I wrote last week about questions the church can ask herself regarding our role as the body of Christ. Like the Casting Crowns song “If We Are The Body,” it was meant as a challenge for the church as a whole to reach out with compassion, heal others, teach Jesus Christ’s words, walk in His steps, and love everyone. The reason for this is mentioned in the line which provides me with a title: “Jesus payed much too high a price / For us to pick and choose who should come / And we are the body of Christ.”
Christ said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). That, in a nutshell, is the price paid. He willingly gave up first His eternal existence with the Father and then His human life to be a sacrifice for sins (John 1:1-2, 14). A more complete picture of what this entailed can be found in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Here’s a few verses:
He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. (Is. 53:3-5)
I have a hard time thinking of what to write after this. It’s so deeply moving to think of how much He suffered for my sake, and for your sake, and for the entire world (John 1:29; 4:42; 6:33; 12:47).
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)
I find it interesting that John 3:16-17 doesn’t say that Christ died to save the church — it says He died for the entire world. The goal is to save as many people as possible (2 Pet. 3:9).
Paid For Whom?
No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws them (John 6:44), and once that happens “he who believes in the Son has everlasting life” (John 3:36). If someone shows up at church with that one requirement — belief in Jesus Christ — then we have no right to turn them away. Their belief is a sign that God is working with them. Look how strongly Christ rebuked His disciples when they thought certain people were not worth His time:
Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mark 10:13-15)
In Matthew, Jesus further said, “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:5-6) Since we are all God’s children, whatever age we are, I think it safe to extend what Christ says concerning His little ones to every new believer. James 2 talks about not showing partiality, or respecting people based on how much money they have. This principle can be extended to other factors as well. Take the example of “strangers” who joined Israel in the Old Testament.
“Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants — everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant — even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, “Yet I will gather to him others besides those who are gathered to him.” (Is. 56:6-8)
In our modern churches of God, a similar situation might be new people coming into the church without a Worldwide background and no clue who Mr. Armstrong was. Or maybe people in other groups that we not-so-secretly wonder if they are really part of the body. It is not our place to make judgements about who is and who is not part of Christ’s body and living in His sheepfold (John 10:16). If someone believes in Him, we should welcome them with open arms. If they keep His Sabbaths and enter into covenant with Him, like the strangers in Israel, we must not dismiss them.
Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10:34-35)
This statement should disabuse us of any notion that people of a certain social class or church background or ethnic group are in some way better or worse than others. The Pharisees had that idea — “We have Abraham as our father” — and John the Baptist told them they were a “brood of vipers” and “that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” on the ground near the river. Their background did not matter, only that they repent and “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:7-9).
What Should We Do?
The Father and Jesus want to save every single person who will let them. Are we helping them in that goal as members of the body of Christ? Or are people “tripping over me” when they try to reach God (Rom. 14:13)? We are so quick to take and cause offense, to indigently puff up and bluster at people over even trivial things like music selection, whether or not to worship with hands raised, and are jeans appropriate for church services. But look at Paul’s attitude:
Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. (1 Cor. 10:32-33)
How much less strife would there be within the church and in our interactions with those who do not yet believe if this were our attitude!
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” (Rom. 15:2-3)
When we set aside our selfishness and look after other people before ourselves, we are following in Christ’s footsteps. When we are becoming like the “head over all things to the church,” we truly begin acting like the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23). We are supposed to imitate God and “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:2). In the night He was betrayed, Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Lest we think this statement is ambiguous, John spells it out clearly in his first epistle: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). Still, we might try to find some wiggle-room in this command. It only says to love the brethren — I don’t have to love all those other people, right? Wrong.
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matt. 5:44-48)
Well there it is — not a smidgin of wiggle-room left. We have to love everyone the way God loves them and the way He loves us. Jesus paid the highest price ever paid so that the world could be saved. He is not going to look kindly on our actions if we try to pick and choose who is worth our love and who we should “let in” to His body. That’s not our call.