How does the Bible describe the church?
Mention the word “church” today and the first thing that pops into most people’s minds is a building with a steeple and stained-glass windows. Church is a place to sit in uncomfortable pews for a couple of hours once a week, sing traditional songs and hear a preacher speak for a half hour or forty-five minutes against the evils of sin.
Or, another view of church is a non-profit charity organization that helps those in need.
But neither of these concepts describes the early church depicted in the New Testament. Yes, the early church helped the needy. Yes, there was preaching (although probably not in the style we are familiar with today). Maybe the seats were uncomfortable. But church buildings did not exist. Believers met in people’s homes, and gathered together multiple times during the week. Church was not a building, event or organization. The church was and still is the people who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for their salvation. The church was and is an organism.
The most common word translated “church” in the New Testament is ecclesia which means a specially-called assembly. Ecclesia was the common Greek word used to describe a lawful assembly of all those holding the rights of citizenship in a free Greek city. They met to take care of public affairs. Not everyone could participate because not everyone was a free Greek citizen.
A significant use of “ecclesia” … was common among the Greeks. It was their common word for the lawful assembly in a free Greek city of all those possessing the rights of citizenship, for the transaction of public affairs. They were summoned out of the whole population, “a select portion of it, including neither the populace, nor strangers, nor yet those who had forfeited their civic rights” (Trench). “synagoge” had been, before N.T. times, appropriated to designate a synagogue, a Jewish assembly for worship, distinct from the Temple, in which sense it is used in the N.T.
– Online Bible Greek Lexicon
The church of Christ is made up of those who are called out of the world. God chose you out of the world not only to save you, but to make you part of His own special people:
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
– 1 Peter 2:9
The Bible uses different illustrations to describe the church. Each of these helps you to understand how the church is to function:
A SPIRITUAL HOUSE: The church is described as a temple that God is building, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone, and the apostles and prophets as a foundation:
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
– Matthew 16:18
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
– Ephesians 2:19-22
you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
– 1 Peter 2:5
God not only indwells you individually, but He lives in the church as a whole, making the church a holy temple. As a part of this temple, you are needed to make the building complete.
A VINE: The church is compared to a vine, with its members as branches, God’s purpose being that each branch bears much fruit to God.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
– John 15:5
FLOCK: The church is described as the flock of God. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were sometimes likened to sheep, and the priests to shepherds (Jeremiah 23). However, in a prophecy of the church, Jesus mentioned He had other non-Jewish sheep that He would bring together with the Jewish sheep to form one flock (the church):
“And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.
– John 10:16
After His resurrection, Jesus told Peter to “feed My lambs” and “tend My sheep” (John 21:16). Other passages referring to the church as the flock of God as Acts 20:28-29 and 1 Peter 5:2.
THE FAMILY OF GOD: You are a part of the family of God. All believers are brothers and sisters, related to God the Father by adoption. God sent His only begotten son into the world to accomplish this ( John 3:16, 1 John 4:9). Now, having been “begotten to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3), you are a brother or sister of Christ (Hebrews 2:11).
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
– John 1:12
For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren,
– Hebrews 2:11
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
– Romans 8:16 (ESV)
“And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.”
– Romans 9:26 (LO)
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
– Galatians 3:26 (Green)
THE BRIDE OF CHRIST: Paul speaks of the church as a bride, betrothed to Christ:
Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another — to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.
– Romans 7:4
For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
– 2 Corinthians 11:2
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
– Ephesians 5:25-27
At the present time, the church is engaged to be married. The wedding is scheduled to take place at the end of days. Just think – your relationship with Christ is only just beginning!
“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”
– Revelation 19:7
THE BODY OF CHRIST: I think the best picture of the church is the body of Christ:
so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
– Romans 12:5
Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.
– 1 Corinthians 12:27 (WEB)
And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
– Ephesians 1:22-23
for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
– Ephesians 4:12
I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,
– Colossians 1:24
and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.
