Archive for September, 2013

Divisions and unnatural distinctions in humanity that exist today (geopolitical, socioeconomic, etc.) do not exist in the union of Christ. Instead of many rebellious men and women of every nation and family on earth there will be one man, Jesus Christ. Unnatural distinctions that divide mankind will be done away with completely on the last day. However in this present age every Christian must make every effort to take hold of the union of Christ in their lives by disposing of unnatural and unhelpful divisions between the elect.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
(Galatians 3:27-29 ESV)

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
(James 2:1-4 ESV)

The Bible makes it clear that the distinctions that humans make between themselves (distinctions of value) are wrong. This is not to say that there are no differences between members, because God determines that each member be distinctive. Instead Christaians are required to align their judgements with God’s, valuing what he values and dispise what he dispises. The distinctions that God makes are for the good of all, for building and sustaining unity. To show favouritism or give honour appart from the criteria and judgements of God is indicative of disunity. Therefore Christians are required to love oneanother and uphold their union in the Holy Spirit.

Men and Women in Christ
Since the beginning God has determined the gender of each human (he made them male and female). Just as he determined that Adam would be male and Eve would be female he continues to create mankind male and female for the good of all.

Much has been made of the differences between men and women and the roles they play in the order of humanity. While there is much to say on this topic I will not be providing a detailed look at every passage that discusses the differences between men and women. Instead I will focus on the unity of these two distinct parts of humanity. I will not be assigning value to the roles that are discussed in the bible, as I have previously stated value is derived from God and it is he who assigns roles to each of us within the order he has created.

1 TIMOTHY 2:13-15
The Bible acknowledges the tension that has existed between the sexes since the fall. In discussing right relating it is important to think clearly about what humanity was originally created to be and what actually happened between Adam and Eve at the time of the fall.

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
(1 Timothy 2:8-15 ESV)

In 1 Timothy the reasoning for forbidding women to teach or exercising authority over a man is found in the first 3 chapters of Genesis. It makes reference to both the creation of Adam and Eve and their sin. He states that God formed Adam first and then Eve and it was Eve who was deceived not Adam. There are several implications from this argument:
• In the creation of Adam and Eve there is a purposeful order (like all of creation) to their relationship that has to do with the order within which they were created. Eve shares in Adam’s flesh not the other way around.
• Eve was deceived not Adam. This means that the sin of Eve can be seen as distinctly different from Adam’s, it is her own (like ours, Romans 5). She was not dragged into corruption merely by the sin of Adam (her head).
• The sin of Adam is his own. He was not deceived by Eve and sin did not come into the human race as a whole because of woman. Therefore there can be no questioning the subsequent value of any woman on this basis.
• The relationship between Adam and Eve was a unity of the flesh, which was destroyed/ reversed in the fall (Genesis 3).

Christians must take note of this original perfect union between the first man and the first woman and use it as the template for their present union in Christ. It is also important to see how Adam and Eve’s respective sins affected their relationship. The Bible is making it very clear that demeaning women because of the sin of Eve is wrong. Eve’s sin was her own just like every subsequent human and she did not cause the fall of the human race in Adam because she did not deceive him, the fall of mankind was Adam’s fault.

There has been much confusion over the phrase “she will be saved through childbearing”. There are 2 implications that can be drawn from this reference to childbearing:
• It is advocating that Eve (all women) consider the good order of marriage (pre fall) and their God-given place in it.
• The only way to enter the human union (be human) is to be born human, this has strong links to the promise to Eve that mankind would be saved by a child born from a woman. So Christ became human by being born from a woman.

Humanity is saved through the practicing of human unity in love while at the same time faithfully waiting for the fulfilment of promises in Christ, together. Unity alone will not save, this is why it says “if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” (vs14) Where the “they” that refers to Adam and Eve, meaning that in striving to uphold the original unity of Adam and Eve they will be saved together (not separately) through faith, love and holiness. This can be extended to all mankind because at the time of the fall Adam and Eve represented the whole human union (2 members). Adam and Eve are the model for all human unity.

