Bill McFarland

September 17, 2006


We have ways of describing what happens when each part is working properly.  When each part of an engine is working totally properly, just like it has been designed to do, the old mechanics say down where I grew up that that engine is “humming,” or one old fellow used to say it is “purring” right along.  When a football team is operating so that every player at each position is doing exactly what he is supposed to do at the right time and in the right way, then a coach might say that the team is “clicking,” that either the offense or the defense is really functioning like it was designed to do.  And, in an individual life, when everything is going just as it should for that person, when his life professionally and in his family and with the Lord and even in the enjoyment of this creation that God has provided for us is all going right, we will sometimes say that that person is “on a roll.”

There are different ways of saying this point, then, but of the church, when a congregation finds itself with each part working properly, then the right way to refer to its condition is that it is “spiritually maturity and scripturally soundness.”  Because, you see, in that church the conditions are what the Lord says in Ephesians 4:16 they should be.  When those Christians have grown and matured, each part will be found working properly.  That means that here is a circumstance where happily each member is serving in some worthwhile way.  Each one is doing what he is best at, what he is designed for, cut out for, and all are working alongside each other as fellow members of the body.  It’s the circumstance then of individual worth.  There is a way I can contribute; my service is important.  It is a circumstance of interdependent fellowship where we are helping each other, each one doing maybe what some other member cannot do and yet doing it together.  And it is a circumstance of productive service to the Lord’s glory where, because we are all doing what we can and doing it together, we are effective in trying to do what the Lord has given for us to do. 

That is why each part working properly has to be the goal for which the New Testament church strives.  It is not merely a plan that the Elders design and that preachers dream up or that deacons invent, but each part working properly is the Lord’s own plan for how his people are suppose to operate.

Each Wants To Serve

In scripture, you see, it is assumed that each Christian will want to serve for the Lord’s glory.  Sometimes in the scriptures there are reminders, there are even sometimes rebuke where lukewarmness or indifference has set in, but the assumption is, not that Christians will have to be made to do something for the Lord, but that Christians will want to do so.  A simple but typical illustration of this point can be observed in passages like I Thess. 1:3-4.  This is only one of several, but this one shows what we are getting at.  Paul writes, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Now notice carefully his mention of faith, love and hope.  You will recognize those as the things that he says “abide” in a Christian life (I Cor. 13:13).  But notice he refers to the “work of faith.”  To Paul it is not imaginable that someone will have real, vital, powerful faith and then not want to do anything because of it.  There is work of faith.  Then notice the “labor of love.”  In every person’s life where there is the love of a husband toward his wife or the love of a mother toward her children, you will find evidence of the kind of labor that love produces.  People will do things because they love that you could not possibly pay somebody enough to do.  And then notice the “steadfastness of hope.”  Hope causes a steadfast effort and endurance in the Lord’s service that would be unimaginable by any other means.

One of my favorite illustrations of these three phrases is a little story that I read originally in one of William Barclay’s books.  He told about a household in one of the poor countries in Eastern Europe which played host to a fellow who happened to be traveling through that region.  He stayed several days in this home where there was a man and his wife who were progressing through middle age and then their daughter, a lovely young woman who was still living at home.  This traveler said every night while he was a guest in that home he would notice the same routine.  There would be dinner, the mother would begin to clean up the kitchen, the father would take care of the final chores that needed to be done, and the daughter would sit down every night in the living room area before a fire in the fireplace, and then with only candle light, she would pull out a garment she was sewing.  She would bend down in the dim light over that garment and work and work, a careful stitch, on that dress.  This fellow said that after about the fourth night of that he finally couldn’t stand it anymore, and he said to the young lady, “Don’t you ever get tired of sewing on that?”  She said, “Why, no.  You see, this is my wedding dress.”  It was a work of faith, a labor of love which she was doing with steadfast hope. 

These qualities have been demonstrated in the lives of Christian people like the Hebrews.  We find their example in Hebrews 6, verses 10 and following.  I am going to read the text, and you notice again that when you will find love, hope and faith, you will find them serving in this text.  “For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.  And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”  There is service that is not sluggish, and it keeps on till the end because it is a work of faith and a labor of love done in the patience of hope.  The Bible assumes that each Christian will want to service.

Each Will Do What He Can

Secondly, in scripture, it is intended that each one in wanting to serve will do what he can.  That is, that he will fill the place for which he is best fitted.  If you watch some of these craftsmen, and they are craftsmen, who do beautiful stone work or rock work or maybe brick work like Bob has done in the past, it is amazing how these fellows can find the right piece that fits in at the right place just in the right way.  Sometimes God in his building of his church is very much like that. 

Remember the Lord’s story about the man who, planning to go on a journey, called his three servants to him and entrusted his talents to them – to one five, to the second, two and to the other one talent.  Remember in that story that no one servant received all the talents.  They all received some.  Neither did any of them receive the same talents as the others.  They had both various amounts of talent to use as stewards.  Yet, each one of those servants was held accountable for what he did with what he had.  The five talent man did not answer for the two or the one that the others had, but what he did with what he had.  The one talent man didn’t answer for the master having failed to give him five or two, but he met disaster because he had been unwilling to use that one that he had.  Why did he think that being unwilling to use one, he should have been placed in possession of five?  Not to have used what he had was to become a worthless servant and to be cast into outer darkness.  That is what the Lord taught.

