1 Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 1, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Corinthians 15:42-58, 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Acts 2:42-47, Alfred Poirier, Bonhoeffer, Church Conflict, Conflict, David Allen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Fellowship, Psalm 133, Redeeming Church Conflict, Resurrection, The Peace Making Pastor
COUNSELING PROBLEMS AND BIBLICAL CHANGE
BIBLICAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION
Redeeming church conflict is less about resolving specific problems than it is about seeing conflict as a means by which God is growing his people into true saints, true eternal children of who are being continuous conformed to his holy image.
—Barthel & Edling, Redeeming Church Conflicts
Conflict resolution is the practical outworking of a cure for a spiritual disease. This week we will first take a look at both spiritual health & the spiritual disease. We will not be going through any of the mechanics of restoration and resolution. The education of a medical doctor does not begin with surgery and medication, but rather with training in disease, germs, health, anatomy, physiology, et cetera; and so, neither will we.
In fact, a too-quick jump to mechanics without an understanding of disease and health can easily lead to worse problems. Therefore, we will look at this situation from the prospective of spiritual mechanics of the heart, before we look to interpersonal mechanics.
II. PEACEMAKING AND FELLOWSHIP
Peacemaking is the act of restoring/developing true Christian fellowship. Peacemaking, understood rightly, is worship and seeks to create deeper, more God-glorifying worship. Peacemaking is an act of love, in that seeks to restore relationships between human & God, and between brother & sister. Thus, peacemaking is based upon fellowship and develops/restores fellowship.
A. Something in Common
Fellowship simply means to hold something in common:
Fellowship (Gk. koinōnía). The communion or common faith, experiences, and expressions shared by the family of believers, as well as the intimate relationship they have with God.
Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 380.
When we speak of “fellowship” we are speaking of communion, holding something in common; we are not speaking of just friendship.
Since fellowship hinges upon having something in common with another, it is type of relationship which can develop quickly and will continue as long as the thing in common continues to draw the people into relationship. Consequently, it is a type of relationship which will end as soon as the basis for the relationship is withdrawn. Thus, it is fundamentally different than most friendships.
We know and experience fellowship at various levels and over various things. Some fellowship is very thin. Employees of a company have a sort of fellowship in common in that they have experiences, concerns, interests which are in common and based upon their common employment. If the group from work goes out to dinner together, they will most likely center their attention on their common interest: work.
[In the NT the basic term, translated variously as ‘communion’, ‘fellowship’, ‘communicate’, ‘partake’, ‘contribution’, ‘common’ (in the sense of the Latin communis), stems from the Greek root koin-. There are two adjectives, koinōnos (found 10 times) and synkoinōnos (found 4 times), which are used as nouns also; and two verbs koinōneō (8 times) and synkoimōneo (3 times); and the noun koinōnia (20 times).
The fundamental connotation of the root koin- is that of sharing in something (genitive) with someone (dative); or the simple cases may be replaced by a prepositional phrase. In both constructions nouns may be replaced by prepositions. Very rarely it may mean ‘to give a share in’ something; the most characteristic NT usage is that which employs koin- with the genitive of the thing (or person) shared. There is also another NT use in which the term is found actively of a ‘willingness to give a share’; hence the meaning ‘generosity’. A third meaning emerges from the first use, with the sense of ‘sharing’ or ‘fellowship’ (which arises out of a common sharing of something). The results of the recent linguistic researches of such scholars as H. Seesemann and A. R. George may be stated in the latter’s words: ‘The important thing is that these words (belonging to the koin- family) refer primarily, though not invariably, to participation in something rather than to association with others: and there is often a genitive to indicate that in which one participates or shares’ (A. R. George, Communion with God in the New Testament, p. 133). From this ground-plan of the word, the NT passages may be divided into three classes, according to whether the predominant idea is (a) having a share; (b) giving a share; or (c) sharing.
R. P. Martin, “Communion,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 217.]
Fellowship is well known at sporting events and music concerts. The people who arrive days early for the event, camp in a parking lot and prepare with one-another for the game or concert are in fellowship with one-another. They have the event in common. The event takes their attention, their aspirations, their fears. The people share with one-another in relationship to the event. Often the fellowship over the event will lead to the people sharing food and time with one-another. Yet, as soon as the concert is over or the football has finished, the people pack-up and go away. The people who on Saturday held things in common, now have no connection.
