The Last High Priest

We can only assume who the writer of Hebrews might be. In view of the antagonism against Paul throughout the Roman Empire by the persecuting Jews (At 13:43), we would assume that he would keep his name off this document if he were the author. He would want his readers to fully understand the awesomeness of the Son of God in His present ministry, that it is not according to His ministry in the flesh (2 Co 5:16). Therefore, in the words of the Holy Spirit through the writer, this is a brilliant piece of apologetical literature that instructs us concerning Jesus’ present ministry.

One of the first points in the letter is that the author did not want his message to be obscured by his own personality as the writer. So there is no specific identity of the writer, and thus, no distraction from the One about whom the writer identifies in the heavens. We can only make deductions as by whom the letter was written, and thus, we would only assume that it was written by the apostle Paul.

The purpose of the Hebrew letter is stated in the final chapter: “And I urge you, brethren, bear this word of exhortation ….”13:22   This was a letter of encouragement, reassurance, and finally a warning to those who were on the verge of forsaking all that they had received in Christ.

This was a letter of exhortation. This is Jewish language in reference to the exhortation that comes from the word of God. When Paul and Barnabas were in the synagogue of Pisidia, the Jews of the Jewish synagogue asked of them, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it” (At 13:15). The recipients of the Hebrew letter were indeed in need of a word of exhortation, for some were contemplating a return to the Sinai law and Levitical priesthood. It seems that a general lethargy in study of the word of God had set in among them, and thus, they were finding that their life in Christ had now grown stale after many years as Christians.12:3   And thus, the Hebrew writer lays the foundation for exhortation in Christ: “Therefore, we must give more earnest attention to the things that we have heard so that we do not drift away.”2:1 And drifting they were.

Their spiritual drift was the result of their lack of growth in the knowledge of Jesus. By the time the writer inscribed these words of exhortation, they should have spiritually grown to be teachers.5:12   In order to spur them on to growth, therefore, the letter was written to rehearse those teachings that should have continually inspired their spiritual growth. In order to generate enthusiasm in their hearts, the writer reminds them that God is living and active through the present heavenly ministry of the Son of God.4:12 In order to spur them on to learning, the writer reminds them of a day approaching wherein God will openly manifest again that He is actively working in the affairs of men.10:25

Jesus did not ascend to idleness. He is active as our high priest. However, the day was coming in the lives of the immediatele readers when He would be active in terminating national Israel. It is our conclusion that the writer inscribed the words of this letter in view of the physical finality of national Israel in the destruction of the Jewish state in A.D. 70. The Hebrew writer thus wrote with urgency in order to dissuade any thought of returning to a dead covenant and law under which most Jews of the day hopelessly sought to please God

Because they had not spiritually grown, it seems that the recipients had fallen victim to a faith in which they concluded that Jesus was no longer active. When our Christianity digresses to a faith in One whom we feel is passive on our behalf, then our Christianity becomes cold formalism wherein we legally perform the ceremonies of our faith in order to “maintain the faith.” Such Christianity is dead and brings no satisfaction to the spiritual soul of its adherents. In the cold formalism of their knowledge of elementary principles, the Hebrew writer considers it fundamental that we know Jesus according to how He now functions.   We must move on from a knowledge of the fleshly ministry of Jesus to His heavenly ministry as He functions as   priest and king in heaven.

Because of their lack of growth, the adherents had grown spiritually lethargic in their maintenance of the elementary principles of the faith. It was beyond the time that they should grow beyond the elementary knowledge of Jesus Christ.6:1,2 For this reason, the writer placed little emphasis on the earthly ministry of Jesus in the flesh. Except for his note on the resurrection of Jesus in 13:20, emphasis is on the eternal sacrifice, and the subsequent active result of that sacrifice through the eternal priesthood of the sacrificial Lamb of God. The resurrection and ascension are assumed in reference to Jesus’ ministry from the time of the cross to His ministry at the right hand of God. So in the following statement of the writer in 7:25, the active ministry of Jesus on our behalf is highlighted: “… seeing He always lives to make intercession for them.”

Christ does not now live for Himself. He lives for us. He entered into the holy place “to appear in the presence of God for us.”9:24   He is our priest and king who is enthroned in heavenly places. He is not there with outstretched arms in pleading to the Father. He is there with the authority of the Godhead, exercising all authority for God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The old Catholic picture we often have in our minds is that Jesus is pacing about before the Father in priestly liturgy to plead the case of the righteous on earth. But this mental picture is simply not the picture that the Hebrew writer paints.

The writer seeks to picture Jesus as among His “family.” Quoting from the psalmist, he reminded his readers of the declaration of Jesus: “I will declare Your name to My brothers, in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.”2:12 (See Ps 22:22).   Depending on whether we as interpreters would consider the word “firstborn” in 12:23 as a reference to Jesus, and not to those of His family, does not deny the truth that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, never to die again (Cl 1:18; Rv 1:5). In the 12:23 text, the word “ones” is italics, and thus added by the translators. Reference could be to the firstborn “One,” or the firstborn “ones.” In either case, Jesus is the firstborn of all those who will be resurrected never to die again. Paul reminded his readers of this fact: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead and has become the firstfruits of those who are asleep” (1 Co 15:20).

As the firstborn of His family, the ekklesia (the church), Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brethren (See Mk 3:34).   Isaiah led the faithful remnant of God in order to preserve those who would survive the apostasy of Israel (See Is 8:18). In the same way, Jesus led the faithful out of the apostate Israel of His day in order that they enjoy the final rest that God would give to those who obey the gospel. Jesus is thus pictured by the writer as leading the faithful under the protection of His blood and His ministry as our high priesthood.

The writer’s quotation of Isaiah in reference to this ministry of Jesus was appropriate: “Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me.”2:13 God had given a faithful remnant to Isaiah. In the same way He had given a faithful remnant into the protective hands of the Son of God. It was to these that the Hebrew writer was writing a word of exhortation in order that they remain faithful to their calling through the gospel.

[Lectures begin December 1.]

Fellow Workers

In the context of Ephesians 4:1-6, and with the following exhortation, Paul continued his encouragement that the Ephesians to be “… eager to keep the unity of the Spirit …” (Ep 4:3). Depending on one’s translation, “eager” is a word that would well convey the meaning of Paul’s injunction. We must strive for unity. It is not something that just happens. The organic body functions when all its members are working “with” one another in their common effort to think with the same mind and judgment in carrying out the mission of Jesus.

A.  Fellow workers function under the authority of their King.

When discussing the unity of the body, we often use the word “with” in reference to our fellowship of working together. But we must be careful with the use of this preposition, lest we be inferring something that is contrary to the word of God, a meaning that is actually worldly and divisive.

When some people use the word “with,” they mean that we must be working “with” one another in a corporate sense of the business world. In other words, in order to work with one another, everyone must fall under some network of association that is governed by the authority of management. In order to work with one another in this corporate sense, it is assumed that everyone must be directed by the management within the organization, and that the “employees” are in the physical presence of one another. But we know that this is a corporate concept of networking in function because of what Jesus said in Mark 10:

You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them. And their great ones exercise authority over them.   But it will not be so among you (Mk 10:42,43).

It is not difficult to understand this statement.   Jesus has all authority (Mt 28:18).   And to our knowledge, He did not distribute any of His authority to any person on earth in order to control a corporate network of those who are to supposedly work “with” one another under the umbrella of a corporate authority. In fact, listen to what Paul said to the Corinthians: Not that we rule over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy” (2 Co 1:24).   In other words, if Paul, or any other person exercised authority over the Corinthian disciples, then they would not be fellow workers. The network of fellow workers in the faith is correctly understood when no one has authority over another, but everyone is working with one another under the authority of Christ.

The fellowship of the saints is defined as individuals working with one another without anyone having authority over anyone.   This is what Paul was explaining to the Corinthians. He wanted them to know that they were fellow workers with him, not because he exercised some apostolic authority over them, but that they voluntarily surrendered to Christ, as did he, and thus all of them were working together in the Lord.

Christians are responsible for one another. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gl 6:2). “We then who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of the weak and not to please ourselves” (Rm 15:1). Responsibility means that we can look out for one another without any one person being in authority over others. This is our relationship with one another as fellow workers, both in spiritual responsibilities, as well as in our working relationship to fulfill our personal ministries.

At one time during his ministry, Paul had strongly urged Apollos to go to Corinth. But notice carefully the text where we are informed of this situation.   But it was not his [Apollos’] desire to come at this time, but he will come when he has an opportune time (1 Co 16:12). Now if Paul had some apostolic authority over Apollos in their relationship with one another in order that Apollos be working “with” Paul, then Apollos would not have been submissive in this request of Paul. He would have been rebellious.

The relationship between Paul and Apollos illustrates that both were fellow workers in the kingdom, and thus, responsible for one another. Paul had no apostolic authority over Apollos, and neither did Apollos have authority over others. There was no network of apostolic authority by which the two would be in a unity that was based on a chain of command. Without a chain of command, they worked with one another in kingdom business. And if Paul exercised no authority over Apollos as an apostle, then we should be very careful about setting ourselves over one another in order that we can say we are working “with” one another.

The fact that Jesus exercises all authority in the lives of every member of His body totally defeats the teaching that there is some “apostolic authority” on earth with a few individuals among whom a network of authority exists within the church. It is believed by some that there was apostolic authority in the early church that constituted a supposed apostolic succession of authority that has been passed down throughout history. There are those today who assume such in order to validate a hierarchal establishment of control over those of their church organization. But such a teaching and behavior was never believed or practiced by the early leaders of the church. And it if was not practiced by the early church, then there is no historical record of such in the New Testament.

B.  Fellow workers function outside one another’s presence.

Some suppose that working “with” one another means that we must always be in one another’s presence in our work. In other words, to be fellow workers in the kingdom we must be united and physically “with” one another while we work in the same ministry. But if this definition of working with one another is true, then no disciple would go anywhere in order to completed is own gifted ministry.

It may have been that this was the original dysfunction of the body in its early beginnings in Jerusalem. The members wanted to stay in Jerusalem with one another in the comfort of their Jewish culture. But God had other plans, and thus, through persecution He flushed the members of the body out of Jerusalem and out of their presence with one another.   Subsequently, “those who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” (At 8:4). There are times when we can be personally with one another in our labors for the Lord. However, we must be careful about hindering the work of God by holding up in one place, enjoying one another’s presence while the world goes unevangelized.

It is not necessary to be in one another’s presence in order to be working with one another We know this by what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:3:

And I ask you also, loyal companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers whose names are in the book of life.

Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote this statement. The “rest of my fellow workers” of the worldwide body of Christ were not there with him in prison. They were scattered everywhere. But they were still his fellow workers, and thus working with him in the furtherance of the gospel. In other words, the fellow workers did not have to be in one another’s faces in order to be fellow workers with one another.

It is true that Paul had fellow workers with him in prison (Cl 4:10-12). However, these fellow workers did not become such when they visited with him in prison.   They were fellow workers before they showed up with Paul at his prison door.

When we use the word “with,” therefore, we must be cautious about what we mean, lest we teach a form of disunity in the body of Christ. Before Paul and Barnabas left on their second mission journey, they had a disagreement about taking Mark (At 15:36-41). They could not come to an agreement concerning Mark, and thus, they parted from one another’s presence. Barnabas took Mark and Paul took Silas. The two teams then went to different areas, but all went to the areas they had evangelized on the first mission journey (At 15:39,40).

Paul and Barnabas were still working “with” one another, though in different areas of the world. They had not divided the church because they went in different directions. Because they were working in different areas of the kingdom did not mean that they were church dividers.   Only those who are concerned about control and authority would think such. Because they were not personally “with” one another, or had come together in the same assembly on a regular basis in order to be working “with” one another, did not mean that they had divided the church. They were together, however, as the one body in their common mission to evangelize the world.

Working together, therefore, does not mean that we have to be in one another’s presence, or even agree with one another’s methods of evangelism. Working together means that we are working to accomplish the common goal that Jesus commanded us (Mt 28:19,20; Mk 16:15,16).

The beautiful thing about working with one another as the body of Christ is that we are all on the same page, working our gifted ministries wherever we are in the world.   The oneness of the body of Christ is in the fact that we are all fellow workers in the kingdom, regardless of where we are doing our ministry in the world in obedience to Jesus. It is this fact that keeps the body united and functional. Wherever one may be in the world, he or she must understand that he or she is working with a global body of believers who have individually given their lives to Christ. Each member of the worldwide body of Christ is an important functioning member in his or her own small part in the world.   Every member of the body must remember that when he or she simply walks across the street to approach their neighbor concerning Jesus, there is a worldwide body of disciples right there in spirit.

[The e-book on these lectures will be forthcoming.]

