“Useful to the Master”

Useful to the Master

What the Lord expects from the disciples in churches of God

You became a Christian by simply believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and accepting Him as your Saviour and Lord. That was the start of a new way of life for you in relationship with God.

When you were baptised by immersion in water, that was you telling the world and the Lord Himself that Jesus is your Lord, the leader of your life, by making a public commitment to follow Him as an obedient disciple. You were then added to your local Church of God by the Lord, and received by a group of disciples who are also trying their best to follow the Lord according to the important things He taught to His first disciples.

There is so much to learn about how to be a disciple that it will take the rest of your life! But it is exciting too to find out what the Lord has in store for your life.

This text aims to try and help you understand some of the important first steps, things you need to know. You’ll need to keep checking everything with the Bible to make sure that it is actually in there and not made up by other people!

Issued by the Churches of God in North America in November 2010

(Scripture quotations from the New International Version)

Being Devoted

The first believers in the Lord Jesus came together as a group in Jerusalem just a few weeks after Jesus went back to heaven after His resurrection. They were the first ever “church of God” and the Bible says “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). This “devotion” was an ongoing commitment; it meant they were really serious about carrying on these important things that Jesus had told them about. It should also be the same for disciples in churches of God today, and that’’s what the Lord expects too.

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The Apostles’’ Teaching

This expression doesn’’t mean the apostles invented the teaching, but that they were the first ones to pass on and teach others, the things the Lord Jesus Himself had taught them, things about Christian living and church life. Jesus taught them when He was with them (Jn 13:13-16) and He also gave them important teachings during the 40 days after His resurrection (Acts 1:3). Paul also got this teaching directly from the Lord (Gal.1:12,16). All these things are contained in the various books of the New Testament. It goes by other names too – “the faith” (Jude 1:3); “good deposit” (2 Tim.1:14) and “word of truth” (2 Tim.2:15).

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Your Life’’s Ambition

“We make it our goal to please him”

Now that you have committed to being a disciple of the Lord Jesus in a church of God, it’s very important that you begin to learn all you can about what pleases the Lord. In fact it’s so important that you should make it the most important goal of your life as Paul did (2 Cor.5:9). The apostle Peter described it as growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet.3:18). Learning involves listening, watching, reading and doing.

James tells us not to “merely listen to the word”, but to “do what it says” (Jas.1:22) making sure that we are also “quick to listen” (Jas.1:19). In the church you will have many chances to listen to the Word of God being spoken and taught: ministry meetings, gatherings for children and young people, etc. Make sure you are there to listen! Paul encouraged Timothy (and us too) to “set an example for the believers” (1 Tim.4:12). There are other people around you in the church who are good examples and you should learn from them too (Phil.3:17, Phil.4:9), including the overseers in the church (1 Pet.5:3).

Look forward to reading the Bible and do it regularly (Ps.119:9,11; 1 Tim.4:13). When you hear something new or interesting (or anything really!) from the Bible, check it out for yourself, like the people of Berea did, as they “examined the Scriptures every day” (Acts 17:11). The words of the Bible are “God-breathed” so that we can be “thoroughly equipped” as believers (2 Tim.3:16,17).

God has saved you for a reason, – to work for Him! He expects you to report for duty! To help you serve, you have been given a particular spiritual gift (1 Cor.12:4-7). Don’’t neglect that spiritual ability by not using it (1 Tim.4:14). There is something that you can do to serve the Lord, and the Lord needs you to do it (2 Tim.4:5). Christianity is not a spectator sport!

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The Enemy

You need to be aware that as a Christian you have an enemy who will try his best to stop you from serving the Lord: – the devil, Satan. He will keep on tempting you, trying to get you to do wrong things, and sometimes you will! You have to fight against him and not give in to his temptations. You do that by staying close to God (Jas.4:7,8) and by living by the Spirit “and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Gal.5:16).

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Confession – owning up!

Sin is a very serious thing with God. He can’’t stand it! That’’s why He made it possible for us to be forgiven by believing in Jesus, who took our punishment by His sacrifice. When we believed, we were forgiven once and for all, forever, for the wrong things we’ve done. But it does’’t mean we’’ll never sin again. So when we do, and we know we have, it’s important to go to God and own up to it, to confess, so that He can keep us clean from anything which would otherwise get in the way of being close to Him. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness… But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence: —Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 Jn 1:9, 1 Jn 2:1).