In the same manner, Christian fellowship centers around something — in this case, a particular person — and will persist and develop only so long as the ground of the fellowship exists. The fellowship in Christ, wrought by the Spirit for the glory of the Father will extend out into all aspects of the worshippers lives; but it only to the extend that they first have a common share in Christ.
Therefore, those things which deprive the human beings of Christ will act to destroy their relationship with God and thus their relationship with one-another (1 John 1:3). Health will primarily entail restoring the relationship with Christ so that there is a basis for fellowship. Only when the Godward relationship is fervent will fellowship and unity be possible.
B. Christ in Common
Bonhoeffer explains the nature of Christian fellowship quite well. Here are two quotations from his book Life Together which is the best book I know on Christian fellowship:
My brother is rather that other person who has been redeemed by Christ, delivered from his sin, and called to faith and eternal life. Not what a man is in himself as a Christian, his spirituality and piety, constitutes the basis of our community. What determines our brotherhood is what man is by reason of Christ. Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. This is not true merely at the beginning, as though in the course of time something else were to be added to our community; it remains so for all the future and to all eternity. I community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ. The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ, but through Christ we do not have one another, wholly, and for all eternity.
That dismisses once and for all every clamorous desire for something more. One who wants more than Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood. He is looking for some extraordinary social experience which has not found elsewhere; he is bringing muddled and impure desires into Christian brotherhood. (25-26)
Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live his call, by His forgiveness, by His promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily. And is not what he has given us enough: brothers, who will go on living with us through sin and need under the blessing of His grace? Is the divine gift of Christian fellowship anything less than this, any day, even the most difficult and distressing day? (29)
David Allen explains in a similar manner:
Now let’s unpack that word “fellowship” for a moment . The word “fellowship” means more than just association . It means more than just friendship. It means more than just having a good conversation over a cup of coffee. “Fellowship” is a word that means a deep sharing of things in common via association and participation. To be in fellowship with God means more than just having an association or friendship with God. It means having a relationship with God. To have fellowship with one another is not just a matter of being in the same room at church, but it means having a relationship with each based on our relationship with Christ that causes us to participate together around a common bond. What is it that all Christians share in common? It is our common relationship with Jesus. What is it that binds all of us together? Ultimately what binds people together is the Lord Jesus Christ himself, through their mutual love for him and one another.
Allen, David L. (2013-06-30). 1–3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family (Preaching the Word) (Kindle Locations 571-578). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
C. And Had All Things in Common
By sharing in Christ, the believers come to share all things. We see this first in the most primitive church of Acts:
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42–47 (ESV)
The ESV translators add the heading for this passage, “The Fellowship of the Believers”. When we speak of “fellowship” this is what Christians ideally have in mind.
Note a few things about this fellowship. First, it was a comprehensive fellowship: it extended out into every area of their lives. Second, it was a fellowship of worship. Every area of lives was transformed explicitly into an act of worship. It is difficult to tell whether the phrase “breaking bread” refers to normal eating or to a communion meal (the Lord’s Supper). Third, it was wrought by the Spirit: He produced a sense of awe in the people. Fourth, the Word of God (“the apostles’ teaching”) was the instrumental cause, it was was the instrument used by the Spirit to cause the unity.
A doctrine and explication of the Word of God is beyond the scope of this study. But note a few things: The first thing the Spirit does to the believers is cause them to speak (Acts 2:4). Peter begins preaching under the influence of the Spirit (Acts 2:14). The result is the creation of the Church (Acts 2:41). The first thing mentioned in the areas of fellowship is “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching”. It is the Word of God used by the Spirit of God which creates the Church and which creates unity. The Christians are those who hold God in common. By holding God in common, they have a fellowship which flows out into every area of their lives. This fellowship is deep — it concerns the most important aspects of our lives— and it is continuous, because it is based upon the everlasting God.
Therefore, if there is a defect in Christian fellowship, it stems form a defect in their relationship with God. The restoration — the act of peacemaking— will entail bringing the Word of God to bear, which is used by the Spirit to first bring about repentance, and that repentance leads to a renewed Godward relationship which then spills out into brotherly love.
