Inasmuch As You Did It to One of the Least of These
Last Sunday morning, Paul White preached an excellent lesson titled "The Work of Christ's Church." In it, he pointed out that the church (in both the universal and congregational sense) must not take on work that God has not authorized it to do. His points were well made, and I concur with the conclusions he drew. Preach on, Brother Paul!
One might ask, though, why some congregations engage in various works and programs that the Lord has not authorized for the church as a collective body to do. I've heard some suggest that the leadership in some congregations are overly ambitious, and wish to expand the works which they oversee. This may be the case for some congregations, but my experience has been that some congregations take on the responsibilities that God gave to individual Christians because the individual Christians simply are not doing the work that God gave them. The task of visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction (and doing something to relieve their affliction, James 1:27) was given to individual Christians, not to the collective church. The tasks of letting your light shine before men (Mat. 5:16) and of giving a defense to everyone who asks you a reason of the hope that is in you (1 Pet. 3:15) was likewise given to all Christians, not just to preachers. The responsibility to be a “Good Samaritan and bind up the wounds of our neighbors who have fallen on hard times (Luke 10:25-37) is enjoined upon all. So why aren't the members of these congregations doing the work that God gave them? There is no single answer to that. Sometimes it's due to apathy; sometimes some members are afraid to speak to strangers to share the Good News; sometimes individuals become too busy earning a living or going to school, etc.; or sometimes it is plain laziness. In any case, the work doesn't get done by individual Christians and so the church as a corporate body takes on those responsibilities. Thus, the church gets distracted and diverted from its God-given work as it tries to do the work that God gave to individual Christians. Teams, committees and programs are set up to address the needs that largely are not being met by the ones to whom God gave the responsibilities. When congregations become overwhelmed by the task, they set up separate institutions such as orphan homes, benevolent societies and the like so the congregation can pass off the responsibilities that the individuals have passed off upon the church. As time goes by this becomes self-perpetuating as young Christians grow up with these programs and institutions, thinking that this is the way it has always been and thus is the way it should be.
I make this observation because I grew up in such a congregation. About 20% of the members did about 90% of the work, while the other 80% of the congregation congratulated themselves on the work that "we" as a congregation were doing. I heard one preacher say that since part of the money that was put into the collection plate went to support preachers in foreign fields, then those who contributed their money were having "fellowship" with the preachers who were thus supported. If the preachers visited the sick or edified and admonished the spiritually weak, the congregation was having "fellowship" in that work. Part of the money that went into the collection plate supported orphan homes, so those who contributed were having "fellowship" with those who actually did the work of caring for the orphans. The congregation, then, seemed to have the attitude that as long as they put money in the collection plate they did not have to share the Gospel, exhort the weak, visit the sick, or care for widows and orphans. Any work that "the congregation" was doing, they were doing. Essentially, they paid "the church" to do the work for them. And why not? Since there were programs and institutions that specialized in doing those works, why not let them do it?
What we need to realize is that Jesus never told us that the church would be judged as a collective whole. To the contrary, the Holy Spirit through the writings of Paul tells us that we will be individually judged based on what each one of us does (2 Cor. 5:10). Jesus did not say, “Inasmuch as the church did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." He said, “inasmuch as you did it,” or “inasmuch as you did not do it” (see Mat. 25:40, 45).
So what does this mean to me? It means that when I see a work that needs to be done, I need to step up to the plate and do it. It’s easy to leave certain tasks to others, especially the ones that make me nervous or uncomfortable. But if I have the ability to do the work, and the need is there, then I have a responsibility. To leave it for someone else to do would be to forsake my duty. I must remember that it is not about what is easy for me nor about what makes me comfortable. It’s about giving service to the One Who gave His life for me.