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Cornerstone Fellowship News
  Vol. I,  No. 3 December, 2002  
Building Up the Body - Part 3

The apostle Paul, more than any other New Testament writer, focuses on the centrality of the local assembly. It is from him that we learn so much information with respect to the Body of Christ, and especially the all-important issue of building up that Body. In the previous issue, we read Paul's famous passage in Ephesians 4:11-16, where he describes the working of each member as being of utmost importance to the successful spiritual growth of the whole Body. He concludes by saying:

"But speaking the truth in love, may [the Body] grow up into Him in all things, Who is the Head, even Messiah: from Whom the whole Body fitly joined together and compacted by that which EVERY JOINT supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of EVERY PART, makes increase of the Body unto the EDIFYING (building up) of itself in love" (Eph. 4:15-16).

Note that Paul takes particular pains to emphasize that every joint is divinely designed to be a significant contributor to the proper functioning of the Body of Christ. This fact, therefore, is paramount for all believers to accept. And it must be understood from two perspectives. First, each member must come to terms with the reality that God has gifted him or her with specific abilities that are absolutely necessary for a healthy, productive Body. Secondly, each member has to realize that every other member is equally gifted in some area of service that causes their contribution to be very important to the work of the congregation as a whole.

Once we grasp how the Body has been structured (and there will be more about this later as well), we ought to examine what the Scriptures have to tell us with regard to how the various members ought to treat one another. It is really remarkable just how much information is in the New Testament concerning this issue, which should give us a clue right away of how important this is to God and His Son. In other words, how are we supposed to build each other up? Let's investigate a few of the instructions given to us in the Word.

In the book of Romans, Paul writes that:

"We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, not to please ourselves. Let everyone please his neighbor for his good, to edification. For even Messiah pleased not Himself, but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached You fell on Me....Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be LIKEMINDED toward one another after the example of Jesus Christ (Yahshua Messiah): that you may with ONE MIND and ONE MOUTH glorify God, even the Father...Wherefore RECEIVE YOU ONE ANOTHER, as Christ also received us to the glory of God" (Rom. 15:1-7).

What is this passage really saying to us? Well, the first portion is rather self-evident. We are to focus on serving, helping, and pleasing others for their good, not primarily ourselves, as is the common practice of most human beings. We are to look to our Savior who, though the very Son of Yahweh, King of the universe, chose not to please Himself, but rather gave up all for the undeserving peoples of this whole world, of which we today are the merciful recipients.

The second part of this passage, however, poses more of a problem, especially given the current circumstances of many believers today. Paul expresses his prayer that God grant each of us to be likeminded one toward another, after the example of Yahshua (Jesus). This is where the difficulty sets in. How, in light of present conditions among all the arguing, disagreeing, disrespectful, and divided church organizations, are we to even begin to understand about being likeminded?

It might help if we took a closer look at the word itself. In the Greek, it is phroneo, and please note its meaning. The word is defined as follows: to entertain or have a sentiment; by implication to be mentally disposed (earnestly in a certain direction); to interest oneself in (with concern). Based upon these definitions, the word rendered likeminded does not have to strictly mean that every individual in the Body of Christ must be 100% in agreement with every nuance of doctrinal knowledge or understanding. While this may be an ideal toward which all of us should strive, it does not describe either the past or the current state of the ekklesia, nor could it ever at any likely given point along the way. Why is this? Simply because each member of the Body must be allowed the very best opportunity to grow up. Spiritual growth takes time, patience, understanding, and encouragement on the part of all involved. In doing these things, an atmosphere is created that is conducive to productive spiritual development. If these practices are not adhered to, just the opposite occurs-a local assembly situation where some members are judgmental toward others; where spiritual growth is stifled; and absolute conformity to the ruling powers strictly enforced. Now I ask you, with which type of group would you prefer to be associated? The answer ought to be obvious to all.

Being likeminded toward each other has much more to do with how we consider one another; what kind of attitude we have; how we view each believer; how inclined we are toward the members of our fellowship. In fact, it has everything to do with that special love of which Christ spoke as actually being the identifying sign of His followers. If a local assembly will commit themselves to achieving this kind of group situation, the goal of all coming to complete agreement is far more readily accomplished. In other words, the often typical tendency by many to immediately and rather self-righteously separate themselves from others in the faith who happen not to share the same understanding on a particular point at that moment in time, cannot help but create the very atmosphere that will inhibit spiritual growth among all the members. It may seem the right thing to do at first glance, but it really ends up being counterproductive.

