Let the Congregation Praise Jehovah
“I will declare your name to my brothers; in the middle of the congregation I will praise you.”—HEBREWS 2:12.
1, 2. Why is the congregation so beneficial, and what is its key role?
THROUGHOUT history, individuals have found companionship and security within the basic family unit. However, the Bible identifies another unit in which countless individuals around the globe today are enjoying exceptional companionship and security. That is the Christian congregation. Whether you are part of a close, supportive family or not, you can and should appreciate what God has provided through the congregation arrangement. Of course, if you already associate with a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you can likely testify to the warm fellowship that you enjoy there and the sense of security that you have.
2 The congregation is no mere social group. It is not a community association or a club where people with a similar background or similar interests in a sport or a hobby come together. Rather, the congregation arrangement is primarily for the praise of Jehovah God. That has long been so, as the book of Psalms emphasizes. At Psalm 35:18, we read: “I will laud you in the big congregation; among a numerous people I shall praise you.” Similarly, Psalm 107:31, 32 encourages us: “O let people give thanks to Jehovah for his loving-kindness and for his wonderful works to the sons of men. And let them extol him in the congregation of the people.”
3. According to Paul, what does the congregation do?
3 The Christian apostle Paul highlighted another essential role of the congregation when he referred to “God’s household, which is the congregation of the living God, a pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) About which congregation was Paul speaking? In what ways does the Bible use the term “congregation”? And what bearing should this have on our life and prospects? To see, let us first examine uses of the term “congregation” in God’s Word.
4. How is the word “congregation” most often used in the Hebrew Scriptures?
4 The Hebrew word often translated “congregation” is from a root meaning “call together” or “congregate.” (Deuteronomy 4:10; 9:10) The psalmist used “congregation” regarding the angels in heaven, and it can be used about a group of evil men. (Psalm 26:5; 89:5-7) However, most often the Hebrew Scriptures apply it to the Israelites. God indicated that Jacob would “become a congregation of peoples,” and that occurred. (Genesis 28:3; 35:11; 48:4) The Israelites were called out, or selected, to be “Jehovah’s congregation,” “the congregation of the true God.”—Numbers 20:4; Nehemiah 13:1; Joshua 8:35; 1 Samuel 17:47; Micah 2:5.
5. What Greek word is usually translated “congregation,” and how can this word be applied?
5 The corresponding Greek word is ek·kle·siʹa, from two Greek words meaning “out” and “call.” It can be applied to a secular group, such as “the assembly” that Demetrius stirred up against Paul in Ephesus. (Acts 19:32, 39, 41) But the Bible generally uses it for the Christian congregation. Some translations render this word “church,” but The Imperial Bible-Dictionary reports that it “never . . . signifies the actual building in which Christians assembled for public worship.” Interestingly, though, in the Christian Greek Scriptures, we find the word “congregation” applied in at least four different ways.
The Anointed Congregation of God
6. What did David and Jesus do in the congregation?
6 Applying David’s words found at Psalm 22:22 to Jesus, the apostle Paul wrote: “‘I will declare your name to my brothers; in the middle of the congregation I will praise you with song.’ Consequently [Jesus] was obliged to become like his ‘brothers’ in all respects, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God.” (Hebrews 2:12, 17) David had praised God in the midst of the congregation of ancient Israel. (Psalm 40:9) However, to what was Paul referring when he said that Jesus praised God “in the middle of the congregation”? Which congregation?
7. In what primary way do the Christian Greek Scriptures use the word “congregation”?
7 What we read at Hebrews 2:12, 17 is significant. It shows that in an inclusive sense, Christ was a member of a congregation where he declared God’s name to his brothers. Who were those brothers? Those forming part of “Abraham’s seed,” the spirit-anointed brothers of Christ, “partakers of the heavenly calling.” (Hebrews 2:16–3:1; Matthew 25:40) Yes, the primary sense of “congregation” in the Christian Greek Scriptures is the composite group of spirit-anointed followers of Christ. These 144,000 anointed ones constitute “the congregation of the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens.”—Hebrews 12:23.