The Oneness Attitude

The relational function of each member of the body is first with God, and then with one another. Our relationship with one another is based on our relationship with God. The weaker our relationship is with God, the weaker it is with one another. One cannot say he has a relationship with God if he has little or no relationship with his brothers and sisters in Christ.   Our coming together in assembly, therefore, is actually a renewal of our relationship with God because we seek to relate lovingly with one another.

The New Testament is not a manual on assembly techniques or a code of liturgy for assembly-oriented religiosity. It is a compilation of Spirit-inspired instructions to encourage us to relate with one another because of how God related to us through the cross. We are called to come into an obedient relationship with God by His call to us through the cross. We are driven to connect with one another, therefore, because God connected with us through Jesus. The fellowship of the saints is no more complicated than that. Christians want to be connected with one another as much as possible because they have an endearing connection with God.

Now when we visit any region or city where there is at least one person who has connected with God through the cross, then it is only natural that we as disciples of Jesus should seek to connect with that person in order to worship and praise the “Divine Connector” of all members of the body. We must never allow our connecting with any group of disciples to exclude us from fellowshipping with other disciples who are also our brethren. If we do so, then we are manifesting a sectarian manner.

When Paul went into any city, he searched for disciples in that city. The first place he searched was the synagogue. We must forget that by the time Paul went on his first and second mission journeys (A.D. 46–49 and A.D. 49–52), it was 15 to 25 years after the Pentecost of A.D. 30 when the church was established in Jerusalem. In other words, 15 to 25 Pentecosts had occurred every year by the time he arrived in the synagogues he visited on his first two journeys (See At 17:1).

During this time, there were Jews annually going to Jerusalem for Pentecosts throughout these years. While in Jerusalem, they had heard the preaching of the apostles who stayed in Jerusalem after the A.D. 30 Pentecost (See At 2:42).   To a great extent, therefore, Paul’s regular visits to the synagogues on his mission journeys were actually follow-up studies with Jews who had visited Jerusalem during at least one of the Pentecosts after A.D. 30. This is why Paul went from synagogue to synagogue, searching for those Jews who may have already heard the gospel, as the Ethiopian eunuch who was confused on his way back home after encountering Christians who taught daily in the temple of Jerusalem (At 5:42; 8:26-40).

When Paul came into Corinth, he looked for others in the city who were disciples. Acts 18:2 says that he found a certain Jew named Aquila … with his wife Priscilla ..” When he once came into Ephesus he again found “certain disciples” (At 19:1). Paul was in the “finding business” because he searched for those, who had in an idolatrous world in some way connected with God. He searched for those who had either obeyed the gospel, or those who had visited Judea during one of the Passover/Pentecost feasts that occurred during the ministry of either John the Baptist or Jesus. The disciples he found in Ephesus may have earlier made contact with John during his ministry.

Paul’s “finding ministry” assumes that one of his responsibilities as a disciple was to connect people with one another in Christ.   It is interesting that Aquila and Priscilla had been in Ephesus for at least one year, but they had not found the “certain disciples” that Paul found when he came back to the city after a year in Judea, Syria and Galatia (At 18:22,23). It may have been that Aquila and Priscilla, being Jews, regularly met with other Jews in the synagogue, waiting for an opportunity to find someone as Apollos who was a visiting teacher (See At 18:24-28). But it could also be that the “certain disciples” were Gentiles, and thus they did not meet with the Jews in the synagogue. Or they may have been Jews who believed the message of John the Baptist, and were subsequently kicked out of the synagogue by opposing Jews before the arrival in the city of Aquila and Priscilla.   Whatever the case, we must keep in mind that the city of Ephesus at the time was over 250,000 in population. We certainly could not expect Aquila and Priscilla to find all the disciples in the city in the year or so before Paul arrived.

Because of the size of the city of Ephesus, we would naturally assume that a problem of connectivity would develop among all the members of the body in the region of Ephesus. One fact in reference to connectivity between disciples in such a large area would almost be natural. It would be difficult for disciples in a large geographical city area to remain connected. In fact, because local resident disciples can become lost in large metropolitan areas, it was almost impossible for them to stay in contact with one another.

Paul envisioned a separation of disciples within Ephesus that would come after his final visit to the city (See At 20:30).   Because of the difficulty of disciples remaining in contact with one another within such large metropolitan areas, we can understand why a letter that was written to the disciples in such an area as Ephesus would include an exhortation that every member in some way strive to stay connected. This is the context of the letter of Ephesians. Paul wrote to the disciples within a large city who had no automobiles, no telephones, no emails, no facebook, no twitter, etc.

How would we ever expect the disciples in large cities as Ephesus to remain one organic body of Christ when everyone was meeting in homes throughout the city? Even disciples today who are privileged with a vast means of transportation and communication devices often find it difficult to remain in contact with one another within large metropolitan areas. We can only imagine how difficult it was for thousands of Christians to remain in contact with one another in cities as Jerusalem, Corinth or Ephesus. Since they were all meeting in homes throughout these cities, we can assume that they struggled to keep the unity of the faith in the bond of peace.

This brings us to the context of the exhortations of Ephesians 4:1-6. This is an exhortation of only two sentences, both sentences imparting to all of us two simple mandates upon which we can remain the one organic body of Christ, though we may of necessity be scattered throughout hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people in a large metropolitan city or area. It is a context that reminds us that we are working with one another, though we are not in physical contact with one another.

In the first sentence of Ephesus 4:1-6, Paul focused on the personal relationships that Christians are to have with one another in order to maintain unity. He gives the personality skills that enable people to be with one another in a common fellowship regardless of their regular presence in the same assembly.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you that you walk worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ep 4:1-3).

If we have been called through the gospel of peace, then our common obedience to the gospel is the foundation for our fellowship with one another. Our unity is the serendipity of our obedience to the gospel. Paul also wrote, “… that you would walk worthy of God, who has called you unto His kingdom and glory” (1 Th 2:12).   Paul had preached the gospel to the Thessalonians (1 Th 2:8). They had obeyed the gospel in order to escape the impending judgment that was coming (2 Th 1:8,9). In his second letter, he was expressing urgency in his call for the Thessalonians to remain faithful to their calling. He reminded them, “… He called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th 2:14).

The common obedience to the gospel of people throughout the world is the foundation upon which unity in Christ is initiated (See 1 Jn 1:3). If one would be found worthy in his obedience of the gospel, therefore, he should be seeking to maintain the unity of all those who have obeyed the gospel.   Those who would cause dissension in the body, therefore, are those who are unworthy. They are not worthy because it is the nature of the body to be one, and thus manifest to the world that the Father and Son are one. Those who “walk worthy of the calling” of the gospel, therefore, are walking in a manner that is explained and noted in the following points:

A.  Humility:

True relationships in Christ can happen only when we humbly submit to one another (See Mk 10:35-45; 1 Co 16:15,16; Ep 5:21).   If we seek to bring the arrogant or dominant way of world leadership principles into the body of Christ, then there will never be any true unity. Corporate leadership is based on what the owner of the business decides is best for his company. If he is the owner of a successful company, then the owner can be quite dominant and forceful concerning what he would impose on this employees concerning the operation of the company. This is the way of world leadership.

If we designate authorities among us other than Christ, then we subject ourselves to being called after someone as Diotrephes who sets himself up as the owner of the “church company” (See 1 Co 1:12-14).   Whenever there are designated “sheep owners” among the people of God, then the sheep are divided by their allegiance to “owners” of each group of sheep. The result is that each sheep must determine the respective “owner” to which he must submit.

If the disciples designate different groups of authority over different groups of sheep, then the sheep are divided as to which group of authorities they must submit. But if all the sheep walk in submission to the “all authority” of the Chief Shepherd (1 Pt 5:4), then all the sheep are globally united in their common submission to the Chief Shepherd to whom they have all submitted. Our common submission to the authority of Christ, therefore, brings all of us together into a common submission to one another (Ep 5:21).

Unity among all disciples can exist only when there is no competition as to who will warm the chief seats. In fact, among disciples, there are no chief seats (See Mt 23:1-12). We are often amused when visiting numerous assemblies wherein is positioned “chief seats” in front of the assembly. Everyone knows that these seats represent places to which authority is given, and from which authority is manifested by those who occupy them, either on a temporary basis or permanent position among the disciples. We must not forget that among the disciples of Jesus we are all sitting on the same seats. There are no “chief seats” designated for higher authorities among God’s people.

Unity is promoted when we do not approach one another with arrogance, or thinking that we know all the answers. We come to one another with humility in order to study God’s word on the foundation of our love for one another, not with the ambition of proving we are right. A humble person simply states that he does not have all the answers.

B.  Gentleness:

Humility is manifested through gentleness. A harsh person is not humble in his relationships with others, and thus, he is not one who encourages unity. It is interesting to note how Paul addressed the Corinthians, among whom were some very arrogant people: “Now I, Paul, personally appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ …” (2 Co 10:1).

Would a harsh person presume to be in the presence of a gentle Jesus for eternity? The fruit that is produced by those who have relinquished themselves to the guiding of the Spirit, is gentleness (Gl 5:22,23). When we seek to be unified, we will seek to be gentle toward those with whom we may disagree.

If one would be gentle toward his fellow brother in Christ, then harsh retaliation is never justified. “Bondservants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh (1 Pt 2:18).   When one responds to harshness with a gentle spirit, then we know that the wisdom of God is within that person (Js 3:17). Therefore, “the servant of the Lord must not quarrel, but be gentle to all …” (2 Tm 2:24).

Paul explained how he and the other apostles behaved in their relationships with others: “… we were gentle among you, even as a nurse tenderly cares for her own children (1 Th 2:7).   They came to the people as Jesus came to us: “Behold, your King comes to you, gentle, and sitting upon a donkey …” (Mt 21:5). Gentleness allows unity to continue among brethren. In order to develop humble gentleness, it might be necessary to take some time to ride around town on a donkey.

C.  Patience:

No impatient person can be gentle.   Impatient people are not gentle toward others in reference to differences. Patience is based on a gentle spirit, and a gentle spirit is based on our humility toward one another. The Holy Spirit gave a blanket command to the Thessalonian Christians: “Be patient toward all men” (1 Th 5:14). This would certainly include our brethren with whom we have a common fellowship in Christ. As disciples in Christ wherever we are, we should be known for our patience with one another as was the reputation of the disciples in the city of Thyatira: “I know your works and love and service and faith and your patience (Rv 2:19).

D.  Forbearing:

Paul exhorted Titus in his leadership among the brethren, “to be peaceable, forbearing, showing all meekness to all men” (Ti 3:2).   Impatient people are usually not gentle toward those with whom they disagree. In fact, impatient people are often arrogant, revealing that they come short in humility. When we seek to maintain the unity of the faith, everyone must be forbearing with the differences we have with one another. Through patience we learn how to forbear one another’s growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Pt 3:18).

E.  Love:

As the fruit of the Spirit that is revealed in Galatians 5:22,23 is based on love, love is the binding cord that holds all our mental attributes together as we forbear one another in our process of growth.   When we speak of the church of our Lord, we are speaking of people who love one another (Jn 13:34,35). The people of God cannot be held together as the church without love. They certainly cannot be held together by what everyone pronounces as the correct legal requirements of our assortment of opinions.

Unity is not based on the opinions of one person whose opinions may be cherished and obeyed. Doing such is to denominate the body. One’s opinion on a matter may be right. But when two people disagree on a matter of opinion, one person’s opinion is incorrect. We must be cautious that we do not base our fellowship, or determine the existence of our group, on the opinion of the person who is wrong. In a spirit of humility, therefore, we must be patient with one another while we forbear one another’s opinions. Love is what continues our fellowship with one another as we forbear our differences in opinions.

The foundation for unity must always be our mutual love for one another. It is for this reason that Peter exhorted, “Love the brotherhood” (1 Pt 2:17). In other words, every member must love the brotherhood of members …

 … until we all come to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a complete man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ep 4:13).

If we love the church, then we will seek to be with the church. We will seek to forbear our differences. We will seek to continue with one another, even in times of conflict (See Ph 4:2,3). We will seek to approach one another in humility with all gentleness. Thus with patience, we will forbear the differences we have with one another in the bond of peace. It is for this that we must earnestly struggle.

Paul’s exhortation to develop Christ-like personality characteristics establishes the foundation upon which all unity among Christians is based. Since Ephesians 4:1,2 reveals the characteristics of those who are in Christ, then it is only natural that those who possess these characteristics would be united in their fellowship with one another. If we are not united as one fellowship in Christ, then we must personally examine ourselves, for in one of the preceding areas of personality we may be lacking.

