When Paul told the Corinthian church that they are all members of one body, and that each has it’s own role, he then launched into what’s known as “the love chapter.” Paul made the very powerful point that love is essential for the body of Christ to function. It is the heart, even the heartbeat, of the church. Love is what binds everyone and everything together. It’s what maintains peace and unity.
Paul said, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 2 ESV). Paul says love is patient and kind, it doesn’t envy or boast, it is not arrogant or rude. It is not self-seeking. This is the polar opposite of what Paul was addressing earlier in this letter to the Corinthians.
Earlier, Paul warned that selfish, greedy, idolatrous, and sexually abusive people will not inherit the kingdom of God. He told the church to avoid such people within the community of believers and to purge the evil. Why? Because love doesn’t do those things. Love corrects, rebukes, and even avoids people who are destructive. There is no place for disunity and destruction in the Lord’s church. While hatred tears down, love builds up. And God wants believers everywhere to build each other up into Christ as our head.
When churches and individuals love well, there is peace and protection, honor and provision. Love is essential for the body to be well. Like a body whose heart stops beating, the body of Christ dies when the body stops loving. Love is the heartbeat of the church.
In a continuation of Paul’s thoughts in 1 Corinthians on purging the evil person, he reiterates that people who are practicing wickedness will not inherit the kingdom of God. In chapter 6 he repeats the list he gave in chapter 5, while adding to it. Paul is not backing it down. He is ramping it up. The point is that unrighteousness is not to be tolerated in the church because it destroys lives and maligns the body of Christ. Paul said earlier to “cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened” (1 Cor. 5:7 ESV).
What he’s referring to are the people within the church who create division and attempt to cause others to fall away from God. You cannot have both poison and nourishment in the same body. When Paul wrote the first letter to the church at Corinth, he was addressing some very serious sin issues. Christians were extremely divided, were sexually immoral, were having drunken parties during the Lord’s Supper, and were fighting horribly over spiritual gifts. The church was in complete shambles, and Paul was issuing a stern warning that they better clean up their act.
What’s noteworthy is that Paul is less focused on working on current issues and puts more emphasis on who they were called to be. In the church today, we tend to get caught up in the past, bringing up all the issues we have with people who are causing problems. Paul has no interest in placating the Christians at Corinth. What they were is not who they are.
Paul says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). He is reminding them that, yes, they really messed up. But that they need to repent and focus on who they are as bearers of Christ’s holy name. In other words, he tells them it’s time to get over themselves and move forward in unity.
We don’t talk about “shunning” much, and this concept seems like it might be a strange topic within the theme of equipping the saints. A more accurate (and actually quite common) biblical term is avoiding. The reason this is important for the theme of equipping the saints is that the theme of unity runs through the passages about equipping the saints for ministry. The opposite of unity is division. Satan loves to divide, especially among people who crave and need unity. This is why Satan will start his work within a family. Tearing a family apart is an effective way to poison love.
Divisive people are like toxins. Jesus warned people about the leaven of the Pharisees. Paul says to avoid irreverent babble, because their talk will spread like gangrene. We know that people who inhale or inject toxins into their body get sick and eventually die. So why would we tolerate toxins within the body of Christ?
Think about it. It’s impossible to equip and mentor people if others are undermining that work by tearing someone down. All of us know how crippling discouragement is. It ruins our self-worth. It destroys confidence. Reputations can be ruined by someone with a nasty tongue. This is a huge reason why division and greed are not tolerated in the church. Over and over the scriptures tell us to avoid people who are greedy, prideful, and divisive.
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul is very clear: “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. . . Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Cor. 5:11, 13 ESV). In Romans 16:17, Paul says, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.”
It’s important, if we are going to properly equip one another, to teach those we equip to avoid certain toxic, divisive people. One of the reasons people get crippled in the church when it comes to serving is that divisive people are intimidating them and shouting them down. Healthy churches avoid those people and stick together to spur one another on towards good deeds.
