I noted in my last post that here I would address what a gathering might look like based on what Paul taught to the Corinthians, the focus of Paul’s prayers in some of his letters and the role and importance of church discipline in fulfilling our mandate to represent (re-present) Jesus to one another and the world around us.
I begin with a verse in 1 Corinthians that I am often drawn to reflect on. A perspective from Paul that reflects the Lord’s heart and that I believe we need to find a way to operationalize when we gather.
26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 1 Corinthians 14:26 (NKJV)
First the context. Paul is referencing the gathering of the ekklesia. ‘Come together’ is a single word in Greek and it means to gather or assemble. What is important is what Paul says should happen. Different ones are to bring different gifts to share with the rest of the body. Paul qualifies the purpose of these various gifts – the building up of the body. Yet his view is not that one person would dominate a gathering, rather that leaders would create an environment where many would share and everyone would be blessed. In most church services does that happen? Does everyone feel they have an opportunity to hear from the Lord and share or have we primarily scheduled the Spirit out of our services?
I acknowledge that many good things happen in most church services on a Sunday morning or whenever people gather. Yet I believe that they can be much better. I believe that we can shift our focus so that more are involved and exercising their gifts and the body as a whole is being blessed in the process. I will return to this but first a shift to Paul’s heart for the ekklesia.
Galatians was Paul’s first letter. In it he expressed what I believe was, and remained throughout his life, his apostolic heart cry. The prayers in his later letters are anchored in this verse. Here is what I have long seen as Paul’s apostolic heart cry.
19 My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, Galatians 4:19 (NKJV)
The ‘you’ is plural and his entire focus was on seeing Jesus formed in the ekklesia. He expressed it this way in Colossians.
27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. 29 To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily. Colossians 1:27–29 (NKJV)
This is what Paul laboured for and we see it reflected in his prayers. Please read and prayerfully consider how these prayers apply to the ekklesia, a corporate body meant to reflect Jesus to a dying world.
16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power Ephesians 1:16–19 (NKJV)
19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19–22 (NKJV)
3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; 7 just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. Philippians 1:3–7 (NKJV)
9 For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; Colossians 1:9–11 (NKJV)
Paul’s heart cry was for wisdom and revelation, spiritual understanding and an awareness that we were being built into a spiritual house. In Ephesians 4:16 Paul said the body of Christ, believers, are “joined and knit together by what every joint supplies” and went on to say that the for the body the grow the work of the various parts must be effective. An important reality is that a joint is a relationship between two parts. As we are effectively joined to others in the body, we build one another up. This ties back to 1 Corinthians 14:26.
To be effective, we need not only relationships, we need healthy ones built on koinonia, genuine fellowship. When this is in place, we create a family environment where relationships are open and respectful. An environment where humour and laughter are honoured. I remember when my son was a teenager and his friends would come over to our house. I used to say I knew his friends were comfortable in our home when they started making fun of me too – which a number of them did. They did it because they felt comfortable and safe to do so and many of them also knew me as their coach in sports. What they never knew me as was authoritarian. While I exercised authority, I also respected them and treated them with dignity.
We now come to our final area. In my first offering in this series, I referenced the following passage and said I would come back to it, so I close addressing these verses.
18 Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. Matthew 18:18–20 (NKJV)
This passage is frequently referenced regarding praying together or agreeing in prayer, fine things in and of themselves. Yet the context is church discipline. The preceding verses deal with how we are to address someone sinning against us by first going to them, then going with witnesses then bringing the matter before the assembly. The reference to ‘two or three’ in the culture is that the creation of a synagogue required ten men. Only two or three were required to constitute the ekklesia because Jesus was also present. Paul knew this and referenced the idea in dealing with disciplinary matters in the church at Corinth.
3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 1 Corinthians 5:3–5 (NKJV)
Paul went on in chapter 6 (6:1-11) to upbraid the Corinthians for not acting as judges in issues of sin among the ekklesia. I recognize this is difficult in general and in our present culture in particular. I am an administrator in a Christian and Atheist debate group on Facebook. At one point a young fellow joined the group. When I responded to one of his comments with disagreement, he informed me that he was going to report me to Facebook for bullying. I pointed out that he had joined a debate group and people were going to disagree with him. He left the group. While the example may sound extreme, culturally that type of thinking is becoming more the norm with the emerging generation (a good book on the issue is The Coddling of the American Mind).
While addressing issues, in particular sin, is difficult, in a healthy family environment, issues are in fact addressed and dealt with. In our walk with Jesus if we are seeking to create and be part of a kingdom ekklesia, a family, rather than furthering our present church culture, we will find a way. Leaders will foster an environment where we receive support, flow in our gifts and are free to challenge one another.