Harmonious Accord

I am sure many readers have attended an instrumental concert and been impressed by a very talented piano or violin soloist playing a difficult piece. It does not require a comprehensive understanding of music, nor a keen ear, to be enrapt by the beauty of a skilled soloist playing flawlessly a demanding composition. However, in many ways this experience is overshadowed by listening to a large symphony orchestra comprising the whole range of musical instrumentation. This is likely to include among the strings: the violins, cellos, basses and harps; and among the wind instruments: flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and trombones, as well as a variety of percussion instruments: drums, xylophones, cymbals, just to name a few. A symphony orchestra may number sixty artists and, on special occasions, several hundred. In all cases this wonderful experience is achieved when the whole range of different instruments is brought together to produce an amazing harmony of sound under the direction of a master conductor.

This brings us to the Greek word sumphōneō, the verb meaning “to agree, or be in harmony with”. It is used for musical harmony and also for the fitting together of stones in a building.1 It is obvious that from this Greek word sumphōneō, we get our English word symphony. What word could be more appropriate to describe an orchestra? Its parallel to the fitting together of the various structural components to make up a house is also appropriate. A window or two, a door, a roof, and all the bricks to construct the walls, coming together to make up the house: each component different, yet when joined together they ensure the structural integrity of the building. A missing brick, or lintel, or a house without a roof would result in the house falling apart, or not serving the purpose for which it is intended; each component is made effective by being brought into a relationship one with the other. A window standing alone serves no purpose but when found in a wall it enhances the whole structure.

The harmony of this relationship is its sumphōneō. Hence a cognate word is used in 1 Corinthians 7:5 to describe the relationship between a husband and a wife, translated in the av as “consent”, sumphōnos. Sumphōnos is given the meaning “harmonious accord”.2 So husbands and wives, Paul says, should operate together as an orchestra, or as the components that make up an house in harmonious accord. By extension, this describes the relationship between Christ and his ecclesia. In the case of Christ and the ecclesia it is more fitting to have Christ as the conductor of the orchestra and the orchestra as the multitudinous body in harmonious relationship with each other under direction from the Head. In the case of a building, Christ is the corner stone upon which we all, making up the balance of the structure, are joined.

Although we do not find the word sumphōneō used in Scripture for “the fitting together of stones in a building”, as stated in the dictionary cited above, the dictionary makes it clear that it was used in this way in contemporary secular writings. Notwithstanding, the same picture is presented to us in the Word. We have the whole body of Christ described as being “fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth” (Eph 4:16). But even this is not the only picture we have from scripture portraying the unity of a body made up of many members.

One Spirit, Many Gifts

The possession of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the first century ecclesia is another example. Paul emphasises the “diversity” of the gifts of the Spirit, while at the same time stating that this diversity was just another manifestation of “the same Spirit”. In 1 Corinthians 12:4–6 Paul speaks of the “diversity of gifts”, the “differences of administration” and the “diversity of operations”. In each case for “diversity” and “differences” the same Greek word diairesis (meaning “varieties or distinctions”) is used. This “diversity” is contrasted with the “same spirit” and with the “same Lord”, and with the “same God”. This is perhaps better seen from the following table.

I Corinthians 12 Use of diairesis

verse 4    of gifts                                 but the same    Spirit

verse 5    of administrations            but the same     Lord

verse 6    of operations                      but the same     God

The fact that the Spirit, our Lord and the Father are one, is beyond question (John 17:21–23; 1 John 5:7–8). Unity in diversity is seen in all the workings of God, and that same unity in diversity seen in the provision of the gifts of the spirit in “administrations” and “operations”, should be the same unity in diversity seen within the ecclesia.

The word “administrations” is the Greek word diakonia, meaning “service”: the role of attending to the care of others, to run an errand. It is used of the office of an apostle (Rom 11:13) and of a deacon. The Greek for deacon is diakonos. The angels minister [Grk diakonia] for them who shall be heirs of salvation” (Heb 1:14). Those who serve the Brotherhood, whether apostles, deacons or the angels assume the office of “administrations”. In carrying out these functions they perform “operations”, our other word used (1 Cor 12:6).

The word for “operations” is the Greek word energēma, meaning, “things wrought” “activity”; akin to our English word “energy”; to be energetic. The lesson that follows is quite simple yet profound.

Just as there were apostles, prophets and teachers at the time of the Apostle (1 Cor 12:29), these being offices of “administrations”, so today we have our counterpart: arranging brethren, exhorting brethren, brethren who lead the Bible Class, or who are involved in preaching the Gospel, Sunday School teachers, those who visit the sick and care for the needy: all necessary “administrations” and all important before God. Then there is the all-important function of carrying out the role of that office, the energēma. We may be members of the Gospel Preaching Committee planning a special campaign. The number of different suggestions as to how we go about the campaign are probably proportional to the number of members we have on the committee. So just as we have diversity in functions in the ecclesia, so we have diversity in the way and manner in which that function can be carried out. The challenge is being able to address this diversity and yet maintain unity.

Note how Paul develops this point by reference to the nine diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit. “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues” ( 1 Cor 12:8–10). The point Paul is making, which is emphasized in the citation, is that although there are nine diverse gifts there is still only one spirit. To ensure that we do not miss this point the next verse goes on to state, “but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit”.

