Category Archives: unity

Serving in sending

Just as each of us has one body with many members…so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a person’s gift is…serving, let them serve;…if it is encouraging, let them encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let them give generously….Love must be sincere. …Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…Share with God’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality….

(Rom 12.4-8,9&12)

Dear friend, I am praying that all is well with you and that your body is as healthy as I know your soul is. Some of the brothers recently returned and made me very happy by telling me about your faithfulness and that you are living in the truth. I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children live in the truth.

Dear friend, you are doing a good work for God when you take care of the travelling teachers who are passing through, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church here of your friendship and your loving deeds. You do well to send them on their way in a manner that pleases God. For they are travelling for the Lord and accept nothing from those who are not Christians. So we ourselves should support them so that we may become partners with them for the truth.

(3 Jn 2-8)

I believe it is easy to underestimate the power of small things, of seemingly trivial or insignificant words and actions, but that when we harness them in the cause of the gospel, God is glorified and his kingdom enriched and advanced…what am I thinking of here? It is the ministry of hospitality, of sharing what we have in order to encourage and bless other members of the body of Christ.

If we are able to offer a place to sit, some food and drink, and the precious gift of a listening ear and a loving heart then we can serve one another in hospitality…it is one of the most basic and practical ways of loving and building one another up, of sending one another out in a ‘manner which pleases God’ as John said when he commended Gaius for his generosity. Whether or not we are able to contribute financially to the work of gospel ministry, of overseas mission or local outreach, we can all offer our presence, our homes, as an encouragement to God’s servants so that they go on their way strengthened and refreshed in spirit.

Such actions testify very practically to the unity of the church of Christ, as we welcome strangers and discover in them new brothers and sisters with whom we will spend eternity adoring our Lord and God. Our hospitality is a witness to our common life, and shows our non-believing neighbours and communities what it means for there to be no distinctions in God’s family. A willingness to share may prove the beginning of a lifelong friendship, or it may be that we never meet again this side of glory, but either way we have obeyed our Lord by offering what we have in the service of his people and kingdom.

Gaius offered hospitality and expected no return other than the approval of his Lord; but he was surely blessed and encouraged himself by the gentle commendation which John gives him, and also filled with gladness to know that his own faithful service has brought such joy to the old apostle! Do we not rejoice when those whom we revere in the service of Christ, those whose example inspires us, take time to commend and encourage us in our own obedience by saying how much they see in us of holy and Christlike living?

The devil loves to see Christians paralysed by self-doubt and condemnation, so John’s words were a strong weapon to release Gaius from doubts, and to inspire his ongoing service and obedience. We too can exercise this ministry for one another, taking the time for a message, a phone call, or a face-to-face conversation when we share how much a friend’s life and example speaks of Christ, showing his love and the transforming power of the Spirit.

As we partner with one another for the truth of Christ’s redeeming work, for the good news of hope and forgiveness, let us not neglect the ministry of encouragement – by our words and hospitality – so that the body might be strengthened in unity and God be glorified among his people.

As One….

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits….Your body has many parts..but..you are still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ…We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything….Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain – his Spirit – where we all come to drink.

(1 Cor 12.4-13, Message)

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit..one Lord, one faith , one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all…It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets….to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together…grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

(Eph 4.1-6,11-13,15&16)

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to live out of the gospel grace which we have received – to show to others the same forgiving, persevering, patient love and profound acceptance which we find in our Saviour. There is no place here for holding ourselves aloof simply because of another person’s background, because of different traditions, or because of their particular characteristics and flaws which we may find irritating and hard to live with.

The bible clearly teaches that when we are adopted into God’s family as his children, we become part of that marvellous unity which is the body of Christ – the universal and eternal bride of Christ – so that whether we recognise it or not, we belong together. In the same way that a body cannot function as a series of individual organs, so we who are believers cannot fulfill our purposes as individuals, we must grow and learn and live together. I need the gifts – and weaknesses – of others; and they need mine.

If I try to remain independent of my fellow believers, I am rejecting the very ones through whom God desires to bless me, and to whom I have been called as a blessing. I must be willing to serve, but also to be served, to be vulnerable, to be incapable of doing everything. How many of us find it easy to ask for and accept help? Our pride and stubborn independence go so deep, and make it easy for the devil to undermine our fellowship as we hold ourselves apart. But when I confess my need, I create the opportunity for the Spirit to build unity as others do for me, and for the whole body, that which I cannot do. Perhaps this is one of the ways in which the Lord graciously provides for our weaknesses, showing his glory and power as the Spirit-prompted love flows from one member to another, bringing help, nourishment and healing – even as our own bodies continually work in a marvellous and complex unity.

