We continue the story of Jesus to see how his birth, life, death and resurrection is instructive for church family relationships. We celebrate Jesus coming in the flesh at Christmas. We must also consider Good Friday, as Paul reminds us in Philippians 2 that God, who was willing to take on human flesh, also took on human death. It is astonishing that God would be born as a human, when you consider that he didn’t have to. God not only became human, but he also submitted himself to the experience of death. In Jesus’ death, he shows us mind-boggling love. That is our example for loving one another in the church family. We die to ourselves, we follow Jesus, we give sacrificially of ourselves to one another.
Also reflect on the fact that Jesus died for all. Every single person in the church family has dignity and worth and value, because every single person is equally loved by God, equally made in the image of God, equally worth our time, our effort, our money, our sacrifice. Thus it makes sense that Paul connects loving self-sacrifice with unity in the church.
Let’s be clear that unity is not uniformity. Uniformity is when there is sameness. Same beliefs, same thoughts, same actions. Uniformity cannot handle dissent, difference, and disagreement. But unity can.
Unity in the church embraces, listens to and learns from different ideas and perspectives, but all toward the mission of Jesus. Unity is humble and teachable, eager to learn, quick to say, “I don’t have this all figured out, but I love Jesus, you love Jesus, and we can learn from each other.”
Therefore, in unity, we can disagree in a loving way. We can have differences of opinion in a gracious way. And we should. The variety of perspectives, the diversity of gender, generation, theology, ethnicity, wealth, political ideology, background, and experience is a beautiful thing. We welcome diversity. We strive for more diversity. We seek a diversity that is grounded in unity that selflessly loves one another. That means we lovingly sacrifice our power, our position, our control to move in a Jesus direction, because he taught and embodied that kind of self-giving love. As you can imagine, that attitude and action doesn’t always come naturally, and thus we need the Fruit of the Spirit actively growing in our lives.
Paul in his letter of 1st Corinthians writes quite extensively about how the church can practice unity in diversity through the image of a body. In 1st Corinthians 12:1-11, Paul says the Spirit of God plays a central role to the unity of the church. The Spirit empowers and enlivens us, blessing us with a variety of gifts to be used in unity for the common good. The Spirit is essential to the life of the church.
Think about how that relates to the Fruit of the Spirit. When we walk in step with the Spirit, we grow the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Gentleness, Goodness, Kindness, Faithfulness and Self-control. When we grow those qualities and allow those qualities to flow freely from our lives into the lives of the people around us in our church family, we will be guided by the kind of self-giving love that Jesus demonstrated. This is where we remember that Jesus didn’t stay dead. His resurrection reminds us that he rose to new life. Likewise God’s Spirit works resurrection power, new life, in our bodies. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” The presence of growing Fruit of the Spirit in our lives is evidence that God’s Spirit is at work in us. As members of the Body of Christ, we have gifts of the Spirit and Fruit of the Spirit.
Filled with the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit with a variety of gifts that we all use, Paul continues in 1st Corinthians 12:12-31 to describe how the diversity of people in a church family are like a body. Look at verses 12 and 13, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”
Every single person in the church family is equally important, just as every part of the body is important. You each have been gifted by the Spirit to serve an important role in the life and ministry of the church family. You know the 80/20 rule? Or a variation of it. I goes like this: 20% of the people do 80% of the work. I don’t know if it is accurate. But is speaks to a reality that some people serve more in the life of the church, and some serve less. Some people serve a lot, some serve hardly at all. As we read 1 Corinthians 12, though, Paul corrects that thinking. He says, all serve, all give, all pray, all love. The Christian faith is very clearly not an individualistic faith. Instead it is an “all” faith. Everyone involved.
When a church family practices an “everyone involved” approach, though it will require personal sacrifice, that sacrifice leads to something beautiful. I’ve talked a lot about sacrifice so far. Who likes thinking about sacrifice and selflessness? But when a church family practices loving, gracious unity, the self-sacrifice leads to the beautiful experience of the healthy body of Christ.
I am not making an argument that the only kind of ministry that counts, or that matters, is church-based. You can absolutely serve the Kingdom of God, as the body of Christ, outside the four walls of the church. In fact, I encourage you to do so. What I hope you receive from this post is that there is clearly something important and life-giving about a church family working together to pursue the mission of God, whether in a building or outside it.