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
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
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
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
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
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).
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).
JZ & CB