Webmaster’s Note: This reading is included here to show the thinking of Mr. Coates in 1932 and to highlight an important truth … the proper place of sisters in assembly administration. There was further discussion and correction on the subject of sisters attending care meetings and all assembly meetings later in the 1940’s. (See Ministry by J. Taylor, volume 68, pp. 252 – 270. http://www.mcclean.me.uk/mse/jt/jt68.htm#252)
The Care Meeting
The assembly is the subject of care; the Lord cares for it, and it is of Him that there should be in every local company of His saints those who really care for their spiritual prosperity. Such are God’s stewards imbued with the love of Christ. We recognise the gifts, they minister in the gospel and in the truth of the assembly; they set things before us. But the subject of care in every local assembly is to see that what is ministered is made good in the saints. This care is the local expression of the love of Christ to the assembly, it is a holy responsibility; the care meeting is very near to the heart of Christ.
In both the Old and New Testaments we see certain men put in positions of care and leadership by the Lord, and responsible to Him in those positions. The democratic idea is that power comes up from the people to their representatives, but the divine thought as to the assembly is that it is cared for and led by those who act on God’s behalf, and who, if faithful, represent divine care and authority. Jehovah said to Moses, “Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and their officers” (Numbers 11:16). Those who exercise care are known men.
In the young assembly at Thessalonica there were as yet, apparently, no established or official elders, but those who laboured amongst the brethren, and took the lead in the Lord and admonished them were to be known and regarded exceedingly in love on account of their work. The care and leadership was there as provided by the Lord, though not having official status, and it is helpful to see this in a day when we have no longer any elders officially appointed.
In an assembly like that in Philippi, which had reached a great measure of spiritual maturity, we still find this divine order, for there were “overseers and ministers” (Philippians 1: 1). We cannot conduct ourselves rightly in the house of God save as recognising its order. It remains true that elders who take the lead well are to be esteemed worthy of double honour, especially those labouring in word and teaching. The care meeting, if it truly and spiritually has that character, represents this divine provision for care and order in the house of God; it is thus particularly a meeting of elders, or those who feel the responsibility of care. What is mutual and brotherly is of the utmost importance, but it must not be allowed to weaken the thought of oversight and care. There is, of course, mutual care which all are responsible to exercise, but it must also be recognised that there are those who care and lead in a special way as having moral weight and authority.
The care of the assembly is a very serious matter; it can only be taken up by those who are sober, discreet, and who cling to the faithful word. To really care for the assembly might often mean carrying deep sorrows, and spending much time in prayer. It means having the feeling all the time, “for they have to render an account” (Hebrews 13: 17). It costs something to care for the precious interests of Christ, but those who do will carry the confidence of all who are spiritual.
A sister can be a deaconess, but she cannot be an elder or overseer; she cannot exercise such care for the assembly as has its place in the care meeting. She can do what is sometimes even more important — she can pray. Those who exercise care owe very much to the prayers of the sisters, and it may be added that it is quite suitable that what is arrived at in a care meeting should be conveyed to sisters. But the sisters are really, as the assembly is generally, the subjects of care.
The care meeting should be a great education for younger brothers whose hearts move them to be present, as they observe the gravity and jealous care which marks the overseers.
To lord it over the saints is quite opposite to caring for them in love; it is the spirit of a Diotrephes. A true leader exposes himself to attack, and he may have to meet “grievous wolves.” He is set to preserve the flock for God, and to do it as being himself a model. It is well to obey such and be submissive; it is a great gain to own a brother whom the Holy Spirit has made an overseer. Many of us can thank God that we have had leaders in whom we have been able to see the expression of Christ. Both Peter and John have written as elders, and we may learn from their epistles how an elder feels and serves.
There are three care meetings mentioned in the Acts:
(1) In regard to the gospel (Acts 15: 6-21).
(2) In regard to the church (Acts 20: 17-35).
(3) Is a warning rather than an example, for when James and the elders came together and advised Paul what to do, they were governed by what was really a defective state in the saints, and not by the present truth. This was much lower ground than the true spiritual level of the assembly (Acts 21: 18-25).
In Acts 15 a question arose involving the whole truth of the gospel. This is a very suitable subject for a care meeting. It is most important that the saints should stand fast in the liberty of grace, and that they should be safeguarded from any influence that operates to diminish their joy. It is a proper subject for care that the glad tidings should not be diminished, but that they should grow (Colossians 1: 6) in the hearts of the saints.
On this occasion there was much discussion, but no progress was made until the Lord gave through Peter a word which stopped further controversy. One would look for this in a care meeting — that discussion should be arrested by a word that cannot be gainsayed. There is room then for place to be given to God, and to what God is doing (see verse 12). Then James followed with a word that was evidently with authority. In any true care meeting this would be looked for. If the Lord is in the midst He can make His authority felt, and when this is so a common judgment is arrived at in His fear.
In Acts 20 the whole scope of Paul’s ministry was brought before the elders, all that is profitable, all the counsel of God. Paul had served faithfully, and with the utmost devotion, but his face would be seen no more. Now responsibility was passed into the hands of the elders, whom the Holy Spirit had set as overseers in the flock, to take heed to it and to shepherd it as the assembly of God. Incessant vigilance would be called for, and it would ever be needful to come in aid of the weak.
All this gives the true character and spirit that should mark every care meeting. The whole of Paul’s ministry is to be preserved in its vital power in the saints, and they are to be preserved in it. The souls of the saints are to be cared for. How the elders need to be imbued with the love of Christ in order to do it!
Many small details as to the care of the rooms where saints meet should be entrusted to brothers willing to undertake the service. The care meeting is properly for spiritual care, and should be full of the love of Christ, who ever yearns over the assembly with intense love and care. There should be confidence in those who render deaconal service, so that what they undertake is left to them. The principle of division of labour is well supported in scripture; see the Levites. There are certain services to be rendered, and according to divine regulation they would be distributed so that there would be no gaps and no overlapping. To each one his work.
If care is not kept on a spiritual level there will be great danger of things degenerating to the level of Acts 21, where we see that the state of the saints governed the position. This is a real danger. Spiritual leading was not manifest on this occasion; however God might over-rule it in His wisdom. The elders here did not bring forward their own spiritual exercises, nor the present truth — the ministry that had come in as light from heaven. The state and spiritual limitations of the believing Jews — their undelivered state really — and their ignorance of Paul’s ministry, were permitted to govern the situation, and to suggest the course to be followed. Paul was to take his cue from the state existing below, not from what came down from above!
His position was a most difficult one. He must either refuse their counsel, probably at the cost of a breach between himself and the Jewish part of the assembly, or he must accept the situation and defer to their wishes. I have no doubt that it was in grace that he did the latter, but it failed in its object. It did not give him access to the Jewish believers and it threw him into the hands of the unbelieving enemies of the glad tidings.
This warns us that if the elders are governed by anything other than divine principles — however excellent their motive may be – their care meeting may result in compromising the testimony of God. We must take care that we do not let things down; the care meeting must maintain its divine and spiritual elevation. The prejudices of brethren, their limited outlook on the truth, their zeal in maintaining what they think is of God, must not be permitted to put the elders in a false position. It is for them to give a spiritual lead to the brethren, and not to acquiesce in a current feeling that is unspiritual. The elders have to remember that they are not elected representatives of general opinion, but that they are divinely appointed leaders to indicate, as on God’s part, the path for His flock to follow. It is no question of opinions, or of meeting half way, but of the mind of God for the moment.
(The Believer’s Friend, Volume 24 pp. 69 -76)