Extensive Biblical Basis for Corporate Faith
© 1989 by Dick Wulf
Below will be many references to our 65 Togethers of Scripture. These are categorizations of hundreds of Scriptures detailing what God wants from us when we are together. Full explanation of The Togethers is found at our other website www.ChristiansTogether.org.
'This is a long chapter from an unpublished book manuscript titled The Togethers I wrote with the help of the late Rob Nelson back in the late 1980's with current addtions. There is extensive biblical support that God desires corporate Christianity prioritized above individualized Christianity.
TOGETHER BY GOD'S DESIGN AND COMMAND
TOGETHER BY GOD'S DESIGN AND COMMAND
Imagine a broad dirt road in a deep forest. It is very wide and leads up to marvelous wrought iron gates, at least three stories high. Behind this great fence is a superb castle, with wonderful bright light shining through its windows. Imagine masses of people walking joyously toward the gates of the castle, believing that they will soon enter into a more wonderful existence.
We have infiltrated that broad road on a mission. We have entered it from a narrow side road. But we have eyes to see the true reality because we believe in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for man's sin. We see what the other travelers cannot see. We see that the bright light shining through the castle windows comes from the flames of the eternal lake of fire. We know that there is no true castle through those gates of hell!
But we do more than observe. We are dressed for battle! Many other soldiers are with us. All of us together are the Army of God. Together, we are the church, about which Jesus said, "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (Matthew 16:18)
Together we attempt to keep people from going through the terrible portal. We invite the lost people of the broad road to join us and travel the narrow road of faith in God through His Son Jesus Christ. Some do and we rejoice. Many do not, and we weep silently as they disappear through the deceiving fire gates.
From time to time ugly, terrible dragons come out of the gates and fight us. Slaying dragons is our exciting duty. Saving deceived people is our joy!
The WAR of All Wars
It is the church's great privilege to win victories for God. As a mighty army for God, we get to battle evil, fighting aggressively at the very gates of hell! Through the power of God, we are on a continual search and destroy mission. We can attack evil that rampages within each of us. We can attack evil that taints our church fellowship and community. We can attack evil that causes havoc throughout the world. We have the privilege of marching boldly to war - daily!
You and I, as soldiers in the Army of God, participate every day in a universal conflict of great significance and consequence. Whether or not we are aware of it, you and I are in the middle of a cosmic battle that is both wonderful and terrible.
To understand the necessity of winning victories for God, every Christian needs to adequately comprehend this universal war between God and the forces of evil led by Satan.
We can make sense out of the various troubles we face only by accepting our temporary life on earth as one of fighting on the cosmic battlefield. And to understand the critical reason why we must persevere, we need to understand the nature of the conflict.
God's honor has been challenged. We fight for His glory! And it is real war, with real pain on a regular basis. With the Commander-in-Chief leading the charge, we cannot be in love with safety. Moment by moment, donning our armor and grasping our spiritual weapons, we Christians must urgently face the difficulty of battle. Following Jesus our Lord and using his great weapon of graceful love, we are vulnerable to frequent injury, especially emotional. But then we don't want to disgracefully enter heaven's gates without battle scars. We want to be like the Savior-King!
In many ways, the WAR of All Wars explains what we are doing wrong in our churches. We are key players in a wonderful conflict, even guaranteed ultimate success. And yet we are not winning enough battles. We are afraid of war -- it seems too dangerous.
And the way we play out Christianity, it *IS* too dangerous!
Rebellion in Heaven
Long before men walked the earth, God enjoyed a wonderful loving relationship with all of the angels in heaven. They gave God pure worship. This was the glory He deserved and wanted. God was on His throne, an emerald rainbow emanating from the seat of the Almighty. A circle of angels kept adoring angels from approaching the throne closer than the boundary God had decreed. Everything was as it should be.
Lucifer was a high-ranking angel who served close to God's throne. He might have been the angel in charge of the blessed worship. He might even be the most beautiful and intelligent creature God ever created. (Remember, Jesus was not created.)
Lucifer eventually had the audacity to decide that the honor and homage given to God was something he wanted for himself. When Lucifer decided to rob God of the glory due Him, he invented sin. He then recruited many, possibly one-third of all angels to follow him rather than serve and worship God. So these wayward beings, once having the wonderful identity of angels, now became traitorous demons, spirit personalities who worship and do the work of the evil one Lucifer, the devil, whose name God changed to Satan.
We might have been tempted to annihilate Satan and the demons, but God had a better plan. He wanted to deal with Satan's pride; it called for great humiliation. Therefore, God had a special plan for the one who brought evil into His universe in order to tarnish His honor.
But first God would banish Satan and his evil horde from heaven.
Since God designed heaven to be a holy place devoted to His own glory and worship, He had to exile Satan and his horde of demons. Satan was and is no threat to God. But the devil invented sin and a confrontation with God. Since that had to be dealt with, God has obliged because He chose not to merely annihilate the fallen angels.
Therefore, God created a planet -- Earth -- and exiled the evil principalities and powers to that part of the universe. God would do battle with Satan on planet Earth! God created our world to be the battleground between Himself and the forces of evil. Our Lord decided to humiliate the devil for thousands and thousands of years!
