Gise J. Van Baren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.
Once upon a time (children’s stories and perhaps “parables” should begin that way) there was a man who was a carpenter—a very good one at that. From his youth he had been developing his talents. He spent unending hours practicing and seeking to perfect this art. He lived in a ramshackle, old house (badly in need of repair), but he did not have the time to take care of that. He anticipated a call from the king who was building his palace. After all, the king would want the best in his realm to work on that wonderful project! Nor could this carpenter accept the request for his services of those living about him—he must be ready, if the king calls, to go immediately. He knew that his abilities could be best used in the service of his king—but he waited in vain for the king’s call to serve in the king’s carpentry crew at the palace. After many years, the carpenter died. His house had virtually fallen apart. The neighbors no longer knew of his talents since he had never used them on their behalf. To the end of his life, the carpenter regretted the fact that he had not been able to use his talents in the area for which he deemed himself perfectly qualified—and therefore he had not used these talents properly at all.
Does the story sound all too familiar? How many are not eager and willing to use their time and abilities in some grand project of the King of kings—and while waiting for the opportunity to arrive, fail to do those necessary and required tasks He has laid upon us in our daily lives?
This issue of the Standard Bearer treats of the office of believers. Other articles have set forth the idea of this office. Suffice it to say here that this office is the fruit of Christ’s anointing. The Heidelberg Catechismstates, “I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am partaker of His anointing . . .” (Q. 32). This means that those united to Christ can prophesy (“But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things,” I John 2:20.) The gift of prophecy is not limited to the minister; it is a gift given to each Christian by virtue of his union to Christ. There is, too, the gift of holiness and, then, service. Many Scriptural passages point to the calling of saints to be holy—and to serve God in all things. Finally, there is the gift to rule—not only as elders in the church, but as those who would direct their time, possessions, and very being in the service of their Lord.
The office of believers is one to be used diligently and faithfully in the church. One need not wait first for some call to serve as minister, elder, or deacon. That particular call may never come—and in the case of women, we believe Scripture clearly indicates, will never come. But each has the office of believers—to be used and never neglected. Each child of God is partaker of Christ’s anointing—in order that he may serve God in the body of Jesus Christ as that is seen here on the earth.
The office of believers exists exactly in order that the church may flourish in this earth. He who refuses faithfully to use this office, has neglected the command of his King.
But how can this office be used? Apart from serving in the various offices within the church, what can one do? Is it not true that the laity are not that important within the church?
Nothing can be further from the truth. The office of believers is expressed in fellowship and communion. This is seen in society meetings, in evening fellowship, in daily contacts. In societies particularly, there is the opportunity to profit mutually in sharing one’s understanding of the Word of God. True, this requires more than faithful attendance at society—necessary though attendance itself is. It requires, yea, demands, careful study of the passage of Scripture. One can not simply rely on what he recalls about the passage from the time he was in school and catechism. He must compare Scripture with Scripture; he reads and studies that which others write on the passage. He considers possible questions which can be raised on the passage—and possible answers which he can give. Thus, with an interchange of ideas and thoughts, the knowledge of Scripture increases. Also, the application of these Scriptural truths is made there for the spiritual profit of all present.
But this office is used not only in society meetings. There are ever so many opportunities to exercise this office in its threefold aspect within the church. There is frequently the need to comfort and assure fellow saints. When death comes, when God takes from another his or her lifelong mate, the encouragement of the saints is needed. That encouragement is needed not only in the funeral home, but also in the months which follow.
When sickness comes, sometimes fatal sickness, the saints rally around such an individual and his family who face the affliction, to comfort and encourage with good words from Scripture and with prayer. Nothing lifts up the afflicted more than when they hear from God’s Word itself concerning the Presence of God with His people.
When problems arise, saints find ways to help each other and direct each other through the time of trial.
When sin is seen, saints warn and admonish from Holy Scripture. They do not rejoice in the sin, nor gossip about it. Rather, they follow the Scriptural norm of seeking the repentance of the sinner. They do not ignore sin or pretend that it is not there. Rather, for the sake of the one sinning, every effort is put forth to lead to true repentance.
When occasions of joy are present, then the saints together also rejoice. Oh, how God also directs that His people may know the blessings of salvation. Such is seen especially as the children are baptized, as the young people make public confession of their faith, as the youth are joined in holy marriage.
This office of believer is, above all, exercised as these saints gather together each Sabbath to worship God in His house of prayer under the preaching of the Word. It is their joy, for these few moments, to search Scripture, to consider its meaning, to hear the truths of the Word expounded to them. It is their pleasure to study together that Word and consider its application to life.
With all of this, there is the fact that in this office the believer has the opportunity, daily, to come to God in prayer. Earnestly, he brings before Father’s throne all of the needs and cares of God’s people. He prays concerning the afflicted; he speaks to God of the needs of the church; the needs of the Christian schools; the needs of his own family. As priest, he makes continual supplication to God for Jesus’ sake.
Even outside of the church, in contact with others about him, the Christian shows by word and deed his own blessed relationship with God his Father. His interest in the kingdom of heaven, his concern for the children of God, his faithfulness in his work—all show him to be indeed a citizen of the heavenly kingdom. How wonderful it is also when God gives those opportunities to speak to others of the wonder of God’s salvation. There is nothing more beautiful than to be able to speak of that Sovereignty of our God and the riches of His grace and mercy.
But are we functioning in this great office to the best of our ability? There seems so much which prevents one from serving in that office properly. We are distracted. We have television—with hours spent in front of it weekly. But possibly we find we have not enough time to attend societies, or, if we attend, no time to prepare ourselves for that. We have sports: the high school variety to professional sports. This might consume vast amounts of our time. But we have little time for church activities, for visiting the sick or comforting the mourners. We live in the age of “labor-saving devices,” but we have precious little time to serve as we ought in the office of believers. Or, is it not so with you?
Often we would minimize our own gifts and abilities to serve in this office. We all know other saints of God who are so very capable. These know how to teach, how to comfort, how to warn. These are the ones who can speak so fluently in society and contribute so intelligently. But we are unable to do so—or so we tell ourselves. We deplore our own lack of ability—and think that there is nothing we can contribute. But that is a sad and sinful attitude—for are we not all partakers of Christ’s anointing?
Some do think they have talents which ought to qualify them to serve in the office of deacon, elder, or minister. These may be women to whom these special offices are forbidden in Scripture; or these may be men who seem never to be called to serve in one of the special offices. So one quickly concludes that he is not allowed to use his talents to their full. He might deplore the lack of opportunity. But such ignore that God gives to each many opportunities to function in the church of God. Let none ignore the obvious tasks and calling while awaiting the reception of what he considers to be the higher call.
Consider your office, man or woman of God. God has called you from darkness to His marvelous light. He has changed the very course of our life. He has given you the anointing of His Son. You are prophets, priests, and kings of the living God. A more wonderful position there is not. A higher calling there can not be. In fulfilling the daily tasks to the best of our ability, in doing those things which our Father in heaven requires of us, we are using our office properly.
Let us, then, not waste our time nor our talents while forever waiting for some higher or more noble work to do. The labor is here and now. “Occupy,” said Jesus, “til I come.” Many things are not being done; much in this office is not being carried out. Where such is true, let us repent. And by the grace of our God, let us consciously, actively use this office within the church to His glory and the spiritual benefit of His church.