September 19th 2009

Church

2nd of a series of studies from Philemon

“…to the church that meets in your home”

Philemon 1:2 (NIV UK)

Here the Greek word “ecclesia” is translated as “church”.

The English word “church”, is derived from a different Greek word, which is “Kyriakos” meaning “Lord”, and thus denoted a place where the Lord was worshipped. “Ecclesia”, however, describes an activity more than a place. “Ecclesia” was used in a non-religious sense for when citizens were summoned to a central meeting. Historical examples include the “ecclesia” of Athens. Those called to hear the message assembled from all across the town and from the suburbs. The New Testament writers adopted this term “ecclesia” to signify the coming together of believers from the various quarters of a region or community to hear the Word.

Believers would gather in different places. They met in synagogues, in halls, in upstairs rooms, by the banks of rivers, wherever it was practical. Often they would meet in people’s houses, as mentioned in Philemon and elsewhere in scripture.

An important point is that believers would meet. They did not try to be Christians in isolation. In addition to hearing the preaching of the Word, they would sing praises to God together, pray for one another, share meals, participate in sacraments such as the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, distribute aid to those in need, and, of course, enjoy the benefits of fellowship. It is written in the letter to the Hebrews: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another” (10:25).

Those who opened their home to believers from all walks of life clearly had a gift of hospitality. Philemon was numbered among them. Perhaps Apphia was his wife. Archippus appears to be have been a local elder or pastor (Colossians 4:17), and the rest of the attendees are not mentioned by name.

What relevance has this for us today? The desire of the early Christians to meet together and the admonition not to neglect doing so are instructive for us. The coming together of believers is a core practice of the church.

The literal translation of “ecclesia” is “the called out ones”. We are called out to be together in Christ, and meeting at church is an expression of our togetherness.

Prayer

Our Father, thank you for the togetherness I share with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and thank you for being able to meet together at church.

Amen

Study by James Henderson

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