RAISING UP THE BELIEVERS AS GOD’S FAMILY
After studying the entire New Testament, we have found that raising up a church is like raising a family. In raising a family, the main thing is that the family has to grow. The church is the house of God, that is, the household of God, God’s family (Eph. 2:19). A local church is God’s “local family.” We have to raise up this family in the same way that we raise up our physical families. First, we must beget children. Second, we must feed these newborn babes in their homes. However, simply to have a family that is feeding babies is not the goal. That is the way, the procedure, to reach the goal. The goal is to raise up these little ones. Raising up children does not merely mean to feed them, but also to perfect them. This perfecting is clearly revealed in Ephesians 4. This chapter says that the ascended Head, Christ, has given gifts to men for the perfecting of the saints (vv. 8, 12). These gifts fall into four main categories. He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as shepherds and teachers (v. 11). The Head gave these four kinds of gifts directly to the Body.
According to Ephesians 4, these four kinds of gifts should do the perfecting work on the saints. Parents, after feeding their babes for a few years, have to perfect them. This is mainly by teaching them, by educating them. If a person would only eat but never receive an education, that person would be useless in society. At least a person should learn a trade. In raising up families to form the society of a nation, there is the need of births, then feeding, and then perfecting, educating.
After the perfecting, every saint needs to exercise to prophesy. According to the New Testament, prophesying builds up the Body of Christ directly. This is fully revealed in 1 Corinthians 14. This chapter unveils the direct building up of the church in a complete way. However, we cannot practice 1 Corinthians 14 so easily. We first have to grow and be perfected. To graduate with a bachelor’s degree, one must first pass through kindergarten, elementary school, junior high, high school, and then four years of college. To receive a master’s degree, one has to go to graduate school. To receive a doctorate requires even more study. All these steps—kindergarten, elementary school, junior high, high school, college, and graduate school—are for our perfecting.
PERFECTING ONE ANOTHER IN THE GROUP MEETINGS
In studying the New Testament, I found that there are these same steps of maturity in the spiritual life. First, we must bring sinners to be regenerated to become babes in Christ. Then these babes need to be fed. The Lord Jesus tells us in John 15:16 to bear fruit and that our fruit should remain. In John 21 the Lord charges us to feed His lambs (v. 15). To feed the Lord’s lambs is the way to insure that our fruit remains. Peter learned this from the Lord; so in writing his first Epistle, he charges the newborn babes to long for the pure milk of the word (2:2). However, newborn babes cannot eat or drink by themselves; they need a nursing mother to feed them (1 Thes. 2:7). We suffered in the past because we did not follow our preaching of the gospel with the proper feeding. Without the proper feeding, a newborn babe can die prematurely. This has happened among us many times over the years.
Then after feeding, a young believer needs some teaching, some education. Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us consider one another for inciting to love and good works.” Verse 24 uses two very positive words—consider and incite. We are to consider one another, we are to incite one another to love, and we are to incite one another to good works. This means that we have to consider others, remember others, and take care of others. We must also incite them, stir them up. They might become cold. If so, we have to fan the fire for them. We need this among us, but how can this be carried out? Verse 24 ends with a comma, and verse 25 continues, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the custom with some is.” To not forsake our assembling is to have our own meeting. This is not to have a general meeting, but a group meeting.
The group meeting is your meeting. In a general meeting it is hard for you to consider one another or to incite one another. This can only be done with a small group. If there are too many in a meeting, it is hard to incite one another or consider one another in this way. I have been meeting with most of you in meetings of about two hundred for quite a long time, but I still do not know many of your names. However, if you would come to my home and meet with me in my living room in a group meeting, I would get to know each of you intimately. Many of us have been meeting together for fifteen years, yet we do not even know one another. This is a shame. We all need to have our own group meeting. It is not enough to attend others’ group meetings; each of us needs our own.
The group meeting is not the coming together of the church as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14. When the whole church comes together, that is not a group meeting. Hebrews 10:24-25 describes a group meeting. In these verses there are three items that characterize the group meeting: considering, inciting, and exhorting. Without a group meeting, how could we exhort one another? When we come together in the group meeting, you can incite me, and I can incite you. We can stir up one another to consider others, to love others, and to take care of others. To consider, incite, and exhort one another, we need the group meeting.
(The Exercise and Practice of the God-Ordained Way, Chapter 23, by Witness Lee)