Our Duties and Responsibilities to One Another
in the Body of Christ

by Jon Zens & Cliff Bjork

Do Everything in Love, 1 Cor. 16:14

Our primary concern in this article is with our responsibilities toward each other as members together of the body of Christ, particularly as we flesh out those responsibilities in our local assemblies. This is not to say that they have no responsibility toward unbelievers. Scripture clearly commands us to "live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (1 Pet. 2:12). And, while godly living is an imperative, it is not the full extent of our responsibility toward the lost. We must also take every opportunity to bear faithful witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ, for "how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Rom. 10:14). We believe that these two duties: godliness and faithful witness, sum up our entire responsibility toward unbelievers. No matter what human relationships may exist as we seek to carry out these duties, our responsibility does not change. Whether relatives or neighbors or strangers, any necessary contact must be defined by practical, loving godliness and faithful verbal witness to Christ. In every other respect, we are to consider ourselves as "aliens and strangers in the world" (1 Pet. 2:11).

Our responsibility toward each other as fellow recipients of God's mercy and love, however, goes much deeper. And there is a good reason why. While we may find ourselves necessarily involved with unbelievers as the result of various human relationships (mother/son, brother/sister, employer/employee, etc.), we have no spiritual union with unbelievers beyond those human ties. When it comes to our relationship with fellow believers, however, human ties are no longer the defining issue. No matter what our previous human relationships, in Christ we have been joined by his Spirit into one body in an organic union not unlike the relationship of arm to hand or leg to foot (cf. I Cor. 12:12.27). This new spiritual union brings with it new responsibilities. And those new responsibilities are the subject of a great deal of New Testament teaching, particularly as expressed in the epistles. As the church has evolved over its nearly 2000 year history, however, many of these essential body practices have become lost in the unfortunate secularization of church structures and practices. For many local assemblies, the relationship between its members is no longer defined by organic unity, but by organizational - usually hierarchical - structures. As a result, our "one-another" responsibilities toward each other spelled out in the epistles have been either ignored or compromised in favor of procedures dictated by denominational tradition, majority rule, Robert's Rules of Order, or some other extra-biblical influence.

Before we get to the specifics of what it means to govern our relationship to each other not according to men's ways but according to apostolic teaching, we need to be certain about what is meant by "the body of Christ" (cf I Cor. 12:27). While the body of Christ can be defined as the sum total of all elect from all ages, that is not the definition intended in most of the passages that deal with our responsibilities to one another. While we praise God for his grace in saving other sinners in generations gone by, we have no practical way to exercise our body responsibilities with them. Nor can we do very much to fulfill our responsibilities to the body when it comes to other contemporary believers living in distant lands. For that reason, most of the teaching about our duties to one another as believers is addressed to sub-sets of Christ's body found in specific cities or in homes. It is in the context of these smaller, local assemblies that our responsibilities toward other believers take on practical dimensions. It is with the other participants in our local fellowship that we must learn to work out these New Testament principles.

That which follows is by no means an exhaustive treatment of our subject. But the principles given and passages cited are certainly representative of that which the New Testament has to say about our dealings with each other as members of Christ's body gathered in local assembly. Read and ponder these truths carefully, and then compare them with your

current assumptions and practices. If you can say that you are governing your relationships according to these truths, rejoice and try even harder. If you must admit that your relationship with other folk in your local assembly does not conform to these teachings, we would encourage you to repent, to do whatever is necessary to repair wrong relationships, and to strive for more obedience to these essential truths.

General Body Responsibilities

First, and most importantly, we first love one another as Christ loved us (John 13:34). This means that our love for each other must be constant, sacrificial and unconditional (1 John 3:16.17). Our love must not be self-serving, but Christ-like in its dedication to the betterment of others. It must not "delight in evil" (1 Cor. 13:6), and yet must be willing to cover over "a multitude of sins" (1 Pet. 4:8). According to Scripture, there is no place for rudeness in our love for one another, nor are we to keep records of our offenses against each other (1 Cor. 13:5). On the contrary, if we truly love one another as Christ loved us, we will be patient and forbearing, quick to forgive, trusting, and ready to protect one another from all enemies of the faith (1 Cor. 13:47; Eph. 4:32; Col 3:13; 1 Pet. 1:22; 3:8; 4:8).