And it pleased God to do this through a new kind of rational being - mankind.
God's Strategy: Strong Inter-dependent Creatures
Mankind, a second type of rational being, was designed to populate the earth and be involved in God's showdown with Satan. Like the angels, we were created with the same capacity for moral choice so that we could show our love for God through obedience. But there was one critical difference from angels in our design. Mankind was created to be strong together, to be inter-dependent, that is, to depend on one another for strength. Adam and Eve, and all people, were specifically designed to be inter-dependent rather than self-sufficient.
So, God purposely designed Adam to be incomplete, even though without sin. Adam would have to have a helper to be strong and capable for God's work. Eve was then created to be Adam's helper. She, too, was perfect -- yet incomplete -- and would need Adam's help. Alone, each would be perfect, yet incomplete and vulnerable. Only TOGETHER were they perfectly complete and completely perfect. Only TOGETHER would they be able to win the battle with the serpent in the Garden. Only TOGETHER would they be able to turn down the tempting of the devil to eat the forbidden fruit.
As He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, God's challenge to Satan might have been something like, "O.K., let's see if you can destroy the glory I receive from men." The Lord of All wanted a showdown with this upstart angel turned devil. Our God set the stage for a long conflict to humble Satan before his eternal banishment to the stinking lake of burning sulfur. Out of the humble dust of a small planet, God raised up a race which could defeat the proud boasting of a super-intelligent, extremely powerful spirit-being. But the human race could only defeat Satan if they remembered God's plan for them to help each other and work together.
The Showdown was "On"
God was not trying to show Satan that His glory could not be stolen. God has such power that He could have protected his glory merely by wishing Satan and his demons out of existence. No, God's prescription for the proud devil is to humiliate him for thousands of years through the defeats Satan meets at the hands of God's people. After sufficient humiliation, to counter his pride, God will finally send the evil one to the lake of fire.
So to begin this humiliation, God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and challenged them to defeat Satan by mere obedience to one very simple rule: "Don't eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil!" Obedience is really love for God expressed to honor Him. Obedience defeats Satan. So the devil had to try to break the humans' obedience.
The showdown was "on". God set the stage, not Satan. Satan's embarrassing defeat would come at the hands of puny creatures who could not stand alone on their own two feet, so-to-speak, but together in Christ could move mountains and defeat evil, vicious, fallen angelic beings.
As the setting for Adam and Eve's first assignment together, one that would require this "together" kind of strength, God specifically designed a unique garden - the Garden of Eden. It was a beautiful place, teeming with plants and animals of all kinds. In the middle of the Garden God placed The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, one tree among hundreds to set the stage for His showdown with Satan.
Satan developed his strategy. It is the same today: he divides people so they cannot be strong and then offers to them things God does not want for them.
What made Satan's strategy so remarkable and effective were two things. First was the high level of the devil's understanding of God's design of humankind. Second was Adam and Eve's low understanding of the very same thing. Actually, it seems that the first two humans just forgot God's strategy for His people's strength. It attests to the devil's high intelligence that he seems to have figured out the reason for God's design of mankind. Even though they forgot, Satan remembered that they would be too strong for him if they acted together.
The Danger of Ignoring God's Design
Therefore, when the devil showed up in the Garden of Eden as a serpent, he spoke only to Eve. Sadly, Eve forgot to bring Adam into the discussion. She acted as if she did not need a helper. Without Adam's help, Eve succumbed to the tempter's lies and ate of the forbidden fruit.
Sadder still, Adam did not take leadership and get involved, did not actively take hold of his"helper' assignment. While Satan held the infamous conversation with his wife, Adam remained silent, doing nothing to help Eve with the fatal decision.
Sadly, Adam and Eve each forgot God's strategy for His people. First, abandoned by Adam, Eve took a bite of the forbidden fruit. Then, in a second step of independent living, Adam also ate of the forbidden fruit. Together, they would have been strong enough to resist the temptation. But both Adam and Eve chose to act independently, making autonomous decisions. And they chose disaster for the whole human race - sin that would be inherited throughout all generations.
Fortunately for those of us who believe, God was not taken by surprise. His foreknowledge saw and planned for this disaster. In fact, it was in His plan to allow this situation to develop so that He could effect a marvelous surprise -- sending His Son to earth years later as a man to conquer Satan by dying on the cross for men's sins. For years and years the devil must have gloated that he was defeating God. Then, surprise! Jesus defeats the evil one once-and-for-all.
The defeat has happened. But the humiliation is not over.
Satan was not yet completely humbled. Like a football team hopelessly behind at the end of the third quarter, Satan has to continue to face humiliation. God takes down the proud devil to depths beyond mere defeat. And He uses His church to do this.
We are to keep on working together as the church to defeat Satan's futile attempts to corrupt God's people and creation. We are to keep on winning victories for God that He can literally throw in the devil's face. Satan wanted to elevate himself, and our God is bringing him down. And we get the privilege of being in on the action!
The Heart of the Conflict
Nowhere is this “WAR-of-All-Wars” between God and Satan seen more clearly than the first two chapters of Job in our Bibles. Understanding this confrontation should provide Christians with both a comprehension of why hardship occurs and a conviction to persevere in order to win victories for God. In these two chapters we see the focal point of the War - the Throne of God in Heaven.