– Colossians 2:19
A family should be pretty close, but sometimes it is not. So a family can be a weak analogy. A body, on the other hand, is always close: each part works for the good of the whole. Even if one part suffers, is weak, or missing, the other parts suffer with it and try to support the weak part. A blind man will have his other senses sharpened. A paraplegic woman will use her arms to get around. The parts that function do not go on strike to protest the parts that don’t, but instead they work together to make up for what is lacking. This is a much better picture of how the church is to function.
You have a part to play in helping to build up the church. I am not just talking about your local church congregation. There is only one body of Christ. Seek to help all believers, regardless of which group they worship with.
Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified. The body becomes stronger as its members become healthier. The whole church of God gains when the members that compose it begin to seek a better and a higher life.
– A. W. Tozer
That the church is called the body of Christ is also important. While Jesus Christ is in heaven representing you, you are on earth representing Him. In a sense, you are already in heaven because you are continually being represented by Jesus Christ:
…and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, …
– Ephesians 2:6
You are not physically in heaven, and Jesus is not physically on the earth. However, in a sense He is on earth because the church functions as Christ’s physical presence on earth.
“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
– Matthew 18:20 (ALT)
In fact, believers are more than just representatives. Jesus Christ should actually be working through us through the Holy Spirit’s power and direction.
For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient — in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
– Romans 15:18-19
How did the early church function?
To understand how the church should function today, take a look at how it functioned in its earliest days. While the early church had its problems, it also had many things it did right. It was not concerned with what we would consider “religious” functions: liturgies, rituals, and traditions. It was concerned with spreading the gospel and meeting the physical, spiritual, emotional, and material needs of the its members. Each believer played a part.
What sorts of things did the believers of the early church do?
TAUGHT: The early church read scripture, taught doctrine, and exhorted one another.
yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
– 1 Corinthians 14:19
If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed.
– 1 Timothy 4:6
Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
– 1 Timothy 4:13
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him;
– 2 John 1:10
This is an important part of building up the church because sound doctrine forms the foundation upon which to grow spiritually. The early church’s doctrine was Christ-centered. Examine everything the church taught in the New Testament and you will see that it focused directly or indirectly on Christ.
CLARIFIED DOCTRINE: Along the same lines as teaching, the leaders of the early church clarified disputed areas of doctrine. False teachers tried to mislead the New Testament church.
And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
– Acts 15:4-11
Judaizers wanted the gentile believers to follow the Mosaic law, but when the matter was brought to the apostles in Jerusalem, Peter said it was unnecessary. Jesus Christ had set us free from the requirements of the law. Why set aside the grace of God?
ACTED AS A FAMILY: The early church acted as a family, sharing things in common. They also worshipped as a body.
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 in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
– Acts 2:44-47 (HNV)
Fellowship was a important part of early church life. Believers would give of themselves for the good of their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Some believers do not go to church regularly, but they are missing out on God’s purpose for them. If you are such a one that thinks you can worship God just fine on your own, you are forgetting that you have a part to play in helping to build up the church. You are not just to take in, you are to give out.
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
– Hebrews 10:24-25
ATE THE LORD’S SUPPER TOGETHER: Remembering what it cost God to restore us to Himself was a regular part of the life of the early church. Believers met daily (Acts 2:42,46), “breaking bread from house to house”. Even with Jesus’ crucifixion still fresh in their minds, they still felt the need to remember regularly.
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
– 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (AKJV)
Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.
– 1 Corinthians 11:33-34 (RKJNT)
The Bible gives no instructions on how often or where to have communion. You can even have it in your home with other believers.
EDIFIED ONE ANOTHER: Building up the body was not a job just for the leaders of the church. All believers had a part.
How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
– 1 Corinthians 14:26
Paul chastened the church at Corinth for their self-seeking attitudes and actions. The believers in this city were cliquish, going to court against one another, committing sexual sins, and using spiritual gifts for their own benefit. Instead, He instructed them to each do their part to help build each other up, to focus their attention from themselves to others.
