13. Grace, Love, and Authority

The announcement of salvation coincides with the message, “Your God reigns” (Isa. 52:7). Christians recognize that salvation comes by the grace of God through faith (Eph 2:8-10). With this comes the recognition of God’s authority to offer grace. An offer of grace from one who has no authority would be worthless. Grace is meaningful because the One who offers that grace reigns. Only one with the power to heal can offer to heal.

We are not under Law but under grace (Rom 6:15). While there are debates over the nature of grace and works, this is more about understanding the relationship between grace and the authority of God. Because salvation to God’s glory is our desire, thinking about grace and its connection to God’s authority is fitting.

Grace and Covenant

God offers a covenant relationship in which He is merciful toward iniquities (Heb. 8:12). The only way that anyone can be in a covenant relationship with God is because of His grace (favor). We don’t deserve mercy or forgiveness. Without His willingness to forgive, no amount of desire or action could earn it. Forgiveness cannot happen on our authority, but only on His, which is why we need to see this integral connection between grace and authority.

By recognizing God’s grace, we confess that He is in charge of the relationship. We are not co-equals with God in a bilateral covenant. We cannot negotiate the terms of the contract (like two kings might do). In this covenant, He alone is King. We either submit ourselves to Him and His grace or we attempt to enthrone ourselves and thereby deny His grace. He is the beneficent King who willingly lavishes His grace upon us (Eph. 1:7-8). As the lesser is blessed by the greater (Heb. 7:7), so the lesser (us) is blessed by the grace of the Greatest of all.

The importance of this for our understanding of authority should be considered. People may think that grace allows freedom to do as we wish, as if grace is divorced from authority. If we are free in Christ because of His grace and mercy, then doesn’t that mean we may do what we want? That is not a biblical view of grace. Rather, by recognizing His grace, we confess His absolute authority and right to command. By submitting to grace, we submit to His authority. Obedience to His expressed will recognizes that He sets the terms of the covenant, not us. Grace has never been a license to sin or to ignore God’s will (see Rom. 6:1-2 and Jude 4).

This does not mean that we are under Law by which we may earn salvation. It does mean that grace is God’s prerogative, and if we are going to be recipients of it, it will be on His terms, not ours. We bring to the table of the King our faith, which is a trusting, obedient submission to His will. We do not bring our own authority to the relationship, and we can make no demands on God. We might add things that we like and make us feel good, but it is a breach of our role in the covenant of God to extend our authority to the same level as His. Without His will, we have no warrant or right just to do whatever, for then we are working from our own authority, and this is a denial of His grace.

God’s grace should keep us from thinking of God as some tyrant who just wants to squeeze people under his thumb. He is authoritative, but He is not tyrannical. We live under a marvelous covenant of grace and mercy. Even so, the Provider of the grace maintains all the power. Only when we keep our proper place under Him can we claim to be under this covenant of grace.

Some might think there is a conflict between grace and authority, like trying to put grace together with some form of meritorious law-keeping and self-righteousness. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no grace unless the One offering that grace has the authority to give it. Since the terms of this covenant are His, by His grace, then we cannot have a proper view of grace without also seeing His authority. Grace teaches us to deny ungodliness, to live soberly and righteously, to look for the Lord’s appearing, and to be zealous for the good works He gives for us to do (Titus 2:11-14). This exhortation is followed up with this: “These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority” (vs. 15).

Authority with Grace

The only way God could, in His sovereignty, offer grace is if He has the authority to do so, and He does (Isa. 52:7). Anyone can say, “I’m giving you grace,” or “I forgive you of your sins,” but without the authority to enact grace, such a claim would be empty. God can extend His offer because He has the inherent authority to do so. Grace and authority are linked together in such a way that there could be no grace without God’s absolute authority to offer it. This was one of the lessons of Mark 2:1-12. Jesus forgave the man’s sins, then demonstrated His authority to do so. “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” Authority and grace (e.g., forgiveness) go together.

One way we can learn to better appreciate God’s grace is by continually recognizing His authority in everything. How so? First, recognizing the reliance upon God’s grace admits our own failures and need for salvation. If we don’t see the horror of sin and its consequences, then we will not see our need to rely upon God for forgiveness. A reliance upon grace is a reliance upon the power of God for that grace. If we rely upon our own authority rather than God’s, then we are not living with trust in God’s grace. If we don’t recognize God’s authority, then we will be relying on our own authority, and when we rely on our own authority, we negate grace because we are relying upon a self-appointed version of law.

When we act without God’s authority, we are acting on our own (or another’s) authority. This makes the work our own, not God’s. Doing our own works and failing to submit to God and His works, we have fallen into our own system of justification. This is spoken against strongly in Scripture. For example, the concept of boasting for our own works is set over against God’s grace and what He has done for us. Paul makes this point: “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Cor. 1:27-31)

God’s authority is absolute. He did what He did to bring us to Him (1 Pet. 3:18), and His actions negate our ability to boast in our works precisely because we are not in a position to act on our own authority. Grace does not give permission to act outside of God’s will (cf. Rom. 6:1-2; Jude 4). The irony is that the more we act on our own authority, the less we are respecting the grace of God. Authority and grace work together. If we respect God’s authority, we will appreciate His grace all the more.

Love and Authority

Just as grace is tied to God’s authority, so is love. Lack of love is manifested in selfishness. Love does not “seek its own” (1 Cor. 13:5, NASB), does not “insist on its own way” (ESV), is not “self-seeking” (NIV). When people push back against God’s authority because they think they have a better way, a more loving way, they are not showing love. There is great irony in this. Culture tells us that we need to love more and to support all love between others. At the heart of this push is an attitude based on selfish ambition and the wisdom of the world. This is the same source where we will find bitterness, disorder, and every vile practice (Jas. 3:13-18). Worldly, cultural wisdom and understanding is not based on love because it seeks its own will and insists on its own way. Likewise, if we push against God’s authority as Christians, seeking to run things our own way, putting our own desires and ambitions above others, ignoring what Scripture teaches, then we have failed to love. Putting a stamp of love on our own will only escalates the deception.

Love and authority go hand in hand. If we love God, we will submit to His authority because love does not seek its own will. If love is meaningful to us, so will God’s authority be meaningful. We must not fool ourselves into thinking that, for the sake of love, we can compromise God’s will. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Seek love, and in seeking love, seek after God’s will instead of insisting on our own way.

“Love God” is the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:36-40). In the very context of that command (Deut. 6:4), Israel was told to fear God and keep His commandments. Loving Him and submitting to His will work together. We must show Him the respect He deserves, and to do so His way. Failure to respect this connection between love and authority results in love becoming a selfish excuse for doing what we want. The greatest command includes respecting everything about who God is, His sovereignty, and His will.

Conclusion

God’s grace should humble us and cause us to see that it is only by His power and will that salvation is possible. “Your God reigns” is alongside the announcement of salvation (Isa. 52:7). Our King desires to lavish His grace and love upon us (Eph. 1:7-8), and knowing that He is the only One with that authority should comfort us. In return, let us seek to live by His grace and demonstrate our love for Him (Titus 2:11-14).

Discussion Questions

1. How is “Your God reigns” tied to salvation (Isa. 52:7)?

2. Why is God’s authority vital when it comes to forgiveness?

3. How is a recognition of God’s grace also a recognition of His authority?

4. How is acting on our own authority actually a denial of God’s grace?

5. What does grace teach us to do (Titus 2:11-14)? Why is this so important?

6. How does Mark 2:1-12 show the connection of God’s grace to His authority?

7. How do love and authority work together?

8. How should both love and grace keep us in humble submission to God and His will?


12. Worship and Assembly

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord in holy array” (Psalm 29:2).

God has always been in charge of what pleases Him in worship. Is any and all worship acceptable to God? If all worship is acceptable, what is the biblical basis for thinking so? If all worship is not acceptable, then on what basis should we proceed in worship? God was not just against worshiping other gods (Deut. 5:9). He was also concerned with how worship was conducted (e.g., Neh. 12:45); reverence was always expected (cf. Psalm 2:11). If we are going to be God’s people, then we need to pay attention to these concerns.

Should our concern not be to offer up spiritual sacrifices that God accepts? Peter wrote, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). There are spiritual sacrifices through Jesus that God accepts. Does it imply that there might be some forms of worship and sacrifice that are not acceptable?

Basic Meaning of Worship

Some seem to view worship as confined to a place and time: “Where do you worship?” “What time is worship?” Worship is much more. It is action coupled with attitude. However, worship is not dependent on a place now, but upon the proper application of “truth and spirit” (John 4:21-24). God has always wanted worship from the heart, so if our hearts are not right, then no worship has occurred regardless of the motions we go through (Matt. 15:8). We might say the right words yet our hearts be far from God, rendering our worship vain.

Terms in Scripture indicating worship involve revering, honoring, and fearing God. The word Proskuneo means to prostrate oneself before something (or someone) as an act of reverence, fear, or supplication (Louw and Nida 218). This is used in John 4:24. To worship God means that we revere and honor Him, bowing ourselves before Him in service and attitude. This implies that we must worship God as He directs, for we cannot honor Him without listening to His will (Matt. 7:21-23). We must not subjectively do whatever we want then call it “worship.” Revering and honoring God means that we do what He says (Luke 6:46; Eccl. 12:13).

