Previously, we began discussing together the structure that God has for His people both in the Old Testament and in the New. We have discovered that God is building a kingdom of priests, where every believer is a priest. From that kingdom, God calls out positional priests (the pastors, elders, overseers, and bishops of the New Testament). Just to restate this part of God’s design for clarity: The priests were to represent God’s redemptive work to the people through the sacrificial system. Pastors (elders, bishops, overseers) are to represent God’s redemptive work to the people through the administering of ordinances (or sacraments). Priests were to serve as judges over the people (Deut. 17:8-13). Pastors are to serve as overseer (1 Peter 5:2). Priests were to teach the whole counsel of the Law (Deut. 33:10). Pastors are to teach the whole counsel of Scripture (Eph. 4:11-12, Acts 6:2).
Other than these things, as we have discovered, the work of ministry belongs to all of the people of the church. As we began our conversation on God’s structure for His people, we learned that as God’s people, and as a local church, we are to be actively engaged in the pursuit of holiness. The pursuit of holiness is the most basic pursuit of any church. Without this pursuit, a group cannot, in good conscience, call itself a local church family. This means that our goal cannot be to ourselves be served. Our goal must be the pursuit of Christ in holiness. We cannot both expect to be served by Christ and seek to serve Christ. We cannot have as king both Christ and self. We are here, together, to pursue holiness. The pursuit of holiness is the most basic action of the church body.
As we continue, we will ask the question regarding basic service within the church. Who is to be ministered to? To what degree are different groups within the church body to be served? Who, according to God’s design, is to do this service? God has revealed to us plainly the way that He desires His people to be organized (not for the purpose of salvation, but for the purpose of holiness through sanctification; salvation is a gift).
“You must not act unjustly when deciding a case. Do not be partial to the poor or give preference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly. You must not go about spreading slander among your people; you must not jeopardize your neighbor’s life; I am Yahweh.
“You must not harbor hatred against your brother. Rebuke your neighbor directly, and you will not incur guilt because of him. Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am Yahweh.
The Law deals with structure in more a more relational way. What we will do, then, is observe this relational structure that God has put in place and apply that to one’s service within the church body. Firstly, there is the command to, as we pursue holiness together, judge our neighbors fairly without showing favoritism. This concept is mirrored in James 2:1, when James (Jesus’ half-brother) urges believers not to show favoritism, then in 2:9, states that to show favoritism is to be under the condemnation of the Law. The poor and the rich are to be treated equally and judged equally.
There is a very important relational aspect of the church body, here (at least if we want to be a healthy church body). When more consideration is given to any group within the church than to others or when more consideration is given to a person in the church than others, we have not honored God. If the pastor gives special attention to anyone or any group that he does not give to others, then he lives in sin before God. This, though, is not a command given only to the pastors; it is a command given to the entire church body, each and every believer.
This reveals something about our Lord. Romans 2:11 and Ephesians 6:9 both reveal to us that God does not show favoritism. There are those on whom God’s favor rests, but when it comes to His people God does not show partiality. We are all treated the same by God because God’s love and grace is applied to each one of His children equally. God is impartial.
This means, for us, a couple things when applied to the structure of God’s church. First, all of God’s people are equal servants under the Lordship of Christ. 1 Timothy 5:17 does state that pastors who are good leaders should be considered worthy of honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. This is simply because this is the primary responsibility of the pastor and not because he is to be shown favoritism. As I observe the organizational church in our day, this is a concept that has been all but abandoned. There are usually a few people who are expected to be everywhere, do everything, participate in every event, visit every member, and so on, while the majority might serve but mostly leaves the work of ministry to the professionals. If God does not show partiality and He is building for Himself a kingdom of priests, then it must also be the case that God desires every believer to be equal in his service with other believers, so that every believer is pulling his or her weight and not overburdening others. God does not show partiality to the pastor, neither does he show partiality to the longstanding church member. He does not show partiality to the rich or the poor. He does not show partiality to the young or the more aged.
Second, as we think about church ministry, favoritism of any kind cannot be forced on the work of the church. If God does not show favoritism, neither should His church show favoritism. Yet, there are always those who expect to be favored or who expect that one group or another will receive special attention. Many times, the favoritism of one is forced upon the ministry of others. We end up with churches where the work of one ministry outweighs the work of all the others or where one generation is catered to over the others. What we do not often realize is that favoritism is one of the contributors of church decline and that it causes many church bodies in our context to live in constant rebellion against God, who shows no partiality.
Just as a point of honesty, here, this is probably one of the greatest struggles for any pastor or church leader because there are always some who condemn him or her for not showing favoritism in some manner. Relationally, though, we are not to show partiality. Regarding church structure, we are to actually treat all people with equal consideration.
Not only are we not to show favoritism to others, but we are also not to show favoritism to ourselves. If we favor ourselves, what is the result? The result is that we spend our time trying to make ourselves look or sound better than others in our community. We might find ourselves saying something to the effect of, “I am better than that person,” “My kids act better than theirs,” “That’s just not a very good family,” “That person’s just not a very good person,” “This person does this terrible thing,” etc…
The Law, here, actually restricts this kind of talk. We are not to slander others in any way. We are not to jeopardize our neighbor’s lives, neither their safety nor the well-being or reputation. This is also why we are not to harbor hatred against our brothers and why we are to rebuke them directly and privately when rebuke is necessary. It is almost as if God desires that we consider all others to be more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3).
So, we resolve, in an effort to honor God in the church, not to show favoritism to others and not to show favoritism to ourselves.
Finally, God commanded that His people not take revenge or bear a grudge against one another. Instead, they were to love their neighbors as theirselves. What this means, simply, is that people, members of our own faith family, will eventually let us down. They will eventually hurt us or sin against us. Our objective, because we are family, is to always forgive one another. There are too many churches where people hold a grudge and it hurts the church body as a whole. Where leaders are forced out because someone gets angry and does not show love. Where there is a church split because one group disagrees with another and they care more about getting their own way rather than loving one another. Do we not realize that, if the church truly practiced love, these things would all be absent.
The evidence, though, seems to prove otherwise. There is much church conflict today. Leaders are forced out of their positions. Church bodies are crippled because of grudges held. Somewhere, in the church today, there is a major lack of love. The good news for us is that God does not lack love. His forgiveness abounds. While we strive to have a greater forgiveness, God is always faithful to forgive us where we fall short. He still chooses to make an imperfect people into a kingdom of priests.
Who is to be ministered to? The answer is simple: everyone without favoritism. To what degree are different groups within the church body to be served? This answer is also simple: equally without favoritism. Who, according to God’s design, is to do this service? Again, everyone without favoritism. Let us strive toward greater holiness by pursuing service as a kingdom of priests. Let us thank God always for His grace, and the salvation that He gifts to those who belong to Him.