D. Fellowship is Not Instantly Getting-Along
More Bonhoeffer, as explained by Dr. Nichols:
To put the matter succinctly, Christ makes community possible. Christ makes life together possible. Or as Bonhoeffer puts it himself: “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this.” This is exactly what he already said back in his dissertation. But here he also has much more new to say. And here, in Life Together, he’s fresh from the experiences of Finkenwalde. Those experiences taught him a great deal about what he already knew to be true.
One of the things experience taught him had to do with our idealistic notions of church life. We can think glowingly of Christian community, as if it were some utopian commune. Such notions, Bonhoeffer argues, should be dismissed as soon as possible. The utopian story goes something like this. The utopian story goes something like this. The church is made up of Christians, who have the indwelling Spirit, have been raised to new life in Christ, have been given new hearts, and have been given grace upon grace. Consequently, everyone loves everyone else to the fullest degree. But all too quickly we realize this is not the case. And so enters disillusionment, confusion, even resentment. In such times people even go AWOL.
Bonhoeffer calls this a “wish dream,” and because of this wish dream “innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down.” He then surprises us. Writing of how “God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams,” Bonhoeffer adds, “By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.” God in his grace shatters our illusions and dreams of peace and harmony. The church is not a hippy commune or a hipster club. The sooner we come face-to-face with the disillusionment with others and the disillusionment with ourselves, Bonhoeffer adds, the better off we and the church are. There is a realism here that we should appreciate, and a realism that, once grasped, goes a long way in sustaining true and genuine community in the church.
We come to grips with all of our own limitations and weaknesses and besetting sins. And we come to grips with the same in others—even in our leaders and heroes. Then we live in real and not ideal communities. Church is not a wish dream. We also need to jettison our misplaced zeal to see the Christian life as a wish-dream life. The Christian life, like the church, is lived in the real world.”
Stephen J. Nichols. Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life: From the Cross, for the World. Crossway, 2013. iBooks.
II. A PICTURE OF HEALTH: FELLOWSHIP IN PSALM 133
This Psalm praises fellowship. We are going to briefly note the elements and then turn to some NT texts which speak to restoring such fellowship:
Psalm 133 (ESV)
133 A Song of Ascents. Of David.
1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
First, I wish to note the source and content of the fellowship: worship. Notice the reference to Aaron & to the mountains of Zion. Aaron was the high priest, and thus the principle one to offer the worship of Israel. The mountains of Zion is the place appointed by God for worship. Pouring oil over Aaron’s head referred to his consecration for worship and service. Thus, we see there are explicit references to worship on the face of the Psalm.
Next, look to the language of “dwelling” together. In this context, dwelling most likely relates to worship. For example, David prays in Psalm 27,
4 One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
Here to “dwell” in the temple (on mount Zion) is to stay in worship of God. A similar use of the word “dwell” is found in Psalm 140:14, “the upright shall dwell in your presence.” It is not merely a momentary worship; the desire is to come God and stay — dwelling in the presence of God. Psalm 122, a companion to Psalm 133, speaks of going up to Jerusalem, to the “house of the LORD” to a place of peace and safety.
Thus, the language of brothers — those united to one-another by their relationship to the LORD — dwelling together: the very act of worship is a both the cause and the working out of fellowship. Fellowship and worship are one and the same.
Second, look to the blessing that comes from fellowship. It is not merely beautiful, but it results in this marvelous promise, “life forevermore.”
A. Fathers and Son
The following short section is derived from Alfred Poirier’s The Peacemaking Pastor (which is an excellent companion to the more well-known, The Peacemaker). In chapter 5, “Peacemaking in the Family of God”, Poirier explains that that our position as sons of God should be seen as the end for which our lives are aimed: “Recent scholarship has advanced the claim that Sonship is best seen as the apex of sanctification, the goal for which God has made us.” 92
He then lines up three groups of evidence which underscore this point:
First, the significance of Sonship is prove by a dominant presence in several programmatic passages of Scripture (Rom. 8:15-32; Gal. 3:15-4:7; Eph. 1:3-6; Heb. 2:1-18; 12:1-14; 1 John 3:1-3). (92) …. Rather, all, God’s predestining purposes are charged with images of family. (93) God’s predestining purposes are centered in his Son, Jesus Christ. 93
Second, sonship is a distinctive mark of the new covenant. (93) J. I. Packer, forcefully reminds us of this old/New covenant distinction when he observes,”Everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the fatherhood of God. Father is the Christian name for God.” 93
A third line of evidence showing the significance of Sonship and God’s redemptive purposes is that Sonship is a key characteristic of our sanctification. We see this most overtly in Hebrews 12.(93)
We must understand that much of our trouble with other Christians stems from failing to realize we are warring with our family. Now this can easily be misunderstood and is often abused: just as those in our natural families may abuse and misuse the relationship. Notice that this “family” is not confined to your local congregation. It is a “family” of all those who rightly call God “Father”.