God was sitting at His royal seat in heaven. He was allowing the angels to parade before Him. On this particular day God also ordered (the only way the devil could re-enter heaven) Satan to come from Earth and present himself. Being in sovereign control, the Holy One spoke first. "Where have you been?" He asked the devil. When Satan answered that he had been roaming all over the earth, God went to work on the devil, pointing out a good man named Job. God explained that Job had not bowed in any way to the evil one. Job was "blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil."
But Satan did not take defeat so readily. He replied to God that Job's holy devotion was only because God had given him so many good things, had protected him from harm, and had kept him comfortable. The evil one then challenged the Lord to let him take away those good, comfortable things and pleasing relationships. Satan stated that Job would then turn from glorifying God.
God allowed Satan to affect Job's life in a very negative way. God accepted the devil's challenge with these words: "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger."
God allowed Satan to kill all of Job's sons and daughters. The devil stripped Job of his wealth by putting to death most of his servants, oxen, donkeys, sheep and camels. Satan the destroyer did his best, within the limits set by God, to see to it that Job had every opportunity to turn from God. Surely Job would curse God for his great loss. After all, the devil reasoned, people live for their relationships and possessions, not for the Lord of Heaven.
But, marvelously, Job remained faithful. His holy response reverberates through all of history,"The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised." When the devil eventually appeared again at the Throne, God was able to confront Satan with the fact that Job remained loyal to and honored the Almighty. Even though the man was distraught to a degree that few of us can imagine, Job remained faithful and won a very great victory for God.
But Satan was persistent in his diabolical attempt to destroy God's glory. In response to the Lord's affirmation of Job, the devil challenged the Almighty to let him strike Job's health. He thought that this would certainly result in the man cursing God. Surely a self-centered human would turn from God when his very own body was touched with intense pain.
God agreed and again allowed Satan to assault Job, this time with painful sores all over his body. He was in such pain that Job's wife even suggested that death would be better. Forgetting the WAR of All Wars and her helpmate responsibility, as did Adam long before, Job's wife advised her husband to curse God in order to die. Job's answer to his wife rings through all eternity as one of the very greatest victories ever won for the Lord. He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"
Satan did not return to the Throne to further test Job's dedication to God. He did not want to be defeated again. For the time being, he had been humbled. Job had given his God a victory that the Lord of All could throw in Satan's face, humiliating the devil this side of eternal punishment.
Victories for God
This scene at the very throne of God, at the center of The WAR of All Wars, is very important for Christians to keep in mind. It gives us a noble and marvelous reason for living righteous lives both individually and corporately in the church. That reason is to love God and uphold His honor by winning victories for Him. This is where God receives the victories over the devil - right at His throne where He points out to Satan time and time again how the rebellious and renegade angel cannot spoil God's people.
Satan's attack on Job was an attempt to prove to God that those who love God are fickle and will bellyache and moan and eventually turn away from the Lord. God allowed it to show the devil that men who are dedicated will bear whatever is sent their way, continuing to reverence and worship Him. They will put God before their own comfort and safety, even when it's painful. This is the reason for some of the terrible trials that come our way.
Here I think we see the real purpose of mankind. We were not created for fun and games, comfort and pleasure, money and things. We were created to love God and be living proof for the Lord against Satan that rational beings in love with God do not desert as did the devil and his demons. In a sense, we were created for stress, hardship and trouble. When we suffer, both the devil and God await the outcome.
God does not exist for our benefit. We exist for His! While God watches out for our needs, His own glory and victory over Satan still have top priority. While He wants good things for us, He also wants us to battle against the evil one. His comfort, peace and protection for us are to be in the midst of war. We must turn our backs on the castle life and go to the battlefield. We exist for His purposes; He does not exist for ours. This priority makes all the difference!
Satan's Ongoing Strategy
From the first, Satan evidently understood God's strategy for human strength against evil. That strength is the strength of community, inter-dependent relationships among people who have the common purpose of loving God. When he showed up in the Garden of Eden, the devil talked only to Eve!
Today, the evil one continues his ugly strategy to rob glory from God. The evil one's attack is still the same as it was in the Garden of Eden. The evil one divides people and offers them more than God wants for them. Satan divides believers by tempting them into desiring independent and autonomous lives. He then offers them something other than what God wants for them. If we succumb to the demonic deception, we end up living too independently from one another -- too independently in spiritual growth, too independently in possessions, too independently in prayer, and too independently in lifestyle. And we do not win many victories for God in this weakened state.
Two Great Armies for God
The devil still fights against God and God's two great armies, the righteous angels and the church. Even though the evil one may be the most powerful and intelligent personality ever created, God is in no danger of losing the battle. He could end the battle at any time, but, instead, He sovereignly uses it for His own perfect purposes. As He patiently gathers in the citizens of Heaven, God is humiliating Satan by helping angels and men win victories over the devil for the sake of His own glory.
The good angels fight valiantly for our most holy God. Taking their stand against Satan and the powers of evil, the angels serve those of us who shall inherit salvation and live together with them in eternity. The angels are a mighty force for God, fighting demons and watching over the church.
