One of the many issues Paul addressed in his first letter to the Corinthians was that of disunity. The church of Corinth was suffering from a spiritual malady all too common among churches today. They were split into factions, squabbling over which leader to follow, happily tolerating sin, and looking down on fellow believers. Paul’s words to them can give us guidance for finding a way out of similar problems today.
Disunity is Ridiculous
Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers, by those who are from Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” “I follow Cephas,” and, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:10-13, WEB)
Paul is begging these people in the name of our savior to stop their contentions and divisions. His questions, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you” shine a spotlight on how ridiculous their squabbles and disagreements really are. Christ is not divided and He’s the one into whom we were baptized. There is no division when we’re in Him.
The Mind of Christ
When Paul talks about being like-minded with each other in Philippians, he follows it with “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:1-5, KJV). Our unity comes from all of us learning to think like Jesus. It is the height of arrogance to think we could come up with a better plan, interpretation, or idea than what He has given us. Read more →
Loving other people can be hard. I mean have you met people? Try to have relationship with them and you find out they’re flawed, messy, and might hurt you. Sure they can also be encouraging, positive, and fill your life with joy, but they’re not like that all the time.
Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just have a relationship with God and not deal with other people, at least the ones that are hard to love? It seems like a nice idea to some. “Just me and Jesus,” they say and think that’s all they need.
But that’s not how God means for His church to function. He wants an individual relationship with you, yes, but He also wants you to be part of a church that He collectively describes as the body of Christ and the temple of God. And He expects you to love everyone in that church even when it’s hard.
Because God Is Love
If a man says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? This commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21, WEB)
Those of us who claim to love God have to love the people around us as well. If we don’t love others it proves that we don’t really love God. The reason for this statement is clarified earlier in John’s letter:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves has been born of God, and knows God. He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8, WEB)
Being born into God’s family and having a relationship with Him changes us. When we know the God of love, we learn to love as He does. If we can’t or won’t love other people the way God does, then we don’t really understand Him and haven’t really been born of God. Read more →
Today’s post is something of a continuation to last week’s post, The Bridegroom’s Pledge. As Jesus Christ’s bride, the church is supposed to be getting ready for a marriage that will take place when He returns. If this were a human wedding, preparations for it would include things like picking a date and venue, mailing out invitations, and hiring a caterer. But none of those things are any use in preparing for a wedding to Jesus. He needs us to focus on something different, something that will strengthen a relationship He intends to last into eternity.
Diversity In Oneness
He who loves his own wife loves himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord also does the church; because we are members of his body, of his flesh and bones. “For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will be joined to his wife. The two will become one flesh.” This mystery is great, but I speak concerning Christ and of the church. (Eph. 5:28-32, WEB)
In these verses, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 about the husband and wife becoming one flesh. The Hebrew word for “one” is echad (H259). It’s the same word use in the Shema: “Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God. Yahweh is one” (Deut. 6:4, WEB).
While echad can mean the number one, in these verses “It stresses unity while recognizing diversity within that oneness” (TWOT entry 61). A husband and wife don’t literally merge into a single being. And God (Elohim) consists of two Beings. But they can be called one because they’re united. That’s the sort of relationship we’re supposed to be developing with Christ. Read more →
We’ve probably all heard that Christianity is about your individual relationship with Jesus. I’ve said that myself. But while God is very much concerned with the state of every individual heart and wants a relationship with you, Christianity is not an individualistic religion. We get that idea from Western culture, not from scripture.
The Bible is written for all peoples and all cultures. But it was also written by people living in a Middle Eastern society, and those of us in the Western world can miss some things Biblical writers took for granted. It rarely occurs to us that Americanized Christianity might not be the same thing as Biblical Christianity, but our culture does color how we read the Bible and in some cases it leads to inaccurate assumptions.
When I was reading Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, one of the misconceptions that really stuck with me had to do with the verses about spiritual temples. We tend to read the verses that say “you are a temple of God” and think the “you” is singular” and treat “temple” as plural, assuming that we are each one of God’s temples. But we’re wrong.
There are three passages where Paul talks with the Corinthians about them being God’s temple. They’re 1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19; and 2 Cor. 6:16. Richards and O’Brian only talk about one of these, but I checked the others in the Greek and their point holds true for all three. They write,
Biblical Greek could differentiate between you singular and you plural, but we miss this in our English translations. … We typically understand the singulars and plurals in this verse backwards. In the original Greek, the you is plural and temple is singular. Paul is saying, “All of you together are a singular temple for the Holy spirit. God doesn’t have millions of little temples scattered around. Together we make the dwelling for the spirit (p. 108)
If God says He hates something, is it a thing we should be doing in the church? Of course not! Those who love God do things that are pleasing in His sight (1 John 3:22). We don’t always do that perfectly, but it’s supposed to be our goal. And when we miss the mark, we repent and change and try again.
One of the things the Lord hates and considers an abomination is “he who sows discord among brothers” (Prov. 6:19, all scriptures in this post are WEB version). In Hebrew, “sow” is shalach (H7971), and it means to send out or shoot forth, as in a growing plant putting out leaves. God hates it when someone plants and spreads strife or contention (medan, H4090) among those who are metaphorical or literal family (ach, H251).