We are never to be involved with anything that divides or tears down, but must be engaged only in those activities that edify, or "build up the church" (1 Co,. 14:12). While there are certainly roles for such leadership positions as teachers and elders, our relationship to each other is not hierarchical, but mutual, for we are all functioning priests in Christ's body. While our gifts and the roles based on those gifts may vary, we are all responsible for promoting growth in the body. To that end, we should all be involved in mutual support, encouragement, exhortation, admonition and whatever else is necessary to achieve ever greater conformity to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29,15:14; 1 Thes. 5:11,14; Heb. 3:13; 10:24,25; 1 Pet. 4:10).

In all that we do or say, we are to strive for things that lead to peace Rom. 12:18). We must not participate in strife or contention, but instead should consciously "seek peace and pursue it" (1 Pet. 3:11). As peacemakers, we must carefully follow biblical principles (more to follow) whenever it becomes necessary to resolve conflicts with others (Mat. 5:9; Heb. 12:14). We must never forget that peace is the very essence of that which was purchased for us by the blood of Christ (John 14:27; Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 1:19-20). It is that which most distinguishes us from those who are yet in their sins (Isa. 48:22).

In the pursuit of mutual edification and peace, our mouths play a very important role. Our words should be carefully chosen, and designed to build up, not to destroy (Eph. 4:29.315:4; Col. 3:8,16; James 3:10; 1 Pet. 4:11). We must "slander no one" (Tit. 3:2), and be ready always to speak a good word about our brothers and sisters in Christ. In the human realm, words are most often the spark that leads to wars and atrocities, and there is a parallel in the realm of the church, for "if you keep on biting and devouring each other" with hurtful and damaging words, "you will be destroyed by each other" (Gal. 5:15).

Responsibilities Concerning Damaged Relationships

Strained or damaged relationships must not be permitted to go on unresolved in the local body. Nor is there any biblical justification for waiting for the other person to act first. If you have something against another brother or sister in your assembly, you are to take the initiative to go to that brother or sister to seek peace and reconciliation (Mat. 5:23-24). But if you learn that someone else has something against you and is not dealing with it, it is still your responsibility to take the initiative and seek peace and reconciliation (Mat. 18:15).

If we know that there is something hindering fellowship with someone else in our assembly - no matter who is at fault - and we do not take the initiative to repair the strained relationship, we sin not only against that brother or sister, but against Christ. The N.T. stresses the bond of love that is to bind our hearts together in oneness and peace. If we know that that bond has been strained or broken, we must make every effort to repair the breach. This does not mean that we must agree on every little detail of our lives, but it does mean that that we cannot harbor ill-feelings toward other members of the body.

Responsibilities Concerning Confronting Sin

If someone in our assembly falls into sin, it is our responsibility to confront him or her in love with a goal of achieving repentance and reconciliation (Mat. 8:15-16; Gal. 6:2). At the beginning of this process of confrontation, it is important to keep things confined to only those who are directly involved. In the face of an unrepentant attitude, it may become necessary to involve other witnesses, or even to bring the matter before the whole church, but this expansion should only be undertaken when all efforts at more limited levels have failed. If the one who has sinned repents, we must be ready at once to forgive and to receive him or her back into fellowship (Mat 18:21-22; Luke 17:34). If all efforts to bring the sinner into repentance and reconciliation fail, the church has no choice but to put the offender out of the assembly (Mat 18:17,1 Cor 5:2.7). Even such painful but necessary purging, however, should be done in the hope and prayer of bringing about an ultimate repentance and restored fellowship with the offender (cf I Cor. 2:6-8).

Scripture seems to define another situation requiring less severe action. If a professing brother or sister "does not live according to [apostolic teaching]" (2 Thes. 3:6), he or she must also be confronted and urged to mend their ways. In the face of continued disobedience, however, they are not to be put out of the assembly, but to be avoided as a means of making them ashamed (3:14). Unlike the procedure outlined above where the offender is put out of the church and regarded as a heathen, this disassociation is to take place within the assembly, and the unruly member is to be warned "as a brother," not as an enemy of the faith (3:15). As in the circumstance where sin results in expulsion, so also in this disassociative discipline must we be ready always to forgive and restore fellowship in response to repentance. The distinction between these two circumstances is admittedly difficult, and must be worked out carefully in your own assembly. In neither case must these disciplinary actions be engaged precipitously, or without much prayer for wisdom and the Spirit's guiding. On the other hand, when such discipline becomes necessary, we must neither avoid our responsibility nor sweep the problem under the rug.

Responsibilities Concerning Individual Liberties

We are one body in Christ, and we should be like-minded and of singleness of heart and purpose. This does not mean, however, that we are a community of clones. On the contrary, God has specifically made us different from one another in many ways. We are male and female. We are young and old. We are bright and slow. We are reserved and outgoing. Some prefer vegetables while others prefer meat. These are just some of the differences between us, but none of these individualities makes us less than one in Christ, any more than the fact that the hand is different from the foot makes either less a part of our physical body (cú. I Cor. 12:12-27).

