Ephesians 4 describes some spiritual gifts. Their purpose is to allow the church to function as it should. A properly functioning church spends eternity with God.A functional church is on the same page (one mind), has spiritual depth, and is workable (more on that in a bit).
Ephesians 4.12ff is about members’ roles. What are they for? Everyone serves to equip saints. Saints are people who have pledged allegiance to God.
We train for morally good works and become stronger through encouragement (12,16). We work toward a unified mindset, knowing Jesus, spiritual maturity, and we pursue the highest standard (Jesus) (13,14).
We work to avoid immaturity and gullibility (14). We pursue maturity until our mindset emulates Christ’s (15). He is described (multiple times) as the standard we have to imitate. There’s no room for spiritual laziness here.
Jesus causes growth spiritually, but only if we’ve become soil that can be worked. If our minds aren’t mature, we aren’t workable. Elders are spiritual farmers, our hearts are the soil. If we use Jesus as our standard, we are workable. If not, we’re spiritually dead.
So, what can we do individually? Make the church strong by pursuing unity, by having spiritual depth, and by being workable. If we work on those things we will spend forever with God.
Christians live on planet earth and aren’t immune to social issues. The vaccine is one of them. This article is NOT about vaccination specifically. I am not qualified to write about it, but this wouldn’t be an appropriate forum even if I was.
However, this issue has influenced the church in a few timeless ways: misapplying scripture, creating division, and engendering hostility.
Misapplying Scripture: Applying Romans 13 to this subject is not appropriate. Nothing about the passage sheds light on which governing authority we should follow. What if federal law contradicts state or local law? Which do we follow then? I Peter 2.13-14 does address varying levels of governing authority, but does not specify which takes precedence. Both passages demand submission to everyone who has authority over us because it’s what God wants. As it stands now, neither passage applies to this issue. We cannot use God’s word to enforce or condemn issues that have no bearing on salvation. When state or local law is in conflict with federal law (or vice versa) and the issue at hand isn’t a salvation issue, it falls under the jurisdiction of Romans 14.
Creating Division: Differences in opinion aren’t new to the church. No reasonable person will call this a salvation issue, so it does fall under the purview of Romans 14. We need to remember the commands in this passage: accept those who have different opinions (1), do not think poorly of those who disagree (3), do not judge someone who exercises preference (3), make decisions based on conviction (5), do not condemn each other over opinions (13), don’t let opinions destroy relationships (15), and don’t let your decision become a problem (16). What does this mean for us? Respect your Christian family’s decision, do not think less of them because of their decision, make the decision you feel is best for you, don’t condemn someone based on their decision, and don’t let an issue that has no bearing on our Christian lives become a source of division.
Hostility: The previous point addresses this somewhat, but sinful behavior has come out of this. Thinking less of a Christian who gets the vaccine is sinful. Thinking less of a Christian who doesn’t get the vaccine is sinful.
Nothing about this issue is new or different. Controversial opinions over military service, firearms, holiday observance, or vaccination are not handled any differently. God expects us to put these kinds of issues in their proper place: the back seat.
“We have to love each other, because love comes from God and everyone who has love belongs to God and knows him. Anyone who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, because God is love” (I Jn. 4.7-8).
“Love each other deeply with a pure heart” (I Pt. 1.22). “You must continue to love each other” (Heb. 13.1). “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness” (I Tim. 6.11).
The late gospel preacher, George Bailey, was known for saying, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small package.” Truly, there is a little “i” in Christ! Paul exemplifies the way a servant of Christ and steward of the gospel (1 Cor. 4:1) behaves. How can we humbly serve Christ and, through such, contribute to unity in His body? Let’s examine 1 Corinthians 3:18-4:13 for some important keys.
Do Not Deceive Yourself (3:18-23)
Paul draws on his contrast between wisdom and foolishness back at the beginning of the letter. The wisdom of this world is foolishness before God (3:19). Why does Paul say that here? In part, it’s to drive home the point that they should not boast in men (like himself, Apollos, and Peter). But it is also to remind them that their glory and worth are tied to their being in Christ and belonging to Him. We wrestle so much with pride in our earthly accomplishments and attributes, but none of those things, of themselves, get us into heaven or bring about unity. Paul drives the point home by quoting from Job and Psalms. Worldly wisdom is a dead-end street.
Be A Faithful Steward Of The Mysteries Of God (4:1-2)
Instead of being spiritual heroes to be idolized, Paul says that he and other church leaders were servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1). The mysteries of God is the testimony of God (2:1), God’s once-hidden mystery (2:7) now revealed in the preaching of the gospel (see Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:1ff). Paul wanted to be seen as a trustworthy steward (manager) of that unparalleled message (cf. 3:11-15). Here’s the point. Paul knew he had only so much time, energy, and other resources to spend on accomplishing his purpose, and he wanted to be the most effective worker for Jesus that he could be. If that’s how we see ourselves, our purpose and work, it will keep us from focusing on who we are and what we have done.
