Believer, the church is one church, with one faith, one baptism, one Lord and one Spirit (Ephesians 4:3-6). He is not one thing to some and someone else to others. There is One God, He is Steadfast, and Faithful, and He has not changed (Isaiah 45:5, Malachi 3:6).
The divisiveness of the church was happening back in Paul’s day as well, even in the first century church with leaders who had known Jesus and learned first hand from Him or those who were learning from those who had learned first-hand, humanity crept in, lies crept in and brought elements in which caused quarrels and division.
Much of what upset Paul was about the Jewish followers of Christ, requiring the gentile followers to follow Jewish traditions and laws in order to be included in what they considered the one true church. Paul wrote time and again that those laws had no value for salvation and that choosing to follow the law meant being judged by the law (Romans 2:12). The church is one church, not many. On one church directory website, which I assume are churches who choose to pay to be a part of it, there were 425 churches under 43 different denominations listed in Orlando, FL, the city I live near and attend church in. It is no wonder that Joe who is a new Christian looking for a church, or Jane who is seeking someone to answer questions about God, think Christianity is some restricted and discriminative country club.
But this is where we are, this is the world we live in. We who are the church need to do our best to represent Christ, not as exclusive to our denomination and not as discriminatory of who may enter His gates, but as the God who desires all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) who offers one simple way to come to Him with no strings attached. Yesterday we finished reading with Romans 15:5-7,
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Harmony with one another and Christ and unity of one voice to glorify the Father is possible with Christ, His Spirit makes it possible. I have been there and seen it, when we drop our denominations and come together to worship the Lord. I have seen who we can be together. I have heard us praising Him with one voice, one word Jesus Christ, one accord to glorify God. It is powerful and beautiful, and all around you there is worship, and joy, and love is over and through it as the Spirit permeates everyone.
I have also been at gatherings of multiple churches where some service is being performed and the work is being done by people from those multiple churches but the banner over the work, the seal on the box of goods, and the delivery stamp have the name of the one church who organized it and for some reason, it is this church who is taking credit and making themselves look good rather than giving God the credit where it belongs. It’s like a record being played and the crowd is singing along with happiness and purpose and, someone slaps the seal of the church on the box and the needle is pulled off the record, creating a deep scratch in the surface of the vinyl. All these people who thought they were glorifying God, now find they were glorifying the church and pastor on the corner, the joy and love are sucked out of that space as fast as the music was stopped. The churches segregate themselves to their corners, grumbling over why the church of Bob is getting credit for the church of Lee’s hard work.
Our best work is done when we work as one. When we use our individual gifts in harmony with the body. The fingers doing their part, the eyes, dong theirs, the legs, theirs and so on and Lee takes no credit, nor does Bob, because the hand knows it couldn’t do the job without the eye, and the foot knows it couldn’t do the job without the lung. The whole body knows without the head, who is Christ, there would be no body and it is His name and His banner which are flown.
The early Jewish Christians had an important role as they do now, and the gentile church had an important role as it does now. The part each plays is meant to further glorify (that is reflect, make famous, and bless) the Lord. Verses 8-9 read,
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
and sing to your name.”
What does that mean? It means Jesus served the Jewish people while He lived. He rarely spoke to a gentile during His ministry. One such exchange is recorded in Matthew 15:21-28.
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Although she was not an Israelite, she had faith in Jesus and her daughter was healed.
Jesus came for the Jews to fulfill the prophesies and promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Isaiah, Daniel, and Jeremiah. He fulfilled the law and the prophecy so that Israel would recognize their Messiah had been sent. But that is not all. He did that also so that the gentiles would also glorify God. Jesus spoke almost exclusively to the Jewish people, but His words and actions were for all of us. They were no longer Jews or gentiles, but now they were the Church, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ. Not Hebrew, Greek, Roman, and Asian but one people in Christ Colossians 3:9-11 reads,
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self[a]with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
And Galatians 3:26-28 says,
for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The Jews before Jesus considered God to be for them only and many Jewish Christians of Paul’s day considered following Jesus to be for Jews only. Yet, Paul reminded them of the Scriptures which said the gentiles would glorify God as well, which spoke of the peoples worshipping God, not the one people, but many. Verses 10-12 read,
10 And again it is said,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples extol him.”
12 And again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse will come,
even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”
The hope of Israel is not about government and land, but about the Messiah, the King of kings, Jesus. He is the hope of all nations. He is our life, eternal and abundant and free. He is our savior, who purchased us for freedom and gives us all we need and does more than we can imagine, not to live a light fluffy life, but to live an eternal significant life in the Light. Our hope is eternal life, our hope is New Jerusalem, our hope is conforming to the image of Christ. Jesus is eternal life, He is the City of God, He is our new self.
