Fish Don't Climb Trees

by Reagan McClenny


Scripture: Acts 6:1-4 Dec 10, 2023

The local church has a specific, narrow purpose given by God, including appointing leaders, assembling for worship and teaching, disciplining members, and supporting preachers and needy Christians financially. The church should focus on its biblical purpose and not get distracted serving "tables" by doing everything individual Christians are called to do. The church's funds and activities should only be used for purposes clearly authorized in Scripture so that it can effectively fulfill its role and allow Christians to serve personally as well.


There's an old story in education that apparently has its roots back in some literature from the 1800s. It's a fable, and it's about a monkey and a fish who are in the same class. And they go through this class, and at the end of the term, the teacher comes to them and says, Okay, there's going to be a test, and this test is going to be perfectly fair to the two of you.

I'm going to give you the same test. Both of you have to go outside and climb that tree. And it's represented well. Maybe you've seen a comic like this. Uh, oh, the anticipation mounts. Maybe you've seen a comic like this. This went around Facebook not too long ago. And it shows a class, and we see a number of different animals there.

And the teacher at the front says, For a fair selection, everybody has to take the same exam. Please climb that tree. And underneath it says this. Our education system, and this quote attributed to Albert Einstein. Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, think that it is stupid.

Now, there are a couple of things that I can nitpick there. I said a bad word in the minds of some, of course, but this quote was attributed to Albert Einstein, but in all likelihood, he never said anything remotely like that. And while it says, our education system There are places in our education system that are like this, that treat students like that, but there are a lot of wonderful educators, even in this room, that don't have that kind of perspective.

But the point, the foundational point behind this idea is well taken, I think. Not all things are equipped to do the same thing. And even if they can do the same thing, most monkeys can swim after all, it doesn't mean that they can do it as well, or that they wouldn't be better doing the things that they were designed to do.

Created things have different strengths and weaknesses. And I would add that they are designed by their Creator with different functions and purposes. And fish don't climb trees. Is there spiritual application to this old fable? Well, I believe there are several that we could make this morning. But I want us to consider this morning the purpose and function of the local church.

What is the purpose and function of the local church? What is it that God designed that is us, this local church, the people in this room, for us to do collectively? Now I'm not talking about the church in the sense of all Christians everywhere across all times, both past, present, and future. I'm talking about a local church.

A group of Christians who happen to live at the same time and within reasonable distance of one another. We've agreed to come together and work and worship under the oversight of a group of elders doing the things that the local church has been authorized and commanded to do by the Lord. What is the purpose?

What is the purpose of these local churches? And more to the point, what is the purpose of this local church, of Timberland Drive Church of Christ? Even more, are there some things that God did not design the local church to do, that are not our purpose, that would hinder our true purpose if we started trying to do them?

Well that's what we're going to discuss for a few moments this morning, and we're so grateful for the presence of all, thank you for being here. I see some who are visiting with us, some who have not been with us in a long time, who are visiting again, some perhaps who are visiting for the first time.

We're grateful for your presence with us this morning, whether it's in person or online. And if you have your Bible with you, would you open it up please to Acts chapter 6. Acts chapter 6 is where we're going to start here in just a moment. A couple of young men, or, went throughout the congregation with a handout.

And we're not going to cover everything, all of the scriptures that are on that handout this morning, but I wanted you to have that for a reference. So you can go back and look these passages up for yourself if you choose to do so. I often get asked the question you know, I'm a pretty friendly person and so I talk with people all over the, the place and sometimes that drives Stephanie a little crazy, but I, I think people are interesting and, and I have an interest in people, right?

We all do as Christians in trying to ascertain, is this somebody who needs the gospel of Jesus Christ? Well, we all need it, but is this somebody who's been exposed to that gospel, and can I be God's instrument in bringing that gospel to them? And in conversations with people eventually it comes up that, that I'm a preacher.