Those who have been reared in a restrictive church environment tend to have many problems in this area, and that, of course, includes a host of believers who come from a typical Church of God (COG) background. One of the most difficult issues facing people who have experienced a very controlled church atmosphere is the tendency not to believe in and trust the Spirit of God to work perfectly in the lives of others, especially those who appear to be just a bit different in some way, whether it is in doctrinal understanding, or mode of worship, or even personal idiosyncracies. When confronted with a person who does not seem to fit the accepted standard, who does not toe the party line, it usually doesn't take much to raise suspicion in the minds of many from this kind of background. Perhaps you are familiar with these kinds of problems.

Paul was clearly a very sensitive person when it came to situations and attitudes resulting from just this very kind of human weakness. In his letter to the Romans, he says the following:

"As for the man who is a weak believer, WELCOME him into your fellowship, but NOT TO CRITICIZE his opinions or PASS JUDGMENT on his scruples, or PERPLEX him with discussions. One man's faith permits him to believe he may eat anything, while a weaker one limits his eating to vegetables. Let not him who eats look down on or despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has accepted and welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on and censure another's household servant? It is before his own Master that he stands or falls. And he shall stand and be upheld, for his Master-the Lord-is mighty to support him and make him stand...Why do you criticize and pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you look down upon and despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God...Then let us no more blame and pass judgment on one another, but rather endeavor never to put a stumbling block in the way of a brother...So then let us aim for and eagerly pursue what makes for HARMONY and for MUTUAL UPBUILDING of one another" (Rom. 14).

I am aware that almost any Bible student is familiar with this passage of Scripture, but familiarity must not be permitted to dim the powerful message contained in these verses. If we believers today were to practice just the instruction and wisdom in Romans 14, we would be light years ahead of the game!

If we persist in subjecting those whom we perceive to be weaker than ourselves to criticism and judgment, we do violence to the Scriptures and insult the example of our Savior. If we continue to, as The Amplified Bible puts it, perplex our brother with discussions, we run the risk of doing serious, perhaps even irreparable, damage to a child of God! The King James Version renders the Greek in Romans 14:1 as doubtful disputations, and is a direct reference to all those endless, innumerable, worthless, and tiring debates over issues that only produce strife and ill will.

Brethren, the Bible emphatically prohibits this type of egregious behavior on the part of God's saints. Ask yourselves this question: Have you grown in knowledge and understanding over the last 5 years? My educated guess is that almost everyone reading this newsletter will answer in the affirmative. If that be the case, then 3, 4, or 5 years ago, should you have been criticized, judged, and treated disdainfully because you didn't understand then all that you do now? Of course not! Such a proposition is patently ridiculous. Why then would any of us deign to take this kind of approach with a brother or sister we encounter whom we sense is weaker or, in many instances, just plain different in one way or another? It really doesn't make sense.

In making this most important point, please do not mistake what I am saying or what the Bible is saying to mean that just any kind of behavior is acceptable and permissible in an assembly of true believers. This just isn't so. Once again, it is the Bible, not the ideas of men, that dictate what is and is not allowable. Sometimes a line must be drawn beyond which the congregation must refuse to go, but such instances ought to be by far the exception rather than the rule. For the most part, the problems encountered in local church groups are of an entirely different nature, and should not be treated in a manner that is reserved exclusively for heretics, or for those who repeatedly and intentionally sow discord and divisiveness among the members. Such attitudes and actions as these are required to be forcefully dealt with, but even these rare situations should be handled with care and concern. Paul's advice to Timothy in this regard certainly rings true:

"Aim at righteousness and conformity to the will of God, and pursue FAITH, LOVE, and PEACE-which is HARMONY and CONCORD with others-in fellowship with ALL CHRISTIANS who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart. But SHUT YOUR MIND AGAINST and have NOTHING to do with trifling, ill-informed, unedifying controversies over ignorant questions, for you know that they foster strife and breed quarrels. For the servant of the Lord must NOT BE QUARRELSOME-fighting and contending. Instead he must be kindly to everyone and mild-tempered-PRESERVING THE BOND OF PEACE; he must be a skilled and suitable teacher, PATIENT, forbearing, and willing to suffer wrong. He must correct his opponents with COURTESY and GENTLENESS, in the hope that God may grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and that they may come to their senses, and escape out of the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him" (II Tim. 2:22-26).

