THE LORD’S PEOPLE
Introduction: Jesus was a master at using things in the material realm, with which everyone is familiar, to illustrate things in the spiritual realm, to which no one has direct access through the physical senses. He used a variety of figures to illustrate various features of the spiritual relationship that is possible between Him and us. They are “the church,” “the family of God,” “the kingdom of God and Christ,” “the body of Christ,” “the building of God” and “the vineyard of the Lord.”
The word, “church” comes from “kuriakos,” which means “of or pertaining to the Lord,“ [ex: “the Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20), and “the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10)]. It almost always translates the Greek word, “ecclesia,” which refers to a group of people who have been “called out” of the general population for some (not necessarily spiritual) purpose. The word, “church,” is used in the universal sense (Matthew 16:13-18), the local sense (Matthew 18:15-17) and the geographical sense (Acts 9:31-ASV; NRSV), but it always refers to those who have been called out of the world. While many in the denominational world use the word “church” to refer to a fellowship of local churches, more or less organized above the local level, the New Testament knows nothing of this use of the word.
The nature of this calling is manifold. The Lord’s people are called of God (2 Timothy 1:7-9; 1 Corinthians 7:15; 1 Peter 5:10), called into fellowship with Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9), called to peace (Colossians 3:15), called to be children of God (1 John 3:1; Romans 9:25,26), called to be saints [sanctified ones] (1 Corinthians 1:2; Romans 1:7), called with a holy calling (2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Peter 1:15; 1 Thessalonians 4:7) and called with a heavenly calling (Hebrews 3:1).
The means of this calling is twofold. First, we are called through the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 2:21); Jesus suffered, bled and died that all might come through Him unto the Father (John 6:44,45; 14:6; Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 2:9-18; 1 Peter 2:21-25). Second, we are called by the gospel of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:13,14; Matthew 16:13-18), which includes facts to be believed (1 Corinthians 15:1-8) and commands to be obeyed (2 Thessalonians 1:8; Acts 16:31-33; 2:37,38; 10:48; 22:16).
There is a hope associated with this calling. Hope is desire plus expectation (Romans 8:18-25). One does not hope for what he either does not desire or does not expect. Expectation without desire is “dread.” And desire without expectation is mere wishful thinking. But the Lord’s people have hope (Ephesians 4:4). It is a living hope of heaven (1 Peter 1:3), “which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forefunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 6:19,20).
THE FAMILY OF GOD
Another figure for the Lord’s people is that of a natural family, or household which, in the material realm, refers to “the people of a house collectively” (see Acts 10:2; Hebrews 11:7).
There are several terms for the family of God. The term, “the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10), indicates that the family of God is made up of those who have “obtained like precious faith” with the apostles (2 Peter 1:1). The phrase, “the household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 3:6; Ephesians 2:19-20), denotes that God is the head of the family, much as the husband and father is the head of a material family. The expression, “whole family in heaven and earth” (Ephesians 3:14,15), shows that one does not lose his place in the family of God upon death. Rather, he goes to be with those faithful members of the family of God who have gone before (Luke 16:20-22; Philippians 1:21-24; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8; Hebrews 11:8-10,13-16).
There are innumerable members of the family of God. There is the Father, of course (Romans 15:6; Ephesians 4:6). There is also the only begotten Son (John 1:14-18; Hebrews 3:1-6), who has many brothers and sisters (Romans 8:29). Anyone may become a member in the family of God. Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? And who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50).
There are unimaginable blessings associated with being in the family of God. First, the sons of God are special objects of God’s love (1 John 3:1; Romans 8:38,39). Yes, He loved the entire world in such a way that He gave His only begotten Son that they might all become His children (John 3:16). But He especially loves those who obey Him, just as a human father naturally has a greater love for those of his children who live upright, moral lives and become productive members of society.
Second, the sons of God are special objects of God’s providence (Romans 8:32; Matthew 6:8; 7:7-11). Yes, He makes “his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,” and sends “rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45), and He provides for alien sinners to hear the gospel by sending out His children to preach to them (Matthew 28:18,19; Mark 16:15,16), but His faithful children not only have many material blessings of life, but “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places,” as well (Ephesians 1:3-14). This is the special providence of God.
Third, the sons of God are recipients of Fatherly discipline (Hebrews 12:4-9). Of course, “no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous,” so it may not be immediately apparent to some that being a recipient of discipline is a blessing. But “nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11). Most of us “had fathers…which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits and live?” (Hebrews 12:9). Are we not glad that our earthly fathers disciplined us? Should we not then be all the more glad to be recipients of Heavenly discipline?
Fourth, the sons of God have an inheritance that is indestructible and undefiled and does not fade away (Romans 8:17; Galatians 3:26-29; 1 Peter 1:3-5). Though they may experience great physical suffering in this life, they will live eternally with God in heaven (Matthew 25:32-46). Even if their physical relatives make life difficult because of their dedication to the gospel, they have this promise: “There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29,30).