[Final lecture of series: November 26]

An Identity Crisis

Romans is a document of freedom.   By the grace of God, Paul argues, we are set free from having to keep law perfectly in order to be justified before God. Unfortunately, when Paul concluded Romans with the statement of Romans 16:17, some had still missed the argument of the letter. Some today have also involved themselves in an ironic twist of the precious truth that we are saved by grace. Instead, some are still saying that we are saved by perfect obedience to law. This theology is specifically revealed by those who have established what they consider to be a legal liturgy of assembly by which one is supposedly justified if kept precisely every Sunday morning.

The twisting of Paul’s statement in Romans 16:17 is so misused that it is almost impossible for many to identify the divisive person about whom Paul speaks. And because the passage is often reversed in its contextual meaning, some slanderously accuse their opponents of dividing the church over issues in which Christians actually have freedom. They use the passage in a manner that is opposite from Paul’s original defense of those who sought to function organically in the freedom of Christ.   Thus those who twist the statements of Paul actually replace grace for law that they have bound as a legal doctrine of self-justification.

We must study carefully what Paul stated in the context of the entire book of Romans before coming to the following statement of Romans 16:17,18:

 Now I urge you, brethren, mark those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the teaching you have learned, and turn away from them. For they who are such serve not our Lord Christ but their own belly, and by appealing words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the innocent.


In the context of Paul’s series of arguments in the book of Romans against the legalistic brethren to whom he was directing this letter, we must understand “the teaching” that Paul taught the Roman disciples in his letter. And to understand this teaching, we must consider the entire argument of Paul’s thesis in Romans. In order to bring us to the above concluding statement, Paul introduces us to a profound truth in reference to our justification: “Therefore, we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of law (Rm 3:28). What he meant was that we are made right before God by our trust (faith) in God’s grace, not by our trust in our meritorious obedience of law, or our efforts to atone for sins through good works.

Because Abraham was not under the Sinai law, he could not be justified by obedience to that law. Paul even argued that Abraham could not establish his own righteousness by keeping any codified law of work that he might establish for himself. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something about which to boast, but not before God(Rm 4:2).   Neither Abraham, nor ourselves, can devise any law of works by which we can atone for our sins, and thus boast before God concerning our righteousness. Both Abraham and ourselves have only one recourse: “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness” (Rm 4:3).

If we would devise a system of law by which we might seek to justify ourselves before God, then we would be putting God in debt to save us. “Now to him who works [to justify himself],” Paul stated, “the reward is not credited according to grace, but according to debt” (Rm 4:4).   Therefore, the one who would bind law-keeping as the foundation upon which our salvation depends is seeking to obligate God to save us on the basis of our law-keeping.

Since the legalistic Jewish Christians to whom Paul was writing the letter of Romans were seeking to bind certain precepts of the Sinai law on the Gentiles, Paul asked the brethren, “How then was it [Abraham’s righteousness] credited? When he was in circumcision or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision” (Rm 4:10). Circumcision was commanded for Abraham as a sign of God’s covenant with Him, but he was not circumcised in order that God establish a covenant with him (Rm 4:11). The covenant was first established, and then the circumcision came as a sign of the covenant (See Gn 17:9-11).

At the time Paul wrote, one could be circumcised if he so chose. But to bind such in order to be declared justified (saved) before God was contrary to salvation by God’s grace. The Jewish Christians, therefore, were dividing the church by binding where God had not bound. They were the problem, not those who wanted to live free from the law of circumcision.

The problem with the theology of the legalistic Jews was that they sought to establish their own righteousness before God through their strict obedience of law. In this way, they were seeking to be self-justified before God.

 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God (Rm 10:3).

If we use the law of Christ as a legal system by which we would seek to justify ourselves before Christ, then we too would have the same problem as the Jews who sought to use the Sinai law as a legal system of self-justification. We would be establishing our own righteousness by a law which we would presume to keep perfectly in order to put God in debt to save us. But such can never happen simply because all have sinned, and thus, no one can live perfectly before God (Rm 3:9,10,23).

Paul wrote that he wanted to be found in Christ, not having my own righteousness that is from law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness that is from God by faith” (Ph 3:9). This did not mean that he was declaring his freedom from law, but that he was declaring his freedom from having to obey law perfectly in order to be justified before God.   Once he had assured himself of being just before God through faith, then through trust (faith) in God he established law in his behavior (Rm 3:30,31).

No one can keep law to any degree by which he can boast before God that he deserves to be saved. Since the first sin entered into the world through Adam, salvation has always been by faith in the grace of God. This conclusion must be true since we all sin (Rm 3:9,10).   Since we cannot keep any law perfectly in order to save ourselves, then it is superfluous for us to exalt ourselves as judges to demand perfect keeping of law by others. It is for this reason that some need to be cautioned about establishing a law of liturgy for assembly, and by doing such, consider themselves self-justified before God when they supposedly keep perfectly their self-imposed liturgy of law for assembly.

In the historical context of the writing of the letter of Romans, the Sinai law had been terminated (Rm 7:1-4). This termination meant the end of the rite of circumcision. However, there were Jewish brethren “who sneaked in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Gl 2:4).   These were the “church dividers.”   These brethren taught, “Except you are circumcised after the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (At 15:1).   The one who would divide the church, therefore, is the one who would bind where God has not bound. He is the one who would impose that which God has not bound in order to be justified before God. This was the entire case of Paul in the book of Romans. If we would bind perfect keeping of any law as a means of salvation, then we have traded grace for law. And in the trade, we have made a bad deal. If one would impose upon the church any tradition as law, then he has become a church divider.

Our salvation is by grace, and not by perfect keeping of law, or the perfect keeping of a liturgy of assembly that cannot be defended by the word of God. “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ep 2:8). It is by grace, and not by some system of self-imposed law that we would consider ourselves justified before God. The church dividers in the context of Paul’s arguments throughout the book of Romans were those who were binding law in a manner by which they would claim to be righteous before God.

At the time Paul wrote both Romans and Galatians, circumcision was a tradition among the Jews. It was a law under the Sinai covenant, but that covenant and law had been nailed to the cross (Cl 2:14). To bind the tradition of circumcision on the Gentiles would be binding where God had not bound.

Paul concluded Romans by encouraging those who sought to walk in the freedom they had in Christ. They must be on the lookout for those church dividers who would bind where God had not bound. These are those Paul had in mind when he wrote, “… mark those who cause divisions [by binding where God has not bound] and offenses contrary to the teaching [of the grace] you have learned ….” (Rm 16:17). These are those who have denied the grace of God. When Paul instructed, “turn away from them,” he meant what he stated in Galatians 5:1: “Stand fast therefore in the freedom by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

One must be cautious not to be recruited by others who would legally bring one into the bondage of self-imposed ceremonies of assembly by which they would seek to be justified before God. If one binds in our assemblies those things about which the New Testament is silent, then he is the church divider who walks contrary to the liberty that we have in Christ. Paul warned that legalistically oriented brethren zealously recruit you, but not for good. Yes, they want to exclude you so that you might be zealous for them” (Gl 4:17).   But if one is recruited to a gospel of legal obedience, then he is excluded from the grace of God.

If we recruit groups to perform our prescribed law of liturgy in assembly, we have not “established a church.” We have simply made those whom we have recruited to our “form of liturgy” to be twice condemned as the scribes and Pharisees who made those whom they recruited to their legalistic forms to be twofold sons of hell. Evangelists must be careful not to “travel sea and land” and do what Jesus said in the following statement:

Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel sea and land to make one proselyte. And when he is made, you make him twice as much the son of hell as yourselves (Mt 23:15).

Both Romans and Galatians were written concerning the same problem of some who were binding where God had not bound. If one seeks to be free in Christ, then he must not submit to those who would bind a system of law, and perfect obedience thereof, as a means of justification. We seek to obey the law of God, for in failing to walk in the light of His word, we cannot be saved. But to devise a system of traditional interpretations, or system of worship that one must keep in order to be justified before God, is to destroy the freedom we have in Christ. Before we would accuse one of being a “church divider,” we need to search the Scriptures to determine if he is actually violating Scripture, or simply doing something that is not according to our traditions, or how we personally feel.   If we cry out “church divider,” we may be the church divider for making the cry.

An example that sometimes reveals how easy it is to become somewhat hypocritical in our judgment of others illustrates this point. We once as a group made a decision as to how many assemblies each member of our group must attend before one was considered “faithful.” The decision was made by the entire group, written in our minds, and thus, we considered ourselves as rightful judges to pronounce judgment on those who did not attend our group-appointed times of assembly.

At the same time we were judging one another concerning faithfulness in attendees. We judged our neighbors for being denominational because they as a group had determined certain liturgies of assembly that must be recognized and obeyed. As a group, they even went as far as to chose a name for their group. We judged them denominational for selecting a particular name for their group, which we considered divisive. We made all these judgments at the same time we were being church dividers by binding on ourselves our own tradition as to how many assemblies one must attend in order to be “faithful.” We need not go into our established liturgy of assembly by which we also judged ourselves the “true” church. We justified ourselves because our decision was made by the group, while at the same time hypocritically judged our religious neighbors denominational, for binding their traditions on themselves as a group. We could not see our own theological hypocrisy.

It has been our experience that those who are quick to accuse others of dividing the church are the ones who are often coveting their own traditions that have denominated themselves as a unique group from all other groups. Their uniqueness is determined by their own “group decisions,” and thus they, as we, have all denominated ourselves from one another, while at the same time claiming that we all claim that we are the “true” church. We have often become judgmental humbugs with fingers pointing everywhere but at ourselves.

The church divider is not the one who stands in the liberty by which he was made free in Christ. The church divider is the one who binds his opinions, traditions, or liturgies of assembly that he presumes are legal forms of service and worship, and thus, must be kept as legal codes to justify oneself before God.

We must remember that we “have been called to freedom …” (Gl 5:13). Paul added a definition that explains the motives of the church divider:

For they who are such serve not our Lord Christ but their own belly, and by appealing words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the innocent (Rm 16:18).

The motive of the church dividers is selfish ambition. They are not seeking to bring the innocent into unity in Christ, but into conformity to their own strictures.   These are the Diotrephes brethren who love to be first, and thus through intimidation, they seek a following from those who are deceived into thinking that obedience to their opinions will present a facade of unity. This may possibly be those who seek to be considered important and prominent in the church. So by enforcing traditional behavior on the church, they are actually leading the church into the apostasy of traditionalism.

Chief-seat sitters have a hard time bringing people directly to Jesus and into unity with one another. Through appealing words and flattering speech they seek to woo and awe the innocent into submission to their own personality and pronouncements. These are they who divide the church of our Lord, for they seek to draw the sheep away after themselves by binding where God has not bound (At 20:30).

[Next lecture:   Nevember 23]

Preaching Christ

The Judean Jews wanted to present Paul before Roman authorities as a political prisoner who was antagonistic against Rome.   If they could succeed in this effort, then they would have eliminated him from the religious scene of Judaism.   Therefore, before the Roman governor of Caesarea, the lawyer for the Jews, Tertullus, accused Paul:

For we have found this man [Paul] a pestilent fellow and a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes (At 24:5).

Tertullus used all the right political words before the Roman authority that would picture Paul as one who was a threat to Rome.   But the Roman officials knew enough about Judaism and the Jewish religious leaders to understand that this “pestilent fellow” was not against Rome, but against the Jews’ religion (At 25:19). Nevertheless, during this trial Paul appealed to be judged in Rome. As a Roman citizen, he had the right to be judged before a Roman court in Rome (At 25:11). So the historical context of Paul’s statements in the first chapter of Philippians was written while he was in the custody of a Roman guard in Rome.

Rome was the center of politics for the entire Roman Empire. We would correctly assume, therefore, that almost everyone in Rome had some political agenda, or whose behavior was cautiously guarded by the political environment. This would certainly be true in the case of the religious leaders. If one were out of favor with the powers of the Roman State, then this would certainly not put one in a comfortable social position.

The tension between Roman state religion and Christianity would eventually play itself out in the great persecution that would eventually arise throughout the Empire and would last for 150 years. So what was coming in the lives of Christians was Roman state religion that was against Christianity. The entire book of Revelation was written to prepare the early Christians for this onslaught against their faith.

At the time Paul was in Rome, the wicked and narcissistic Nero was emperor. Because of his personal claims to be deity, Nero launched a personal vendetta against Christians in Rome during the middle 60s. Nero’s personal vendetta against Christians would eventually turn into state persecution in the years to come. But at the time Paul was in Rome, he was there representing the Christian faith in the midst of Nero’s antagonism against Christianity. We would assume, therefore, that the political preachers in Rome were greatly influenced by the political environment in which they lived and preached.