Verse 13 is a blessing, a prayer that Paul asks for us on our behalf,
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
It is not merely a good wish for us, it is a promise that If we are filled with the God of hope by believing with joy and peace following that belief, then the Holy Spirit will abound in hope. The Holy Spirit is God and He does fill those who believe. I think some people erroneously think that we can be partially or half filled by the Spirit. No, He fills fully. Now whether we respond and let Him flow and work and be God in us is one thing, but there is no trickling, no fractional filling. He is God, He is bigger than we are. He fills. And if we choose to quench His fire, He will be quenched. If we choose to grieve Him, He will be grieved, but He doesn’t leave! He doesn’t shrink back. He remains. We can choose to live as if He does not fill us, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are filled.
He is God and His filling us is not meant to further leave out anyone from the church, dismiss some in the church, or reject anyone except who rejects Him. No, His filling of us allows us to work together for God’s glory and build the church, both expanding it and building it up, not the building, but the people of the Kingdom who are the church. Verses 14-21 read,
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. 15 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, 21 but as it is written,
“Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.”
Perhaps, like Paul rather than reject people because the Christian culture is new to them, because they don’t know what the Lord’s Supper is, or understand why it is unacceptable to make a living by stealing or any other of the things that are normative to so many of us, we ought to love them enough to teach them, model the image of Christ, and help them to follow Him correctly rather than follow the lies of hedonism, asceticism, or Gnosticism. Do you think that those practices are not prevalent today? I think they are and they all detract from following Christ.
Christianity is not exclusionary. Jesus Himself said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).
He didn’t say “Go to the Western Hemisphere, make Baptists, and hope they figure it out. He didn’t say go everywhere except where they have polytheistic religions, drop some pamphlets, and hope they get the gist”. He said, “Make disciples of all nations…teaching them…I am with you always.” He didn’t leave out anyone, He wants us to make disciples, Christ followers, not people who say they follow but people who do follow. He said of all nations, not just the ones like us, but the ones who are not like us as well. He expects teaching and baptizing in the fullness of who is as His representatives in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He didn’t add anyone else for us to represent, we don’t represent a list of demigods, saints, churches, or pastors, we represent God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In unity as the worldwide church, we care about the worldwide church. We continue to make disciples and teach until they are able to make to disciples and teach, even then we don’t just push them from the nest and never consider them again. We are all a part of one another, we belong to Christ and we are part of one another (Romans 12:5). Paul gave us an example of this in verses 22-29,
This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. 28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. 29 I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
Paul was bringing aid to the church in Jerusalem, aid he had collected from churches all over. He requested it from some, had it gifted from others, and it was delivered by others so that the church spread all over could collectively help the Christians in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-3).
2 Corinthians 8:1-7 is a beautiful example of the church being the church without division.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.
Paul was going to bring Rome blessings, not only materials but fullness of blessings, that would have included teaching, greetings, praying, laying on hands, encouragement, and exhortation as seen in his letters and the epistles of the other writers of the New Testament. He did not think of the church as the various building where people met. He didn’t consider the churches of the different cities to be different churches. He knew that the church is made up of the believers walking in Christ together, be they 1 foot, 1 mile, or 100 miles apart, they were the church. In verses 30-32 he asked them to pray for him.
I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.33 May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
Although he had not yet been able to come to them and hoped to come to them soon, they were still His brothers and sisters, members of the same church as he was, followers of Christ, members of Christ, and united by the Holy Spirit.
Let us unite, wave the banner of Christ. God is our Banner, His name is Jehovah Nissi and that means He reveals Himself as God, Jehovah (Exodus 17:15). So, we glorify God, not ourselves. It is His banner which calls the lost to Him (Isaiah 5:26). It isn’t who we are who saves, but who God is. His banner over us is love (Song of Solomon 2:4), that love brings together, provides, cares, and cherishes. We lift His Banner, not our own.
I think it will be a difficult matter to drop our church banners and lift the banner of Christ, yet I also think it is ultimately important that we do that. Whether you believe Jesus is returning today at 3:33 PM or in this generation, or in 752 years, the truth is this, His coming is closer than it was, and people are lost. People need to know who Jesus is and how deeply He loves them. There are many peoples out there who need to be welcomed into the body of Christ. As long as we’re fighting over titles and doctrines which have nothing to do with the Gospel, as long as we wave church signs instead of the banner of Christ, we will be short-changing the lost by our own in-fighting.