God is in charge of worship. There were specified “regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary” (Heb. 9:1), and the people were not to deviate from them. He was clear that they were not to worship other gods (Deut. 4:19; 5:9; 6:13; 8:19). He had the tabernacle built according to a strict pattern (Exod. 25:40 ; 1 Chron. 28:11ff). This included the priesthood, sacrifices, instruments, and anything else connected to the tabernacle (or temple) worship (see Neh. 12:45). When individuals bowed in reverence and honored God, this was also called worship (Judges 7:15). The worshiper reveres and honors God, does what God says, and avoids worshiping anything else.

Collective Activities in Assembly and Worship

There are activities that God desires for us to do collectively when assembled (this is not saying that every action must be done in every single assembly; for example, we might assemble for prayer or song). These activities are forms of service and honor to Him because we find them revealed in His will. When we do them as He has directed, and with a proper heart, then we are worshiping. (Please note that this is not dealing with an individual worshiping at home, though the individual still needs to be careful to honor and revere God appropriately outside the assembly).

There are some areas of collective activities as worship to God. Some refer to “five acts of worship,” but we need to be careful that we are not turning the idea into some kind of cold ritual or checklist. Everything we do in our collective actions that are meant to glorify and honor God would fall under the umbrella of worship or offering up acceptable sacrifices through Jesus Christ. Here, then, in no particular order, are activities that we find the Christians doing when gathered together “as a church”:

They partook of the the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). The Lord put this in the assembly as a joint participation with other saints (1 Cor. 11:18ff). When we take the Lord’s Supper, we are honoring and revering God for what He has done on our behalf. In this action, we are: remembering and proclaiming the death of Christ (1 Cor. 11:24, 26); looking forward to His return (1 Cor. 11:26); examining ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28); judging the body of Christ (1 Cor. 11:29); and communing with Jesus and each other (1 Cor. 10:16).

They prayed together. We are to pray individually, but God also wants us to pray collectively (Acts 2:42; 4:23-24, 31; 12:5; see 1 Cor. 14:15-17 where public prayer ought to be edifying for others). In prayer, we give thanks and praise to God, as well as pray for needs. In doing this properly, we are worshiping and honoring God.

They sang spiritual songs. We sing individually (Acts 16:25; Jas. 5:13), but there is great edification and strength in collective singing (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16-17). In singing, we edify each other, but we also “offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” (Heb. 13:15). The stress is on the individual’s heart (“making melody with your heart”). If the heart is not right, then we “draw near” with our mouths, but our hearts are far from Him resulting in vain worship (Matt. 15:7-9). Stress is never put on the entertainment value of music in worship. Though we encourage one another, God is ultimately our audience, and our hearts are His instruments of praise.

They taught God’s message. The disciples taught and edified one another by studying God’s will in the assembly (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 14). Letters written to churches were to be read to the group (Col. 4:16; 1 Tim. 4:13; Rev. 2-3). Does this constitute “worship”? Praise is included in much of what is read and taught from Scripture. While teaching others is not technically the same as direct praise to God, teaching truth does glorify and honor God because it is “good and acceptable in the sight of God” (1 Tim. 2:3). Whether some technically consider this worship or not, teaching is an assembly activity that glorifies God, and in that sense may be considered a form of worship.

They contributed funds to the work and encouraged carrying out the work. Some deny that giving is “worship,” but consider the fact that, in our giving, we are honoring God and making it possible for the church to carry out its God-given task. Giving is one aspect of sharing, and sharing is offering up a sacrifice to God with which He is pleased (Heb. 13:16). 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 shows a collection being taken up for needy saints on the first day of the week, strengthening the point that the first day of the week was a regular time that Christians met.

How may we sum up guiding principles in our worship? 1) Since Jesus is King, we ought to be concerned with doing His will, according to His truth (John 8:31-32). 2) Each person should be concerned with worshiping God from the heart (cf. 1 Cor. 11:28; Matt. 15:7-9). 3) Worship should be edifying (1 Cor. 14). Though in a context of spiritual gifts, 1 Corinthians 14 shows principles of collective worship. Paul argues that whatever is done needs to be for the edification of the church (vv. 3, 12). If something did not edify the group, then it should not have been done in a group context. This principle applies to our activities. 4) Worship should be done decently and orderly. The Corinthians had a problem with people speaking out of order, with too many speaking, and with general confusion in the assembly. This violated God’s will. “But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Cor. 14:40). While there is no specified chronological order for the activities, we must proceed in an orderly manner.

What about Incidental Matters?

There is a difference between something that is purposed and an incidental occurrence. “Incidental,” means that something occurs as a casual accompaniment to something else that is purposed and planned. Our purpose is to come together to worship and praise God, as well as to edify and strengthen one another. In this context, incidentals happen. For example, while our purpose is not to be a social club or come together for mere social reasons, people do socialize when together. This is incidental to the purpose, but that doesn’t mean it is unimportant. However, if we take this and turn it into our main purpose, then we have missed the point of our gathering. The greeting with a kiss (Rom. 16:16) was not the purpose for gathering, but was an incidental matter of custom that was to be guided by holiness.

What about announcements? In the context of a family meeting in order to encourage and edify, it is expedient to learn of the needs of others and to greet people in an orderly fashion. As members of the body trying to rejoice, weep, and care for each other, we need an expedient way of communicating these things (1 Cor. 12:26; Rom. 12:15). Public announcements are one way of doing this.

How does the building fit in? There is nothing inherently holy about a building. However, if the building was purchased with funds set aside for the work of God, then we need to be careful not to abuse that. There is a difference between allowing Boy Scout meetings and having Bible studies. What would limit the purposed use of the building is the authority by which it was built (an expedient meeting place in order to carry out the command to assemble and perform God’s work). While it is generally authorized, it certainly can be abused.

Conclusion

Collective worship to God is a significant part of our lives as Christians. We need to make sure it is done properly, according to God’s will and with proper hearts. We should avail ourselves of these opportunities.

Discussion Questions

1. Why is worship not confined only to a time or place?

2. What is true worship dependent upon and why?

3. Define worship. What does this tell us about how we should be approaching God?

4. How does Hebrews 9:1 inform us about worship under the Law?

5. Of what should we be careful in speaking about “acts of worship”?

6. Consider each of the areas discussed in which the assembly is engaged. What are the biblical reasons for doing these things? How do they honor and glorify God?

7. What overarching principles guide our activities in the assembly?

8. Why distinguish between a purpose and an incidental?


11. How the Church Works

Recognizing the kingship and headship of Christ (Col. 1:18) also means recognizing the importance of His will in how a local church is going to work. Previously, we saw four areas in Scripture in which the local group is to function: fellowship in preaching to the lost, edifying and strengthening the saved, helping to provide benevolent help to saints in physical need, and maintaining collective worship to God. We have also seen that the work is primarily spiritual in nature. While there are social benefits to being a part of a local congregation, the reason for its existence is to do the spiritual work of God. As God’s people in a given locality, every congregation has a spiritual work to perform. This work should not be compromised by shifting the focus to recreational, social, or political issues. This lesson will consider scriptural ways in which the work of the local group is to be accomplished.

Principles About Collective Funds

Since funds are necessarily involved in carrying out the work of the local church (nothing is free), principles about those funds are also important. The local church work is going to be funded by the free will offerings of the members of that congregation (cf. 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 9:6-8). This is not a forced tithe, and the New Testament nowhere gives a percentage for giving. Rather, Christians give as they prosper, willingly and cheerfully, knowing they are having fellowship in matters pertaining to God and His kingdom.

Is there biblical authority for a collective treasury to exist? Let’s consider the evidence. In Acts 4:36-37 and 5:1-2, money was laid at apostles’ feet, which implies that the apostles gained control of the collective funds in Jerusalem once they were given by the Christians. That is, essentially, a treasury. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, gives directions to the local group and shows other local groups received the same instructions (vs. 1). Christians were to “put aside and save, that no collections be made when I come.” If they did not pool their funds, then collections would have to be taken up when Paul arrived, which is not what he wanted. Paul spoke of the collection as “your gift” (singular) in verse 3. It was a collective gift, again implying a group collection all in one place. Then, in Philippians 4:15-16, we find that the group at Philippi supported Paul in his preaching. The support is said to be from that local group, not just select individuals. The only way this would make much sense is if they had pooled their funds together in some way (cf. also 2 Cor. 11:8).

Once funds are pooled together, they become the property of the group and are purposed for specified work. In Acts 5:1-4, Ananias retained control of his property and funds until he surrendered it to the group. His sin here was lying about what or how much he gave. Whatever we contribute for group use falls under the control of the group, not just one individual. The funds so collected do not belong to the individual any more, but are dedicated for the group’s work.