The disciples in the Roman colony of Philippi knew the predicament that Paul was in as he sat in custody in a Roman prison.   In answer to their concerns for his personal safety, Paul wanted the Philippian Christians to know one very important point in reference to his trials: “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things that happened to me have turned out for the furtherance of the gospel (Ph 1:12). Whatever transpired as a result of his imprisonment, therefore, had resulted in the furtherance of the gospel. That which seemed to be a tragic turn in his life, was actually turning out for the preaching of the gospel. God had led Paul to a Roman prison in order to have Christianity put on trial before a secular court (At 23:11). All the evidence that Luke transcribed in the documents of Luke and Acts would be in Paul’s defense, which defense eventually led to Paul’s release in A.D. 62.   (Download Book 28, Luke’s Historical Defense Of Christianity, BRL,

Paul’s presence in a Roman prison was a mistake on the part of the Jews who sought to silence his preaching. While Paul was in prison, he wrote that the gospel “has become manifest throughout the whole [Roman] Praetorian guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ …” (Ph 1:13). Because of his bold stand for Jesus, “many of the brethren in the Lord, being confident by my chains, are more courageous to speak the word without fear (Ph 1:14).

Before Paul arrived in Rome, the brethren in Rome had previously been apprehensive about speaking the word publicly. But the fact that he was bold in his chains encouraged some of them to be the same.   After he was falsely imprisoned in Philippi on a previous journey, Paul simply carried on as his bold character necessitated. So he wrote to the Thessalonian disciples:

But after we have suffered before and were shamefully treated in Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you [in Thessalonica] the gospel of God with much opposition (1 Th 2:2).

We would conclude that Paul’s request for prayer from the Colossians was answered by God while he sat in a Roman prison.   At the same time he wrote the Philippian letter, he also sent a letter to the disciples in Colosse. In that letter (Colossians) he asked them to “continue in prayer … that I make it [the mystery of Christ] manifest as I ought to speak” (Cl 4:2,4). The fact that some even of Caesar’s household had obeyed the gospel, and were now brothers and sisters in Christ, was a testimony of Paul’s boldness to speak in prison in Rome. His bold speaking is evidence that God gave Him a portion of boldness in answer to the prayers of the brethren in Colosse (See Ph 4:22).

But the situation in Rome was not all a rosy picture of boldness and successes. There were some brethren in Rome who did not defend the jailhouse preacher. In fact, Paul continued in his letter to the Philippians, “Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife …” (Ph 1:15).

Paul was known throughout the religious world for stirring up religious animosity among both Jews and Gentiles by his preaching that Jesus was the only way to God (See At 4:12; 21:20,21). If Paul were in prison on behalf of the defense of Christianity, then the political preachers in Rome would have been preaching the cross and Christ in a way that would bring more opposition to Paul.   Since they sought to be politically correct, then they could not have preached in a manner that defended Paul.   It seems that the preaching of the political preachers was thus ineffective in producing the results that came from Paul’s preaching. It was ineffective because they did not want to preach Christ in a way that would stir up animosity against themselves, as did the preaching of Paul.

These ambitious, and possibly envious preachers, sought to compromise the faith because they did not want to suffer from the hostility of Nero. They did not want to involve themselves in being hated for Jesus as did Paul (Jn 15:18-27; Rm 1:16). Therefore, their political preaching produced division within the family of disciples in Rome, for some Roman Christians were encouraged to be bold, but the political preachers sought to preach a message of compromise.

Paul wrote that the “envy and strife” preachers preached Christ out of selfish ambition, not with pure motives, supposing to add distress to my chains (Ph 1:17). These ambitious preachers were political in that they sought to promote themselves at the cost of stirring up antagonism against Paul.   These were the ones who would seek to sit in the chief seats, wear robes and clothes that distinguished them from others in public, and then parade themselves before others that they were accepted religious leaders and approved by the government. They possibly paraded themselves in positions of political prominence that would separate themselves from the jailhouse preacher down at the local prison. We have found that whenever a preacher seeks to be politically correct and in favor with hostile governments, he compromises his message in order to remain in the company of government officials.

One certainly cannot set himself forth to be someone if he associates with jailhouse preachers. Such associations would not bring one in favor with the government powers of the day. One cannot be politically correct if he defends those who are accused of being “… a pestilent fellow and a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes (At 24:5). Who would want to be associated with a religious political prisoner in Rome who was accused of such things?

These political preachers were intentional.   They were specifically speaking in a derogatory manner against Paul in order to disassociate themselves from Paul.   Paul stated frankly that they supposed “to add distress to my chains” (Ph 1:17). Can you imagine that? Here are preachers who were so political in their behavior and preaching that they would seek to cause preachers as the apostle Paul to have more distress in their chains by how they represented Christ to the public.

One might think that he would never be guilty of such behavioral shenanigans. But such things did Diotrephes in reference to the apostle of love by speaking all sorts of slanderous accusations in order that John not be accepted by the brethren over whom Diotrephes had claimed authority (See 3 Jn 10). The next time some preacher would slanderously speak against another preacher, he should probably bite his own tongue, lest he fall into the evil of Diotrephes and into the company of the slanderous political preachers of Rome.

When one is filled with selfish ambition, and thus becomes envious of those he would like to replace, in his evil motives he will often seek to bring another down through slander in an effort to exalt himself.

So what would we expect as an answer to these political preachers by a true man of God who suffered from ungodly behavior?   What would we reply to “title holding” presumptuous and self-proclaimed apostles and prophets who seek positions and fame among the disciples by slanderously speaking against other preachers?   Paul simply replied, “What then?” (Ph 1:18). Or, if we would paraphrase his meaning in modern-day thinking, “Whatever, as long as Christ is preached.”

We might expect Paul to come forth in the power of the Spirit with some profound denunciation to lambast such self-righteous and slanderous personalities who spewed forth their political garbage from pulpits throughout Rome. We might even expect him to show up at the meetings that generated strife, meetings that he told both Timothy and Titus to refuse to attend (See 2 Tm 2:23; Ti 3:9-11).   We might even expect our own feelings to be played out in Paul’s reaction to the ambitious promoters.   But Paul did none of these things.   He simply wrote,

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached. And in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice (Ph 1:18).

When there are those brethren who stand up out of envy and selfish ambition, and bring a railing accusation against other brethren, they condemn themselves through their evil motives and behavior. If they are preaching Christ, then at least they are accomplishing the mission of keeping the name of Jesus Christ before the world.

We will ignore the competitive motives of self promotionalists. We will praise God that the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is being proclaimed. What Paul was saying was that he was willing to suffer the reproach of others in order that the name of Christ be preached.   He was willing to continue the unity of the body regardless of the motives of some who were driven by selfish ambition.   It was simply not worth causing division among the disciples to become involved in debates with those who were motivated by envy and selfish ambition. There would be a lot less division among the disciples if the bigger men would simply ignore the self-promoters and refuse to attend those meetings that lead to more controversy. Unity is promoted by refusing to meet with contentious people whose motive it is to intimidate others into giving way to their opinions, demands, or lordship.

[Next lecture:   November 20]

Non-Organic Discipleship

We understand the statements of what John wrote to Gaius in 3 John in the historical context that there were house fellowships throughout the region of where Gaius, Demetrius and Diotrephes lived. The theme of the letter to Gaius deals with a dysfunctional organic function of some disciples in the region, which dysfunction was promoted by one who sought to denominate some of the disciples into independent groups that were submissive to his leadership, and thus, outside the organic function of the church to preach the gospel to the world.

Paul’s meeting with the Ephesian elders in Miletus dealt with elders who would lead sheep away after their own independent groups (At 20:30). John’s letter to Gaius is in reference to an individual doing the very thing about which Paul warned. Though we are not told exactly who Diotrephes was, he could have been any self-proclaimed pastor, priest, or prophet who sought to have his own autonomous group of disciples.

This is one of the revelations in the New Testament where church autonomy is specifically targeted and judged divisive.   In fact, the Holy Spirit is so specific in what He says through John that the practice of drawing away disciples into independent groups that are based on the lordship of any individual, or group of individuals, is evil. Such is a strong statement in view of the present practice of forming one’s own group, and then declaring the group’s independence from the rest of the disciples in any particular city or region. Such behavior is an organic dysfunction of the body.

We must keep in mind that this move to establish an independent group was based on lordship leadership. It was not a doctrinal matter other than the fact that Diotrephes violated the principle of servanthood leadership that Jesus taught should be among His disciples (See Mk 10:35-45). If the case were a situation where disciples were being drawn away to restore the truth of the gospel, then this would not be the text to use. In some cases, people must be called out of apostasy in order to restore a Bible-based faith. In other words, if we were to approach some who had been drawn away into the apostasy of a Diotrephetic apostasy, or the lordship leadership of some Ephesian elders, in an effort to bring them back under the lordship of Jesus, then we would be following Paul and John’s advice to restore, not to denominate. Calling people out of hierarchal apostasies does not fall under the judgment of either Paul, John or Peter. In the work of the Holy Spirit to have recorded for us principles by which to judge an apostasy to be hierarchal lordship, He has given to us a road map back to the lordship of Jesus.

The occasion of the letter of 3 John is in the context that Gaius was discouraged concerning the lordship leadership of Diotrephes who was autocratically taking control of some of the disciples in the area where Gaius lived, and subsequently, destroying the organic function of disciples as Gaiua. Because Gaius was certainly discouraged by these efforts to disconnect brethren from one another by one who sought to be independent from the church as a whole, John wanted to encourage Gaius that he was doing well by receiving and sending out the evangelists. In fact, in the context of 3 John, one way to identify the church leader who is evil is that he is not mission minded, nor does he lead the group over which he lords to either receive or send forth evangelists. Diotrephes was actually working against the mission of the church to support those evangelists who were going forth to preach the gospel.   This was the evil result of his actions.

In John’s commendation of Gaius in his financial support of traveling evangelists, we can assume that one of the evils in which Diotrephes had involved himself was in reference to money. Gaius was doing a worthy work in financially supporting missions through his reception of and sending forth the traveling evangelists.   John used the Greek word propempo in reference to his sending forth of evangelists. It is a word that means to financially set forth one on his journey. Diotrephes, however, was barring any of the members of the group over which he lorded from financially supporting the traveling evangelists. It may have been that Diotrephes did not want any of the support that was coming his way as the preacher of his independent group to be sent to any evangelist who was going about preaching the gospel to the lost. We could make this deduction because such thinking is not uncommon among some local preachers of independent churches. Such preachers need to be reminded that if they are thinking in such a manner, they, as Diotrephes, have involved themselves in doing that which the Holy Spirit defined as evil (3 Jn 11).

In contrast to Diotrephes, Gaius was doing well in his efforts to promote unity through his open arms to include everyone who was going about preaching the gospel. John encouraged Gaius by stating,

Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and especially for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. You will do well to support them on their journey in a manner worthy of God (vss 5,6).

Gaius was doing that which was right in reference to functioning as an organic member of the body. He was obedient to God’s system of getting those who heralded the good news into all the world (See Mt 28:19,20; Mk 16:15,16). He was instructed according to what Paul had written concerning world evangelism:

 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how will they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? And how will they preach unless they are sent? (Rm 10:14,15).

All was going well until one individual among the disciples in the area of Gaius decided to do that about which Paul had warned the shepherds in Ephesus. Diotrephes started to draw away disciples into his own exclusive fellowship. He started to restrict the group that he controlled from cooperating with others in reference to receiving and sending forth the evangelists.

One of the contexts in Scripture that specifically identifies the denominating of the organic body into independent groups is 3 John 9,10. Because we live in a world wherein most churches behave independently from one another, this is the text that should be clearly understood lest we be behaving after the manner of Diotrephes. John explains how independent church groups separate themselves from one another, and then how they declare their autonomy from one another in order to protect their own fellowship. By identifying the behavior of Diotrephes we can identify the nature of both himself, and the practice of how independent groups function in order to maintain their independence from one another.

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves [A] to be first among them, [B] does not receive us.   Therefore, if I come I will remember his deeds that he does, [C] unjustly accusing us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself [D] does not receive the brethren, and [E] forbids those who would. And he [F] casts them out of the church (vss 9,10).

A.  Be first:


Most independent church groups with which we have worked throughout the years were started by a very zealous individual.   In this person’s zeal, and willingness to be a good servant of the Lord, either he or the church sometimes moved him into being the center around which the members functioned. Such is only natural simply because of the dedication of those preachers who want to help the people of the community.

Over a period of time, however, this center-of-reference function by the leader often moves the initiator of the group into a change in his character and relationship with the group that he has initiated. He begins to believe that the church continues to exist because he exists. If he has not focused the church on Christ, then the church does focus on him as the one who continues the existence of the church he started.   The preacher subsequently leads himself to believe that if he went away, the church would go away. In believing such about himself, he assumes that the members are connected to Christ through him. Since he initiated the church, the members should depend on him for almost everything that happens in the group.