The church is the second army, valiantly battling Satan and his evil on the earth. Presently the theater of war is on our planet and the angels are "support troops." They watch over the needs of believers to preserve the citizens of the kingdom from harm whenever this is in accordance with their Master's will. While we win visible conflicts with evil, the angels show their love for God by helping us in the invisible realm. The human army of God is empowered by the Holy Spirit, God himself, and fights evil in its many and varied forms.
Testing Our Assumptions
Before we go on, we should look closely at one of the assumptions most of us bring to Scripture as we read it. We normally assume that the entire Bible is addressed to us as individuals. As it is often expressed, the Bible is God's love letter to each of us. From that assumption, we make individual applications from the passages we read. But is the assumption that the Bible is specifically addressed to us as individuals valid?
In many passages, the assumption certainly is true. John 3:16 would be a good example. Jesus addressed the words of John 3:16 to an individual, Nicodemus. There is no reason to believe from the context that Jesus meant that faith in Him was anything but an individual choice.
But, because of the New Commandment of John 13:34-35, there is more to the Christian life than individual responsibility. The New Commandment to love one another renders *individual*obedience incomplete. Individual obedience is still necessary, still commanded, but *not all* that God has commanded. It is not possible for the individual, as an individual (even with God's help), to fulfill the command to love one another.
Something beyond the individual is now necessary to obey the New Commandment. Because it can be nothing else, that something must be the church. In its most basic structure, the church is two or three gathered in Jesus Christ's name. "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." Matthew 18:20. The church is not limited to two or three. But it cannot be reduced to one. The church is at least two Christians coming together (in relationship) in Christ's name, in His presence.
In light of the New Commandment, the Commandment that cannot be fulfilled by individuals acting as individuals, we should expect the church (Christians gathered) to be distinctly and primarily addressed in the Word quite apart from the individual believer. And, in fact, much of the New Testament is addressed to a specific church (for example, Ephesians) or the church in general (I and II Peter). But, because of the way we are used to reading the Bible, we might be very surprised to find out that only two books in the New Testament are addressed to individuals concerning individual matters.
Only seven of the twenty-seven New Testament Books are clearly addressed to individuals. Of these, Luke and Acts obviously concern things far beyond the spiritual development of "Theophilus." The two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus are "pastoral." They relate directly to the church as well. That leaves Philemon and III John as purely "personal" communications. We might include II Timothy, for, despite its pastoral nature, its tone is quite personal.
Combining Philemon, III John and II Timothy, it turns out that only six out of two hundred sixty New Testament chapters are clearly addressed to individuals concerning individual spiritual matters. If we did a chapter by chapter analysis, we would probably find a few more. But not many. Overwhelmingly, the New Testament directly addresses or is clearly meant for churches or other *groups* of believers.
Does this mean the New Testament does not address individual concerns? Not at all. It does mean that individual concerns are *normally* addressed within the framework of the church at-large or the local congregation. It means that what concerns the individual also concerns the church. It means when we separate individual spiritual matters from the context of the church, we are no longer following the New Testament pattern.
But with our individualistic Christian lifestyle, we don't see that. We're so used to looking for individual applications related to personal spiritual growth that we miss the applications for Christians in obedient action together. And our assumption that the Bible is addressed primarily to us as individuals leads us to some serious distortions in our understanding of the Word.
Look at Philippians 1:6, "...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." In sermons and commentaries this passage is almost universally applied to the life of the individual Christian. We are taught that the meaning of this passage is that God will carry on to completion the good work He has begun in each of us as individuals.
But that interpretation is wrong! Here's why. In Philippians 1:1, Paul is addressing his letter to "all the saints in Jesus Christ at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons." He is not addressing "each of the Saints." Paul continues, "grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." It is not obvious in modern English translations, but that "you" is plural in the Greek. Paul is still addressing the church as a whole group.
Continuing, "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, that
he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
The remaining "you's" in this passage are plural as well. And notice the phrase "my prayers for all of you." Not "each of you." "All of you." From the salutation, the context, the vocabulary, the grammar, and in light of what we've learned so far about the New Commandment, is seems certain that Paul is saying he is confident that God, who began a good work in the church at Philippi as a whole, would carry the church at Philippi as a whole on to completion in Christ Jesus.
We have now found one passage where our assumption that the Bible is addressed solely to us as individuals is clearly incorrect. We have traditionally read this passage as if it were a promise to the individual. In fact, this passage may well be a promise of the New Commandment, a promise to a church that loves as Jesus instructed.
If the whole book of Philippians is meant to be addressed to churches as a whole from the perspective of the New Commandment, rather than to individuals, then much of our traditional interpretations of the book are mistaken or incomplete. That would be serious indeed. In fact, it would be very difficult to conclusively prove that any verse in Philippians requires an individualistic interpretation.
An Easy Way to Find the "Plurals"
We need a simple way to see just how common the plural form of address is in the Bible, when"you" means "all of you together," not "you" the individual. Because of what we have discovered so far, we need to start paying particular attention to those passages which are written in the plural in the original Greek and Hebrew. When we see a plural passage, it should signal us to slow down and think very hard about any possible applications for our congregation or small group community as a whole. English no longer has a single word to distinguish "you" the individual from "all of you" or "all of you together." In the Greek and Hebrew, it's possible to tell the singular and plural "you's" apart.
