I. Situating ourselves in fellowship: local church, private life and the kingdom of God. (“And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Heb. 10:24, 25)
We need to balance the private experience of faithful living with the recognition that we are part of a larger fellowship that extends to the local gathering and to the worldwide church. Not only must we seek personal spiritual nourishment, we are to think about the growth of others. The Hebrews 10 text says “encouraging one another.” Just being there is the simplest way to do that. The next level is to engage in the use of whatever gifts God has given you. I Cor. 12 says that we are all given gifts and that they are for the common good. The gifts of the Spirit are not for private consumption. Probably all of us have received gifts from other people that we did not find useful, but the Holy Spirit doesn’t give junk. It is a great offense against God and the body of Christ to have a gift and not use it. The body suffers when any of its parts don’t do as they are supposed to.
Let us also not forget that the church is worldwide. It extends around the globe to every corner of earth. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” let us remember this kingdom as it now exists on earth. We need to think like world Christians rather that just local Christians or American Christian.
II. The balance of unity and diversity.
This is a main point in the I Cor. text. We are many, but also one in Christ. Our uniqueness as individuals and as local gatherings is to be celebrated, but so is our unity. In Ephesians Paul tells us to remember to keep the unity of the Spirit. It is not to be taken for granted. It requires effort to stay in unity. All we have to do is look around us to see how easily it is lost. Part of keeping the unity is the recognition and honoring of the diversity. We are not all the same and thank God for that.
LISTEN TO THE NT EMPHASIS:
[Romans 14:19] “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”
[I Cor. 1:10 ] “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
[Phil 2:1-4] “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 [the kind of ambition which has no intention to serve but only to profit] or vain conceit, but in humility consider [with a conscious judgement] others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
The first and foremost reason why we must maintain the unity is that this is the Lord’s will. See the Lord Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. He’s praying for his church for which he is about to endure Calvary’s cross. Listen to Him. Can you hear him? “My prayer is not for them alone, 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 also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. . . . 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.” (Jn. 17:20-23) [This is the only recorded specific request of Jesus for the church of the future!]
We can hardly take lightly what Jesus himself made a priority. In that prayer he was anticipating his own arrest and crucifixion. Yet look what was on his mind. It has been such a dishonor to the Lord’s name that the history of his churches is so riddled with schism.
Unity is also a practical matter. The people of God can get a lot more done if they work together.
In a Peanuts cartoon Lucy demanded that Linus change TV channels, threatening him with her fist if he didn’t. “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” asks Linus.
“These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.”
“Which channel do you want?” asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?” [Charles Schultz.]
Yet in the midst of this pursuit of unity we must not fail to keep our diversity, even our individuality.
Rabbi Zusya years ago said, “In the world to come I will not be asked, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ I will be asked, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’” [The Burning Word. pg. 89] We are called to be the person that God made us.