The risen Christ must have revealed to Paul that Israel was about to be cast off by God for an indefinite period –during which His grace would be announced to the Gentiles. This is explained by Paul in chapters 9,10 and 11, of his letter to the Romans. Probably Paul had no idea how long-lasting this period would be. It would end with the return of Christ to the earth, to begin His reign as Israel's Messiah and bring about the redemption of cast-off Israel. We know that it has already lasted nearly 2,000 years – and has not finished yet.
During this period God has announced through Paul that He is conciliated to the world because of Christ's sacrifice. Throughout this period God has been calling out from mankind, individuals who become reconciled to Him –through belief in Christ as their Saviour. In Ephesians Paul tells us that these saints constitute the members of the ecclesia, (better known by the English word, 'church') which is the body of Christ.
We also know from Paul's writings, that when the period ends, this Body (of both those saints who are alive at the time and the saints resurrected from among the dead) will be joined unto Christ, its Head, and carried away to fulfil its ultimate destiny in the heavens.
In the Greek this Body is called SUN-SOMAN, which actually means 'together body.' The Concordant Version translates it as "Joint-body." In the 2nd chapter of Ephesians, Paul explains how Christ's sacrifice has broken down the barrier between God and the Gentiles, so that in this period and in God's eyes, any distinction between Jew and Gentile has disappeared, since in fact, those who become members of the Joint-body constitute a "new humanity"! (Eph.2:15).
When we, who believe these glorious facts of God's grace, look around in the world and try to identify 'the church,' we find a difficulty. What we see is a great number of 'Churches' all professing belief in Christ –but differing in matters of doctrine and liturgy. Hence one often hears the question: How do I know who is a member of Christ's body? WE have no right to ask this question. The members of the body are known to God (2 Tim.2:19).
Undoubtedly the fragmentation of the early Churches into splinter-groups which are called 'churches' or 'denominations' or 'sects' has been the work of Satan. Over the past two millennia he has led many Christians away from "sound doctrine." Indeed, probably the majority of church-going Christians today rarely read their bibles. They are more interested in the liturgy, music, and group activities of their churches. Yet, there is still a higher standard of conduct expected of all who call themselves Christians. This has had a profound effect on the civilised world. One shudders to think what man's world would be like today if these fragmented churches did not exist.
Why is it that 'The Church of Christ's Body' cannot be easily identified? In Eph.2:19-22, Paul likens the Church to a building which is in course of erection. We tend to forget that the building is not yet completed! Nearly 2,000 years ago God laid "the Capstone of the corner" –Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:20). Since then every sincere believer has represented another added brick. In His good time God will lay the final brick! Only then will the Church be seen in its glorious finished state.
Imagine a great building in the course of erection. You expect to see a mass of rubble, disorder and untidiness. In the case of the Church, Satan sees to it that this is aggravated by friction arising among the workers; they do not all speak one language; nor do they all use the same tools; one deems himself better than another. The vital thing for us to remember is that God is the Architect. We must have the faith to believe that in due time all of Satan's machinations will have been countered, and then we shall be able to see the finished building in all its beauty.
Today, the members of Christ's Body are spread throughout the churches of Christendom, and many are not even recognised as members of any particular church. It is not for us to seek to identity them. Paul's writings make it clear that in matters of conduct, the Christian's primary duty is not to look at others, but to look into himself. Is he a good member of the body? Does he glorify God in his personal life? Does he have compassion for his neighbour? In short, does he "walk worthily" of God's calling? His life is not to be cocooned within a narrow group of fellow believers. He has to take his place in the world of man's affairs, and there he should be "a luminary,"a shining example of "the new humanity"(Phil.2:1-18).
Paul speaks to all sections of mankind –to husband's, wives, children, masters and servants. If we are to be "luminaries" it follows that our light will be seen by those who are in darkness –our unbelieving fellow-men! We must be sure that in our relations with them we do not adopt a 'holier than thou' attitude; because Christ died for our sakes "while we were still sinners."
It is a fact that some Christian groups make it difficult for an outsider to have fellowship with them. Yet in others one may find a spirit of love and acceptance, in the name of Christ. Paul himself discovered a wide difference in behaviour between the early churches founded or fostered by him. Consider how differently he had to deal with the Corinthians compared with the Thessalonians or Philippians. Yet to each he extends the same loving care. Let us not be concerned with how other believers react to us. Let us be very certain that it is not we who are guilty of un-brotherliness.
Paul rated love as the greatest of Christian virtues (1Cor.13). If we are motivated by love it is not difficult to enjoy fellowship with other believers who may well not see eye to eye with us on all points of doctrine. And in these cases let us not emphasise the differences; let us concentrate on what we have in common –love for our heavenly Father and for His Son Who is Head of the Church.
Not for a moment would we belittle the joy of fellowship with those believers for whom we feel a special bond of love. But our light should shine wherever life takes us. The greater part of the journey lies in the wilderness of man's world. Let us all seek to glorify God in the desert sands as much as in the pleasant pastures of the oasis.
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