Figures of the Assembly – Part 3: A House


In our consideration of varied aspects of assembly life, we come now to a figure which suggests salutary lessons in a day when popular ideologies tend to militate against a proper regard for order, even in Christian communities.

When Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy he was hoping to see him shortly, but the question of proper behaviour in the house of God was a matter of such importance that he could not risk the delay which might be caused by his plans being over-ruled, and so he says “These things I write unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly; but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the House of God” (1 Tim. 3. 15, R.V.). Literally it is, “how it is necessary to behave.” The exhortation is addressed to all members of the assembly, and there seems to be some justification for thinking that the idea is that (among other things) they are so to behave as to be “pillars.” Stones in a building rest upon each other but pillars stand firm upon their own bases and support the building. How splendid when an assembly is blessed with solid pillars - believers with solid convictions, who know where they stand and are able to support others in the maintenance of truth. Pillars are upright - and they are “always there!”

It is significant that the exhortation follows hard upon instructions with regard to bishops (i.e. overseers) and deacons, whose character and work have such an influence on the conduct of assembly affairs. Is the inference that becoming behaviour in the assembly is closely linked with the proper exercise of the respective functions committed to overseers and deacons? Overseers are to exercise shepherd rule, and although out of fashion in almost every sphere of life, it remains true that healthy and wise discipline makes for happiness and efficiency in any community. Whatever lawlessness there may be in the world, and even though the same spirit can creep into the church, we nevertheless believe that where there are elders and deacons of the calibre envisaged in God’s Word, believers young and old are not likely to be lacking in respect and appreciation. At the same time it is impossible to say to what lengths carnal minds will go - had not God to contend with Aaron and, Miriam because of their opposition to one who enjoyed His testimony that he was faithful in all God’s house? (Num. 12). The sequel in this instance suffices to show the serious view the Lord takes of speaking against those upon whom He has placed responsibility. Quite apart from other weighty considerations, it ought to be apparent, even to the most thoughtless, that a critical spirit will make only for disunity, and a house divided against itself is bound to fall. Far better for all concerned to recognize that the shouldering of onerous responsibilities in the fear of God entitles men, who will be all too conscious of their fallibility and accountability, to the prayerful sympathy and encouragement of their fellows.

A good deal of disorder has arisen from failure, or perhaps unwillingness, to see that a properly-constituted assembly is served by deacons as well as by bishops. Overseers should be left free to give themselves to the spiritual care of the assembly, whilst deacons attend conscientiously to affairs which, whilst very important, are too often allowed to encumber overseers to the detriment of their effectiveness and the assembly’s blessing. Let it not be thought that ‘deacons’ are some sort of inferior order; reference to those passages where the word ‘diakonos’ occurs will suffice to show that deacons have a wide range of service to perform.

It is not a question of inferiority at all - it is simply a question of God’s appointment for the well-being of the church, and since all is service for the same Lord, the sphere of each has its own sacred blessedness and importance. A perusal of the necessary qualifications of deacons will dispel any idea of inferiority. No duty in the church should be entrusted to unspiritual men; when business acumen (not a thing to be despised) is regarded as an all-sufficient qualification for certain tasks it results in men being placed in false positions, where they are able to influence the outlook of the assembly, sincerely no doubt, but mistakenly. When the apostles rightly refused to have their special work encumbered by the administration of poor relief, they did not look merely for men of organizing ability, but told the believers to look out” seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.” At least two of the men proved themselves capable of a far wider ministry, but that did not prevent them undertaking this task for the glory of God. The application of this principle to the various departments of assembly life is too obvious to need elaboration. It need only be added that after indicating the qualifications to be possessed by deacons, Paul told Timothy that before men were to be permitted the privilege of using the office of deacon, they were to be proved and found blameless. Here, as in all other cases, it is not ‘wise to” lay hands suddenly” on any man.

As the first part of our chapter clearly indicates (vv. 4, 5, 12) a house should be well ordered, but it is to be feared that too often haphazard conduct has been excused on the plea that it arises from things being left to “the leading of the Spirit,” Language of this sort may over-awe the simple but others will want to put the matter to the test of Scripture, and it will be found that this term is used by some men with far greater frequency than it is employed in the Woijd of God, and in quite different connections and without due regard to its implications. Unless our lives are under the control of the Holy Spirit day by day (and this is a matter for evidence and not assertion) we have little warrant for expecting His guidance in special situations. It is idle to suppose that having chosen our own way for most of the time, and having shown little evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, we can suddenly count on the leading of the Spirit for the comparatively few hours during which we meet as an assembly. The aged Simeon occupies but a small corner on the great canvas of Scripture but what simple beauty marks every feature of the attractive story. It was true that he “came by the Spirit to the temple,” but this was the delightful chmax to a life summed up by the words” the Holy Ghost was upon him” and during which the truth of God had been “revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost.”

