Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Welcome to part three!
In this final contribution to this extremely important and yet ignored and misunderstood topic, I hope to share some final thoughts on the more practical end of being called, prepared, and sent by the Lord Jesus Christ for His work.
The Goal and Purpose of the Sending
First of all, let me explain what I see as the goal of all sending. The goal is for the Lord’s work. But what IS the Lord’s work? Here again, this is an extremely misunderstood topic. This gross misunderstanding comes from a foundational lack of vision and revelation of God’s eternal purpose. It only stands to reason that if you do not understand the purpose of something, then you will end up abusing it. I have written quite extensively on this vast topic here. In a nutshell, God’s purpose is to have an expression of the fullness of His Son. To have an image or living expression of this gloriously full and rich Christ. This image or expression is referred to in the N.T. with many different pictures such as the Body, the Bride, the House, the City, the Vine, the New Humanity, the Community of God (or household), and many more. In other words the Church! Of course, when I use that word it is definitely not in the sense of any man-made or conceived of organization or institutional system.
In the mind of God, all roads lead to His Church!
This is the central thought of all of the scriptures. Christ and the Church.
You can easily see this if you (without religious bias) read the first two chapters of the bible (Gen. 1 & 2) and the last two chapters of the bible (Rev. 21 & 22). In Genesis you see the original purpose and intention of God for creating mankind (see Gen.1:26-28). In Revelation you see the fulfillment of that eternal purpose as typified in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21 & 22).
So, considering this (and much more) we are definitely not stretching things at all when we make this statement: God’s work is to build His Church!
There is no other work of God. All “works” of God will lead to (in some way) the building and edification of His Church.
If you read the narrative story of the New Testament carefully (with spiritual eyes) you will see that this is true. God’s goal is that the all things would be summed up or headed up in Christ and this takes place in and through the Church (Eph 1: 9,10,22,23).
I know that some of you may be saying, well Milt, what about evangelism, and missions, and healing, and miracles, and helping the poor? Well, I would say that these are all good works but that they are to take place in and through the authentic expression of the Life of Christ on earth. In other words, the Church! Read the book of Acts people! It is the story of the early Church moving in and through the Spirit. It is the flow of the life of Christ out through His Body to the people caught up in the world system.
It is not the story of independent people doing independent things in an individualistic way!
It is the story of the corporate Christ (the Body) living and moving by His glorious life!
Wow! What a difference from most of what we have seen!
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1Co 3:6-11)
Here, we see that Paul very nicely breaks things down for us concerning the Lord’s work. There are those who plant and there are those who water. First of all, what are they planting and watering? The Church! That’s very obvious from the context. So, in general, we now can see that there are two aspects of the Lord’s work; planting and watering.
Planting and Watering
Paul tells us that he planted and Apollos watered. By looking at the ministries of these two brothers we can understand what that means.
- Paul, a planter, a wise master builder: Paul and his companions basically did two things. They preached Christ and planted churches. Of course, it was a different situation they had then from what we have here in the United States and the western world. But in some ways it is very similar. Paul was sent (in the beginning) to the Jews. Or, we could say, the religious folks. This caused problems because these people had a mindset and filters filled with religious baggage that hindered them from beholding the living Christ (see 2 Cor. 3). So, in that sense, he had a similar situation that we face in modern America. However, later he did go almost exclusively to the Gentiles and that was more like a situation we have in some of the present third world nations that are “heathen”. However, the goal was always to bring about the Church of the living God in different localities. Evangelism, healing, miracles, etc. had a purpose… that purpose was always to bring about the Body of Christ!
- Apollos, a waterer, a teacher: This brother had a real gifting in the area of teaching the Body of Christ (see Acts 18:22). Paul would send him places where he had planted churches so that he could encourage the saints through teaching the scriptures (see 1 Cor 16:12). Sometimes, this “watering” is simply for others to come and encourage the saints in a new or struggling church. We have seen this many times in our own experience. It is very powerful and very much needed! Some believers from one church can go and encourage (water) those in another church.
