The previous two posts dealt with the body of Christ and how we are members of that body. These are important concepts. How do I know they are important? GOD wrote us letters about these things! God doesn’t do fluff, therefore everything He tells us is important. Now I’m about to delve into how these important concepts apply to us as Christians today.
You should know already that God chose you to be a member, part of the body of Christ. You should also know your part in God’s plan is important. Remember, God doesn’t do fluff, so you are not fluff. Look. I can relate to how some of you might feel. As a writer, I tend to cringe when I see authors with 10, 20, 40 books to their names. For many of them, publishing books is just a sideline. Me? Not so much. Writing has rarely been my day job. I’ve been a working stiff all my life and those jobs I’ve held, well, they were just jobs. When I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit I failed to understand the concepts I’m revealing here. That said, lemmetellya, among the humans in this world, there are few who can claim to be as lowly and inconsequential as a writer. Anybody who reads is a critic. Anything we publish is open season with no bag limits. No wonder so many of us writers are quivering blobs of insecurity. Whatever your lot in life, I feel you.
Now that my pity party is over, I should point out God does not see me like that. I cannot tell you how He DOES see my walk in any detail, but I know all those menial things I’ve done in my life add up to something. How can I say that? Because God doesn’t do fluff. Even when I can’t see the value in my life, God does. Who am I to argue with the Creator of the universe?
So let’s talk about this unity thing. First I have to fess up. The word “unity” only appears in the KJV twice. Both instances are in Ephesians, in the same chapter no less. Each of those instances refer to something different. Go figure.
Ephesians 4:3 being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
There you have it – the unity of the spirit and the unity of the faith. No way, no how, these two can refer to the same thing. But wait a minute. The Greek word for “unity” is “henotes”. That word is derived from the Greek word “heis”. That Greek work heis? It means one. Oh.
Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called,
2 with all lowliness and humility, with patience, bearing with one another in love;
3 being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you also were called in one hope of your calling;
5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6 one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all.
God talks a lot about “one”. We are all one body with one Lord, Jesus Christ, who is the head of this one body. Now consider the second use of the word “unity” below in context.
Ephesians 4:7 But to each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
8 Therefore he says, “When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.”
9 Now this, “He ascended,” what is it but that he also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?
10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
11 He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds and teachers;
12 for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ;
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
14 that we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error;
15 but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ;
16 from whom all the body, being fitted and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in measure of each individual part, makes the body increase to the building up of itself in love.
Whew! I know. It’s a lot to take in, but do take it in. Let it sink in deep into you. This is important. You are important. You are a member of THE body of Christ. It doesn’t matter if you run the company or if you “just” empty the waste baskets, you are where the Creator of the universe Himself placed you. He didn’t just place you in your job but He also placed you in your city, with your family and in your church and so on. In short you are exactly where you are supposed to be in God’s plan for you. This is something I’ve often realized at certain points of my own life – far too often to my disappointment. You read that right – to my disappointment.
The question that should have come to my mind then and your mind now is: was I right to be disappointed? Well, yes and no. “Yes”, in respect to the idea I knew then and I know now that I was capable of doing better. I was underachieving. “No”, because, upon my realization, I should have thanked God profusely for said understanding, then asked, okay, now what?
What took me so long to understand is God is ever gracious to forgive our sins and overlook our shortcomings, but even more importantly, He always meets us where we ARE.
Philippians 3:13 Brothers, I don’t regard myself as yet having taken hold, but one thing I do. Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before,
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Now I don’t think for a moment Paul was stretching forward into next year, next month, or even next week. He wasn’t look ahead to tomorrow. Rather, he was reaching for what God put right in front of him. What else is there?
By this time you may be wondering what all of this has to do with “Calling the Body of Christ to Unity”. If you’ve ever tried to herd cats, or watched someone else attempt do do so, you may want to keep that in mind for the rest of this post. You need not go far into scripture to realize, compared to humans, herding cats is a breeze. Let’s start with Jesus, shall we?
Matthew 9:1 He entered into a boat, and crossed over, and came into his own city.
2 Behold, they brought to him a man who was paralyzed, lying on a bed. Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, “Son, cheer up! Your sins are forgiven you.”
3 Behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man blasphemes.”
4 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?
5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven;’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk?’
6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” (then he said to the paralytic), “Get up, and take up your mat, and go up to your house.”