We do not necessarily conclude that the preacher who has initiated a group seeks to be dominant over a group. It is simply human nature that in one’s zeal to serve, the new converts have gravitated toward his enthusiasm, personality and leadership. We have found that the vast majority of the preachers of independent churches on whom the members depend for so much, are almost exhausted because of the pleas for help from the people. They are simply in a situation that often damages their family, and sometimes emotionally exhausts them. It is not a situation in which they would like to be.

This may or may not have been the case with Diotrephes in the early stages of his work with the disciples over whom he exercised control at the time John wrote. He may have innocently started out in his ministry with all good intentions.   But things went wrong. All we know about him is that by the time John wrote 3 John, he was spiritually in trouble because he loved to be first.   That which he was doing was considered evil by the Holy Spirit. His narcissism had subsequently led him into evil behavior.

It may have been that Diotrephes had a narcissistic personality before the development of the scenario that John explained. At least his name indicates that he was probably from an aristocratic family, for his name includes the Greek word for God. In the society in which he lived, such names were given only to children in aristocratic families. The scenario may have been that when he became a disciple all was well. But as his influence grew among the disciples, the disciples moved him into the position that he held among the house fellowships at the time John wrote.

John does not tell us how Diotrephes became what he practiced at the time he was denominating those disciples over whom he exercised lordship. Such was inconsequential in reference to what he was doing in disturbing the organic function of the one universal body of Christ. The problem was in his drawing away disciples into an autonomous function as an independent group, and by doing such, shutting down the mission outreach of those over whom he lorded.

When preachers stay for a long time with one particular group of disciples, the Diotrephes syndrome almost always happens.   It is only natural for people to call themselves after those personalities who stand before them on a weekly basis. And when one who is an evangelist going among the unbelievers stays with a specific group of believers for a long period of time, he ceases to be an evangelist because of the tremendous load of shepherding a large group of people.   The members of the group become so dependent on the preacher that they often cease doing anything without his approval. The preacher thus becomes the center of reference for the fellowship of the group, as he has become the center of reference for the assemblies of the disciples.

The autocratic leader makes all the decisions for his group, and in making the decisions, he has separated his group from others in the area who are also making all the decisions for their groups.   Everyone declares their autonomy from one another because everyone seeks to make their own decisions over their own work. In the case of Diotrephes, he simply declared the autonomy of his group from all other groups. In this case, he had declared his independence from the group with whom Demetrius was associated, for John, before he came, advised Gaius to associate with Demetrius. Of Demetrius, John stated, “Demetrius has a good report from all, and of the truth itself. And we also bear testimony …” (3 Jn 12).

B.  Shun competition.

When a particular individual as Diotrephes seeks to establish or lead an autonomous church, he often declares the independence of his “church” from every other church in the community. Even if independence is not verbally declared, it is determined by not receiving anyone into the fellowship of one’s exclusive group that would preach against the independent behavior of the local preacher.

However, John warned that any group of disciples must not feel obligated to receive just any teacher without first knowing whether the teacher is preaching the truth of the gospel. We are to test the spirits with the word of God (1 Jn 4:1). The case of Diotrephes is not a case of determining whether a traveling evangelist is coming by to teach something that is false.   3 John is about a dominant leader who excludes those who are teaching the truth. John writes to deal with autocratic leadership, not doctrinal error.

John uses the plural pronoun “us” in his statement of judgment in order to indicate that neither he nor any of those who were traveling from group to group teaching the word of God were received by Diotrephes. We have witnessed this very thing which naturally happens among some fellowships. The leaders of some churches have moved into this scenario of independence that hinders the movement of teachers among the disciples in order that they build up the body through the teaching of the word of God.   Those churches that have sought to work under a leadership that lords over them, are the churches that would be under consideration by John in 3 John. They are blocking the organic function of the body to build itself up through the ministry of those who teach the word of God.

Christians must certainly be independent from the world in their teaching in order to survive in the midst of a worldly environment.   However, there is a difference between being independent from the world in reference to morals and teaching, and being independent from one another in an effort to survive the onslaught of error in the world. If a group of disciples does not declare its independence from the world, and specifically the world of false teaching, then that group will lose its identity as a church of our Lord (See Hs 4:6). If a church of disciples declares its independence from the ministry of other teachers who seek to build up the body through the teaching of the word of God, then they open themselves up to being led astray by a Diotrephetic teacher who does not know the word of God. At least their knowledge of the word of God will be limited to what the leader knows about his Bible.

When church groups practice independence from one another, they are actually falling into the hands of the world. By separating themselves from the fellowship of other disciples, they often lead themselves to shun those who seek their fellowship. We have witnessed this in house fellowships that are led by a strong leader. The group is encouraged to separate itself from other groups in the area much like the group that was controlled by Diotrephes. Diotrephes’ behavior manifested leadership that was not conducive to the unity of all the groups in the area, and thus in their isolation they presented to the world a divided church. The isolationist leadership behavior of the small group of disciples moved the group to shun any outsiders from coming by with teaching for their group. The group or groups led by Diotrephes became dysfunctional in reference to fellowship because they refused teachers and shepherds from coming by in order to build up the body with the word of God.

Diotrephes was the classic example of a leader who leads disciples into division by his own function of lording over an isolated group of the flock of God. He declared the autonomy of his group by his sectarian behavior to draw away disciples after himself. He entrenched his influence over the members of the group to the point that he personally determined who would teach in his group. At the time John wrote to Gaius, Diotrephes would not even receive the apostle John, the apostle of love.

We must keep in mind that John deals directly with Diotrephes, not with those over whom he was dominant. There were arrogant leaders in Achaia who drew away house fellowships from one another throughout Achaia. But Paul did not personally name these leaders as John personally named Diotrephes. The reason Paul did not name the individuals in Achaia was because the members were the ones who were behaving divisively. Under the influence of some leaders who even denied the apostleship of Paul, they were allowing themselves to be sectarian (See 2 Co 11:12-15).

In the case of Diotrephes as an individual, he was behaving divisively. Among the members in the area where Diotrephes had his influence, Gaius and Demetrius represented the normal organic function of a fellowshipping brotherhood. They were the ones who were being threatened with excommunication if they did not adhere to the demands of Diotrephes to shun any other leaders who might want to come by with teaching.

C.  Slanderous competition.

 In order to solidify the independence of the autonomous group, the Diotrephetic leader must go beyond his personal rejection of anyone coming to his group. He must progress to the point of convincing everyone in the group that the apostle John of love was possibly a false teacher, too liberal in his teaching because he had too much love for people. He possibly exercised too much mercy on others we would consider false.   We are not told what the specific slander was that Diotrephes made against the traveling John and the evangelists. We can only assume that what he said through slander was meant to discredit John and other traveling teachers.   His purpose was to bar evangelists from coming to teach in his autonomous group.

When John used the phrase “unjustly accusing,” he was speaking of some false accusations that Diotrephes generated in order to convince those of his group that John and the other evangelists must not be permitted to come to “their” group.

Slander is used to recruit others to one’s favor.   It is a typical scheme by which independent church leaders bar teachers from approaching “their” church. All that Diotrephes and his group were doing was considered evil by John. John exhorted Gaius, “Beloved, do not follow what is evil” (3 Jn 11).   Therefore, when one knowingly speaks that which is false against another in order to lead a group of disciples in order to reject one from the whole of the body, he is doing evil.   He has involved himself in slander, and thus, condemned himself by his own speech. Diotrephes was practicing this evil in order to bar John and the other evangelists from coming to his group.

We must not ignore the fact that those who would come by with teaching were not local leaders in reference to the function of the group, or groups, over which Diotrephes exercised dominance.   Diotrephes would be the local leader, and thus, in his slander of John and the traveling evangelists was evil.   Through slander he sought to bar the traveling teachers from speaking to those over whom he exercised control.   However, we must keep in mind that Gaius and Demetrius were also local leaders. The evil work of Diotrephes was to bar both the traveling evangelists and the local leadership of other groups. Through his slander, he was establishing a truly autonomous church that was separated, both from the universal and the local body of believers.

The foundation upon which Diotrephes was establishing the autonomy of His group was authority, not teaching. If Diotrephes’ problem were in reference to teaching, then surely John would have dealt with such in 3 John. But since the problem was one of lordship leadership, then John was coming as Paul was going to Corinth after the writing of the 2 Corinthian letter. If some in Achaia did not repent of their arrogant leadership, Paul warned,

I have told you before, and foretell you as if I were present the second time. And being absent now, I write to those who have sinned before, and to all the rest, that if I come again, I will not spare …” (2 Co 13:2).

Paul was headed to Achaia with the “rod” of discipline (1 Co 4:21). Some dominant and arrogant leaders were going to be delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Co 5:5). Paul concluded his warning by stating:

 Therefore, I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness according to the authority that the Lord has given me for edification and not to destruction (2 Co 13:10).

D.  Do not receive others.

An independent group is formed under the direction of a leadership that seeks to be the dominant influence over the members of a particular group. Once the leadership restricts others from the group, then the members of the group usually follow the exclusive behavior of the leadership by being intimidated not to receive outside teachers. The preacher who withdraws himself into his own kingdom of disciples is fearful of receiving other leaders, lest they correct him for the evil sectarianism that he is practicing.

We must not confuse Diotrephetic leadership with those godly leaders who stand by the word of God in order to guard the flock from erroneous teaching and “wolves” who seek to come in among the flock.   It is the responsibility of the shepherds of the flock to protect the flock from false teaching. The Holy Spirit wrote to Titus that “an elder must … be able by sound teaching both to exhort and refute those who contradict” (Ti 1:9). Elders must be able with the word of God to test those who come to the flock seeking to be teachers (1 Jn 4:1). However, there is a difference between a shepherd who is trying to guard the flock from false teaching and a shepherd who, because of selfish ambition, seeks to draw away disciples after himself. In this context of discussion, we are talking about the latter.

Diotrephes was a lordship leader among the sheep.   He had withdrawn himself and his group from the fellowship of the universal body of Christ by his sectarian actions. Some in Achaia sought to do the same in reference to Paul’s coming. They first slandered Paul before the church. They then accused him of being weak and fearful about   actually coming to approach his accusers (2 Co 10:10; see 12:10). Nevertheless, Paul was coming, and he was coming with the rod of discipline if some in Achaia did not repent of their arrogance (1 Co 4:21).

As in the case of Paul going to Achaia, John first wrote a letter of correction lest he be put in a situation where he would have to deliver Diotrephes unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh (See 2 Co 1:23; 13:2; see 1 Tm 1:20). John was expecting to go to Gaius, and thus did not write a lengthy letter (3 Jn 13,14). Because of the evil behavior of Diotrephes, John planned to deal with him personally.

Those who withdraw themselves from the body of Christ, often take their independent group of disciples with them. In this way, autonomy first lays the foundation for the division of the universal body of Christ that is divided into many independent groups. When preachers remain with a group of disciples year after year, it is only natural that the people are drawn to their favorite leadership. With this great influence over the people, the leader becomes the icon of his followers, and thus the leader is sometimes emboldened to declare the group of disciples to be “his church.”

Sincere leaders who understand and teach the universality of the organic function of the body of Christ are not tempted to follow Diotrephes. Such leaders focus the flock on Christ. If any leader of the church in all history could have easily started his own movement of churches that would be called after himself, it would have been the apostle Paul. But such did not happen.   No such churches are known because Paul focused people on Christ, not on himself.

Unfortunately, some of the greatest reformers of past years were not so successful as Paul. Martin Luther cautioned his disciples about calling themselves “Lutherans.” Luther wrote,

I pray you leave my name alone and not to call yourselves Lutherans, but Christians. Who is Luther? My doctrine is not mine: I have not been crucified for anyone …. How does it then benefit me, a miserable bag of dust and ashes, to give my name to the children of God? Cease, my dear friends, to cling to these party names and distinctions; away with all of them; and let us call ourselves only Christians, after Him from whom our doctrine comes (Michelet, Life of Luther, p. 262).

Nevertheless, after Luther’s death, those who followed his teaching could not resist calling themselves Lutherans against Luther’s will.   We were once in a gathering of preachers of different religious faiths. One preacher stood up and stated confidently concerning his particular denomination, “We are true Calvinists in our teaching,” indicating that they as a group had drawn themselves away after the teaching of John Calvin.   When groups become sectarian by crystallizing themselves around a particular individual or particular code of traditions, or doctrine, then they can no longer state that they are “Christians only.” They are either Calvinistic Christians, Lutheran Christians, or whatever. But being Christian only is often much for those who are fearful of losing their identity with a particular religious heritage.