There are also responsibilities in the family of God. First, they have the responsibility of wearing the family name (Acts 4:11,12; 11:26; 1 Peter 4:15,16). What would you think if your children refused to wear the family name? Would you not be disappointed and hurt? Second, they have the responsibility to be obedient to their Father, and to those whom the Father has appointed over them (Romans 8:12-17; Ephesians 5:22-24; 6:1-3,5-8; Hebrews 13:7,17; 1 Peter 1:13-17). Third, they have the responsibility to love one another (1 John 4:7,20,21; 3:13-19; 1 Peter 1:22). Fourth, they are to remain separate from the world (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 7:1; 1 John 2:15-17). If you are “a friend of the world” you are “the enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Entrance into the family of God is a simple matter. As we have already pointed out, one must do the will of the Father in heaven (Matthew 12:48-50). But what does God will that we do in order to enter into His family? He wills that we have faith (Galatians 3:26), for “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh unto God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Of course, those who believe “that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” will seek Him diligently. And one must seek Him within the pages of His word, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20,26), therefore the only faith that will please God is “obedient faith” (see Romans 1:5; 16:25,26). And, when one has sufficient faith to repent and be baptized in water for the remission of sins, he is adopted into the family of God (Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:38; 10:45; 22:16; Galatians 3:26,27; 4:1-7).
Just as those in the universal family of man are divided into individual, local families, those in the universal family of God are divided into individual, local families (Matthew 18:15-17; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5; Acts 14:23; 20:17,28; 1 Peter 5:1,2).
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Another figure Jesus used for the relationship between Him and His Father on the one hand, and those who have entered into a right relationship with them on the other hand, was that of a political kingdom (Daniel 2:36-44). Let us notice the essential elements of a kingdom, a few parables illustrating its manifold nature, the coming thereof, and citizenship therein.
There are four essential elements of a kingdom. First, there must be a King. God, the father, by virtue of His position in the Godhead is Absolute Sovereign (Matthew 28:19; Ephesians 4:6; Matthew 6:9,10; Mark 1:14,15). Jesus Christ, His unique Son, has been given all authority (Matthew 28:18; Revelation 1:9; 1 Corinthians 15:23-28).
Second, there must be subjects, someone over whom the king reigns. All who have been “born again,” “of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:3-5), have been “delivered…from the power of darkness, and…translated…into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:12,13).
Third, there must be a territory, over which the king reigns. Inasmuch as the Kingdom of God is spiritual in nature (John 18:36), its territory is also spiritual – the human heart (Luke 17:20,21; Matthew 4:17; 28:18).
Fourth, there must be a law, which is an expression of the king’s will. The law of the Kingdom of God is the revelation of God through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1,2; John 6:44,45; 12:48; 14:6; 1 Corinthians 9:21).
Jesus taught “many things by parables” (Mark 4:2). A parable is an illustration from the material realm that is used to communicate something about the spiritual realm. Jesus used many of these to explain various features of the Kingdom of God.
It was like a man sowing seed (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43). This illustrates the fact that kingdom citizens are to share God’s word (Luke 8:11) with others so they, too, would have an opportunity to obey it.
It was also like a grain of mustard seed (Matthew 13:31,32). Just as a tiny seed can grow into a gigantic plant, a small band of “Christian soldiers” grew into a mighty “army” [another figure for the Lord’s people, implied by Paul’s admonition to Timothy to “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3,4)].
The kingdom was also like leaven (Matthew 13:33). “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” in the material realm. Just so, a few people who have been converted to Christ (having become citizens in His kingdom) can have enormous influence in a community.
The kingdom of God is like hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44), like a merchant who finds a costly pearl (Matthew 13:45,46), and like a dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50). The first and second of these three parables illustrate the value of citizenship in the kingdom, which we will discuss momentarily. The third demonstrates the fact that not all who enter the kingdom in its earthly, militant state will necessarily enter the kingdom in its eternal, triumphant state. This is because some who obey the gospel initially are not “faithful unto death” (Revelation 2:10). This point is also emphasized in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:5-7,20-22; Luke 8:6,7,13,14).
Concerning the coming of the kingdom, John the Baptist said, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Jesus also said, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). If “the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14,15) was “at hand” during the ministries of John and Jesus, it cannot be future now. Jesus further said that “the kingdom of God [would] come with power“(Mark 9:1).
After His resurrection, and just prior to His ascension, Jesus told His apostles, “Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence,” and “ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you” (Acts 1:4-8). What has this to do with the kingdom? They had just asked Him, “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6) He seems to be reminding them of the statement recorded in Mark 9:1, so that, when they received power, they would know the kingdom had come.