Even the ecclesia, with the Holy Spirit, had its problems. Notwithstanding the possession of the gifts, ecclesias experienced some divisiveness. Brethren coveted certain gifts, preferring one above others and thereby creating strife. It appears that the gift of tongues was favoured because of its outward show (1 Cor 14). Today’s counterpart is often seen in humble roles in the ecclesia left unaddressed in preference to choosing the more visible activities. Hall cleaning and welfare matters are sometimes overlooked, but there is no shortage of Bible Class leaders! Why is this so? Paul gives us the answer in Romans 12:3, still within the context of the Spirit gifts: a man should “not think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” In Galatians Paul identifies the issues that destroy ecclesial harmony, or, as he presents it, “walking in rank”; they are: vain glory, provocation and envy (5:26). Pride—the brother who thinks he is the best at everything, who is always right and looks down upon other members of the ecclesia. Provocation—the ecclesial troublemaker; the inveterate stirrer who goes about spreading rumour and discord. And the person who appears self-effacing and humble, who could “never do it like brother ‘so and so’”, but in reality covets that task. His problem is envy.

Peace at Any Price?

Just how far do we go in promoting unity and at what cost? Is unity that important?

Unity is a first principle of the Truth. It is as important as God Manifestation, for we have seen that God, His Son, and the Spirit are one. And so should we be. However, does this mean in pursuing unity we overlook the important matters of doctrine and Christ’s commandments? Of course not. What we have been discussing, are matters that relate to ecclesial administration and interpersonal relationships: how we go about ecclesial business and how, in the process, we interact one with the other. Our Statement of Faith is an expression of our essential pillars of doctrine. However, we are not excused in our defence of the doctrine if in so doing we set aside the Commandments of Christ and treat each other with contempt. Much of our strife comes from secondary issues that arise from time to time, differences on how we redress the matters of wrong doctrine, or standards, or other important issues. A right cause does not justify a wrong means of correcting an issue. (Nor does a difference in the way the matter should be addressed justify overlooking or setting aside of the major issue at stake that caused the rift in the first place.) Our greatest challenge is to recognise and respect our diversity, both in our roles in the ecclesia and how we go about those roles—our “administrations” and our “operations”. This diversity is our strength.

All Members Have Not the Same Office

How often do we find the ecclesia depicted as a body comprised of various members? “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office [do not perform ‘the same function’3]: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Rom 12:4–5). Our capacity as an ecclesia resides not in our similarities but in our diversity of character. As Paul says, “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” (1 Cor 12:17). This strength in diversity is perhaps no better illustrated than at a working bee, where a variety of skills are necessary. It may be a hall extension requiring the trades of concreters, carpenters, bricklayers, electricians, painters and so on, all of whom are pleased to receive support from non-skilled ‘attendants’, which, in the majority of cases, categorises most of us! I am sure many have witnessed occasions where a whole project of this type has been addressed with all skills coming from the Brotherhood. There is nothing more heartening than seeing such constructive cooperation—cooperation that produces results. It is strength in diversity. The rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem described in Nehemiah 3 is one such occasion. The repairing of the Temple at the time of Josiah is another (2 Chron 34:8–13). These labourers, as a result of their diligent application in building, were numbered among the “good figs” taken into captivity along with Daniel and others (Jer 24:1; 2 Kings 24:14–16).

The Bread Which We Break

This brings us to the memorial of the bread, the most compelling exhortation of “one body, many members”. As we partake of the bread, many analogies come to mind. We would like to conclude this article with the analogy that our Lord makes of the bread. Whilst translators are divided on which Greek manuscript to follow in 1 Corinthians 11:24, Translators’ Handbook suggests that the weight of evidence supports the shorter text, which states that after Jesus broke the bread he said, “This is my body, which is for you”. This follows Luke’s account that records the words of Jesus as, “This is my body which is given for you”. The point being, we have the bread broken but not the body of our Lord. Why is this important? Because unity is seen in the body of our Lord: “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor 1:13): and diversity in the bread: “for we being many are one bread, and one body: for all are partakers of that one loaf4” (1 Cor 10:17). As we “break the bread” each first day of the week, it is part of one loaf. The one loaf broken and shared identifies us with the one spirit that motivated the life of our Lord, a life of perfect obedience to his Father and a love that was reflected in the supreme sacrifice for us (John 15:13). Thus we have portrayed “one body, many members” identifying with that one spirit.

This is the exhortation that we should be impressed with each first day of the week. As we assimilate the bread we are identifying with the body of our Lord: a body made up of many members yet different from each other and performing different functions, but all united and directed by the one head. The exhortation being—Are we directed by our Head? To what extent do we reflect our Lord in our lives; that same spirit of obedience and love (John 14:15; 1 John 4:20–21)? Paul’s conclusion is that, though he had all faith, though he could remove mountains, though he could make the largest of sacrifices, “it profiteth him nothing”, unless done in love (1Cor 13:1–3). Do we love all our brothers and sisters, being “addicted to the ministry of the saints” (1 Cor 16:15)? Are we one with the body, “endeavouring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3)? To what extent are we a functioning member of that body? What contribution do we make to the welfare of our ecclesia? Unity, driven by our Head, is a first principle of the Truth.

“Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are” (John 17:11).