Any legitimate organization knows that when 1) the organization exists for a particular purpose, and 2) funds are given by its members in order to facilitate that purpose, then it stands to reason that the purpose for which an organization exists and for which it collects funds is also what limits how those funds ought to be spent. Misuse of funds (using them for purposes other than stated intent) is a serious charge (even a crime) in the business world as it goes right to the integrity of those who run the business. This is well understood in secular circles. All we are doing now is applying the same, logical principle to the purpose for which a local church organization exists and for which funds are collected and dispersed.

The application of the principle is as follows: since the group is authorized by God to work in certain ways, then the distribution of the group funds are limited by the purpose for which the group exists (which comes from Scripture). A congregation does not have biblical authority to spend the money any way the leaders desire. The funds are limited by the work which God has authorized it to do; however the funds are spent indicates how the Christians work as a collective unit.

Since a local church is authorized to share in the preaching of the gospel, the collected funds may be spent in whatever is necessary and expedient to do the work — support preachers, provide materials, etc. Since God has not specified every aspect of this, there is some choice as to whom a group may support (assuming the man is teaching truth) and what materials it may procure to facilitate that work. However, if the leaders take those funds and arbitrarily spend them on movie tickets, ball games, or something else unrelated to the work, people would rightly challenge the unauthorized action and subsequently seek proper authority. The same would be true for edification, benevolence, and worship.

The Direct Nature of the Work

There is no indication in Scripture that a local church, by donating their collective funds, went through a para-church organization or institution that did the work on their behalf. No Scripture indicates that a local congregation should be an agency for collecting donations that then go to other organizations. There are no middle-man agencies, collecting funds and making the decisions, between the church and the work being done. Bear in mind that there is no universal organization given in the Scriptures. The universal church, which includes all Christians from all times and all locations, cannot be universally activated or organized.

Local groups are not structurally tied to another organization, nor are they tied to each other through organized centralization. Local groups are independent and autonomous (self-governing, not ruled by other churches or organizations). Congregations were similar as a result of teaching the same doctrine (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:33; 16:1), but they were not organizationally tied to each other. Centralization attempts to activate universal organization and is a component of denominationalism, which is an organized body of religious congregations (i.e., the congregations comprise the body rather than the individuals). This is nowhere found in Scripture.

Each local group in the New Testament collected and disbursed its own funds. While one church may send to another in the case of saints in physical need, there is nothing that shows one church collecting funds from other churches because they decided to do some work that they couldn’t afford. There is no scriptural indication that one eldership or institution should seek to take and oversee funds of another congregation. Elders can only, legitimately, shepherd the flock “among you” (that is, over their own local group, 1 Pet. 5:2-3). Following, we will see this principle applied in the specified works of local congregations:

In the preaching of the gospel. A local group can and should support gospel preachers. The Scriptures show that such support was sent or given directly to the preacher (Phil. 4:15-16; 2 Cor. 11:8). Support was not funneled through another congregation (“sponsoring church”), missionary society, or college that, in turn, decided who to support and how to use the funds.

In the work of edification. The principle is the same for edification and worship. The local group provides the place, people, and provisions for doing the work. In this way, the group “edifies itself” and is not dependent upon other institutions or organizations to do what they ought to be doing for themselves. Each member is to be taught to serve (Eph. 4:11) so that the group is “fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part” that “causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16).

In the work of benevolence. A local group has first obligation to its own members (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-26), and so provides help when there is a saint in physical need. Acts 6 shows how the church at Jerusalem handled this kind of situation within their own group. It was not done by collecting funds to funnel or donate into another institution, which in turn provided for itself and other needs according to its own discretion and oversight. Rather, the local group maintained its own work and oversight. When a local group cannot adequately provide its own needs (such as in a wide-spread famine), the Scriptures show that one group may send relief to another group (Acts 11:27-30; Rom. 15:25-27). Again, this is direct relief, not funneled through another institution that makes the decisions. This is a temporary situation intended to help stabilize the needy saints in that location (2 Cor. 8:1, 14). This is the only scriptural circumstance we find in which one group sends funds to another. The funds are not redistributed to another institution once it reaches its destination. The group in need then handles what they receive from others.

Conclusion

The way in which we see local churches operating in Scripture is not difficult. There are no complicated hierarchies. There are no centralized organizations making decisions for all the churches. Each local group handles its own work, its own needs, and its own resources. When a church used funds, they sent directly to the work, whether it be a preacher or a needy group when the situation called for it. There were no middle organizations collecting donations to take care of the work for the churches. The independent nature of each congregation reflects the wisdom of God and local groups are wise in maintaining their local work in the same way that is shown in Scripture.

Discussion Questions

1. Why is it important for a congregation to pay careful attention to the way its funds are spent?

2. When an individual gives to the church, what happens in principle with those funds? Why is this important?

3. What do secular organizations understand about spending funds given to them? How does this analogy help us in thinking about congregational spending?

4. Why is the centralization of several churches a problem scripturally?

5. When a local group supported a preacher (like Paul), how did they do it?

6. Read Ephesians 4:11-16 again. How should a congregation seek to do the work of edification?

7. When benevolence is needed, how was the work accomplished both 1) locally, and 2) with respect to helping other groups?

8. Does it matter how a local church proceeds with its work? Why or why not?


10. Why the Church Exists

Jesus Christ is head of the body, the church (Col. 1:18). This means that we need to be concerned with His will for what the church is supposed to be and why it exists. We have seen that “church” (ekklesia) refers to a group of people, whether universally, locally, or physically assembled. Now the question is, why does the church exist? Our primary concern here is to consider the reason for a local congregation. Why do local churches need to exist, and what is God’s work for them? What has God authorized with respect to a local congregation?

Evidence for the Local Group

Some have denied the importance of an organized local church, so let’s first consider the evidence for localized congregational activity. First is the fact that specific epistles are addressed to local congregations (1 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; 8:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; Rev. 2-3). These epistles would be read to the church when they assembled. Within the context of the local group, funds were collected (cf. Acts 5:1-6; 1 Cor. 16:1-3), and regular meetings occurred where they worshiped together and partook of the Lord’s Supper together (1 Cor. 11:17-34; 14; Acts 20:7). The local group is charged with particular action, or, in some cases, to refrain from particular action. For example, when it comes to the care of some widows, the church was not to be burdened (1 Tim. 5:16); rather, individuals needed to take care of their own (1 Tim. 5:3-4).

These passages, and more, can only make sense in the context of a local congregational organization. Contrasted with the universal body, which has no set organization, a local group will often have, with the saints in that place, “overseers and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). These overseers, or elders, are responsible to shepherd the group over which they have the charge (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2-3; Heb. 13:17). They are not universal shepherds, but only local.

These passages further show that God wants Christians involved in a local congregation. We need to avoid the extreme of thinking that the local church is unimportant and that only the individual matters. While the church is comprised of individuals, and individuals function within the group (Heb 10:24-25), the group as a whole unit is also a gift from God for the effective working of His will. At the same time, we need to be careful about confining Christianity to the “institution” so that the individual fails to work as God directs.

God wants local groups to exist, but why? What is it about local assemblies of Christians that make them so valuable and desirable? First, a group that can band together to help each other in their service to God is going to make one stronger than if the individual tries to do it all alone. This purpose is expressed in the well-known passage: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:23-25). The stress here is not just assembling, but assembling for the purpose of encouraging each other so that when we leave the assembly we’ll be motivated to love and do good works. Encouragement is one significant reason why we need each other in a local group.

Scripture also shows that when local Christians band together in order to function as a local group, whether through the pooling of funds or assembling together (1 Cor. 11:18; 14:23), God has particular actions in mind for His people. Coming together “as a church” is an important concept.

In these cases, “church” refers to a specific group of believers who have banded together and agreed to work and function together in activities that God intended for that setting. As an analogy, think of a family, which is fitting given that God’s people are God’s household. A family can be dispersed, but still be a family. That family can also assemble and act as a family unit for specific ends. So it is with the church. The church is composed of individuals, but locally a church exists as a unit for particular purposes.

Groups or organizations often form for specific reasons. For example, a hospital may be built and staffed with doctors, nurses, and administration, and we recognize that the hospital organization does not exist as such in order to have political rallies or provide the world with donuts. Those who give to the hospital would likely be upset if they found that the money being donated was used for purposes other than what was intended. If individuals thought they were giving to an organization that was intended to feed hungry children and later found out the money was being spent to buy softball equipment, they would rightly have a problem with this misuse of funds. Why should this be any different when it comes to a local church?

The local church, as an organized group, exists for specific reasons, which is not to be confused with all other sorts of purposes and activities that can be handled in other venues and situations. For instance, the local church does not exist to provide secular education and hand out degrees. These things aren’t wrong in themselves, but it would be outside the scope of congregational purpose to provide these. The local church has a more specific and important work to do that other organizations do not do. When we say that the local church should stay out of certain activities, we are not saying that Christians as individuals and families cannot provide for those activities. On the contrary, there is a difference between individual and congregational action. Recognizing that distinction is important. This is highlighted in 1 Timothy 5, where individuals are told to care for their own widows so that the church is not burdened (vs. 16).