A few days later, on the first day of the Feast of Weeks [called “Pentecost,” because it always fell on the fiftieth day after the Passover Sabbath (Leviticus 23:15,16; Deuteronomy 16:9,10)], the apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit and received power (Acts 2:1-4,43; 4:33). It is implied, therefore, that the kingdom came on that Pentecost, which was always the first day of the week.
Citizenship in the kingdom of God does not come via natural birth (as it did in the Old Testament). Rather, it is bestowed conditionally. The condition is that one must be “born of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:3-5). But how is one “born of water and of the Spirit"?
First, one who is born again becomes a new creature, but "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Therefore, whatever puts one into Christ makes him a new creature and is necessary to being born again. But water baptism puts one into Christ (Romans 6:4; Galatians 3:27). Therefore, one becomes a new creature when he is baptized; thus baptism in water is necessary to being born again. This explains why, in the book of Acts (often called the book of conversions), every time the word "water" appears, it is used in connection with baptism (Acts 1:5; 8:35-39; 10:44-48; 11:16).
Second, since the Holy Spirit revealed the word of God, and the word of God commands the alien sinner to be baptized, the alien sinner who has been baptized according to the word of God has been "born of water and of the Spirit" and is no longer an alien sinner, but a citizen in the kingdom of God. One who has not been baptized in water for the remission of sins has not been born again and remains outside the kingdom of God and in a lost condition.
Kingdom citizenship conveys exclusive entitlements. Among these are: the honor of addressing God as “Father” (Galatians 4:6), the right to commune with Jesus in the Lord’s Supper (Hebrews 13:10; Matthew 26:26-29), and the privilege of praying with the expectation that God will both hear and answer (1 Peter 3:12).
Citizenship in the kingdom is equivalent to citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20) because the kingdom of God is also the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14,15). Kingdom citizenship also prepares us for heaven (2 Peter 1:4-11) because only the ones who have entered the kingdom in its earthly stage—“having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust”—may enter the kingdom in its heavenly stage.
Further, citizenship in the kingdom of God confers considerable responsibilities (Matthew 25:32-40). Failure to meet these responsibilities will not be tolerated (Matthew 25:41-46). Thus, “it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (2 Peter 2:21).
Churches of Christ are not democratic bodies, but local bodies of kingdom citizens. They do not have the power to make laws, only the responsibility to see that Christ’s laws are respected and obeyed.
During the Patriarchal Age (so-called because God revealed His will to the patriarchs, or fathers, of households), no particular building was identified as being God’s. Only two acts of worship were emphasized. These two acts were prayer and sacrifice. One could pray anywhere, and sacrifice only required an altar made of stone.
Under the Mosaic Age (so-called because of the giving of the law to Israel through Moses) the building identified as God’s was once a tabernacle (Exodus 35:11; 40:34) and later a temple (2 Samuel 7:1ff; 1 Kings 5:1ff; 2 Chronicles 7:16).
But what of God’s building in the Church Age? How is it described? What is its foundation? What is its composition?
It is described variously as "the temple of God" (1 Corinthians 3:9,16), a “spiritual house," a "holy priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5; Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:15,16; Philippians 4:18), a “chosen generation" or "elect race" ["body of people with a common life and descent"] (1 Peter 2:9; Galatians 3:29), a “royal priesthood" (Hebrews 7:1; 5:5,6; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6), a “holy nation" [“holy” to indicate they are "set apart for the service of deity" and “nation” to show that they are "people of the same nature"] (1 Peter 2:9).
The house of God is built by and upon Jesus Christ. He is the Divine Architect of the house of God (Zechariah 6:12,13; Hebrews 3:1-6; Acts 20:28). But He is also the foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11) inasmuch as His unique relationship to God must be believed before one can enter into a proper relationship with God and be blessed with eternal life (Matthew 16:13-18; John 20:30,31).
Jesus is also referred to as the “Chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:16; Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 16:16-18). "The corner-stones of our present day buildings are but ornamental. Any importance attached to them is honorary and artificial as far as the construction of the building is concerned. But this was not so in the apostolic age nor in the ages prior to the first century." "By the measurement of the cornerstone was the whole building plumbed. All measurements horizontal and vertical finally related to the corner-stone. As well as being the basis for the measurements, because of its size the corner-stone also formed the essential part of the foundation...It then can be said of Jesus, as the chief-corner stone of God's house, that in Him all things consist or hold together" (Don DeWelt: The Church of the Bible).
This “stone” was "disallowed indeed of men" (1 Peter 2:4,7), in that they rejected His claim to be the Messiah for whom they had waited so long. But this same “stone” was "chosen of God” not because of their rejection of Him but in spite of it. He was and is “precious” because, as a cornerstone, He supports [or gives substance to] the foundation (Ephesians 2:19,20), He unites [or serves as the point of reference] (Ephesians 2:21,22), and He adorns [is the focal point of attention] (1 Corinthians 1:1,2).
