The Assembly and Its Interactions8 min read
Throughout Scripture, there is an undeniable emphasis on “one another,” and the obvious reason is that life is seldom spent without interaction of some sort, especially interaction from believer to believer. Here is the problem: when two or more people with fallen human nature get together, that nature will never fail to complicate relations. So then, when we live out our Christianity in the context of a local assembly we need to understand the Biblical way to interact and thereby eliminate as much difficulty as possible.
Interacting With Believers In General (1 Cor. 13)
Paul had just finished 1 Corinthians 12, the chapter on functioning as a body, by saying “Covet earnestly the best gifts, yet I show unto you a more excellent way.” That chapter emphasized the significance of each individual part in an organism; applying this to the assembly, each member cannot but be vital. While that knowledge would preserve each member from feeling independent, that knowledge alone could not guarantee smooth functioning within the assembly. Something in addition to this must be necessary, and that something is love, which we have described for us in chapter 13. A machine may have all its parts, but if those parts have nothing but friction between them, the machine will soon collapse.
People have a mistaken idea today that an assembly should be perfect, that if a few people have attitude problems then it isn’t an assembly worth supporting. While each assembly should strive for a perfect pattern which conforms to Scripture, no local body can ever have perfection amongst its members. That is purely wishful thinking. And it’s not as if we are the standard of perfection either. It has been said “If you find a perfect assembly, don’t go there, because you will ruin it.” What, then, is the solution if perfect people are not an option? Scripture prescribes mature, rational, Christ-centered love. It is more than simple tolerance, and it is certainly not a loose grip of the truth. Rather love is putting the interests of others to the fore, regardless of how they “deserve” it. Stubbornness and complacency bring independence; grace joins us together. “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” It doesn’t end there, though; it continues toward deep affection for God’s people. As John says “We love the brethren.” This is no love out of mere obligation, but a deep passion for a meaningful relationship with those we are joined unto in Christ. What does this look like? “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” Rather than looking for a perfect assembly, let’s look for an assembly we can love and that loves in return. This is where true value lies. Not only is this where true value lies, but this is the only way we can survive and not destroy ourselves!
Interacting With A Believer Who Sins (1 Cor. 5)
Scripture says “Love covers a multitude of sins,” and this should be the norm for general assembly life. But there will be sad times when Biblical discipline will be necessary on account of sin that would defile the assembly and ruin its testimony if left unjudged. There are three main levels of discipline: silencing (Titus 1:10-13), open rebuke (1 Tim. 5:20), and excommunication as Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 call for. The most common is excommunication. Why discipline? Wouldn’t that contradict an atmosphere of love and acceptance? Such a question assumes this to be the assembly’s highest calling, when really the glory of God is. And for God to receive the most glory, His assembly and His people must be purified – the assembly by judging sin, the disciplined individual by having God deal with him when outside the fellowship. For the assembly, we read “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened.” For the individual, we read “But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” Of course, discipline doesn’t end there, for it always has a better end in view. Galatians 6:1 says “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Need anymore be said?
Interacting Within our Christian Liberty (Rom. 14 &1 Cor. 8)
Christian liberty is essentially the ability of the Spirit-led believer to make decisions on the basis of principles and a conscience informed by Scripture so that God may be the more glorified. So then, we are no longer ruled by a system of commands, but by a spiritual mindset that says “Whether in eating or drinking, all must be to the glory of God.” This will occasionally mean that what one believer condemns unto God’s glory will be what another believer uses to glorify God. In Corinth, where meat offered to idols was often sold in the marketplace, some had convictions against eating what could have been offered to pagan deities. Others knew that the idols were just wood and stone, and that there was actually nothing wrong with the meat in itself. What were they to do with two opposing convictions? Was the one with the convicted conscience supposed to condemn the meat-eater? And was the meat-eater supposed to scorn the other on account of his weaker conscience? Neither. Rather, each was to have his own convictions before God and for the glory of God. This is the liberty believers have in specific areas. However, there are some very restrictive guidelines for the use of this liberty. Obviously the first one is that it cannot be used as an excuse to sin; “Use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” And it always has an “others first” mindset. This means the stronger believer is willing to completely forfeit his liberty if it preserves the conscience of the weaker one: “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.” The only time one has right to use his liberty is when no one else who could possibly stumble is involved. As well, a Christian using his liberty never uses excuses for what he does, but reasons for what he does. To do something because “there is nothing wrong with it” simply will not do; if we are to do all to the glory of God we must act because “there is everything right with it.” In assembly life, we will constantly be faced with people who do things slightly different than us, and that’s okay when it can legitimately be done to God’s glory. Scripture calls us as individuals not to constantly scrutinize the specifics of someone’s life, but rather to be “fully persuaded in our own minds” that what we do is fully God-centered and edifying to the assembly.
Interaction Within our Separation (2 Cor. 6)
We have looked at interaction with believers in general, with believers who sin, and with believers who have different convictions than us. What do we say, then, to interaction with the world? How are we to view it? This is where 2 Corinthians 6 is extremely helpful, for it sets out in extreme clarity what Christian separation looks like. John said in his epistle “all that is in the world…is not of the Father, but is of the world.” We can’t afford compromise with it in any area, for the cross has put a thick and permanent separation between us and it (Gal. 6:14). And so, Christian separation has three main characteristics: (1) a lack of fellowship with the world, (2) a fulfillment of the Christian’s true calling, and (3) a Father that embraces those who consecrate themselves to Him. As to fellowship with the world, there is a remarkable incompatibility between what we have been called to and what the world would call us to. Any participation in the world’s ideas, causes, morality, motivations, and methods will be devastating to the gospel. It will be an unequal yoke; we will be working side-by-side, but to two different ends. But it is not enough to refuse participation in the world; we must understand our calling and live it out. Our calling is righteousness, light, Christ, faith, and true worship. We are called to be God’s people, marked by God’s presence and God’s activities. If we focused on this as we ought, we wouldn’t have time to compromise and make the world feel comfortable, because we would be so consumed with glorifying the Almighty God. Finally, we have a promise of a Father’s embrace, providing we remove ourselves from both worldly association and worldly action. The more we enjoy God the more we will hate what subverts that joy. And worldliness is a chief cause of grief in the Christian’s life, especially when it invades his assembly. So then, we must conclude that our relation to the world is limited mainly to showing forth godliness and proclaiming the gospel. It is not a system to be trifled with in the least. Our citizenship is in heaven; why, then, would we want to set up a home on earth or look up to the people of the world?
In conclusion, then, to the topic of interactions within the assembly and the world around us, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”