How many people have you met or known over the years you've been associated with various church groups whom you would like to have seen applying this sage advice from the apostle Paul? How many past and current problems would now be solved and behind us, if only these sound principles had been in place? Brethren, it is only in the inspired Word of the Almighty that we will ever find the solutions to the problems that we face today. The real issue is will we go there, and will we obey what it says?

Paul, as you know, speaks often about how members of any local assembly ought to treat one another, what their relationship, attitude, and actions ought to be. We've already read some of those important references, but we really ought to consider a few others as well. For instance, in the previously quoted passage from Romans 15:7, Paul emphasizes an aspect of brotherly love of which we should take note. He says:

"Wherefore RECEIVE you one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God."

The word rendered receive in verse 7 is the Greek term proslambano, and is defined as to take to oneself. It signifies a special interest on the part of the receiver, suggesting a welcome, as though one were to take someone in and provide shelter from a storm.

When we give consideration to our Savior, don't we know that this is precisely what He has done for us? Paul compares our receiving one another to Christ's having received us. He has literally taken us unto Himself.

This word is used in Acts 18:26 in reference to the actions of Priscilla and Aquila toward Apollos:

"And he (Apollos) began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they TOOK HIM UNTO THEM, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly."

Proslambano can also mean to admit to friendship and hospitality. This is the atmosphere that needs to be created in each local fellowship-an open, receptive congregation of believers who not only extend friendship toward the members they know, but also to any who call upon the Lord with a pure heart.

Just as the Messiah put such a special focus upon love among the disciples, so did the apostles who followed him. This is particularly true with respect to both John and Paul. In fact, these two servants of God are inextricably bound to the concept of brotherly love. Their writings literally overflow with such beautiful and powerful passages on this special subject.

Paul will forever be identified with composing what has become known as the love chapter, namely I Corinthians 13. Notice some of the attributes of love as enumerated in The Amplified Bible:

"Love ENDURES LONG and is PATIENT and KIND; love NEVER is ENVIOUS nor boils over with JEALOUSY; and is NOT BOASTFUL. It is NOT CONCEITED or PRIDEFUL; and does NOT act UNBECOMING. Love does NOT INSIST on its OWN RIGHTS, for it is NOT SELF-SEEKING; it is NOT TOUCHY or RESENTFUL; it takes NO ACCOUNT of the EVIL done to it-pays NO ATTENTION to a SUFFERED WRONG. It does NOT REJOICE at INJUSTICE or UNRIGHTEOUSNESS, but rejoices when right and truth prevail. Love BEARS UP UNDER ANYTHING, is ever ready to BELIEVE THE BEST of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances and it endures all things without weakening. Love NEVER FAILS and never FADES OUT" (I Cor. 13:4-8).

Just reading this incredible passage sort of makes one shrink before the expanded definition and explanation of Godly love. It is so all-encompassing, so thorough, so complete, touching every possible facet and nuance of our life experience. The reason I Corinthians 13 is so utterly sublime and indeed overwhelming in its application is simply because this chapter is elaborating upon the kind of love that the Almighty has within His heart. It is what makes Him who and how He is-and, in like manner, it is precisely what will make or break us! This magnificent passage of Scriptures is the high standard of Christ's own spiritual perfection, and, believe it or not, this is exactly what Ephesians 4:13 establishes ought to be the measure and the objective of our own lives.

John, the brother of James, is sometimes known as the apostle of love, so much of his writing is devoted to this subject. Here's just a sampling of the instruction he has left us:

"Whoever says, I know Him (Messiah), but fails to obey His commandments is a liar, and the Truth is not in him. But he who treasures and keeps His Word truly in him has the LOVE OF and LOVE FOR God been perfected. By this we perceive and can be sure that we are in Him. Whoever says He abides in Him ought, as a personal debt, to conduct himself in the same way in which He walked...Whoever says he is in the light and yet hates his Christian brother is in darkness even until now...Little children, let us not love merely in theory or in speech, but in deed and in truth...And this is His order, that we should believe on the name of His Son Yahshua the Messiah, and that we should love one another...All who keep His commandments abide in Him, and He in them. They let Christ be a home to them and they are the home of Christ...Beloved, let us love one another; for love springs from God, and he who loves his fellow man is begotten of God and is coming to know God...Beloved, if God loved us so very much, we also ought to love one another...In this communion with Him love is brought to completion and attains perfection with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment-with assurance and boldness to face Him-because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love-dread does not exist; but full-grown love turns fear out the door and expels every trace of terror!" (I Jn. 1).