8. How did Jesus point forward to the formation of the Christian congregation?
8 Jesus indicated that this Christian “congregation” was to be formed. About a year before his death, he told one apostle: “You are Peter, and on this rock-mass I will build my congregation, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18) Both Peter and Paul correctly understood that Jesus himself was the foretold rock-mass. Peter wrote that those who are built as “living stones” of a spiritual house on the rock-mass, Christ, were “a people for special possession [to] declare abroad the excellencies” of the One who called them.—1 Peter 2:4-9; Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 8:14; 1 Corinthians 10:1-4.
9. When did the congregation of God begin to be formed?
9 When did this “people for special possession” begin to be formed into the Christian congregation? It was at Pentecost 33 C.E. when God poured out holy spirit on the disciples assembled in Jerusalem. Later that day, Peter gave a masterful discourse to a group of Jews and proselytes. Many were stabbed to the heart over Jesus’ death; they repented and were baptized. We find in the historical report that three thousand did so, thereupon becoming part of the new and growing congregation of God. (Acts 2:1-4, 14, 37-47) It was growing because more and more Jews and proselytes accepted the fact that fleshly Israel was no longer the congregation of God. Rather, anointed Christians constituting the spiritual “Israel of God” had become the true congregation of God.—Galatians 6:16; Acts 20:28.
10. What is Jesus’ relationship to the congregation of God?
10 The Bible often makes a distinction between Jesus and the anointed ones, such as in the phrase “with respect to Christ and the congregation.” Jesus is the Head of this congregation of spirit-anointed Christians. Paul wrote that God “made [Jesus] head over all things to the congregation, which is his body.” (Ephesians 1:22, 23; 5:23, 32; Colossians 1:18, 24) Today, there remains on earth only a small remnant of the anointed members of this congregation. We can be sure, though, that their Head, Jesus Christ, loves them. His feelings toward them are described at Ephesians 5:25: “Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it.” He loves them because they actively offer to God “a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name,” even as Jesus did when he was on earth.—Hebrews 13:15.
“Congregation”—In Other Senses
11. The Christian Greek Scriptures use “congregation” in what second way?
11 At times, the Bible uses the term “congregation” in a more limited or defined sense, not applying it to the entire group of 144,000 anointed ones making up “the congregation of God.” For instance, Paul wrote to one group of Christians: “Keep from becoming causes for stumbling to Jews as well as Greeks and to the congregation of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:32) Obviously, if a Christian in ancient Corinth acted improperly, that might be a cause for stumbling to some. Would it, though, have the potential to stumble any and all Greeks, Jews, or anointed ones from that time down till today? Hardly. It thus seems that in this verse “the congregation of God” applies to Christians living at a certain time. Accordingly, one can speak of God’s guiding, providing for, or blessing the congregation, meaning all Christians at a given time, wherever they are located. Or we can speak of the happiness and peace prevailing in God’s congregation today, meaning among the whole Christian brotherhood.
12. In what third sense is “congregation” used in the Bible?
12 A third way that the Bible uses “congregation” applies to all Christians in a geographic area. We read: “The congregation throughout the whole of Judea and Galilee and Samaria entered into a period of peace.” (Acts 9:31) There was more than one group of Christians in that considerable area, but all of them in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria were spoken of as “the congregation.” In view of the number baptized at Pentecost 33 C.E. and soon thereafter, there may even have been more than one group that regularly assembled in the Jerusalem area. (Acts 2:41, 46, 47; 4:4; 6:1, 7) Herod Agrippa I ruled Judea until his death in 44 C.E., and it is clear from 1 Thessalonians 2:14 that at least by 50 C.E., there were a number of congregations in Judea. Thus, when we read that Herod was “mistreating some of those of the congregation,” it may refer to more than a single group that gathered in Jerusalem.—Acts 12:1.