But English once could make the distinction and, fortunately, it's quite easy to find the singular and plural "you's" using the King James Version. "Ye," "you," "your," "yours," and "yourselves" mark PLURAL passages. "Thy," "thou," "thine," and "thyself" mark SINGULAR passages. A quick look through KJV reveals both the Old and New Testaments contain a large number of passages where plural word forms are used.
Once we bring an awareness of the New Commandment to the Word of God, a whole new level of meaning emerges. We start to understand the Word of God in a much deeper and complete way. When we become aware of God's commands and promises to groups as well as to individuals, we realize the Scriptures are filled with meanings and applications we have simply missed.
We should note (and this will be covered in more detail in Chapter Three) that the cultures around the Mediterranean Sea, both in Jesus' day and even now, would be shocked to see our distortion of Scripture. Not only would they see the plurality in Scripture, but they would question how we come up with our individualistic applications. They know what we do not -- that the cultural context of the Scriptures is group, family and society-oriented. This is quite the opposite of our culture and value system. It certainly is a tribute to the Holy Spirit that we understand the Bible at all!
Lessons from Israel
We certainly do not need to limit ourselves to the New Testament. We have already considered the special case of Adam and Eve. For now, let's move forward in history, to when God was leading the nation of Israel through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. Let's start with the second incident when the people were crying out for water and, against God's orders, Moses struck the rock. (Numbers 20:8-12)
The LORD said to Moses, "Take the staff, and you and your
brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to the rock
before their eyes and it will pour out its water...
So Moses took the staff from the LORD's presence, just as he
commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in
front of the rock and Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must
we bring you water out of this rock?" Then Moses raised his arm
and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the
community and their livestock drank.
But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust
me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will
not bring this community into the land I give them."
Most of us have heard the reason Moses was punished for this incident -- this second time he had been told to speak to the rock rather than strike it. But what did Aaron do wrong? By helping to gather the assembly together, he did his job, didn't he? He didn't strike the rock. Moses did.
Understanding what Aaron did wrong is simply impossible if we see this incident as the story of two individuals. But the story is not about two individuals, but a team commanded by God to accomplish a task. Aaron had a responsibility beyond his own obedience. He was also to do all He could to make sure Moses obeyed. He surely knew Moses was getting angry. It was up to Aaron to calm his brother down, or, if necessary, jump in front of the rock and take the beating himself. Aaron **was** his brother's keeper.
In many incidents concerning the Israelites, it is obvious that nothing less than total obedience from the whole nation pleases God. When the twelve spies were sent into the promised land, two, Joshua and Caleb, were quite willing to enter. The other ten were afraid. Their timidity and disbelief spread to the rest of the nation. As a result, the adult generation was forbidden to enter into the promised land. Notice that Caleb and Jacob who both voted for the righteous action had to wait forty years! The disobedience of the nation cost them dearly. Joshua and Caleb would no doubt be unimpressed with the current teaching that the obedience of the individual is what concerns God most.
When Joshua and Caleb did enter the promised land, they experienced a beautiful example of group obedience in fellowship. In the conquest of Jericho, the armed men marched around the city once for each of six days. On the seventh day, they marched around the city seven times, then the people let out a great shout. The walls fell in and Jericho was conquered. God's power brought down Jericho, but God chose to use his power because they were all obedient together. He wants His people to obey **together**.
The Israelites were soon to learn that the disobedience of a single member of the assembly has grave consequences for the whole group. In disobedience to God's command, Achan took and hid some of the devoted things, the plunder of the fall of Jericho. Although this was an act of individual disobedience, in God's sight the *whole nation* had sinned. When the Israelites attempted to capture Ai, God was not with them, and thirty-six men perished. When Joshua didn’t understand, God told him,
"Israel has sinned: they have violated my covenant, which I have
commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted
things; they have stolen and they have lied, they have put them with
their own possessions." (Joshua 7:11)
Yes, God understood that a single individual stole the devoted things. Lots were drawn and the guilty party, Achan, was discovered. He, *and* his family, were stoned and burned. God held Achan's family responsible for Achan's sin. They should have known that he tended toward greed. They should have kept closer watch. It is also possible his family knew about the plunder and did nothing about it. God also held Israel responsible. Everyone in the nation was responsible for his own obedience as well as that of his neighbor. God did not permit the polite tolerance of an independent lifestyle because it too easily leads to sin.
In these last few examples, we have developed a picture of how important unity and obedience were to God for the nation of Israel. We don't have the space here to go into the many other examples we find in the Bible. But, even now, we could hardly have a clearer picture of how God desired much more than individual obedience from the nation of Israel. And it is pretty clear, is it not, that God doesn't think much of autonomous, private living? In our day, this is a real serious challenge to the church.
Almost everywhere we look, we see the group as something greater than the sum of its parts. The story of the Tower of Babel shows the strength of the group. A unified group, even a group working against God, is extremely strong. In fact, God states, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. "(Genesis 11:6) These are strong words for a group of unredeemed people working without the power of the Holy Spirit against the purposes of God. Imagine what the church should be able to accomplish!
