“No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.”John Donne
John Donne’s opening lines to his famous prose-poem was written during recovery from illness. In reflecting on the nearness of death to each of us, he expressed the view that it didn’t really matter if the “bell” was tolling for him or another. Each person’s death affects us all. We are all “part of the main” and an essential part at that. “No man is an island”. No one lives unto themself nor does anyone die unto themself.
The Bible puts it another way. We are all members of the one body, the church of Christ. But the human body is not just a mass of individual cells. It’s a tremendous and amazing collection of highly organised interdependent systems all working for one end – the promotion and maintenance of life. In achieving that end, each cell has a role or function, and each is dependent in some way upon another. In a healthy organism, every cell, every organ and every system works together in perfect harmony to supply that which the another part of the body needs. So too with the church. The mutual interdependence of each member of the church to the other, is further expressed by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:16:
“…the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (KJV)
Just so you don’t lose the meaning of this verse in the old English phraseology, I’ll share it from the ESV:
“…the whole body is united and held together by every ligament with which it is supplied. As each individual part does its job, the body builds itself up in love.”
There are three important things I want to highlight from these words of Scripture. The first is that the body is held together by its individual members. Without you and I actively engaged in church life, things fall apart.
Secondly, God has a specific purpose for you and me in His church. If we fulfil that purpose faithfully, the body will build itself up naturally.
And thirdly, the most prominent attribute that will be manifested in each part of the body giving to the other that which it needs, is that of love. This is the secret to healthy church relationships–the exercise of love. This is the one attribute above all others that distinguishes us as Christ’s followers.
What is love? The apostle defines it by what it is and what it isn’t:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1Cor 13:4-8 (ESV)
For me love is like the immune system of the body. When it’s present and functioning as it should, it not only fights disease, it destroys it. “Love covers a multitude of sins.” When love is missing, our church relationships become toxic.
“God’s people greatly dishonour His name, and misrepresent His truth, when they manifest a lack of love one for another. As love for God grows cold, they lose the childlike simplicity that knits heart to heart in loving tenderness. Hard-heartedness comes in, and there is a drawing away one from another. When we fail to love others as Christ has loved us, Jesus can do little for us; for His words and spirit are not permitted to enter into the heart.–Bible Echo, April 23, 1894.
So important is the attribute of love that Jesus declared it to be the distinguishing mark of His disciples.
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all [men] know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 15:34, 35.
“These words are not the words of man, but the words of our Redeemer; and how important it is that we fulfill the instruction that He has given! There is nothing that can so weaken the influence of the church, as the lack of love. Christ says, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). If we are to meet opposition from our enemies, who are represented as wolves, let us be careful that we do not manifest the same spirit among ourselves.
“The enemy well knows that if we do not have love one for another, he can gain his object, and wound and weaken the church, by causing differences among brethren. He can lead them to surmise evil, to speak evil, to accuse, condemn, and hate one another. In this way the cause of God is brought into dishonor, the name of Christ is reproached, and untold harm is done to the souls of men.
“How careful we should be, that our words and actions are all in harmony with the sacred truth that God has committed to us! The people of the world are looking to us, to see what our faith is doing for our characters and lives. They are watching to see if it is having a sanctifying effect on our hearts, if we are becoming changed into the likeness of Christ. They are ready to discover every defect in our lives, every inconsistency in our actions. Let us give them no occasion to reproach our faith.
“It is not the opposition of the world that will most endanger us; it is the evil cherished right in our midst that works our most grievous disaster. It is the unconsecrated lives of half-hearted professors that retard the work of the truth, and bring darkness upon the church of God. . . .
“God would have us individually come into that position where He can bestow His love upon us. He has placed a high value upon man, and has redeemed us by the sacrifice of His only-begotten Son, and we are to see in our fellow man the purchase of the blood of Christ. If we have this love one for another, we shall be growing in love for God and the truth.”–This Day with God, p. 165.
As we close 2018 and begin 2019, I pray that we will resolve to build strong churches, knit together by the spirit of love, where each person realises the intrinsic value of the other before God. No man is an island. Neither is any member of the church. Let our love then “be without dissimulation”; let’s “abhor that which is evil” and “cleave to that which is good”; and let’s be “kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.” ( Romans 12:9,10)