Knowing that we can always get forgiveness for doing wrong doesn’’t mean we can keep on sinning! But it does mean that we can be sure God will forgive us if we’’re genuine about it. That way, we stay more in tune with Him. So it’s important to make sure we keep things right with God every day, and maybe several times during the day too! There are many things the Bible lists as being sins that must be avoided. Some are in 1 Cor.6:9-10, which is quite a big list! It doesn’’t matter if other people, or even the laws of the country where you live, say that some of these things are OK. God does’n’t, and what He says is more important! Even if we do commit any of these sins, God still loves us and is willing to forgive us, so it’’s important that we make sure we get that forgiveness. Otherwise we won’’t be able to live the best kind of life God wants for us, and we won’’t be able to serve Him as He planned we should. Any sin can be forgiven by God as long as we really mean it when we say we are sorry and do our best not to do it again. That’’s repentance.”

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Sometimes, people in a church of God don’’t ask for God’’s forgiveness or do some things wrong that are so serious they have to be “put out” of the church. That means they can no longer take active part in things the church does. Another more formal word used is ‘excommunication’.” It’’s the opposite of becoming a part of the church by being added. One reason is that a person like this can have a bad influence on others in the church, causing them to sin too –- like the rotten apple in the barrel making all the apples bad. The Bible describes it like this “”A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough”,” where yeast is a picture of sin (Gal.5:9). There are verses in the Bible that list the kinds of things that can result in “excommunication” (1 Cor.6:9,10; Gal.5:19-21). The way to avoid these things is to focus on the positive and aim for what it says in Gal.5:22-26. And where there is true repentance (a change of heart and mind), there is always an opportunity after excommunication to come back again.

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“The Fellowship”

‘Fellowship’ really just means being together, sharing the Lord’’s things with other Christians. When the Bible refers to “the fellowship”, such as 1 Cor.1:9, it is not just some random group of Christians, but those who have the same beliefs, commitment and purpose as Christians. They are therefore in the same kind of church that the Lord taught about to His disciples, trying their best to be obedient to everything that the Bible says. When you are added to a church of God, you become a part also of the fellowship” which is more than just the people in your local church. It includes all those in churches of God all around the world in places such as India, the UK, Australia, the Philippines, North America and Africa.

There is also a different “group” of which we become members when we get saved the group which includes every believer in Jesus Christ, whether they are in a church of God or not. This group is called ‘the church which is His body’” or simply the Body of Christ. Although, as we’ve seen, we can be put out of the church of God, the church the Body of Christ is about our eternal salvation, being saved forever. And so we can never be put out of this church or lose the salvation we have. That’’s part of what being in the church the Body of Christ is all about.

“Fellowship” means being in the company of others in our church, spending time with them, maybe by having a meal or discussing things. But there’’s a particular way we share in “fellowship” with each other, and that’’s by being present when the whole church meets together. In Heb.10:25, we are all encouraged not to “give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” That means some were deliberately and regularly skipping church meetings, which is not a good thing! If we’’re not there to share in church activities together, how can we “encourage one another” (Heb.10:25) and “do good” and “share with others” (Heb.13:16), and also be encouraged ourselves?

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The Breaking of the Bread

The meeting for the breaking of the bread is also called by us “the Remembrance”. This is a really important meeting because we can see that the Lord commanded it (Matt.26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk.22:19-20; Acts 20:27; 1 Cor.11:17-34). It’s a weekly meeting for the whole church where the bread and wine are symbols that represent the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. A brother in the church will go to the table and begin by saying a prayer of thanks for the bread which he then breaks and everyone in the church takes a piece of it and eats it. Thanks is then given for the wine and everyone takes a sip. This is then followed by a time of singing songs of praise and other brothers offering spontaneously, on behalf of the whole people of God, more prayers of thanks.

This is what Heb.13:15 refers to as offering “a sacrifice of praise to God” and 1 Pet.2:5 as “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The book of Hebrews teaches us a lot about what it means for God’s people to come into His holy presence in worship. It is totally awesome (see Heb.10:19-22)! While all the men in the church can participate out loud, the women are to stay quiet (1 Tim.2:8-12; 1 Cor.14:34), except for saying the “Amen”, which is how the church shows its agreement and appreciation of what’s been said, and by singing the hymns. But the women should still come with something to offer in worship to God; they just do it silently.

