Unity in the Body

Ice Breakers

Use one of the following questions to open up discussion.  (If you have first-time guests, be sure to have people give their names as they answer the icebreaker question.)

  1. What makes a family?
  2. What are some concrete ways we can improve our small group family?  How can we improve our Godsearch family?

Our Study: Unity in the body

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”

Psalm 133:1

“I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one”

John 17:11

“It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament.  Not all Christians receive this blessing.  The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone.  They know that visible fellowship is a blessing.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Life Together”

Objectives

Small group members and guests will:

  1. Understand the Biblical command for unity in the church body through love and forgiveness
  2. Commit to love one another just as Jesus loves us
  3. Experience the love of a community that is united through the death and resurrection of Christ

Introduction

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is the fictional dialog between two demons on how to best tempt humanity and oppose the Kingdom of God.  Listen to the advice of the senior demon Screwtape to his younger nephew Wormwood:

One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread but through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes even our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.

Screwtape then describes the situation the specific human Wormwood is assigned to tempt:

“When he goes inside,… he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided…  It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains… Provided that any of those neighbours sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous… Never let it come to the surface; never let him ask what he expected them to look like. Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords.

C.S. Lewis highlights that eternal salvation is on the line in our churches and the best way that the enemy can keep us from advancing the Kingdom of God is by sowing discord and disunity amongst us.  

How?

By allowing us to be scandalized by the fact that the church is full of oddballs who have a tendency to sin.  But this is to be expected – quoth Eugene Peterson in his introduction to the book of James:

When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does. Outsiders, on observing this, conclude that there is nothing to the religion business except, perhaps, business – and dishonest business at that. Insiders see it differently. Just as a hospital collects the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the church collects sinners. Many of the people outside the hospital are every bit as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised. It’s similar with sinners outside the church.

So Christian churches are not, as a rule, model communities of good behavior. They are, rather, places where human misbehavior is brought out in the open, faced, and dealt with.

Brothers and sisters, we are to love one another not because we are lovable but because Christ died that we may do so.

Study

  1. Read Matthew 22:35-40

    The reason this “expert in the law” asks Jesus which command is greatest is to “test” him (v. 35) – that is, an attempt to make him say something that they may legally use against him.  The first commandment calls us to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind (v. 36) which is all of our volition and all of our emotion and all of our intellect.  The second commandment call us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  When an expert in the law asks in Luke, “Who is my neighbor?” in an attempt to justify himself (that is, to define “neighbor” to exclude certain people) Jesus tells a parable about a man who even loves those who hate him and his race (Luke 10:29-37). Both commandments are quotations from the Old Testament which makes sense consider Jesus’ original audience.  By saying that all of the law and prophets hang on these two commandments (v. 40) Jesus no doubt not only refers to the laws and prophetic oracles of the Old Testament but also to the sections of the Hebrew Bible – the Torah (the law) and the Nebiim (the prophets) – and is a way of saying that the entire Old Testament is based on these two commands.

    Why is the first commandment first?

    While not explicit in the text, I believe that these commandments are ordered “vertically” (God-ward) first and “horizontally” (socially) second for a reason: the ten commandments can be divided between “vertical” commandments (1 – 4) and “horizontal” commandments (5 – 10).  D. A. Carson notes that it is the first commandment because it is the commandment you break when you break any other – to not love God is idolatry and all other sins can be traced back to a prideful worship of the created over the Creator (Rom 1:21-23)

  2. Read John 13:34-35

    How is this commandment new?

    Robert Gundry says this about the new command:

    The description of the love commandment as ‘new’ relates to the earlier part of John’s Gospel, in which Jesus has given no commandments to his disciples.  This new commandment rests on the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18, cf. Mark 12:31 par.); but your neighbor has changed to your fellow believer in Jesus, and ‘as [you love] yourself’ has changed to ‘as I [Jesus] have loved you,’ that is, to the extent of sacrificing your own life when necessary.

