Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Single Greatest Lesson That All Other Things Are Built On

We don't function very well in chaos. I tell students who want to succeed in their studies and in their careers that the first thing they need to do is clean up their room. Sounds ridiculous I know but our minds work better in a clean and organized environment. Everything flows better, we save tons of time from searching for things and we feel more relaxed. Even our society works better when it is well organized, everyone knows the rules and it is not hard to access the system. But what do we do when something is so big, so diverse and has no central leadership, or at least leadership as we understand it?

I am describing the Church, the Body of Christ. We have just spent several days examining what the Church is suppose to look like, which is nothing like today. We have considered the unified spiritual diversity that allows the Church to embody the power of God. We all have a different function yet the head is Jesus, we are unified by the Spirit and we are working together for the same mission. But how is it possible for so many individuals, personalities, diverse gifts and functions to work in unison and harmony? To understand how it is possible for the Body of Christ to be united we have to go back to a foundation matter, something that begins the moment we accept Jesus and grows in us until the day we are called home. First allow me to remind you of the Body:

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:27-30)

A beautifully diverse Body and then Paul tells us he is going to show us how it all comes together:

And now I will show you the most excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:31b)

This launches us into the famous chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, a passage that is used at many weddings and that has been preached countless times. Some say that this is an unattainable love, something we cannot achieve in our lifetime because it is a description of God's love. I agree that Paul is expressing in words what we have experienced from God but if it is unattainable for us to live then we must conclude that Jesus is a lair:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12)

We also have to keep this passage in the context Paul wrote it. He is showing us the way to be and remain united, what it takes to keep the Body functioning properly, to keep all the parts working together. Over the centuries this lesson was lost as corrupt men seeking power and control over people used the Church to their own advantage. The sensitivity to God's love and our need to love each other was buried under man's desire for himself. However, also in those centuries the Spirit kept working and true believers kept growing. We have managed to make it to this point but much of the true nature of the Church keeps getting buried under man's self-desire.

We have had brilliant moments when the Spirit burst upon our reality such as with the Great Awakening, but for the most part our own selfishness keeps us divided, apart and weak. The Church continues to fail to glorify God, to reflect his glory so that the whole world can see this love. We have been given such a rich and powerful bouquet of gifts, service and workings and yet we want to play in our own "sand box". We have failed to grasp "the most excellent way" as the Spirit describes it through Paul. He states right at the beginning that no matter the power, the gifts, the service, the workings of the Spirit in us, it must all come from the foundation of love or it is useless to God and man:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)   

The brilliance of this smacks us in the face if we are willing to see it. I can have the greatest gifts, be called to the greatest office, operate in the greatest ministry and do the most awesome miracles but if I don't have love to operate within the context of the Body, to love my fellow believers, to work in unity with them, to be more concerned with others than myself, then everything I am and do is totally useless to God and to others. It was about love at the beginning, it is about love today and it will still be about love at the end of time. It is the only way that we can be united, work together and for God's glory to be revealed. Jesus himself said it:

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35)

We are going to take a few days to examine this chapter, keeping it in the context of it being the "excellent way" for the Body of Christ to function properly. We will examine it for better understanding but we already know enough by the example Jesus gave us to be able to love others today. As you move through the day keep asking yourself if you are living the love Jesus demonstrated to us. Instead of asking yourself "What would Jesus do" in a situation ask yourself "How would Jesus love" and you will end up doing what he would do. More than anything else, God's love is the definition of our lives. Consider this as you consider your part in the Body of Christ.

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