Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 23, 1956

The Individual Equation In Good Works

Bob Crawley, Dunlap, Tennessee

The Lord's people in our time face a variety of serious problems. The most imminent threats to the unity of the church are the issues which surround various programs and organizations more or less widely accepted and defended. Among these issues are: (1) the "fund-forwarding, sponsoring church" method of doing "mission work," (2) the arbitrary assumption by a single church of the oversight of "brotherhood-wide" programs, and (3) the practice of churches who support and maintain various societies for the doing of social, educational, and benevolent work (the line of fellowship was drawn some years ago after some tragic battles against those who practice this in the work of evangelism).

The issues cited may appear to some to be distinct and unrelated. This writer feels, however, that all these are but tentacles of a single monster, the symptoms of a single disease. There is present in all these programs a common tendency, that of delegating to some other person, congregation or organization the actual performance of our work while we simply furnish the financial support. On this basis various persons and churches have become professional specialists in particular fields, and the rest of us are expected to turn over our resources to them for "a more efficient administration." This is rationalized by the philosophy that a good end will justify almost any kind of means. This substitutionary tendency grows out of a misapprehension of the purpose in performing a God-given duty.

There are basically two theories of the nature of duty. One is that the job needs to be done. This places the emphasis upon the work to be accomplished and minimizes the means used to perform it. The disciples of this theory, when challenged about some unscriptural program they support, may adopt the question, "But, won't you agree that we are doing a good work?" This writer contends that there is no good work when it is done at the expense of loyalty to the Word of God. The other theory of the basis of human duty places the emphasis upon the needs of the person who performs the assigned work. It is upon this basis that we work problems and exercises in school, not that the teacher needs to know the answers, but that we benefit ourselves in development by working them.

God has revealed that we serve Him upon the basis of this latter principle. When Paul declared the true God to the Athenians, he explained that God is not "worshipped with men's hands as though he needed anything." (Acts 17:25.) The need, therefore, is not just for God to be worshipped, but the need is ours — to do that worshipping. To the Philippians (4:14-17) Paul wrote that the true need in a preacher's receiving support from a church is not in the benefit obtained by the preacher but in the good it does the church to have fellowship with him in the work he does. It is still "more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35.) Our High Priest could become perfected only by the things which he suffered. (Heb. 5:8, 9.) In order to become the kind of people we need to be, we must develop ourselves in the doing of the things God has given us to do. Hereby do we grow in the grace of the Lord.

Just who shall perform a given work in the Lord's plan is not an unimportant incidental. This is manifest in the story of the "rich young ruler." (Mark 10:17-22.) The issue in this case was not the welfare of the poor, but the preparation of the man himself to inherit eternal life. It was he that lacked something, and that lack could be met only by his personal experience of giving to the poor. Had someone else looked after their needs, he still would have lacked.

Since the duties of the Christian's life are given us for our spiritual development and benefit, we rob ourselves of the benefit when we delegate our duties to , another to perform for us. We have taken the "if you can't go, then send" attitude toward the great commission until few have been willing to learn the real joy there is in taking the Gospel to another. When parents turn over their God-given task of rearing their children to someone else, the child may even benefit in some cases, but look at the tragic loss on the part of the parent of that matchless experience. When the Lord gave the job to the church of taking the Gospel to the world, it was not alone for the benefit of the untaught world, for had it been so, He could better have given the job to angels to carry out.

God is not acceptably served by proxy. When I am called upon to sing God's praise, I do not serve Him by hiring the services of a trained professional choir. It is because I need to sing, and not just that a song needs to be sung. I cannot pay some priest to pray my prayers for me because the real need is for me to pray. Upon visiting the sick I have been made to feel that truly it was my good and not theirs that the Lord intended and accomplished. The world needs to be taught the Gospel, yes, but more than that, I need to teach it. What Bible teacher has not felt that he began to know God's Word only after teaching it to others. The accomplishment of "pure and undefiled religion" (James 1:27), is not in that the fatherless and widows have been visited, but in that I have visited them, and in that I have kept myself unspotted from the world. Since the benefit to be derived by the doer is a part of the plan of God, the means He gives, and the organization He authorizes are fully as important as the work itself.

The emphasis in the New Testament is upon a personal direct performance of one's obligations, and a direct contact with the means employed. The appreciation of this divine emphasis, and the application of its principle to the current problems of the church, would do much to preserve the purity, the unity, and the spiritual vitality of God's family. In pleading for this, are we hoping for too much?