3.11 " Yea, all of you..." : Unity
Our Christian community world-wide is dogged by the tendency for
only a few to contribute actively to the life of the brotherhood.
This arises partly from the fact that there are some very capable
brethren and sisters amongst us, compared to whom our efforts seem
insignificant and unnecessary. The newly baptized especially may
feel that they have nothing to contribute in comparison to them.
In many mission areas, women, the poor, those who don't know English,
the illiterate- all these groups tend to be sidelined into a position
where they (and others) feel that they can't contribute to our community.
Other converts come from religions where there is a dependent mentality;
i.e., the duty of a believer is perceived to be simply attendance
at meetings, but all responsibilities are left with a priest or
pastor. Those from these backgrounds may find it difficult
to accept the concept of responsibility for others. Or there is
simply the problem of basic selfishness and laziness: not taking
on any sense of responsibility for our brethren and sisters, leaving
everything to others, assuming others will always provide, whilst
we concentrate on ourselves.
Bible teaching about materialism is not simply that the richer
ones amongst us should give their wealth for the work and establishment
of the Gospel. Scripture does teach this: but it also has
much to say about how poor people should give.
Because we know people (and brethren) who are richer and more wealth-seeking
than we are, it's fatally easy to conclude that therefore we aren't
rich, therefore we aren't materialistic. " Lay not up for yourselves
treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where
thieves break (Gk. dig) through and steal" (Mt. 6:19) was spoken
to a huge crowd of Jewish peasants. The Lord wasn't only referring
to the few rich men who might be hanging around on the edge of the
group. He was talking to all of them. He knew their mud walled homes
which thieves could so easily dig through. That little cheap bangle,
that ring, thinly buried under the bed mat after the pattern of
Achan, that prized tunic...the petty riches of the poor which they
so strove for, which to them were priceless treasures.
This is what the Lord was getting at; and His point was that every
one of us, from beggar to prince, has this 'laying up' mentality.
He is almost ruthless in His demands. He warns a similar crowd,
living in first century, famine-plagued Palestine of the first century,
not to everlastingly worry about where the next meal was coming
from; and then in that very context, tells them to sell
what they have (Lk. 12:29-33). He wasn't just talking to the rich.
He was telling the desperately poor to forsake what little they
had, so as to seek His Kingdom. He probably didn't mean them to
take His words dead literally (cp. cutting off the offending hand
or foot); what He surely meant was: 'Resign, in your mind, the possession
of everything you have, concern yourselves rather with the needs
of others and entering my Kingdom'. No wonder those crowds turned
round and soon bayed for His blood.
The Mosaic Law countered this idea that only the rich can be generous.
The purification after childbirth and the cleansing of the leper
allowed a lower grade of offering to be made by the very poor- to
underline that no one is exempted from giving to the Lord,
no matter how poor they are. Consider the emphasis: " Every
man shall give as he is able...he shall offer even
such as he is able to get...then the disciples (consciously
motivated by these principles?) every man according to his ability,
determined to send relief [one gets the picture of a convoy of brethren
going to Jerusalem, carrying a little bit of meal from Sister Dorcas,
a few coins from brother Titus...] ...let every one of you
lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him" (Dt. 16:17;
Lev. 14:30,31; Acts 11:29; 1 Cor. 16:2). The Lord taught men to
give alms of such things as they had (Lk. 11:41); as we have opportunity
/ ability, we must be generous to all men (Gal. 6:10). All these
passages are teaching a spirit of generosity; and even
a sister with literally no money can have a generous spirit.
The key passage is 2 Cor. 8:12: " If there be first (i.e. most
importantly) a willing mind, it is accepted according to
what a man hath, and not according to that he hath not" . Every
man was to contribute to the building of the tabernacle (cp.
the ecclesia) with a willing heart (Ex. 25:2- Paul surely
alludes here). They weren't told: 'Whoever is willing and able to
contribute, please do so'. And yet the majority of us have at least
something materially; and as we have been blessed, so let
us give. " Every man according as he purposeth
in his heart (generosity is a mental attitude), so let him
give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a
cheerful giver" . So when, e.g. we have visiting brethren,
let's not mentally tot up what it actually costs us to entertain
them; let's contribute towards our fares to gatherings as far
as we are able; let's conquer our natural concern with costs
with a generous spirit. " Use hospitality one to another
without grudging" (1 Pet. 4:9).
Having said this, Peter continues: " Each one should use whatever
gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's
grace [gift] in its various forms" (4:10 NIV). We have each
received some gift which is intended to be used " to serve
others" (1 Cor. 12:7 cp. 1 Cor. 7:7,17). We each have
our talent: and, worryingly, a characteristic of the rejected is
that they won't have attempted to use their talent (Mt. 25:15).