E.  Crystallize the group.

 At this stage of development in the denominated group, the leadership has assumed control by focusing on a particular individual who controls the group. In order to crystallize a group in separating it from other groups that are likewise following the same course of sectarianism, the leaders through intimidation enforce allegiance. If one would be a member of the sect, then he is forbidden to consider himself a part of any other group. In other words, one’s membership with a particular group is the signing of an allegiance with one group to the exclusion of working with or fellowshipping any other group. This is accomplished through a spirit of allegiance that is instilled within those who have agreed to identify with a selected party.

Diotrephes denominated his group of disciples from all other groups by violating one of the most important functions of the universal body of Christ. He denominated those over whom he exercised control by drawing them away under his own control. A denomination is defined by its refusal to fellowship those who are not a member of the denominated group.

In the historical environment of the function of the body in the first century, evangelists were traveling from city to city preaching the gospel to the lost. In any particular region where there were many Christians, shepherd/teachers were building up the body by going from house to house (See At 2:46; 20:20). Diotrephes, however, barred the members of his group from receiving these evangelists and shepherds.   Diotrephes was thus working against the organic function of the body to evangelize the world, as well as the body growing itself spiritually through the teaching of the shepherds. What Diotrephes was doing was not simply forming his own denominated group of disciples, but hindering the preaching of the gospel to the world and the organic function of the body. Souls would be lost as a result of his sectarian behavior. It is for this reason that the Holy Spirit was calling his actions evil (3 Jn 11).

F.  Instill cult fear.

The unity of the body of Christ is destroyed when the members of each denominated group of disciples are made to fear social expulsion from the fellowship of the group with which they have their membership.   Diotrephes had made a sect out of the group over which he maintained control. He did so by intimidating any member of his group from participating in the fellowship activities of any other members of the body in his area.

What he did was to generate loyalty through fear of expulsion. He threatened to disfellowship those who would financially partner with others by supporting the traveling evangelists. He also instilled a sense of loyalty that always drew the members and their support to his group. He thus sought to stand between the members and Christ by socially intimidating the members into following his work and him as the leader of his independent church.

We do not miss the fact that John did not reproach the members of the church in Diotrephes’ move to create and maintain an autonomous group of disciples. The reason John did not is that he understood that sheep are sheep. Sheep naturally follow those who would be their shepherd, regardless of the motives of the shepherd they follow. The shepherd can lead the sheep to the slaughter house, and still they will be content to allow their shepherd to pronounce any dictate that would lead them to doom.

We have seen this behavior numerous times.   For example, when the church in any area would have an area wide meeting, we have seen sheep pack up before the meeting is over in order to make sure that they returned to the regular meeting of their own group. This may have been what was happening in Achaia with some who were calling themselves after different personalties.


What is manifested in such behavior is that good-hearted sheep have a greater loyalty to their sect than they do to all other sheep in the area. They are more concerned about attending their own fellowship than enjoying an opportunity to fellowship the extended family of God. In their innocence, they have revealed that they are more loyal to their leader and their group than the extended church family in the area. We might call this “innocent denominationalism.”   Whatever we would call such behavior, it is still calling oneself after a particular group or individual.

In reference to the character of Diotrephes, and such leaders who demand loyalty, they have forgotten Jesus’ mandate that there should never be authoritative leaders among the flock of God. Jesus reminded the disciples that there are “rulers over the Gentiles” who exercise authority (Mk 10:42). “And their great ones exercise authority over them” (Mk 10:42). However, Jesus clearly mandated, But it will not be so among you (Mk 10:43). What all leaders should do when there is an opportunity for all the sheep to manifest their solidarity is to encourage all the sheep to be present.

We have always found it quite interesting that a mandate of Jesus that was so clearly stated in reference to the leadership of the church is one of the first directives disobeyed by some who are leaders of the body of Christ. One must keep in mind that he may not think that he is lording over the flock.   However, the behavior of the flock over which he is lording may manifest his lordship.

The reason Jesus gave the mandate that there should be no authorities among His disciples is revealed in the behavior of Diotrephes. When leaders rise up and claim authority, they are dividing the church of our Lord as Diotrephes denominated his group from all other groups. Diotrephetic leadership always leads to the denominating of the body of Christ. The division promoted by Diotrephes was based on him, not on a specific doctrine. And in this case, Diotrephes personally claimed authority over the group, and thus, denominated the group from other groups.

 We must never forget that when someone claims authority among the disciples, it is always inherently divisive.   Once a leader behaves autocratically, then he demands that the members of the group over which he has claimed authority must sign allegiance to him and his group. Some leaders may be somewhat naive in their leadership style.   They may assume that the controlling nature of their leadership does not denominate the flock over which they innocently assume leadership. But we must not misunderstand what John was writing concerning the results of Diotrephes’ controlling behavior. His controlling behavior denominated the disciples over whom he exercised control from other disciples.

In very subtle ways, some leaders denominate their particular groups from all other groups. Their behavior is as Diotrephes who demanded allegiance to his group. If one would be a member of his group, then they could not be a part of any other group in the area.   Diotrephes lorded over his group by intimidating the members into stating their exclusive membership (allegiance) with his group, which membership affirmed that they were a part of his group.

Leaders must understand that every time they require a member of the universal body of Christ to give allegiance solely to a particular group of the body, then they have in a very subtle way denominated that member from all other disciples of Christ that might be meeting with other groups in the same city or region. We must remember that our membership was registered in heaven when God added us to His people (At 2:47). It should never change from the time we signed up with Jesus when we were obedient to the gospel to the time we complete our journey of life. The New Testament nowhere teaches such a thing as a dual membership, one on earth and another in heaven.

When we give our allegiance to Christ, we have disconnected from any group or man who would stand between us and Christ.   When we obeyed the gospel, we did not sign up with any exclusive group within the one universal church.   Diotrephes demanded allegiance to himself because he loved to be first. But by demanding such allegiance, he was asking for the members to exclude other members from his congregation who did not give total allegiance to those over whom he assumed leadership.

We must never forget that the organic unity of the universal body of Christ can never exist if we set up a network of authorities either locally or universally who demand allegiance to the internationally organized network of authorities. When we walk freely in Christ, our walk in freedom is not only from sin, but also from anyone who would bring us into the bondage of their favorite group of disciples, or their Catholic order of hierarchal authorities.

[Next lecture:   November 17]

Christ-Centered Fellowship

When groups of disciples are considered “drawn away,” their identity is in the fact that they establish a fellowship that is often centered around a person, which person is usually the preacher. Their assembly before their preacher establishes the uniqueness of the group and becomes the means by which the adherents maintain their identity as a unique group in the community. We have often engaged others by asking, “Who is your preacher?” The response varies, but is often something as, “We go to brother John’s church.”   Assemblies are thus the opportunity for the “brother Johns” of the community to weekly assemble the sheep around their preaching, and thus, retain their faithfulness. Attendance at the assembly is the indication that one is faithful to the preacher to whom he has given allegiance and the group with which he has placed his membership.

Before the Reformation Movement five hundred years ago, the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) of the Roman Catholic Church was the center of the Mass. Regardless of all the distorted views of the Eucharist, Catholics were rightly assembled together for the Mass that was provided over by the Catholic priest. The historian, Will Durant, wrote that the Roman Catholic Mass was …

… based partly on the Judaic Temple service, partly on Greek mystery rituals of purification, vicarious sacrifice, and participation (Caesar and Christ, NY, Simon & Schuster, 1950, p.599).

Once the Mass was established as the center of Catholic assemblies, it remained such for over a thousand years. All was well until Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) rose up to reform Catholic liturgy during the Mass. In 1520, Luther launched his attack against what he considered pagan concepts in the Eucharist during the Catholic Mass. In 1523, Luther published his reforms of the Catholic Mass.   In his published reforms, he made preaching, not the Eucharist, the center of the assembly. He wrote,

A Christian congregation should never gather together without the preaching of God’s Word and prayer, no matter how briefly …. … the preaching and teaching of God’s Word is the most important part of Divine service (Luther’s Works, LIII,11).

Almost the entire Protestant world after the Reformation followed the teaching of Luther on the assembly by instituting preaching as the primary function in the assembly of the church. In doing this, the very thing about which Paul warned the Ephesian elders became so ingrained in religious liturgies that church groups go scrambling when their preacher leaves or dies. Search committees are established just to reestablish the center of reference of the assembly, for most churches today center their assemblies around the preacher and preaching.

The tendency to center assemblies around a prominent leader (the preacher) played itself out well during the Industrial Revolution that started the latter part of the eighteen century. As industry flourished in Europe and the West in the eighteen century, it was easy to bring the behavior of the boss at the local factory into the function of the local group of disciples. We erroneously viewed the successful boss in industry to be a candidate for leadership in the church. Many churches, therefore, sought first for someone around whom they could be organized, rather than someone who knew their Bible.

The irony of the progression into sectarian denominationalism among the disciples of our Lord is that those who have historically sought to prevent such, have assumed an embedded divisive theology that created the very same sectarian denominationalism they were fighting against.   These warriors against hierarchal authority actually developed a foreign concept to the New Testament. They taught group independence in order to prevent a universal hierarchy of ruling lords on earth. In other words, lording was tolerated over independent groups of disciples that were led by the preacher, or “eldership,” in order to prevent lording over many groups of disciples.

In order to prevent an apostasy to a worldwide Catholic apostasy, some have created a theology that developed “autonomous churches” that they believed would guard against becoming a universal denominational hierarchy. Instead of moving into a worldwide Catholic hierarchy, some developed autonomous hierarchies within each denominated group of disciples. We have since drifted to interpret passages that discuss unity in the New Testament with the prejudice of our behavior of being independent churches who are struggling to work together in union.

In order to prevent a Catholic heresy of a worldwide network of authorities, we must simply obey the mandate of Jesus in Mark 10:43,44. Rather than creating an erroneous doctrine of division that would inherently create that from which we flee, it is better to challenge those who would leave their ministry of servanthood to become lords of independent flocks. The prevention of networks of authority is not in creating doctrines that inherently produce division. We must deal with lording leaders and erroneous teachings. We must not do so by establishing any teaching or function that is inherently divisive. It is not difficult to resort to the word of God to rebuke those who would seek to lord over the flock of God. Wolves who need rebuking are not hard to identify by their teaching that is contrary to truth. Lords are identified by their hierarchal commands. Wolves are identified by their heretical teachings.

We have found that those who are obsessed with the word of God usually have little difficulty in not becoming obsessed with becoming lords. When one feels controlled by the direction of the word of God, he has little desire to control others by his own word. He does not seek to control by his own word because he is so full of the word of God. He cannot help himself but speak the oracles of God (1 Pt 4:11).

On the other hand, we have found that those leaders who have little knowledge of the word of God are the ones who are quick to lord over the flock. Because of their lack of knowledge of the word of God, they have nothing by which to lead than the intimidating pronouncement of a command. Lordship leaders, therefore, usually depend on their position to command, not on their pronouncement of the word of God.

In the case of the apostasy that was coming the way of the Ephesian disciples, men who sought to be the center of reference of a group of disciples would be doing the drawing away. These men would use their influence among the sheep to assume authority over the sheep. In order to prevent such a scenario from developing today, the sheep need to take action when either a wolf or sheep stealer arises among them. Assembling the sheep into independent denominations is no prevention against the establishment of a worldwide network of authorities. Denominationalism is the problem. A theology of denominationalism is not the cure for sectarian division among the sheep.

Denominationalism among the sheep is the indication that lords exist over different groups of sheep. But when all the leadership of all the sheep meet together, as was the case in Acts 15 in Jerusalem, the leaders stopped those who would seek to rise up and be the chairman of the board of church leaders. The “circumcision brethren,” who brought fear among the Gentile brethren with legalistic knives in their pockets, were thwarted by the freedom that we have in Christ (See Gl 5:1). We must never forget that lords always bring bondage.

[Next lecture:   November 14]

Remaining With One Lord

The Christians in Ephesus were functioning as an organic body throughout the city before Paul arrived at the neighboring city, Miletus, on his last mission journey. Where the Christians of Ephesus assembled on Sunday did not determine their ministry to the whole body throughout the region of Ephesus, neither did their assemblies in the homes of the members separate any disciples from one another. At the time Paul visited the shepherds of Ephesus, they were carrying out their function in the body as described in the mandate of 1 Corinthians 1:10. Though members of the body met in many different locations for their common assemblies on Sunday, they were functioning as one united body.

But something was coming in their future.   There was division coming, division similar to what we witness today in some areas where the body of Christ is located. What is interesting to note is that the divisive behavior today that some seem to think is the ordinary function of the body in a city or region is actually the denominating of the body about which Paul warned the Ephesian shepherds.

Paul warned the Ephesian shepherds of two problems that would soon denominate the sheep of God:

For I know this, that after my departure grievous wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock.   Also from your own selves will men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves (At 20:29,30).