Our life-blood as the Body of Christ is this love which we have received and which we – continually refreshed by the Holy Spirit – give to one another. Each of us is called to be ourselves, to use all that we are, for the building up of the Body, and none of us is disabled for that work. As one, we depend upon Christ, and increasingly as one, we live with one purpose and one source of strength. Whether my task in any given time is to give, or to receive, I am called to do both trusting that God is glorified through my service, and to be content with the part I play.

Whose body?

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity…It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.

(Ps 133.1&3)

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf…So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgement on themselves

(1 Cor 10.16&17, 11.27-29)

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body…after all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body.

(Eph 4.25&5.29-30)

On the night before he died, and after he had celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, showing in the wine and bread what lay ahead for him, Jesus prayed for the unity of those who would believe in his name for their salvation.

He prayed this way after commanding his disciples to love one another as he had loved them, namely patiently, perseveringly, selflessly and sacrificially. This unity is therefore not something which comes easily as a feeling, but rather one which is a deliberate acting out of foundational truths, and it requires our commitment and continual focus of attention.

The remnants of our brokenness, even after we have become followers of Jesus, are at war with this desire for unity and fellowship – honesty compels us to recognise within our own church families that we are divided from one another, hiding behind polite facades of competence, nursing grudges, unable to embrace change for the sake of others because it makes us uncomfortable. Our weakness undermines our fellowship, and yet, through those very things, God chooses to demonstrate his power. When we recognise Christ in the believers around us – seeing their inestimable value as his redeemed children – then we find we can love as we want to and ought to! God’s grace is seen as we learn to forgive, to serve (and be served), to bear with one another and to keep lifting up those who stumble. It isn’t about feeling, but about doing and putting ourselves in God’s hands for the good of our neighbours.

As we celebrate the Lord’s supper, communion, or whatever we happen to call that wonderful time of remembrance, Paul is advising us (through his letter to the Corinthians), to see the body of Christ around us, the people for whom Jesus died. We are all equally hopeless without Christ; dependant upon Christ; and gloriously transformed by Christ – and we belong together. When one suffers, we all suffer. When one rejoices, we all rejoice. Christ’s sacrifice is not for me alone, but for all those who call him Lord, and as I take the bread and wine, he calls me to remember that and to consider just how much I am dwelling in loving unity with my brothers and sisters. We do this ‘in remembrance of him’ – whose human body was broken for us, and of whose spiritual body we are now a part.

He died, that we might be his and be one. Am I actively undermining that purpose, am I hurting one of his children, withholding love? Am I neglecting opportunities to build others up in their faith? I am called into the body of Christ to serve him by loving others – what am I doing to fulfill my part in that purpose?

We are the body of Christ – gathered, redeemed, precious and holy to him. Our unity is beautiful in his sight, and as refreshing and blessing to us as divine dew on dry ground. May our celebrations of communion be times to remember and discern the body of which we are part, so that his love for us becomes our motivation to love others, undergirding and informing our conduct so that we do all for and with one another.

One body, many gifts

Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength….Fear the Lord your God, serve him only…

(Deut 6.4&13)

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.

(Lev 19.18)

A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

(Jn 13.34&35)

For  just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve, if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

(Rom 12.4-8)

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them there are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

(1 Cor 12.4-7)

The church of Christ, the body of Christ, the family of faith….all different ways of expressing the community to which we belong as redeemed children of God – no longer living for our own ends, disconnected from one another, or unhealthily dependent on one another, but connected and deriving our essential life and purpose from one person – Jesus.

Our calling is to love God, and in doing so, to love one another – seeing in each other a glorious and infinitely precious child of God, saved as we all are by the blood of Christ. We are brought together in order to thrive – the individual parts of any living body do not last long in isolation, but dwindle and die – and together to demonstrate God’s radical, transforming kingdom in the midst of a world broken by sin and deeply shadowed by evil.

As in our human bodies, the whole can only thrive when the system works together, each part fulfilling its function, and united in a common goal. When we – as obedient and sincere followers of Jesus – seek to exercise the gifts we are given, then this must always be at the front of our thinking…what can I do to bless and build up this body of Christ? If my goal becomes my own satisfaction, or self-aggrandisement, status and fame, then I am not loving and not submitting to the directing of the Spirit. It may be that I have humble gifts..well and good! It is for God’s pleasure that I offer them, and for the good of others. It is not for me to envy the gifts of others, but to rejoice that God has provided for the needs of his church by distributing gifts across all his people.