13. What is a fourth and common way that the Bible uses “congregation”?
13 Fourth, a still more limited and common use of the term “congregation” refers to Christians making up a single local congregation, such as in a home. Paul mentioned “the congregations of Galatia.” There was more than one such congregation in that sizable Roman province. Paul twice used the plural “congregations” regarding Galatia, which would include those in Antioch, Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium. Qualified older men, or overseers, were appointed in these local congregations. (1 Corinthians 16:1; Galatians 1:2; Acts 14:19-23) Scripturally, all those were “congregations of God.”—1 Corinthians 11:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:4.
14. What can we conclude from the use of “congregation” in a few texts?
14 In some cases, the groups at Christian meetings must have been small, able to fit into a private home. Still, the expression “congregation” was applied to some such groups. Those that we know of were congregations in the houses of Aquila and Prisca, Nympha, and Philemon. (Romans 16:3-5; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2) This should be a source of encouragement to local congregations today that are quite small and that may even meet regularly in a private home. Jehovah recognized such small congregations in the first century, and he certainly does today, blessing them by means of his spirit.
Congregations Praise Jehovah
15. How was the operation of holy spirit manifested in some early congregations?
15 We noted that in fulfillment of Psalm 22:22, Jesus praised God in the middle of the congregation. (Hebrews 2:12) His faithful followers were to do likewise. Back in the first century when true Christians were anointed by holy spirit to become sons of God and thus Christ’s brothers, some received an additional, special operation of the spirit. They received miraculous gifts of the spirit. Some manifestations of such gifts were special speech of wisdom or knowledge, the power to heal or to prophesy, or even the ability to make utterances in tongues unknown to them.—1 Corinthians 12:4-11.
16. What was one objective of miraculous gifts of the spirit?
16 Regarding speaking in a tongue, Paul said: “I will sing praise with the gift of the spirit, but I will also sing praise with my mind.” (1 Corinthians 14:15) He saw the importance of others’ understanding his words and thus being instructed. It was Paul’s goal to praise Jehovah in the congregation. He urged others who had the gifts of the spirit: “Seek to abound in them for the upbuilding of the congregation,” meaning the local congregation where they manifested the gift. (1 Corinthians 14:4, 5, 12, 23) Clearly, Paul was interested in the local congregations, knowing that in each of them, Christians would have opportunities to praise God.
17. As to local congregations today, of what can we be certain?
17 Jehovah continues to use and support his congregation. He is blessing the composite group of anointed Christians on earth today. This can be seen from the rich supply of spiritual food that God’s people enjoy. (Luke 12:42) He is blessing the worldwide brotherhood as a whole. And he is blessing the local congregations, where we praise our Creator by our actions and upbuilding spiritual comments. There we receive education and training so that we can praise God in other settings, when we are not physically in the midst of our local congregation.
18, 19. What do devoted Christians in any local congregation want to do?
18 Recall that the apostle Paul urged Christians in the local congregation in Philippi, Macedonia: “This is what I continue praying, that [you] may be filled with righteous fruit, which is through Jesus Christ, to God’s glory and praise.” That would include their speaking to others, to outsiders, about their faith in Jesus and their wonderful hope. (Philippians 1:9-11; 3:8-11) Accordingly, Paul urged fellow Christians: “Through [Jesus] let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.”—Hebrews 13:15.
19 Do you find delight in praising God “in the middle of the congregation,” as Jesus did, and in using your lips to praise Jehovah before those who have yet to come to know and praise him? (Hebrews 2:12; Romans 15:9-11) To some degree, our personal answer may depend on how we feel about the role of our local congregation in God’s purpose. In the following article, let us consider how Jehovah is directing and using our local congregation and what its role should be in our lives today.
Do You Recall?
• How did “the congregation of God,” made up of anointed Christians, come to be?
• What are three additional ways that the Bible uses the term “congregation”?
• Regarding the congregation, what did David, Jesus, and first-century Christians want to do, and how should this affect us?
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Jesus was the foundation of which congregation?
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Local groups of Christians met as “congregations of God”
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Like Christians in Benin, we can praise Jehovah among the congregated throngs