Three Dimensional Obedience
God's Word clearly establishes a pattern of individual *and* group commands and promises. We can list three distinct "dimensions" of obedience found in the Scripture: (1) individual obedience; (2) individual obedience within the small group or church context; and (3) whole group or whole church obedience. We have normally only considered one dimension of obedience -- for the individual. But it's quite clear individual obedience alone is not all God has commanded.
Reading the Bible simply as a guide for personal inspiration or direction is clearly not sufficient. To do God's will, we must begin to find, and practice, the commands He gives us to accomplish together. Yes, we must continue to practice our individual obedience. But we must also become aware of our responsibilities to one another in our small community groups and congregational fellowships. This is the content of Part Two of this book. The group or church as a whole must be aware of its corporate responsibilities.
How do we find God's "plural" commands? How can we know which passage relates solely to the individual, which to the individual in a group context, and which to the group or church as a whole? It really isn't all that mysterious, once we realize that three kinds of commands and promises are present in the Word of God. We just have to be alert to look for all three. We do not restrict our search for individual applications to passages which say "you, the individual." So we certainly do not need to restrict our search for "plural" commands to places where the words "one another" appear.
Let's look at prayer. "When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who sees what is done in secret." Matthew 6:6. Jesus seems to be telling us that prayer is strictly a private matter between the individual and God.
But there are many other places in the Word where prayer is NOT a private matter. James 5:14says,
"Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to
pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord."
Clearly, the elders are to pray *over* the sick individual, not from their individual prayer closets. Here is an example of "one to another" obedience. The sick are to call the elders. The elders are to pray.
Now consider 2 Chronicles 7:14:
If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves
and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then
will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their
Here is a call for the contrition and prayers of an entire group (in context, the nation of Israel). Other passages tell us that if we pray in agreement (obviously together), God will answer our prayers.
Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything
you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For
where two or three come together in my name, there am I with
them. Matthew 18:19-20
Clearly, individual prayer is not all God desires.
We have all been taught about the importance of contending for our faith as individuals. But is a church as a whole to contend for the faith? Philippians 1:27-28 says so. The verse will be familiar when we read it. But a whole new dimension of understanding will be added when we think of the implications to a church or small group community of Christians. Paul tells the Philippians to "conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ." "Then," Paul says, "...I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel..." "Contending as one man" is a very strong image of a church working together for God's purposes. It also seems very likely that there is such a thing as a church as a whole conducting itself in a worthy manner. At least Paul links group "contending" in verse 28 with "worthy conduct" in verse 27. And notice the word "yourselves." "Conduct *yourselves* in a manner worthy of the gospel."
As we look at Philippians from a different perspective, we begin to see all kinds of implications for "plural" behavior. And we note that the grammar of Philippians is plural throughout (except in verse 4:3, where Paul addresses an individual.) We can't make too much of the grammar by itself. But the grammar is an important hint for us to be on the alert for plural applications. The context then makes it very clear.
Cure for a Fatal Disease
As we become more familiar with the "plural" commands of Scripture, it becomes very obvious that our individualistic Christian way of life is seriously out of step with God's plans and purposes. In simple terms, we are just plain going about God's business in the wrong way.
Because we have been reading the Bible amiss, we have set ourselves up for failure on a widespread scale. The church has a potentially fatal disease caused by a crucial misunderstanding of what it is *and* what is expected of it. But the disease is only fatal if we choose to do nothing about it.
The first step in overcoming the disease is to understand what the church really is and what God expects of us as individuals and as a group. But we have to leave "Me-Christianity" behind. To get us back on track we need to re-think how we approach the ScriptureS. At a minimum, we should be keeping three questions in mind as we search the Bible.
We should first be trying to see what the passage before us says about God. Understanding and giving glory to God should come first. We should be asking, "What does this passage communicate about the mind, heart and desires of God?"
We should next try to see what the passage has to say about how the people of God are to treat one another and what they are to accomplish together in the Lord's name. We should be looking for real life applications as we do this. We should be considering group promises and commands both at the level of congregational fellowship and small group community. We should be asking,"What does this passage tell about Christians -- together -- in fellowship and community?"
Finally, last, not first-and-only as is the present custom, we should be trying to understand our individual place and duty in the great plan of God. We should ask, "What does this passage tell me about God's promises and commands to me as an individual, and my duties in my small community group and congregation?"
We need to begin to develop the attitude that everyone else's needs are more important than our own. We need to abandon our all consuming concern with individual spiritual growth and develop an attitude of being a servant to all. The only way to die to self is to live for others. It is to the self-sacrificing life that we are called.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility
consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not
only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
The church can be turned around, changed, and revitalized. But there is a price. We cannot go on with business as usual. We have to turn our backs to the individualism that has become so entrenched in our Christian walk. We have to once again become the beautiful, powerful church Jesus Christ has commanded. It may sometimes be difficult for us. It may sometimes seem strange. But it is the Lord's perfect will for us. If we are serious about our faith, that should be good enough.
Living for God's Blessing: Plural Promises
So far we have been talking quite a bit about commands. It may have become clear by now that in misreading the Greek and Hebrew plural for the English singular that we often misunderstand our Bibles. We are in danger of being disobedient without even knowing it, as God's commands go unheeded. But what about those things we Christians would rather emphasize - promises?