Equally, it is not for me to expect that my service – whatever it may be – will look like other people’s service, nor that it will always take the same form. Our Lord looks for a loving, obedient and humble heart, an attitude of availability and surrender; then in different seasons of life and various contexts, our gifts will be exercised in different ways. Some may be called from an early age to teach, in public…well and good! Others may enter such service after years of exercising a private ministry of encouragement, finding that it has been preparing them for this next task. Some will readily and gladly accept the care of children, finding a life long satisfaction in that crucial task of nurture – while others can be part of that ministry for a time, and then find they are moving on.

How hard we find it at times not to compare ourselves with our brothers and sisters in the Lord, to imagine that unless we serve and exercise our strengths and gifts in certain ways, then we are disobeying his command. Let us strive to dismiss that internal voice, those insidious whisperings which come from the devil and aim to destroy our fellowship and derail our faith.

Am I truly desirous of obeying the Lord, humbly submitting my time and talents and money to his service, and open to remaining in a quiet, sometimes a hard place of obedience? Then surely he will be pleased to show me what the next task might be, and as I tackle it in his name, to grant me peace in doing his will. God grant that we might hold nothing back, but indeed love him with heart, soul, mind and strength, loving our neighbours as ourselves for his glory and the building up of his kingdom.

Cheering me on?

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up…. everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

(Romans 15.1,2&4)

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

(Philippians 2.1-3)

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

(2 Thessalonians 2.16&17)

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul writes about how each part of the church – each individual member – has a valuable contribution to make to the life of the whole. One of the gifts mentioned is that of encouragement, and while I recognise that some people are particularly gifted in that way, we can all probably learn to practice it better!

What do we mean by “encourage”? I think there are two aspects to it: firstly, that it should help people to see themselves as God’s redeemed and beloved children; and second that it should help them to find strength and courage for the next steps along their journey as believers.

When we celebrate people for who they are, the unique combination of qualities and experiences which make up their characters, and all the varied elements of their life story, we remind them that God values them. They are those for whom Christ died, those who are being refined to a perfection of beauty which will leave us all speechless, those whom he delights to call his own. We can use our words to show them their own worth in God’s sight, affirming the struggles they are going through, and the triumphs they have achieved.. In our family, even very small occasions are an excuse for celebration cakes, and an affirmation that the details of our lives matter. When I take the time to notice someone, to find out about them and share something of their story, they are encouraged – God has sent someone to say “I care about you”.

If I feel that who I am matters, that the details are all known by my Father in heaven, every sorrow and joy seen and cherished by him, then I have reason to be confident that my future will also matter. When I remember that Christ died for me, that I am united forever with him, then I am free to stop worrying about propping up my own self-worth or achieving “self-fulfillment”. My Saviour has everything that matters safely in his keeping; my reputation is his affair, not mine and I am free to put others first, to seek their good, loving them as God loves me.

It is this kind of encouragement to which we are called as believers, drawing on the biblical pattern, where so often God’s people were called to remember his care for them, provision for their needs and long-suffering with their sins. This remembrance was the basis for a call to new commitment on their part, to obedience and faithful reliance on God to provide for them and achieve his purposes through them.

So how shall we encourage one another this week?

Think back over conversations you have had; if there is anything which was concerning a friend, or a trial they were facing, go and ask how it worked out. Celebrate the good things which happen, mourn together over the disappointments, and point one another back to the cross and the faithfulness of God, so that courage is found to persevere.

If someone has done something to help you, to make you laugh or to ease a difficult situation – tell them, in a card or text, let them know that they made a difference, and were God’s means of helping you at that time.

If someone has offended you, ask God for grace to forgive them – as you have been forgiven so much more by him – and then go and find something you can do to celebrate that person.

We can encourage one another anonymously, but it is lovely to know who has taken the time to be God’s love in person for us. In this way we build one another up, we grow in Christ-like love, in unity, and God is glorified among us.

Let’s make some cakes!

 

One Church, One Faith, One Lord!

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

(Philippians 2.1-4)

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you….May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

(John 17.20,21&23)

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

(Psalm 133.1)

It is a very sad reflection on the chronic brokenness of human hearts that down through the ages, the church of God has been marred by ferocious divisions and internal strife. The pride and stubbornness which marked our race from Eden have fractured the body of Christ again and again down the centuries, and we read the prayer of Jesus on the night he was betrayed (John 17, quoted above), with heavy hearts, recognising what a miracle such unity would be!

No physical body experiencing the breakdown in unity which has characterised the church could have survived, it would have died long ago. The miracle is that God has sustained his church thus far, in spite of all the quarrels and battle-lines, so that although divided, she continues to grow and to bear witness, and by his grace to minister to a world in desperate need of salvation. Praise him for his power, and his patience with us!