And then remember the way Paul taught that Christian service means using what one has been given.  I would like to sort of use as a basis for this thought the statements he makes in Romans 12, beginning at verse 3.  He may well have been talking about a type of gift giving that has not been intended to be permanent in the church.  If it was miraculous, then that was the case, but there is a principle here that will apply anyhow.  He says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.  For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

Now think of the implications of that reading.  One is that we shouldn’t think so highly of ourselves that we forget that we only have what we have been given, or what God has assigned to us, and that we are depend on each other.  A second implication is that we should understand that while not all the members have the same function, each member does have some function as given or assigned him by the Lord.  And then the third is that we must, because of this plan, be ourselves and do what we uniquely can, whether it is preaching or serving or teaching or encouraging or giving or leading or compassionately caring for someone.  Every one of those has equal value in the Lord’s service if they are done by people who are doing what they can for the Lord. 

To illustrate the point, think of the pictures that we started with.  An engine has different parts which function as they can.  A belt that works from one pulley to another in an engine does a fine job at that, but it is not a hose which does very well at conveying fluid to the different parts of the engine.  A fuel injector is an indispensable part of the engine.  It does fine, but it is not for exhaust.  A piston has an important function, but it is not a valve.  You can see those illustrations.  A football team has 22 players who fill the various positions that they are cut out for.  Andy gets the ESPN Magazine.  There is a picture in it this week of Edgerine James, a very wealthy running back right now in the NFL, who is walking off the field next to this huge offensive lineman.  He looks like a midget almost compared to this guy, but they both are indispensable parts of a team.  They are very different – one couldn’t do what the other does.  And in a person’s life, a person does best when he is being himself by using what he has been given.  If you try to make me do something that I am just not cut out for or capable of, I will feel the pressure; I’ll feel like a failure; I’ll not want to try it again.  Maybe you are that way, too.  I think we all are.  But if I understand that what I can do is valuable, that it is from the Lord and that is what he wants me to do, then I feel like a servant who can function.  So it is assumed that a Christian will want to serve.  It is intended that he will serve in a way he can. 

All Will Work Together

And then the third step in our study is a fact that in scripture it is required that the Lord’s servants work side by side, together.  It is not enough to want to serve.  It is not enough to just do what you can.  As a Christian, the Bible teaches that we are supposed to do what we can together.  This is only the natural and necessary application of what we have learned so far if you think about it.  If one has the faith and the love and the hope that makes him want to serve, those very same qualities will cause to want for his service to be as effective as possible. That offensive lineman, what good does his work do if he doesn’t have somebody who can either throw or run the ball?  If that person with faith, hope and love is set on doing what he can, then he will realize how much he is counting on others to do what they can.  If the person is showing mercy by helping somebody, if he is giving cheerfully, if he is teaching, then look how much he counts on somebody else to lead or to preach.  We are dependent on each other. 

But, if that person who wants to serve and is set on doing what he can knows that he needs other people for all the things to happen that he wants to see done, then he will surely realize that he has to be involved with them, cooperating with them in the Lord’s service.  This is an important theme.  I wish I could make it more powerful, but it is so important for each one of us. 

The truth of this point is present throughout the Bible: The Lord’s work is done effectively by people who are doing what they can while working together.  I can give you some illustrations from one end of the Bible to the other end.  Moses held up the staff of God for victory over Amalek, but he needed Aaron and Hur to hold up his tired hands.  And they all needed Joshua and the men he chose to go out there in the valley and fight the Amalekites, according to Exodus 17:8-13.  If one of those warriors who had no business doing it had just gone out in the valley and held up the staff of God, he would have been killed.  On the other hand, Moses couldn’t stand up there on the mountain and hold up that staff all day by himself.  They were doing what they could, but they had to work together.

The wisdom of the book of Ecclesiastes says, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their labor.” (Ecc. 4:9)  Two working side by side get more done than isolated individuals who are working hard but who won’t have anything to do with each other and have no regard for each other. 

When Jesus sent out workers, whether it was the twelve whom he called (Mark 6:7) or the seventy that he sent later (Luke 10:1), he sent them out two by two to work together.  Why did he do that?  He knew they would get more done that way. 

In the days of the early church, great work was done when the disciples (plural) determined each according to his ability (singular) to send relief to the brothers living in Judea, and they did so sending it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:29-30).  Look at this!  Each determined to do what he could; then they did it together, and they accomplished great good. 

And in the epistles of the New Testament, the picture of this principle in action only grows more beautiful, not less.  In I Cor. 12, for example, beginning at the middle of verse 24, I read this, “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”  God is interested in getting the work done, but he is interested in so much more than that.  He wants individual members to know that they are important in his eyes, and he wants there to be a rich fellowship among them so they know they are important to each other, so that they are honored or they rejoice together. 

That is why reaching the place where each part is working properly has to be the goal of a New Testament congregation.  It has to be our goal here at North National.  Each part, that means every Christian, doing what he can together in the Lord’s service. 

We have a common beginning in the Christian life.  Every Christian!  I Cor. 12:13 explains, “For in one spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slaves or free and all were made to drink of one spirit.”  We need that beginning.  We are not Christians without that beginning.  That is how we begin as members of the body of Christ. 

And then as members of the body, there is a common purpose for the Christian life.  We are intended to grow up in every way into him who is the head (Eph. 4:15).  Are you growing up in Christ?  And to work properly, allowing the body to grow so that it builds up itself in love (Eph. 4:16).  Notice I am to grow as an individual, but I am not growing as an individual unless I am contributing to the growth of the body in love.  You can’t just draw off by yourself and be what Paul is talking about in these passages.  Other people can’t do the work of faith and labor of love in the steadfastness of hope that we have been talking about in your place. 

That causes us to think, “Have I begun the Christian life in the New Testament way?” and “Am I living it in the New Testament way?”  I encourage you to be able to answer those questions “yes” today.  If you need help in some way in making a beginning, then would you come this morning while we stand and sing together?