Remember Who Is Examining Your Work (4:3-5)
The previous point is made more powerful by the fact that not only should we not think more highly of ourselves than we ought, but we need to remember God is examining us. Ignore the idle critic or the armchair quarterback. Don’t spend a lot of time polishing your trophies and reading your “press clippings.” “Wait until the Lord comes” (4:5) and let Him acknowledge you and reward you. He will reveal all the secrets and He will disclose men’s motives. In other words, do the right things for the right reason and you will be richly rewarded by Christ in the end. God will praise you at The Judgment.
Follow Good Examples Of Humility (4:6-13)
Paul and Apollos did not view each other as rivals, measuring who was more successful, more loved, or more influential among the Corinthians. He urges them to look at their example, and let God’s Word be the measuring stick of success and failure. The end result would be preventing arrogance and rivalry. These servants of Christ had been doing their service to Him at great personal cost–they were a spectacle to the world (4:9), fools for Christ’s sake (4:10), weak (4:10), without honor (4:10), physically deprived (4:11), reviled, persecuted, and slandered (4:12-13), and, in summary, “we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now” (4:13b). Doesn’t sound like a condition to brag about, does it? Paul is not trying to portray himself as some spiritual superhero. Neither is he whining or complaining. He is trying to get the Corinthians to understand what matters. It’s not about jockeying for the top spot in the kingdom. It’s about being a faithful steward of the gospel and servant of the Christ. Focus so hard on that goal that you can ignore the praise and the persecution, and let Jesus exalt you at the end. A mindset like that kills division and disunity.
In the following fictional scenario, an unnamed extremist country has defeated the United States of America (work with me, there’s a point to this). They established a puppet government and required survivors to pay exorbitant, unreasonable taxes. The country has dealt with oppression under their rule for long enough that rebellions start to take place, but aren’t very successful.
Some are desperate enough (or simply weren’t patriotic to begin with) to work for the state controlled by the enemy. Worse, their job is to force an already oppressed people to pay tributes they can’t afford. The enemy has killed too many Americans. The enemy has humiliated the country – once the global power – in ways that may never be reversed. Any American working for the enemy is a traitor.
Imagine we have two different individuals in this dystopia: one is a freedom fighter, dedicated to overthrowing the enemy, the other is a traitor (and fair game for the freedom fighters). Both of them somehow find God, follow His word, and end up working together in a congregation of dedicated followers. The freedom fighter would kill the traitor, except for something that changed his mind forever: Jesus. The traitor would abuse and absolutely ruin his own people before Jesus.
If this seems far-fetched, consider that two of Jesus’ disciples were Matthew (a tax collector for the Romans and a traitor in the eyes of Jewish people) and Simon the Zealot (a freedom fighter sworn to kill people like Matthew). Their political and social views were radically different, but Jesus brought adjustments to their world views that changed them forever. They were no longer a freedom fighter and tax collector, but followers of Jesus (see Acts 1.12-14).
While there aren’t likely too many Christians with national animosity at that level, we aren’t strangers to the political division that affects every aspect of our lives. You may have even seen it play out in your church. We have focused too much on politics!
Many with good intentions (that includes me) have even said something like, “We should be able to get along, Republican and Democrat, if we’re in the same church.” That’s technically true, but misses the point.
We are not republicans or democrats (or any other political party, for those outside of the States). Our identity is not tied to a political party. We are Christians. Our leader is Jesus, our country is Heaven, our flag is His church. Yes, we live in our own countries and must be good citizens (Romans 13). Yes, we’re going to have differing viewpoints on social issues.
We have to stop blurring the line between our political parties and our faith! On both sides of the political aisle is immorality and incompetence. Christianity is beautiful because it shifts our primary allegiance and focus to God, not government. It’s a new allegiance that allowed former traitors and freedom fighters to work together for a greater cause!
If someone asks us to describe our world view and our first thought is political preference, we’re wrong. We will only have unity and peace when God is our common king. We can say that He is already, but our actions confirm or deny that claim. If God is our king, we will be good citizens (Romans 13.1-7). If God is our king, we will love each other deeply (I Peter 1.22). If God is our king, our morality/worldview/outlook will come from His word and not from our preferred political party (principle found in I Peter 1.14-19; Romans 14; Acts 1.13; John 18.36). I struggle with this. Many of us do. We have to be Christians before anything else, and remember that our primary allegiance is to God!