PRAYED TOGETHER: The early church shared its concerns with one another and prayed together. Believers met together to pray when Peter was in prison, and the prison doors opened in response to their prayers:
So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.
– Acts 12:12
The disciples at Tyre prayed with Paul when he was on his way to Jerusalem:
When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with wives and children, till we were out of the city. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed.
– Acts 21:5
The disciples prayed for God’s protection and boldness to spread the gospel after the chief priests and elders had threatened them:
And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the LORD and against His Christ.’ For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
– Acts 4:23-31
HELPED THOSE IN NEED: John wrote:
But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?
– 1 John 3:17
When you love God, you will help your brother or sister in need. The early church helped distribute food and maybe clothing to needy widows. The first deacons were commissioned to manage the daily distribution:
Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.
– Acts 6:1-6
Paul’s ministry was to spread the gospel to the gentiles. He used his tent making skills to help support his ministry (Acts 18:3), but sometimes he also had needs, which were met by the believers from various churches:
And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself.
– 2 Corinthians 11:9
Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need;
– Philippians 2:25
Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.
– Philippians 4:15-16
The early church not only supported the needs of those in the mission field, they also supported other needy churches. The gentile church helped provide for the needs of the church in Jerusalem.
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem.
– 1 Corinthians 16:1-3
What if local churches today stopped isolating themselves, and instead helped supply the needs other their neighboring church bodies? Wouldn’t that better help to build up Christ’s body?
HELPED SPREAD THE GOSPEL: Telling others about Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection was the primary mission of the early church and it needs to be the mission of the church today. Believers helped support missionaries, showing hospitality:
Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth.
– 3 John 1:5-8
Not only was the gospel spread in word, but also in how believers lived. The Thessalonian’s faith was so evident to others, report of it had spread throughout the region:
so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
– 1 Thessalonians 1:7-10
The early church did not just send money to their missionaries and then forget about them. They were interested in how things were going in the mission field:
Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
– Acts 14:27
Actually, most of the local church congregations in the New Testament were founded by missionaries… missionaries like Paul supported them until they were able to support themselves.
JUDGED TOGETHER: The Corinthian church was in such poor spiritual condition that they were going to court against each other. Paul instructed them to instead settle their own disputes:
If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge?
– 1 Corinthians 6:4
Believers in the church should be well able to judge any matter within the church.
In summary, when the church met together, it was not just for the purpose of worship. Worship was lifestyle that applied all week. The early church met for the purpose of edification, the spiritual strengthening of the body, and so should the church today.
Church is about relationships with those who inspire you to come closer to God. We meet together so that we may be strengthened (through teaching, fellowship and prayer) so we can continue to worship God in our daily life. Every Christian, as part of the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5), must be both equipped and encouraged to exercise ministry to build up other believers.
How should I relate to other believers?
You are unique. You have strengths and weaknesses that are different than your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and each of them also has different strength and weaknesses from you. Your path to Christ was different than theirs. Your understanding of Christ is somewhat different than theirs. This is because no believer has a perfect understanding of spiritual things. Each of us has points of misunderstanding. Sometimes our differences can cause offense and conflict. Sometimes we cause others to become offended or stumble, and sometimes they do the same to us.
For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.
– James 3:2
But you and I are still called to be in unity, one body in Christ. Walking in love is a big part of modeling God’s character.
Jesus’ disciples came from various, even conflicting, backgrounds. Matthew, a tax collector for the Roman government, had to work with Simon, a one-time militant radical who, with others, tried to throw off the Roman oppressors. Maybe the relationship between them was cool, but we read nothing of it. There is no record of disagreements or fights between those two. Yes, sometimes there were bad feelings between the 12 disciples ( Matthew 20:24), but after Jesus returned to the Father, all of the apostles worked together to help spread the gospel and make disciples. They serve as a model for how you and I should live and act.
