In addition to the explicit ‘one another’ factor which was the focus of last week’s meditation, the New Testament commands and describes mutual concern for our fellow-believers over and above our concern for the world:  

The early believers demonstrated both spontaneous and also organized concern and care for each other’s material needs [Acts 4:32-35; 6:1-6; 11:29; Romans 12:13; 15;25; 1Corinthians 16:1,15; 2Corinthians 8:1-15; 9:1-15; Galatians 6:10].

Paul, and other apostles and believers, expended much time and energy focused on the spiritual well-being of the church [Acts 10:32 ; 11:25,26; 14:21b-23; 15:1-41; 16:4-5; 20:17-38; Romans 1:11-12; 2Corinthians 11:28; Colossians 1:24 -25].

The focus and outcome of the Council of Jerusalem was the clarification of the gospel message to ensure that the church would not be enslaved by legalism [Acts 15:24 -32].

In John 17 Jesus Christ specifically stated that he was not praying for the world, but for those given to him out of the world by the Father [John 17:9]. His concern in this prayer is obviously for the church [17:20] not the world.

Similarly, Paul’s recorded prayers focus overwhelmingly on the well-being of believers either individually or corporately [Romans 1:8-10; 2Corinthians 13:7-9; Ephesians 1:15-23; 3:14-21; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-12; 1Thessalonians 1: 2-3; 5:23; 2Thessalonians 1:11; 2Timothy 4;16; Philemon 4].

Also similarly, the prayers of believers, while their intended and ultimate effect is the expansion of God’s kingdom and God’s glory, are to be church-oriented not world-oriented: 

The Lord’s Prayer is phrased in the first person plural – it expresses prayer on behalf of and as part of the believing community, and, after the expression of concern for God’s honour, God’s kingdom and God’s will, expresses concern for the physical and spiritual well-being of the church [note the ‘our’ and ‘us’ - Matthew 6:9-13].
Continual prayer is to be made ‘for all the saints’ [Ephesians 6:18].

Irrespective of whether the problem is physical or spiritual believers are to pray for each other [James 5:14 -16].

Prayer is to be made for members of the church engaged in Christian ministry [Romans 15:30 -32; Ephesians 6:19 -20; Colossians 4:12 ; 1Thessalonians 5:25 ; 2Thessalonians 3:1; Philemon 22; Hebrews 13:18 -19].

 Prayer is to be made for ‘everyone – kings and all those in authority’ so that the church may live in peace to pursue godliness and holiness [1Timothy 2:1-2].

This obvious and special concern of God for his church, along with the special concern and love for one another that is commanded among those who believe, appears, to some people, to be offensive and discriminatory. Yet it is this offensive, discriminatory love within the church that is ultimately the very best thing for the unbelieving world.

Here, in the church, God’s intention is that his glory and his grace should be seen by the world.

Here, in this mutual acceptance, this unity, this self-less compassion, the reality of the kingdom of Christ is to be demonstrated.

Here in this uncommon and extraordinary love for each other that God requires of us, the reality and wisdom of the gospel of his grace is made known to the watching world.

Paul expressed this impact of the church on the world in both a statement and a prayer:

The statement: 'God's 'intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms ...' [Ephesians 3:10].

The prayer: '... to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!' [Ephesians 3:21]

How far short we, the church, have fallen!

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2009, 21