Christians come in every possible variation, color, and background. And when we come together as the church we are intended to leave all the non-essentials at the door and live in unity under Christ. At least that is the ideal. It is how God is constructing his church, but we, the bricks of that construction, often get in the way. Our differences divide us too easily. We may gather in a vague sense of the supremacy and Lordship of Christ, but we are often far more taken with our pew-mate’s difference of opinion on the color of the pews than with our mutual Savior. Our pettiness ought not be. It should not be the thing that defines the body of Christ. Instead, Christ shows us a much more excellent way.
“We who are strong have an obligation.”
Among our differences, Christians come in all degrees of maturity of lifestyle and faith. Some have found a deep sense of intimacy with Christ and a strong understanding of their life of liberty and God-honoring behavior. Others are still young or relatively immature in the faith and stumble easily at the lives and opinions of others. When Paul mentions the “strong” and the “weak” to the Romans he recognizes the reality of weakness among Christians but places an obligation on the strong. They are obliged to bear with the failings of the weak and live so as to please them in God’s goodness instead of living to please themselves.
The mature believer views the body of Christ as an opportunity to tend to the good of their weaker brother or sister’s life in Christ, and to make an effort to build them up. Paul’s vocabulary about building up the other believer is vivid – it means to erect an edifice, to build a house, to edify. In this way of living with each other in Christ, the disciple continues to learn what it means to view the other as more important than themselves. As Paul put it to the Philippians, Christ’s way of thinking was to view you as more important than himself, and we ought to think the same way. And in a relationship where one believer learns to love the other in spite of differences over non-essentials, we learn to enter another’s life as a builder instead of a destroyer. We can actually be a part of God’s work in their lives to raise them to maturity in Christ and intimacy with their Heavenly Father. Isn’t that a better vision of the body of Christ than a group of grumps quibbling over meaningless legalistic jots and tittles?
“For Christ did not please himself.”
The reason for our behavior is always grounded in Christ. In order to explain and justify this radically selfless view of harmony in the church, Paul makes the ultimate appeal for the Christ-follower – this is how Jesus actually lived. His incarnation was for our good: he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). His life was for our good: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). His death was for our good: “he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). His resurrection was for our good: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The way Christ lived his life on earth 2000 years ago has profound consequences in our lives today. It gives us our reasons for behavior and practical grounding for our relationships.
Christ lived his life among us so that we might have his life. Do we live with each other in the same way? Does the life of the church mean it is easier for God’s people to find God’s life?