For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
A Chapter On What Is Most Essential
God's kingdom is the possession and inheritance of the church, called to become the channel through which God expresses Himself on earth. Through the New Covenant, the church has come to be the community of the kingdom. Its life form is the manifestation of the lordship of Jesus Christ through His Spirit in the heart of His disciples. In accordance with the New Testament, this government produces the fruit of mutual love among the saints.
Love is the very nature of God. When we live by His life, love is fruit that is manifested and evident. The body of Christ is distinguished by possessing this predominant feature of His nature. The church, according to the Divine purpose is essentially relational. She has to be edified through profound, intimate, mature relationships from the hearts of its members. Buildings, organizations, movements and structures are completely foreign to the simplicity of this principle. A living knitting of interdependent relationships is basically what the doctrine of Christ pursues as its immediate purpose.
A careful reading of the practical instructions in the gospels and epistles will bring us to the conclusion that what is sought after is not the perfection of the individual in himself, a concept so dear to Western thought and ethics. To apply the totality of the moral instructions of the New Testament to a mere individual process of perfection makes no sense in light of the New Testament revelation. We need to radically correct such a perspective.
Men were not conceived as autonomous beings, shut up within themselves. Western individualism has nothing to do with the Scriptures. In God's Word, the goal of God's dealings with man is the edifying of a living organism, made by men and women united by the common and shared possession of a same Divine life, experienced through profound bonds of love, compassion, acceptation and forgiveness among its members. The Christian life that the Lord established in the Sermon of the Mount can only be lived and expressed in the midst of a family of many children born of the Spirit. This is because God, in Himself, is not a solitary and hermetically closed Being, but is in His essence a family constituted by three Divine persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and the church is the earthly expression of His eternal nature.
"God is love", John tells us. The essence of His life is love. Therefore, mutual love is to be the distinctive element among the disciples of Christ, who live through His uncreated life. This kind of life is found beyond anything the world could produce or generate. And this is, consequently, the most evident sign of the presence of the kingdom of God among men. This is why John tells us that those who remain in love, remain in God.
In this sense, the Scriptures show us that all the practical experience of the church has to flow together toward an experience of mutual love among the saints:
"And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).
"Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind" (Philippians 2:1-2).
"Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection." (Colossians 3:12-14).
"Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous" (1 Peter 3:8).
Sadly, our contemporary emphasis does not seem to travel on those tracks. Modern individualism has invaded the heart of the children of God. Although we are not of the world, we have learned to live according to the standards of the world. All our aim is focused on the individual advantages that we obtain with the gospel. We are too occupied with the things of self, my ego, myself.
Themes such as prosperity, self fulfillment, inner healing, personal success, our ministry, anointing and the like, capture the complete attention of our mind and heart. And the most predominant note of them all is the individual with his longings, hopes, traumas and fears.
We are living in times of obsessive concentration on our self, our ego. The Lord, however, did not tell us that we would be known by our power, success, prosperity or personal fulfillment and development. These are not the characteristics that distinguish God's children in the world, because the Divine life is manifested through love.
The gospel brings us prosperity, health, and even fulfillment, but in a totally different way to the one men expect. The Lord liberates us from a self centered life and its bonds (which is intrinsically a loveless life) to submerge us into something absolutely different: the body of Christ. To that end, He pours His love into our hearts through His Spirit. Then, through that love of His, He creates profound and intense bonds of giving ourselves to one another, care, patience, affection, service and forgiveness. Nothing does more for our psychological and spiritual health as to be grafted in the midst of these kinds of relationships. Only Divine love can heal our deepest wounds and traumas. And this Divine love can only be known and experienced in the midst of God's children.
We need to be cured of our profound egotism, individualism and modern egocentric ways. Let us learn to love from God, by letting Christ Himself love through us, for us and with us as our basic way of life. His loving the Father and people through us is a practical, concrete and experiential love, that will deliver us from the clutches of self and to plant us into the bosom of the corporate life. It is a love that would knit us together in those relationships that constitute the essential knitting together of His church; it is that living woven network that results in the edification of the body of Christ.
The apostle Paul speaks to us of a body knit together by joints that mutually help one another according to the personal activity of each member to be built together in love. Love is, therefore, the essential element in the life of the church. If firm and lasting relationships among us are absent, such as only love can produce, we shall be incapable of manifesting Christ's body. We would be spiritually crippled. We might have gifts, ministries, power and spiritual revelation but it would all turn out to be in vain. Because love is the cement that unites brothers with brother and stone with stone in the house of God.
But, if we do not have love, we shall be like a man who bought the bricks for building his house but forgot to get the cement. The bricks will be there, beautiful and perfect, but completely useless. They will be no good for anything until the necessary cement is purchased to unite them. This is a vital matter, because love is the divine glue. We cannot afford to make a mistake in this matter. The church is, before anything else, a family of brethren that profoundly love one another. It is this mutual love that enables them to be edified as the body of Christ.
That is why, in Jerusalem we find that the church was born and grew in a family atmosphere; which means, out of deep love among the disciples.
"Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord... they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart" (Acts 2:44-46).
"Now the multitude of those that believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common" (Acts 4:32).
"Nor was there anyone among them who lacked..." (Acts 4:34).
Many of us read these passages with a romantic and idealistic perspective. We imagine the first church as a kind of perfect and happy community. However, our first brethren were made of the same material that we are made of. They too had personal problems, difficulties, and needs. But they had a different focus. Their eyes had been opened to see the body of Christ. They were, therefore, totally engaged in something called church. They had abandoned their individualistic way of life to embrace God's kingdom.
The apostles placed a great emphasis on this. Nobody was concerned with that which is merely personal. On the contrary, there was a constant dedication to one another. Certainly, problems, abrasiveness, and even occasional arguments occurred. However, the urge of forgiving one another and to receive those recently entering fellowship was the rule that governed them. This was because God's Spirit lived and governed in their hearts producing His most characteristic fruit: love.
The success of the church should not be measured by mundane standards but by divine ones. The presence of gifts, charisma, power, anointed ministries, prosperity and numerical growth does not in itself constitute a sign of spiritual health among God's children. Although the church may have all these things, it may still remain in a state of immaturity, or worse, of decadence (for example, the church in Corinth, in Laodicea, or even in the church in Ephesus in the book of Revelation).
Only love, expressed through intimate, deep and lasting relationships among the disciples is a valid sign that the Lord lives and rules among His own.
If we want to return to the ways of the first church, we ought to recover the correct vision of things as they really are. To attain this, it is necessary to abandon our ideas of church as an organization, efficient structure or complex institution and return to the original simplicity. Before everything else, we should see ourselves as a family related by deep bonds of love, fully engaged in the problems and needs of each one of its members, and seeking to be edified jointly around the Lord. Because, as John tells us, "...If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us" (1 John 4:12). This is and ever will be, according to our Lord, the only valid sign that we really are His disciples.