(1 Cor. 16 : 13 – 24)
We heard the words that the holy Apostle Paul addressed to the Christians in Corinth. The Apostle exhorts his brethren, since they knew about Stephanas and his household that he was one of the best among them, to acknowledge him as such and to submit to him. Not only to him, says the holy Apostle, but “to everyone who works and labors with us (1 Cor. 16:16). Since Stephanas is “the firstfruits of Achaia,” St. Paul is appointing him as the leader and the center of the community in Corinth.
And to his disciple Timothy, St. Paul writes of his intention to visit them and encourage and strengthen them, while instructing Timothy how to conduct himself in the house of the Lord, the Church of the living God (1 Tim. 3:15), so that he would know how to teach others in the faith.
We are the ones who truly need to know how to conduct ourselves in the house of the Lord. St. Paul strictly forbids any church community to identify itself with any individual, no matter how great a reputation he has. He is even more adamant against any self-imposed leaders in the church. The Church is God’s (Acts 20:28). It is the flock of Christ (Jn. 10:16), the city of the Lord (Ps 87:3), the assembly of saints (Ps. 88:7), God’s field (1 Cor. 3:9), and the bishops, priests and all others who serve and minister in it are God’s co-laborers on His field and building (1 Cor. 3:9). It is important for us priests to realize the extent of our responsibility before the Master, that none of us become conceited and put our name before the name of God, or our picture above the icon.
However, by the will of God and by orders of the holy Apostle, the Church leaders and ministers must be shown due respect and care. “We urge you, brethren,” we read in the epistle to the Thessalonians, “to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Thess. 5:12-13).
The Word of God puts love as the most important quality of leadership. No one must place themselves above or outside the Church, no one must usurp the mastership on the field of the Lord. The young must submit to the old with love and respect, and the old must instruct the young with love, and also with humility. “Likewise, you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5).
The first lesson in church conduct would be a lesson in humility. Unconditional and blind obedience is not what God wants of us. God gave us a rational mind so that we may use it and free will so that we can express our thoughts. It is good for us to see our weaknesses and to state our complaints in a good way. We should not be stubborn and insist on having our way. It is of utmost importance to bear in mind the common interest and to always adjust our own will to the will of the Church.
The only thing we Serbs sometimes agree on is disagreement. We are always there to argue and quarrel, we all take part in these disputes, but after that, everyone goes their own way. We insist on having our way and when it does not happen, we segregate and alienate ourselves, confuse others and try to convince them in the justness of our cause, and we lead them away from the community. But St. Paul says, “be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thess. 5:13). “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit” (Phil. 2:3). “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18).
St. Paul allows the possibility that Christians sometimes disagree on certain issues. He insists that there must be good measure even in disagreements. The Apostle begs for peace in many instances, but in this case he is firm: “As I urged you… remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:3-4). And also: “If anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11:16).
We Serbs, however, do have that custom unfortunately, and we should strive to rid ourselves of it. We should also try to use the energy we waste in disputes in other, more edifying matters, if we wish to offer good fruits on the field of the Lord, to our benefit and salvation.