The Actions of a Local Group

What are the specified actions that we find given to the local group who function “as a church” in Scripture? One primary function is that the local group participates in and supports the preaching of the gospel. For example, the church of the Thessalonians was commended because “the word of the Lord has sounded forth” from them (1 Thess. 1:7-8). The church at Philippi is commended because they, as a church, had fellowship with Paul in supporting him as he preached (Phil. 4:15-16). Since preachers have a right to make their living from the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14), and churches can help in the support of preachers, we find in this one of the main reasons for a local church to exist.

The local group functions further in the spiritual edification or building up of the saved. This is teaching that is intended to strengthen the faith and resolve of believers. Paul shows that saints are to be taught to serve. The fact that evangelists, pastors, and teachers are mentioned in this setting shows that there is a local church context for this (Eph. 4:11-16). When Paul addressed the Ephesian elders, he told them to watch over that local flock because savage wolves (false teachers) would come in and not spare them. Therefore, the word of God’s grace needed to be taught diligently among them (Acts 20:17-32). This is a reason why churches typically have Bible classes, wherein they can teach what is needed to those in differing stages of growth and understanding.

The local group works in helping to provide for saints who are in physical need. While it would be nice to be able to provide benevolence to the whole world, or even to a whole city, that kind of work is neither possible nor found within the pages of Scripture. In Scripture, where the local church organization is involved, benevolence was intended for needy saints (Acts 2:44-46; 4:33-35; 6:1-6; 11:27-30; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8:1-4; 2 Cor. 9; Rom. 15:25-26; 1 Tim. 5:9-16). Yet even this was largely temporary. The group is responsible for taking care of its own first, then may also, if able, help saints elsewhere in need. Remember, we are speaking here of local church action, not what individual Christians may do from their own personal circumstances and opportunities. Group activity is necessarily more limited than individual activity because of purpose and work (cf. Acts 5:4). This, again, is true of all purposeful organizations.

The local group also maintains local assemblies wherein the saints seek to worship and praise God together. While this is also part of the edification process, the point here is that God’s people ought to gather together regularly in order to worship Him and care for the specified actions shown in God’s will (cf. Acts 2:42). In this context will be found coming together as a church in order to participate together in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:18ff; Acts 20:7), thereby sharing in the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor. 10:16).

Conclusion

Understanding these basic principles concerning the church will help us in our further study of authority, especially as it relates to the work and mission God has given the church. Local churches need to focus on the spiritual nature of God’s kingdom, and the spiritual mission of His people. Acting as a collective unit is important, as Scripture demonstrates. At the same time, Christians should discern between work that God has given the local group and what He expects from the individual and family.

Discussion Questions

1. What evidence do we have in Scripture that organized, local churches existed in the first century?

2. Why is the evidence for the local churches important? What does it show us?

3. Why is a local congregation so valuable to the spiritual well-being of the Christian?

4. Why is it important to recognize the local church, as such, exists as a purposeful organization for specific work?

5. How does a local group participate in the preaching of the gospel (e.g., Phil. 4:15-16)?

6. What is the purpose of edification and why is it so important to the work of a congregation?

7. What biblical grounds are there for a church to provide benevolent help to needy saints?

8. Overall, what have you learned about the importance of a local church and the Christian’s relationship to one?


9. The Church of the Lord

As Creator and King, Jesus is also Head of His body, the church (Col. 1:15-18). As His body, we are to listen to the Head and respond accordingly. We have considered basic principles in understanding the way that God communicates His will. He communicates in the same way that we communicate with others: at the most basic level, He tells us what He wants, shows us what He wants, and implies what He expects us to get. Now we want to think about what God has revealed about His church. What is the church? Why is the local church important? What activities do we find in Scripture that God wants the local church to be involved in?

What the Church is Not

It’s often helpful not only to positively state what the church is, but also, for clarity, to state what it is not. Since there is much misinformation regarding the church, let’s start with what the church is not:

First the church is not the building. We know this, but we need to be careful with the way we express ourselves.

Second, the church is not a denomination. Many have the idea that belonging to a church necessarily means belonging to some denomination. This is false. Denominationalism finds no support in Scripture, and our plea is not to leave one denomination to join another, but to abandon all denominationalism and simply be part of Christ’s body.

Third, the church is not a social club. While there are many social benefits to being able to spend time with other Christians in spiritual and even social settings, the church was not designed as a social organization meant to provide for all social and physical needs, take care of entertainment, and make sure everyone is socially happy. Not even Jesus was concerned about fixing every social situation. For example, Luke 12:13-15 presents a situation where two brothers had a dispute over a family inheritance. Jesus could have easily solved the situation, but notice his reply: “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” His purpose was not to fix all the social, political, or financial problems in society. Further, in John 6:26-27, Jesus had already fed the people, but He was not willing for that to be the premise upon which they would follow Him. They needed to move beyond the signs and the food to accept the teachings of Jesus. Many ended up walking away because of what Jesus said in John 6.

Fourth, the church is not a political conduit. Jesus brought together disciples who were on very different ends of a political spectrum: Simon, a zealot and Matthew, a tax collector. The local church does not exist in order to be a political machine aimed at promoting various political agendas. There should be no attempt in a local congregational setting to overthrow a government or become lobbyists for particular political campaigns. Scripture teaches Christians to submit to governing authorities (Rom. 13) and not to speak evil of those in charge, but to pray for them so that we lead a peaceful life (cf. Jude 8-9; 1 Tim. 2:1-4).

Following the example of Jesus and the early church, we see that the primary function of a local church is spiritual in nature, focused on helping people draw near to God. The drawing power of what we offer is the cross of Jesus (John 12:32). We need to make sure we don’t undermine this by making physical agendas the primary function. None of this means that Christians should avoid their personal responsibilities to help those in need, take care of the sick, or feed the hungry (cf. Jas. 1:26-27; Gal. 6:10). It does mean that we need to keep a proper perspective about priorities.

The Meaning of “Church” (Ekklesia)

Put simply, the church is a group of people. In the context of God’s people, it refers to those who are saved by the blood of Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Many argue that the term ekklesia, usually translated “church,” was etymologically derived from ek, “out of,” and klesis, “a calling,” thus referring to those who are “called out.” However, “called out” is not the primary significance of the term in Scripture. We should not confuse etymology (origin of a word) with usage. The main idea of ekklesia is that of an “assembly,” “group,” or “Congregation.” For example, the term is used of the assembly of citizens who were gathered to discuss certain affairs of a potentially riotous mob (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). It is also used of Israel in the wilderness (Acts 7:38), showing that it is not limited to Christians in the New Testament. The term is not inherently religious.

Specifically, we find the term ekklesia used, when referring to Christians, with at least the following senses:

Universally, ekklesia refers to all of God’s people without specifying a time or place (Matt. 16:18; Heb. 12:23). There is no specific locality for the assembly and no organization of the universal group. It is broad and general in scope. Whether living in the first century or twenty-first century, or whether living in Europe, Africa, or America, all of God’s people are part of this general assembly. It is dependent upon one’s individual relationship to God. God has given no organization or collective activity to this group. Action can only be taken individually as there is no universal function other than Christians being what they are supposed to be.

Locally, ekklesia refers to a specified group of believers who have banded together to carry out God’s work in a particular community or city (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:2). A local church is an organized, independent group of God’s people with leaders (e.g., Phil. 1:1). It has no organizational ties to other independent groups, and it does not answer to other groups. In a plurality, “churches” refers to more than one local group rather than different denominations (Rom. 16:16; Gal. 1:2; cf. Rev. 1:4, 20 with 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14). Even when we aren’t meeting at a particular moment, we are members of the group that meet in that location. We don’t cease to be the local church when we depart from a physical assembly.

Locally, when the church is physically assembled together for specific action (e.g., to worship), then ekklesia applies to that gathered assembly (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:18; 14:19, 23). The church comes together in assemblies with the express purposes of carrying out God’s will for the local group.

Jesus is the Head of His universal body (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22-23); He is also over all local groups (Rev 2-3). Individuals, not sub-groups, comprise the universal body (Rom 12:4-5) as well as local churches (Phil 1:1). Universally, there is one body that belongs to Christ (Eph. 4:4), whereas locally there are many groups in multiple locations. While there is no universal organization in which all local churches are under some earthly headquarters, there is local organization wherein a congregation acts independently to the glory of God with its own leadership (1 Pet 5:1-4; Heb. 13:17).

When did this church universally begin? The Lord promised He would build His church (Matt. 16:18). This is not to imply that God did not have a group of believers before Jesus (cf. Heb. 11-12), but that the new covenant would be in effect soon and the new company of believers would be established in a new relationship under this new and better covenant (See Heb. 8:7-13). Christ uses the figure of a building structure to refer to His people under the new covenant. This should highlight the idea that God’s people are His temple (cf. 1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Cor. 3:9-17). After Christ died and rose again, and on the Day of Pentecost, the Lord was adding people to His body of believers (Acts 2:47). Locally, churches begin in different places and at different times.

