The People of God (Exod. 19:5, 6; 1 Pet. 2:9)
As human beings we crave belonging to a group because it gives us identity. I belong to a group that fallen humanity has designated a racial group (I prefer to think of it as the human racial group), and you do too. You and I belong to an age group, a gender group, an income group, an interest group. Human beings have mastered the art of separating into groups by their differences. And human groups have one big flaw. Every group is full of sinful human beings. Sometimes they work together, but often they don’t.
That “brain” is Jesus.
When God said to the people of Israel several thousand years ago, “You are My chosen people,” He identified a specific group. “ ‘You shall be my treasured possession among all peoples. . . . You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ ” (Exod. 19:5, 6, ESV). God meant, “You have the identity and characteristics of My people. You belong.” God chose this one group, the descendants of Abraham, for a particular purpose: to tell all the other people about Himself and invite them into the group.
About 1,500 years later, the apostle Peter said, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his [God’s] own possession” (1 Peter 2:9, ESV). The descendants of Abraham are still that special group. According to Peter, who knew Jesus in person, the group’s purpose is still “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (verse 9, ESV). This is not an elitist, segregated group. God’s chosen people group is still intended to tell other people about Him and invite them into the group.
The Household of God (Eph. 2:19–22)
As people come into God’s special group, they don’t merely join the ranks of “a holy nation.” The apostle Paul said, “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19, ESV). They become part of the family and are treated as sisters or brothers. The household is founded on “the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (verses 20, 21, ESV). The household of God has expectations of family members. They are no longer outsiders but expected to behave like insiders. What are those expectations?
The Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 1 Tim. 3:14–16)
Paul answers, “I am writing . . . to you so that . . . you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Tim. 3:14, 15, ESV). Now read 1 Corinthians 3:16, and take note that “you” is plural. When Paul says, “you are God’s temple,” he means the whole group together is the “place” where God lives. Then what does Paul mean when he says in verse 17, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him” (ESV)? He means that if any one person or subgroup in the household of God causes harm to the group, he or she will be punished. “God’s temple [group of people] is holy” (verse 17, ESV).
The expectation laid on all of us is that we will not behave as a destructive force in any way. That requires us to work together in love. We don’t even need to do something in order to be destructive to this holy group. Doing nothing is harmful. When we come into the group, we have joined the group’s holy purpose and will act for the good of all.
The Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12–26)
The twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians may be the best understood and least applied chapter in the New Testament. It says that through Jesus we belong to a body with various working parts. Each person is a distinct working part. “If all were a single member [i.e., the same working part], where would the body be?” (verse 19, ESV). The Holy Spirit gives abilities and a role to each part (person), and each of us has the mandate to build up the household.
You may find it upsetting to discover that individuals or subgroups in the church, or even in your church, sometimes treat others in the body with disrespect or dishonesty. They have forgotten, temporarily, that their role is to support and encourage all the other “parts” of the body. However, we cannot allow ourselves to respond in the same way. We are still obligated to act as supportive “parts” regardless of the misbehavior of others.
Sheep and Shepherd (John 10:1–11)
The household of God, as a working body, has a “brain” that coordinates its actions. That “brain” is Jesus.
We are mixing metaphors here, but the disciple John reports Jesus’ own metaphor of the shepherd and sheep to illustrate how the body works. The sheep are the “body,” and Jesus leads them. They know His voice calling out to them because they know what He is about and are defined by being in His group. They do not answer the call of others who try to lead them astray. Jesus said, “ ‘I came that they [all the sheep] may have life and have it abundantly’ ” (John 10:10, ESV). The purpose of the “body” of Jesus remains the same today: share God’s love and invite people into the group. Everyone who accepts the invitation belongs. Each one takes the role of a happy working part.
1. Is it too idealistic to think that the church (the household of God) will work as harmonious body parts and accomplish God’s purpose?
2. What kind of “body part” are you?