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The Prayers

There are two aspects to being “devoted” to prayer – individually and collectively. The church has meetings arranged mainly for prayer, just as in Acts 2:42 & Acts 12:5,12. As a “devoted” disciple, the Lord expects you to be there as often as you possibly can. Heb.4:16 shows us where we go spiritually when we pray – to God’’s throne of grace. Phil.4:6,7 give us encouragement making our requests to God. In Rev.5:8 our prayers are described as being like “golden bowls full of incense”, which shows that they are really precious to God! Just as your personal daily prayers are vital to your spiritual health, so the prayers of the church are vital for its spiritual health.

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Heb.10:25 warns us not to “give up meeting together” which of course means all the times when the church gathers together. There will always be real reasons why you can’’t sometimes make it, but when the church comes together to pray, or to worship, or to hear from God’’s Word explained by a brother who has been in His presence in preparation, you should make it your business to be there. That may involve a sacrifice at times, giving up something you might feel you’’d rather do. But the Lord will appreciate that sacrifice and will reward your faithfulness and devotion to Him. It’’s amazing how much of an encouragement it is to others who go to see you there too!

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Overseers (or Elders)

There are men in the church who are called “overseers” or “elders” (Acts 20:28, 1 Pet.5:2,3). They have the responsibility together of looking after those in the church, providing for their spiritual needs of teaching, encouragement, guidance and advice. This involves love and caring on their part, which is why they are also sometimes called “shepherds” (in a spiritual sense). Your responsibility is, as it says in Heb.13:17, to “’Obey your leaders and submit’ to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Their job is to teach you and they are also responsible to the Lord for you (that’’s partly what the phrase ““in the Lord”” means, referring to people or things that are brought together under the control of the Lord).

Overseers don’’t act alone in each church of God. They are linked together in the “elderhood” with all the other overseers in churches of God around the world. They have a wonderful unity that is achieved through regular discussions together about Bible teaching and practice, and through the work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:22-28; 1 Pet.5:1,5,6). Your responsibility is to do what they say as from the Lord Himself.

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Marriage is intended to be a loving, committed, life-time relationship between a man and a woman. It’’s a lovely thing which God Himself “invented” and which He honours highly in the Bible (Gen.2:24; Eph.5:22-33; Tit.2:4,5; 1 Pet.3:1-7). It is always intended to be for life and so divorce is not permitted, because God is against it (Mal.2:16). The bond between a husband and wife is meant to be so strong and close that it’s inseparable (Matt.19:6; Eph.5:31).

Marriage is God’’s answer to the strong sexual desires which we all have when we reach that stage in our physical development. It is one man for one woman” and vice versa (1 Cor.7:2). The Bible speaks out clearly against homosexual practices (Rom.1:22-32; 1 Cor.6:9) and any man or woman in a church of God who does such things must be put out of (excommunicated from) the church. The Lord said that a man or a woman who divorces his spouse and marries someone else commits adultery (Matt.19:9; 5:32). Because of this, anyone in a church of God who files for divorce, or who remarries after being divorced, must in almost every circumstance be excommunicated. A disciple who is divorced from his or her spouse should therefore not re-marry.

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“Only in the Lord”

The Bible teaches that those in churches of God should only marry others who are ‘“in the Lord’”, that is also in a church of God (1 Cor.7:39). There is no closer relationship on earth than that of a husband and wife, and so it makes perfect sense that they should be in agreement “in the Lord” about the importance of their shared spiritual life and that of their children (Eph.5:33 6:1). Every marriage faces challenges, but these are much easier to deal with when there is a strong and united spiritual foundation to the marriage.

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Victorious Christian Living

The apostle Paul said “”I can do everything through him who gives me strength”… “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus”.” (Phil.4:13,19). That’’s a great promise for both the good times and the difficult times! It’’s as true today as it was then –- for Paul and for you!

You have been saved for a purpose – to live life God’’s way, to do the kinds of things He wants you to do. By keeping yourself in the right spiritual condition for God to use you by His Holy Spirit, you will come to experience the true meaning of life! “”If a man cleanses himself…, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work”” (2 Tim.2:21).

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Enthusiastic for Good Works!

The Lord Jesus was always doing good works for people. We are also called to do the same by God’’s helping grace (2 Cor.9:8). This supply of grace is given to us by the One who saved us so that we could do these good things, which He has “prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph.2:10). Paul says that we are to be examples of those who do good works and to always be ready to do them (Tit.2:7, Tit.3:1). In Tit.2:14, Paul tells us that Christ “”gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good”” which means we should be really enthusiastic to do good works! The difference between what we were like before we were saved and what we are like when we are saved should be seen by the good works that we do. It’’s not a way of becoming saved, but a way of proving that we are indeed saved.