Several figures are used to refer to God’s people in the New Testament, such as “body” (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18), “household” (1 Tim. 3:15), and “temple” (1 Cor. 3:16). The church’s relationship to the Lord is compared to a bride and her husband (Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 21:2). These, and more, point to the type of relationship we have with God and each other in Christ. Yet God did not specify a single title for this body of believers. Descriptions are given which identify the church as belonging to God (Acts 20:28) and Christ (Rom. 16:16, where “churches of Christ” refers to several local groups); other descriptions refer to a specific locality (“church of God which is at Corinth,” 1 Cor. 1:2; Rev. 2-3), or as being composed of Christians in a given location (“church of the Thessalonians,” 1 Thess. 1:1). Hebrews 12:23 refers to the “church of the first-born ones” (plural), which shows the exalted position to which God elevates believers. All such phrases are descriptive. We need to be careful that we don’t just single out one exclusive title, as this itself would be going beyond the authority presented in Scripture.

Conclusion

The church universally and churches locally all exist by the authority of God. There are many misconceptions about the church, so it is important to understand both what the church is and what it is not. Once we understand the various uses of “church” in Scripture, we will then be in a position to understand better why the church exists.

Discussion Questions

1. Why should we be careful about not confusing the church with the building in which the church meets?

2. Why should we learn not to think of the church as a denomination, a social club, or a political conduit?

3. What is meant by “universal church”? Where do we find this concept in Scripture? Is this a physically organized group?

4. What is the main idea of ekklesia, and why is this important to understand?

5. Why is it important to recognize that a local church operates independently of other local churches or organizations?

6. Who comprises the universal body with Christ as the Head, and why is this an important understanding?

7. What is the difference between the universal church and local churches in terms of when they began?

8. Why should we be careful not to use only one designation for the church exclusively?


8. Silence

God reigns. Because of this, His followers need to be concerned with teaching God’s will. “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God” (1 Pet. 4:11a). Yet how are we to think with respect to what God didn’t say?

The question of how to treat the silence of Scripture has long been one of the more controversial issues in determining what is or is not authorized by God. Does silence authorize? Do we have authority to act when God has said nothing? There are two basic approaches to silence: 1) we can do anything not specifically forbidden in Scripture, or 2) silence is not permission and we should not do something that is not positively indicated in some way. How shall we approach the issue?

Interpreting “Silence” or the “Unspecified”?

We need to distinguish between something that is generally authorized, even though unspecified, and something for which there is actual silence. “Silent” and “unspecified” are not equal. For example, I can send my son to the store with the instructions to “get bread.” “Bread” is a category, so if nothing else is indicated to specify the kind of bread, then whatever fits the category of “bread” is permitted. That is different, however, from saying or indicating nothing (silence) about bread whatsoever. If something is stated in principle or in general terms, then whatever falls under that principle or generality is still within the context of what is spoken about. Not everything needs to be specified when a general principle is given that covers the specifics.

That said, silence is silence. It is nothing. It neither approves nor disapproves of anything in itself. However, we cannot quote an author on something he never said. This is a basic principle on which we normally operate. If we cite an author as approving something, we must be able to show where and how he spoke about it. Otherwise, we have misrepresented the author. When an author has said nothing about a subject, we have no warrant to say that he approves of the matter. An author “authorizes” by what he says, not by his silence, unless he has indicated otherwise. For example, singing is authorized in Ephesians 5:19. Those who want approval for mechanical instruments in worship will need to go elsewhere, for this passage says nothing about instruments.

If the author has not said anything about a subject, does that necessarily mean he disapproves? The only way to know this would be for the author to break his silence and indicate His will. How else could we know? Once he breaks his silence, this point is no longer at issue. However, imagine the author saying something like this: “I’m only approving of or promoting matters that I have spoken about. I do not approve of anything else. Do not presume so.” Then, when he is silent about something, what should we assume his feelings to be about it? We surely cannot assume that he approves of something he has not spoken about; in that case, based on what else he has told us, we need to assume he would not approve it. This leads to the next point:

Silence and the Problem of Presumption

Interpreting “silence” is easier when we see someone. We can see facial and bodily expressions, hear inflections in the way things are said, and be more aware of what a communicator might be trying to convey. A speaker can say something with a particular expression and we can more readily interpret what that means. In biblical interpretation, our challenge lies in the fact that we are reading a text without being able to see all the accompanying expressions that may or may not go with it. This lends itself to the problem of presumption and warrants a more careful approach.
Presumption is assuming something to be true when we may not have adequate grounds for accepting it. Indeed, the evidence may be in the other direction, but because we think, “Scripture is silent on that specific matter,” we believe we can act. Or we may think, “that’s a gray area, so I can go ahead and do it.” Instead of being sure what we are doing is right, we presume that it’s okay. This is dangerous ground to be avoided.

Even if real silence didn’t prohibit (as many argue), it surely doesn’t authorize. Why do we feel that we can presume upon silence to act? The mind of God is known through what is revealed (1 Cor. 2:10-13). If God truly is silent about a matter, there would only be a couple of reasons why this would be so: 1) He intends to be silent. In this case, we do not have the mind of God on the matter, and we can either presume upon His mind, or refrain from such presumption. Given the principles of honoring God in Scripture, which is more appropriate? We know the answer. 2) He intended to say something about the issue, but failed or forgot. This is not an option because it would make God incompetent. If God truly is silent, then He intended to be silent and we ought to respect that.

When considering the question of silence, we ought to bear in mind these principles: First, study all that God has revealed about an issue. Consider relevant principles, statements, or examples that cover what we are trying to address. Only by knowing what God has revealed are we able to determine whether or not He is silent about something. Second, always keep in mind the need to honor God in what we think and do. Failure to honor Him has gotten more than a few people into serious trouble (e.g., Nabad and Abihu in Lev. 10:1-3, and Moses in Num. 20:9-13).

Fallacy, Principle, and Silence.

In logic, there is a fallacy known as the appeal to ignorance (Ad Ignorantiam): “The ‘appeal to ignorance’ consists in arguing that an idea must be true because we do not know that it is not. It is a fallacy because ignorance can never be a premise or reason. Premises must express knowledge-claims. Nothing logically follows from nothing, I.e., no-knowledge” (Kreeft 86). Using silence as a basis for God’s authority is fallacious and presumptuous.

There are several principles that prohibit this type of fallacy and help us understand how God thinks about this.

  • “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Deut 4:2).
  • “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it” (Deut. 12:32).
  • “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
  • “Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar” (Prov. 30:6).
  • “Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go” (Josh. 1:6-7; cf. Deut. 5:32; 17:11).
  • “When they say to you, ‘Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.” (Isa. 8:19-20).
  • “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does” (Jas. 1:25).
  • “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’” (John 8:31-32).
  • “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other” (1 Cor. 4:6).
  • “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9).
  • “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19).
  • “Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls…” (Acts 15:24).
  • “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing …” (1 Tim. 6:3-4ff, vv. 20-21).

Examine the contexts. Some of the references have specific points to be made about them, but we are showing a basic principle throughout Scriptures found in various contexts (law, history, wisdom, prophets, gospels, and epistles). Do we recognize the principle? Do we get the idea that God thinks this principle is important? What might we gather from what we know? Are we being too careful, or not careful enough about our speculations and filling in of the gaps?

Conclusion

While the question of God’s silence can be thorny, we need to start with how we understand silence in our normal communication. From there, we look at other principles that help us in our understanding of silence. In the case of God, we have very direct statements telling us what He thinks about our being presumptuous. Therefore, we must be very careful in our approach to any question on which God is silent.

Discussion Questions

1. Why is the distinction between “silence” and “unspecified” important?

2. If an author says nothing about a topic, what should we assume about his position on the topic, and why?

3. Why is presumption a problem?

4. How do we know what God thinks about a particular matter?

5. If God is truly silent about a matter, what reasons might there be for this silence?

6. What is the “appeal to ignorance” fallacy and why is it significant for the issue of silence?

7. Given the passages listed, what should we conclude regarding God’s attitude toward what He has not revealed?

8. How careful should we be in approaching questions involving silence, and why?


7. Examples

Since God reigns (Isa. 52:7), we are concerned with the examples God provides in His revelation. When we build something, we often look at patterns or models. We like to see examples of what something should look like. Examples give us a model or picture, showing us what God likes or doesn’t like. In our efforts to be conformed to the image of Christ, we need to pay special attention to the Exemplar, Jesus Christ, and to what He authorizes through His chosen apostles (see 1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17). While much can be said about the nature of examples, let’s consider some basic principles and check our attitudes about examples.

Basics on Examples

Some ask, “When is an example binding?” That may be the wrong question to start with. Let’s ask, “What is God intending to show us?” Instead of a list of “rules,” let’s think about these principles:

Without any indication from God (general or specific), we should not presume to know God’s will. His silence is not an open invitation to do whatever we wish. A positive example shows that God approves of something; He is not silent. He has shown what He likes and we should try to follow it if possible. The fact that He has shown us something means that we may then act in that same way, insofar as we are able, with God’s approval. However, if there is no further information given about that issue, then we should act based on what He has shown rather than what He has not shown. The question is, what does the example show us to do or not do?