The Corinthians were told that all things should be done decently and in order (in a becoming and orderly manner - Weymouth), and we may therefore be quite sure that the Holy Spirit’s leading will be manifest in good order. Since “God is not the author of confusion” it is dishonouring to Him to suggest that lack of order is attributable to the Spirit of God having His way. Such lack is more likely to hinder the gracious freedom of the Spirit, who is not at home amidst disorder now, any more than He. was when He brooded over the desolation of Gen. 1, Knowing this, Paul was constrained to leave Titus in Crete, with the express object of setting things in order. The writer recently entered the work-shop of a Christian carpenter who felt that his attempt to have everything neatly in its place was inspired by, whilst it fell far short of, what he imagined the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth looked like. Would not our assembly life be more orderly if we constantly realized the presence in our midst of the Lord of Order?

Of course, no one in fellowship with God will mistake mere organization for spiritual reality - Paul not only told the Corinthians that all things were to be done decently and in order, but also that they were to be done “in love” and “unto edifying,” as elsewhere he said all were to be done “to the glory of God.” The exercise of God-given discernment as to what is becoming to the House of God, what is actuated by genuine love for the Lord and His people, what is calculated to be edifying, is a surer guide as to the Spirit’s mind, than exquisite organization on the one hand, or excitement and emotionalism on the other. Paul made it clear that orderly exercise of the gift of prophecy would be to the stranger a far more potent evidence of the presence of God, than the disorders which arose from uncontrolled excitement. The Spirit of Life will produce harmony of spiritual life, just as physical life produces the beauty of harmony in plant or animal organism - it is disease which produces disharmony.

What left the Queen of Sheba breathless with admiration was not simply the magnificent house which Solomon had built, but the ordering of it in truly royal fashion - the meat of his table, the sitting of his servants, the attendance of his ministers and their apparel, and his cupbearers, and his ascent by which he went up to the House of the Lord. The report she had heard in her own land of Solomon’s wisdom and prosperity was received with some scepticism, but a sight of the ordering of his house led her to confess that the reality was more wonderful than the report. What a witness it would be, if some who were inclined to be sceptical about the gospel message were to be convinced of the presence of God in our midst by the evidence of divine order in our gatherings - an order characterized by the simple and humble dignity which springs from the sanctifying effect of the love and fear of God. It would seem that one of the things which struck the Queen of Sheba was the fact that each man knew his place and filled it with dignity and grace. Thus it should be in the House of God; each has his proper place appointed of God, where he can best serve God and his fellows to his own joy and blessing, and divine order is manifested where the saints are able to discern each man’s proper calling and give place to him in that sphere, so that each finds the task for which he is fitted.

The foregoing is surely sufficient to show quite clearly that the affairs of God’s House must be attended to with godly care. Would any who are content to let the business of the assembly be conducted in a slip-shod manner (even perhaps under the false plea of the leading of the Spirit) venture to apply the same methods to their secular business? Easy-going and careless habits in business lead to the Bankruptcy Court. Will not the affairs of God’s House one day come under review at the Judgment-Seat of Christ, and will it not be a solemn thing if we are found guilty of having given less attention to our responsibility as the ministers of God, than we have given to our secular affairs? Properly regarded, our business is simply another department of our service for God and there is no sound reason for applying one set of principles to business life and another set of principles to assembly life. If the leading of the Spirit in assembly life relieves us of the responsibility to have things done decently and in order, our attention to order in business involves the admission that we do not expect the leading of the Spirit there. Even where, alas, this may be true in fact Christian men will, presumably, shrink from asserting the principle.

This in fact was precisely God’s complaint against His people in Haggai’s day. They were content to let God’s House lie waste, and they justified their conduct by claiming some spurious spiritual insight - “This people say ‘The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s House should be built They claimed to discern some feature in the situation which relieved them of responsibility to set about the building of the Temple. God’s answer was to apply their false principle to their own affairs and face them with the result “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this House he waste?” Why was God withholding His blessing? “Why?” saith the Lord of Hosts, “Because of Mine House that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.” Whatever feature in the situation they seized on to justify their neglect of God’s affairs, was not allowed to apply in regard to their own affairs. They attended to their houses, saw that they were well appointed, and ran to see to things. God evidently intended them to see that there was a proper analogy between their houses and His. If the time had not come to see to His House, neither had the time come to see to theirs. If it was proper to attend carefully to their houses, it was even more important to attend to His. Happily they heeded the call of God and, with a mind topwork and with the blessing of God, the Temple was soon rebuilt.

Spiritual prosperity depends upon a combination of factors, and nothing here said is meant to suggest that order of itself will meet the need. We have been considering but one aspect of assembly life, but it is an important one. It would be profitable for the reader to trace the occurrences in Scripture of the command “Set it in order,” especially in relation to the services of the Tabernacle. The Apostle devoted considerable space in his letter to the Corinthians to regulating affairs in that church, and then added “The rest will I set in order when I come.”


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