Is a Christian obligated to treat members of his church any differently than he treats other Christians?
The apostle Paul urges Christians to do good to all men, especially those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10
). But the Bible
also seems to indicate that Christians have a special responsibility to love, admonish, and care for those who are members of their local church.
Consider, for instance, that many of the New Testament epistles were written to local churches. When Paul told the Roman Christians to love one another with brotherly affection and outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10
), he means that they should do this with the other members of their church. Paul certainly wouldn’t want them to scorn Christians from other churches, but this passage’s primary application for its original readers was that they should love and honor their fellow members of the local church in Rome.
This also makes good practical sense. I can’t love all the Christians in my country or even city in any meaningful way. But I can love the members of my church. I can get to know them, pray for them, and seek to bear their burdens in a way that I just can’t with all Christians everywhere. Christian love is meant to be embodied in a specific commitment to a specific group of people. Otherwise, how can Christians be held accountable to love at all? Claiming to love all Christians everywhere may be nothing more than a front for concretely, tangibly loving no Christians at all.
Furthermore, the Bible does explicitly call every Christian to exercise the type of watchfulness over other members of one’s church that could, in a few cases, culminate in public church discipline (see Matthew 18:15-20
. The responsible exercise church discipline, furthermore, requires an active involvement in one another’s lives. By analogy, a teacher in a school should care for all the students in a school, but she still has a special responsibly for the students in her class, which is represented, in part, by the fact that she has ability to administer discipline over them. She would not walk into other classrooms and begin administering discipline because she is not already involved in the lives of those other classrooms.
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