God’s intention for the work of the kingdom is not coercion. He asks us to maintain the church as a volunteer force, built upon the good will and hard work of those who choose to put forth their hand to the tasks of the evangelism and maintenance, both physical and spiritual. Without a sense of volunteerism, even entrepreneurship, the church would not grow properly – it would, indeed, struggle to grow at all. Some have tried coercion in the past. Holy wars and inquisitions are the result of forced compliance, and the blood of these matters will be on the heads of those who believed that violence was the answer for those who disagreed with them. At its core, Christianity is about volunteerism. Christ Himself pleads for helpers, as Matthew 9:36-38 puts it, “And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” Like fields of produce ripe for reaping, the souls of this world long for the good news of salvation.
Unfortunately, most will never find the truth without some guide or aid, and this is why the volunteers of the Lord’s church are so important. God designed the plan of salvation so that it is contingent on men teaching other men (2 Timothy 2:2). Without willing workers, the church would not be built up. Without Christians willing to do what it takes, souls would not be saved. Without someone to teach, the ignorant would not learn. We have to realize that the responsibility is on us! If we will not preach the truth, then the truth will not be preached. If we will not save the souls of those in desperation, those souls will not be saved. God does not host Bible studies. God does not go door to door. God does not hand out tracts, or have discussions with your coworkers, or teach your children. God may have a hand in opening doors of opportunity for us – and the Lord’s part in aiding our efforts should not be trivialized – but we must be the ones doing the work. We must be the volunteer army that God requires us to be. “How then shall they call upon Him whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!’” (Romans 10:14-15) How can anything get done unless we are willing to do it? We must learn how dire the situation is, friends!
Consider Ezekiel 3:17-19, in which it is stated that the safety of the town is the responsibility of the watchman standing guard. The town will be warned by nobody else, and its destruction or preservation rests on the shoulders of that lone watchman. In the same way, the souls of the people around us are ours to warn. Our neighbors may never have a better chance to learn the truth than from us. Family members may never meet another member of the Lord’s church. Each person we talk to may never again cross paths with somebody like one of us again. All of this means that our responsibility is great, and our burden is daily. There is never a moment in life at which we are free to ignore the job of personal evangelism. This is not to say that we must always be in Bible classes, or trying to convert every cashier at the store. But we must live in such a way, every single moment of every day, that Christ is glorified by our example, and the door is always open to evangelistic opportunities. Our ears must be open, our eyes wide, and our hearts prepared for every occasion to preach the truth. Most important, we must not be silent when doors are opened for us, for even our own souls are at stake when we shirk our responsibilities to those in need.
“Lord, send me”
The prophet Isaiah represents everything that a true volunteer must be. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am. Send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8) With a job that needs to be done, God asks for a volunteer – someone willing to put the effort into a task that would likely require great effort and personal sacrifice. In spite of the cost, Isaiah instantly offers himself as a worker for the Lord. There are several lessons about this verse that are valuable for us to consider. First, Isaiah does not need to know what the task is before he accepts the mission. Sadly, many of us do. When asked to do a favor, we always reply, “That depends on what it is.” We want to know every detail, the lay of the land, the personal cost, and any benefits that might be involved in fulfilling some charge. It is a sad condition when even Christians need some kind of reward to complete a task for the church. When we do volunteer for something, how willing are we to sacrifice all for God? How willing are we to deny repayment? How far do we take ourselves in conviction and dedication to the completion of a task? When the Lord asks us to work, our response should always be with zeal and absolutely no regard for the personal cost.
Why does Isaiah volunteer so readily, though? His motivation is interesting, and it provides us with a glimpse of what goes through the mind of the truly humble follower of God. Before he is asked to do the task, Isaiah is faced with his own sin and is convinced that he is unworthy of the Lord’s favor. He says of himself in Isaiah 6:5, “‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.’” He is comforted, though, by a seraphim who says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is forgiven” (Isaiah 6:7). It is after the assurance of forgiveness that Isaiah so quickly volunteers for the work at hand. What this shows is that when each of us truly comes to grips with our own sinfulness – and how undeserving we are of the mercy of God – any personal sacrifice that is asked of us becomes trite. “It is the readiness of true faith. Indeed, even before the prophet knows what God’s bidding is, he is willing to do that bidding. Here in this matchless passage we find the reason why so few are willing to serve God. They need above all the conviction of sin. Only when a man has been convicted of sin and has understood that the Redeemer has borne the guilt of his sin is he willing and ready to joyfully serve God, to go wherever God may call him” (The Book of Isaiah, Volume I, Young, 254).
Another excellent example of this concept is found in Psalm 51, written, presumably, after David is convicted of his sin with Bathsheba. Realizing is utter unworthiness, he pleads with God to forgive him and purify his soul. Coming to grips with the undeserved love of God, he concludes, “Then I will teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners shall be converted to Thee…” (Psalm 51:13).
