The Church, an Environment of Exhortation
By Al Stoner
The church of the living God is to be an environment of exhortation while it is yet in this world. When brothers and sisters in Christ come together in the weekly gatherings, prophets are to preach, exhorters are to exhort, teachers are to teach, and ministers of various spiritual gifts are all to minister them according to the measure of the gift of Christ, so that all may be edified and all may be profited. As Paul declared, “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (I Cor. 14:28-30).
In his epistle to the Romans Paul expressed it this way: “So we, by our union [with and] in Christ, many though we are, form but one body, and individually we are related one to another as its parts. Since our gifts differ in accordance with the particular charge entrusted to us, if our gift is to preach, let our preaching correspond to our faith; If it is to minister to others, let us devote ourselves to our ministry; the teacher to his teaching, The speaker to his exhortation. Let the man who gives in charity do so with a generous heart; let him who is in authority exercise due diligence; let him who shows kindness do so in a cheerful spirit. Let your love be sincere. Hate the wrong; cling to the right” (Rom. 12:5-9, TCNT).
In this environment, all the benefits are flowing to the individual members by joints and bands from the Head, even Jesus, “from Whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). Every member of the body has a vital part to fulfill in the edification of the other members of the body. Showing mercy and compassion, the giving of thanks, sharing an insight received from the Word of God, being kindly affectioned one toward another are but some avenues of expression given by Christ to the church for the building up of the other members of the body in the faith. In Romans 12 Paul makes mention of a wide range of complimentary enablements for the edifying of the church. Every member of the body can find themselves somewhere in one or more of these expressions. As they live and walk by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ they are made aware of particular enablements that Christ is working in and through them. The ability to edify fellow brethren by the means of spiritual gifts given to men is a stewardship given to them by the Savior. Let us all see that we are good stewards of the manifold grace of God!
The benefits proceeding from our exalted Head are wonderfully substantive in nature (cf. Heb. 11:1), and when received, they are perceived to be desperately necessary unto life and godliness, and unto gaining the prize of life eternal. These benefits are also greatly utilitarian, making for increase unto edification. This is an increase, on the part of every member, both in the ability and capacity to edify the church, which is Christ’s body. These gifts are beneficial by virtue of their making for ever-increasing familiarity with, and knowledge of, both the Father and the Son. And in all these things God is glorified through Jesus Christ.
In light of these considerations, it ought to be a matter of wonder, marvel, and even alarm, that the greater part of that which calls itself the church today is a total stranger to this environment of exhortation! It should be evident that something very strange and very grievous has transpired in “the church”. The so-called “clergy-laity” system has essentially usurped and displaced the operation of the Spirit of God among men and women who are making a profession of faith in Christ. Fulfilling a religious obligation has now, in all too many instances, usurped the place of giving oneself to the appointed work of edifying the body of Christ. There now exists a great chasm between what “is written” about the church in the Word of God, and what actually parades as the church in our generation. “An enemy hath done this,” is certainly an accurate way that one can summarize the state of affairs that has now come upon the professed church today: yea, the enemy of God and of men’s souls. Under this usurpation God is not receiving glory and men’s souls are being further enslaved, rather than being built up in the most holy faith. --Editor