FIRST POSTED ON 1 MAY 2020.
Shalom Aleichem and welcome to my Shabbat blog!
In our last two sessions, we saw how we are to stand in Faith in what Christ has done for us, and to walk in Hope thru the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
But more than that, we are to walk with God in Love for the Body.
When Jesus was with us, He had repeatedly stressed the heart/spirit of the Law - which is Love. This was why He rebuked the religious leaders in His time for their hypocrisy in following the letter but not the spirit of the Law. This was also why Jesus died for our sins - out of love for us. Now, in His final words to His disciples before He was to be crucified (Jn 13-17), Jesus called on them to remain in Him in love and obedience, giving them a new commandment - “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34-35). Jesus then prayed for unity not just among the disciples then but for all who would hear and believe in Him in the years to come.
This bond of love uniting all believers was a key teaching of the Apostles. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul spoke of the unity of all believers in Christ and how they should use their freedom in Christ not to continue sinning but to serve one another in love. He rebuked the Corinthians for the quarrels and divisions within the church when it came to matters that required love and unity, dismayed that they were only “united” when it came to tolerating sin.
It was Paul who first coined the term “Body of Christ” to describe this unity bringing together Jew and Gentile, male and female,slave and free, all as equal children of God although different people might have different spiritual giftings and callings, just as a human body had many different parts with their own roles and functions. God’s purpose was that, by serving one another in love and humility, the Body “may be built up … and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13).
However, the Church’s record on this has been far from perfect. Like Israel, the history of the Church has been marked by divisions and internal conflicts and all sorts of other weaknesses and failings from the very beginning. The Protestant Reformation, while restoring key biblical truths to the Body of Christ, created 40 major denominations and over 40,000 independent churches worldwide. We are far from the love and unity that Jesus commanded and prayed for.
Does this mean that God’s purpose for the Church has failed? By no means! What appears to be failure in our eyes is precisely God’s way to bring about His miraculous plan, just as Israel’s apparent failure and rejection of Jesus was according to the very will and mystery of God in Christ. We saw this happening to the early Church where, through developments that were entirely unplanned by men, the Gospel was brought to Judea, Samaria and beyond. The same can be said of the Church the past 2,000 years as it brings the Gospel throughout the world. God’s ways are never our ways.
With this in mind, let us persevere in obeying Christ’s command to love His Body, while resting in Him that the Holy Spirit would rule over the Church. Let us stop acting like the Corinthians, who took pride in arguing among themselves about useless spiritual-sounding topics but behaving as one when it came to matters of the flesh. In particular, let us look beyond our own local church or denomination to embrace God’s people everywhere. I believe that as the Church enters into the Tribulation in the end times, this will be the “finest hour” for the Body of Christ - united not by our human plans or organisation but by the Spirit to walk the way of persecution and the Cross.
One major obstacle to greater Church unity today is the divide between what we call charismatic and non-charismatic churches, between churches that believe in tongues, visions, prophecies, healings and other supernatural works of the Holy Spirit, and those that don’t. Charismatics point to the “dead” faith of the non-charismatic churches and argue that they had abandoned the Spirit behind the Word of God. Non-charismatics, meanwhile, point to the false teachings and practices common among charismatic churches and accuse them of abandoning the Word in favour of the so-called “Spirit”.
By pointing only to the extremes, each side risked throwing away what is of God along with what is not. The reality is that the Spirit and Word are one, just as Jesus and the Word are one. The Spirit speaks to us mainly through the Word and the Word can only be understood and bring forth fruit in our lives through the Spirit. The key therefore is not to reject the things of the Spirit but to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 Jn 4:1), and not to worship the spiritual gifts themselves but understand that these are given to serve the higher purpose of building the Body of Christ, just as the Spirit is given not to draw attention to Himself but to give glory to Christ (Jn 16:13-15).
Ultimately, the love and unity of the Body must bring back together Israel and the Church. The union of Jews and Gentiles as one Body of Christ was the single most important issue in the closing days of Israel and birth of the Church. If I could use an analogy from farming, the seed of the Gospel first sprouted among the Jews 2,000 years ago. However, it would not have made it past the nursery of Israel - which would soon be trampled by the Romans in 70 AD - to bring about the current worldwide harvest of souls had it not been for those Jewish believers then who overcame their own racial and religious prejudices to recognise how God was moving beyond their people and nation.
Today, this bringing together of Gentiles and Jews is again the single most important issue in the closing days of the Church and rebirth of Israel as God’s Millennial Kingdom. We know that the harvest is quickly coming to an end with the fullness of the Gentiles. However, it will not be gathered out of the fields of the Church - which will soon be trampled by the Antichrist - and be brought back into the storehouse of Israel to await the return of our King until we overcome our own spiritual prejudices to recognise the hand of God beyond what we know as the Body of Christ.
Some commentators believe that the Church will be raptured first, leaving behind Israel and the wicked world to suffer during the Tribulation. This perspective goes against the bulk of what the Bible teaches us and more importantly, the very nature of God. It denies the unity of Jews and Gentiles, and the prophetic bond between Israel and the Church that points more to the rupture and exile rather than the rapture and homecoming of the Church. It holds a flawed one-sided view of God and plays down His divine, good and perfect purposes in refining His people through suffering and persecution and the Way of the Cross.
Now, may our Lord who loves us enable us to love Him and our brothers and sisters above all things and even life itself.
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