Seeking God’s Authority
How to discover God’s authority
Sin is defined for us in the scriptures as acting without the authority of God (1 John 3:4). God’s law is given to us so that we know how to act and how to be pleasing to the Lord. God’s word is not a book of do nots. God told us what we must do, and therefore it rules out all of the other options. Many try to argue that the Bible does not say that we cannot do something or another. But this is improper reasoning. Our question must always begin with where does the Bible say that we can do something. The Bible does not say that we cannot use hamburgers and french fries as elements in partaking of the Lord’s Supper. But God told us that we use unleavened bread and fruit of the vine, and this rules out all other choices. We must find what God would have us to do and then understand that this authority rules out all other options.
We discover the authority of God in three ways. First, we look for the direct command of the Lord. When the scriptures tell us to directly do something or not do something, as in “love your neighbor as yourself,” then this is the direct command of God and authority to rule our lives. The second way we discover the authority of God is by necessary inference. A necessary inference is information given by God that leads to a necessary conclusion. This authority can be exemplified in Acts 10 where Peter goes to teach Cornelius, a Gentile, because of God’s visions to eat unclean animals. God did not directly tell Peter to go to Cornelius, but Peter understood this to be the meaning of the vision. The third way we discover the authority of God is by example. If we see in the scriptures something the first century Christians were doing, then we have the authority to do the same. For example, in Acts 20:7 we see the disciples at Troas meeting together on the first day of the week to partake of the Lord’s supper. Therefore, we have authority today to meet on the first day of the week to partake of the Lord’s supper.
We also noted last time that the authority for the individual does not mean a local church has the same authority. Simply because an individual has the authority to do something with his or her money does not mean a local church can do the same thing with the treasury. This principle is found in Acts 5:4.
Authority for edification
The word “edification” means to “build up, to strengthen.” When used in the scriptures, it is obviously used in reference to building up each other spiritually. Thus, Jude writes in Jude 20, “But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit.” We will see that authority is given for edification both on the individual level and on the congregational level.
First, let us notice the authority for the individual. 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” Romans 15:2, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.” Romans 14:19, “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” Clearly, each Christian has a responsibility to edify not only other Christians, but all individuals in the world.
There is also authority for a local church to edify. In 1 Corinthians 14:26, where Paul is talking about the disorderly conduct of the use of spiritual gifts in their assemblies, Paul says “let all things be done for edification.” Here the congregation in Corinth was to do things that would edify the whole congregation. This was the very point Paul was making in Ephesians 4:11-16. One of the purposes of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers is given in verse 12 “for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Paul goes on to say that when we come to the unity of the faith, no longer tossed to and fro, and are speaking the truth in love, verse 16 says “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” So we see that edification is authorized and commanded by God for each local church. Let us now look to the scriptures to see how God wants local churches to edify.
How A Local Church Edifies
Assembling together to worship (Heb. 10:25; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; 1 Cor. 14:26)
One of the greatest ways that a local church has the power to build up and strengthen itself is by assembling together to worship our Lord. There are two great reasons why we assemble together. The first is obvious and must be our primary focus: to worship God. We must come together in an effort that is not selfish, but to bring praise, honor, and devotion to our great Lord. But while we are accomplishing this purpose, our second reason why we are assembling together is also accomplished-that is the strengthening and building up of one another. We are being built up and strengthen when we sing songs together with words that our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. When we can sing songs about turning to our Savior, about our assurance of forgiveness of sins and a home with God.
We may wonder why we have Bible studies on Sunday morning and Wednesday night. We may wonder why there is an assembling together again on Sunday night, even though we have already been here on Sunday morning. One of the purposes is edification, that strengthening that each of us needs to hold fast to the Lord. This is the purpose of my lessons, so that we can be equipped and strengthen to be of service to the Lord. I believe this is the point Paul was making in 1 Corinthians 14:26 that all things were to be done for edification. What we do needs to concentrate not only on our great Lord, but needs to be done in such a way so that we are all strengthened and built up.
This places a heavy weight upon all of us who participate in the services. It is not just a matter of leading a song simply because that is what we do. It is praise to God and needs to be done in a way that we as singers are built up and the words that we are saying are building us up. When we pray, it is not just a matter of spending a minute or two saying some words because that is what God wants. This is our opportunity to pray for one another. When the talk is given for the Lord’s supper, it is not just saying some words that we think God wants to hear. We are glorifying the work he has done and building each of us up to focus and dedicate ourselves as a reminder each week for what the Savior has done. A sermon is not a thirty minute time filler so that we can have an hour of services. It is not to be an entertainment program or a comedic act at the Improv. This is to be words of truth that will strengthen us so that we can be better servants. We must all place great time and effort into making sure that what we are doing is going to edify those who are participating. “Let all things be done for edification.”
Which all the more shows why we need to be here as much as possible. This exhorting and edification can only take place when we are assembling together as Hebrews 10:25 tells us. When we would rather sleep in than make it to bible studies, when we would rather watch television than assemble together, then the work of edification in your life and in mine is being hindered. It is important for us to desire to take advantage of the opportunities to assemble together.
Teaching the word (Eph 4:12,16; Acts 20:32; Col. 2:7)
Another way that a local church works to edify is through the teaching of God’s word. Paul said in his farewell address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:32, “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Here we see the word of God is a tool that is able to build up each person. Paul made a similar statement in Colossians 2:6-7, where he says, “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.” We become built up in Him through the teachings of God’s word. There is never too much time spent in teaching the word of God. The more each of us know about God’s word, the more it can affect our lives and strengthen us to be better servants.
