Summary of the sermon preached by Rev Dr K. Song on 1 October 2017 at St Columba’s Presbyterian Church, Peppermint Grove.
Bible Readings: (OT) Exodus 18:10-27 / (NT) Ephesians 4:1-16
I. The purpose of church offices
II. The relationship between church officers and the congregants
III. The dynamic of the ‘serving-submitting’ relationship
Today’s point is the importance of such offices in church as minister, elder and deacon. They are important offices because of their roles in church and purpose of existence. I want to focus on the spiritual and dynamic aspect of these offices in Christ’s church, as a part of explaining and sharing with you St Columba’s Ministry Vision, because understanding this nature of church offices is so important and essential for a church to stand firm in faith, and grow up in every way.
I. THE PURPOSE OF CHURCH OFFICES
We begin with the purpose of church offices. As v. 8 of our text passage says, the Lord God set offices in His church. Quoting from Ps. 68:18, this verse takes us back in history to the time of Exodus in the OT, especially to Ex. 18 which tells us about the beginning of church offices. They were called as ‘chiefs’ of thousands, hundreds, fifties or tens. Then, later, as ‘elders and officers’ (Dt. 29:10) or ‘elders and leaders’ (Jos. 23:2). Although their designations were different from the offices of the NT church, the origin of church offices is undoubtedly God who calls His church out of the world.
God set the offices by giving His spiritual gifts to some individuals to work to build up His church, first, grow it to stand firm in faith, second, and fulfil its ultimate purpose, that is, to glorify God, third. Simply, church is like a child and church offices are like his parents. The child grows and finally becomes a person mature and upright in all things. Church offices function like the way parents do to their child. This analogy explains a lot about the relationship between church officers and the congregants, and this will be covered in depth shortly.
Then, what sort of church offices are there in church? In the NT church, there are ministers (or pastors), elders and deacons. Ministers are often viewed as elders set apart for teaching. So, there are two offices in church – elders and deacons. Because you know about the functions of these offices well, I won’t spend much time with explaining it. But briefly speaking, elders are the spiritual overseers of a local congregation. Ministers as ‘teaching elders’ take the role of teaching and preaching the word of God and administration of the sacraments, while elders as ‘ruling elders’ provide pastoral care to their congregation. This spiritual oversight is to be carried out by multiple elders rather than by one person. Deacons are to carry out mercy ministry of a local congregation. They minister to the physical needs of those in the church who are in need of help.
II. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHURCH OFFICERS AND THE CONGREGANTS
Understanding what I’ve just explained as the source and purpose of church offices is important. But greater importance lies on understanding the relationship between church officers and the congregation members. It is like understanding how a child is related to his mum and dad is more important than knowing who and what a parent is to the child. What matters is the love that enables her to wholeheartedly be a mum and the reflection of that love in her child’s life. Their mother-child relationship is the most interesting and important matter. Likewise, understanding how church officers and the congregants relate to each other is truly important.
So, what is this relationship? Simply put, it is a ‘serving and submitting’ relationship. Church officers are ‘servants’ and they ‘serve’ the church members. Ministers, elders and deacons are ‘servants’ called to serve the church. Ministers serve through preaching and teaching of the word and with prayers, elders through ruling and guiding with prayers, and deacons through caring for and providing physical needs to the needy. When ministers and elders are ordained and when deacons are installed, that means those officers are now ‘servants’ in Christ’s church.
In return, church members who receive ‘services’ from these church officers are required to submit to them, that is, their ministers, elders and deacons, recognising their authority in church as God-given for the benefit of the church. “Obey your leaders,” says Heb. 13:17 and continues, “submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls.” Moreover, in 1 Tim. 5:17, the Lord says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching.” So, the officers serve as servants and the congregants submit to their servant leaders.
