Like many others, I really enjoy a good Western movie. I think that this type of story appeals to a good number of people for a very simple reason: good guys and bad guys are clearly defined (often by the color of their hats!) And we know that, whatever happens along the way, by the end of the movie good will win.
In some ways, this can be applied to the spiritual realm. God is absolutely good in His ways, in His works, and in His nature. The Scriptures also make it clear that there is a real, conscious, and directed force of evil which is ever opposed to the things of God. Thankfully, they also tell us how that movie ends!
However, when it comes to the church and its members, this concept no longer applies. Occasionally, we hear ignorant references to good Christians (which usually means “my group”) and bad Christians (which usually means “that other group”). This completely unscriptural idea usually comes up (often subtly) among those who suggest that their lives would be so much better had it not been for the things supposedly done to them by “bad Christians” and that the church would be so much nicer if we could just rid ourselves of those “bad Christians.”
The Scriptures make it clear that all who have believed on Jesus Christ have been made “the righteousness of God in him” (II Corinthians 5:21) and henceforth are “dead indeed to sin” (Romans 6:11). Nevertheless, though we are truly dead to sin’s authority, we are not immune to sin’s influence. In other words, each of us can be and indeed will be tempted.
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
A further essential truth is revealed in Ephesians 4, which discusses the purpose of the equipping ministries, and the duration of this purpose.
Ephesians 4:12, 13
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.
In short, these ministries equip the saints by helping them to grow in a more thorough knowledge of God, that each might then trust Him more fully. However, it is obvious that a full unity of knowledge and believing will not be attained until the return of Jesus Christ. Until that time, no Christian, and certainly no Christian group, can claim to have arrived at a perfect knowledge of God, let alone at a state of unsullied believing.
The influence of sin, coupled with the fact that each of us is, to some degree, limited in knowledge and faith, accounts for the fact that, though righteous in God’s sight, Christians can still do and say some terribly unrighteous things. This is a simple fact, whatever church you might attend. It’s true of me. It’s also true of you. No member of the body of Christ is exempt.
However, while I may not attain perfection in this life, I can make choices to the end that sin’s influence in my life is diminished and the Word of God hold greater sway. It is possible to grow up.
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
While the Word of God does not speak of “good Christians” and “bad Christians,” it does make distinctions within the body of Christ. One of these distinctions is between the strong and the weak. Or, to put it another way, the mature and the immature.
Occasionally we are warned by well-meaning Christians that to make any distinction of this sort in the body of Christ is “thinking evil.” However, if God—who is love—makes this distinction, how could taking Him at His Word be deemed unloving? Indeed, it is because of His love that God recognizes these categories. If I would do so as well, far from “thinking evil,” it will help me to better understand my fellow Christians and thus to show more compassion and longsuffering in my dealing with them.
I trust you understand that Christian maturity has nothing to do with the flesh. It has nothing to do with my service, my associations, or my knowledge. Even the passage of time does not guarantee that one will become mature. Rather, maturity is a result of the choices I am making while time passes. These include the choice to feed upon the Word of God (I Peter 2:2) and the choice to make myself subject to it.
Why make the effort to grow? There are a multitude of reasons. (Read Ephesians 3:14–21!) Yes, there are privileges which become apparent to those who have grown up into Christ. But with maturity also comes responsibility. As we see here in Romans 15, rather than the weak serving the strong (as might be expected in the world), the strong are accountable to help the weak.
Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.
We should note that the “pleasing” spoken of here is not unqualified! In fact, an earmark of immaturity is finding pleasure in the wrong things! Rather, the help I offer has a direction: “for his good to edification.” In other words, the good I offer is to the end of him or her growing up. The greatest example of this is, of course, Jesus Christ.
For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.
Jesus Christ did not need me, but I desperately needed him. When I recall what he did for me, with no strings attached, how can I not extend the same love to those who are less mature than I? And what of God’s perseverance with all of mankind?
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
The Old Testament abounds with records of God’s longsuffering towards an uncaring and often unnoticing world. Yet He persisted. As one who claims to be His child, I am able to exhibit this same longsuffering. If He continued to love those who crucified His son, might I not find it in me to love those who know Him less intimately than I do? He has enabled me, and indeed charged me, to do just that.
Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus.
We are to be likeminded. We’ve already seen in Ephesians 4 that this cannot mean we are being commanded to have an equal knowledge of or faith in God, for this is impossible. Rather, we are to think the same things regarding each other, those things that we all have and all share regardless of our level of maturity.
When I think of, speak of, look at any other Christian, I can do so according to their flesh, or according to what God now says about them. We are told to do the latter, and the reason is given in the next verse.
That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When I choose to view every other believer in light of what God says He now sees in them, it is much easier to help and serve even the most recalcitrant. But there is a much greater reason for doing so. When we choose to begin living this way, God is glorified.
All Christians will, at times, say and do stupid, carnal things. This is an entry-level fact that applies to any local church. So why are we surprised when those things happen to be directed at us? I am drawn away at times. So are you. This is why we need each other.
True, some may say and do these stupid, carnal things more frequently and more fully than others. That doesn’t make them evil—it simply marks them as immature. My responsibility towards these is not to scorn them, but to show them the same love and longsuffering that has been (and at times still is) shown toward me. And, if they are willing, to help them grow.