Relying on Others

You’re running late for an important appointment and your ride isn’t here yet. You expected everything to be prepared ahead of time and, when you arrive, you find everyone rushing around at the last-minute. The presentation is going well, until the projector lamp goes out. When you ask for a replacement bulb, your assistant sheepishly shrugs their shoulders.

If you haven’t presented at a meeting or seminar, these events may be foreign to you. But we’ve all depended on someone to meet their commitment, pick up the slack, or come through in a pinch. We need to rely on one another.

In a more essential way, that’s true for the church, the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul says it like this:

…Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 English Standard Version (ESV)

There is something foundational in relying on those in the church. The Protestant Reformer, John Calvin, frames the nature of our relationships with Christ and each other:

But, speaking the truth. Having already said that we ought not to be children, destitute of reason and judgment, he now [charges] us to grow up in the truth. Though we have not arrived at man’s estate, we ought at least…to be advanced children.

The truth of God ought to have such a firm hold of us, that all the contrivances and attacks of Satan shall not draw us from our course; and yet, as we have not hitherto attained full and complete strength, we must make progress until death.

He points out the design of this progress, that Christ may be the head, “that in all things he may have the pre-eminence,” (Colossians 1:18,) and that in him alone we may grow in vigor or in stature. Again, we see that no man is excepted; all are [commanded] to be subject, and to take their own places in the body.

…A healthful condition of the church requires that Christ alone “must increase,” and all others “must decrease.” (John 3:30) Whatever increase we obtain must be regulated in such a manner, that we shall remain in our own place, and contribute to exalt the head.

…If each individual, instead of attending exclusively to his own concerns, shall desire [interrelationships], there will be agreeable and general progress. Such, the Apostle assures us, must be the nature of this harmony, that men shall not be [permitted] to forget the claims of truth, or, disregarding them, to frame an agreement according to their own views…

Then, he explores the functioning of that vital, shared relationship:

From whom the whole body. All our increase should tend to exalt more highly the glory of Christ. This is [proven] by the best possible reasons. It is he who [provides for] all [that we lack], and without whose protection we cannot be safe. As the root conveys sap to the whole tree, so all the vigor which we possess must flow to us from Christ.

There are three things here which deserve our attention:

The first [has already] been stated: All the life or health which is diffused through the members flows from the head; so that the members occupy a subordinate rank.

The second is, that, by the distribution made, the limited share of each renders the communication between all the members absolutely necessary.

The third is, that, without mutual love, the health of the body cannot be maintained.

Through the members, as [channels], is conveyed from the head all that is necessary for the nourishment of the body. While this connection is upheld, the body is alive and healthy. Each member, too, has its own proper share, — according to the effectual working in the measure of every part.

Finally, Calvin declares the result of this organic interdependency when all is properly functioning:

Lastly, he shows that by love the church is edified, — to the edifying of itself in love. This means that no increase is advantageous, which does not bear a just proportion to the whole body. That man is mistaken who desires his own separate growth. If a leg or arm should grow to a prodigious size, or the mouth be more fully distended, would the undue enlargement of those parts be otherwise than injurious to the whole frame?

In like manner, if we wish to be considered members of Christ, let no man be anything for himself, but let us all be whatever we are for the benefit of each other. This is accomplished by love; and where it does not reign, there is no “edification,” but an absolute scattering of the church.

In context of this scripture, Archbishop of Constantinople John Chrysostom explored the consequences of our not clinging to, but rather dividing, Christ’s body, the church:

…If therefore we desire to have the benefit of that Spirit which is from the Head, let us [stick like glue] one to another. For there are two kinds of separation from the body of the Church; the one, when we [grow] cold in love, the other, when we dare commit things unworthy of our belonging to that body; for in either way we cut ourselves off from the “fullness of Christ.” But if we are appointed to build up others also, what shall not be done to them who are first to make division?

