|Volume 19 Number 6 June 2017||
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is well-known for its discussion of faith. The first verse of this great chapter reads, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The word “faith” describes our conviction in the truth of God’s Word. This faith is produced in us when we hear God’s Word (Romans 10:17). Many faithful servants of God are presented in Hebrews 11 as examples for the Christian.
Consider for a moment another example of faith found in the Book of Ezra. The Babylonians conquered Judah as divine punishment for their rejection of God. Jeremiah prophesied that the captivity would last for seventy years (25:12; 29:10) before a remnant would return to the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 30:1-10). As the Book of Ezra opens, King Cyrus sends over 40,000 Jews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and take up residence in the land. God’s people had been away from home for seventy years. Many of those relocating to Jerusalem had never been there before. They had never seen the grand temple built by Solomon. Yet, this new generation moved to Jerusalem to build a temple where they could worship God “as it is written in the Book of Moses” (Ezra 6:18). When the foundation for the new temple was laid, there were two different reactions. The aged men, ones who had seen the original Temple, wept. The younger people shouted for joy (3:12).
Both groups of people showed great faith in the promises of God. First, the aged men showed their faith. When Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem, he did not choose who would go. Instead, the king allowed volunteers to return (Ezra 1:3). The aged generation was aware God allowed their captivity and exile. This group understood, through the messages of the prophets and remembrance of the words of Moses, that their homecoming was based on their return to obedience to God. If they doubted God would allow a remnant to return to Jerusalem, why volunteer to go? They evidently had faith that God would do as He said. Their faith, conviction in the truthfulness of God, led them home to Jerusalem.
Second, the new generation showed their faith. This group also knew of the messages of the prophets and the words of Moses. It’s probable they heard of the grandeur of Solomon’s Temple and of life in the Promised Land from the older generation (Deuteronomy 6:1-7). With this knowledge, this group also volunteered to return to Jerusalem to rebuild a temple to God. Though they had never seen the magnificent Temple, nor worshipped God with sacrifices “as it is written in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 3:2), this younger generation also had faith that God would do as He said. Their faith, conviction in the truthfulness of God, led them to a new home in Jerusalem.
As Christians, we also look for a home in the “New Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:2). We hope for—expect—the eternity in Heaven that God has promised to his faithful children (Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 2:10), even though we have never seen Heaven ourselves. When we read the description of Heaven (John 14:1-6; Revelation 21) and the promises of God concerning Heaven, our faith assures us that Heaven is a real place prepared for God’s faithful followers. Do you have the faith shown by the 40,000 of Ezra’s day? If not, study God’s Word so that you may develop great faith and be assured, by your obedience to the Gospel, of a home in the New Jerusalem one day.
Stepping Stones to
Authority in the Church
Martha Lynn Rushmore
We all have someone to whom we must answer for things in our lives. Employees must answer to their bosses in the workplace. Children must answer to their parents in the home. Students must be held accountable to their teachers. Even the President of the United States is held responsible to the people. In this world in which we live, everyone is liable to someone in authority. The same is true in the church of our Lord.
There are two levels of authority for Christ’s church. First, Jesus is our final authority (Matthew 28:18). All men and women answer to God’s Word. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Of course, we have a choice to obey God or not, but when judgment comes, we will reap our reward or be condemned to punishment (Matthew 25:31-46).
Second, Christ has granted authority to elders of each congregation of the Lord’s church. Elders are to be selected to rule the church (Hebrews 13:7, 17) and feed the flock (Acts 20:28-31; 1 Peter 5:1-2). A brother who is being considered to be an elder must meet certain qualifications before he can be appointed for the work (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). We are to have multiple men in the eldership (Acts 11:30; 14:23).
The elders can make decisions that are not covered in the Scriptures as matters of opinion, such as what kind of songbooks to use or what color of carpet will be in the church building. Also, they can decide if we have two songs, a prayer and another song before preaching, etc. They can also decide if communion is before or after the sermon. These decisions are not matters of faith.
However, the elders cannot make changes to God’s laws in matters of faith. For example, repentance and baptism are necessary to become a child of God (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16). What we use for communion in our worship to God is also a direct command (Matthew 26:26-29; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). We are to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
The deacons and preachers are under the leadership of the elders. These men only have authority assigned to them by the elders for tasks in their assigned roles.
Deacons are to be servants, workers serving the needs of the church (Acts 6:1-4; 1 Timothy 3:10). These men have certain qualifications that are to be met before they are appointed to this work (1 Timothy 3:8-13). Deacons should be appointed for specific works such as maintenance of the building, benevolence, oversight of the Bible class teachers and materials or other specific duties needed by a congregation.
Preachers are all workers for the Lord. These men are supported by the church for preaching the Gospel. Paul told Timothy to “preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season” (2 Timothy 4:1-4). Whether the people liked it or not, he was to preach the Word, not his opinions.
Unfortunately, we as members like to put the preacher, the elders and the deacons on pedestals. We expect more of them and their families than we do of ourselves and our families. Brethren, this is wrong. We also want these men to do our work of visiting the sick, the unfaithful, and any other job that we as members do not want to do. We sometimes feel that our getting to Heaven depends on what the preacher, the elders and deacons do.
We as members of the congregation are to work for the Lord and His church. The elders, the deacons and the preacher cannot do our work for us. We are all commanded to go into all the world and teach the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16). The persons to which we must go with the Gospel include our neighbors, fellow workers, fellow students and others we may meet wherever we may go. We must all work for our heavenly reward. We are all responsible for our own souls.
Making our goal of Heaven will not come by the work we have done, but by the grace of God. This of course, does not mean that we are just to sit back and let God save us by His grace. Matthew 7:21 says, “Not everyone that says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that does the will of My Father in heaven.”
Let’s determine to go to Heaven and take as many souls with us as we can persuade with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In addition, along the way, let’s resolve to be useful servants of our Lord, too.