Nor does this family mean “my friends”. Merely getting on with your friends is nothing. Poirier writes:
I cannot have grown tired of how many churches boast that they are a “friendly” church. As important as friendliness and a welcoming spirit are to the church, they are not the goal, but the baseline of our lives together. What the world need to see in action is our love for our enemies, compelling them to say, “How they love their enemies! How they walk in the footsteps of their heavenly Father, the King!” (98)
Fellowship based upon Christ has the ability to surmount merely personal conflicts because it is not based in you or me, but rather it is based in Christ and through Christ our relationship to God. When the mechanisms of the church are used for personal agendas, for personal comfort, for personal power — when the authority of the Church is put into place for any reason other than God’s glory in Jesus Christ, it is abusive & oppressive. “Family” cannot be used to say that you must “like me” or you must agree with me or you must stay with me. Personality cults use such language. Our familial relationship anchors in something far more profound than me or you.
Notice that this fellowship flows from something independent of and greater than any brother. The brothers are not united because of themselves. Indeed, they are not even “brothers” by their own efforts. A father creates brothers, brothers do not create themselves.
In conclusion, fellowship is the common sharing of the Lord by worshippers. When we see this, we can easily see (1) what will distort and disrupt fellowship; and (2) what will restore fellowship.
III. A THEOLOGY OF MAKING PEACE
The New Testament is filled with peacemaking letters. The letter to Rome has in part the intent to create peace between Christians from Jewish & Gentile backgrounds. Philippians is a letter written to resolve a church conflict. Galatia apparently had its share of bitterness and rancor (“if you bite and devour one another”!). Paul’s letters to Corinth in particular deal with peace. 1 Corinthians is an extended counseling session leading to peace.
A. The Evidence of Conflict
The Corinthians were genius at conflict. Perhaps the first bit of Christian writing outside the New Testament comes to us in the form of a letter written from the Church at Rome to the Church at Corinth, because Corinth had fallen into conflict, again.
What I want you to see in Paul’s evidence of their conflict is how self-justifying the arguments are. The Corinthians were fighting with one another over who was the most spiritually mature!
10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 1 Corinthians 1:10–17 (ESV)
They were fighting over “good” things. They were boasting of their spiritual maturity.
Notice also they were fighting over families: I belong to this but not that family.
What can we draw from this? Christians, when they fight will often have the most “godly” motives. The “gentle, humble, godly” man may be as wrong as the hothead. The sin does not lie in the presentation. Certainly the one saying, “I follow Christ” must be the right one, correct? Yet, Paul lists her with the others.
Don’t think yourself right merely because you think yourself to be seeking to be godly. Do you think that the sin of contention among Christians will ever be based upon purely wicked means? I have yet to hear of a church conflict over whether it was okay to traffic in slaves and prostitutes, or sell illegal drugs, or something else so plainly sinful.
Conflict can only be kept going by someone (or perhaps all) claiming some godly cover. In addition, don’t think that it is impossible that you are the one deceived in the matter. (That is one reason that it is good to have a neutral party mediate between brothers. Sin deceives me; however obvious sin is from the outside, from the inside it is often invisible. In fact, in a conflict, it is perhaps best just to assume that you are wrong and work from there.)
B. The Meaning of the Conflict
Paul immediately plunges into theology to explain and resolve the conflict. Notice that Paul does not begin with “practical steps”. Rather than seeking first to change the output of the heart, Paul takes the heart to God to change the inside of the heart. Too many ministers and counselors go immediately to “practical” and thus do great harm to poor Christians. The Scripture never does that. Even in Proverbs, the most practical of books, Solomon notes that it is the “fear of the LORD” which leads to wisdom and knowledge.