The Bible is not singling out women to be punished for the sin of Eve. It is not making an awkward comment about the fertility of those women who are saved. It is in fact calling for men and women to promote the same unity of Adam and Eve (pre-fall) amongst themselves, eagerly waiting for the fulfilment of the promises of God in Christ.

Therefore whenever we seek to answer questions of roles within the church proper respect must be given to the unity established by God in the beginning, understanding that it is not just a matter of capability but also how men and women were created to relate to one another under God.

Unity and Hierarchy in Christ
Not all gifts are given the same authority, with some carrying more responsibility and authority than others.
1 Corinthians 12 states that there is a hierarchy amongst the gifts. This is necessary to maintain order amongst distinctive individuals in Christ. If all are leaders then none would lead; Who are they supposed to lead? This would make the whole union ineffective. Diversity makes the whole union stronger, whereas diversity without unity is destructive.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
(1 Corinthians 12:27-31 ESV)

While the point is clear this list is not exhaustive:
1. Apostles
2. Prophets
3. Teachers
4. Miracles
5. Healing
6. Helping
7. Administrating
8. Various kinds of tongues

As already discussed, God determined both the hierarchy and the allotment of gifts. Therefore any authority that the possessor of one gift may have over others has been given by God. This means that from first to last every gift must be used in accordance with his purpose, building and sustaining unity in Christ. While possessors of the higher gifts are granted greater authority in the union of Christ they also have greater responsibility and accountability for the use these gifts properly.

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Matthew 20:20-28 ESV)

As previously stated each gift can’t be separated from the person. Just because a person is willing and able does not mean they should be given authority. The Bible clearly places strict demands on the personal conduct and faithfulness of all Christians, however the greater the authority in Christ the stricter the requirement. More than anything Christian leaders are required to be faithful, upholding the unity (spirit, love and order) of the Holy Spirit (e.g. 1 Timothy). If you desire to lead you must be willing to demonstrate extreme faithfulness to God in the face of hardship (much like the prophets). Rejoice when you suffer, knowing that it teaches you faithfulness and gives you new opportunity to show your faithfulness to the one true God (James 1).

Therefore the hierarchy of gifts does not supersede the order of marriage given by God in creation, rather it is subservient to the order of marriage. It also means that gifting is not directly equated to ability. For example, just because someone has the ability to teach or lead does not mean they should automatically be given authority to teach and lead within the Church.

God determines all things according to the council of his will. He gives ability, gender, circumstances of life, etc. Why then would he not consider the place of each whole person (over time) in his Church? God does not contradict himself when he forbids certain actions based on gender yet approves the same actions based on skill and faithfulness, both must be understood within the order of unity, to the glory of God.

Order without love is meaningless
The only thing more excellent than the manifestation of the gifting of God is the manifestation of the love of God. As previously discussed God is love it is love that builds and sustains unity.

The love of God (in unity) is so important to unity that 1 Corinthians states that without it everything is worthless. No matter how able a person is (“knowledge”, “faith”, etc.) if they do not posess the love of God in unity they are worthless. Ironically a person that knows everything should know that he is worthless appart from unity in God. Without love, unity is nothing.

It is impossible to properly respect the position of God as lord and the positions (and gift) of others without the love of God in unity. This leads to selfish ambition appart from God, where individuals seek to create value and meaning in a worthless existance. Not loving any single member (including yourself) is a rejection of the headship of God and the whole union, because God determins each persons place in the whole.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)

The importance of love cannot be over stated. Christ is the perfect example of the love of God in unity. 1 Corinthians 13 describes what the love of God in perfect unity looks like:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it his not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, eendures all things.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)

Christ is at work in the world now, by his spirit, building his kingdom (union) for the age to come. Love will continue into the new creation, when creation is destroyed and the judgement of God on all things is finally complete love will remain, because unity in God remains. In the new creation when all who are united in Christ take hold of what has been promised there will be no need for faith and hope because their union will be will be perfect. They will no longer need to relate to one another in the imperfect ways of the flesh of Adam (self-interest). Humanity will no longer be separated from Christ in body, they will see him face to face and their life will be in him perfectly and they will love one another with the love of God.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

(1 Corinthians 13:8-13 ESV)

As previously discussed Human unity (under God) is achieved through common nature (love), order (marriage) and form (flesh then spirit). The Bible also maintains that distinctiveness is an important part of unity requiring that these 3 fundamentals do not equate to sharing the same personality, physical body and function. However distinctiveness can and does exist without unity. Each distinctive member is different (to varying degrees), forming part of a greater whole, using their distinctiveness/individuality for the good of all rather than imposing them-self on the whole union (selfishness).

