These exhortations were given by me between 1999 and 2005. That was a long time ago, and I have grown a lot since then. They may not reflect my current beliefs.
As I was preparing this exhortation, reading the three passages for today, There was one that jumped out at me, because it described this ecclesia, and it described it well. Romans 12, verses 4 to 10:
For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;
The passage goes on in the same way, and I won’t be reading it out. Doesn’t it describe the way we function, as an ecclesia. We aren’t perfect, nobody is perfect, either individually or as a group. But we do work together as one body. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, different abilities that we bring to the ecclesia, and we work together as a family. That is a fantastically precious thing that we have. We all have different gifts, according to the grace that is given to us. Some of us are good at pastoral work, others are good at teaching, others are good at encouraging. We all work together, as a family, as one body.
This is a very familiar metaphor, and it is used on a few occasions in the New Testament. In Romans 12, Paul talks about the diversity of abilities within the ecclesia. In 1 Corinthians 12, he further emphasises the importance of this diversity.
1 Corinthians 12, 14:26:
For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
“I’m a foot, I’m not a hand! I’m not part of the body!” Sounds stupid, doesn’t it. The foot plays as essential a role as the hand, and the foot can’t say to itself “I’m just a foot, I’m not needed”. Some of us have more visible roles in the ecclesia than others. Some of us appear in the ALS diary, others don’t. Some of us appear on the platform, others don’t. The less prominent members shouldn’t feel like less important members.
And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
The eye can’t get rid of the hand. The eye can’t tell the feet they are an inferior part of the body. The visible, prominent, members of the ecclesia cannot look down on the less prominent. The visible members can’t view themselves as being the most important part. Herbie and I are probably the most visible members of this ecclesia at the moment. One of us is on the platform every Sunday. It would be madness for either of us to look on those who don’t speak as being somehow irrelevant. Any speaking brother who thinks he is a more important member than a non speaker should remember that the speaker is there to talk to the listeners, and the speaker is there for the listeners, not the other way around.
And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked. That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Is that not the purest meaning of fellowship? One of us suffers, we all suffer. That isn’t to make us miserable, it is because shared suffering is lessened suffering. Most obviously, we have all been at funerals of loved ones, and we have all been comforted by the presence of other people. Or when we have been sick, we have been comforted by a concerned phone call or letter.
One rejoices, we all rejoice. I’m sure we have all, at one time or another, been able to share good news of some sort with our brothers and sisters. A card celebrating a new job, or attendance at a retirement party. Being able to share these things with people you are close to is a very great gift.
So we, being many, are one body in Christ. Because of our association in Christ, we are in a bubble of fellowship that provides protection from the world around us.
That bubble brings certain responsibilities, particularly to those outside the bubble. Romans 12, verse 14 to the end:
Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. I think we all agree that that would be a very hard thing to do on our own. But we are not on our own. We are part of a body of fellowship where each part works with each other. That fellowship is not founded on something weak or superficial, like a hobby that we all share. It is founded on Christ and the hope of the Kingdom. That is what the bread and wine we are about to share reminds us of. When we eat the bread and drink the wine, we show the Lords death until he comes. We remember his death, and we look forward to meeting him in the Kingdom. We don’t have to worry about what those outside the bubble can do to us, because the promise that binds us together in fellowship is so great.