In the New Testament letters written to the churches, Paul, Peter, James, and John give much practical instruction on how to live with other believers.
SEEK UNITY: Seek the unity of the body of Christ, even at the expense of your “rights”. The Corinthian church had many problems, but one of the biggest was the lack of unity. There were various cliques (1 Corinthians 1:10-15, 3:1-7), and many were seeking their own self-interests, defending themselves at the expense of the church body:
Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?
– 1 Corinthians 6:7
The church is called by the name of Christ and acts as His representative on earth. Seek unity not only for your own benefit, but so that the name of Christ will not be blasphemed. If you have a serious problem with another brother or sister in Christ, don’t air your dirty laundry by going to court, but seek someone in the church who is “least esteemed” to judge your case (vs. 4), not just the pastor or an elder. This forces you to humble yourself.
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
– 1 Peter 5:5
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
– Philippians 2:3
Seek each other’s good. Like a body, seek the unity of the body. Be of one mind. Treat others as yourself.
Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.
– 1 Peter 3:8-9
“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
– Matthew 7:12
BEAR WITH ONE ANOTHER: There is much talk of tolerance these days. Special interest groups seek tolerance for their own issues. “We want you to show tolerance towards us,” they say. But for a Christian, tolerance needs to be a first-person attribute. In other words, it is more important for you to show tolerance towards others than for others to tolerate you. Paul said “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12:14, 1 Corinthians 10:32-33, 1 Peter 3:9). If this is how you are to respond to non-believers, what does it say of how you are to respond to your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.
– Romans 14:1-4
Judging is God’s job, not yours or mine. Yes, if you see your brother sin you need to warn him, but in the gray areas be careful. God has accepted him as well as you. Instead, seek to build other believers up, regardless of any apparent weaknesses you may see in them:
Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.
– Romans 14:19
We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
– Romans 15:1-7
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.
– Romans 14:13-15
LOVE EACH OTHER: Jesus instructed His disciples to unconditionally love each other just as He loved them.
“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
– John 15:12 (AKJV)
This is the kind of love you need to have for others. It is not a love that is based on what the other person can do or has done for you. For it to be evident that love is unconditional, it must be given even when the other person does not deserve it. Jesus knew that Judas Iscariot would betray Him, but He still showed love and even favor to him (John 13:26).
Love in the Bible is not an emotion but an act of will. It is not just words or a feeling. It is compassion in action.
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?
– James 2:15-16 (MKJV)
But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
– 1 John 3:17-18
When God said He loved you, He didn’t just stop at words. He showed it to the extreme by sending His Son to die for you. There is no greater love than that.
The kind of love we are to have for each other is a supernatural kind of love, and it should be an identifying characteristic of all believers:
“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
– John 13:35
The distinguishing mark of His followers is not merely what the Church teaches – but how we live our lives showing love to each other.
– The Best Of Andrew Murray On Prayer
Love is the number-one characteristic that should be evident in you. Paul said this “more excellent way” is more important that spiritual gifts, great faith, acts of charity, and self-sacrifice.
The Greek word agape (love) seems to have been virtually a Christian invention — a new word for a new thing (apart from about twenty occurrences in the Greek version of the Old Testament, it is almost non-existent before the New Testament). Agape draws its meaning directly from the revelation of God in Christ. It is not a form of natural affection, however intense, but a supernatural fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is a matter of will rather than feeling (for Christians must love even those they dislike – Matt. 5:44-48). It is the basic element in Christ-likeness.
Read 1 Corinthians 13 and note what these verses have to say about the primacy (vv. 1-3) and permanence (vv. 8-13) of love; note too the profile of love (vv. 4-7) which they give.
– James Packer, Your Father Loves You, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986.
Read 1 Corinthians 13 carefully. To see it in action, put Jesus’ name in place of the word “love” and read it again. This is how you and I should think and act.