In this volatile political climate, many Christians face some uncomfortable dilemmas. Is party line a salvation issue? How do we handle seemingly irreconcilable differences? What do we do going forward?
Rather than delving into those questions, I’d like to focus on the attitude of the early church, which faced internal division–Jew/Gentile controversies like in Acts 15, opinions over cultural matters as seen in I Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, and external pressures.
In keeping with the spirit of the early church, let’s focus on the following list.
We must focus on and grow our own spiritual culture, independent of our earthly nationality (while observing Romans 13).
We must be faithful Christians who value being righteous, no matter the cost.
We must manage our concerns and worries by spending MORE time with each other and developing our faith.
We may need to see ourselves less as Americans and more as Christians. If we remember that our kingdom is the church first, we will be far more united.
Be awesome citizens. When outsiders hear about us, it should be that we never cause trouble, we are loyal to each other, we are selfless, we help people, we have strong families, we rely on each other, we are pleasant to be around, we are dedicated to our faith, and we love people who treat us poorly.
We must remember that priority number one is heaven. Everything else is second.
We must avoid talking or posting on social media about non-salvation issues that can and do create division or offense, out of courtesy and respect for each other (Romans 14.1-4; 13ff).
If these are the things we worry about and focus on, no political division or any other heartburn-inducing unpleasantness can affect us. Besides being happier, we’ll be a stronger church!
In a society of division and separation, many churches have begun to struggle with unity. Members are bickering with each other, elders are unsure of how to respond to the events that have unfolded in the past year, and deacons are struggling to maintain the proper relationship with each member.. All of these factors combined has caused several churches to split or lose the unity they once had.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:17ffthat some who came to worship would be hungry, while others would be drunk and incapable of edifying each other. His point? Far too many churches are split due to a lack of understanding. We fail to understand why it is that we assemble together in the first place. Having a unified assembly starts with the individual. No church will find harmony if each member is unwilling to submit to God’s will and to His church family.
When we come to worship, there are key aspects that we must insure take place (1 Corinthians 14:12-25). We must make sure what we do edifies others (v. 12). Paul in the context of tongues and prophecy says,“So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church” (14:12).
Our actions must help build up the Christians around us. Our words must edify our brothers and sisters who are dealing with problems we may never even know about. And so the questions we must constantly be asking ourselves are these: How am I edifying? Am I being an encourager (making my fellow Christians stronger)? Am I building up others (boosting their confidence to help them deal with the world)? Am I promoting unity?
As humans we thrive on encouragement.We feel good when we receive a compliment. That’s because there is power in edification. As fellow brothers and sisters we should be actively trying to find ways to build each other up.
This also means we must be sure to understand the power of our words and actions. Rather than spreading gossip or discord with our lips we must make it a priority to edify, encourage, lift up, serve, compliment, and look out for the good in our church family.
We all know the story of the Tower Of Babel. It’s the event that gave us all the diverse languages of the world. That account is not just for our entertainment or education, but there are many spiritual applications that can be pulled from the event. Here are just six from Genesis 11:1-9.
What we are building will only be successful if God designed the blue prints. What are we building? Where do we choose to place our time and effort? Making a name for ourself? Making the most money? Getting the most pleasure out of life? If this is the life we’re building, like the foolish man that’s a life built on sand.
We are free to do as we want, but for every bad decision there are consequences.
There is a truth to what God said about our ability to accomplish much as a unified people. There’s also a positive side to this not so positive account. When the church body is unified there is no limit to what we can accomplish. When there’s dissension we are weaker.
Ignorance does not mean a blissful existence. It was ignorant to think that a closer relationship with God involved building a stairway into the sky that in their minds would allow God to have the ability to descend to earth. The opposite is true. God built us a way to go to Him.
Be mindful of the presence you keep and the vision you share. It seemed that most if not all mankind at this time was unified under one vision. “To make a name for themselves,” they worked together. They planned, schemed, spent resources and time to build something that would change the world forever— but it wasn’t God’s vision. The presence you keep and the shared vision matters. What are we building?
Accounts in the Bible that seem unrealistic or mythical should not weaken our faith but strengthen it when we do our due diligence in digging into His word. God is capable of great things, and that hasn’t changed. We serve a powerful God who has big plans for the world. Are we willing to side with Him?
God had promised the land of Canaan as early as Abraham (Gen. 15:18ff). The first city of Israel’s conquest was Jericho (Josh. 6:1). The word about and reputation of God’s people preceded them, so Jericho “was tightly shut because of” them. Despite this, the LORD told Joshua that “the wall of the city will fall down flat” (Josh. 6:5). Israel followed God’s unorthodox battle plan and “the wall fell down flat” and “they took the city” (6:20). Though they’d suffer a setback because of one man’s disobedience, this was the dramatic start of what would be the accomplishment of the land promise made to Israel.