7 He arose and departed to his house.
Here it was the scribes complaining. In the next passage, it was the disciples of John. Later on the Pharisees and then the Sadducees chimed in. Someone was always complaining no matter what Jesus did. Nor did it stop after they killed Jesus and God raised him from the dead.
Acts 6:1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
Signs, miracles, and wonders followed Jesus, and the twelve apostles, and the 70 sent out after that. Did Jesus’ detractors stop complaining? No. they found new ways to find fault. Even after Jesus died and God raised him from the dead, the complaining didn’t stop. The apostles and other believers continued demonstrating the power of God via signs, miracles, and wonders. It wasn’t enough. What does all this complaining – the murmuring lead to?
Division. Division is the opposite of unity. Rather than believe God, the detractors all had their own little inklings on how things ought to be. We know the source of all of this. That has not changed. But I want you to clearly see how even Jesus himself was the target of dissidents. Jesus lived a perfect life. He always did his father’s will. Yet he was crucified because the Jewish leadership would rather cling to their fiefdoms than submit to the authority of God Almighty.
The early church was likewise infected with divisive forces almost from the start. These divisions within the church didn’t really begin to take off, at least as far as scripture records, until believing Jews got wind of Gentiles being invited to the party.
Acts 15:1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
This was a major division in the early church, but it was not the only one by far. According to Corinthians, early Christians were finding numerous reasons to split off.
1 Corinthians 1:12 Now I mean this, that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” “I follow Cephas,” and, “I follow Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?
Here Paul all but directly tells the Corinthian church NOT to put him between themselves and Christ. Who are Apollos and Cephas? Cephas is Aramaic for Peter, the most prominent of the original twelve apostles . As for Apollos, his story, found in Acts, is interesting.
Acts 18:24 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus. He was mighty in the Scriptures.
25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John.
26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside, and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
27 When he had determined to pass over into Achaia, the brothers encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him. When he had come, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace;
28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews, publicly showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
This passage says much of what we know about this man. He was a powerful speaker and persuasive but until he met Priscilla and Aquila, he “knew only the baptism of John”. It also says he “he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus”. Thus, he surely knew about the resurrection of Jesus and the new birth, though this passage doesn’t say it directly. The next section offers a bit more light.
Acts 19:1 It happened that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul, having passed through the upper country, came to Ephesus, and found certain disciples.
2 He said to them, “Did you receive the** Holy Spirit when you believed?” They said to him, “No, we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 He said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.”
4 Paul said, “John indeed baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe in the one who would come after him, that is, in Jesus.”
5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
6 When Paul had laid his hands on them, the* Holy [the]* Spirit came on them, and they spoke with other languages and prophesied.
7 They were about twelve men in all.
Jesus said as much himself:
Acts 1:5 For John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the* Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
As did John the Baptist:
Luke 3:16 John answered them all, “I indeed baptize you with water, but he comes who is mightier than I, the latchet of whose sandals I am not worthy to loosen. He will baptize you in the* Holy Spirit and fire,
From these verses and others there is a clear difference between water baptism and being baptized in spirit. On a personal note, I’ve always understood scripture indicates the spiritual baptism was to supersede water baptism, however this is not the practice in a majority of Christian churches today. Apollo was not the only one apparently confused on this issue. I do wonder how much impact his influence had on the early body of Christ.
Once again, we see division in the church. Oddly enough today’s body of Christ seems to be somewhat unified on this point, with most of them offering and sometimes insisting on water baptism while ignoring baptism in the spirit. Even these churches debate between sprinkling, dunking, and full immersion. This is a glaring example of division within the body of Christ. One article states the Baptists separate themselves from Presbyterians due to differences concerning baptism in the name of get this… UNITY!
What does Ephesians 4:5 state?
Ephesians 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
Oh. I wonder which “one baptism” is THE one?
The letter to the Galatians deals with the disputes over circumcision in depth. According to the apostle Paul, there is no question. His contention was back up in full by the apostles in Jerusalem.
Acts 15:22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole assembly, to choose men out of their company, and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, chief men among the brothers.
23 They wrote these things by their hand: “The apostles, the elders, and the brothers, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: greetings.
24 Because we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law,’ to whom we gave no commandment;
25 it seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose out men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who themselves will also tell you the same things by word of mouth.
28 For it seemed good to the** Holy [**the] Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden on you than these necessary things:
29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality, from which if you keep yourselves, it will be well with you. Farewell.”