Nothing will [serve] to divide the Church [so much as the] love of power. Nothing so provokes God’s anger as the division of the Church. [More accurately], though we have achieved ten thousand glorious acts, yet shall we, if we cut to pieces the fullness of the Church, suffer punishment no less [stinging] than they who mangled His body.

For that [i.e., Christ’s Crucifixion] indeed was brought to pass for the benefit of the world, even though it was done [by men] with no such intention; whereas this [i.e., church division] produces no advantage in any case, but the injury is excessive. These remarks I am addressing not to the governors only, but also to the governed.

…This injury is not less than that received at the hands of enemies, [or rather, more than that], it is far greater. For that [, i.e., injury at an enemy’s hands,] indeed renders [the church] even more glorious, whereas this, when she is warred upon by her own children, disgraces her even before her enemies. Because it seems to them a great mark of hypocrisy, that those who have been born in her, and nurtured in her bosom, and have learned perfectly her secrets, that these should [all] of a sudden change, and do her enemies’ work.

Therefore, rely on Him and serve others.

Johnny Q. Public – Body Be (Official Music Video,) YouTube, Gotee records, Lyrics, Available on Amazon

Factions

Psalm 133 says how good it is for brothers and sisters to live in unity. And we know we desire such unity in our churches. However, we don’t often experience it. What’s wrong? Why can’t we all get along? The apostle Paul addressed such a situation in the early church at Corinth:

…In the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 English Standard Version (ESV)

There must be factions? What is Paul saying here? John Calvin dissects these verses:

When ye come together in the Church, I hear there are divisions …It is…a reproof of a general kind — that they were not of one accord as [is fitting for] Christians, but everyone was so much taken up with [their] own interests, that [they were] not prepared to accommodate [themselves] to others.

Hence arose that abuse, as to which we shall see in a little — hence sprung ambition and pride, so that everyone exalted [themselves] and despised others — hence sprung carelessness as to edification — hence sprung profanation of the gifts of God.

Sounds unfortunately familiar. Calvin points out that Paul realizes not all are involved but the complaint isn’t groundless:

{Paul] says that he partly believes it, that they might not think that he charged them all with this heinous crime, and might accordingly complain, that they were groundlessly accused. In the meantime, however, he intimates that this had been brought to him not by mere vague rumor, but by credible information, such as he could not altogether discredit.

Calvin then defines heresies and schisms:

For there must be also heresies …Heresy…consists in disagreement as to doctrine, and schism, on the contrary, in alienation of affection, as when anyone withdrew from the Church from envy, or from dislike of the pastors, or from ill nature.

It is true, that the Church cannot but be torn asunder by false doctrine, and thus heresy is the root and origin of schism, and it is also true that envy or pride is the mother of almost all heresies, but at the same time it is of advantage to distinguish in this way between these two terms…

Calvin consoles those who do not participate in these divisions:

“So far, says he, should we be from being troubled, or cast down, when we do not see complete unity in the Church, but on the contrary some threatenings of separation from want of proper agreement, that even if sects should start up, we ought to remain firm and constant.

For in this way hypocrites are detected — in this way, on the other hand, the sincerity of believers is tried. For as this gives occasion for discovering the fickleness of those who were not rooted in the Lord’s Word, and the wickedness of those who had [feigned] the appearance of good men, so the good afford a more signal manifestation of their constancy and sincerity.”

Finally, Calvin says something shocking: disunity is providential. How can that be? He says:

But observe what Paul says — there must be, for he [suggests] by this expression, that this state of matters does not happen by chance, but by the sure providence of God, because he has it in view to try his people, as gold in the furnace, and if it is agreeable to the mind of God, it is, consequently, expedient…We know, also, that the Lord, by his admirable wisdom, turns Satan’s deadly machinations so as to promote the salvation of believers.

Hence comes that design of which he speaks — that the good may shine forth more conspicuously; for we ought not to ascribe this advantage to heresies, which, being evil, can produce nothing but what is evil, but to God, who, by his infinite goodness, changes the nature of things, so that those things are salutary to the elect, which Satan had contrived for their ruin.

