Sometimes we spend so much time in the New Testament discussing, or debating, doctrinal points that we often fail to investigate the function of the early disciples as the organic body of Christ. In our quest to discover and implement doctrinal purity, we often overlook those areas of behavior where some early disciples dysfunctionally lived the gospel they had obeyed. Even more striking in our dichotomous religiosity in these matters, we are zealous in bringing an individual to the point of salvation, but while he is still dripping wet, we fail to enlist the baptized believer into the ranks of the organic army of God. The Holy Spirit wanted to exhort some in the Philippian church in this matter by reminding them that their behavior as disciples must always reflect the gospel that they obeyed: “Only let your behavior be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Ph 1:27).
Since our behavior as Christians must reflect the gospel that we have obeyed, then it is imperative that we study in the New Testament those examples where the Holy Spirit recorded dysfunctions in the organic body. We must turn to the record of what was recorded with the same zeal by which the Holy Spirit encouraged the early disciples to consider the Old Testament examples. “For whatever things were written before [in the Old Testament] were written for our learning” (Rm 15:4). The same exhortation was written to the disciples in Achaia: “Now these things happened to them [the Israelites] as an example, and they were written [in the Old Testament] for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Co 10:11).
Organic dysfunctions of the body of Christ in the first century were not recorded by the Holy Spirit for the simple purpose of filling in historical material of the early church. The record of these dysfunctions in the body is in our hands today for a purpose. Since all inspired Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness” (2 Tm 3:16), then we would correctly assume that the Holy Spirit would record examples in the New Testament that we could examine, which examples illustrated dysfunctional behavior on the part of some early disciples. We must assume, therefore, that these recorded examples of dysfunctional behavior on the part of some were recorded for our correction and instruction in righteousness.
We must never allow all the noise that hovers around debates over doctrine to draw our attention away from examples of organic dysfunctions that reveal we may not be worthy of the gospel we obeyed. For example, we have found that we are quite hypocritical in this matter in reference to the Lord’s Supper. We will strive over matters surrounding the Lord’s Supper, when the Holy Spirit says at the same time, “Do not strive about words to no profit” (2 Tm 2:14). We divide over the Lord’s Supper that was instituted to remind us that we are one united body because of our common obedience to the gospel (1 Co 10:16,17). We sometimes become hypocritical humbugs in these matters.
The Holy Spirit wanted us to understand that when He recorded dysfunctional behavior on the part of the early disciples, He wanted us to be reproved by the examples of bad behavior. And in being reproved, He wanted us to refrain from such dysfunctional organic behavior that does not reflect the full power of the gospel in our lives.
The Spirit said this clearly through the pen of Paul: “If you then were raised with Christ [through obedience to the gospel], seek those things that are above” (Cl 3:1). The word “seek” in this statement goes far beyond mental assent. Reference is to letting our behavior “be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Ph 1:27). When our minds are focused on the resurrected and reigning Son of God, then we are encouraged to behave in a manner that is worthy of the gospel. We will thus “put to death … fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire,” etc. (Cl 3:5). In contrast to such dysfunctional behavior as members of the body of Christ, we will put on “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another and forgiving one another” (Cl 3:12,13).
It is through the power of the gospel that our lives are transformed from worldly behavior that is dysfunctional according to the gospel. The organic body of Christ functions at its best when all the members put away the dysfunctional behavior that is typical of worldly behavior. Paul’s exhortation to the members of the body in Rome was not without his initial reminder that he was not ashamed of the power of the gospel that would not only save, but would also transform behavior (Rm 1:16):
“Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind [that is focused on things above], so that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rm 12:2).
With the preceding thoughts in mind, we must establish a very important foundation upon which to interpret the historical statements concerning the function of the organic body of Christ that are recorded in the New Testament. We must not assume that the recorded historical accounts of the function of the body were arbitrarily placed in the New Testament by the Holy Spirit simply as statements of history. To do such would be assuming that the Holy Spirit simply wanted to give us an historical record of the early church. But in this history, there were dysfunctions of the organic body. We must assume that the Spirit wanted us to learn from the dysfunctions, as well as those times when the early disciples’ lives were worthy of the gospel. Therefore, we must look deeper than the record itself.
We would correctly assume that all historical statements that are recorded in the New Testament are there for the purpose of teaching something greater than the historical statement itself. In other words, we must look beyond the record of the historical events in order to understand what the Holy Spirit was seeking to teach through the function of the incident that is recorded. Since the early gospel-obedient believers sought to live a life that was worthy of the gospel of Christ, then we must seek to understand where they failed in those areas of function that were not according to the gospel.
Since an encyclopedia could have been written by the Holy Spirit to give an account of all the activities of the early church, we must assume, therefore, that those cases that are given were recorded for the purpose of teaching specific lessons. This was the Holy Spirit’s approach in recording key miracles in the life of Jesus.
“Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God …” (Jn 20:30,31).
When come to the book of Acts, we must assume “that many other things happened in the early function of the church that are not recorded, but these events were recorded to teach how we should live according to the gospel.” We therefore come to both correct functions and dysfunctions of the organic body of Christ that are recorded in the New Testament—specifically the book of Acts—with the understanding that these historical accounts were meant to teach how we should live according to the gospel.
[Series to be continued.]