What then does this conflict mean, as seen by Paul (and thus ultimately the Spirit, working through Paul)? Paul does not come right out and say, this conflict results from X and Y. But, Paul does immediately go to correcting the understanding of the Corinthians. There is no amazing rhetoric, no theatrics, just razor sharp words designed to cut the Corinthians off from their sin.
Barthel & Edling write, “Redeeming church conflicts requires reframing of the conflict into eternal (best) questions.” (89). Paul is going to take their personal conflict and translate it into a theological problem. Paul is going to identify why some people reject Christ and the proclamation of Christ. He will identify power & wisdom: and then show that God’s power and wisdom is greater than any human form.
Second, he shows the Corinthians in their struggle for predominance of power and wisdom, they themselves are not even important on the world’s — much less God’s — standards. In fact, their weakness is one element which God chose to prove his own power.
Third, Paul reinstates power and wisdom, but only in Christ. Thus, the status of the Corinthians should rest in who they are in Christ and not how they can climb atop one-another. Paul in this final moves grounds their identity in Christ, and thus demarcates their relationships with one-another.
Paul explains their relationship one-to-another. Your relationship to one-another and to yourself is based upon your relationship to Christ. Thus, Paul strips from the Corinthians the normal categories of human relationships (political,friendship, family, et cetera) and leaves them with one category, fellowship in Jesus Christ.
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:18–31 (ESV)
We would immediately (likely) seek to resolve the personal conflict on personal terms. Paul whisks all that aside and says, No, you have a profound theological problem. Let us deal with that.
C. A Resurrection Theology
Paul begins with the Cross of Christ, but he does not end there. The letter itself is a sustained argument (with some detours) which culminates in the resurrection. In chapter 3, Paul states that he is limited in how he can deal with the Corinthians because they are so immature as to be “people of the flesh”. In fact, he explains that their wars with one-another come about because they are “of the flesh and behaving only in a human way”. What he means by that is that the Corinthians are living as practical atheists — atheists in practice. They are ignoring the truth of who they are, they are not desiring the ends for which they were created, and thus they are living like this world is all there is.
To remedy this problem, Paul consistently seeks to change their sight and so change their hearts. Parents know this means instinctively when they want their small children to change behavior. If you child picks up the keys offer them a brightly colored toy or a cookie. We will give up one thing only when we are offered something better.
The Corinthians squabbles all came about because they falsely lived as if they were mere corpses awaiting burial (1 Cor. 6:14).
Often, when difficult relationships develop in the church, we live for our own self-interests and respond as though there were no God.
Therefore, Paul begins with the Cross. But the Cross inevitably points to the burial, the resurrection, the ascension and thus the return of Christ and our resurrection.
The ethical and moral behavior of the Corinthians testified that they were seeking to live independently of Christ. Paul brings them back to the Cross and points them ahead to the resurrection. To create peace, Paul creates fellowship around Christ. Now this fellowship is no temporary or shallow thing. Our fellowship is around our Creator, our Redeemer, the Lord who will resurrect our mortals bodies immortal.
The ground and duration of our fellowship is so profound that it must affect every aspect of our lives:
42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:42–58 (ESV)
There are many wonders in this passage. I want only to point to two things. First, the ethics which Paul calls us to are based upon the fact that we are going to gain a new body. Now notice this in verse 49: “we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven”. Our fellowship with Christ — and thus with one-another — will extend to our very bodies. It is not merely shared dreams and aspirations. We will have the most profound fellowship possible; a fellowship which marriage now only points towards.
Second, our fellowship will not wear out; it is not “vain”. Much fellowship is simply silly or unimportant and it will soon be gone. But our life in Christ together will never come to an end. Our current labors will become future labors. Our work of fellowship is permanent.
Now we can understand a bit of Paul’s discussion of love in 1 Corinthians 13. Love is the most eternal of all virtues, it is one which must be had to make all other things valuable. It is greater than faith and hope, because love will persist in eternity, when faith & hope are no longer useful.
Thus, love is not anchored in whether I currently think you worth my love (which is what we almost always do). Love springs from the sovereign work of God. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul discusses gifts bestowed by the Spirit. He then comes to the greatest gift given, which is the gift of love.