    John is alone in calling this a “new” command, but explains in another place what he means:

    Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. (1 John 2:9-10)

    We have had this command since the beginning, which may refer to the fact that these are based on the earliest parts of the Old Testament or perhaps that this was God’s intention from creation.  Just as the truth of the commandment to love one another is seen in him it is also seen in us.

    Why should it be seen in us?

    Because the darkness is [already] passing [away] and the true light is already shining. Our love for one another will be the visible sign that we are His (v.35).  John also links this idea together in his first letter:

    Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

    If we love Him, we will obey his commandments (John 14:15) and will live our lives as Jesus did (1 John 2:6)

  3. Read Acts 2:42, Acts 4:32-37

    Do these pictures of the early church community surprise you?  Why?

    I believe it is only surprising because we do not yet experience the love and fellowship they had.  Both the natural and the supernatural aspects of the early Church always surprise us because they are so bathed in love and power. This type of love is not beyond reach, nor is it optional; we do not necessarily need to sell everything we have and live communally but we must be of that same type of love and commitment.  A.W. Tozer uses the illustration of one hundred pianos all tuned to the same tuning fork will be in tune with each other; one hundred people loving Jesus fully will love each other.

    The reality is that the community described in Acts is the biblical standard for community and anything that falls short is wrong.  When we come together to worship we are of one voice, when we come together to hear a sermon we are of one mind, when we come together to pray we are of one heart, when we come together to celebrate communion we are of one spirit; the Apostle’s Creed confesses that we believe in the holy catholic (universal) church; Paul says that “there is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:4-6 ESV)

    What then should we do in light of our unity?

    Paul commands us “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:1-3)

    Our unity is an objective spiritual fact – the work Christ has done on the cross unites us.  The subjective feeling of unity does not come about by warm feelings or even genuine human effort but only by an abiding relationship with God.  Without a biblical understanding of
    community we will default to whatever culture dictates about community – hierarchy, cliques, and exclusion.

    How can we avoid, gospel about, slander, disparage, and even hate the very ones for whom Jesus died?

Application

I believe that a true community only forms around a common love, and that we have the greatest common love in the world – that of Jesus Christ.  We need his eyes and his evaluation of other individuals to understand his love for them.  Furthermore, God is not particularly concerned if talking with some socially awkward person makes us uncomfortable nor do such feelings excuse us from his commandments. We must consciously commit to fellowship and extend grace to those who are on the outside.

In what ways do we shun certain members of the community?

Make a commitment to warmly and gently invite them in for Christ’s sake.

We may either add to the gossip circulating in a community or subtract from it; there is no middle ground.  Make a commitment to stand against all destructive talk that happens in your presence.

Do not vocalize complaints against those who serve the Church in good faith without both having a constructive alternative and talking with them face to face.

Prayer Time

  1. Thank God that we are blessed with a nation in which we can worship freely and have the adequate facilities that thousands of us can meet under one roof because this is a blessing that not all Christians at all times in all places enjoy.
  2. Ask God for spiritual vision, that we may see His children – those in our church, those outside it, and the lost who inhabit both spheres – as He sees them.
  3. Ask that we may be supplied with the grace and love necessary to form our community of worship.
  4. Ask God to help us exhibit the characteristics of a loving community of God – selflessness, sacrifice, true acceptance, sincerity, genuine care – and remove whatever may be blocking us from reaching that goal.
  5. Ask God to bring to mind any of those in the community that we (both corporately and individually) have sinned against.  If that person is in the room right now, seek reconciliation!
  6. Ask God that he might make our church and community the real temple – the place where God meets man, the place of reconciliation, the place of sacrifice, the place of worship; a visible extension of his Kingdom.
  7. Thank God that our unity in Christ is not based upon our performance but upon the Christ.
  8. Praise God!

    He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

    Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Col 1:15-23)

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One Comment

  1. kabbalistic says:

    I congratulate, the excellent message