldn't be stumbling blocks. They all fit within this basic framework. They aren't contrary to it. Once again, when properly understood, they don't take away from these two primary tasks. They support and enhance them.


Stumbling Blocks

Some will object to this simple design. They'll point to passages that emphasize other gifts and responsibilities. What about service? Hospitality? Prayer?

All of these are important. They all fit. When we use our gifts we use them in line with these two major purposes. We use our gifts to edify our brothers and sisters. We are likewise edified by the exercise of their gifts. We also use our gifts to proclaim God's excellencies in all the earth in both word and deed.

We do ourselves a disservice when we reduce evangelism to merely speaking the truth of the gospel. It is true that the gospel must be preached. How can they believe in Him whom they've never heard?

But the ministry of reconciliation is blessed when accompanied by the use of our spiritual gifts. Those who have a heart for service should serve. They should serve in the name of Jesus. Their service falls under the larger umbrella of proclaiming God's name to the ends of the earth.

Without the gospel accompanying our service, our hospitality, our kindness, or our generosity, there is nothing to distinguish believers in Christ from non-believers who likewise seek to diminish human suffering and meet felt human needs out of natural human compassion. What separates Christian ministry from non-Christian humanitarian aid if not the inclusion of the gospel?

Our spiritual gifts are not designed to separate members of the Body of Christ. They unite us. We are unified in our purpose as the church. We exist to glorify our great God and Savior. We do this through walking in our two primary tasks, 1) the edification of believers, and 2) the evangelization of the world.

In both tasks our spiritual gifts are critically important. We use our gifts to edify and evangelize. We are edified by the proper use of the gifts of others. In fact, some of the most powerful evangelism opportunities are created when differently, complimentary gifted members of the body serve together. What power and joy is accomplished when a spiritually gifted servant and a spiritually gifted teacher minister together in love!

In times like these, we are actually doing both tasks (edification and evangelization) simultaneously as both believers encourage and bless one another while they together bless the world through serving in His great name.

Conclusion

Every church ministry, program, and decision can (and should!) be filtered through these main purposes. The edification of the saints and the evangelization of the world.

Christ reigns in heaven. He is coming back. He is seated at the right hand of the Father until all things are put under His feet. We must proclaim the gospel to all nations before the end will come. Jesus told us so: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).

What are we waiting for?

Get equipped. Obey your King. Glorify your God.

For more on this, read my books on the church and church leadership. They discuss these important truths in greater detail.

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