It is hard to say “the gift of love” without it instantly sounding trite or maudlin. Since “love” is such an abused concept, it has become common to distinguish biblical love from sappy infatuation by saying “love is not an emotion.” That is true in part, love is not purely a subjective emotion. Biblical love is an affection which necessarily pours out into sacrificial action.
But biblical love cannot be reduced to something a robot could replicate. When you consider the matter, it is impossible to understand longsuffering patience or kindness which has no affective aspect. A godly patience in the face of trial (brought about by a brother who has lost sight of Christ) is not mere ignorance or blindness; it is a knowing quiet in the face of pain.
Or consider “rejoices together in the truth”. One certainly cannot “rejoice” without affections, the emotions being involved. What sort of bare action is “rejoice”?
Love is active fellowship with believers. It is a kindness, hopefulness, forbearance brought about by the Spirit’s determination to take natural enemies and unite them as one “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27). They are brought together in an eternal fellowship by being united by the Spirit’s work. (Eph. 4:1-7) This body, this family, this temple, this field, cannot be divided or separated.
All of the hard work from encouragement to confrontation, all of the provoking one another to love and good deeds, comes about because the believers all share Christ (Hebrews 3:14).
What then should we take away? Fellowship is sharing Christ. By the Spirit’s operation we adopted into the family of God and thus become siblings of one-another. We have been brought to join in the most profound sharing any human beings have imagined. We share the Spirit and we will even share bodies conformed to the same image. We are in communion with one-another as fellow worshippers of God in Jesus Christ.
This sharing, this communion, when understood rightly flows out into every aspect of our lives. It shows up in acts of mercy, congregated worship, evangelism. It is created and sustained by the Word and Spirit.
Fellowship breaks down and conflict takes place when we lose our bearings and forget that we are eternally joined in communion the Triune God and with one-another. The solution to that problem is take our personal, petty grievances (and they are petty: which of these problems will persist for a billion years, must less eternity? most of these insufferable problems won’t last our ability to remember them) and turn them into theological, eternal questions. We must re-see our lives in the light of Scripture.
We protect against a failure of fellowship by keeping our sight upon Christ. We protect our fellowship by stirring up one-another to love and good deeds. We will overlook faults against our selves and care more for the other. We will seek to live as citizens of heaven and not citizens of the tomb. A sight of Christ will fire our hearts and bring us naturally to love both Christ and one-another.
F. Appendix: Somethings to Foster Fellowship
Scripture lays down several guidelines for enhancing the communion of believers in the body. (1) Love one another with the same compassion that Christ displayed to his own (Jn 13:34, 35; 15:12). The law of the fellowship should be the rule of love (Heb 13:1). (2) Cultivate that spirit of humility that seeks the other person’s honor (Phil 2:3–5). (3) Lighten fellow believers’ load by bearing one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2). (4) Share material blessings with brothers and sisters in need (2 Cor 9:13). (5) Tenderly correct a sinner while helping to find solutions to the problems (Gal 6:1). (6) Succor a fellow believer in times of suffering (1 Cor 12:26). And (7) Pray for one another in the Spirit without ceasing (Eph 6:18).
The Christian will want to seriously regard the saying of an anonymous saint, “You cannot draw nigh to God if you are at a distance from your brother.”
G. A Prayer
A unity & fellowship in Christ will necessarily produce humility. A “unity” based upon the person or upon circumstances will also tend toward pride & faction. A true unity based upon Christ will necessarily produce humility, because one cannot both know Christ well and not be humble. Indeed, the more one knows Christ the more one craves true humility, which creates a greater desire for Christ.
O Lord, I humbly crave that thou wilt let me be little in this world,
that I may be great in another world;
and low here,
that I may be high for ever hereafter.
Let me be low, and feed low, and live low,
so I may live with thee for ever;
let me now be clothed with rags,
so thou wilt clothe me at last with thy robes;
let me now be set upon a dunghill,
so I may at last be advanced to sit with thee upon thy throne.
Lord, make me rather gracious than great,
inwardly holy than outwardly happy,
and rather turn me into my first nothing,
yea, make me worse than nothing,
rather than set me up for a time,
that thou mayest bring me low for ever.
This prayer is found in Precious Remedies for Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks, device 8, remedy 6.