It’s vital that we equip the saints for works of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). The word for ministry is the word that we get “deacon” from (diakonia), a word that means “service” or “ministry.” The Bible is pregnant with examples of the body of Christ working together in unity–both with one another and with the Lord. The clearest example probably comes from 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
In this passage, Paul makes the strong point that the body of Christ (the church), much like our physical body, is made of of many different members that each have their own specific function. The members work in perfect unity, ebbing and flowing together as the body functions as one single unit. Paul asks, “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?” (1 Corinthians 12:17-19 ESV).
Paul says that no certain part of the body can disregard another and say there is no need for it. Nor can a member of the body refuse to be a part because it doesn’t have the same function (giftedness) as another. The human body is a great example because of the complexity of the many different parts juxtaposed with the simplicity of the body functioning flawlessly syncretized. The church should not be clunky, non-functioning, or worse, having members working against one another.
Equipping the saints for works of ministry requires each member to know what his or her function is. We cannot be doing each others’ jobs. We cannot be getting in the way of each other. Instead, we need to each do what God has gifted us with doing, and do it with excellence.
Paul talked a lot about unity in the church in Ephesus. He urged the Christians to live in a manner worthy of their calling, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, and bearing with one another in love. The purpose was to maintain the unity in Christ through the bond of peace. As Paul says many times elsewhere, the body of Christ is made up of many parts. Each member of the body has a different function, and one is no more or less important than the other. Some of what could be considered less noble parts are actually indispensable.
The model was healthy and holy. Paul intensifies the purpose of maintaining this unity: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and to the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the of the stature of the fullness of Christ. . . we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13, 15 ESV).
It’s important now, more than ever before, that we live this out. The church in this nation is on life support in many respects while it
could should be thriving. We Christians have an amazing opportunity to turn the weakened body into a unified, holy body that is bound together by peace through the Holy Spirit. But to do so takes equipping of the saints. We have our work cut out for us, but as followers of Christ we can do it.
There are countless opportunities to serve people in need and to teach them the good news of Jesus Christ. This coming year will be one of equipping, equipping, equipping!
Matthew records the birth in his gospel letter. Joseph, when he found out Mary was pregnant, was going to divorce her quietly because he was “unwilling to put her to shame.” Then an angel appeared to Joseph and told him not to fear to take Mary as his wife, “for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20 ESV). The angel went on to say that all this took place to fulfil what God spoke through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)” (vs. 23).
This was especially important for Jewish people, because there was a consistent message of God being with people to lead them and provide shelter for them. Isaiah 41:10 says, Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteousness.” Likewise, Joshua 1:9 says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Over and over again the Lord tells the Israelites not to fear because he is with them and will be their helper. Jesus was named Immanuel, which means God with us. God sent his son to become flesh and dwell with man. Jesus lifted those who were weak and weary. He freed the oppressed and bound up the injured. It should not be surprising that the last sentence recorded in Matthew’s gospel is this: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Hillsong Church, best known for its inspiring Christian music compositions, is a global church that has about 700,000 followers world wide. Founded in Australia by Brian Houston, it has been steeped in controversy. Mr. Houston said in a sermon once that Hillsong sermons should be formed in a way that “leaves people feeling better about themselves than they came.” There is a culture in this nation of “celebrity pastors”–preachers who become famous and a church is built around the personality of the celebrity.
Recently, Hillsong NYC fired its pastor for all kinds of abuses, including multiple affairs and verbal abuse. Carl Lentz attained celebrity status fairly quickly, and was often seen hanging out with his close pal Justin Bieber. Some church members from Hillsong NYC described a culture where Mr. Lentz was only reachable if people had “the right badge” to be backstage. This notion that the religious elite are better than others has done great damage to the church. More importantly, it is wrecking innocent lives and runs completely counter to everything Jesus taught.
When Jesus called Matthew, he ruffled feathers because he wasn’t rubbing elbows with the religious leaders. Instead, Matthew paints this scene: “And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples” (Matthew 9:10 ESV). Jesus attracted the outcasts of society. They were often poor, sick, lonely, and had nowhere to turn. This was not typical behavior for religious leaders. Status was important, just like it is among our celebrity pastors of today. Many religious leaders care more about their image than doing what’s right. The Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples why he was eating with tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus’ response was perfect: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (vs. 12-13). Jesus was the great physician. Christians are called to point sick people to Jesus, not to celebrate and deify religious leaders.