Examples illustrate how we may act with God’s approval, and those examples give us freedom to so act. For instance, God shows approval, through an example, of His disciples coming together on the first day of the week to partake of the Lord’s supper (Acts 20:7). By following this example, we can know God is pleased. In this way, God shows us what He wants by giving examples of how to please Him. How do we know we are on the right track here? First, because the Lord tells us that we are to consider what the apostles show us through their examples (Phil. 3:17; 4:9). Second, if the apostles were acting upon the authority of God, then what they do by God’s approval is significant. They spoke by God’s authority, and we are told to listen to them as we would Christ (John 13:20; John 16:13; Gal. 4:14; 1 Cor. 14:37).

We may not have all recorded statements of what God said, but when an action was done with God’s approval through the apostles, then God already authorized it. They weren’t just making things up as they go. When we imitate what we are shown, we know we are acting upon God’s authority because positive examples illustrate actions that are permitted and desired by God.

Simplifying Examples

We are to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Mark 12:30). When we see examples of God’s people doing what pleases Him, should we not desire to follow their examples? If we ask, “But is that example binding?” aren’t we really asking, “Do we have to?” Wouldn’t those who love God want to follow an example that God saw fit to show us? Let’s ask instead, “What does this show us about what God desires?” By God’s grace we have an example of something that He likes. The Scriptures aren’t huge, so when an example shows God’s approval, wouldn’t those who love Him want to take special note? If we are able, and if our circumstances are comparable, wouldn’t we want to follow what God, in His grace, found important enough to include in His message?

Which God-pleasing example would we not want to follow? Is there a specific case of His disciples acting with His approval that we would look at and say, “No, we don’t want to do that”? If we are able, and our situation is comparable, should we look at something that pleases Him, argue it is not necessary, then ignore it? What should be our attitude toward such examples?

Are there details in examples that are not necessary? We recognize, in normal communication, that not every detail is as significant as another. For instance, if I show someone how I want a task to be accomplished on a computer, and in the process of this I sit in a chair with my feet crossed, am I necessarily suggesting that the person I am showing must sit in the chair in the same position, or is the intended example focused on the computer task? As in all communication, we need common sense as we infer significance and discern between the purpose of the example and the incidental details in the telling of the event.

In Acts 20, when the disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread (the Lord’s Supper), was the focus of this on their meeting in an upper room, or is the intended focus on their meeting to break bread? Where they met is incidental. What they met for is integral, and we need to see that difference. We need common sense, keeping passages in context and recognizing the difference between an incidental of telling what happened and core issues that led to the disciples acting as they did in the first place. Are we capable of drawing reasonable conclusions about these? We do that in our normal communication. Are we not capable here?

God chose to include examples of His people acting for a reason. Those who love Him ought to look at those examples and, as much as within their abilities, and where the circumstances compare, follow them. Why ask, “Do I have to?” (i.e., “Is it binding?”) When God has, in His wisdom, provided a look into the actions that He likes, those who love Him should want to do the same. That’s a foundational starting point from which the particular examples can be examined. From there we can consider how comparable the examples are to our circumstances. If our circumstances are not very comparable (e.g., specific issues with miraculous gifts), then we may have little application to make of that specific case. No example can be followed when there is no comparable situation to which we can apply it. If it is comparable, then in what ways? What is the context of the example and how does it fit with our context? Is it an example of individual or group action? What is the core issue of the example? What are the incidentals? What shall we take away from it? How may we apply it? These are the types of questions we want to consider.

Acts 20:7 as an Example

The disciples gathered together on the first day of the week in order to “break bread.” This shows both timing and purpose, and context implies more than just a common meal intended. Acts 2:42 shows that disciples “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” This was not just an ordinary meal or secular gathering.

Elsewhere Paul refers to the Lord’s Supper in this way: “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Partaking of the “one bread” and “the bread which we break” refer to the sharing in the body of Christ in this special meal. We know that God desires for Christians to partake of the Lord’s Supper, since the Lord commanded it (Matt. 26:26-29; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). Both biblically and historically, we know that disciples met on the first day of the week for this purpose. Paul and his company stayed seven days at Troas in order to do this (cf. also Acts 21:4; 28:14). That the first day of the week was the common meeting day is seen also in passages like 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, where the instructions presuppose that they met on this day regularly. The first day of the week makes sense since it was both the day that Christ rose from the dead and the day of Pentecost on which the Holy Spirit came with power in order to usher in the new era of the church. Acts 2:42 implies that they began breaking bread in this way on that Pentecost, and continued regularly doing so. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).

We see “first day of the week” significance in both what we are told and shown. We know nothing of other days that disciples met to partake of the Lord’s Supper because we have no other information given to us about it. Jesus gave instructions on the Passover, but He said He would later partake of it in His kingdom, which takes us again to the day of Pentecost. The only example we have when disciples came together to take the Lord’s Supper is on the first day of the week. This is what God shows us, and this is what the Christians, with God’s approval, did in the first century. Can we agree on this and practice it? Should we do more than that?

Conclusion

Examples are an important part of Scripture. Through them, God shows us what He likes or doesn’t like. If we are able, and if our circumstances are comparable, then we ought to follow these examples. Further, we ought to act based upon what we know from what we are told and shown, not on what we don’t know due to what God hasn’t revealed. Loving God, will we choose to act on what we see God showing us and teach others the same?

Discussion Questions

1. Why is a pattern significant when we want to know how to do something?

2. How do examples illustrate what God likes or doesn’t like?

3. Why is asking, “Is that example binding?” probably not the best question to ask as a starting point? What kind of attitude might that reveal?

4. How can we know that God is pleased when we follow particular examples in Scripture?

5. What should our starting attitude be as we consider any given example, and why?

6. Why is it important to consider whether the context of an example is comparable to our circumstances today?

7. Why is an example, like the one found in Acts 20:7, important to us now?

8. What indicators do we have that the first day of the week is a day God wants disciples meeting?


6. Implication and Inference 

One of the more difficult issues in understanding communication, including authority, is that of inference. Some have become so disenchanted with the abuses of inference that they have just about given up on it as a reliable way to understand anything. This, however, is an over-reaction that is both unwarranted and impossible to bear out consistently. The reason is that inference is a necessary part of reasoning. No one can avoid inferences. The question is whether or not the inferences are warranted, legitimate, and reasonable. They must not be contrived or forced. 

The definition of inference is:  “in logic, derivation of conclusions from given information or premises by any acceptable form of reasoning. Inferences are commonly drawn (1) by deduction, which, by analyzing valid argument forms, draws out the conclusions implicit in their premises, (2) by induction, which argues from many instances to a general statement, (3) by probability, which passes from frequencies within a known domain to conclusions of stated likelihood, and (4) by statistical reasoning, which concludes that, on the average, a certain percentage of a set of entities will satisfy the stated conditions” (Encyclopaedia Britannica online). 

The communicator implies and the receiver infers. To imply is to indicate something without explicitly stating it. To infer is to get what is being implied. There are many things that affect how we infer something, but that we infer is a fact of reasoning. Richard Paul and Linda Elder state in their Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking, “All reasoning contains inferences or interpretations by which we draw conclusions and give meaning to data.” 

No reasoning takes place without drawing conclusions (inferring) from implications. Statements and examples usually come with the expectation that we draw further conclusions (the statements and examples are the data that we must infer from and to which we give meaning). The point of reasoning and discerning is that we are capable of taking what is given whether implicitly or explicitly, then reasoning to proper conclusions. 

Implications can be both powerful and binding.

Some ask, “Are inferences binding?” They are wondering if what we infer can be required. When the communicator (in this case, God) implies something, and He expects us to infer or interpret His implication properly (that is, we are to “get it”), then yes it can be a required conclusion. Think back to Acts 10 and God’s expectation that Peter infer properly that gentiles should not be considered unclean. That inference was required. Some implications are binding and some aren’t, and we need to pay attention to the context of the passage. In order to better understand the principle, let’s consider some examples demonstrating that every Christian believes in the binding power of an implication. 

First, anyone who is a Christian today has accepted, by inference, that people of all places and times ought to be Christians. There is no direct statement telling us explicitly that 21st century Americans should be Christians. We infer that Christianity was intended to be taken beyond the boundaries of the first century time-frame. This inference is necessary. Otherwise, on what basis should anyone be a Christian today (see Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 17:30-31)? 

Second, when we follow particular commands in Scripture, we do so because we have inferred that those commands are viable for those beyond the original audience. That these commands are required is evident, but if we believe we should be following particular commands that were given to the Roman, Corinthian, or Colossian Christians, then we do so on the basis of what is implied by Scripture and what we infer as readers. Are these inferences necessary? We believe so.

Some matters of right and wrong must be inferred. Paul ends his list of sins in Galatians 5:19-21 with “things like these.” How can we know what this means? The Hebrews writer speaks of the mature who can “discern good and evil” (Heb. 5:12-14). Discerning requires inferring from known principles.  

