The Two Ministries: The Gospel and the Church

Colossians 1:23‑29  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The ministry of the gospel is universal, proclaimed in the whole creation under heaven. And in Acts 17:3030And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: (Acts 17:30), the Apostle says, "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent." The gospel is addressed to every one; as we read, They went everywhere "announcing the glad tidings" (J.N.D. Trans.). Our Savior God desires that all should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. The more vigor of spiritual life there is in any saint, the more they, according to the leading of the Spirit, will seek to make known Christ to sinner or saint. And I suppose there could not be any reviving in the Church without a very marked energy in evangelistic work. The vitality of the Church is declared by the force and effect with which Christ's deputed messengers, gifted by Him for the purpose, carry each part of the truth suited to every ear. The blessed God is evangelistic. He so loved the world that He sent His Son.
The angels were the first evangelists; and Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, to whom was peculiarly confided the mystery of the gospel, was without question the greatest of evangelists. The prominence of this ministry then is evident enough.
Now the gospel, according to the instructions given to Paul in Acts 26:1818To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (Acts 26:18), transfers the believer from one state to another, and the state to which he is transferred has a twofold blessing: one, the remission of sins; and the other, "inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me." The Son comes to do the will of God. He dies "the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood... for the remission of sins." He comes to release us from the misery and judgment in which by nature we are plunged, and not this only, but to set us, by the Holy Spirit given to Christ on high, in heavenly joys-in the blessedness of Christ's life here. We have not to wait for those joys, but in the very spot of our former misery, we have an earnest of the inheritance which is ours now by faith in Him. The gospel sets the believer free before God from all that was against him as belonging to Adam, and as to his state in this world, as Christ is now in glory. As to standing, he is as Christ is-"Because as He is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:1717Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. (1 John 4:17)). Nothing less could satisfy the Father's heart, and nothing less could the Son undertake in bringing many sons to glory, but that the believing sinner should be transferred by His work from the misery under which he lay, into a divine contrast in that very spot. He is not only rescued from misery with a perfectly assured home in heaven, but the joys of the Father's house are made known to him by the Spirit before he gets home. He has home comforts before he reaches home. This is the fatted calf in Luke 15 before we go home, while in John 14:33And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:3), we have reached home. I am, through the gospel, a child of God, saying, "Abba, Father," with the Spirit of the Son, and an heir of heaven. While still down here in the old vessel, I am tasting of its joys through the Spirit before I go there, this vile body being a temple of the Holy Ghost.
Now, as far as I know, all I have written relates to the gospel, and I believe it may be enjoyed by one who is ignorant of the other ministry-the mystery, or the ministry of the Church. I am quite sure he is acquiring untold blessing from it, even though he were ignorant of it. Though his position (for he is a son) cannot be greater, yet, when he understands the ministry of the Church, his full portion will be made known to him.
The more attentively we study the epistles, the clearer we shall see that churches or assemblies were formed before they were fully enlightened as to the ministry of the Church. It is evident that at Corinth there was an assembly, and yet the Apostle writes to them in the most elementary way respecting the body and the manner of it. formation and its corporate responsibilities; while to the Ephesians, whom he commends for their faith in the Lord Jesus, and love to all the saints, he prays that their eyes may be enlightened to understand the mystery, or the ministry of the Church. And as for the Colossians, though commending them for their faith in Christ, and love to all the saints, he tells them, "I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you," in his zeal of heart that they should be in rich possession of the truth of the ministry of the Church. In the other epistles it is equally evident that though they were assemblies gathered to the name of the Lord, and in communion with one another, yet they were not in full apprehension of the ministry of the Church. They had been gathered to the Lord in the power of the Spirit; and as in the first days, before the mystery had been revealed, the assembly at Jerusalem was in full corporate sentiment and service. The assemblies among the Gentiles were planted, and in godly corporate relationship before the knowledge of the mystery was doctrinally possessed.
In pattern, the Lord qualified His disciples for the assembly in John 20:1919Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. (John 20:19), before there was any revelation of the mystery. The presence of the Holy Spirit, and being gathered together to the name of the Lord, ensured a corporate order, though the mystery was not, as yet, known. This is very important, that the Church should be in divine order and in the unity of the Spirit before the truth was known which would have ma de the order still more obligatory. See Acts 2:46, 4746And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:46‑47).
In a word, the Church as the house of God on earth, was known before the body was revealed; and when discipline was necessary, the Apostle recalls the Corinthians to the ground they were on as the assembly. They were to come together in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. "Holiness becometh Thine house, 0 Lord, forever"; yet he afterward, in chapter 12, enforces this responsibility by insisting on their corporate relation to one another. The knowledge of the one body, and that this body is the body of Christ, is the mystery, or the ministry of the Church.
In the ministry of the gospel we learn the immeasurable blessedness of all that Christ has done for us; but in the ministry of the Church we are taught that we are related to Him to whom we owe so much, in the closest way. It is the great mystery. He is Head of the body, the Church, and from Him, "All the body, ministered to and united together by the joints and bands, increases with the increase of God." (Col. 2:1919And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. (Colossians 2:19) J.N.D. Trans.) Christ being rejected in His humiliation while on earth, and being refused when in glory (stoning of Stephen), the great secret was then divulged, that His body was on the earth, and that this body would be the fullness, or complement, of Him that filleth all in all. With regard to the Church, it can be said paramountly-What could have been done for you that I have not done? But to this is added the closest and most intimate relationship; we are united to Christ by the Holy Spirit, and thus brought into participation with Him of His things and glory.
It is not only now a company of Christians with Christ in the midst and the Holy Spirit leading each into his proper and appointed allegiance and service, but we are also all members of the body of Christ, each one united to Him, and to one another.
If the Holy Ghost is not recognized as being on earth, there never can be any just or true apprehension of this mystery; but if I accept the truth of the presence of the Holy Ghost, I then can apprehend the baptism by which we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body; and this surely is followed by, "And have been all made to drink into one Spirit"; that is, that the unity of the Spirit is a necessary consequence of this baptism. It could not be otherwise. There can be no leading of the Spirit in one place, but what must be the same in every other. The members have but one Head; and they are His body, united together by the Holy Spirit. Therefore the mind of the Lord is one and the same with every member of His body who is in simple concert with Him; and all who are in concert with Him are in concert with one another.
The question is, What is the mind of the Spirit? There is but one for the youngest and for the most instructed. It could not be otherwise if the Church is the body of Christ; and hence it is the first duty or work of the heavenly man-of the man invested with the power which is in consequence of his union with Christ-to rise above all the natural influences in his purpose to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Whether we meditate on the Church as the body of Christ now on the earth, or contemplate it as His fullness, we cannot but be deeply affected by the grace which has set us in so great a relationship to the very One to whom we are so attached already, on account of all He has done for us. How it consolidates everything to our hearts, blessed be His name! We belong to, we are given to, our Savior; we are His own, His body.