We may not be in a position as individuals to change this situation, but we are called to pursue unity wherever we can – by modelling ourselves on Christ in his humility and servant-heart, seeking the good of others, not putting ourselves first nor insisting on our own rights. Although we may – for whatever reason – belong to a different branch of the church from our neighbour, there is no excuse for failing in love towards them, or avoiding active service alongside them for the gospel.

Paul reminds us in Philippians that we are one in Christ, and that we share fellowship by the one Holy Spirit. From that starting point, we can have the same purpose and labour together, to reach our communities with the good news of Christ, so that people may be gathered into the kingdom of God for eternity, and begin to live the values of that kingdom here and now. Indeed, such united effort is itself a witness to the love of God, and draws people out of the darkness to the light of the gospel which has caused such transformation.

Our unity in wielding the weapons of faith against the spiritual forces which keep our communities from turning to Christ encourages us in the fight, and strengthens our hope and confidence in God. Like well-trained soldiers, we know that there is safety in numbers, and that together we are so much stronger and less vulnerable to attack when there are comrades at our back!

The challenge is to be willing to labour with others, to see fruit in another field, and to be content since all the growth is to the glory of God and the increase of his kingdom. It is a human weakness to want to get all the benefit of our labours in our own particular church family – but does it really matter, in the light of eternity and of the great extent of God’s amazing plans for his church? Is it not sufficient that souls are saved, discipled and grow to mature faith somewhere?

May I be willing to work faithfully alongside believers from every part of the body of Christ, to accept that differences are not necessarily barriers, and that God is so much greater than our artificial denominational boundaries. May I accept that true growth anywhere is to the glory of God and the praise of Jesus Christ, and rejoice in it without envy or resentment even if my own church is not blessed at this time.

What are we for?

And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus…

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

(Eph 3.6,10&11,20&21)

I wonder what answer you might give if someone asked what the church – not just your local congregation but the entire body of believers around the world and down through the ages – is for?

Humanly speaking, there may appear to be many different purposes, some more prominent at times than others – some purposes of which we are now ashamed such as the violent crusades of the Middle Ages, or the misguided propagation of western culture under the guise of mission. At times, the churches have wielded political power, or acted as the moral authority for a nation – enforcing certain patterns of behaviour regardless of belief or understanding. In the western world today, many regard the church as primarily an agent for social action, usually on the side of the oppressed and needy.

These are not necessarily bad things in themselves – to our deep shame and regret, there is more need than ever in our world for compassionate, radical change to transform lives blighted by poverty, war, starvation and oppression. But this is not the special calling of the church, the body of Jesus Christ in the world today. And I believe that without a clear vision of what we ARE for, there is a real danger of allowing ourselves to be squeezed into the socially acceptable pigeonhole of compassionate care, and campaigning for the weak. Those activities will not offend our secular society, they might even make us quite popular!

In the book of Proverbs(29.18), there is a verse which – in the old King James version reads as follows: Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. Our modern translations give it this way: When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful. 

What is the vision, which we need in order to avoid perishing; the divine guidance which we must accept in order to avoid running wild (and by implication, away from God’s care and salvation)? What is the church for?

Paul is stunningly clear, and absolutely emphatic in his letter to the Ephesians, that the church universal, through all time, exists in order to show every power which has ever existed just how amazing God’s love is; just how breath-taking his wisdom, in addressing the deepest need of humankind – to be united in fellowship with him.

Consider for a moment what this means for your congregation.. that particular gathering of people, whom you know to be imperfect, and whom you struggle to love at times (as perhaps they struggle to love you!). THAT congregation, has an amazing purpose in God’s great plan of redemption, to be a place where God reveals his power and wisdom, in transforming lives and bringing light, hope and new life to people who were as good as dead in their inability to save themselves. We..you and I …are part of a body of people who are designed to be a showcase for God to our world!

Our unity, as believers and children of God, is to be a demonstration of God’s loving wisdom, fulfilling his plan to create a people for himself whose diversity celebrates his infinitely rich character, while reflecting the loving harmony between Father, Son and Spirit. In the same way that God is glorified in Jesus – our Saviour, Redeemer and Lord – so also he is to be glorified in the church!

Since we remain in a fallen world, we confess how badly we fall short of this vision. How much bitterness, division, selfishness and coldness exists – within and between congregations and denominations. God forgive us; we rob him of his glory, and blind people to his beauty by our own ugliness.

Oh may our hearts and minds be increasingly filled with the vision of the glory of Christ, so that blind to all else, we love one another for his sake – seeing his image in one another and united in our desire to see others come to know and be transformed by his forgiveness and love. Then and only then, will we truly glorify God as we ought.