Each member of the early church had a spiritual gift in this sense,
although only some of them had miraculous ones. All who have been
baptized into the body of Christ have a part in that body; and by
its nature, the body is dependent upon the contribution of every
part. This is why wilful separation from the rest of the body is
wrong: be it by belonging to an exclusive Christian 'fellowship',
not contributing to our ecclesia, 'cold-shouldering' certain brethren...
we not only limit our own spiritual growth, but that of the whole
" Each part does its work"
" The whole body, joined and held together by every supporting
ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does
its work" (Ephesians 4:16 NIV). In the context, Paul is demonstrating
the necessity of Jew and Gentile to work together in the ecclesia;
they couldn't just run parallel ecclesial lives, even though there
seems to have been temporary concessions to their humanity at the
beginning. The newly baptized, Old Testament-ignorant Gentiles had
something to contribute to the Bible-saturated Jewish believers;
and, of course, vice versa. " Let no man seek his own, but
every man another's (spiritual) wealth" (1 Cor. 10:24)-
no matter how little we feel we have to contribute. What this means
in practice is that we should be concerned, truly concerned,
for the spiritual growth of our brethren. This isn't equivalent
to a spirit of nosy observation of others' weaknesses. When we observe
a brother, let's say, with a fleck of pride as he speaks; a sister
with a tendency to gossip... earnestly pray for them. Make
a prayer list if necessary, either written down or mentally. "
Pray one for another" (James 5:16)- all of us. Ask
yourself, how many minutes / day do you spend in prayer? Not that
number of minutes / day is necessarily a reflection of spirituality;
but think about it. In addition to prayer, let's simply make
spiritual conversation with our brethren, overcoming our natural
reserve to talk about spiritual things. All in the new covenant
should be teaching every man his neighbour and brother, saying "
Know the Lord" (Heb. 8:11).
There is a consistent Biblical theme that the community inevitably
has elders- that is, those who earn respect as elders, rather than
presume upon or are even voted into a position of authority. And
yet we have seen that there is also significant emphasis on the
fact that each baptized believer has a vital contribution towards
the spiritual growth of other believers, which cannot be
compensated for by the words or work or example of any elder, however
spiritually dynamic he may be. We have commented elsewhere that
we're all preachers, too; it's not something that can be delegated
to just some brethren. Paul reasons that as he and Apollos were
ordained as ministers of the Gospel, so the Lord had also in principle
given such a ministry " to every man" (1 Cor. 3:5).
The Inspiration Of The Cross
If we are to live lives devoted to the rest of the brotherhood,
we need a motivation more powerful than just steel will-power. The
constant out-giving of the cross, in the face of the most studied
rejection and lack of appreciation, can be the only motivation that
time and again, without fail, will revive our flagging will. Paul
paints a powerful picture of the Lord's progressive self-humbling
in service to others, culminating in " the death of the cross"
; and with this in mind, he asks us: " Look not every man on
his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let
this mind be in you, which was also in Christ..." (Phil. 2:4).
The Mosaic command to give, every man according to the blessing
with which God had blessed him (Dt. 16:17), is purposely similar
in phrasing to the command to eat of the Passover lamb, every man
according to his need; and to partake of the manna (cp. the Lord
Jesus), every man according to his need (Ex. 12:4; 16:6,16). According
to the desperation of our need, so we partake of Christ; and in
response, according to our blessing, we give, in response to the
grace of His giving.
A Unique Unity
There will develop an utterly unique unity amongst us as a result
of appreciating the Bible doctrine of the one body; and from the
experience of regularly, genuinely, contributing to the spiritual
and material needs of the brotherhood. We will see how the body
itself, energized by the spirit and pattern of Christ, builds itself
up. It is this unity in Christ which is unique to Christians: no
other religion has this sense of being so inseparably linked. Sometimes
when arriving somewhere to meet unknown brethren, I somehow know:
'That's them!', even from a distance. And others have commented
likewise. This almost uncanny sense of unity is referred to in Eph.
4:3 as " the unity" ; although, as Paul shows,
the keeping and experience of that unity is dependent upon
our patience with each other and maintenance of " the one faith"
(i.e. the unifying faith that gives rise to the one body). This
unity is potentially powerful enough to convert the world. Through
it, " the world may know" , " the world may believe"
(Jn. 17:21,23). And yet, in Johanine thought, " the world may
know" was a result of the Lord's death (Jn. 14:31), and yet
also of the love that would be between His people (Jn. 13:35). The
Lord's death would inspire such a love between His people that their
resultant unity would let the world know the love of the Father
and Son. Paul alludes to all this when he says that because of the
new unity and fellowship between Jew and Gentile, " all men
(would) see" , and even to the great princes and powers of
this world would be made known by the united church " the manifold
wisdom of God" (Eph. 3:9-11). The miraculous Spirit gifts were
given, Paul argues, to bring the Jewish and Gentile believers together,
" for the perfecting (uniting) of the saints" , into "
a perfect man" , a united body. And thus, once Jewish and Gentile
differences were resolved within the ecclesia by the end of the
first century, the gifts were withdrawn.