Both John and Paul keep reminding us that the love we should have and exercise one toward another is the precise kind of love that Yahshua (Jesus) displayed in His life, and that God the Father shows forth in all His words and actions. They do not say that we should just have good feelings about others, or just like them. Rather we are called upon to literally emulate Christ, who sacrificed all throughout the entirety of His life for such undeserving creatures as we little humans. We are, therefore, commanded to practice the very presence of our Savior within us, His actual life force inside our being. The bottom line really is that unless we are indeed living by true love, Christ is not in us. It's just that telling and just that important!

In his letter to the churches in Galatia, Paul says:

"Brethren, you have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by LOVE serve one another...But if you BITE and DEVOUR one another, take heed that you be not consumed one of another" (Gal. 5:13. 15).

Have you ever witnessed or known of any professing believers to bite and devour one another over this issue or that? I know that I have, and it is one of the most disruptive elements of all. It literally does consume those who persist in this behavior, leading as it does to all kinds of ill feeling, and splitting the Body of Christ wide open! Such conduct among the saints should be anathema to every one of us, and we ought to oppose it at every opportunity!

Paul continues in the 6th chapter of Galatians by saying:

"Brethren, if one be overtaken in a fault, you who are more spiritually minded, restore such a person in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted. Bear you one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ...And let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season, we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially unto them who are of the household of God" (Gal. 6:1-2, 9-10).

To the brethren in the city of Ephesus, Paul continues to express the theme of love. In chapter 4:1, we read:

"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called; with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace...Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be you kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you. Be you, therefore, followers of God as dear children: and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given Himself for us as an offering and a sacrifice to God...Give thanks always for all things...submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God" (Eph. 4:1-3, 31-32; 5:1-2, 20-21).

I have often thought about this command to submit ourselves one to another. Peter also writes about this point as well. To submit means to give in to, bow down to, yield to. It means, as Paul said in another place, "let each esteem the other better than themselves." This is what humble service is all about. In fact, the extended passage from which the above quote is taken says so much to how we ought to view and treat one another. It is found in Philippians 2, beginning in verse 1:

"So by whatever appeal to you there is in our mutual dwelling in Christ; by whatever consolation and encouraging our relationship in Him affords; by whatever persuasive incentive there is in love, and by whatever depth of affection and compassionate sympathy; fill up my joy by LIVING IN HARMONY, ONE IN PURPOSE, having the same love and intent. Do nothing from factional motives, through strife or selfishness or arrogance. Instead in the true spirit of HUMILITY let each regard the others superior to himself-thinking more highly of one another than you do of yourselves. Let each of you be concerned not for merely his own interests, but also each for the interests of others. Let this attitude and humble mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus (Messiah Yahshua)-Let Him be your example in humility" (Phil. 2:1-5).

The very basis for submitting one to another as believers and members of the same Body is Christ. I say this for two reasons. First, even as Paul states, We are to look to our Savior as the example in all areas of life, but specifically in this instance in humility. The more you think about the fact that this great man sent from God, His only Son, the long-promised Messiah, would become the chief example of humility and lowliness of mind, the more astounding it becomes! Of all people, He would seem the least likely to be so, considering His exalted status; but He chose to give it all up for us, to let go of who and what He was, and become a slave, even unto death on the cross.

Secondly, in addition to following Christ's sterling example of humbling ourselves, we also need to consider the fact that if indeed the Messiah indwells us, then who precisely are we honoring and yielding to, when we submit ourselves one to another? Is it not Christ within each of us? It is impossible to measure the blessing that would result from all true believers obeying this Biblical command.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul addresses some of these same points, by saying:

"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 honor PREFERRING one another" (Rom. 12:9-10).

This is in perfect agreement with the apostle Peter, who likewise admonishes us, saying:

"Yea, all of you be SUBJECT one to another, and be clothed with HUMILITY: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time" (I Pet. 5:5-6).

Another reason for this command to subject ourselves one to another is so that we may learn and grow from each other. The Scriptures teach that every saint has been gifted with one or more special manifestations of the Spirit, and that these gifts are for the purpose of edifying or building up the Body ( I Cor. 12, Rom. 12). Since this is so, it only stands to reason that each of us should have a healthy respect for one another, because we all have divinely ordained gifts and functions that are of the utmost importance both in the proper operation of the Body as a whole, as well as in contributing to our own personal spiritual development.

