“HIS OWN RENTED DWELLING”
The church in Rome is a good illustration of the foregoing. Before Paul visited Rome, he had written to the church there expressing an intense desire to see them (Rom. 1:10-11). From his letter it is obvious that a church had been established in that city prior to his arrival. When he actually reached Rome, the church there did not hand over local responsibility to him, nor did they say (as a church today probably would), “Now that an apostle has come into our midst, he must take over the responsibility and be our pastor.” Instead, we find this amazing record in the Word: “And he remained two whole years in his own rented dwelling and welcomed all those who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, unhindered” (Acts 28:30-31). Why did Paul live in “his own rented dwelling” and preach and teach from there and not from the already existing church? Some may suggest that because he was a prisoner he would not have been allowed to take meetings in the church; but there would have been little difference between taking meetings in the church and in the house. If he was granted permission to rent a house and preach and teach there, why should he have been refused permission to preach and teach in connection with the church? Moreover, we need to remember that the Word does not state the reason Paul rented a house and preached and taught there; it only mentions the fact. The fact is that he did rent a house and did preach and teach there, and that fact is enough for us. It is enough for our guidance. Further, God has made it clear that he was under no necessity to do so. No pressure whatever was brought to bear upon him, for he acted “with all boldness unhindered.”
Then what is the meaning of the rented house? We must remember the divine economy of words in Scripture, and we must realize that neither the occurrence, nor the record of it, was accidental. There is no room for chance happenings or unimportant records in God’s Word. All that is written there is written for our learning, and even a seemingly casual remark may enfold a precious lesson. Moreover, this book is the book of the Acts of the Apostles, who moved under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, so the record in question is also one of the acts of the apostles, and is therefore not a chance happening, but an act under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Here in two short sentences we have an important principle, namely, that the apostolic work and the local church are quite distinct. A church had already been established in Rome; therefore, the members must have had at least one meeting place, but they did not request that Paul take control of the local church, nor did they make their place of meeting Paul’s center of work. Paul had his own work in his own rented house quite apart from the church, and apart from their meeting place, and he did not take over the responsibility of the local church affairs.
Every apostle must learn to live in “his own rented dwelling” and work with that as his center, leaving the responsibility of the local church to the local brethren.1 The work of God belongs to the workers, but the church of God belongs to the locality. Any work in a given place is only temporary, but any church in a given place is always permanent. The work is movable; the church is stationary. When God indicates that an apostle should move, his work moves with him, but the church remains. When Paul thought of leaving Corinth, the Lord showed him He had further ministry for him in the city, so Paul remained for eighteen months — not permanently. When Paul left Corinth, his work left, but the church in Corinth continued, although the fruits of his work were left in the church. A church should not be influenced by the movements of the workers. Whether they are present or absent, the church should move steadily forward. Every one of God’s workmen must have a clean-cut line of demarcation between his work and the church in the place of his labors.
The work of the apostles and the work of the local church run parallel; they do not converge. When the apostles are working in any place, their work goes on side by side with the work of the church. The two never coincide, nor can the one ever be a substitute for the other. On leaving a place, an apostle should hand over all the fruit of his work to the local church. It is not God’s will that the work of an apostle should take the place of the work of the church, or be in any wise identified with it.
(The Normal Christian Church Life, Chapter 6, by Watchman Nee)