Believe it or not, we have the same problem with misreading promises! Because our society so highly values autonomy, self-actualization, and rugged individualism, we interpret many precious promises from an individualistic perspective. The disastrous result of this is that promises to the church as a *whole* have been mistaken as promises to individuals. As individuals, we try to claim promises that are *not* for us as individuals. Instead, they are promises for a church body as a whole.
First, let's look at the fact that there are definitely many promises we can claim as individual Christians. For example, all promises having to do with salvation of the individual person are individual promises. We each get into the kingdom by individually being born again.
The Psalms also contain many individual promises. An example is Psalm 54:4 which says, "Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me". There are many, many others.
But the Bible is also full of promises to the whole people of God. Some of these "plural promises" are for every single Christian that ever lived. An example is Revelation 22:5:
There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp
or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And
they will reign for ever and ever.
Other "plural promises" to the people of God are for groups of two or more Christians. An example is Matthew 18:19-20:
[Jesus said,] "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree
about anything you ask for, it will done for you by my Father in
heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there
am I with them."
One further distinction regarding plural promises needs to be made before we continue. Some plural promises are unconditional. But some are conditional and depend upon some action or obedience by two or more believers.
An example of an unconditional plural promise is Acts 1:11 which promises,
[Two angels said,] "This same Jesus, who has been taken from you
into heaven, will come back...."
Here is an unconditional promise for the church. Jesus will come back. Millions of Christians have had great security over the ages because of that promise. Generation after generation has looked at the skies when sunlight shone through dark storm clouds and wondered if Jesus would come for them that day.
But notice how distorted that promise can become because of egocentric individualism. If I think of this promise as the Lord coming back for me, I am only partially correct. I can focus on being ready for His return. All of that is correct. But it is insufficient, especially if I am a leader in the church. If I really love Jesus, then I want the very best for Him when He returns in glory. This means that I must understand the plural aspects of Acts 1:11. I must recognize that Jesus is coming back for all of us. I must work for the righteousness of the whole church, helping it to be ready for His return.
To clearly understand the plural promises that are unconditional, we must eliminate the individualistic perspective with which we usually read the Bible. To help us re-focus to the longer view, consider Isaiah 55:12:
"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and
hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will
clap their hands."
When we read and meditate on Isaiah 55:12, we should be picturing a great crowd of the redeemed being led forth in joy and peace. That is exactly what the Word of God is telling us. God is not telling us that the trees will be rejoicing for just one of us. It is a promise for all of us -- together!
Isaiah 55:12 also shows us that God's expectation for the whole, the nation, the church, the small group, takes precedence over the individual. Very often in the Old Testament we hear God's promise of wrath for the disobedience of the nation Israel. What about those individuals who were obedient in their walk with God? Well, they were promised punishment also. The just and the unjust alike were carried off as slaves to Babylon. God simply is not satisfied with individual righteousness. He wants more and He will definitely put the few who are righteous through troubled times if that will result in a more widespread righteousness.
It is even more important to understand that many of God's plural promises depend upon the obedience of the whole group, obedience by all of us together. Consider 2 Chronicles 7:14:
"If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves
and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then
will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their
This is not at all a call to a few obedient individuals here and there. What God expects here is national repentance, with everyone helping all others turn aside from sin, before healing will be given. There is a condition to the promise.
A real eye-opener on how our individualistic viewpoint has twisted the promises of God is Romans 8:28. We have all counted on this promise one time or another. And we have probably had the wrong perspective.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those
who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
We should never have read this verse with sole attention upon ourselves! The wording is all plural. Quite frankly, what is promised here is good for the church from everything that happens. When something goes wrong for me, God will recycle it for the good of the church. If I always keep looking for good to come boomeranging back to me, I could be waiting for a long time. Whether I see it or not, my misfortune is definitely going to be used for the good of my whole church, my wife, my children, my friends, or even the witness of the church. How many of us are waiting for God to "work out the good" in our lives? Maybe it won't; maybe we went through the hard time for someone else's good or for the good of the whole church. (This would be more in keeping with the character of Jesus!)
Suppose that you are on a pro football team going to the Super Bowl. Which is more important, a promise from God that you as an individual will do well, or a promise that your whole team will win? "Of course," you say, "that is different. I would want a promise for the team to win the Super Bowl more than a promise of a superb individual performance." Football players go through all kinds of pain for the greater good of the team. Does God expect less from His people?
God wants to bless us with far more than mere individual blessings. Because of the war with Satan and his renegade demons, God wants the whole army to win.
As another critical example, consider the conditional promise of 2 Peter 1:5-8: (The words in parentheses are ours, and brackets are to emphasize the plural Greek words used.)
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your (corporate)
faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge,
self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance,
godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly
kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing
measure, they will keep (all of) you [the church] from being
ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus
The promise is that if we grow spiritually together, we will be kept from being ineffective and non-productive in our knowledge of our Lord. This becomes clearer if we take into account 1 Corinthians 2:16:
For who (alone) has known the mind of the Lord that he may
instruct him? But we (together) have the mind of Christ.
Since only together do we have enough of the mind of Christ to understand the Word of God adequately, it makes sense that we must grow TOGETHER in goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. There is no brotherly kindness and love (the end products of 2 Peter 1:5-8) without other people! The promise cannot be activated by an individual. The promise is for each of us, but only if we are working together!