Paul again, this time in his letter to the Galatians, instructs us further on how we should be operating as brothers and sisters in the faith. In chapter 5:25, we read:

"If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of VAIN GLORY, PROVOKING one another, ENVYING one another" (Gal. 5:25-26).

We always ought to be aware of the feelings of others, and actively resisting any temptation to carelessly or otherwise provoke any brother or sister in the faith. Of course, this would hold true for anyone outside the faith as well, but the thing is that many believers will actually treat each other far more callously than the unconverted people of the world!

The Bible strongly counsels us with respect to the power of the tongue, and the absolute necessity for controlling it through the strength of the Spirit. In fact, it is said that each one of us shall give account for every idle word we speak!

If there are problems between you and a brother or sister, what does Christ command you to do? Go to the other party, and in a straightforward, but respectful and humble manner, seek to get the problem solved. He even once told His followers that if one had something against a brother, that he should go so far as to leave his sacrifice right where it was, go and settle the differences, and then come back and give the offering. In this regard, you will note that this law of love expressed by the Messiah actually took precedence over the codified law itself, and this is by no means the only example of such a practice recorded in the Bible.

How many times have you encountered someone in your assembly who is desirous of vain glory-who likes to attract attention to him or herself-who is self-conceited-who just oozes with self-importance? Few personalities are more offensive or more counterproductive to a small group setting. Often they try to dominate the discussion, talk louder than anyone else, act righteously indignant and unapproving when something or someone appears to be getting the best of them. These are people whose depth of conversion, or perhaps total lack thereof, is insufficient to overcome their low self-esteem and self-image, so they have to create a false one that they feel will impress at least themselves, if not others! It is perhaps somewhat unfortunate that such characters seem to thrive, especially in smaller, more open fellowships. Such behavior would almost always be prevented in larger corporate groups who more carefully screen those who attend their meetings, and who exert more authority and control over their members.

This is one reason why smaller local congregations need to be in a heightened state of spiritual awareness. Such acuity is not needed in large hierarchical structures, since the average attendee doesn't feel any responsibility to discern for him or herself the true nature of any person or circumstance. They are taught to simply let those above them handle such people and situations. In a small, open group, however, one's spiritual antennae must be up and operative at all times.

On the other hand, the good thing about smaller assemblies is that egotistical, know-it-all, loud-mouthed, domineering, controlling people, are far more easily spotted, and a close eye can be kept on them. This must be done for the sake of both the group and the individual involved. Often this type of character flaw is one that, with the right touch, can be corrected. It is not on par with one who is a heretic, or who is bent on dividing and destroying a local fellowship. Those kinds of people have to be dealt with forcefully, precisely according to the Biblical principles in place for just such occasions. This is a critical subject, and one that we will much more closely investigate in a later issue of this newsletter.

Another category of sometimes problem people are those who always seem to have a particular axe to grind. They have their pet doctrinal theories, which of itself may not be the problem, but they are relentless in trying to teach it or at least convince everyone that they must see the error of their ways. Some of this kind of behavior can and must be tolerated at times, because all need a fair opportunity to be heard, to have their say. However, this type of situation can soon begin to wear a small group down, and, if permitted to run its course, will usually result in one of two things-either the person will finally run out of steam and perhaps even leave the group, or a split will occur in the fellowship, with some staying and some going off after the outspoken doctrinal axe grinder! This sort of result has transpired many, many times among independent groups who have not acted soon enough or thoroughly enough to stop such potential trouble. This too is an issue that deserves more space, and will be discussed in a coming edition of Cornerstone Fellowship News.

In addition, we will later also want to take into consideration the subject of ordination and just how, again according to the Scriptures, a local fellowship is to be governed. This is a sensitive area where there is much confusion, leading, in some cases, to improper methods of administration, as well as a total lack of right government in others.

In future issues, we will also be discussing ways and means that small, local assemblies can and should serve in their own communities and beyond. What should a group's corporate mission be? Here again, there is a wide divergence of opinion and understanding, so it will be good for us to look carefully into the subject.

Other topics such as laying on of hands, anointing the sick, counseling for baptism, and the actual baptismal event itself, will be covered in detail in forthcoming numbers of this newsletter. We also earnestly solicit your input with respect to topics affecting local congregations that need open discussion. It is not our intention to come up with all the issues that demand our attention, nor do we even by any means feel capable of doing so. Your help is needed and encouraged.

In closing, let us be mindful of Paul's words to the believers in Thessalonika:

"The Lord make you increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men...to the end that He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God...Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God" (I Th. 3:12-13, 5:14-18).


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