It is not a physical structure, such as the tabernacle or temple of the Jews, but "the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). Paul said, “Ye are God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9). The first person plural pronoun indicates that individual Christians collectively make up the building of God. Because some will “endure unto the end” and some will not, they are referred to variously as “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble” (1 Corinthians 3:12). The first three will “abide” the fiery trials of life, while the last three will “be burned” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). Every individual Christian is someone else’s work, in that someone labored to bring each one into the building of God by constructing upon the foundation of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10,14). One does this by preaching “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1,2; Acts 18:1-8).
Those who have been built into God’s building are also called “lively [or living] stones” (1 Peter 2:5), and “a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18,19). But we are His house only "if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end" (Hebrews 3:4-6).
THE VINEYARD OF THE LORD
Jesus the Master teacher also used a variety of figures involving vineyards: the parable of the laborers, a tale of two sons, a parable of wicked vinedressers and the metaphor of a vine and its branches. Before we briefly analyze those figures, let us consider some basic principles of viniculture.
First, there are the laws of plant propagation, which were established on the third day of creation week (Genesis 1:11-12), and the conversion process. Each original plant created by God contained its own seed, and each plant reproduced after its own kind. Agriculturists apply this science by sowing the seed of the plant they wish to reap. Because it is unconscious, vegetable life has only a passive role in procreation. Meteorological and geologic forces [rain, wind, gravity, etc.] must be brought to bear for vegetation to reproduce “after its own kind.” In some cases, animal intervention is also necessary [hence, “the birds & the bees”].
That which is sown in “the vineyard of the Lord” is the word of God (Luke 8:11), “the doctrine of Christ” or “the gospel” (2 John 9; Mark 16:16). The soil in which the word of God is planted is human hearts (Luke 8:12). This is not the physical heart, but the spiritual heart, consisting of the mind, the emotions, the conscience and the will. The word must be planted in the heart because obedience is “from the heart” (2 Thessalonians 1:8; Romans 6:17).
Just as some soil is unsuitable for producing physical fruit, some hearts are unfit for producing spiritual fruit (Matthew 13:19-22; Luke 8:12-14). The heart represented by the “way side” soil is slow to understand, giving Satan the time to remove the word before he or she can “believe and be saved.” Those hearts signified by “stony places” and “thorns” initially believe the gospel but do not endure unto the end, apparently because each fails to count the cost (see Luke 14:25-33).
The good and honest heart, however, not only hears the gospel, initially, but also bears fruit with patience. Having counted the cost of discipleship he is ready for the challenge presented by the various tribulations, persecutions, temptations, cares, riches and pleasures of life, rises to the challenge and overcomes (Luke 8:15; Matthew 13:23; see also Revelation 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21).
Second, we reap what we sow, both in the physical and spiritual realms (Galatians 6:7). In the parable of the tares, Jesus pointed out that a man who sowed good seed in his field had an enemy who sowed tares, which appeared together with the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). Tares were reaped because tares were sown. The word of God, sown in the human heart, will produce only Christians. Likewise, denominational doctrine will produce only a member of that particular denomination. Methodist doctrine, for example, will never produce a Baptist, a Presbyterian, a Catholic or a Christian. Similarly, the word of God alone will never produce a member of a denomination. The doctrines and commandments of men are necessary for that, but they will always and only result in vain worship (Matthew 15:9).
The child of God must be careful what he sows in life, because “he that soweth to his flesh shall…reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall…reap life everlasting” (Galatians 6:8). One sows to the Spirit by seeking “those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God” and by setting his “affections on things above, not on things of the earth” (Colossians 3:1,2; see also Romans 8:1-6).
A third law that applies equally to physical and spiritual vineyards is that reaping is proportionate to sowing; the more you sow the more you reap (2 Corinthians 9:6). If we diligently sow the word of God, we will reap, not only an increase in our faith, but also the seven “Christian graces:” Virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity, or love (2 Peter 1:5-11). If these things abound in us we will receive an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom.
In the parable of the laborers (Matthew 20:1-7), Jesus is pointing out that it does not matter at what point in time one becomes a laborer; he will receive the same pay, which is illustrative of eternal life. In the tale of two sons (Matthew 21:28-32), Jesus shows that eventual actions are more important that initial intentions. Though one might have refused to “go work” at first, he might afterward repent and go. And one who might have, at the outset, given lip service (“I go, sir”) might never begin to labor.
In the parable of wicked vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-43), Jesus is warning the Jews who had rejected Him that the privilege of being the people of God was soon to be taken from them and given to others. In the metaphor of a vine and its branches (John 15:1-8), He is pointing out that His disciples cannot accomplish anything of a spiritual nature apart from association with Him, and that those who try will be eternally separated from Him.