As one very critical example of distortion caused by an individualized viewpoint, look at 1Corinthians 10:12-13:
 So, if you think that you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!
 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And
God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can
bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so
that you can stand up under it.
For many years I thought this promise guaranteed immunity to temptation if I could just be "spiritual" enough. Although I kept making mistakes, I merely attributed this to an inadequate walk with the Lord. But the only singular pronouns in this passage refer to God. All the other pronouns are plural, giving us two possible explanations regarding the meaning.
The first, and least likely, possibility is that Paul was speaking to the isolated individual rather than the corporate church fellowship. The meaning would then be that no temptation is stronger than any one of us individually can resist. The fact that Christians fall into temptation, sometimes of the worst kind, should be proof that this passage does not mean that each one of us alone can resist all the strong temptations of the world. I just cannot walk through a mall or department store and resist every one of the temptations to covet or buy something I do not need.
A friend of mine who was vice president of a major seminary and knew Greek helped me out when I called him about this passage. Grabbing up his Greek New Testament, he informed me that verse 12 is in the singular while verse 13 is totally plural.
This is astounding! The singularity of verse 12 actually adds to the plurality of the promise of 1 Cor 10:13!
In verse 12 we are each warned not to have confidence in our individual walk with God. Then in verse 13 it is made clear that the promise means there is no temptation that we cannot overcome **together**. We must pay a whole lot more attention than we do to our "church walk" with God.
If, instead of living autonomously, I lead a life of inter-dependence with other Christians, then with the help of my brothers and sisters in Christ I can win over Satan's temptations. If other Christians are in fellowship with me and have a claim upon my life, then I can resist many temptations when I go through the mall, even if I am alone, because I am accountable to others in the here and now. I will be even stronger and often not even consider coveting or buying if I wander the tempting halls of materialism with other Christians.
To bring out the plural meaning more clearly, 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 might be amplified to read as follows:
So, if you (individual Christian) think you are standing firm (on only
your own two legs), be careful that you (individual Christian) don't fall.
No temptation has seized (all of) you (together in the church, those
who are knit together in community and fellowship) except what is
common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you (all
together, in interdependence upon one another) be tempted
beyond what (all of) you (together) can bear. But when you
(separately but in fellowship together, or corporately) are tempted,
he will provide a way out so that (all of) you (together through
interdependence) can stand up under it.
As one last example, let's look at another favorite verse, Isaiah 40:31:
...but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will
soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they
will walk and not be faint.
We have all seen pictures illustrating this verse with a lone eagle in the sky. Yet it should be clear that the verse is to be taken in a plural sense. The initial pronoun "they" is plural. The word"eagles" is also plural. It is true that if you've seen one eagle soaring, you have seen a beautiful sight. But when you see many eagles soar, then you have seen a true example of the victorious Christian life. Waiting, or hoping, upon the Lord is something we are to do in groups. We do it much better together. My impatience at one point is overcome by your hope. At another time, your discouragement is overcome by my hopeful prayer.
One of the first promises given mankind was God's unspoken promise that we would have help from one another. That is why the Lord created Eve. Adam and Eve were to be helpers to each other. Though unspoken, this promise of a helper relationship between Adam and Eve was one of God's provisions to the first pair of human beings. When Adam failed to be there for Eve during Satan's temptation, and when Eve did not discuss her decision to eat the forbidden fruit with her husband, mankind fell into the trap of the devil. That snare is to divide people, make independence a primary concern, and then tempt us to choose something other than what God wants for us. We Christians constantly struggle with that same age-old strategy of Satan. To defeat Satan and win victories for God, we must begin to understand the plurality in Scripture, wherever it is found. We simply must work together to activate many of God's promises to us.
Living Together is Just More Powerful
The New Testament presents a vivid image of the church as a powerful, life-changing community of faith. To focus exclusively on the individual's walk with God destroys the possibility for a strong church in today's world. The picture of the solitary Christian battling the world, the flesh, and the devil with God at his or her side is a severely inadequate and incomplete application of Scripture. There is a whole range of group behavior commanded by God and a whole set of group promises from God that we have either ignored or mistakenly assigned to the individual.
The church must not take the easy way out. We must not reduce God's desires to the lowest common denominator, fooling ourselves into believing that we are living holy lives. We cannot continue to emphasize individual holiness, individual Bible study and individual prayer over and above the church as a whole being holy, praying, studying the Scripture, staying true to doctrine and doing those things too big for any individual Christian to accomplish.
It is critical for the church to see that a plural, group walk with God is commanded in Scripture.
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If you are concerned about the same things we are, we invite you to join our Advisory Team. This means that we will occasionally send you emails asking your thoughts about an issue we are thinking through. If you would like to be a part of our team, please email Dick Wulf at Dick@Wulf.com and let him know of your willingness to help.
If you are concerned about the same things we are, we invite you to join our Advisory Team. This means that we will occasionally send you emails asking your thoughts about an issue we are thinking through. If you would like to be a part of our team, please email Dick Wulf at Dick@Wulf.com and let him know of your willingness to help.
Copyright 2012 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA
Copyright 2012 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA