Friday, August 14, 2009

Taking Care

God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

                        1 Corinthians 12.24-25

The Great Equalizer

Long before Marx published The Communist Manifesto, Early Christians embraced its principles of equality and personal sacrifice for common good. Acts 2.45 reports, “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” The Apostles heartily advocated an equal opportunity policy that entitled anyone to God’s grace without regard to gender, ethnicity, or class. In Acts 10, Peter has an epiphany that removes any doubt “God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (v34-35) Paul writes in Galatians 3.28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In a world run on the machinery of class, gender, and ethnic distinctions, such notions were viewed as a recipe for anarchy. Convincing believers to combine assets and ignore cultural advantages required deftness, because the Church was doing something no one ever attempted: taking care of its own without prejudice. Not until Marx would anyone try to replicate this structure. But Marx goofed by leveling societies to the ground—forcing upper classes join the peasant masses—while the Church flourished by getting it right. Rather than pull people down, Early Christians trusted God’s grace to lift the lowly and humble the proud to stand as equals. James 1.9-10 says, “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted; but the rich, in that he is made low.” Paul supports this in 1 Corinthians 12, portraying God as The Great Equalizer. “He gives greater honor to the parts that lack it, so there should be no division in the body.”

Equal Concern

The Apostles promulgated believer equality for pragmatic reasons. Promoting philosophical ideals was less urgent than keeping far-flung believers unified in thought and practice. In their minds, equality wasn’t an objective. It was a vital necessity. Paul spells this out when he says God places greater status on lesser members to offset divisions hindering Christians' equal concern for each other. From the beginning, the Church was meant to be a safe, secure place where no one is beneath care or above concern. Its doors swing open to welcome anyone. Yet crossing its portals requires everyone to leave personal status outside. Stripped of social favor or stigmatization, wealth or poverty, education or ignorance, and dozens of other differentiators, believers are free to express and address needs they’d otherwise overlook.

This is what Romans 15.1 means by admonishing us: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” We never hold ourselves in such high regard we won’t help others struggling with issues we overcame long ago. We resist impulses to criticize believers whose behaviors don’t conform to ours, remembering Paul’s words in Romans 8.1: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We heed Jude’s counsel: “Dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith... Keep yourselves in God’s love…. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” (v20-23) Even the most repugnant, corrupt behavior merits mercy. God honors those who lack in our eyes. And He does it so we can care for them as equals, building up one another together. Mutual growth and concern are why God ordains equality.

Our Privilege

The Body of Christ doesn’t need us to protect it from harm or defend its integrity. That’s God’s job. The Church doesn’t need us to manage its mission or steer its direction. Its course is set, Christ is its Pilot, and it will sail where He leads, with or without us. Instead of taking care of the Church, we’ve been given the responsibility of taking care of each other. We are the Church. When we focus our concern on one another as equals, the Church’s needs are met. 

The newest, most naïve Christian and the most experienced, wisest one are no different. The highest prelate needs as much prayer and support as the lowliest parishioner. You may be far ahead of me in your Christian walk, yet there’s no shame in asking you to pause and help me catch up. You may be rich, famous, and powerful; I may be poor, invisible, and insignificant. But in Christ, we’re equals. When you turn to me, your advantages are inconsequential. I’m concerned for you as my brother or sister. When I turn to you, God’s grace compensates for my shortcomings. I can count on your concern for me. Nothing in the world, the Church, or our hearts should outweigh taking care of one another. It’s our privilege as equals.

Everyone is equal in the Body of Christ; we show equal concern for all.

(Tomorrow: Stay on the Road)


Cuboid Master said...

Dearest Tim, this essay is near perfect, infused with the awesome power of His Son. God always guides you, my friend, but He placed His hand directly upon yours as you typed this one. A big "Amen!" for equality, love, and humility. We are all one in Jesus. And to those among us who propagate the mistaken idea that God condemns and hates, may our prayers for them double. May we surround them with His love that they may one day know love, as well. Love you, Tim and Walt!

Tim said...

"And to those among us who propagate the mistaken idea that God condemns and hates, may our prayers for them double. "

CM, this exemplifies the message. We who are strong must uphold them. We can't condemn them, but we must show them mercy, building them up. Most likely, they'll not notice or care to know that we love them. They almost certainly aren't interested in what we might say to them... because they don't believe it's our right to speak to them. So we pray harder and more frequently for them; we build them up by proxy of God's Spirit.

My Mom always said, "If I can't talk to you about God, I can talk to God about you." That's the stance we should take, I think, toward intolerant and excluding believers. We should pray God's honor for their lacking. (And ask the same for ourselves, because we all lack in one way or another.)

What a great joy to see you--as always--CM! Have a terrific weekend.

Blessings of joy and peace!

Anonymous said...

Oh thanks for this. It was just perfect for me today.

“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.”

It is my mantra for today. Many blessings for your gift!

Tim said...

Sherry, I believe the strength we show with tolerant compassion is one of real love's least appreciated aspects. We must be strong to do it, yet each time we offer strength to others, we become stronger.

It always works that way, doesn't it? Lose to find, kneel to rise, sacrifice to gain. And, as happened with you today, when we need to be reminded of this, we're led to find what we need.

That the post was instrumental in this makes my day. I thank God and I thank you for sharing it. You put a big, joyful smile in my heart and on my face.

Of course, I always smile when you're around, Sherry. Your strength is a treasure I value and repeatedly draw from. So I return blessings to you for your gift of strength to me!

Joy and peace--and strength always,