The truth of the communion of the saints is far more than merely an abstract doctrine that we only confess with our mouth. It is a blessed, practical, spiritual reality for the saints of God that is begun here on earth and shall be perfected in glory. This article of our faith involves many important implications for the calling of the individual saints of God. How often do we think of ourselves as members of the communion of the saints? We are not merely so many individual members of the church of Jesus Christ. We are all members of one living organism of the body of Christ and so also members of one another. This is a practical reality that all of the saints of God must keep in mind. We live then not unto ourselves or for ourselves, but we live for the sake of the body of Christ, the communion of the saints, that God may be glorified in the one glorious church of Jesus Christ.
The child of God must love the communion of the saints and must seek it constantly. He finds no communions with those that are of the world and who walk in darkness. “For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” (I Cor. 6:14-16.) The friends of. the child of God cannot be those of the world for he has nothing in common with them; he stands antithetically opposed to them. Therefore he cannot join with the world in its associations, in its societies, in its entertainment, in its goals and purposes. The saints find fellowship and communion with those who are members together with them of the body of Christ. With the members of the communion of the saints the child of God has all things in common. The spiritually healthy child of God seeks that fellowship. He does not seek to live all by himself as an individual. He loves and seeks the fellowship of the saints.
The calling of the saints toward the communion of the saints is fundamentally that they dwell together as saints. That we are saints means that we have in principle been delivered from the bondage of our corruption and the dominion of sin over us. We have been in principle consecrated to God and His glory. This implies in the first place that there is a love for God and for the truth of His Word. The apostle Paul inEphesians 4:15 speaks of this: “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things which is the head, even Christ.” The reference here is surely first of all to the speaking of the truth of God and of His Word. The communion of the saints is characterized above all by saints who come together because of their love for the truth of God’s Word. This they confess together as saints; this Word they testify of to one another; and in this Word they rejoice together. The exhortation of Paul in this text must (very really be followed in the communion of the saints. There must be a speaking of the Word of God in love to one another in order to exhort, comfort, encourage, and admonish one another with the Word of God. The saints speak to one another the Word of truth that is for the use of their mutual edification. The saints come together often for this purpose. Their coming together is not to talk only about the vain things of the world, but to talk with one another about the Word of God and the calling of the saints of God in the light of that Word of God, as well as the understanding of the whole of life in the context of that Word of God. This must characterize all of the fellowship of the saints, not only that of the worship services and the societies. Do we do this with one another and do this on a. very practical spiritual level? Or do we concern ourselves only with the things of the world when we come together? What about our young people? Do we speak the truth in love to one another? Is the truth of God a living subject of our conversation that characterizes all of our conversation?
In the second place the saints of God walk together in righteousness and holiness. It is only when they walk in the light of God’s righteousness and holiness that fellowship is possible. This is revealed first of all in their love for one another. Paul speaks in Ephesians 4:3 of “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” And in the preceding verse he tells us how that is done, “With all lowliness, and meekness, with longsuffering forbearing one another in love.” And again in verses 31 and 32, “Let all bitterness, and wrath and anger, and clamor, and, evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” The communion of the saints as manifest in this life is among those who remain sinners, who bear about with them the old man of sin. That sin causes strife and conflict and division in the church. That is why the saints are called to be longsuffering with one another in their weakness and sins. They are called to walk in all lowliness and meekness, not esteeming themselves to be better than any other; not boasting in sinful pride in their own righteousness. The communion of the saints is only possible if there is kindness and tenderheartedness among the saints, and only when the saints forgive one another their sins seventy times seven.
Together the saints strive to walk in true holiness before God. They separate themselves from the wicked-wickedness of the world in their conversation and their walk. They strive to consecrate their whole lives unto God and His glory. They seek in humility and kindness to admonish one another in that way of consecration to God. Paul says in Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” In the communion of the saints the saints mutually exhort one another unto truth and righteousness and pray for one another that God may be glorified in the communion of the saints.
God has given to each of the saints a calling within the communion. As we noticed last time, God has through the Holy Spirit endowed each of the saints with certain gifts and talents and with a certain measure of grace. By virtue of these gifts and the grace of God, each of the saints has a particular place within the church. Some seem to be more honorable and of greater significance than others. Nevertheless all of them are indispensable to the fullness of the communion of the saints as God has created it and calls it into being in a certain local manifestation of His church. All of the saints from the greatest to the least have a place in the communion of the saints. The individual saint of God has significance only as he stands related to the whole of the communion of the saints. Even the greatest of the saints of God has no significance of himself independent from the communion of the saints. And even the seemingly least honorable of the saints is indispensable to the communion of the saints and has a place of significance in the communion. And God has adapted all of the saints together so that, as Paul says, “Those members which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God has tempered the body together having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked.” (I Cor. 12:23, 24.) The calling of all of the saints of God is therefore to work toward the full manifestation of the communion of the saints to the glory of God. And in that calling every saint has need of all of the other members of the body, and stands in the service of all of the other members of the body with the particular gifts and measure of grace that God has given to him. Whatever that particular place the child of God has received in the body, whether minister, elder, deacon, or simply a saint in the office of all believers, he must be faithful to serve the whole of the body of Christ that the name of God might be glorified.