A.  Wolves that scatter sheep.

Paul was warning that the shepherds must be on the lookout for wolves. When wolves enter in among a flock of sheep, the sheep scatter. The sheep lose contact with one another as they flee in different directions for their own safety. The unity of the flock is lost as sheep scatter.

  1. Entrance of the wolves: Since Paul made the statement, “after my departure,” then the entrance of the scattering wolves would soon come after his departure from their presence, and carry on in the centuries to come. The beginning of the scattering was not something that would happen in the centuries to come. The apostasy about which Paul spoke was in its primal beginnings by the middle of the first century. By the second and third centuries, many erroneous beliefs would eventually develop into a mass apostasy.

The second century was not good for the flock of God. Wolves brought in an assortment of heresies that devastated the unity of the church, which heresies led many of the church into beliefs that were contrary to the fundamental teachings of New Testament. For example, Tertullian (160-220) introduced the teaching that every newborn babe was tainted with sin that was supposedly passed down from Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden. He was the first to mention the concept of original sin.

Other teachings also came into the body of believers. Teachers as Ammonius Saccas of Alexandria, Egypt, taught a compromise between Christianity and paganism, which teaching was adopted by Emperor Constantine of Rome to amalgamate church, paganism and state. This teaching would eventually result in the Edict of Milan in 315 when Constantine made a distorted view of Christianity the state religion. Saccas sought to harmonize pagan philosophies with Christianity, and thus, develop a religious philosophy by which Christians and non-Christians could live in peace under the control of the state.

Other religious and philosophical teachings had a great impact on Christianity. Mani of Mesopotamia (216-276) syncretized the Zoroastrian mystery religions of the East with the teachings of the New Testament. The Ebonites denied the deity of Jesus by teaching that Moses had the same authority as Christ, and thus was equal with Christ. Monarchism was another denial of the eternality of Jesus.   The Monarchians taught that Jesus lived so perfectly under the law that God adopted Him to be His Son. By affirming the total human origin of Jesus, they denied that Jesus was one with God before the incarnation.

Through the adoption of many mystic beliefs of non-Christian religions, gnosticism became the greatest attack against the Christian faith in the second century. The core teaching of gnosticism was that Jesus was only the final emanation of a series of digressions from God who dwells in total light. The last emanation, Jesus, was so digressed from the light, that He created the material world. Some gnostics believed that Jesus was simply a phantom who only appeared to the disciples. He was not the incarnation of the eternal God.

The primary theme of all teaching that identified the thinking of the wolves about whom Paul warned the Ephesian elders centered around an attack against the central faith of the Christian. And the center to the Christian faith is Jesus as the Son of God. The wolves would focus on devouring the foundation of the faith of Christians. The lord leaders would focus on denying the authority of Jesus to which Christians have submitted.

 2.  Entrance of the lordship leaders: The entrance of the lordship leaders among the flock of God meant that the lords had little consideration for the unity of the flock. They cared for their own selves rather than sparing the unity of the flock. They would sacrifice the unity of the flock for the sake of their selfish ambitions to have a group of sheep who would seek their leadership. In forming their own groups, their groups would inherently exclude other groups of sheep who were also huddling around their chosen lords.

In reference to those who would rise up as authorities, Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian elders, and to us, is that we must understand the rise of hierarchal apostasy. We must understand the early beginnings of such apostasies in order to check those who would lord over the flock of God.

Once hierarchal apostasy is full grown in a particular religious group, then it is difficult to correct. It is difficult to correct because the churches who are drawn away into a network of authorities are supportive of those authorities who lead each particular group. After a departure to church lords, the church group grows up knowing nothing different than to approach Jesus through the network of authorities of their particular church organization. If finances are involved in the support of the authorities of hierarchal apostasies, then it is difficult to restore such movements to the lordship of Jesus.

What Paul envisioned as lords coming in among the flock, Peter wrote a few years later that it was already happening at the time he wrote in the early 60s. In his first letter, Peter called on the shepherds to whom he wrote to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you … not under compulsionnot as being lords over those entrusted to you …” (1 Pt 5:2,3).

Paul warned that some of the Ephesian shepherds would rise to be lords over their independent churches. They would make the sheep to be subservient to their authoritarian or influential leadership. This was the dividing of the flock into different independent churches that had little to do with one another once the lords drew away their sheep.   The different groups would be subservient to the lords who led them, for the lords would assume authority over each of their groups.

B.  Lords that steal sheep.

While wolves devour the sheep by devouring the foundation of faith upon which the flock exists, lords take control of the sheep, and in so doing, denominate the sheep into their own flocks. Wolves scatter by devouring, but lords gather up their own sheep and separate them from other shepherds who have likewise gathered together their own groups of sheep.

When Paul introduced verse 30 of Acts 20, he turned specifically to the shepherds who would seek to recruit sheep for their own autonomous groups. The phrase, “also from your own selves …” indicates that Paul turned from the elders in general to those potential lords among them who were going to recruit members in Ephesus in order to establish their own congregations of sheep. In order to remain drawn away, these sheep would be independent from the other independent churches in town who had also been denominated as autonomous groups. This was the behavior of Diotrephes as John explained in 3 John. (More on this in chapter 15.)

Those who had been entrusted by the flock to shepherd their spiritual needs would turn from being servants of the flock to being lords over the flock. The apostasy would be in those who would assume authority over the flock. Jesus said that all authority belonged to Him (Mt 28:18). Lordship leaders seek to assume some of Jesus’ authority over His sheep. By doing such, lord leaders seek to claim that which does not belong to them.   They partially assume some of the lordship of Jesus over His sheep in order to lord over their own flocks.   They do as Peter said, “lord over the flock” so that they may draw away disciples after themselves. Any shepherd or group of shepherds, therefore, who draws away sheep in order to lord over them, falls under the warning of both Paul and Peter.

“Lording over” means that one has claimed authority.   If one assumes no authority, then he cannot be a lord. Lordship exists only in the fact that one has either been assigned authority, or out of his own autocratic behavior, assumed authority over others. Whatever the situation, the lord exists for the purpose of calling away a group of sheep into an independent fellowship that in some way functions to the exclusion of those who do not submit to the lordship of the leader.

Lordship is contrary to the nature of the leadership that Jesus determined would be among His body. He explained this in the following statement:

You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them. And their great ones exercise authority over them. But it will not be so among you. But whoever desires to be great among you will be your servant (Mk 10:42-44).

Jesus made the preceding statement to the disciples during His ministry. But even on the night of His betrayal when He washed their feet, He perceived that there was a dispute among them “as to which one of them should be considered the greatest” (Lk 22:24). So Jesus again admonished them on that occasion with the following words:

The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them. And those who exercise authority over them are called benefactors. But you will not be this way. But he who is greatest among you, let him be as the youngest.   And he who leads, as he who serves (Lk 22:25,26).

What was about to transpire in Ephesus was an apostasy to lordship leadership by those shepherds who would violate Jesus’ mandate that He made in reference to leadership among His disciples. In order to draw away disciples after one’s self, one must use his influence as an occasion for denominating a group of disciples under his control. Once the sheep have submitted to the influence of their lord, then the denomination is established.

This apostasy is initially slow and unnoticed.   This is why the Holy Spirit delivered the exhortation of Acts 20 specifically to the elders of the flock.   Elders, or shepherds (pastors), are first designated by the flock to continue their function as servants of the flock.   Because shepherds have dedicated themselves to the ministry of the saints, it is easy for some to move into the realm of lording over the flock. Those people who have their own ambitions and agenda can easily move from being servants to being lords. For this reason, no new Christ is to be designated a shepherd (1 Tm 3:2,6). The flock must first learn his ambition, whether it is for the Lord to serve, or for himself to be served.

Once the flock designates leaders, some leaders often use their designated ministry of leadership to start giving orders. They subsequently turn from leading by example (1 Pt 5:2) to lording by command.   Once they have progressed to lording through assumed authority, then the flock is locked into being an autonomous denomination that is separated from those who refuse to be lorded over by any lord other than Jesus. Once the lorded group builds a temple for itself, it is often locked into a behavior of separation from all other groups who have likewise built the same. The four walls they have built around themselves signal to other walled in sheep more than is realized.

[Next lecture:   November 11]

Wolves & Sheep Thieves

The exhortation of 1 Corinthians 1:10 is illustrated by its application to the Christians who lived in the area of Ephesus.   As we journey through the recorded meeting that Paul called in Miletus with the Ephesian elders (bishops, shepherds), we are encouraged by the fact that by the time of the meeting, the disciples, with their shepherds throughout the region of Ephesus, were behaving according to the Spirit’s mandate of 1 Corinthians 1:10. There was unity among the members of the body, which members, unfortunately, would within a few years after the meeting be moving into an era of great persecution by the Roman state. In fact, we would conclude that the reason Paul called this unique meeting with the church leaders was to specifically address the “wolf and lordship problems” that were soon to come among the Ephesian disciples before the state persecution of Rome. Before the persecution would reach its zenith, there would be a denominating effect taking place among the disciples in the area in the immediate future.

At the time Paul visited the elders of Ephesus on his last mission journey, there were elders (shepherds) throughout the region who were moving among the many house groups. “So from Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called the presbyters of the church (At 20:17).

There was more than one single-assembly of the disciples in Ephesus at the time this meeting was called. The growth of the church in Ephesus had gone far beyond the privilege of all the members of the region to meet in one location, and thus, they were meeting in the homes of the members throughout the area. However, in the context of Acts 20 all the disciples are referred to as “the church.” It was not the churches of Ephesus, but the church. And it was not a single presbyter ruling over the flock, or any specific group. It was a plurality of presbyters who worked among all the disciples of the area.

We thus caution ourselves about reading into the background of the meeting our present independent church behavior.   All the disciples in all of Ephesus were one church, though they were all meeting at different places. And among all the disciples of Ephesus there was a plurality of shepherds (presbyters) looking after the spiritual needs of all the sheep.

(Though it is not in the context of this discussion to clarify the use of nouns that refer to the “presbyters,” we must keep in mind that there are several Greek words used in the New Testament that identify those who were the elders. English words as “presbyter,” “shepherds,” “pastors,” and “bishops” are all used in reference to the leaders for which Paul gave spiritual qualities and physical qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. For further study of this subject, download Book 24, chapter 24, BRL,

When the meeting of elders transpired in Miletus, Paul reminded those present of his past ministry in the region. In those years of ministry, he taught them “publicly and from house to house” (At 20:20). Verse 21 defines the word “publicly.” He used the word referred to the evangelistic work of his ministry in Ephesus to the unbelievers. The phrase “house to house” referred to his edification of the disciples in their homes.   Because the disciples remained connected as the one church, regardless of their diverse assemblies in homes throughout the region, it was easy for Paul to move from house to house. It was in the homes of the members where Paul said that he did not shun to declare to them “all the counsel of God” (At 20:27).

When house groups become independent and begin to draw themselves away from the family of disciples, it is then that sectarian division starts to hinder the organic function of the body in reference to teachers moving among the people. This was the problem that was introduced by Diotrephes. (More on this in chapter 15.)

During the meeting in Miletus, Paul moved into another singular use of words in reference to the multiple-assembly function of the body in Ephesus. He said,

Therefore, take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that He has purchased with His own blood (At 20:28).

It is very important to read this statement and let it speak for itself. In view of the saints being scattered throughout the metropolitan area of Ephesus, which was at this time at least 250,000 in population, Paul exhorted these shepherds to take heed to “all the flock.” This was not all the flock of their respective single-assembly groups. It was a statement that reflected on their ministry to see over the spiritual needs of each individual sheep of the flock in all the city of Ephesus.

No one group of shepherds was encouraged to restrict their care of the flock to just one group of disciples. Since the members were scattered throughout the city, and meeting in several homes, then the shepherds had the responsibility of shepherding the sheep throughout the city. Nothing is said in the context of Acts 20 that the shepherding of the flock should be confined to one specific assembly of the sheep who were meeting at a specific location in someone’s house. On the contrary, since the sheep were everywhere throughout the city, then the function of the elders was everywhere throughout the city. And since the flock is encouraged to know the shepherds, then each group must be sure to invite the shepherds to visit their group (1 Th 5:12,13). Again, we must be careful about reading our present autonomous behavior into the reality of the function of the body of Christ within a particular city, as well as throughout a region where there were disciples. The shepherds were moving among the sheep in order that the sheep know their shepherds, and for the purpose of the shepherds knowing the needs of the sheep. It was the perfect arrangement for the sheep to remain united.

The fact that there is only one universal flock of God is brought out in the statement of Acts 20:28: “Therefore, take heed to yourselves and to all the flock … to shepherd the church of God that He purchased with His own blood.” There is still one church (one fold) of God throughout the world, whether there are members living in Ephesus or any other city throughout the world. Jesus purchased with His blood only one church of God, not just a single group meeting in someone’s house in the city of Ephesus.

