Many times, I think that we tend to look back at the first century believers as far better than twenty-first century believers. But were they really? James, Peter, John and Paul spent much of their time attempting to show them their faults and encourage them to be consistently productive. These apostles had been given complete understanding concerning the Body of Christ (the church) and the gifts of the Spirit. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:16,
“from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
Here Paul speaks of growth and what is necessary to continue to grow spiritually. There are two types of growth. The first is symbiotic, which is a give-and-take type of growth in relationships where both sides benefit. The other type is parasitic growth where one feeds off the other. This type is never reciprocal, but rather always one-sided; the same person is giving time after time, while the other is always taking. Symbiotic growth is characterized by such words as “yes, I have needs, but I am also willing to give since others need to benefit as well.”
Our physical bodies are made up of various systems, each serving a specific purpose. These are the nervous system, circulatory system, skeletal system, muscular system, lymphatic system, and the immune system. Each one is interdependent, relying upon the others for their own survival. When either of these goes down, the entire body is negatively impacted. If each of these systems had a free will, one might choose to stop performing its God-given function and attempt to sit back and do nothing while sucking the life out of the body as a whole.
A church that is performing as God has designed and thus growing, is a symbiotic church. But a church that is sick and anemic is parasitic due to one or more of its systems (members) choosing to exercise their free will; refusing to perform their duties. They have chosen to become self-absorbed and draw the life out of the body that they are a part of. The result is that the entire body becomes weak and dysfunctional.
In 1st Corinthians 6:19, Paul writes, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” He’s saying here that we have no right to become a spiritual leech and when we do, we are sinning against both God and the body, the Church of Jesus Christ.
We must fight the urge to feel entitled to live the self-absorbed life of a parasite. Otherwise we will move from being offended about one thing or another while never offering apologies or other acts of reconciliation. Meanwhile, those around us will be weakened and opportunities to glorify our Savior will be missed. Giving of ourselves to others is not a sign of weakness. It is one of our greatest strengths and privileges.