Our speech (Eph. 4:29; 1 Thes. 5:11)
Our speech is another way that we build one another up in the holy faith. Each of us is charged to speak to one another so that we can be strengthened. Paul said in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” This charge is true not only individually, but also as a collective. The words that we say should not tear others down, but only build them up and impart grace to the hearers. Our words must build others up spiritually. When we say things that are critical and harmful of others, complain about what others are doing, engage in gossiping, whisperings, and backbitings, we tear others down spiritually. Why would anyone want to be a Christian if those whom the person is associated with tear that person down? We must see that not only are we forfeiting our own soul when this kind of language takes place, but we are endangering another soul as well. We also need to use our tongues to speak about spiritual things. We need to take advantage of the opportunities to speak about God’s word, the difficulties we may have in serving him, questions we have about God’s will in our lives, and any other spiritual topic. While it is good that we speak about social things so that we get closer to one another, let us not neglect to speak about God while together.
Through love (Eph. 4:16; 1 Cor. 8:1; 13:4; Rom. 15:2; 1 Thes. 5:12-14; 1 Pet. 4:8-10)
Paul was very plain about the effects of love. In 1 Corinthians 8:1 Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” When we are willing to give up ourselves for one another, when we are willing put think of others before we think of ourselves, and when we are submitting ourselves one to another, we exhibit love and such action build each other up. When we take our focus off of ourselves and place it on the needs of others, they will be strengthened by these actions. When we do things for those who are weak in the faith that makes a big impact in their lives. We have the opportunity to show others the love of God and we must look to do such.
Local churches edify when every member does it part
What I hope we see from these commands for edification is that it all begins with the individual. There is not a program that we are going to roll out, using the treasury of the local church, in the name of edification. A local church is doing the work of edification when each of its members is doing its share. When members are assembling together, when members are teaching the word, when members are speak the truth in love, building others up, and when members are loving one another, then edification is going to occur. Just like last week’s lesson, the responsibility of the work of edification primarily falls upon each individual. We cannot shirk our duties or try to create some sort of organization to do the work for us. We are told to do these things ourselves.
Church sponsored college
Some have come along and said that part of the work of the church is teaching, as we have just noted. Some want to set up a Bible college and have all the local churches to send their money to it to pay for it. Some have gone further and said that we need to have colleges to train preachers so that they are properly taught.
No scriptural authority. While this may sound like a good idea, where is the authority for a local church to use its funds to create a college to do the work of edification? There is no command for a local church to use its money to support a college. There is not a necessary inference that we can make to show the authority of church sponsored colleges. Further, we do not see the apostles establishing a school for their disciples to go to so they can be trained to be preachers and teachers. God placed the work of edification upon individuals and upon local churches, not upon the establishment of colleges.
Creates organization greater than a local church. The same problem arises in the work of edification as it did in the work of evangelism. When local churches send their money to an organization, the organization is greater than the local church. The organization, whether it is a college or a missionary society, is greater than local churches.
Violates church autonomy. When local churches send their money to an organization to use the money, the local church is no longer in control of the money. When a college tells local churches this is the money we need, here is how much you need to send, the authority and independence of each local church is violated. The local church is not in charge of the funds, the college is, thus taking away the authority of the local church. Each local church is sufficient to do the work of edification that God gave it. God did not say that it was necessary for another organization to come in and help local churches. God gave us the authority to do it ourselves.
Is there anything fundamentally wrong with a Bible college? No. If we have a rich man who decided he wanted to build a college where they will have Bible classes along with other college courses, could a rich man build that? Yes. But is there authority for local churches to build these colleges? No. God has not said to use the money of local churches in that way. Can individuals send money to a college? Yes, you can send money to a Bible college or to the University of Florida, it is your choice. Is a local church given authority to do this? No. Thus, a college needs to be funded by individuals and not use the treasuries of local churches, for which there is no authority.
Some want to include social events under the umbrella of edification in the work of a local church. But this shows a misunderstanding of how the scriptures define edification. Do we see local churches putting together purely social events? No, because that is not the definition of edification.
Notice again how Jude used the word edification. Jude 20 reads, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit…” What is edification supposed to be in? We are not to build ourselves up in social things, but be built up in the most holy faith. This is why Ephesians 4 says that it is apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that edify the body of Christ. They were not built up in softball leagues and dining rooms.
Some are interested in trying to attract people by social means. I have read of advertising for some churches to show football games and during halftime having a worship service. Is there authority for a local church to be engaged in social attraction? Should we use food to bring people to the gospel? Should we use football to bring people to the gospel? We have no authority for these things.
Again, it comes down to the distinction between the use of individual’s funds and the use of the funds of a local church. Can I rent a room and invite all of you to come for a banquet? Yes. Can a local church? No, it is not the work of the local church to put on social events. Can individuals rent a pavilion in the park and have Christians and non-Christians come? Yes. Can a local church use its money to rent the park? No, there is no authority. Is it okay for some of us to join a softball league and play softball? Yes. Can the local church pay for us to play softball? No, there is no authority.
Christians need to spend time together and it is good that they spend time together socially. But pure social events are not the work of a local church. There is no authority to build social halls, pay for softball leagues, purchase food for dinners, rent a pavilion, or any other social thing. But that does not mean individual Christians should not be involved in these things. I believe that many Christians have shied away from doing these things because a local church is not authorized to do so. But I will say again, that this means the responsibility falls upon individuals to get to know each other and spend time together. We can have all the potlucks, basketball leagues, and social dinners we want, but not with the funds of the local church. That is left up to individuals. Let us do these things for ourselves and not burdened the local church with things that are not authorized.