One of the most important images of distinctiveness in the union of Christ is given in 1 Corinthians 12-13. Ch12 describes the distinctiveness of the members of Christ and how their place in the whole has been determined by God. Ch13 explains how love is essential for binding distinctive individuals together in unity.

1 CORINTHIANS 12
While there are many different types of gifts they all come from the same spirit, that of Christ. These gifts can be used in a variety of ways to serve the same lord (Jesus Christ). There are various different jobs and activities to be performed in building and maintaining unity in Christ, but the power to perform them all come from God (head of all) through the Holy Spirit. Therefore God uses the diversity of each member to maintain and strengthen unity in himself, as it says:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good…
…All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

(1 Corinthians 12:4-7&11 ESV)

The distinctiveness of each individual extends beyond mere ability, it encompasses everything they are. This includes (but not limited to) the family they are born into, when they are born and when they die, their abilities, wealth and membership in Christ. While there may be many people with similar abilities they are not born into the same circumstance (family, geographic, socioeconomic, etc.) or are given the same opportunities to love the same people as each other (in the same way). Therefore just as the gift should not be thought of as separate from the person to whom it was given, the person should not be thought of as separate from the time, place and circumstance of their life.

Christ: one and many
Just as it was “not good” for Adam to be alone, the union of Christ does not consist of just Christ. To each member of his union is given a different manifestation of the same spirit, so that all members work together in perfect harmony for the common good. Paul uses the body to explain how the distinct members of the human union (in Christ) work together, with different abilities and purposes, for the benefit of each individual and the whole. Just as the human body has many parts that make up a greater whole so does the body of Christ, he is many (distinctive) and he is one (united in him). As it says:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.
(1 Corinthians 12:12-14 ESV)

God gives each member to the whole as he sees fit, arranging the members of the body of Christ perfectly according to the counsel of his will. Therefore Christians must not deny the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in other, but seek to use their gifts and abilities in the time and place that God has given them. No member or person can be said to be superfluous or born at the wrong time or have no place in Christ because it is God who worked all this out since before the beginning. It is God who determined the time, place and circumstances of their birth, life and death of all his people. As such he has given each a place in the union of Christ. God has done this as head of all things according to his sovereign will, for the good of all (the good of the union) and his own glory (both are to his glory).

If after being united in the spirit of Christ a member then denies the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in them-self by seeking other gifts out of self-interest they deny the unity of the Holy Spirit who gifts all members. Unity in Christ is not contingent on any single gift (or group of gifts) that all members share, rather the Holy Spirit manifests all gifts for the sake of unity in Christ.

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
(1 Corinthians 12:12-31 ESV)

While each member must not deny the spirit that has been manifest in them-self, they must also not deny the manifestation of the spirit in others (if it is indeed the same spirit). If parts of the body were to deny one another then there would no longer be a body but rather a pile of dead body parts unable to move or operate as they were originally designed by God. All creation was were created and apart from unity (with God) all are dead.

Therefore each member must take care to treat every other member according to the purpose God intended, with the honour and care God intended. As individuals operating in unison each member must take care to know that their place is guaranteed by the death of Christ under the sovereignty of God. In this way God has given each member to one another, so that they will work together to understand their places in the whole. Therefore it is each person’s responsibility, as members of Christ (partakers in his spirit) to know and encourage one another in the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Those who have been given more have the responsibility to bear with the shortcomings of those who have been given less. In this way no one member is lacking because they have each other.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
(Romans 15:1-7 ESV)

The Church is the body of Christ, unified in his spirit. God gives each person the gifts and abilities he has given them for the years he has allotted, at the specific time in history he has determined. Our birth was no accident our life is no accident God is working all things so that at the right time all things happen according to the council of his own will. Therefore it is God’s distinctiveness (as sovereign) from us that allows for our distinctiveness from one another to manifest in unity. So we must respect and honour the positions and gifts God has given each of us (as we respect and honour his position over us) in the ordering of all things under him, using them for the good of the whole.