Here is a case in point to help clarify how we believe that inferences are required. What is the greatest commandment given? Jesus explicitly said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind (Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34). If we believe this is still the greatest commandment, then on what basis do we believe it? We ask this because it illustrates the power of an implication. 

In context, Jesus was speaking about the Law and the Prophets. He said nothing explicitly about the New Covenant in this context. If the command is to be understood beyond the Hebrew Scriptures, then we are inferring its necessity beyond the original context. 

Further, this command is not explicitly stated this way elsewhere in the New Testament. There are plenty of passages telling us to love one another. We know that we need to love God. However, where are we explicitly told elsewhere that loving God with all the heart, soul, strength, and mind is the greatest commandment? The only place that is found is in a passage that contextually is speaking of the Law and the Prophets. We infer the rest. 

Even in the Hebrew Scriptures, where does it say that loving God with all the heart, soul, strength, and mind is the greatest of the commandments? The command is there (Deut. 6:4), but how were they to know it was the greatest? If they were expected to know it, then they knew it by what is implied. Some did get it. For example, the lawyer who asked Jesus about inheriting eternal life answered the question correctly (Luke 10:25-29). How did he know that inheriting eternal life was so connected to loving God with all the heart? That is not stated in Deuteronomy 6. Where does that passage say anything about “eternal life”? Yet, Jesus said that the lawyer answered his own question correctly. That must have been a pretty significant inference. Was it binding? 

Do we believe in the power of an implication? If we are Christians, and we believe that loving God with all your heart is still the greatest commandment, then we believe in the power of implication. The question is not whether implications and inferences are part of our biblical understanding. They are vital for every reader. The question is whether we are inferring properly. 

On Principle and Inference

A principle is a fundamental truth from which other laws or behaviors are derived. Upon understanding a principle, we recognize various applications that come from it. For example, based on the principle of treating others as we want to be treated (Matt. 7:12), we might infer that we should mow the lawn of a needy neighbor. The applications might be unstated and we must infer the specifics. Principles are accepted and applied through the process of inferring from the data we are given. If we believe in principles, then we accept implications and inferences.  

Inferences are taken to task by those who question whether or not they are adequate for understanding anything authoritative. They may then speak of principles guiding their behavior. In truth, there is no living by principle if inferences have no power, for proper applications will involve inferences. Otherwise, principles would be empty ideas with no real-world application. Here is the argument: 1) everyone uses applied principles; 2) applying principles requires inference; 3) therefore, everyone uses inference. 

Many explicit precepts also require us to work through proper applications. For example, we are told, “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36). Yet how is all of this to be carried out? We can define love and mercy the way we wish (subjective and self-willed), or we can dig further into Scripture and see how God showed love and mercy. Then, we can see how to make applications in our own time. All of this requires inferring from then to now and from God’s actions to ours. Without inference, there is no modern application. 

These are self-evident principles of authority. What God has told us, shown us, and implied are on every page. We cannot rightly say, “Only commands are binding,” for even then we will have crippled our abilities to make modern applications of those commands. If we cannot infer, then we cannot apply. We recognize that inferences can be unnecessary and lead to an abuse of a text. However, the fact that an abuse can take place does not invalidate the point. Rather, it drives home the need to be careful in drawing conclusions and making applications. The interpretation of Scripture needs to be attended by good reason and a great care for context. That is why this particular subject is important. If we care about principle, we’ll care about proper reasoning from the principle to the applications.  

Conclusion

Implications and inferences are an integral part of the communication process. We are forced to use our minds to think things out and through. There are dangers, however, and we must be careful that we are using our reasoning process properly so that we are not forcing conclusions where they are not warranted. When warranted, however, the power of inferences is self-evident. Let us learn to use them appropriately. 

Discussion Questions

1. What are implications and inferences? How do we imply? 

2. Why would we say that implications and inferences are a necessary part of the communication process? 

3. How can implications from 2,000 years ago be binding today? 

4. On what basis do we follow any command that is given in Scripture?

5. How does the command to love God with all the heart illustrate the binding power of an implication?

6. What is a principle, and what role do principles play in our understanding of Scripture? 

7. Why would we argue that inferences are necessary for applying principles?  

8. Why should we be cautious with the inferences we make? 


5. Knowing What God Wants

God reigns (Isa. 52:7), and this means we need to be concerned about God’s will. This also means that we must be concerned with knowing what God wants and knowing how God communicates His will. Remember that the Holy Spirit is the Revealer of God’s mind (1 Cor. 2:13), so we must pay attention to what the Spirit has revealed. Here we are asking how basic communication works because this will inform us about how God communicates with us. What we are talking about here is typical of all communication. If you want to communicate your will to someone, how will you do it? If God communicates His will to us, how does He do it? There is no magical formula here. However communication occurs is how anyone’s will is made known, and God has communicated to us in the very same ways we would try to communicate to others, whether we are parents, workers, employers, and in all other avenues of life. All we are doing here is recognizing, in a logical and reasonable way, that God communicates His will to us in the same way. If we are going to understand God’s authority, we should step back and consider how this happens. 

It’s How Communication Works.

There are some basic premises in understanding how God communicates His will or authority. God communicates His will in the same ways we communicate our wills. By understanding how we fundamentally communicate, we will understand more about how God communicates. 

People may buck against the idea of “establishing” authority from God, but the issue is simply how God communicates His will. When we know that, we’ve answered how His authority is made known. How is anyone’s will communicated? If you are going to communicate what you want, how will you do it? This gets to the heart of the issue. Really, there are three basic ways to communicate something: 

First, we tell others what we want. This is direct and can be an order or statement. 

Second, we show others what we want and how to do it. Illustrations, examples, or models are part of this process. 

Third, we imply what we expect others to get by what we say or show. This can even be done through gestures or silence, depending on the context. When people “get it,” then they have inferred from the implication what we wanted them to get. For example, a principle might come from what we are told, and we may infer from the stated principle a proper application to our current situation. 

Any attempt at communication will utilize at least one of these. Try to communicate without them! If others disagree just ask them to express that disagreement without telling, showing, or implying anything about it. Telling, showing, and implying are logically self-evident. No further proof is needed, as objections to this are self-defeating and logically incoherent. 

Does this kind of communication come from God or man? Our abilities to think logically and communicate do come from God. He made us creatures with the need and ability to communicate, and this is just how it is done. To help us understand God’s authority, then, we need to start with the logical premises and show that there is no way around how communication works. We are simply reminding people of the fundamental logic that underlies all communication, including God’s. 

The process of telling, showing, and implying is not itself a method of interpretation. Rather, it is a recognition of how we get the raw data that then is interpreted. In other words, we start with the facts: what did God say? What has been shown? Then we proceed to interpret these. 

Tell, Show, and Imply in Action: Acts 10

We have argued that communication, in its most basic form, takes place through the process of telling, showing, and implying. No one can communicate without doing at least one of these in some form. This is what the communicator brings to the process. The receptor, on the other hand, takes what is told, shown, or implied and interprets that material. The receptor is asking, “What do these mean? How do they apply to my situation?”  

Scripture gives multiple and varied examples of these forms of communication as they express God’s will. We are going to focus here on how God communicated His will to Peter in Acts 10. As a Jew, Peter had grown up learning not to associate with gentiles (vs. 28). This is understandable, given that God was clear about His people not mixing with the pagan nations. All of this was about to change, and this change illustrates the process of telling, showing, and implying. It is also the way that Peter knew God’s will about preaching to the gentiles. 

First, God showed Peter a vision that was intended to teach something vital about God’s intentions. Peter had gone up on a housetop to pray but fell into a trance in which he saw this vision of an object like a sheet lowered down by the four corners (vv. 9-16). In this sheet were four-footed animals, creatures, and birds. Then a voice told him to get up, kill these creatures, and eat. Peter refused, saying that he had never eaten anything unholy or unclean. The voice responded, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” This happened three times. Peter was shown something by God, and he recognized this, as he indicates in vs. 28: “God has shown me…” 

Second, God directly told Peter to go with the gentiles who were coming to ask for him. After the vision, while Peter was contemplating what it meant, three men showed up looking for him. Before, Peter might have tried to avoid this circumstance. However, the Spirit told him, “get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself” (vs. 20). Peter was told to go, so he did. 

Third, Peter inferred that he should not call any man common or unclean. Peter had to think about what that vision meant, coupled with the fact that God told him to go with those men to the gentiles. He figured it out, as his words to Cornelius demonstrate: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you have sent for me?” 

Peter drew a required conclusion based on what he had been shown and told. The context helped to make it obvious. Yet there is nowhere in the text where God says, “The gentiles are now clean and you may preach to them.” Perhaps Peter could have reasoned that the vision was only about animals and food, not men. Nowhere in the vision is there anything about men. Perhaps he could have concluded that God wanted him to go with those men for some other reasons. Those gentiles were the ones who said that Cornelius wanted to hear a message from him. How did he know they weren’t lying? How could he trust them? He had to trust what he was told, and he inferred that what God showed him was really about men. 