God also promised Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18). This was fulfilled through Christ (Gal. 3:28). One of the ways Jesus proved that He was the Christ was “with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him” in their midst (Acts 2:22). He started His ministry in Galilee (Mat. 4:17) and ended it in Jerusalem (Mat. 16:21), but near the end He had His own Jericho triumphs. He had not one, but two that are recorded by the gospel writers. One involved Him performing one of His many miracles, gaining a victory over sickness, but the other was a triumph of a different kind gaining a victory over Satan.
Luke indicates Jesus was approaching Jericho when He encounters a blind beggar (Luke 18:35). Matthew and Mark also seem to record the same miracle, identifying this man as Bartimaeus, and showing perhaps “that the Saviour went in and out at the same gate of the city, and that the miracle falls into two parts” (Lange 282). But Jesus’ knocks down the wall between the haves and have nots, the socially acceptable and the socially unacceptable, when He has mercy on him and gives him his sight (Luke 18:37-43). Immediately after Bartimaeus, Jesus enters Jericho and passes through (19:1). Now, he knocks down the wall between the righteous and the sinner (19:7). He went to be a guest in the house of Zaccheus, who wanted to see Jesus so badly that he climbed a tree. The end result of this encounter is “salvation” (19:9).
Isn’t it interesting that the Hebrew name for Jesus is “Joshua”? Isn’t it also interesting that Jesus performs these miracles in proximity to the walls of Jericho? The walls that Jesus knocks down are important to us today. They tell us that the gospel is for the poor, the hurting, the needy, the seedy, the rejects, and the sinner. Wasn’t God preparing us for this when Joshua spares a harlot and her family in the destruction of Jericho (Josh. 6:22-23)?
Jesus was certainly about knocking down the walls we can be quick to build. Who does Jesus want us to be taking the gospel to today? Certainly, He’s not against those who are financially blessed (Zaccheus was). He’s not against those who are socially well-connected (many Christian converts in Acts and the epistles were). But, here is where Jesus is revolutionary. As Paul puts it, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not” (1 Cor. 1:27-28). He chose “the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (Jas. 2:5).
What should His church look like today? The gospel transforms lives and lifts people morally and spiritually higher. But, He’s interested in the Rahabs, Bartimaeuses, and Zeccheuses of our day! Jesus wants to break down barrier walls (Eph. 2:14). He wants you and me using the gospel to do the job for Him today!
It is no secret that we are politically divided in this country. Larger cities are typically progressive, while the majority of a state’s rural populations are conservative. This has even dictated what kind of news we watch! If you watch CNN, you fit in with progressives. If you watch Fox News, you are most likely conservative. Both approach reality with their own highly specific bias in order to appeal to their respective audiences. As a result of this, we have entered into what is being called a “soft civil war.” Liberals speak with extreme hatred against conservatives. Conservatives speak with great hatred against liberals. It may be a soft civil war right now, but it would not take much at this point to become a full-fledged war.
As a church, we are a kingdom. Our king is Christ and the citizens of this kingdom are Christians. Sadly, the church is not immune to soft civil wars. In Philippians 4, Paul strongly rebukes Euodia and Syntyche because their argument was destroying the church. How easily we can become heated and hateful over matters of opinion! The way we handle differing opinions on matters not pertaining to salvation determines whether we will be unified as a church or whether – like Euodia and Syntyche – we will be a force for division. The greatest tragedy of the American Civil War was that families fought on opposing sides and killed one another. As the body of Christ, let us continue to handle our differences with godliness, love, and patience.
We get an interesting glimpse into the life of the early church in Acts 2.44-47. While it is not practical for us to live in that same way, there is one principle that we should examine. The early church spent a great deal of time together outside of their worship on the first day of the week. Acts 2.46 says, “And day by day, they were devoted to the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all of the people.” What’s going on here? The members of the church dedicated time every day to growing in their relationships with one another. To them, “church” was so much more than just showing up for worship every time the doors were open. It was the Monday through Saturday relationships that fortified their faith. What was the result of this dedication? “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2.47). Are we likely to live for a faith we have not invested in? Are we likely to stand up under trials if we do not have a sense of community in the church? Are we likely to resist temptation without strong ties in God’s family? The early church faced trials we could never understand, yet they remained faithful because of their strong relationships and resulting faith. The early church relied on constant contact with one another to help them build their faith. Nothing builds a Christian’s faith more than being around a group of people who want the same thing (to live like Christ), genuinely care for one another, and share a common goal (heaven).