And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship. (Acts 20:36–38 NKJV)
Our passage is a refreshing reminder of how saints loved one another in the book of Acts. Rather than taking the attitude that is frequently encountered in the world — the saints at Ephesus wept when the man of God followed the Lord and left their midst. In a display that demonstrated their genuine love for the man and his ministry they “…all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him.” The original Greek suggests they kept on kissing him. Surely the moment would have felt more like a funeral than a ministerial send off.
Fast forward to the twenty-first century and contrast Paul’s experience with what often happens in churches. The man of God follows the leading of the Lord to a different field of work and rather than the people “weeping freely, and falling on his neck and kissing him…” they make the departure as difficult and awkward as they possibly can. In some cases they try to block the move all together. When ministers are viewed like professional ball players who must be faithful to their “team” or risk being slandered and mean-mouthed when they leave — something is terribly amiss. It is almost impossible for a ball player to leave on his own terms and at the same time leave on good terms. Beloved, this ought not so to be in the churches of God.
I suggest that one of the reasons why this is so prevalent in the West is that too many ministers and church leaders view ministry as a competition. They market their church and pay close attention to the number of attendees compared to the church down the street. Under this model, “churches” are not really churches — they are “teams” or “businesses” that compete with one another. Church goers are viewed as religious consumers. Under this scenario it is impossible for one church to rejoice with another church when they are successful. Why? Because whether it is said or not they are viewed as the competition. Sound like the carnal church at Corinth? Indeed it does.
“But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:24–26 NKJV)
The church at Corinth was plagued with carnally-minded saints. Carnality always leads to death. It must be repented of and forsaken. Paul sought to sober their carnal minds by illustrating how our own bodies function. God designed the body of Christ in such a way that there would be no division. A body must work together as a unit or it cannot function. Can you imagine a human body where the individual parts competed with each other or tried to destroy each other? God’s design is “that there should be no schism in the body.” Schism is a word that means division. People who cause division are carnally-minded and are living their lives as ordinary sinners.
However, there is codependency in the human body in which each part’s survival is dependent on the others survival. The Greek text suggests that this “care for one another” is quite profound. The great New Testament scholar A.T. Robertson comments on this passage, “Paul here personifies the parts of the body as if each one is anxious for the others.” Can you imagine what the visible church would look like is all churches and Christians actually “worried about” or “had the same care” for one another? Rather than viewing the church down the road as the competition they did everything in their power to promote success — as if their life depended on that other churches survival?
If churches functioned like a body they would not behave like a business. In business there is fear that good employees will take their skills to the competition — so they require non-competition agreements to be signed. I have known of workers to give their two-weeks notice only to be escorted out of the building like a criminal after years of faithful and fruitful service. Why? They were going to work for a similar business that could possibly “compete” with the former company. Beloved, in the churches of God we are not in competition with each other. We should be willing to send ministers to help struggling churches with the same care for one another. To do otherwise is to expose ourselves as unworthy of the Body and an enemy to the true cause of Christ.