How many people can you name whom God has used in your life?
For thirty-some years my wife Dee Dee has modeled grace, honesty, hospitality, and loyalty for me. My children, Katie, Michael (son-in-law), Brendan, and Emmy have each shared with me important individual lessons. But as a group they have shown me the value of hope and trust and–at very important times–childlike faith. My hunting partner Jay has modeled for me balance, strength, and godly manhood.
These are only a few of the many people I could name whom God has used to change me. I am fortunate.
Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.
TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)
1 Corinthians 16:1-24
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
I find it interesting in the closing, as in the beginning, of his letter that Paul does not address a church by an institutional name: First Christian Church of Corinth for example. In his greeting he speaks to them as people but not an institution. In his closing Paul, waxes even more personal, mentioning six different people, friends, and co-workers.
Several of them we have read of elsewhere. Likely they have travelled many rugged miles and often suffered and triumphed together. We know Paul was instrumental in Timothy joining the family of Christ and Paul considered Timothy as a son. Paul speaks with respect for Apollos. Pricilla and Aquila were close friends. Paul probably often lived in their home. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this expression of church “Life Together.”
Bonhoeffer was right. These people were not simply people who belonged to the same organization or club. They were Paul’s friends and coworkers, his essential spiritual community. Their hearts were strung together with a cord that ran directly through the heart of Christ and wove them into a community that worked, suffered, traveled, preached, served, and lived together.
Listen to his language: he is collecting funds for “God’s people.” He speaks of “the men” and the personal pronoun “you” is prominent. He talks of staying not just visiting. They greet one another with a “holy kiss.” Never does he refer to the church as an “it.”
How different is this from how we talk about and think about church today? We talk of going to such-and-such church, or learning from so-and-so pastor, or reading this-or-that Christian book. Ours is often an institutional, impersonal expression of faith that was foreign to Paul and his friends. Paul’s idea of the church was highly relational. Later, in what we call his pastoral letters, he sets out organizational principles for the people of the church: how we may best relate to one another. But he never speaks of the body of Christ as an organization alone. Yet that is our primary lens for viewing the Church.
Is this part of the reason so many modern followers of Christ are frustrated and departing the institutional church? I believe so. Organizations can only function as conduits for people to meet (or attempt to meet) one another’s real, flesh and blood needs. Soon the system clogs up and relationships break down or are no longer the primary purpose. Like psychologist Harry Harlow’s famous wire monkeys, a brick and mortar institution can never nurture real living, breathing faith. Many of us are jumping off and looking for softer connections.
Yet most of us, like Paul, can name several people God has used to nurture in us a living, loving faith. What if these people, the ones you work, love, and live with are your church? Or even the people you sit next to in the pew? How would seeing them as the church make church different? Then what if those you and those people began to worship, fellowship, and serve in relationship together? That is what people in Paul’s time and for hundreds of years after did. And God used them, a people not an institution, to change the world.
Did seeing the church as a people and not a steeple solve all their problems? Hardly. Read the previous fourteen chapters of Paul’s letter. But it did give them a foundation from which to work out their problems. Ultimately it is more difficult to walk away from people–imperfect though they may be–than an impersonal entity.
Pollsters, such as George Gallup, ask people how often they attend church. Paul, if he were around today, might ask how often people were with their church and how those relationships with their church had made a difference.
- What do these for passages share in common?
- If you were to give your institutional church a non institutional name, what would it be?
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