Again, this is a part of our responsibility toward one another that requires considerable patience and discernment. It is a given that there will be many differences between the members of any local assembly of believers. Some of our differences reflect varying stages of spiritual maturation and should take care of themselves in the presence of patient love and example and sound teaching. Other differences have the potential to divide and must be resolved to preserve unity and improve our oneness in Christ. Still other differences are nothing more than personal preferences and may be respected with no negative impact upon the body.

Perhaps the most difficult issue pertaining to these differences is in the area of personal liberty. This was a problem that was faced very early in the infant church. In the transition from either pagan or Judiastic perspectives to the acceptance of apostolic teaching, many new believers had to deal with new situations. And their response to these situations was not always the same. Some, for example, quickly understood that meat that had been offered to idols and sold at a discount the following day had no power to impart spiritual harm to the consumer, so they took advantage of the bargain with a clear conscience. Others, however, were troubled by the previous association with idols, and could not partake of such meat without offending their consciences. Paul's instruction concerning this specific instance of differences between believers is very instructive, and the principles derived may be applied to similar situations in our own day (i.e., alcoholic beverages, movies, television, dancing, etc.).

Much like the circumstances dealt with above under "damaged relationships," the responsibility to act in love regarding our differences should not be left for the "other guy" to initiate, but is ours to pursue - no matter where we find ourselves aligned in any issue involving Christian liberty. This means that if another brother who is perhaps more mature in the faith (e.g. the meat eater) partakes of something that you cannot yet in clear conscience do, you are not to judge him (Rom. 14:13). But if you consider yourself to be the stronger brother and observe someone who is weaker in the faith abstaining from something that you feel free to partake in, you are not to despise such a weaker brother, nor to cause him to stumble against his troubled conscience. In fact, as the stronger brother, you must be willing to freely forego that which you consider to be within your liberty in Christ if such a sacrifice seems necessary to minister to that weaker brother (Rom. 14: 3). In so doing, however, you should also patiently and carefully try to instruct such a brother in the area where his conscience is unnecessarily troubled. In Paul's day, it is safe to assume that many who were for a while troubled by the issue of meat offered to idols, or with respect to special days and seasons were ultimately set free from their bondage to errant presuppositions and led into the full light of freedom in Christ by the patient example and sound teaching of their stronger brothers.

It is important to emphasize that we are not promoting individual liberty in matters that are clearly sin. As believers we are not free to steal, to lie, to participate in evil practices, nor to chase after drunkenness and other pleasures of the world. There is a difference between the sin of drunkenness, however, and the issue of whether a believer has liberty to consume alcoholic beverages. All believers should be agreed that drunkenness has no place in a godly life. But the issue of whether or not a believer can partake of wine or beer is not so easily defined. For many, unfortunately, it has become a defining test of the faith and an issue over which there is instant division with no consideration of Paul's teaching in such matters. In many ways, there is little difference between the issue of meat offered to idols in the first century and the issue of alcoholic

beverages in our day. Again, it is an issue that you must work out among the believers in your own assembly, but as you deal with this and similar issues (movies, television, dancing, etc.) we would exhort you to do so according to the principles set forth by Paul in Romans 14. In all such matters, both the weaker and the stronger brothers are to seek each other's welfare by pursuing peace and edification (14:9). Paul did not tell the vegetable-eater to start eating meat, nor did he tell the meat-eater to stop eating meat (14:2-3). Rather, Paul exhorted both of them to have a Christ-honoring attitude or respect for each other's differences (Rom. 15:1-3,7).

Concluding Remarks...

These principles by no means exhaust the demands of love in our relationship to each other as members of Christ's body. But we do believe that these teachings express the essence of our basic duties toward one another. It is never easy to deal with problems that arise between us, but deal with them we must, for to do any less is to skirt our responsibilities and duties to one another as fellow members of the body of Christ. Love both cares and disciplines. We are not living a life of love, therefore, when we ignore or refuse to deal with situations that threaten to destroy our oneness in Christ.

It is our prayer that you will carefully consider these thoughts and that the Spirit of God will move you to do whatever is necessary to correct any unresolved problems that hinder your fellowship in Christ and effectiveness in the gospel. When we hear truth but do not implement it, we "deceive ourselves" and displease our Lord (James 1:22). But when we both hear and do that which Christ commands us, we will be happy and blessed (John 13:17). "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).