This is none other than the "temple of God" (1 Cor. 3:16). It is where God dwells in a unique and unparalleled way. It is true that God can be seen in creation--but not like He is seen in the church. Some of His divine qualities can be seen in the universe about us--but not like they are seen in the church of the Living God!
The body of Christ is comprised of many members. As it is written, "For the body of Christ is not one member, but many" (1 Cor. 12:14). However, the body of Christ is moire than a mere collection of individuals. They are a working unit of people. Their individual value is found in their interrelationships with the rest of the body. Before God, they can never be considered independently of the other "members of the body." "If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?" (1 Cor. 12:15-16).
It is possible for an individual to suppose they do not need the rest of the body. But such a conclusion is erroneous, and cannot be justified on any level. "And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you" (1 Cor. 12:21).
In a nutshell, the fact that God has placed "many members" in the body presupposes that they require one another. If this were not the case, they would not be a "body." A "body" is a group of interrelating parts, working in concert. If this does not occur, the body is sick and malfunctioning.
There is also diversity in the church that parallels that of the human body. All believers are not alike. We are different in our makeup and in our ministries. "If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? if the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him. And if they were all one member, where were the body?" (1 Cor. 12:17-19).
At the point the members of the body cease to work together, a serious condition is introduced. Diversity now becomes an enemy to the cause of Christ, as individuals seek their own interest in preference to that of Christ and His body. The magnitude of. this sin is addressed in 1 Corinthians three. "If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are" (1 Cor. 3:17).
Here, the Spirit is speaking of attempting to merge sinners and saints under the same banner. Yet, His words have much to do with what we are reviewing. The point is that the collective people of God are His dwelling place-- His "temple." This is where He resides and where He works. This is the appointed means of expression in the world for the Godhead. To have a condition what interferes with this working is perilous. God becomes he enemy of the one perpetrating defilement. In the words of the Holy Spirit, we are no longer our own. We have been "bought with a price," and have a mandate to "glorify" God" in both our spirits and our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). Self interests are completely out of order in the church, particularly among its leaders.
Notice that the emphasis is on the collection of believers, and not the individual believer himself. The person that has disregard for the body of Christ, whether manifested in ringing corrupted members into it, or ins seeking personal and isolated interests, has incurred the curse of God. The solemn affirmation is this; "him shall God destroy." It is not possible to contemplate a more serious situation. We all do well to take this word seriously.
Suffice it to say, we have no real alternative in the matter. If we do not choose to work together for God's glory, we shall not escape His judgment. In such a case, we have sought to interfere with the divine agenda.
One might counter that God is all-powerful, accomplishing His will in spite of human corruption. In a sense this is true, but it is not the whole truth. God can bring Israel out of Egypt, even if Pharaoh does not meant to let them go. He can slay Goliath by the hand of a lad, even if the odds are against it. And He can raise Jesus from the dead, even though spiritual rulers in high places resist it. But we do not have that type of situation confronting us when we are not united.
Salvation involves the volitional part of men. God works through this means for His glory. At the point we CEASE to be in "one accord," we have lost our utility to God. He has no alternative but to turn to someone else.
PLURALITY OF ELDERS
Plurality without harmony is disastrous! Scripture speaks of a plurality of elders (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Phil. 1:1; James 5:14). No mention is made of a congregation with a single elder. It is not that there is a divine prohibition against it; rather, the nature of the body of Christ does not promote the rise of a solitary leader..
The eldership is not a person, but a function. It is an aspect of body life that, like the rest of the body, requires harmony and unanimity.
The secret to working harmoniously is not mere (and especially forced) agreement, although that is necessary. It is for each member to concentrate on their spiritual strengths. If their strengths are from God, they will blend together, working for His glory. God intends plurality in the eldership to be a blessing. However, if they are NOT working harmoniously, having a plurality of elders becomes a basis for cursing instead if blessing, for through it division is actually fostered. As in all other aspects of "body" life, diversity causes division if it is not employed in a common objective. In the case of the elders, that objective is the edification and care of the "flock of God." Elders must work harmoniously toward that objective, faithfully employing their personal spiritual strengths.