And sometimes that sparks somebody's interest, sometimes that shuts the conversation down entirely especially based on what's been said up to that point. But one of the things that comes up from time to time when they find out that I preach at Timberland Drive Church of Christ, may, perhaps they're familiar with Churches of Christ, at least as they've been exposed to them, and, and so they ask questions like, why don't y'all do this, or why don't y'all do that about a number of different things regarding worship or, or work that we might do.

And the elders asked me to address, in general, why we do what we do here, as a local church, this morning. And it starts with this. Why do we do what we do? We love God, and we want to please God, of course. But I want to take it a step further. I think, certainly, most people wouldn't have a problem with our motives, that we love God and want to please God in the things that we do.

But why, specifically, do we do the things we do, And not do the things that we don't do. Well, if you're there in Acts chapter 6, I think there's a principle that we find here in these verses that applies to this idea of, well, not just fish don't climb trees, but the purpose and function that we have as Christians and as a local church.

Would you read with me beginning in verse 1 of Acts chapter 6? In the early days of the church, as all Christians are there in Jerusalem together, And as there are many people who are in need because they are not at home and they don't have the things that they need for their, for their daily necessities, we find that there's an issue that arises.

Verse 1. Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. So we have these Jews who are from different parts of the Roman world, and they're in Jerusalem, and then we have these Hebrews, these Jews that are localized, they're in Jerusalem.

And apparently, whether this was intentional or unintentional, we're not told. But some of these Jewish widows who were not from the local area were not getting what they needed. While local Jewish widows were receiving what they needed here from the local church. So, verse 2, Then the twelve, the apostles, summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, Notice, It is not desirable that we, the apostles, should leave the word of God and serve tables.

Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. whom we may appoint over this business. But we, the apostles, will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. This of course pleased the whole congregation. They did that and the problem ultimately was resolved.

There's something very interesting, at least to me, that we see there. The Apostles say it is not desirable that we should leave the Word of God and serve tables. I mean, does that seem a little cold hearted? I mean, arrogant even perhaps? It is not desirable for us to leave what we're doing

May I suggest this morning that the Apostles were just stating the reality. These twelve, these Apostles had been given a directive by Jesus Christ to spread the gospel, the good news of salvation to every creature. And to truly fulfill that directive, They didn't have time to serve tables. Was serving tables a good work?

Can I hear your head rattle when I answer, ask these questions? Was serving tables a good work? Is providing for these widows a good work? Absolutely! Did it need to happen? Yeah, it needed to happen. Would it have been wrong to neglect it and not address it? Of course it would have been wrong. Were the apostles just too high and mighty?

Were they just too important? Were they just too good to, to go down and do something as meaning meaningless? Perhaps some would view it as menial, certainly, as just serving food to people. Was that, was that just something that wasn't good enough for the apostles? Well, they better hope not. What was the thing that Jesus did on the night that he was betrayed?

He took the towel, he got down on his knees and washed their feet. And he says, I've given you an example that you should do as I have done. Nobody was too good to serve these widows. But the issue, the issue at hand in why the apostles responded the way that they did was because it wasn't the apostles God given purpose to tend to the distribution of food for saints in need.

And it wouldn't, frankly, it wouldn't have made any sense for the apostles to do this. There were others who could do this work, who could wait the tables. Who couldn't, maybe even shouldn't, do what the Apostles were doing in regard to the Gospel. You know, I think we understand this concept, and not just in a religious sense, I think we understand this concept in a, from a physical perspective.

Think about the fire department. You know, we've got a number of fire departments in the area, and we're blessed to have that, right? That's not something that all people in all times, even today, have, but we have these fire departments. And what is the purpose of a fire department? Well, primarily to, to fight fires, to save people perhaps who are caught in fires.

And, and maybe they have some secondary things that they do as well and go into the schools or whatever to, to educate people about fire safety and those sorts of things. But the primary purpose, the function of a fire department,

Well, what if the fire department looked around at our world today, wherever this might be, and say, You know what? There is just too much crime around here. Crime is running rampant, and we need to do something about it. And so, the fire department starts using taxpayer dollars to police crime. And they take their big trucks, and they go, and they raid different houses, and they pull people over on the highway, and they start doing these things.