A properly functioning army is not one based on coercion, but on allowing participants to volunteer. It is an empowering form of bondage, one that allows people to approach a task with the most proper motivation. It is not just that the Lord wants the jobs of the church done, but that He wants them done by cheerful, willing, happy workers. “But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also” (2 Corinthians 8:7-8). It is not the work itself that pleases God, but the attitude behind it, coupled with the completeness of the tasks. Paul goes on to write in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Let each one do as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
In all areas of service, it is important that we realize the importance of this lesson. We ought not have to force members of the church to do certain jobs, for in that case both would be wrong – the unwilling one for his refusal to obey when the call to service beckons and the coercer for forcing obedience. Instead, we must learn to be cheerful, always willing to do our work with the proper attitude. Teaching Bible classes is not an arduous task, and when there is a definite need at a congregation, it is a shame to that group of individuals when people do not jump at the opportunity to do the work. Song leaders are always important, and there should not be a shortage of men who are willing to at least try it, or seek opportunities to learn how to do it. Even very simple duties like cleaning the building, preparing the Lord’s supper, fixing the plumbing, volunteering to pick and drop off members of the church who are unable to drive – all of these jobs do not take great skill or personal sacrifice, yet they are absolutely essential to the fully functional congregation.
We have to realize, also, that there will always be individuals who refuse to pull their weight. It is unfortunate, but quite true that some Christians believe they have the right to the “easy ride” to Heaven, lagging behind in their service and allowing others to pick up their slack. Much to the frustration of Paul and the faithful Christians of Thessalonica, there were professed believers in that congregation that preferred to spend their time as busybodies. “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-11). While we may never be able to change some people and convince them to start working harder, they must learn that if they do no work for the church, they will receive little benefits from it. Like so many things in life, the more we put into the local congregation, the more we will get out of it. Being active in personal evangelism, volunteering to do jobs, being personable and friendly, giving freely into the collection, and being constantly hospitable are all tasks that pay us back in immeasurable dividends. If you are not putting effort into the church, you are missing out on what being a Christian is supposed to be.
As an example of how all of God’s people ought to respond to the call of service, consider several points from Nehemiah 3. After arriving in Jerusalem and discovering the sorry state of the city’s defenses, Nehemiah resolves to rebuild the walls and gates with the help of men and women from the city. What is striking about the array of helpers who came at Nehemiah’s request is the fact that they represent men and women from all economic backgrounds and sects of Jewish society. Each of them did his or her part in rebuilding the wall, and it is because all of them worked together that anything was accomplished. In the end, the difference between those who work and those who do not is a matter of mentality. “So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6). Those who have a mind to work will put effort into their endeavors. It was true in Nehemiah’s time and it is true today!
Nehemiah 3:1-4 may seem like an unimportant piece of scripture. A list of the names of those who worked does not necessarily catch anybody’s eye – but it is significant to note a few things. First, the high priest and all of his brothers, as well the other priests, all had a hand in working. There is no place in God’s kingdom for anybody who does not work, even the priests. Nobody is above work, or too good to get their hands dirty. Also, this list of names is significant in that there was nobody involved in the wall reconstruction who was not important.
“Moreover, next to him the Tekoites made repairs, but their nobles did not support the work of their masters” (Nehemiah 3:5). What a disappointment it is to see the nobility acting so ignoble! What we need to realize, though, is that there will always be people who believe they are exempt from the labor of the Lord. Amazingly, the Tekoites did not let this phase them, as we see in a later verse that they endeavored to repair even more of the wall after their own section was finished (Nehemiah 3:27). How many of us tend to relax a little in our efforts upon having some small success? But does one Bible study mean we never have to set up another? Does coming to church one Sunday exempt us from the next? If one serves as the treasurer, or song leader, or plumber for the church once, does he never need to do it again? It is commendable to see people volunteering for more, even though they may have already done their part in a work.
Again, it is important to see that in Nehemiah 3:9 a high ranking official of the city of Jerusalem had a hand in the effort to rebuild.
Finally, notice Nehemiah 3:32, “And between the upper room of the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and the merchants carried out repairs.” These are men who had other (more profitable) things they could have been doing. They could have made the excuse that they had too much to do at work, too many clients, too much economic importance to stop and help with the reconstruction. Instead, they sacrificed valuable time and took on a section of the wall. Today, how many of us let work distract us from the activities of the church? Certainly, there are many “goldsmiths and merchants” today who feel that their excuse is perfectly valid and acceptable. Even more common, many Christians believe that they will be able to get better work done for the Lord when they retire. This is an inappropriate attitude, though, because even these busy businessmen of Jerusalem made the time for this grand task. If they had the time to rebuild a wall, do we not have time right now to devote to the simple acts of a good Christian life?
All Working Together
God needs a volunteer army of Bible class teachers, preachers, song leaders, hospitable Christians, and every other job that goes along with a healthy congregation. The church depends on each of us utilizing our talents and devoting energy to the work of the Gospel. If we do not make the effort, this church will dwindle and die – the future is in our hands, and what we do now by volunteering our energy, time, and worldly resources will determine how vibrant this church is in later years. We need everybody, and all of us are important. Nobody can make you work hard for God. Nobody can make you fill in where you are needed. Nobody can make you try new things and test your abilities. Only you can. If you do not, then there will be no arm twisting, no argumentation, no violence. But realize that condemnation awaits the worker who wastes his talents (Matthew 25:14-30).
Not all of us can do every job. That is understandable and agreeable. Even the Holy Spirit confirms this fact by stating in James 3:1 that not all of us should strive to be teachers. Some people simply do not have the talent for teaching, just as many others ought not lead songs, or preach, or handle the church treasury. Each person is blessed with unique and special talents, and what is absolutely important is for each of us to discover those gifts and use them. Do not wait to be asked, but seek opportunities to help.
Ephesians 4:11-16 is a fitting scripture to conclude this lesson. Here we see very clearly that God blesses different people with different talents, and expects everyone to work hard. If we all work together, we can see to it that the body is built up and fitted together in completeness, lacking nothing, seizing every opportunity, and growing as a result.