The communion of the saints comes to its most glorious manifestation in the institutional life of the church, and even more particularly in the gathering together of the saints of God for worship. It is especially in the worship services where God causes the Word to be preached by those whom He has ordained in the church as pastors, that serves, as Paul says in Ephesians 4, “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” In the worship service the saints of God express their common faith, hope, and doctrine. When the saints are gathered together for worship they glorify God together in the singing of the songs of Zion; they come together as the church of Jesus Christ in prayer before the throne of grace; and they bring together their gifts and offerings for the support of the poor and needy and the maintenance of the church. The calling of the child of God toward the communion of the saints is above all that he gathers with the church in worship. The love of God and His Word and the love for His people draws the child of God to the worship services from Sabbath to Sabbath. The worship services give opportunity for every child of God to exercise his calling as member of the communion of the saints. It is his responsibility to be there. The child of God enters into the house of God with all of the saints with a glad heart. He is called to greet the saints of God in true brotherly love. He has opportunity to speak with the fellow saints of the wonders of God’s Word and of His grace. Also the time after the services ought to be used for this purpose.
Included in the institutional life of the church are also the catechism classes, the Sunday school classes, and the various societies. These are wonderful opportunities that God gives to us to gather together in the communion of the saints. Today in many churches, societies and Bible study classes have fallen very much in disrepute. They are either not held at all or very poorly attended, and even those which are held are often little more than social clubs. It is very urgent that we continue this aspect of the communion of the saints that God has given to us and to use these as wonderful opportunities to study the Word of God together with our fellow saints. It belongs to the calling of every child of God to be an active member of these meetings, to come carefully prepared for the study of the Scriptures, and to take an active part in the discussions for his own benefit and that of his fellow saints. How little time we sometimes take for the study of God’s Word. We give the excuse often that we are too busy with the affairs of this world. While for the most part we as a denomination have very good attendance at society meetings, there are still many among us who do not attend these meetings. There are those among us who carefully prepare for society meetings but there are also many who come to these meetings evidencing that they have not even opened their Bible to study the Scripture passage which is to be discussed. The result of the latter is that often these discussions flounder sadly or they are dependent entirely on the discussion leader. We who confess the truth of the communion of the saints and who are Reformed Christians who understand the urgency of growing in the knowledge of God and of knowing the doctrines of our faith ought surely to be zealous members of societies in our churches.
We must not limit the communion of the saints, however, only to the institutional life of the church. It extends to all of the relationships of the saints and their calling toward one another in all of life. In Acts 2:41-47 we have a very beautiful picture of the communion of the saints as it existed in the early church. This passage surely has reference to a peculiar time in the history of the church, a time of great difficulty because of the infancy of the church, because of the persecution and extreme poverty that the church was experiencing at the time. Nevertheless there are in this passage indications of the love and concern for the communion of the saints that must always exist among the saints of God. The saints of God must always desire to have fellowship with one another and exercise their calling toward one another.
Many passages of Scripture can be sighted which speak of the various aspects of the communion of the saints in general. The apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8states, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” How much of our lives are spent only living unto and for ourselves? How much do we do only for the purpose of what benefit we ourselves can get out of it? Do we really spend very much time out of genuine Christian love for one another? Do we give not only of our monies but also of our time and of the gifts that God has given to us for one another? This work does not belong only to the minister, the elders, and deacons of our church but also to every individual member.
The apostle Paul in I Corinthians 12:25, 26 states that the care of the saints for one another must be such that “whether one member suffer all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.”
The communion of the saints must become especially manifest to those whom God gives particularly difficult trials and afflictions in this life. There is in our midst much evidence that God has richly blessed the communion of the saints in this respect. Of this many of the saints of our churches have testified. This does not, however, make the need to emphasize this aspect of the communion of the saints unnecessary. We all must remember our calling in this respect. The apostle James in chapter 1 of this epistle states: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their afflictions, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (vs. 27) Our Lord Jesus Himself, when He speaks of the judgment, speaks of the saints as those who inherit the kingdom prepared for them, “for I was an hungered and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” (Matt. 25:35, 36) It is the calling of the child of God in the communion of the saints to search out those whom Christ was talking about and to minister to them in true Christian love.
“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! For there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.” (Ps. 133:1, 3)