Interestingly, this is the relationships that is applied to every relationship in Christianity. It applies between husband and wife, parents and children, and church and Christ. Think about these relationships. Husbands are commanded to ‘love’ their wives as Christ gave His life for His church. Wives are asked to ‘submit’ to their husbands like the way church submits to its Head, Jesus Christ. Children must ‘obey and honour’ their parents while the parents are to rear their children with the word of God. All kinds of relationships we have among believers are this ‘serving and submitting’ relationship.
After all, this is the reflection of the relationship within the Trinity, the Triune Godhead. God the Father ‘loves’ His Son, and the Son ‘submits’ to His Father. The Holy Spirit eternally shares this relationship between the Father and the Son.
This is completely foreign to the minds of the unbelieving world. In the world, one is and must be higher than the other. As Jesus the Lord said in Mt. 20, the unbelievers lord it over others and exercise authority. But in Christ’s church, no one is superior to any other but all are equal. Moreover, a leader in Christ’s church is a ‘servant’ who serves others as to the Lord Jesus. Church members submit to their leaders (or their ‘servants’) as to the Lord Jesus.
III. THE DYNAMIC OF THE ‘SERVING-SUBMITTING’ RELATIONSHIP
Then, what? OK, God gave His gifts to some to be officers in His church; they are set to benefit of church; they serve and church members submit to their servant-leaders. Then what? What is this to do with us at St Columba’s, especially to be an important part of our congregation’s Ministry Vision?
The answer is, we must experience the dynamic of this relationship in our congregation and benefit from it. Try to take a picture in your mind of our church having this relationship. The minister prays deeply and does his best in preaching the word and teaching it; our elders pray together with the minister and humbly yet lovingly provide pastoral care, strengthening the weak and comforting those afflicted. Our deacons give hands to people in need of physical or material help. As these church officers serve, all church members submit to their leadership which is actually ‘service’ they provide. In other words, the congregation receive the church officers’ service with a glad and thankful heart. What would be a possible result? Please picture that in your mind.
The only result of all these will be like this; the officers – minister, elders and deacons – will be greatly encouraged because their services are received with gratitude and submission. In a word, servants are appreciated by those they serve – that’ll be a great joy of those servants, won’t it? Then these servants in Christ’s church will become humbler and their serving the congregation will come from their heart more and more. And this will surely deepen the congregation’s appreciation toward their service and cause them to submit to their leaders more and more from their hearts.
What would happen then? The whole church will be saturated with love for one another. A church officer speaks in kindness to a church member, then, the reply will be words of appreciation. The whole congregation will grow in love and faith because each one will care for one another’s spirit. Then, if a visitor walks into our midst, his or her mind will surely be blown away by everyone’s kind words and smiles to each other. Not just words of courtesy, but loving hearts expressed in words and facial expressions and gestures. Such mutual love and care will be evident to the eyes of the people on the streets outside of church. Guess that church members meet each other on the street or at a shopping centre or wherever you can imagine. They speak the words of Christian love; they express mutual care and service and submission. That surely will blow the minds of the unbelievers. If that’s the case, we don’t need to invite them to church because they’ll come to find out what causes and what pumps up such love in the minds of Christians.
In fact, this is our being as ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’(Mt. 5:13-16). Furthermore, this is what our text passage talks about again and again in at least four different angles. Let me point those out to you. It’s from Eph. 4:11-16. Firstly, it is ‘equipping the saints for the work of ministry’ (v. 12); secondly, ‘building up the body of Christ’ (v. 13a); thirdly, it is ‘attaining to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God and to mature manhood and also to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (v. 13b); and fourthly, ‘speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the Head, into Christ’ (v. 15). As a conclusion, v. 16 summarises and says this: “when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Simply put, when church officers serve as servants, as to the Lord, and the church members submit to their leaders who are their servants – that is, each part working properly – the church will grow and naturally multiply in love! This is what we of St Columba’s must experience and benefit!
My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus, we must serve and submit to each other as to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the reason God called each of us to be the members of His church; this is the purpose of Jesus’ shedding of His blood for our redemption. We have no other way to live in Him but to serve and submit to one another so that we grow together and Christ’s body builds itself up in love! May the Lord help us in His wisdom and power! Amen. ***