The church has an exclusive work on earth, that is, the bringing of the lost to God through Christ. Jesus described his work in the world in these words: “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). The church is to do in Jesus’ absence what Jesus would do if he were here in person. This is accomplished through three avenues: evangelism, edification, and benevolence. Let us look briefly at these three:
The noblest work of the church is preaching the gospel to the lost. It is wonderful to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give shelter to the unfortunate, but if we fail to teach them the gospel, they will die and land in hell at last. The church is God’s missionary society. The great commission is our marching orders. Jesus said, “Go preach the gospel to every creature.” Jesus said, “Go . . . and teach all nations” (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19). We are to preach the old time gospel. We are to I know nothing but Christ and him crucified. The Lord did not commission us to preach our philosophies, our theories, or the wild speculations of men. We are not to preach on any theme except the gospel of Christ.
The church is a divine institution. It is to be always engaged in the spiritual business that God has appointed. Let us devote our strength to preaching the gospel to the lost of the earth. The church is the only institution that is divinely authorized to do so. Let us be actively involved in edifying the members of the spiritual family. Let us be diligent in ministering to the needs of the poor and the suffering about us. Let us never be distracted from these holy, God-ordained pursuits for any other work, no matter how good or worthwhile we might deem it to be.
Let us not be ashamed to declare the whole counsel of God. Men’s souls are at stake. Human lives are precious. Upon whose shoulders does this responsibility rest? It rests upon the shoulders of those who claim membership in the church of the Lord. These things and these alone are the work of the church.
Therefore, I learn that every member of the church is to be built up. We are born into the family of God, according to John 3:5. We enter the family or church as babes, weak and frail. What is our first duty? What is the work of the church? To strengthen members of the family. When our children are born into our physical families, we want to see them grow, and ,they will grow if they receive three things: (1) The proper food. (2) Freedom from disease. And (3), the proper exercise. One of the works of the church is to provide a place where the child of God can grow spiritually. It needs the same three things to grow: (1) Proper food. What is that? The word of God. The apostle Paul said, “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). (2) The child of God needs freedom from disease, therefore the church must have the proper atmosphere of spirituality and devotion. (3) The child of God needs exercise. He needs some work to do.
There are some things that we receive only from close contact with the service of God and from the King himself. It is the work of the church to provide these things for its members, that they may grow and be edified. Paul reproved the church at Corinth in these words: “Even so ye, for as much as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church” (I Corinthians 14:12). Many in Paul’s time wanted spiritual gifts but Paul said, “seek to excel.” In what? In edifying the church. But what else is the work of the church?
Paul said: “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28). He said again: “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). James said: “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).
According to the book of Acts, at one time during the days of Claudius Caesar there was a great famine throughout the land of Judea, and the disciples, members of the church, at Antioch, determined to send relief to the saints in Judea, and they did, “every man according to his ability.” They sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Paul, according to Acts 11:27-30, not by some receiver, some worldly organization, treasurer or board, but to the elders of the church.
The church is to practice benevolence, and in this way to bear one another’s burdens, but the church is not to be reduced to a purely charitable institution. Remember that there were thousands in Jerusalem in the valley of Jehoshaphat and in the valley of Hinnom in the dirt and filth who were poor and underprivileged, but Jesus and the apostles did not engage primarily in that sort of work of relieving their poverty. But what else is the work of the church?