Now, would the state Would us as taxpayers, would we allow that? And at what point would those people cease being a fire department and instead become a police department? Well doesn't crime need to be policed? Can I hear your head rattle on that one? Yeah, of course it does. That's very important. But we have a department for that.

It's called the police department. It is not the role, it is not the purpose of the fire department to police crime. But even more, if we took all of those firefighters and we sent them to do police work, isn't the reality that they probably wouldn't be able to fight fires as well? Likely, wouldn't there be more damage to fires that they're not able to address?

Perhaps even more lives lost? Because they are distracted fighting crime when the purpose and function that they have is to fight fires. Where am I going with all of this? Well, I believe that the Bible teaches that the local church was designed by God with a function, a purpose. And it is narrow in scope, or at least narrower in scope, and more specific in nature.

than what Christians can do generally. So what is the purpose and function of the local church? We call ourselves, a lot of times, a New Testament church. Not that we're in the first century, but that we are trying to do what we see local churches in the New Testament doing. So what do we see local churches doing in the New Testament?

At least that we can reproduce today. Now, there are some things that are outside of our control that we cannot reproduce today without the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit, for example. Speaking in tongues and prophesying, that's not something that we can choose to do ourselves. Only the Holy Spirit could do that.

And there are some things, obviously, we read our New Testaments that we don't want to reproduce today because they were condemned in Scripture. There are lots of things that the church in Corinth was doing, for example, with division and tolerance of sin and disorderly, chaotic worship. We're not supposed to do those things.

But what are the things that are either commanded or approved in Scripture that we can still do today just like they did back then. Well, you have the list there on your handout, and we're not going to turn to all of these passages, but let me just read them off to you rather quickly. We see churches in the New Testament appointing elders and deacons to lead and serve.

And in our local congregation, we've done that on a number of occasions, and we will continue to do that in the future if the Lord allows. We see New Testament churches assembling together for edification and exhortation. That's what we're doing today, and we do that on other occasions as well. We see a disciplining of members who are in unrepentant sin and a number of examples of that.

The local church helps hold individual Christians accountable. And that's something the local church does. It's something that this local church does. But we also see the good side of that, restoring members who repent, who come out of that sin and want to be made right with God. The local church, again, restores them and reaffirms our love toward them.

We see preaching and teaching in the local church, prayer and singing and partaking of the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week. All of these things we see in our New Testaments that first century churches were approved by God in doing. Now I want to focus on and zoom in on a few other things that are particularly related to the way we, we deal with finances, the way we deal with the Lord's money.

We see New Testament churches keeping a common treasury. for needs, that there is money that is collected and that money is, is saved or pooled in such a way that it might be used to meet the needs of the local church. And we see that there are, there is this collecting of funds for those needs that arise and, and Harold mentioned that a moment ago, that there are baskets in the back.

And that's the responsibility of the local members of the church. We never make solicitation for anybody that's visiting with us who is not a member here, but that is available. And it's something that, that our local members do. Let's go ahead and read 1 Corinthians chapter 16. If you turn over there in verses 1 in verses 1 and 2.

Now concerning the collection for the saints. Saints just means Christians. Not saints in the Catholic sense, but those who are the set apart. Those who are saints are Christians. Concerning this collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, So you must do also. On the first day of the week, let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.

In other words, the Apostle Paul says you're setting aside this money for needy saints, specifically in Judea, as we'll read here in just a second. And he says, I want you on the first day of the week to bring that money together, to pool that money so that we don't have to collect it when I come. But that it's already ready for this need that has arisen.

And we see that there is some specific ways that that money is spent. Physically or financially helping Christians in need. Turn to the book of Acts in the 11th chapter, Acts chapter 11, and verses 27 through 30. Again, there are a number of other passages that we could read. 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 goes into a long discourse on this idea of those who are in need and how we might collect money to help them by the grace of God.