Examples of the power of unity
THE TOWER OF BABEL
We have examples in Scripture of the power of unity. An examination of an unusual event in Genesis will illustrate the point.
The attempt to build the tower of Babel affords insight into this subject. You will recall that the people were together, all speaking the same language. There was no discord among the people. Their unity was their strength.
When they aspired to build a tower that reached to heaven, their efforts were observed from heaven. First their unity was noted, then their efforts. God Himself observed, "Behold, the people is one, and they all have one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do" (Gen. 11:6).
Do not miss what the Lord said: it is a staggering consideration. The unity of these godless people introduced liabilities that God could now allow. What do you suppose would happen if a group of elders--any group--are solidly united together for the cause of Christ? The possibilities are challenging. Let me challenge you to set your sights on some great work for God. Then work at being united in your hearts and minds about it, as well as in your speech. Unlike the building of the tower of Babel, God will bless the efforts of those that are one with Him.
THE DAY OF PENTECOST
The church of the Lord Jesus Christ was inaugurated on a day established by God. An environment that was pleasing to the Lord also was in place.
"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place" (Acts 2:1). What an occasion it was! And the people were ready for the blessing. They were "with one accord." Their hearts and minds were focused, and there was no dissension or variance among them.
The events of that day culminated with 3,000 souls passing from death to life. When the Law was given, 3,000 died. How could such a contrast in results occur. One major factor was the oneness of the people.
Early believers continued to be blessed from heaven in an unprecedented way. The Spirit states the matter succinctly. "And they continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:46-47).
I suggest that the church will experience more of those results when oneness and single- mindedness are found. To attempt to have a growing church that is not united is an effort in futility. Real growth follows unity.
UNITY FOR THE WRONG PURPOSE
"Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. And it came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly. And they said, Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and w nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth" (Gen 11:1-8).
UNITY FOR THE RIGHT PURPOSE
"And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language" (Acts 2:1- 6)
Why is harmony essential in the body?
Harmony is not an option in the body of Christ--particularly within the eldership. Oneness is a trait of Deity, and as such is a requirement among those with Deity is identified. Jesus declared, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand" (Matt 12:25).
RELATED TO DEITY
The relationship of the Godhead to the body of Christ is declared with remarkable clarity in Scripture. The church is "the church of God" (Acts 20:28), the "temple of God" (1 Cor. 3:16), and the "house of God" (1 Tim. 3:15). It is also "the body of Christ" (1 Cor. 12:27), "His house" (Heb. 3:6), and His "bride" (Rev. 21:9). Christ's body is also identified with the Holy Spirit. It is the habitation of God "through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22), receives spiritual capabilities from the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7), and is addressed by the Spirit (Rev. 2:7,11).
DEITY IS UNITED
You know that the Father, Son, and Spirit are in perfect accord. There is no variance among them. The Father sent the Son (1 John 4:14), and the Son sent the Spirit (John 15:26). Jesus brings us to God (1 Pet. 3:18), and the Spirit opens up the words of Christ (John 14:26). How glorious is the harmony within the Godhead!
You must remember that elders are under-shepherd, operating under the authority of Jesus, the "Chief Shepherd" (1 Pet. 5:4). They were made overseers over God's people by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). Their mandate is to "feed the church of God" (Acts 20:28). Thus, their office is related to every member of the church of Godhead, and to the Father, Son, and Spirit as well.
DISHARMONY IS UNGODLY
In view of this situation, a lack of harmony within the eldership becomes the very essence of ungodliness. I realize this is a serious consideration, but it nevertheless true. To attempt to lead the church of God in the name of Christ and by the Spirit of God, while in a state of disharmony is an exercise in futility. Not only that, it incurs the indignation and judgment of God.
HARMONY IS POSSIBLE
There is no reason for elders to be divided, and every reason for them to be united. The Spirit has made them overseers over the house of God, and unity is His fruit (Eph. 4:3). They are shepherds under the "Chief Shepherd," Who is building His church together for a "habitation of God through the Spirit" (Matt. 16:16; Eph. 2:22). God has "one hope" for His Son's bride--a single objective that was determined before the foundation of the world.