First Corinthians 13 is the description of how Christianity works out in a man’s actual experience. Love is the sovereign preference of my person for another; my love for Jesus Christ means that I deliberately identify myself with His interests in other people – and the Lord is interested in some funny folk. Jesus Christ demands, if I am born from above and have inherited His disposition, that I show it, not to fictitious people, but to the people I live beside. Our Heavenly Father has an amazing sense of humour; He will bring across your path the kind of people who manifest to you what you have been to Him. If you have been obstinate, that is why you have got that fellow around you just now, and Jesus says, “Show him the attitude I showed you.” That is experimental Christianity with no humbug. It means showing the disposition of Jesus Christ to the man who deliberately wrongs you, and it takes some doing.
– Oswald Chambers
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
– 1 Corinthians 13:13 (RKJNT)
Read Romans 12:9-21, 13:8-10 for more on how you should express love to others.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable…The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers…of love is Hell.
– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1960, p.169.
There is nothing you can to do make God love you more! There is nothing you can do to make God love you less! His love is Unconditional, Impartial, Everlasting, Infinite, Perfect!
– Richard C. Halverson.
Dr. Mitchell was impressing upon us that we are not under the Law when we’re in Christ, but we’re under a new law — the law of LOVE. He used this to illustrate: In America there is a law stating a woman must take care of her child. So, a man comes to a new mother’s home. He says “Are you taking care of your baby? The Law says you have to.” The woman, tenderly holding her baby, said, “I don’t need a law to make me take care of my baby.” Why? Because she loves her baby! She feeds him, holds him, changes him because she loves him. I no longer need the Law because I’m under Christ — a law of LOVE.
– Source Unknown.
Compassion costs. It is easy enough to argue, criticize and condemn, but redemption is costly, and comfort draws from the deep. Brains can argue, but It takes heart to comfort.
– Samuel Chadwick
How should I relate to nonbelievers?
Your walk towards those in the world should be no different than your walk towards those who believe. This means showing them love just as Jesus showed love to sinners. It also means:
RESPECT THOSE IN AUTHORITY OVER YOU: This includes at your job (your employer and supervisor) and as a citizen of your country (everyone from the president on down to your friendly, or not so friendly police officer).
Honor all [people]. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
– 1 Peter 2:17 (Green)
They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
– Matthew 22:21
This can be a hard thing, especially when you don’t agree with some of these people. But God has placed these people in these positions. What they do in these positions is their responsibility, but your part is to respect them.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
– Romans 13:1-7
BE HUMBLE – DON’T JUDGE: Judging is God’s job. Your job is to tell the world about Jesus Christ, their only hope.
I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner — not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”
– 1 Corinthians 5:9-13
Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
– 1 Corinthians 10:32-33 (MKJV)
Christians are not here to be the world’s moral police, so don’t set yourself up as somehow better than everyone else. Yes, you need to stand for what is right, but your purpose is not to make the world a morally better place. That is impossible. Instead, do your part as an ambassador for the kingdom of God. Tell others about Christ and glorify Him in your life. Only He can change a sinner into a saint.
Don’t avoid non-believers (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). Be salt and light to them. Show them Christ, and do it humbly and with respect. For example, study how Paul related to non-believers in the book of Acts (i.e. Acts 17:16-33).
To further God’s purpose that you help build up the church, He gave you one or more spiritual gifts. It has always been that when God requires people to do a work, He equips them to do so. When God commanded that the tabernacle be put together, He filled the workers with wisdom to do so ( Exodus 28:3, 31:3, 35:35). It is important to realize that we believers can’t build up the church on our own, either. Jesus said:
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
– John 15:4-5
Therefore, look to God to supply you with everything you need to do the work He wants you to do.