Beyond their stance on circumcision, what strikes me most is what other instructions they gave to these churches… “abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality”. That’s it. They saw no need for a detailed rule book or a statement of faith or doctrine. They kept things simple. Amazing that.
However Paul later wrote of a different vision – unity.
1 Corinthians 3:21 Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours,
22 whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come. All are yours,
23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ.
If you look at all of Paul’s teachings, you will see again and again this sentiment. If every one of us, each member of the body of Christ put aside our differences and instead that we speak the same thing – that we “ be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment”. Also note while Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be followers of him, this was restricted to “as I am in Christ”, thus placing Christ, not Paul, in Christ’s proper place at the head of the body.
1 Corinthians 1:10 Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
Philippians 1:27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ, that, whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your state, that you stand firm in one spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the Gospel;
What an example we would be if we only lived God’s Word! If we set aside our differences, put away the “old man” and put on the “new man”.
Ephesians 4:21 if indeed you heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus:
22 that you put away, as concerning your former way of life, the old man, that grows corrupt after the lusts of deceit;
23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind,
24 and put on the new man, who in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.
25 Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak truth each one with his neighbor. For we are members one of another.
26 “Be angry, and don’t sin.” Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath,
27 neither give place to the devil.
28 Let him who stole steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need.
29 Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for building up as the need may be, that it may give grace to those who hear.
30 Don’t grieve the* Holy [the]* Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander, be put away from you, with all malice.
32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you.
Surely some of you are thinking I might as well become a “cat herder”. No way are all the Christians in the world going to give up “their own beliefs” to try unite into a single church. But wait! Aren’t some already attempting this? Isn’t that called “Ecumenism”? The short answer is, yes, and the organization is called “The World Council of Churches” (WCC). This is NOT what I’m talking about. Not at all.
For my part, I know this organization, the WCC, exists and that is about it. From my standpoint, they neither claim nor exert any real authority. In fact, as far as I can tell, the only church I see claiming a hierarchy with direct authority from God is the Catholic Church and they are not a part of the World Council! Oh my. Strangely enough, the World Council apparently insists members “pledge allegiance” to the Nicene Creed in one sentence and then releases any church from the responsibility of adhering to it in the next. Ironically, the Nicene Creed established the doctrine of the trinity in the year 325 A. D. and is the foundational doctrine of, wait for it… the Catholic Church.
Even today, anyone who fails to embrace the doctrine of the trinity is typically declared a non-Christian by most “True Christians” even though nowhere in scripture is the word “trinity” even found, much less any indication that one must accept this creed in order to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. Well, yeah, that kinda makes sense considering the new birth predates the Nicene Creed by over 300 years. So much for unity!
If it is not obvious to you, I’ll state it plainly: I am not, in any way, advocating any “centralized” organization to unify the body of Christ. THAT would be herding cats. I agree. It ain’t gonna work. Nor am I suggesting attempting to formulate any sort of “document” or doctrine we can all agree on. We have both already, it’s called the Holy Bible. Even that is subject to debate as I doubt if any two of us Christians could completely agree as to what it all means.
Rather, what I am suggesting is quite radical. If we each look to Christ as the head we will naturally be one body. How can we accomplish this? We each individually, strive to “put on the new man” as best we can according to our understanding. Meanwhile we accept those brothers and sisters in Christ as they are and do our best to find common ground. The end result is not our responsibility. We need only account for our own walk in Christ.
For me, the most common ground would be… do you accept Christ Jesus as your Lord and Savior and believe God raised him from the dead? (Romans 10:9-10) Should someone offer something else, I’m willing to listen, consider, and pray about it, though I don’t anticipate many problems with what I consider to be the least common denominator of our faith.
In the end it is God who determines who is and who is not a member of the body of Christ. How would we then know? I would say either by a right dividing of scripture and/or discernment of spirits. Scripture is very clear when it comes to Romans 10:9-10. I see no ambiguity at all. Either one confesses Jesus as Lord or one does not. One either believes God raised him from the dead or one does not. To this date the only real confusion I see is from those who say Jesus got himself up from the dead. I’m still waiting for an explanation of what “dead” would mean in such a case. Here is another clear verse:
1 John 4:15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him, and he in God.
Many versions render “remains” as “dwells”. While I prefer the latter rendering – either way, is there any doubt that confessing Jesus is the Son of God is the litmus test here? Why try to apply rocket science? Once one’s credentials as a born again believer are established, what else do we need? Certainly some things such as a brother or sister in Christ practicing sin should not be glossed over. The scriptures provide for such cases. As for other “doctrinal” differences? Should I refuse to fellowship with siblings in Christ because they sprinkle rather than dunk? Or whether they do believe or do not believe in water baptism? Should I shun a church depending on whether they believe in speaking in tongues or not?