So what does it say about us as a church body when there are divisions, disagreements, and rifts in our relationships and beliefs? In some cases, we can disagree on things that are open to interpretation and still fellowship peaceably, which is the right thing to do (Rom. 14). But all too often, when people in the churches disagree they start attacking or ignoring each other rather than working through their issues, resolving doctrinal conflicts, and seeking peace and unity as God intends.
Strife Does Not Come From God
The greatest commandments are to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. In contrast, strife is stirred up by hatred, not love (Prov. 10:12). And the people who spread strife are called perverse, lovers of disobedience, greedy, and angry (Prov. 16:28; 17:19; 28:25; 29:22). Those aren’t the sort of things God wants to see when He looks at the people in His chruch.
Now the deeds of the flesh are obvious, which are … hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envy … of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom. (Gal. 5:19-21)
More than half the things in this “works of the flesh” list have to do with discord and disunity. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Those are the things that stop arguments before they even start.
This Goes Beyond Not Fighting
Scriptures make it quite clear that God puts a high value on peace. Though He warns us that following Him will set people against you (Matt. 10:34-36; John 15:18-21), that sort of strife should only happen between you and the world. There’s supposed to be peace in the church among God’s people.
So then, let us follow after things which make for peace, and things by which we may build one another up. (Rom. 14:19)
On your part, you’re supposed to do what you can to live peacefully with everyone you meet (Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14). This is especially important in the church, where it’s an attainable goal because all the believers are supposed to be working toward peace (1 Thes. 5;13). God intends for there to be unity in His church. Read more →
How many people do you really open up to? Even if you’re an “open book,” there are probably things you don’t share with everyone. There are secrets, aspects of our personality, and thoughts that we only show closest friends, family or a spouse. You may have parts of you hidden so deep no one sees them.
What about in your relationship with God? Even though He knows everything about us, we can still chose to hold things back from Him. We can tell Him to stay away, keeping Him at arms length and refusing to let go and surrender to His work in us.
Opening up and letting myself be seen is a challenge I face in human relationships, and in this fall holy day season I’ve been thinking about whether I try to do the same thing with God. I think that I’m more open with Him than with anyone else, but are there still things that I’m trying to hold back or hide?
Open To Me
Jesus is supposed to be our friend and lover. He wants to know you more thoroughly than anyone else ever will, but He wants you to chose that relationship. He won’t force Himself into your life, though He will knock.
I sleep, but my heart is awake; it is the voice of my beloved! He knocks, saying, “Open for me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one; for my head is covered with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.” (Song 5:2)
The woman in this part of the Song of Songs has “slumbered and slept,” and now Christ is outside asking to come in. “He sues for entrance who may demand it; he knocks who could easily knock the door down” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary). He doesn’t upbraid her for shutting Him out — He just wants her to let Him in. Have we also locked Him out? perhaps through carelessness if not deliberately?
she did not say, I will not open, but, How shall I? Note, Frivolous excuses are the language of prevailing slothfulness in religion; Christ calls to us to open to him, but we pretend we have no mind, or we have no strength, or we have no time (Matthew Henry)
Matthew Henry talks about this as “The slights which careless souls put upon Jesus Christ,” and which actually demonstrate “a great contempt” for their savior. When we ignore Jesus’ request to come into our lives, we reject His work in us.
Here, in the Song, the woman finally opens the door when she sees His hand at the door. Unfortunately, she waited too long for welcoming Christ in to be easy.
I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had turned away and was gone. My heart leaped up when he spoke. I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer. The watchmen who went about the city found me. They struck me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took my veil away from me. (Song 5:6-7)
If we aren’t willing to open ourselves up to Christ when He knocks, He will be harder to find. If we don’t unveil ourselves to Him, we might find ourselves lost, alone and stripped of our covering pretenses before we find Him again. This can happen multiple times in a Christian’s life, just as this pattern is repeated in the Song (Song 3:1-4). Our lives are often a dance of drifting away and coming back to Christ.
Veils keep us from fully experiencing God. The veil in the temple separated the Holy of Holies — where God’s spirit appeared — from the rest of the temple complex. Prior to Christ’s sacrifice, only the High Priest could enter, and only once a year (Heb. 9:1-8). The moment Jesus died, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt. 27:51). His death removed the most visible separation between God and His people.
There was another veil mentioned in the Old Testament that Paul talks about in the New. After Moses spoke to God, he shone so much with God’s reflected glory that Israel feared him. Moses wore a veil to hide his shining face before everyone but God (Ex. 34:29-35). Paul wrote about this veil in his second letter to Corinth.
But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Cor. 3:14-16)
Christ has torn away all the veils between the Lord and His people. The temple veil which tore at His death opened the way into His sanctuary, and when we turn our hearts to Him He takes away the veil shielding true understanding of the Torah.
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:18)
We have to unveil our faces if we want to see His unvelied face. To know Him, we must want to be known. He took the first step — will we be equally open with Him?
Psalm 139 talks about God knowing us thoroughly — all our thoughts, every part of our personality. It also includes a very important line where David invites God into this deep, intimate relationship.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps. 139:23-24)
David’s willingness to be seen by God, and his request that God know him, are key to the sort of closeness described earlier in Psalm 139. Today, we can have that same sort of intimacy with our Lord if we let Him in.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. (Rev. 3:20)
Our Beloved is knocking on our doors, asking us to let Him in. Turn your face to Him, take off the barriers you’re putting up between you and Jesus. See, and be seen.