But in Acts chapter 11 in verse 27, And in those days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world. Which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar, so Luke is able to say, Hey, you remember this famine you know that this happened.

Well, this was prophesied. There's gonna be this great famine throughout all the world. So verse 29, Then the disciples, another word for Christians, each according to his ability, determined to send relief. They're gonna send help to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it by the elders, by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

And so, they, they, there's a famine in all the world, but they're not helping everybody. They are collecting this money specifically for the brethren, who are dwelling in Judea, one of the places where this famine hit people the hardest. And it's not just providing for these physical financial needs, it's also, the final thing, Financially supporting and sending out those who are preaching and teaching the gospel both locally and in other places.

This is where we, in Timberland Drive, Church of Christ, this is where we use the Lord's money that is collected every week. To allow for a place to assemble that we might do these things that are found on this first page. And also, and in fact, this is where the great majority of the Lord's money that is collected here goes.

It's to support Christians who are in need and to support those who are preaching and teaching the gospel locally and in other places. In the last year, God has supplied us with the ability to, with hundreds and thou of thousands of dollars, support preachers and help needy Christians on five continents around the world, and of course, those who are here locally as well.

Now, I don't think there's a lot of disagreement about seeing this is what churches did in the New Testament. But maybe at this point you say, but Reagan, you know, aren't there a bunch of other good work? So a lot of other good things that are commanded in the New Testament that we see people doing isn't, you know, pure and undefiled religion caring for orphans and widows, James chapter 1.

Isn't a big part of how we're going to be judged on the, on the final day before Christ Himself going to be whether or not we helped the poor when they were in need Matthew chapter 25? To which I answer, of course, of course we see those things in our New Testament. But hear me clearly, those things specifically are things you and I should be doing ourselves as individual Christians.

And the church, I believe, shouldn't leave the Word of God to serve these tables, speaking metaphorically. The local church has a narrower, more specific role and function than do individual Christians, or even groups of Christians who form themselves to meet various works. If I were given the power miraculously, you know, Reagan, you know, you have the power to choose ten concepts, ten ideas, and, and you can just miraculously make it where every single person in the world understands these ten concepts, these ten ideas.

Well, you know, it's gonna start with Jesus is the Christ. Maybe I can try and squeeze the Lord in Christ into that to just make it one to make my list a little longer, right? I want everybody to know that. We can go down the list of these things that I could just, miraculously, people know this. But I tell you, if I was given a list of ten things, this, this would be one of those ten things.

That we can see that there is a difference between the individual Christian and the church. That the individual Christian and what he or she does and what the local church does are different. And it would clear up so much confusion about the role of the local church in our lives. Now let me just mention, the idea that only the church can do these things, that's not usually the case.

I mean, teaching is the work of the church, but we as individuals do that as well. But there is a distinction drawn in the New Testament between what the individual Christian can do, Versus what the collective church can do. Our activity together. Including a distinction between the money of the individual and what I do with my personal funds.

Everything belongs to the Lord, we understand that. But with my personal funds and the money of the church that is collected when we come together. Turn to Acts chapter 5. I think we see this really clearly in this passage. There are others to which we could turn, but Acts chapter 5, beginning in verse 1.

Again, in the early days of the church, as people were sharing in all things, they're, they're selling their lands and their houses to bring the money to to give aid to those Christians who are in need. We see in verse 1 of chapter 5, but a certain man named Ananias with Sapphira, his wife, sold a possession.

We're not told what, but they sold something. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?

Now, they said that they were giving everything when in fact they were only given a portion. But notice what it is that Peter says in verse 4. The issue was not that they kept back part to themselves. The issue was they were lying about it and saying they were given everything. Verse 4, while it remained, was it not your own?

And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God. What Peter is saying to them is, that was your money. It was your possession. And you could do with it what you willed. But as soon as you give it here to this local group of Christians, now suddenly it has a different purpose.

