Unity, Diversity, and the Body of Christ

One of the beautiful aspects of being connected with believers as members in the body of Christ is the celebration of our diversity.  When we love well, our differences become causes for celebration, not barriers to inclusion.  This is one of the unique features of the church.  The church is not a social club where membership depends on a shared trait or interest.  We are not an affinity group.  We are a body.  Listen to Paul’s description of the church in I Corinthians chapter 12.

“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  For the body is not one member but many” (I Cor 12:12-14).

“If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any less a part of the body.  And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?  If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired” (I Cor 12:15-18).

“If they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now there are many members, but one body.  And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’  On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it” (I Cor 12:19-24).

But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.  Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (I Cor 12:24-27).

It is incredible to me how, after almost 2000 years of human history have transpired, this passage could have been written to today’s church.  Maybe that is because it was written to today’s church.  Themes like celebrating our diversity at the same time as practicing our unity, God forming the individual parts of the body as He desired, the danger of declaring “I have no need of you”, jealousy mixed with inferiority as to our part in the body, each suffering when one in the body suffers, and each celebrating when one is honored all have application to our contemporary church; application that we will explore next time.

Hating One’s Parents?

Last post, in the comments, Nancy brought up Matthew 10:37 and appropriately so.  “He who loves father and mother more than Me [Jesus] is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Mt 10:37).  In the parallel passage in Luke chapter 14, Jesus uses even more striking language, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Lk 14:26).  This seems to be in direct contradiction to the point of our last post – we love God by loving our families – so what gives?

It is important to understand the words of Christ in the context of His overall message.  Throughout His ministry,  Jesus extended – and to his listener’s ears – pushed the limit of the law of love to a radical model of unconditional love that, for example, includes forgiving our brother an infinite number of times (Mt 18:22) and loving our enemies of all stripes (Lk 6:27).  With that kind of expansion of love taught by Jesus to include even our enemies, it would seem to contradict Himself to suggest denying love to those closest to us.

Additionally, Jesus supports love of parents in his complaint against the Pharisees in Mark 7:9-13.  When talking about the Pharisee’s tradition of allowing a man to say to his parents in need, “The money I have available to help you has been set aside for God, so you are on your own”, Jesus condemns this action as not honoring one’s father and mother.

With that background of support for love of family, what is Jesus saying in Matthew 10 and Luke 14 about loving family less and hating one’s parents?  Just as the pursuit of wealth can come between us and the kingdom of God (think rich young ruler of Mark 10:21, 22 who when commanded by Jesus to sell all that he had went away “saddened for he owned much property”) so too family ties can become a barrier to following God.  I believe we honor and love God by loving our families, but never by putting them ahead of God’s leading in our lives.  For example, do we deny God’s call to come to salvation because family disagrees?  No.  Do we ignore His instruction in the path He has for us because family cannot accept it?  No.  But we can always respond in a loving way and trust God to work in the hearts that don’t agree with God’s call on our lives.

Back to Luke 14:26, I don’t believe Jesus is asking us to “hate our parents” in a literal sense.  What Jesus is saying is discipleship is serious business and we dare not minimize His point.  The context of the two verses we opened this post with is Jesus’ focused teaching on the cost of discipleship; the need to take up our cross and follow Him.  The story of the Pearl of Great Price and many other parables and teachings of Jesus emphasize that our first allegiance is always to Christ and His kingdom.  The “hating one’s parents” is Jesus using the most jolting and arresting language available to him to make His point; our first allegiance as Christ followers is to Christ and His kingdom.

What is interesting to me is how, as the New Testament revelation progresses, it becomes clear that one of the ways we demonstrate our allegiance to Christ is by the way we love our wives (“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” Eph 5:25), by the way we love our family (“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” I Tim 5:8), by the way we love our neighbor (“If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well” James 2:8) and by the way we love each other (“No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us” I Jn 4:12 and about a hundred other love one another passages).

Love of family and love of God, as presented last time, are not competing loves.  They are both part of our pursuing all that God has for us in this wonderful adventure of being His child; loving Him as our Father and loving our wives, children, parents, neighbors, and brothers and sisters in the Lord.