Over the nearly 46 years of my pastoral and administrative ministry, I, like other longtime members of Adventism, have often studied passages from the writings of Ellen G. White, heard people quote and refer to her works, and read EGW excerpts in articles. Some of these quotations have been so often repeated, I can practically recite them from memory. Here is one of those well-known quotations that speaks to me often:
“The church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world. From the beginning it has been God’s plan that through His church shall be reflected to the world His fullness and His sufficiency. The members of the church, those whom He has called out of darkness into His marvelous light, are to show forth His glory. The church is the repository of the riches of the grace of Christ; and through the church will eventually be made manifest, even to ‘the principalities and powers in heavenly places,’ the final and full display of the love of God” (Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 9).
Let’s unpack this statement a bit. The church is God’s vehicle for transmitting—as part of His divine plan for salvation—the gospel to the world.
As we saw manifestly during the pandemic, the word church doesn’t refer exclusively to the building where the congregation meets for worship and training for its mission. The church we are referring to here is true to the etymology of the Greek word ekklesia, which, biblical scholars inform us, means “the called-out ones”—those who have responded to the invitation of Christ to come to Him (Matthew 11:28), abandon or reject the values of secularism, and receive His yoke.
The yoke was used to enable a pair of animals to work together as their master directed them to plow or pull a heavy load. I once heard a sermon wherein the speaker indicated that at any one time, only one animal was actually pulling the load—the other animal was there to provide companionship. I realize that all illustrations have limited applications, but this idea emphasizes that it is Christ Jesus who has done the work of our salvation.
Furthermore, we benefit from His work of justification and sanctification (and eventual glorification) by our continued deferral to His wisdom, experience, and victory over sin, Satan, and death.
But this does not mean that the called-out ones are to be idle. We are to serve God by carrying out the mission: reflecting His fullness and His sufficiency and bringing glory to Him.
That is a tall order, a lofty goal to strive for. So how is it going in your congregation? How is it going in your personal deployment of the Great Commission, which is spelled out in Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (NKJV).
Discipleship is the goal.
Disciples in Christ’s day affixed themselves to a master teacher or rabbi for approximately three years, focusing on every detail of the life and philosophy of their teacher, so that they could serve as their master did.
Service is the key word.
I once belonged to a service organization, mostly comprised of businesspeople, which had specific methods designed to support people who needed all types of help in meeting the issues of life. While I have not been a participating member for many years, I learned a lot by associating with this group of unrelated people, usually advanced in their calling or careers, who came together for one purpose. I may be mistaken, but I don’t remember any schisms or fragmenting of the group while we approached the goal of supporting those less fortunate than ourselves. We were focused on the mission.
As followers of Christ, our service includes creating a close affiliation around the mission of the Church, to accomplish what God intended to be accomplished. I’ll repeat again the oft-repeated Ellen White passage I quoted above: “The church is the repository of the riches of the grace of Christ; and through the church will eventually be made manifest, even to ‘the principalities and powers in heavenly places,’ the final and full display of the love of God.”
I am continually drawn to the idea of “the final and full display of the love of God,” which will be made manifest through the Church and the modern-day disciples.
We can only accomplish this while in correct relationship with our Lord, Jesus. I am thinking of the words alignment and synchronous. We must be in the right alignment, or in sync with God’s great heart of love, to point people to the great love of God.
Our service to God is to reveal His love for sinners. We are already equipped by God to serve through the gifts of the Spirit that Paul chronicles in his writings. Our work is to love, as a reflection of God’s love.
Love as work? This is not about emotion; rather, it’s a principle of loving acceptance of all people, treating them as Jesus taught in Matthew 25:31-45 in His parable of the sheep and the goats.
The loving concern that God has for us is reflected when we express a version of loving service to others. God’s providence opens avenues for us to serve Him by serving others in sometimes unusual ways.
The evening before I finished this article, Dr. Leon Brown, president of the Nevada-Utah Conference, invited me to share a meal with him. While we were talking about our experiences in ministry, a group of teenagers entered the restaurant and sat at a table near our booth.
Suddenly, we noticed that one of the teenagers was gasping and coughing; he couldn’t breathe. Apparently, his airway was blocked. One of the group attempted the Heimlich maneuver, but he was not successful. Pastor Brown jumped up, went over to the young man, and successfully performed the Heimlich maneuver. When he could speak, Logan introduced himself, and he and his friends thanked Pastor Brown repeatedly and profusely for saving his life.
When we invited them to a prayer of thanks to God for saving Logan, we learned that they were a youth group from a nearby Pentecostal church, and we all praised God together for saving Logan’s life through the service of Pastor Brown.
This was a powerful demonstration of loving service. In the aftermath, Pastor Brown declared that a divine appointment placed us at that restaurant at that exact time to save a life. He shared that he had learned CPR as a Pathfinder, many years ago, and this was the first time he had ever performed the procedure—and he got it right.
All service opportunities are not as powerful or exciting as the one in this true story, but God gives us multiple opportunities to serve every day. Each time we do so, we glorify Him.
Ricardo Graham is the president of the Pacific Union Conference.