You received your spiritual gift(s) when you were saved, which is when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in you (2 Corinthians 1:21-22, Ephesians 1:13, 1 John 3:24, 4:13). This is true of all believers. Paul calls these gifts “manifestations” of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7) because they are the work of the Holy Spirit in you (1 Corinthians 12:11).
Spiritual gifts are not talents (although you are to use those as well). Nobody is naturally gifted with a spiritual gift. In fact, your spiritual gift may be in an area that you are naturally weak in. Communication comes hard to me, but I seem to have the spiritual gift of teaching. My wife says she is not a “people-person”. But God has gifted her with the spiritual gift of hospitality.
Spiritual gifts are also something that are not learned (although it takes learning to more effectively use them). Jesus never taught His disciples how to speak in tongues or raise the dead. They were able to do these things because the Holy Spirit was the One doing so through them.
Who gets what gifts? That is up to God to decide. Know this, that the gift or gifts you were given were specifically chosen for you by God so that you could minister to the rest of the body in the way that He wants you to. God did not shake the bag and hand you a spiritual gift at random. The gift(s) you have are part of the plan God has for your life.
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.
– 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (AKJV)
Spiritual gifts are tools for edifying the body, therefore being given one or more implies God has also given you the responsibility to use them properly. Spiritual gifts are not for your own personal use or enjoyment. Each gift is relational. Therefore, use your spiritual gift(s) towards others.
As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
– 1 Peter 4:10
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
– Romans 12:6-8
This means don’t expect only the pastor, elders, or other church leaders to meet all the needs of the church. You have a responsibility to share in the work of building up the body of Christ also.
A healthy church is when all believers do their part to help build each other up. If you see a need, see what you can do to meet that need, not just on Sunday but any day of the week – the church exists continuously. If you are a mature believer, seek to build up the faith of younger believers. Tell the unsaved about Jesus Christ (example: Acts 18:24-26). If you are materially blessed, help those who aren’t (examples: Acts 9, 36-39, 16:1-2). If God has helped you overcome a great weakness, help those who are still struggling in theirs. Everyone needs to be encouraged and strengthened. Relationships need to be restored and maintained. And everything needs to be done in love. Work toward our common goal: unity of the faith and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
– Ephesians 4:11-16
As you help to build up the church, spiritual fruit will result. Spiritual fruit is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in your life. Each fruit is characteristic of God’s nature. While spiritual gifts are God’s gift to us, spiritual fruit is for God, not us.
Spiritual Gifts Inventory
One way to discover your spiritual gift(s) is to take a spiritual gifts inventory where you answer a series of questions about yourself. There are a few inventories available. Here’s one by Dean Van Druff that is based on books by K. C. Kinghorn and A. Jordan:
On the whole, this one is pretty good. I like how it makes a distinction between natural talent and spiritual gifts. I do, however, have some problems with a couple of areas:
1. Apostleship: One of the qualifications of an apostle is to be an eyewitness of Jesus’ earthly ministry (Acts 1:21-27). We can be apostles in a general sense that we are messengers, sent to spread the gospel, but I believe the specific gift is not possible today.
2. Tongues: While I believe that the gift of “tongues” (speaking in known human languages) is valid, I believe speaking in a “tongue” (unknown language, ecstatic utterance) is not a true gift of the spirit. It is not included in any scriptural lists of spiritual gifts, it does not fit the qualification of a spiritual gift to edify the body, and when 1 Corinthians 12-14 is read in context, we see that Paul speaks negatively of it in comparison to true spiritual gifts. Pay careful attention to the use of the word “tongue” vs. “tongues”. “Tongues” is a sign gift for non-believers, not for believers (1 Corinthians 14:6-12, 22).
Because this version of the Spiritual Gifts Inventory focuses more on tongues as ecstatic utterance, for the most part I disagree with the way the gift of tongues (and also somewhat the interpretation of tongues) is treated. Needless to say, if you have the real gift of tongues, you’ll know it because you’ll speak to others about God the Father and Jesus Christ in their native language without having learned the language.