So God uses the works of Satan and his followers for our good, to refine us and to prove our salvation. As a result of this, we ought to remain firm and constant obeying God’s word in the face of disunity.

Denomination Blues” (Washington Phillips) by The 77’s Unplugged (Michael Roe & David Leonhardt), YouTube, Alternative Rendition, lyrics, history

Honoring Our Feet

Peculiar topic, no? Have you ever thought of someone’s opinions as second-rate and subtly (or so you thought) told them so? Have you been slighted or brushed off for some unfathomable reason, only later putting two and two together? Though we expect this treatment in the world, we shouldn’t expect it in the church. However, it’s there and He doesn’t like it. Through the Apostle Paul, He says:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

1 Corinthians 12:21-26 English Standard Version (ESV)

There is a lot in this admonition. First, let us consider the key word: honor. We know honor more sharply by what it is not:

dis·hon·or [disˈänər]

VERB

bring shame or disgrace on:

“the politician dishonors her good campaign by resorting to sniping.”

synonyms: disgrace, shame, discredit, bring into disrepute, humiliate, degrade, debase, lower, cheapen, drag down, drag through the mud, blacken the name of, give a bad name to, sully, stain, taint, besmirch, smear, mar, blot, stigmatize

antonym: honor, respect

The reformer, John Calvin, had some pointed things to say about these verses:

Hitherto [Paul exhorted] the less honorable members to…not envy the more distinguished members. Now, he [directs the] honorable members not to despise the inferior members, [with whom] they cannot dispense.

The dishonor of one member [results in] the common disgrace of the whole body, as appears from the care that we take to cover the parts that are less honorable…The body is not merely shattered, and the order of nature perverted, but the authority of God is openly [treated as of no importance] whenever anyone assumes more than belongs to him.

There is no room for envy or contempt. To be honored [means] to be in prosperity and happiness. Nothing, however, is better [suited] to promote harmony than…when everyone feels that he is proportionally enriched by the prosperity of others and impoverished by their penury.

Further, the Apostle Paul instructs us to listen to the Spirit’s guidance and refrain from looking down on our brothers and sisters:

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:25-26 (ESV)

To this, Calvin says:

Among Christians, whoever [desires their own] glory departs from true glory, and therefore is justly charged with idle and foolish ambition. It is not lawful for us to glory but in God alone. Every other kind of glorying is pure vanity.

Mutual provocations and envying are the daughters of ambition. He who aspires to the highest rank must of necessity envy all others, and disrespectful, biting, stinging language is the unavoidable consequence.

So we see the origin of this form of strife: vaunted ambition. He who wants to be first, will be last.

But Paul’s admonitions about honor are not all negative. In the Letter to the Romans, he says:

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. Romans 12:10, 17 (ESV)

In these verses, Calvin catches several subtleties we often miss:

Everyone is to give honor to his brethren and not to himself; for there is no poison more effectual in alienating the minds of men than the thought, that one is despised.

As there is nothing more opposed to brotherly concord than contempt, arising from haughtiness, when each one, neglecting others, advances himself; so the best fomenter of love is humility, when everyone honors others.

We render evil for evil sometimes…when we treat unkindly those who do us no good…When any one denies help to us when we need it, we…do not help him in time of need, any more than he assisted us.

We ought to diligently labor, that all may be edified by our honest dealings. For as purity of conscience is necessary for us before God, so uprightness of character before men is not to be neglected.

When we are [called] to prepare good things before men, …[it] is not that men may admire and praise us but that their minds being elevated to God, they may give praise to him, that by our example they may be stirred up to practice righteousness.

And so, we must “honor our feet,” that is, give sincere respect and due care to those who we consider less capable in word, thought, and deed, for the sake of the unity of His body, the church. Each of us contributes what we’ve been given, if we’re following the Spirit’s leading. To God, alone, be the glory.

U-MV021 – Sam Phillips – I Need Love, posted on YouTube by mypartofthething, lyrics