This unique unity was enabled and created by the cross. The
communion, the fellowship, was brought about by the
Saviour’s body and blood (1 Cor. 10:16). Indeed, “the fellowship”
is a common NT phrase (e.g. 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:3). Because this
has been created in prospect, from God’s perspective we are all
united in the fellowship, therefore we should seek to be
of one mind (Phil. 2:1,2). It broke down, at least potentially,
the walls which there naturally are between men, even the most opposed,
i.e. Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:14). The laying down of the Shepherd's
life was so that the flock might be one, in one fold (Jn. 10:15,16).
The offering of the blood of Christ was so that He might
" make in himself...one new man" (Eph. 2:15). Thus the
theme of unity dominated the Lord's mind as He prepared for His
death (Jn. 17). Reading Jn. 17:20 as a parenthesis: " For their
sakes I sanctify myself [in the death of the cross]... that they
all may be one" (Jn. 17:19,21). The glory of God would be the
source of this unity in Christ (Jn. 17:22); and that Name and glory
were declared supremely on the cross (Jn. 12:28; 17:26). The grace,
mercy, judgment of sin, the goodness and severity of God (Ex. 34:5-7)...
all these things, as demonstrated by the cross, bind men together.
And thus in practice, both a too strict and also too loose attitude
to doctrine and practice, an unbalanced understanding of the glory
of God, will never bring unity. The whole congregation (LXX ekklesia)
of Israel were " gathered together" before the smitten
rock, which " was Christ" crucified (Num. 20:8 cp. 21:16;
1 Cor. 10:4). The " ensign" , the pole on which the brazen
serpent was lifted up, would draw together the scattered individuals
of God's people (Is. 11:2); and as stricken Israel were gathered
around that pole, so the lifting up of the crucified Christ brings
together all His people (Jn. 12:32 cp. 3:14). And yet the cross
of Christ is also associated with the gathering together of all
God's enemies (Acts 4:26). Even Herod and Pilate were made friends
at that time (Luke 23:12). The cross divides men into two united
camps; they are gathered together by it, either in the Lord's cause,
or against Him. The crucifixion was the judgment seat for this world
(Jn. 12:31). Likewise the day of judgment will be a gathering together,
either against the Lord (Rev. 16:16; 19:19), unto condemnation (Jn.
15:6); or into the barn of His salvation (Mt. 13:30). And likewise,
in anticipation of the judgment, the breaking of bread is a "
gathering together" either to condemnation or salvation (1
Cor. 11). This is why the preaching of the Gospel is a gathering
together of God's people to Christ (Gen. 49:10; Mt. 12:30) (1).
We are now being gathered together, and yet the final gathering
together will be at the day of judgment; therefore our response
to the calling together of the Gospel now, is a foretaste of the
gathering unto the day of judgment (Mt. 3:12 cp. 13:30).
The Essential Intention
This unity in Christ, this fellowship between the redeemed which
the cross enabled, had been God's original intention. The mystery
of His will, His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, was
that " in the dispensation of the fullness of time he might
gather together all things in Christ" (Eph. 1:10). Thus the
unity of the redeemed is not just an incidental product of our redemption
and unity in Christ; it was the essential intention and goal of
God from the beginning of the world, and was only revealed through
the unity achieved by the cross (Eph. 3:9,10). This was His "
eternal purpose" (Eph. 3:11). These passages in Ephesians need
meditation; for it is easy to underestimate the tremendous emphasis
given to how the mysterious unity of the body of believers, together
glorifying His Name, was so fundamentally and eternally
God's main purpose. And so Paul marvelled that he
had been chosen to plainly reveal this, God's finest and most essential
mystery, to all men; for it was not revealed at all in the OT, nor
even (at least, not directly) by the Lord Jesus. And we may likewise
marvel that we have a living part in it.
(1) " Where two or three are gathered together
in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt. 18:20) cannot
mean that the presence of Christ is only available if two or three
physically gather together, and that He does not tabernacle in the
individual. I would suggest that it means rather that if two or
three gather in His Name, this is because of Him being in
their midst; i.e. unity, gathering together, is only possible around
the person and presence of Christ.
" All that is not given is lost"
- Indian Proverb