This past week, while studying to teach a lesson, I came to a new point of pondering. It centered on the “will of God” and how most people understand that concept – not in action so much as in responsibility.
As I was reading Isaiah and reflecting on other OT prophets it seemed to me that the continued focus of the prophets, concerning God’s will, his actions and his judgments were almost always focused on the community – Israel or Jacob. Seldom did God deal with individuals outside the community. Of course, “calling” patriarchs and prophets was an action of singular focus. But, once called, their carrying out of God’s will rested almost exclusively on the community, the people. Judgment was collective, blessing was collective with very few exceptions when looking at the full story in the Old Testament.
Once realizing that, reflecting on the New Testament teachings, I began to see the same pattern. Now, the will of God was focused on the community known as the church. From the beatitudes to the final word of Revelation, it was the church of God that had the responsibility to understand and flesh out the will of God in Christ. Yes, there were individual aspects, Paul might be the most notable example. However, once called, his responsibility was to the body of Christ. Once believers were “converted” they were not only converting to a belief in Christ but to a level of participation in the body of Christ. 1Corinthians 12-14 probably presents the most conclusive evidence of this concept.
All too often when we talk about the will of God, it focuses on what God has, is, or wants to do in our lives as individuals. When the reality may be, what God wants to do with our lives as part of the body of Christ. We are saved not just for personal restitution, but saved to be a part of the body of Christ. If there is judgement or discipline, it is not always that of the individual, but rather how that individuals behavior impacts the body of Christ (1Cor 5:1-2).
Not only does the individual relate to the body of Christ, the body of Christ has a responsibility to the individual. Have you, or someone you know, been in a situation where you felt “God’s leading” to do or go in a certain direction. Once that action is taken, something goes terribly wrong and you conclude that perhaps you misunderstood God’s will. Suddenly, out of the woodwork, people come and say, “I knew you were making a mistake, but I just couldn’t bring myself to tell you.” After all, who is anyone to argue with what someone else believes to be “God’s will?”
There was a well worn joke that used to circulate around pastoral circles when I was in the ministry. A group of deacons came to their pastor and said, “we’ve been praying about this and we believe it’s God’s will that you resign.” To which the pastor replies, “I too have been praying about this and God’s says He never knew you!” Somebody was right!
Is God’s will an event of isolation or community? I suspect it is both. I also suspect, God’s will has its greatest impact as it relates to the community of believers.