Was it not your own, he asked. Was it not in your control? And so there is a distinction in the text between the money that was theirs in their control and the money that was given to the Lord that is under the control of the local church. So why don't we do so many of the things that many other churches do?

Let me give you some examples. Special musical programs. A lot of places do that. Why don't we have gymnasiums for games and basketball leagues and those sorts of things. Why don't we have a place like a fellowship hall where we can have large meals together or a hangout spot for the youth group where they can have meals and play games?

Why aren't we providing as a local church for the poor and hungry in our community, even if they're not Christians? Why aren't we supporting the care of orphans out of the local church treasury? Well, all of those things that I listed are good things. And things being done and participated by Christians here outside of the collective work of this church, with money that is their own, that is under their control.

For every one of those things that I've listed, notice, there is a sister and her family that just had a large piano recital with students, and it was very festive, and it was for the season, and we all had a wonderful time. And there were a number of our kids and parents who were involved in that. Many of our young people and their parents are part of various sports leagues in the community as players and coaches, and that's something that we enjoy and builds character and all those sorts of things.

Many families host gatherings of Christians of various sizes to eat and enjoy one another's company throughout the year, including on some occasions inviting everyone in the congregation. I remember one recently that had a large cauldron of chili. I mean, that was good stuff, wasn't it? Who made that chili?

I know that there's another family here who hosts the high school students for, for food and a short devotional and games almost every Monday night. Another couple here spearheads donations to local charitable organizations that many of our members contribute toward in different ways. Several other couples helped with and contributed to a fundraiser just a couple of weeks ago for an adoption organization that is run by faithful Christians.

And just as an aside, let me say that, that I am in awe of all of the things that you are doing for good in this community and in the world. Being salt and light by the things that you are choosing to do as individual Christians that shows that you have the love of Christ in your heart. Without, and please don't take this the wrong way, without just sitting back, as sadly so many do in religion today, and just letting the church do it all for you.

Sadly, for many churches, these good works that allow Christians to serve one another and the world individually have been replaced by local churches providing those things through the contributions of their members. And even sadder still, some Christians have the attitude of, well, I pay the church to do that for me, which is anathema to what Jesus wants in our hearts.

Farming out our individual responsibility to the local church in this way It does two negative things. Number one, it distracts the local church from its true spiritual purpose. And number two, it robs us, as individual Christians, of the opportunity, and often the God given obligation, to do these good works themselves.

Notice a passage that spells this out plainly in 1 Timothy chapter 5. Would you turn over there, 1 Timothy chapter 5? This is the last scripture that we'll examine this morning. Obviously, there's much more that we could say. But, again, the elders asked me to speak of these things in general terms to understand our perspective.

Why do we do the things that we do? And why do we choose not to do things that, that perhaps are good works, uh, but are not things that we believe are authorized? Notice in 1 Timothy chapter 5, again it's a matter of widows, just like we read about in the book of Acts. And apparently there is this group of widows, who are, the text says, widows indeed, they're of a certain age they're not gonna marry again.

They don't have family to take care of them. And what does the local church do? They provide for all of the physical needs of those widows. And it is wonderful and beautiful work that we find there. But there's something interesting that's said in verse 16 of 1 Timothy chapter 5. If any believing man or woman, believing man or woman we've heard several ways that Christians are referred to this morning.

Here's another. A believing man or woman, someone who believes in Christ, someone who's a Christian. So if any believing man or woman has widows, that's kind of a weird way of saying it. I think the way we would put it is, if your mom is a widow, you're a Christian and your mom is a widow. Let them, the believing man or woman, relieve or give aid to, maybe your translation says, let them give aid to them, to these widows.

And again, this sounds a little cold, but Paul says this, And do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows. Really widows in the sense of they don't have anybody who's there to take care of them and to help them, at least no one who is a Christian. Now, I want you to notice in this verse, it is not just that the individual Christians, these believing men and women, are responsible for their own widows.