There are gifts and insights, strength and wisdom, available to elders for their work. They can be of one mind and one spirit, because that is the nature of the kingdom into which they have been translated (Col. 1:13).
The church began with marvelous unity, and it shall enter into eternity with the same. There is no reason why it cannot enjoy unanimity now.
As elders, you do not merely set the example of harmony, you have the privilege of enjoying it among yourselves. Remember that God's will cannot be accomplished in a state of divisiveness, and it will be accomplished where the spirit of godly unity prevails.
The disruptive effects of division DIVISION IS A WORK OF THE FLESH "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal 5:19-21, NASV).
"Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Cor 1:10).
The Word of God has much to say about division. Here is a sin that is a constant threat to the church of the living God. Our adversary the devil promotes it with unwavering zeal, striving to disrupt the work of Christ. It must never be viewed in a tolerant way.
Division is a work, or expression, of the flesh. There are several arresting words employed by the Spirit to describe this sin. "Enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions," and "factions"" are mentioned in a catalog of sinful expressions (Gal. 5:20).
"Enmity" is a matter of the heart, and is the opposite of love. "Strife" is the expression of enmity in word or deed. "Jealousy," also translated "emulations," is a competitive spirit that is envious of another. "Outbursts" of anger," or "wrath" are aggressive expressions of the sinful nature. "Disputes" or "strives" are variance that has no relation to truth. "Factions" is a term denoting self- seeking and rivalry, the cause of denominationalism. It is evident that these have no place in the body of Christ!
Division, or the lack of unity, is the devil's attempt to penetrate the church. It brings disruption and a consequent cessation of the work of God. God can no more work among a divided people than Satan can work among those united in Christ.
The church at Corinth was upbraided by the Apostle for being divided. "Now I exhort you,brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you . . . that there are quarrels among you" (1 Cor. 1:10-11). The seriousness of the situation is highlighted by this exhortation. It is given "by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ," or in His behalf, and through His authority. This is nothing less that the assessment of Jesus.
Division is our enemy. It springs forth from the sinful nature, and is energized by the devil himself. It is wrong at any level, but particularly when found among the leaders of God's people. Its intrusion into the eldership is an attempt of Satan to disrupt the stabilization of Christ's body.
Determine among yourselves to eliminate variance. This does not mean perfect agreement in all things will always be found. But your mind-sets must be the same. You must be in agreement on your objectives, and willing to forfeit your personal will in the interest of God's agenda.
Faith and love are essential ingredients in unity. "Flesh," or the sinful nature, is the essential element in division.
The way to eliminate division is to walk in the Spirit and live by faith. It is to be motivated by truth and not by personal preference. God will reward those that determine to do His will at all cost. If you are willing to forfeit your will, He will strengthen you to do His will, working in harmony with one another. Do not allow division in your ranks!
Tapping into divine power
GOD IS ABLE TO WORK TRANSCENDENTLY
"For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us"
Divine power is requisite to all work in the body of Christ. God has made no provision for acceptable labors without His Spirit. This is particularly true of spiritual leaders.
The nature of the faith-life is generally unknown among professed believers. For this reason, the Apostle set himself to pray for the body of Christ. He knew the secret to their strength, and he knew how eagerly Satan opposes the acquisition of that strength.
Paul prays that believers be strengthened with might by God's Spirit in the inner man. The reason for the request is clear: "that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith." Christ cannot dwell in a heart that is not dominated by faith, and faith cannot be surpassing without the Spirit.
But Christ does not simply dwell in our hearts, He comes to root and ground us--to stabilize us before God. When spiritual stability is realized, we will comprehend the extent of Christ's love for us. Through this marvelous comprehension, we come to know Christ experientially, and are, consequently, "filled up to all the fulness of God."
VEHICLE OF OMNIPOTENCE
When God dwells uninhibitedly within us, He works in a transcendent manner. We are not capable of asking or thinking in full harmony with this power--and yet, it is within us! Those in close affinity with Jesus are, by that very concord, available for Divine employment. There are no limits to things that can be done with the power resident in those that know the love of Christ!
