In the last century, we have enjoyed a wonderful gift: each of us has our own Bible. This was not the case for nearly 20 centuries of church history. Instead, believers gathered in groups to hear the Scriptures read out loud.
We have moved from a corporate experience of Scripture to an individual experience. There is a very good side to this, of course, but we have missed out on the fact that we belong together and ought to experience worship corporately.
Paul argues very clearly that we need one another if we are ever to understand Christ. In Colossians, for example, Paul says,
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself. (Colossians 2:1-2)
If you and I don’t build Christian relationships by spending time together, encouraging one another, and participating together in Christian experience, we don’t know Christ as we could know Him. That is why the church is called the “Body of Christ.”
It’s ridiculous to think that we could know Christ without knowing the one thing that Paul repeatedly says is the Body of Christ. Somehow, in coming together in worship and fellowship, we discover Christ.
Here’s why you must live out your faith.
We tend to assume that we’ll know Christ if we all go home and read our Bibles by ourselves. That’s only part of the big picture—of course we ought to read our Bibles and spend time alone with the Lord. But if that is our only experience of Christian devotion, we are missing something:
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe you? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40)
The word “brother” there is important. We should certainly show love to all the people of the earth, but this passage has to do specifically with those with whom we are in Christian fellowship. We cannot love God if we do not love one another.
We need one another.
We need to live in relationship with one another if we are to properly exercise and experience the gifts of the Spirit.
It is difficult for some of us to come to grips with Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14, but not because we object to the use of these gifts. Our problem is deeper than that. Our problem is the failure to appreciate and experience the kind of fellowship that is supposed to be characteristic of the New Testament church.
Perhaps this is because of the individualism that is a part of the American Spirit. Perhaps it is caused by the pioneer spirit found in part of the Southwest of the United States and, in fact, much of Western culture. Wherever the fault lies, the fact of the matter is that we don’t often experience the kinds of relationships that ought to be a part of Christian life.
We need one another. We see this truth at work even in the doctrine of the Trinity. The one God has within His character a dynamic of relationship: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are repeatedly told that the Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and God has sent the Spirit to us because He loves us as His people.
Relationship is also a key part of the church’s identity:
But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 1:7)
The diversity we experience in the church is meant to lead to fellowship, harmony, and oneness within Jesus Christ.
The notion of relationship is critical not only within the Trinity and the church, but I am convinced that it is also part and parcel of human nature. The statement in the Book of Genesis “It is not good for the man to be alone” is a statement not only about the character Adam’s need for a wife, but also about human nature.
There is a mystery at work here—the more we come to know others, the more we learn about ourselves.
We must use our spiritual gifts for the good of the church.
The keyword in 1 Corinthians 14 is edification. It means building the other person up. It has as its presupposition that we belong together and need to rely on one another for edification, exhortation, and consolation:
One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. Now I could wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying. (1 Corinthians 14:4)
Paul felt that the gifts ought to be used to edify other believers. The function of our coming together is so that we might be built up so that each of us in some way may contribute to the total experience of worship whereby we come to know Christ.
We cannot grow in Christ as we ought to grow if we are lone rangers. We cannot experience God’s blessing without others:
For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the report with which he was comforted in you… (2 Corinthians 7:5-7)
Paul is referring to himself when he says “God who comforts the depressed.” His point is that God comforted him through the face and coming of Titus and through the news Titus brought that the Corinthians still loved Paul.
God blesses us through one another. We know Christ by knowing one another. We minister to Christ by ministering to one another. We experience our full giftedness by learning, practicing, and exercising our gifts with one another.
The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon Dr. Sloan delivered at Tallowood Baptist Church on June 17, 1990.