This is one of the most comforting things in scripture, to be told that there is a place for you/you belong. All who are united in Christ had a place prepared for them before they were born. Christ has given this assurance himself, that all members have been guaranteed a place in him in this life and in the new creation as well. These are the words that Christ comforted his disciples with when he told them that he was leaving.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
(John 14:1-4 ESV)

Christ also promises that he will return to take all who are united in him to the there himself so that no one will miss out or get lost on your way. No matter what happens in this life (don’t deny the Holy Spirit), if you are in Christ, you have a place not only to stay but to belong forever. For anyone who has ever felt like they have no purpose, are out-of-place, are not needed or have been homeless, displaced, disowned or dispossessed they can feel completely secure in the promise that there is a purpose and a place for all in the union of Christ forever.

This good order God has given the church is not enough to achieve unity by itself, there is something more important required to bind all members in Christ.

This post is not an exhaustive look at the distinctiveness that existed in humanity in the beginning, it is a summary of material already covered.

Unity and distinctiveness in the beginning
As discussed, Adam and Eve (mankind) were created to be in unity. God gave marriage to order the relationship between Adam and Eve and all of mankind. Their marriage unified mankind (there were only 2 humans at the time) and was becoming an essential part of human unity. Within the order of marriage Adam and Eve were given distinct roles. Both of them were made fit for purpose (e.g. Eve with the capacity to bear children).

As the head of mankind Adam was given Eden, to eat of its fruit, work the ground, rule over it and protect it from evil. It was Adam who received the original command not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and he was held responsible for breaking unity with God. God created Adam first so that his distinctive role and purpose in his family (immediate and all humanity) would be as head (1 Timothy 2:14).

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
(Genesis 2:15-17 ESV)

God revealed that it was not good for Adam (mankind) to be one and alone, so Eve was created from Adam (sharing in his flesh), but was not an exact duplicate of him. Eve was clearly different from Adam yet still human. She was called helper because she was designed to live in unity with him and help him in what God had given him to do. She also enhanced him, Adam was no longer one and alone, through their unity they more fully reflected the image of God (one but not alone). One distinctive feature Eve possessed was her ability to bear children for the purpose building and enhancement of the unity of the flesh of Adam. This is why after the fall God cursed Eve in her childbearing, saying:

To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

(Genesis 3:16 ESV)

So this is the role that Eve was created for, to help her husband and bear children for the good of mankind. This was her role and no one else’s. In using their God-given abilities they would both uphold and perpetuate the unity in the flesh of Adam.

So from the beginning distinctiveness was important part of humanity. Adam and Eve were one (united) yet distinct, one and many at the same time. In this way they reflected the image of God, one and may.

Introduction
It is widely accepted that unity is achieved through commonality (i.e. common enemy, purpose, experience, etc.) and by extension the more in common the stronger the unity. Under this assertion perfect unity is a state of complete sameness, where distinctiveness and individuality are seen as the opposite of unity. While it may be generally accepted that individuality and unity are mutually exclusive the Bible places great emphasis on the distinctiveness of the individual and the choices they make in building and sustaining unity (in the image of God). In essence individuality is an important part of Biblical unity.

Biblical unity is difficult to understand because it is not experienced on a daily basis, in the present age. Instead human unity has been replaced with an intense focus on individuality (especially in western culture), becoming the very air we breathe. Societies are structured around rewarding those who distinguish themselves from the multitude of unexceptional in academia, sport, entertainment, business, etc. we desire and are incentivised to distinguish ourselves from everyone else as much as possible. We seek to prove our worth by being the most different we can be, or doing something that has never been done before. So it is little wonder our societies have become a congregation of self-seeking individuals in competition to be noticed (different) and that this is not a good foundation for a healthy community.

To come to terms with what the bible has to say about distinctiveness and unity it is important to go back and examine the distinctiveness present in the beginning before seeing how this pattern of individuality in unity is perfected in Christ (the church). This is only a quick overview of the subject, though it is enough to understand that individuality is an essential part of biblical unity.