Jesus is at the heart of God's kingdom. Whatever does not connect directly to Him is irrelevant! We were found because of Jesus. We are forgiven because of Him. We live because of Him! God has received us because of Him! Every aspect of the church finds its meaning in Him.
As elders, your primary responsibility is to keep Jesus at the heart of preaching and teaching. You must not allow issues to become dominant. Strengthen the hand of those preaching the Word. Encourage them to make the understanding of Christ preeminent. Insist that He never be supplanted by contemporary issues. As responsible under-shepherds, see to it that your teaching materials are Christ-centered. That means salvation in all of its glorious breadth is the primary thing. Justification and sanctification must be understood by the people. They must be brought to realize how vast was the gulf that separated them from God, and how marvelously it was spanned by the love of God through Christ. If the people do not discern these things, it really does not make any difference what else they may know.
It is not possible to focus on the Son of God and be bereft of Divine power. As elementary as it may seem, Satan has been successful making Jesus secondary in the church. See to it that you make Him primary in your assembly.
The error of authoritarianism
TAKING THE OVERSIGHT . . .
"Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock" (1 Pet 1:1-3).
Authoritarianism is the mother of most church difficulty. The world calls it a "power play." This is completely out of order in the body of Christ. There are no political positions in the church!
Jesus made it clear that the kingdom of God differed vastly from the kingdoms of this world. "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them: and those who have authority over them are called "benefactors." But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the younger, and the leader as the servant (Luke 22:25-26). Our Lord's observation was His response when "there arose a dispute among" His followers "was to which one of them was regarded to be greatest" (v. 24). His response to similar contemporary disputes would be no different!
God's people are being conformed to the image of the Son of God (Rom. 8:29). As new creations, they have the law of God written on their hearts and minds (2 Cor. 5:17; Heb. 8:10-13). They are "strangers and foreigners in the world," and their citizenship is in heaven (1 Pet. 2:11; Phil, 3:20). Because of this condition, believers are being led to glory. They cannot be coerced into heaven, because they have a basic desire to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. You can teach them, exhort them, and even rebuke them--but you cannot force them!
It is the "FAITH" of the leaders that is to be followed, not their orders (Heb. 13:7). This presumes "follow-ability." It is evident that their lives are "hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). Their "affection" is set on things above, and not on things in the earth (Col. 3:1-2).
If this is not the case, it is not possible to lead God's people. We must be dogmatic at this point. An unspiritual elder is a contradiction of terms. It simply is not possible to be a true elder, and not have a faith that can be followed! If this were possible, the Holy Spirit, Who makes "over-seers" (Acts 20:28) would be in sharp conflict with the One that sent Him!
TAKE THE OVERSIGHT
Spiritual leadership is a matter of taking the "oversight" of the flock. By its very nature, this canonly be done willingly. It has been wisely observed that oversight "does not imply the entrance upon such responsibility, but the fulfilment of it. It is not a matter of assuming position, but of the discharge of duties" (W.E. Vine).
Oversight involves "looking carefully." A tender heart and a perceptive eye are wed in the elder. He watches the flock for their good, not his. By so doing, he prepares himself to give a strict account to the "Chief Shepherd."
NOT UNDER COMPULSION
Elders are admonished to "exercise oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF GOD: and not for sordid gain, but WITH EAGERNESS" (1 Pet. 5:2).
Here is an "office," or function, in which the will of God is primary, as well as the eagerness of the leader. Those are qualities that simply do not harmonize with a quest for, or exercise of authority. For such, an "unending crown of glory" is promised.
Seen properly, an elder is working in concert with the Lord Jesus Christ for the perfection of the saints. Being expert in the Word of God, and having a heart for the maturity of God's people, he seeks to bring advantage to the people of God. When you have a plurality of elders functioning in this manner, you will find the work of the Lord being accomplished. Where this is not being done, you are faced with imposters--men that will surely give an account of their misconduct to the Chief Shepherd.