1 Church, 2 Sexes, 3 Truths to Live By
Have you ever experienced awkward interactions among members of the opposite sex at church? Has your pursuit of the Biblical instruction to be “above reproach” ended up making you paranoid about how others perceive your social interactions? Perhaps you have found it safer to avoid all conversation with the opposite sex rather than leave a trace of doubt in anyone’s mind.
As Christians, the Bible says that we have become members of one family with God as our Father. This makes all of us in the Church sisters and brothers! How would thinking of the opposite sex as your sisters or your brothers change your perspective about your interactions with them?
Paul wrote the book of 1 Corinthians to the church at Corinth to address some “family issues.” Paul knew that this church had so much potential to be a strategic center for the spread of the Gospel[i] that he decided to tackle the disagreements and divisions in this church head-on.
After his greeting to the church (1:1–9), Paul gets to his purpose for writing this letter in verse 10: I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united..”.
Brothers and sisters share a last name, and in most families, that name communicates something about family values and identity. In the church, we share the name of Jesus, which confers His character and reputation[ii]. But more than just a last name, siblings share a love for each other that promotes one another’s good. When siblings don’t act for the mutual good of all, family squabbles (or worse) can result.
Paul spends the duration of the book of 1 Corinthians addressing these family disputes one by one, teaching about family interactions along the way. Three principles come toward the end of the book, in chapters 11, 12, and 13, that can guide us as we relate to our brothers and sisters in the church.
Principle #1: Seek Mutual Thriving as Members of the Same Household
It seems that discussions about how the sexes relate in our culture have, in recent decades, been framed in “us v. them” language. If men are successful, it must be at the expense of women’s success. If women find their voice, men must be silent. The result is an every-man (or woman)-for-himself/herself mentality that pits us against each other in a zero-sum game. And sadly, this sexist and selfish thinking bleeds into the Church. “Sibling rivalries” rear their heads instead of godly desires to see all thrive.
In chapter 11, Paul scolds the Corinthians for taking the Lord’s supper with just such a mentality. Everyone was only seeking his or her own good, only looking to fill their own stomachs while their spiritual siblings could be going hungry. Paul urges them to wait for each other (v. 33) so that it will be for the better of everyone (v. 17) when they gather.
How beautiful would that be? Brothers and sisters who come to church, wanting to make each other’s lives better, knowing that the whole family benefits when we see each other thrive.
Principle #2: Seek to Honor Each Other as Members of the Same Body
In this #MeToo era, we have seen how rampant abuse is between the sexes. And the Church is not exempt. Sexual immorality is a very real and pervasive issue of sin that must be dealt with, as Paul urges in 1 Corinthians 6. But while Paul writes to “flee from sexual immorality” (6:18), notice that he never tells us to flee from our brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, chapter 12 suggests that it’s not possible to flee immorality by fleeing from people because we are all part of the same body with Christ as our head. So, if the solution to sexual purity is not to run away from the opposite sex, what can the analogy of the body in chapter 12 teach us about pursuing purity in community?
Paul tells us that we should see each other — as individuals with God-given gifts and purposes (v. 21), not as objects for our own desire or temptation. Paul tells us that we need to be aware of those who seem weaker in the church and honor them as priceless creations of God, treating them with special respect (v. 23). Finally, Paul tells us that when one member suffers, we all suffer; but when one is honored, it brings joy to us all (v. 26). When we treat our brothers and sisters with this kind of care and concern, we will flee sexual immorality for the danger to our church body that it is.
Principle #3: Seek to Love One Another Biblically and Proactively
Too many of us walk through the doors of the church on Sunday morning like Paul’s descriptions in 1 Corinthians 13:1–3 — we have all the right answers and actions, but we come without true love for our brothers and sisters. What should love look like toward our brothers and sisters in the church?
Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
To act out the love that Paul describes, we must be in real friendships with one another. We cannot be kind or protective from across the room. We cannot demonstrate patience or trust if we have never had a conversation with each other.
Paul did not expect the Corinthian church members to segregate by gender so that they could pursue purity. He expected them to have thriving relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ — relationships that would bring joy to the church and honor the Family Name