" The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many , they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. "
1 Cor. 12: 12-13
I have been doing a lot of thinking, praying and soul searching lately on what it really means to be part of a community of believers. I must admit there is something vaguely appealing to me about the lifestyle of a monk. Secluded, set apart from the world and its people, totally focused on God and personal growth. There is something romantic and idealistic about it....or maybe just easier. That isn't Gods design for believers though. God calls us to be a light in the darkness, to be the salt..flavouring a world that is choking on its own bitterness. It is pretty hard to be that if we seclude ourselves, wall up the fortress, or live in our own man made "Christian" bubbles. He does tell us however to have community together, to do life together...with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Not necessarily always in a physical way but in a spiritual way.
A community of believers ,also known as a church, is referred to in the Bible as The Body of Christ. Each of us represents a part of the whole. Each of us plays a role if we choose to embrace it.
The body needs hands to touch the hurting,
feet to go seek them out,
eyes to see beyond the obvious,
ears to really hear.
The "body" is universal, global as well as intimately local. No two bodies are exactly the same but we are all a part of a larger whole with Christ as the head. For example a body of believers in India should have its own unique flavour and style. Within even the same town different churches and communities of Christians can each have their own flare, their own variations of worship, their own flavours. God is a God of diversity and we do him injustice by boxing him up to our preferences, our principles and our traditions. I don't mean imply that all roads lead to God. But in the common ground of the reality of Christs redemption there is a whole lot of room for variety.
One purpose of being a part of a community of believers is encouragement. Which we all need to both give and receive. I find it so much easier to be on the receiving end and sometimes find myself wondering why no one is coming along side me with encouragement. Its then that the still small voice in my spirit prompts me to encourage someone else and shows me just how much I am lacking on the giving end.
Another purpose is accountability. We need others to come along side us to spur us on to live up to our unique God given potential and purpose.
I think that sometimes the purpose of God putting all of us socially challenged, selfish, distracted human beings together in a community is to teach us things about ourselves. To break the illusion of self righteousness.
This is where it would be easier to live in a cabin on a mountain somewhere. Just me, my bible and some books. I know I'm sounding very eccentric at this point. Everything I read would be biblical theory, I would know the bible inside and out, I would be able to throw out verses for every seemingly applicable situation. Although there would be an undeniable benefit to undistracted fully devoted time with God, I would never actually be able to work out with my fingertips what I have stored up in my heart and head. I would be completely out of touch with both God and humanity.
God does desire me to be wholly devoted to him, to love him fully with my body, soul and mind. Those intimate times alone, those mountain top experiences are necessary but its down in the valley that what we experience on the mountain top is made real.
Sometimes our community of believers can be a part of that mountain top experience for us and sometimes we are all just muddling together through the valley. Down here in the valley its so easy to become distracted, disillusioned , weary and spiritually dehydrated if we aren't focused on the source of our strength. The problem isn't the Source of nourishment its that too often we prefer to do things their own way.
If life were full of the ideal how would we learn to trust? If life were full of enjoyable wonderful people how would we learn to really love those who cause us the most grief? If we were surrounded by people who lived perfect lives how would we learn to extend grace? If we are never hurt how can we learn to forgive? If we are quick to run, quick to talk and quick to find fault we might be missing out on a whole lot of what God wants to teach us.
Biblical principals only have the chance to become redemptive reality in our lives when we work them out in the nitty gritty stuff that life is made of.
The key is prayer. The key to a functioning body isn't in its well planned committees, lengthy meetings, and showy buildings. Its the connection the body has to the head. The Holy Spirit is like the intricate nervous system that keeps each part doing what it was created to do. This nervous system intimately links us with the will of the Father so in Him we live and move and have our being.
We don't get His insight by struggling , gossiping and worrying we get insight by getting on our knees and going to God in prayer. We get it by absorbing the Word of God and letting it change our hearts instead of picking out verses to use as a weapon.
Most of us have our own preconceived notions, our own agendas, our principles that we hold tightly to... and too often we cling to those things instead of truly seeking Gods heart in a matter. We run off to our own corners, rally support, jump on a band wagon and come out swinging. I for one am an easy recruit if you've got a wagon and need another band member and I have a pretty good swing. Unfortunately I'm speaking from experience. I'm a get involved kind of person. God is working on tempering that it me. He's showing me that sometimes I need to step back from an issue...especially if it doesn't directly involve me. Sometimes I need to 'let go and let God' as the saying goes.
When Jesus came into the world he did it in a way that was unexpected, that defied precedent. He threw the religious establishment into a tizzy. The pharisees , the religious top dogs loudly proclaimed all the reasons why he was not leadership material, why he could never be part of the elite, why he would never speak for God.
If Jesus came to our churches today in the way we least expected would we see him? Would we have recognised him in the middle of a wedding feast, as a carpenter, dining with those we will not touch? Jesus lived a perfectly untainted and holy life but he wasn't afraid to be in intimate touch with the world in all its uncleanliness. He came to live in the world as it really is, to touch the untouchable. When we confine our idea of God to our own preferences, our own experiences and our own set of principles we set ourselves up as equal to God ...dictating how he should interact with his universe.
It is far too easy sometimes to become a modern day pharisee. Again, I'm speaking from experience....unfortunately. We need to be very careful in judging others. Holding or own home-made measuring rod up to God and up to others. I find it helps when I get in a huff about a situation or a person to remind myself that there is always information that I am not aware of. There are always perspectives that I cannot see. Only God sees.
We cannot make it a principal to pass judgment based on our own past experiences or precedent. It is a dangerous mistake and one that can cause a lot of heart ache. That is the mistake that Job's friends made in the "council" they gave him. They based their rationalizations, opinions and principals on their own preconceived ideas of God. They could logically back up and with loud voices spout religious rhetoric but none of it was based on reality...I think it had more to do with their own discomfort with the situation. They did not know what God was actually doing behind the scenes. Grace and truth took a back seat to well intentioned but misguided religious convictions.
As a body we must stand for truth, live as a light and worship with each other in unity. The enemy would like nothing more than for the house of God to divide and argue amongst itself. He laughs at our petty distractions and arguments because he knows what they are really costing us ...and the price is high. When we are distracted by gossip, dissension, and squabbles we are not fulfilling our purpose, in fact we are having the opposite effect. The feet are not going, the hands are not reaching and the arms are not embracing.
Are we accurately representing the One who's name we wear or are we polluting the Living Water? Are we filling the water so full of our own garbage that even those who are dying of thirst have no desire to drink from it?
Are we building up our church, our community of believers or are we tearing it down? Are we edifying and encouraging our brothers and sisters or are we sulking in a corner waiting for someone to pat us on the back? Are we extending grace, forgiveness, and mercy or are keeping a list of grievances and offences? Those are tough questions to ask ourselves but so important. We need to regularly take it to God and let the Holy Spirit show us the things in ourselves that we might not be able to see on our own.
As Christians the one thing that should be an outstanding family characteristic is our love, for one another and for the world.
"Love is patient,
love is kind.
It dos not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It is not rude,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects,
Love never fails......
....And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. "
1cor. 13:4-8, 13