Peter put all the pieces together. The vision showed him something about clean and unclean. The Spirit told him to go with them and that this was all from God. He trusted the Spirit and the context. When he arrived, he realized the implications of what he was told and shown. He was not to call any man common or unclean. 

Through telling, showing, and implying, God communicated His will to Peter. “But wait a minute,” one might object. “The purpose of this passage isn’t to explain how God communicates His authority.” No, God’s purpose was to communicate something to Peter, who, in turn, would communicate the gospel to Cornelius and his family. This would then show that the gentiles were proper recipients of the gospel. All we are doing is paying attention to how this happened. We are seeing the ways in which God communicated His will to others. We are not creating a new form of interpretation; we are observing and making an application. 

The situation in Acts 10 shows us that God values the entire communication process. He could have told Peter explicitly not to call any man unclean, without giving him a vision. He could have spelled it out completely for Peter. Instead, God chose to show him something, tell him something, and imply something that he expected Peter to understand by putting all the information together. God values the process that includes implication and inference. He values the ability He has given to us to reason things out and draw warranted conclusions. He wants his people to think through the implications of what is told and shown in the expression of His will. This is “tell, show, and imply” in action. If God valued that process, so should we. 

Conclusion

The communication process is straightforward in principle. There are only so many ways to try to communicate, and these will always entail some form of telling, showing, and implying. There is just no other way to do it. Our argument is that God has communicated to us in these very ways. He tells us what He wants, shows us what He wants, and implies what He expects us to get. This is not some special method of interpretation, but rather a process by which we, as the receivers, recognize the data given to us by God. 

Discussion Questions

1. How does communication work? Why would we say that “tell, show, and imply” are the primary ways? 

2. How does understanding the fundamental communication process help us understand God’s authority? 

3. How would you respond to the question, “Does the communication process come from God or man?” Why? 

4. Why would we say that “tell, show, and imply” is not itself a method of interpretation? How does the process give us the raw data? 

5. How did the vision given to Peter, in Acts 10, show him that he should not call any man common or unclean? 

6. Why did the Spirit tell Peter to go without any misgivings? Why would Peter have had misgivings? 

7. What relevant information did Peter have in order to infer what he did about preaching to the gentiles? What reasoning process would cause one to conclude what Peter did? 

8. Why would we say that God valued the “tell, show, and imply” process? Why should we value the process? 


4. The Need for Authority

Since God reigns (Isa. 52:7), and because the Scriptures are the word of God, they are authoritative for what we are to believe and practice (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Man alone is incapable of being a trustworthy source of authority for others (Prov. 14:12; Jer. 10:23). Only Scripture, as God’s word, can fill the need as our source of faith and authority (Rom. 10:17; Jude 3; 1 Pet. 4:11; Heb. 4:12-13). 

God, as Creator, has the right to tell us what to do and how to think (Gen. 1:1). Man has no right to ignore this. We are under God’s authority because He reigns (Isa. 52:7). Jesus Christ, as the Creator, is in a position of full authority over us, and we must submit to His will (Matt. 28:18; John 1:1-5; Col. 1:15-18; Luke 6:46; John 12:48). 

How does Scripture show us our deep need for God’s rule in our lives? Scripture doesn’t just tell us to be under God’s authority, it shows us through the many examples and passages that speak to the need. Here we will consider a few of these examples and some significant lessons they teach us. 

This Need For Authority Is Illustrated In The Old Testament.

Examples, both good and bad, are given to us so that we may learn vital lessons about how to serve God. They are for our instruction and can provide hope (Rom. 15:4). They can also serve as warnings against taking an evil path and having to deal with undesirable consequences (1 Cor. 10:1-13). Several examples in the Old Testament show us that mankind needs to follow the authority of God. Consider the following illustrations of this need: 

Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1-6). Their problem was a failure to submit to God’s authority. They listened to the lie that they did not need to submit to God’s authority, but could establish their own (Gen. 3:5). They could decide for themselves what was right and wrong. They didn’t need God telling them what to do. This is the lie of secular humanism and is still prominent today. It undermines the authority of God and makes light of His severity. 

Cain and Abel (Gen. 4). Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because he acted by faith. This means he listened to God and did what God said, since faith comes by hearing God’s word (Heb. 11:4; Rom. 10:17). Abel’s is an example that provides hope. Cain’s sacrifice, on the other hand, was refused because he did not act by faith. He acted presumptuously and substituted his own will for God’s. 

Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-3). They offered up “strange fire” which the Lord “had not commanded them.” God had told His priests what He wanted, and these priests substituted their will for God’s. Because of their insolence against God’s authority, and their failure to honor Him, they were punished severely. 

Korah’s rebellion (Num. 16). God had chosen the family of Aaron to be priests. Korah questioned God’s authority and presumed that he and others could also serve as priests, even though they were not told they could. They rebelled against God’s appointed leader, Moses, and incurred the wrath of God. This would have been unnecessary had he listened to God in the first place (vv. 3, 9). 

Moses’ failure (Num. 20:1-13). While much of what Moses did provides a good example that gives hope, here Moses and Aaron rebelled against God’s authority. God’s assessment was that Moses did not believe Him or treat Him as holy. As a consequence, Moses was unable to enter the Promised Land. 

The New Cart (1 Chron. 13:1-12; 15:12-15). God specified that the ark of the covenant was to be carried by the Levites, but they tried to move it by using a new cart. Perhaps they thought their way was more expedient. It appears that they had good intentions. Even if Uzza had good intentions in trying to keep the ark from falling, they still disobeyed God. They “did not seek Him according to the ordinance” (15:13). They failed to consult God on the matter and presumed their way would be fine. By doing this they violated the authority of God. Is it possible that we might do the same today? 

King Uzziah entering the temple (2 Chron. 26:16-20). Burning incense was a good work, ordained by God. However, it was given to the priests. Uzziah tried to enter the temple to burn incense, and he sinned because of his pride. He was told, “it is not for you, Uzziah…” (vs. 18). Uzziah was acting upon his own authority, to which he was not entitled, even as king. God desires for things to be done His way. Should we also learn to be content with His ways?

More examples can be cited. We might think of Noah (Gen. 6), Saul (1 Sam. 15), and Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:25-33). Can you think of more? What lessons do you take from these? What are we shown through these examples, and why are they there? All of this should help impress us with the need to listen to the authority of God. Through these illustrations, we are shown the need to do what God says and refrain from presumption (cf. Deut. 4:1-6; Prov. 30:6).  

This Need For Authority Is Illustrated In The New Testament.

The New Testament also shows the need to abide by God’s authority. The Pharisees questioned Jesus (Matt. 21:23-27): “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” The question recognizes first, that there is a need for authority, and second, that the authority must come from One who has the power to grant it. If it comes from one who doesn’t have such power, it is useless. 

Jesus responded by pointing out that there are only two possible sources of authority: Heaven (i.e., God) or men. Now the only way that one can know whether or not something comes from God is by looking into His will. If it cannot be found in His will, then it is authored by men. What other choices are there? If we want to please God, then how important is it that we make sure that what we do is authored by God? 

Remember Jesus’ view of God’s will and our need to follow. Think again about Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” What is lawlessness? Are we okay simply because we attach the name of Jesus to something? 

Many other passages demonstrate this need (Luke 6:46; John 8:31-32; 1 Cor. 4:6; Phil. 3:16; Eph. 6:1-6; Col. 3:17; 2 Thess. 2:7; Heb. 5:9; 1 Pet. 4:11; 2 John 9-11; Rev. 22:18-19). Take time to read and study these. The New Testament shows that God will not approve substituting our own will for His. 

Everyone listens to some authority. If we deny the need for God’s, then we will look to ourselves or to others as authority. At some point, we have to ask that question, “How’s that working for you?” There is no getting around it. Can we afford to reject the authority of God in favor of our own (Prov. 14:12; Matt. 15:9; Col. 2:20-22)? This is why we must continue to plead for teaching that is rooted in Scripture (cf. Isa. 8:20; 1 Pet. 4:11). Failure to recognize and submit to the authority of God will result in our own loss (Matt. 7:21-23). 

Conclusion

We know that good intentions do not make a wrong action right. We must consult God and His word about the proper ways in which we are to serve Him. Presumption and pride result in a rejection of the authority which God possesses. Instead, we must respect His authority by humble submission to His will as recorded in the Scriptures. 

Discussion Questions

1. Why are examples from the Old Testament important to us today? 

2. How do each of the given examples from the Old Testament warn us against ignoring God’s authority? 

3. Besides the ones given, what are some other examples that you can think of? How do they show the need to listen to God’s authority? 

4. Discuss the account of Matthew 21:23-27. How does the question from the Pharisees illustrate the sources of authority? How does Jesus’ response solidify the point? 

5. What is Jesus’ view of the will of God, according to Matthew 7:21-23? What should our attitude be about the will of God? 

6. What is lawlessness and why is it so destructive in our relationship with God? 

7. Collectively, what do the passages from this lesson show us with respect to how we should treat God’s will? 

8. How is it true that everyone listens to some authority, even when people deny God’s authority?