AMMONG THE WORKERSPrint This Page.
The churches in Scripture are intensely local. We never find any federation of churches there; they are all independent units. The position is quite otherwise as regards the workers. Among them we find a certain amount of association; we see here a little group, and there another, linked together for the work. Paul and those with him—as for instance Luke, Silas, Timothy, Titus, and Apollos—formed one group. Peter, James, John, and those with them formed another. One group came out from Antioch, another from Jerusalem. Paul refers to those who were with him (Acts 20:34), which indicates that while there was no organization of the workers into different missions, still they had their own special associates in the work. Even in the beginning, when our Lord chose the twelve, He sent them out two by two. All were fellow workers, but each had his special fellow worker. Such grouping of workers was ordained and ordered by the Lord.
These apostolic companies were not formed along partisan or doctrinal lines; they were formed under the sovereignty of the Spirit, who so ordered the circumstances of the different workers as to link them together in the work. It was not that they were really divided from other workers, but merely that in the Spirit's ordering of their ways, they had not been led into special association with them. It was the Holy Spirit, not men, who said, "Set apart for Me now Barnabas and Saul." Everything hinged on the sovereignty of the Spirit. The apostolic companies were subject to the will and ordering of the Lord. As we have seen, the twelve were divided into pairs, but it was not left to their personal discretion to choose their associates; it was the Lord who coupled them together and sent them forth. Each had a special fellow worker, but that fellow worker was of the Lord's appointing, not of their choosing. It was not because of natural affinity that they associated specially with some, nor was it because of difference in doctrine or practice that they did not associate specially with others. The deciding factor was always the ordering of the Lord.
We recognize that the Lord is the Head of the Church, and that the apostles were the first order "placed" by the Lord in the Church (1 Cor. 12:28). Although they were formed into associations, having their special fellow workers appointed by the Lord, still they had no special name, system, or organization. They did not make a company smaller than the Body to be the basis of their work; all was on the ground of the Body. Therefore, although on account of difference of locality and the providential ordering of their ways, they formed different groups, still they had no organization outside the Body; their work was always an expression of the ministry of the Body. They were constituted into separate companies, but each company stood on the ground of the Body, expressing the ministry of the Body.
The Lord is the Head of the Body and not the Head of any organization; therefore, whenever we work for a society, a mission, or an institution, and not for the Body alone, we lose the headship of the Lord. We must see clearly that the work is the work of the Body of Christ and that, while the Lord did divide His workers into different companies (not different organizations), their work was always on the ground of the Body. And we must recognize that every individual worker and every company represents the ministry of the Body of Christ, each office held being held in the Body, and for the furtherance of the work of God. Then, and only then, can we have one ministry—the up-building of the Body of Christ. If we recognized clearly the oneness of the Body, what blessed results we should see! Wherever the principle of the oneness of the Body operates, all possibility of rivalry is ruled out. It does not matter if I decrease and you increase; there will neither be jealousy on my part, nor pride on yours. Once we see that all the work and all its fruits are for the increase of the Body of Christ, then no man will be counted yours and no man mine; it will not matter then whether you are used or I. All carnal strife among the workers of God will be at an end once the Body is clearly seen as the principle of the work. But life and work in the Body necessitate drastic dealings with the flesh, and that in turn necessitates a deep knowledge of the cross of Christ.
The early apostles were never free lances; they worked together. In the story of Pentecost we read of "Peter, standing with the eleven" (Acts 2:14). At the Beautiful Gate we see Peter and John working together, and again they were the two who visited Samaria. When Peter went to the house of Cornelius, six other brothers accompanied him. When the apostles went out, it was always in companies, or at least by twos, never alone. Their work was not individual, but corporate. As to those with Paul at Antioch and elsewhere, it is unfortunate that so much emphasis has been placed upon Paul as an individual, with the result that his fellow workers are almost lost sight of. We see that at Troas, Luke joined their company and was of one mind with Paul in considering that the Macedonian cry should be responded to. Later on when they returned from Macedonia, they brought with them as fellow workers Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, and Trophimus. Later on we find Apollos, Priscilla, and Aquila joining them. Still later we find Paul sending Timothy to Corinth and encouraging Apollos and Titus to go there; and some time afterwards we see Epaphroditus joining them as a fellow worker. And it is good to read at the head of Paul's Epistles words like these: "Paul...and Sosthenes the brother," "Paul...and Timothy the brother," "Paul...Silas and Timothy."
So we see no trace of organized missions in Scripture on the one hand, nor do we see any workers going out on individual lines on the other hand, each being a law to himself. They are formed into companies, but such companies are on a spiritual basis, not on the basis of organization. Scripture gives no warrant for an organized mission on the one hand, nor does it sanction free-lance work on the other hand; the one is as far from the thought of God as the other. Therefore, while we must guard against the snare of man-made organizations, we must also guard against the danger of being too individualistic. We must not be organized into a mission and thus become schismatic; at the same time we must have associates in the work with whom we cooperate on a spiritual basis, and thus maintain the testimony of the Body.
We need to emphasize this fact, that the apostles worked in association with others, but their companies were not organized. Their relationship one to another was only spiritual. They loved and served the same Lord, they had one call and one commission, and they were of one mind. The Lord united them; therefore, they became fellow workers. Some were together from the outset; others joined at a later date. They were one company, yet they had no organization, and there was no distribution of offices or positions. Those who joined them did not come in response to some "Help Wanted" advertisement, nor did they come because they were equipped by a special course of training. On their journeys the Lord so ordered circumstances that they met; He drew them one to another, and being of one mind and one spirit, linked together by the Lord, they spontaneously became fellow workers. In order to join such a company there was no need of first passing an examination, or of fulfilling some special conditions, or of going through certain forms or ceremonies. The Lord was the One who determined everything. He ordered; man only concurred. In such groups none held special positions or offices; there was no director, or chairman, or superintendent. Whatever ministry the Lord had given them, that constituted their position. They received no appointments from the association. The relationship which existed between its members was purely spiritual, not official. They were constituted fellow workers, not by a human organization, but by a spiritual bond.