So we can see clearly that there are two general areas of the work; planting and watering. Notice with me that these “pictures” all have to do with Life!
Now, we will see that there are three areas (or stages) of the Lord’s preparation for a worker.
The community life
We can clearly see all three of these in the life of Jesus and in the life of Paul of Tarsus.
Of course, in the life of Jesus as the eternal Son of God he had already experienced “community life” and “training” before eternity. He received this experience by living in the community life of the Godhead. However, he still needed to have the “wilderness experience”. As a man he had never experienced an emptying of himself and a lowering of himself. He had never experienced the dryness of the desert before. He had also never experienced community life with humans before. Of course, he had much rich experience living community inside of the Triune God, but now he needed to share and live that same life, that divine life, with other humans! This, he lived out for over three years with the twelve and others. And then, as he had been trained by the Father, so he trained these others to go out into the world and do his work.
Paul also went through a similar experience. First, he had his “desert” experience when he departed to Arabia (Gal. 1:15-18). Apparently, he received his revelation of the gospel in Arabia and Damascus. Then, he received his community life experience in Damascus and in Antioch. Scholars don’t totally agree as to the length of time Paul spent as a brother in the churches but they mostly agree that it was around 11-14 years. The main point here is that he was not a new believer or a novice in the things of the Lord when he was sent out! The same is true of Barnabas, Silas, and all of the others. It appears that Paul was mostly trained by the twelve in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:17) and by Barnabas in Antioch (Acts 13:1). Barnabas had many years experience in the Jerusalem church and then some in Antioch.
The life of the local church being a “training ground” for workers before they are sent out is an almost completely forgotten and abandoned practice. Of course, the work itself (as we are describing it here) is also almost a completely abandoned practice! It is usually deemed that if someone feels called to “the work” of the Lord they must go into another institutional situation called a bible college. Of course, there may be some value to that, but in reality there is absolutely no substitution for the authentic community life of the organic Body of Christ! How can you impart an experience that you yourself have never had? Believe me, I am speaking from years of experience when I say that it simply doesn’t work.
Then, we see both Jesus and Paul training new workers. Of course, Jesus trained the twelve for over three years. But notice how he trained them. He sat down with them and taught them how to study the bible! Right? NOT!!!
He simply lived by the life of his Father right in front of them!
They got to see how divine life is lived out in and through a human vessel. They got to see how divine life responds to all kinds of situations in the human experience such as: popularity, notoriety, misunderstanding, rejection, opposition, persecution, scorn, ridicule, and ultimately crucifixion. They got to see Him plant the first Church in and among themselves!
Paul also trained new workers. This happened while he was planting the church in Ephesus. He brought several brothers to Ephesus who were in the churches that he had already planted.
Titus from Antioch
Timothy from Lystra
Gaius from Derbe
Sopater from Berea
Aristarchus from Thessalonica
Secundus from Thessalonica
Two others added later from Ephesus: Tychicus and Trophimus
Of course, he had taken Timothy with him on his travels after his third visit to Galatia. It is also believed by many scholars that these men went on to plant churches throughout Asia Minor. Some of these churches are listed in the book of Revelation chapters 1-3 and Colossians.
As we have already seen, the actual sending out of workers into his harvest is not solely an individual matter. It is something that is done by the Holy Spirit AND the Church! When these believers were sent out it was because they were not loner, independent individualists! They were loved, supported, and prayed for by the saints in the churches.
“Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus.” (Act 13:1-4)
Some Resources on This Topic:
Finding Organic Church by Frank Viola
The Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola
The Church and the Work by Watchman Nee
The Glorious Church by Watchman Nee
The Acts of the Apostles by F.F. Bruce
Theology for the Community of God by Stanley Grenz
The Stewardship of the Mystery by T. Austin-Sparks
The Community Life of God by Milt Rodriguez