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Giving to the Lord

In 2 Cor.8:1-5, Paul refers to a financial gift that the churches in Macedonia gave to support the Lord’’s work. But he pointed out that something essential came first: “they gave themselves first to the Lord” (v.5). Financial giving to the Lord’’s work through church collection is an important work and service, but even before that, there is something more valuable that we can give -ourselves! We can make ourselves –- our gifts, abilities and talents –- available to help others in need. Also our financial giving should be “acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Cor.8:12). That means that you give only as much as you are able to give, remembering that whatever you have actually came from God in the first place anyway! God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor.9:7) and so our giving should be generous and not grudging. Otherwise, it takes away from the value of the gift as far as God is concerned. God is the great example because He gave us “His indescribable gift” (2 Cor.9:15).

It’’s up to you then to help support God’’s work through the churches. As you think about how you can give of yourself, your time and your money, remember the promise of Phil.4:19: “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

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Keeping Apart from Things that Interfere

The Bible often warns us about dangers to our lives for the Lord that we should keep away from. We can’’t mix together God’’s things with ungodly things in the world, particularly things that go against what God has said in His Word. God has said: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?” (2 Cor.6:14-7:1; see also Jas.4:4)

We even have to keep apart from other believers when what they do is not of God. As a church of God we come together in our meetings for our worship of God, our prayers to Him and the teaching of His Word to the saints. These are fully under the control of the church of God, under the orderly leadership of its overseers (1 Cor.11:17-34; 1 Cor.14:26-40; 1 Tim.3:1-15; 2 Tim.2:15-21). We should not join another church or participate in its church meetings, as those are substitutes for meetings of churches that are “of God”. Even attending them can suggest we support them and can get us more involved. Please pay attention to what your overseers say to you about this matter. They know a lot about the dangers (2 Cor.11:2-4; Gal.2:18; Rev.3:8-11).

These days, there are many different Christian events available – concerts, seminars, praise events, Bible study groups – in the neighbourhood, at school and university, and in the workplace. Some of these can be very helpful and encouraging. It is always a good idea to talk to one of your overseers about a particular event so that they can guide you in the right way. The Bible warns us to avoid any teaching that is wrong and any pressure to go along with any ungodly behaviour. It also tells us that it is serious to cause a new disciple to be influenced in the wrong direction (Matt.18:6; Rom.14:13; Tit.1:10,11; Tit.3:9-11; 1 Jn 2:19-26; 1 Jn 4:1-6; 1 Cor.7:23). If you are in doubt about any situation, ask an overseer to guide you.

There are many useful resources produced by other Christians (such as Bible study books and videos), but we always have to test them against the Bible itself, and we should’n’t let them take the place of our own Bible reading (Eph.4:11-16; Col.2:19). Also, if you live too far away to be able to be together with others in the churches of God, it is better to have personal fellowship with other godly believers than with ungodly people. However, you need to be careful in this. But it may give you opportunities to preach the gospel to others, or to properly explain to other believers what the Scriptures teach. If so you should take advantage of them if you can (Acts 13:5-12; Acts 17:16 22; Acts 18:4; 1 Cor.9:19-23).

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Being Witnesses

The Lord told the first disciples that they were to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). Since He has gone to heaven and is no longer physically present on the earth, He is depending on His followers to share with others what they have come to know and understand about Him, just as those first disciples did. A witness tells what he knows to be true. But we also have help from the Holy Spirit. The Lord said, “When the Counsellor comes… He will testify about me”. And you also must testify…” (Jn 15:26,27). The disciple John also wrote about how important it is to be a witness for the Lord: “”That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched— this we proclaim concerning the Word of life……We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard”…” (1 Jn 1:1,3). In fact both Peter and John said, enthusiastically, ““…we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard”…” (Acts 4:20).

The Lord has done so much for you, because of His great love for you, and He expects you to tell others about it, to spread the message of the gospel. Sometimes, it will be through things you say or don’’t say. Often, the first thing people will notice is what you do or don’’t do.

And so, your commitment to live a faithful and obedient life serving the Lord in a church of God is something of great value to Him and to you. And remember that He has said:

“”Those who honour me I will honour”” (1 Sam.2:30).

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The Church of God in action