Granted there are some commonly accepted practices or beliefs I may not be able abide by. I’m just as sure there are some things I accept that other believers cannot abide by. The answers to these contentions are always addressed in scripture if the contentions are valid. In such cases we should be seeking clear understanding of the pertinent scriptures. Those areas that remain unclear cannot (or should not) be issues serious enough to cause a rent in the body of Christ.
The bottom line as I see it is we have clear guidance as to our we should live our lives as members of the body of Christ. By far the most importance guidance is to walk in love.
Ephesians 4:15 but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ;
16 from whom all the body, being fitted and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in measure of each individual part, makes the body increase to the building up of itself in love.
Ephesians 5:2 Walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling fragrance.
Colossians 2:2 that their hearts may be comforted, they being knit together in love, and gaining all riches of the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ,
Is it any wonder that wonderful passage in 1 Corinthians 12, dealing with us as members of the body of Christ, is followed by 1 Corinthians 13, a treatise on love?
1 Corinthians 13:13 But now faith, hope, and love remain—these three. The greatest of these is love.
Romans 13:9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not give false testimony,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
10 Love doesn’t harm a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.
God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him may not perish, but have life eternal.
Jesus so loved us, he laid down his life for us.
John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.
13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
1 John 3:16 By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
I cannot tell you how many times someone has preached the doctrine of love to me, not to mention how many times I’ve read and studied these scriptures and contemplated these topics on my own. Thinking about love and vowing to do better is one thing, practicing love in the real world is another.
We can wake up in the morning praising God, soak our minds in His Word and in prayer, immerse ourselves in inspirational teaching and music on the drive to work and then someone cuts in front of our car. Or you find that fine thing you accomplished yesterday on your desk with REJECTED stamped across it. Or a coworker stops by and drops a bit of juicy gossip. At times like these, we need to redirect ourselves – renew our minds to God’s Word and hold fast to the truth.
In my next post I’ll offer some deeper thoughts on the practical side of living love. Meanwhile, forget about the unity of the body of Christ. In the physical world you need not think about reaching a landmark you can see ahead of you. You only need set your sights on it and take one step after another. Your head sees your goal via your eyes and your body goes where you feet take you. The same is true in the body of Christ. Christ this the head of the body for a reason. He will direct the body. It is not our place to unify the body it is his. Your part is to function as a member of the body. If you are a mechanic then be a mechanic in Christ. If you are a doctor – be a doctor in Christ.
Colossians 3:23 Whatsoever ye do, labour at it heartily, as doing it to the Lord, and not to men;
24 knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance; ye serve the Lord Christ.
May God bless you and keep you in the name of our Lord Christ Jesus
All scriptures quoted today were from the World English Bible (WEB)
Longer note on the article “the” as pertaining to the words “holy” and “spirit”: Regarding the words “holy” (Greek hagion) and “spirit” (Greek pneuma), our English versions tend to insert or omit the article “the” at will with little or no regard to the underlying Greek texts. The verses I’ve noted above demonstrate this quite well. Judge for yourself how including or excluding this article can alter one’s understanding. Those verses where this article “the” with a single asterisk * with an additional [the]* included denote where this second article “the” was omitted as explained below. Verses with the article “the” followed by a double asterisk ** are instances where there was no such article in most, if not all, Greek texts.
* In the Greek texts in these verses, the article “the” precedes both the word for holy (hagion) and spirit (pneuma) so “the Holy the Spirit” is a more accurate rendering and differentiates the Giver (God) who is Holy and who is Spirit from the gift of holy spirit. Given the common, nearly ubiquitous usage of these terms in current Christian circles, I can only ascertain our English renderings tend to follow the doctrines and traditions of men rather than God as pertaining to these words.
** no article “the” in the Greek
Per articles, punctuation, and caps, another longer note: Much confusion stems from seemingly haphazard sprinkling of articles, punctuation, and capital letters in English versions of the bible. For example, the Greek texts had no capital letters at all so one must be careful about assuming authority. I am guilty of this myself where I typically capitalize God and His Word, etc.