AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH - March 26,2006
THE BODY AND THE HEAD
Ephesians 4:15-16, Romans 14-15
I THE PICTURE :
THE GRACE OF THE BODY, THE PLACE OF THE HEAD
... Ephesians 4:15-16
There is, in the human body, such a supple grace in its potential, as seen in athletes, such a co-ordination as seen in gymnastics, such a style of action, as seen in dancing, such a speed of response, as notable in skiing, that it is a marvel.
Paul uses this divinely created body as an image of what is yet more divine, longer lasting and deeper in meaning, the relationship of the whole man and woman, in the body of Christ, in the Christian Church, in the body of believers. It is however not only a body, for it has a HEAD! This is so often ignored in practice, as to make one realise anew how near the end we are, with so many so interested in the 'church body' that its Head seems almost nugatory in their thoughts.
In Ephesians 4:15-16, the case is far otherwise.
"Speaking the truth in love," we are to "grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ."
It is in Him and to Him, not ourselves, in order that
"the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint
according to the effective working by which every part does its share,
causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love."
First, notice that 'growing up' here is not a process, or program, but a personal involvement with the Head such as any skilled body MUST have. The body must not become irrational, subject to tic or breakdown, but fluently reliable, intimately responsive to the Head. It is a KNIT body, like knitting in this, that the parts have special modes of relationship, which working, give strength to the whole. In this, every tendon, every ligament, each cartilage, each muscle, each joint co-ordinates with that subtle sympathy like a symphony of motion, like a cascading waterfall, or the soughing of a vast tree. THIS is the need. If any joint (person) or sinew becomes arthritic or stressed, then the whole is compromised, and the work from the Head suffers. Thus personal pre-occupations with hatreds, party-lines and theological corners, outside the biblical domain, are mere disease!
When the prescription is followed, however, the entire body GROWS. This is far from being merely statistical, for it is spiritual, and the distinction between number and spirit is well made in the case of King David when, as a result of an unwise and improperly motivated numbering of his national troops, something taking months, he brought plague upon the people (I Chronicles 21). The body of Christ becomes a beautiful thing, a place for mercy, a team for truth and an expression for love.
II THE SPIRIT OF IT: THE UNDERSTANDING HEART - Romans 15:1-5
Thus, as you 'favour' a weak shoulder or ankle, when strong you should 'bear with the weaknesses', the needless difficulties of the weak, as Paul declares in Romans 15. Let us consider the balance and strength of the whole, and the need of the weakened one, remembering that EVEN CHRIST did not please Himself, bearing reproach for those who deserved it, though He deserved it not at all, but rather was champion, hero, the very face of the Lord, His exact image incarnate.
Hence, with due allowance (Romans 15:3), not to distort doctrine (Matthew 26:53-54), but to allow for scruples and 'problems', we should seek to have a consensus and a spirit of unity, using patience and providing comfort, allowing us with one mind to glorify Christ.
III THOUGHT FOR IT: THE DISCERNING MIND - Romans 14
When we find the weak, the confused, or immature in the Church, we must seek to avoid things too deep, just as a teacher of year 12 maths, would not embark on Year 3 University level!
Take this sort of thing: someone does not want to eat meat offered to idols, since they are evil; but another, realising that it is mere mockery of truth, does not take it seriously (the meat, that is, as tainted, for he sees the spirit of the thing is the point). Some, thus, CAN take such meat, without affecting conscience. It is not dubious because it is put firmly in place. The one seeks to understand the other, and not to criticise; and the other the one, and not to be concerned at his scruples. However, if the one with the scruples is really troubled by the liberty of the other, more mature, then for the weaker one's sake, efforts are made not to be offensive (I Cor. 8:7). Stomach and meat alike will go (I Cor. 8:13); but the word of God and His people will not. See things, then, in perspective, and show mature grace.
Again, someone may insist that Christmas should NOT be acknowledged, 'a day' for celebration, and be hostile to those who use it, however carefully this may be done, and for whatever scriptural purposes, such as personal evangelism. Others may find that this requirement needless, and a loss, for on that day and in that season you may find many willing to hear of the things of Christ and the Gospel, who at other times seem all but immune. Each should seek to avoid offending the other. Thus the mature might avoid unnecessary parade of his liberty, since the other is not yet gifted with understanding on this, or is bitterly offended by some aspect, not seeing the strategy of using this world, in it but not of it. The one not yet grown into understanding, might seek to avoid censorious recrimination, but rather express surprise. Naturally the onus is on the stronger one, to be supportive and careful.
In these domains, it is best not to judge one another (Romans 14:12), but rather seek to avoid doing and saying what will needlessly upset or offend the other. This does not mean you cannot speak the truth, but discretion will guide you. After all, says Paul, the kingdom of God is "not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit," to take once more the idol meat case. Where doctrine is not the basis, but liberty, then we have to use forbearance.
Faith which sees in such cases of conscience, in the more spiritually mature persons, then, is good; but it is also good to be watchful not to offend newer Christians who do not yet realise the spirit of the matter. It is necessary to comprehend that though someone could properly eat meat offered to idols, it is NOT so if in conscience this is not yet understood and appreciated (I Cor. 8:6-7). Then the attitude of faith is violated! One must live by the word of God, and as the Lord frees one's spirit to understand more and more its application, become more like a lubricated motor, better running; but for all that, one must not engage in needless contests from the lights! Yet where the word of God is being contradicted, the case is different! That, it is not immaturity but rebellion, and concern for snipers firing on the word of God and lambs alike, is far removed from concern for those offended by a deeper understanding! (cf. Jude 1:1-3, II Cor. 10:5, John 14:20-23).
We must through all these things, those obvious and those testing, act by faith, abiding in Christ's words, knowing Him in heart as friend, counsellor and Saviour, able to save to the uttermost, interceding for us, His people, seek His leading, act in His love, and be faithful. We are pilgrims but also soldiers, and must be found faithful, putting heart into loyal service, with lively mind waiting on Him, prudent in understanding, growing in grace, filled with His Spirit, fearless in defence of the truth (Ephesians 6, Romans 14:7-8). If it sounds daunting, it is not; for it is the very fountain of life which flows on such proceedings.