Notice that the church is required not to act in such cases. The church and the individual are given two different opposite commands. Think about that. For the same action, taking care of a widow, we see just the opposite thing for the individual and for the local church. For the individual Christian, this is something that you must do.

You must do it. If, if your, If your parents if one of them passes away and so we have a widow or a widower, you have a responsibility as a Christian within your means to take care of them. That is one of the things that you do as someone who honors your father and mother. This is what's in the heart of a Christian.

And our attitude should be such, I want to do that. Whatever my relationship might be with them, I want to do that for them because I'm a Christian. But the local church is commanded not to do it. They must not do it. Now, obviously, we see that they do take care of widows, and they take care of a large number of widows.

But in this specific situation, if the church does it, they're wrong in doing it. They should not take that obligation. They should not take that opportunity away from individual Christians. Do you see that?

I think we can see that. But why? Why make this kind of distinction? Why would it be, the word he uses is, let not the church be burdened. Why would it be a burden to help someone? Because it would keep the church from helping those it is commanded to help. It could. It helps those who's got it helps those God doesn't command it to help, and it doesn't have the resources to help those God does command the local church to help.

Every time, without exception, we see people being helped from the local contribution, the collection, the treasury of a New Testament church. Every single time we see that that is for Christians, for saints only. Yet many people, many churches claiming to belong to Christ want to say, well, there's these other people that need help too, and we have this collective money, so why can't we use it to help them?

Well, it isn't anywhere to be found in the New Testament or the book of Acts. It's, it's not the biblical plan for the church. God's plan says that you and I, as individual Christians, we have a responsibility to help those people. Not, not the local church. And what if we and other churches throughout our Our country used the money in our treasuries to just indiscriminately help these people who need help.

And then this great need comes, like this famine, for example, that took place in the first century. And this need comes for needy Christians, or perhaps preaching the gospel in places that need the gospel. And we aren't prepared to do what we are specifically called and commanded to do because we've been doing these other things.

The church would not be able to fulfill its purpose, and God would not be glorified. But if we follow this example we see in the New Testament, the local church is able to fulfill its purpose. And you say, well, we are so blessed, we're so rich, surely that doesn't apply to us. May I give you a real life example?

This has, in fact, happened on a number of occasions, even with this group. You think about the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey a number of years ago. And there were Christians, a number of Christians, who were down there a large number of Christians who were down in that area who needed immediate help.

And within days of that tragedy, this local congregation was able to send tens of thousands of dollars to help with those Christians with their immediate needs because we were waiting to use that money for that purpose. And that has come up again a number of times in the time since then. There are other examples that we could use.

And so it comes down to this, at least in my mind. The church has a purpose to fulfill. And it cannot fulfill that purpose, as God intends, while focused elsewhere. Using the funds of the local church for something outside of its biblical pattern. By that I mean where you can point to a verse in our Bible and say, this is why we are doing this with the Lord's collected money in this church.

Now it only takes us beyond what we know pleases God. If we can't point to a scripture, we don't know for sure that it pleases God. But it also goes against common sense. Firefighters are supposed to fight fires and save people in fire. And what is the local church supposed to do? Well, what God designed it to do, the purpose that He gave it.

And don't misunderstand me. I'm not claiming somehow that we're perfect in doing this by any means. But we are trying to follow God's design, not our own, in sincerity, truth, and love.

To be who He has called us to be, both individually and as a collective group of believers. To just be Christians. To just be a church belonging to Christ. And to imitate the church of the New Testament as best we can. Because we know, we don't have to guess, we don't have to hope, because we know that doing those things that we find in our New Testament is pleasing to God.

And if the simplicity of that appeals to you, if you would If you would like to talk more about that, we would love to talk with you further about Jesus Christ and His church and who we are trying to be as a local group of Christians. Or if you're here this morning and you already know what you must do in order to be right with God or to be added to His church, we give you that opportunity now, while together we stand and while we sing.