Paul’s statement that the blood sacrifice of Jesus was for the universal body means that all the members of the body in Ephesus were included. The blood sacrifice was for “the body,” not bodies. And since it was for the global body of Christ, then every member of the body is continually cleansed by the blood regardless of where he or she is located in this world (See 1 Jn 1:7). The blood is not divided, and thus, those on whom it is poured must not be divided. No assembly of the saints has a right to judge whether the blood is poured out on another assembly of saints just down the street. Blood pouring is God’s job.

The shepherds were among the sheep in Ephesus.   They ministered to the spiritual needs of the sheep wherever the sheep were in the city. Now when these shepherds traveled to the city of Miletus just south of Ephesus in order to meet with Paul, did they cease being shepherds of the flock of God? Were they shepherds in Ephesus, as well as shepherds when they arrived in the city of Miletus? If a spiritual need arose among some Christians in Miletus, would the Ephesian elders be barred from ministering to those needs? If one would think that shepherds had been invested with some sort of authority, then he will not be able to answer these questions correctly. If one believes that there is a geographical restriction on elders ministering to the spiritual needs of the sheep, then he too will have some difficulty answering these questions. We would conclude as Peter, who judged some elders for being lording authorities, that they were fellow shepherds in the universal body of Christ.   But they had no authority as lords, and thus, were to cease functioning as lords (See 1 Pt 5:1-4)

From wherever he was in the world, Peter wrote to other elders, wherever they were. He wrote the following statement: “I exhort the elders who are among you, as a fellow elder …” (1 Pt 5:1). Would Peter need to travel to where the elders were to whom he wrote before he could be a “fellow elder” with them? If he wrote a letter, then certainly he was in some other location than those to whom he wrote. If one of the elders of those to whom he wrote traveled to meet Peter wherever he was, then would that elder cease being an elder and just be a member? It is sometimes difficult to interpret the practicality of Peter’s statements when we are behaving contrary to the very thing that Peter judged the lording authoritarians to whom he wrote. They were in the process of establishing themselves as lording elders with authority, which thing Jesus said would not be so among His disciples (Mk 10:35-45).

Simply because those who are designated shepherds (bishops, pastors, elders, presbyters), by those members who know them, does not mean that they cannot function as such to those who do not know them personally. Elders are such because of who they are, not by some officially invested authority that was given to them, and certainly not because they are in some office-bearing potentate position.

When shepherds start assuming some authority, then there is a problem. If they assume some of the authority of Christ, then they start assuming some of the lordship of Jesus, for with authority must also come lordship.   Authority and lordship cannot be separated. And because authority and lordship cannot be separated, neither can one separate lordship from the denominating of the body. Lords must have bodies of people over whom they can exercise their lordship. Now we know why Paul reminded the Ephesian elders where there would be a problem with lordship elders. A few years later, he wrote a letter to these same elders.   In the letter, he reminded them that we have only one Lord (Ep 4:4-6). But because there would arise lords from among them after the Miletus meeting, there would also arise denominated groups who would declare their autonomy under the lordship of their lording elders.

We do not see lordship leadership in the teaching of the New Testament concerning leadership. Jesus barred such leadership from among His sheep (See Mk 10:35-45). Nevertheless, lordship leaders were soon to come. Shepherds can easily take their spiritual ministry to others. However, we must not assume that when a traveling elder comes into our city that he has come with some authority over the disciples of that city. Historically, the apostasy to hierarchal authority developed when elders assumed authority they did not have, and then brought their assumed authority together and eventually manifested it through what we now call the pope.

We never see in the New Testament some type of networked authority among the shepherds that was exercised over the church.   When Paul called the elders to Miletus, he was not calling authorities together. He was calling only the greatest slaves of Ephesus who had dedicated themselves to the spiritual needs of the sheep in Ephesus. At the time, these slaves had not started to lord with authority over those they would draw away after themselves.

When problems did develop among the disciples in the first century, meetings were held to deal with the doctrinal problems, or arrogant lords (At 15: Gl 2). The church never resorted to some chain of authority among men on earth to solve either doctrinal or organizational problems. This point was certainly brought out during the Acts 15 meeting when the church gathered to sort out some problems with some legalistic brethren who were binding where God had not bound (See At 15:1,2). When dealing with doctrinal problems, the disciples always resorted to the authority of the Scriptures, not the supposed authority of some hierarchy of men who claimed to have authority to pronounce judgments.

In the context of the Acts 20 meeting at Miletus, Paul did not call the shepherds together in order to designate a “chairman” of the elders. He was not establishing some network of authorities that would eventually lead to a network of authorities among the disciples. On the contrary, in his meeting with the shepherds he specifically warned them against any efforts to draw away any group of disciples by lording over them.

[Next lecture: November 8]



Unity Around A Meal

From the very beginning of the church in Jerusalem, the early disciples understood the key to maintaining the unity of the saints in the bond of peace. Since the first converts were Jews, they understood the bonding nature of a fellowship meal, which meal they ate annually in the Passover feast.   When Jesus was at His last Passover meal with His disciples, He changed the significance of the Jewish Passover meal (See Mt 26:26-29). The Passover meal became His Supper, and thus, the occasion for the disciples to come together in order to remember their spiritual nationhood and covenant as a result of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. Instead of an annual observance of the “Passover meal” as in the Old Testament, the early Christians had their love feast/Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis (At 20:7). They needed no commands to do this. It was simply natural to do that which gave them purpose for being one covenanted nation with God because of the cross.

A.  The Passover feast of unity:

Under the Sinai law recorded in the Old Testament, God commanded Israel to come together annually for the Passover meal (Ex 12). This was a meal during which the Jewish families would come together with the priests and eat the food that came from their sacrificed animals. The purpose of the meal was both to remember their covenant that God had established with them as a nation at Mount Sinai, and to celebrate their oneness as a nation. All the tribes of Israel were to eat as one nation in order to remember that they were one united and covenanted nation under God (Ex 12).

The spiritual significance of the Passover meal was brought into the new covenant relationship that Christians have with God through Jesus. Jesus changed the significance of the Passover meal. In partaking of the meal, Christians are to remember Him as their Passover offering. In partaking of the bread and cup during or after the meal, Christians are to remind Jesus to come again for them (Download Book 39, The Lord’s Supper, chapter 3, BRL,

Through the eating of the meal and partaking of the bread and fruit of the vine, Christians preach the Lord’s death until He comes again (1 Co 11:26). The church is the new spiritual Israel that is in a new covenant relationship with God.   Therefore, when Jesus stood with His disciples at His last Passover supper with them, He changed the meaning of the bread and wine of which the disciples partook when they continued to eat their “Passover meal.”

And as they were eating [the Passover meal], Jesus took bread and blessed it. And He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat. This is My body (Mt 26:26).

Jesus gave a new meaning to the bread of the Passover meal. When the disciples would eat the bread during His kingdom reign, it would be in reference to His sacrificed body, as well as His one spiritual body of obedient disciples.   The disciples did not understand either of these concepts at the time Jesus ate the bread with them during His last Passover with them.

And He took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, ‘All of you drink of it. For this is My blood of the covenant that is shed for many for the remission of sins’” (Mt 26:27,28).

All the Jewish disciples knew the significance of the Passover meal. It was a meal of remembrance and a celebration of the one nation of Israel that was established by God and brought into a covenant relationship with Him at Mount Sinai. But at the time Jesus took the bread and cup during His last Passover, the disciples did not understand the significance of the unity they were to promote among themselves by eating what they would later consider to be the Lord’s Supper.

B.  The one bread and one body:


The unity factor of the Lord’s Supper in the context of the Corinthian letters was brought out by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:16,17.   Notice how Paul brings the teaching of Jewish unity that surrounded the Jewish Passover into the fellowship meal of the Lord’s meal.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not the fellowship of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not the fellowship of the body of Christ? (1 Co 10:16).

The eating of the meal was to bring fellowship and unity between members of the body. This event in the lives of the disciples was the foundation upon which the Lord’s Supper was eaten. The eating of the one bread and drinking of the cup was to signal their common fellowship they had with one another in Christ. The partaking of the love feast and Supper was an event that brought together the many into one.

Paul continued to explain, For though we are many, we are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of the one bread” (1 Co 10:17). Unfortunately, what was to symbolize their oneness in Christ, the Achaians corrupted to be an occasion to manifest their lack of unity. They thus came together for the worse, and not for the better (1 Co 11:17).

Paul rebuked, “… when you come together in assembly, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it” (1 Co 11:18). “Therefore,” Paul challenged them, “when you come together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper” (1 Co 11:20). They did not come together to remember that the many members throughout Achaia were one body. On the contrary, when they came together they manifested their divisive attitudes and behavior. The disciples throughout Achaia came together into one assembly for the love feast and Supper, but their coming together revealed their divisions, not their unity. Therefore, their coming together was not for the purpose of remembering that they were one body by eating the one bread. They had corrupted the purpose that the many members were to come together in fellowship by partaking of the one bread. Their coming together, therefore, was not to accomplish the purpose of the love feast/Supper.

Paul explained how their division was manifested in their coming together. “For in eating, each one takes before others his own supper (1 Co 11:21). It was no longer a sharing meal to promote unity. What was happening was that they were eating as individual groups wherein the different cliques, or groups, sat by themselves independent of others while they ate and drank. The occasion was so contrary to the oneness of the body that Paul revealed that “one is hungry and another is drunken” (1 Co 11:21). Instead of making sure that everyone present was able to share in the food and drink, some groups selfishly consumed their own food while others were allowed to go without food and drink. Each group who had plenty, ate all their own food and drank all their own wine in having their own supper. Others were left to go hungry. That which was instituted to encourage unity became the occasion to manifest divisive behavior.

It was the classical case of sectarianism in the church. When all the denominated sects of the church came together, they could not break down the walls that divided them from one another. Therefore, the meal that was to bring them together in unity, and then climax with the Lord’s Supper to celebrate their common covenant with God, was a clear manifestation of their sectarian behavior. By their divisive behavior during the love feast/Supper, they despised the assembly for the Supper that was to encourage fellowship (1 Co 11:22).

From the context of 1 Corinthians 11, therefore, we see the eating of the fellowship meal and Lord’s Supper as an occasion to manifest that we are one body under the cleansing blood of Jesus. If we do not eat in order to promote our oneness in Christ, then we eat and drink judgment unto ourselves (1 Co 11:29).   This was what the eating of the love feast/Supper became in the gathering of the Achaians.

If the occasion explained in 1 Corinthians 11 is a fellowship meal that we eat in order to celebrate our oneness in Christ, then it is unfortunate that many groups today fail to see any significance in having such a meal at all in order to promote unity. In fact, if we understand that this fellowship meal was an opportunity for all the saints of Achaia to come together in fellowship with one another, then we might consider that we unknowingly violate the principles that Paul gives by having our own meal within our own group, and thus, we eat our own supper to the exclusion of others. It would certainly not be wrong for each group to have their own fellowship meal on a weekly basis to celebrate their unity with every other Christian throughout the world. If the occasion herein discussed by Paul was an area wide fellowship meal and Lord’s Supper to create a bond of unity among all the disciples in a particular region, then we might want to reconsider doing the same occasionally in order to bring the disciples of a particular region together in order to encourage the organic function of the body in a particular region. Unfortunately, it is usually the case that independent groups have their “own supper,” but never invite other Christians in the area to the feast in order to celebrate unity.

Paul concluded the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 11 with some very practical instructions. “When you come together to eat [the fellowship meal],” he wrote, wait for one another (1 Co 11:33).   Waiting for one another is an indication that we are one body in Christ. Eating before everyone arrives from distant areas is an indication that parts of the body are not being considerate of all the parts of all the body.

If any member could not wait to eat before all the members in Achaia had arrived, then Paul instructed that the local members “eat at home so that you do not come together for judgment” (1 Co 11:34).   What Paul was saying was that everyone must wait until everyone arrives before the eating of the Supper begins.   Doing so accomplishes the purpose of the love feast and Lord’s Supper. Waiting for one another promotes unity. Not waiting on one another brings judgment upon ourselves because we are not eating the “one bread” of the Supper in order to celebrate the oneness of the body.

The fellowship meal with the Lord’s Supper is more than a meal to satisfy hunger. If one cannot wait to satisfy his hunger at the area wide fellowship meal, then he must eat before he comes. If anyone starts eating before everyone has arrived, then his actions manifest his lack of understanding of the purpose of the fellowship meal and Supper. He is thinking of his own belly, and not the unity that was to be signalled to the whole body by the whole body eating together as one.

[Next lecture:   November 5]