is the head of the church, "And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy." Col 1:18. The church then, is also called Christ's body, "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." 1 Cor 12:27. In that mystery, Christ has certain responsibilities towards His body, "After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--for we are members of his body." Eph 5:29-30.
Yes, but what does this mean? Considering that all illustrations pale before an awesome and holy God, it can still be understood that the well-intentioned person feeds and cares for his body with responsibility towards what goes in and what comes out. The thoughtful person does not seek to allow harmful influences, whether food, drink, remedy, media and so on to enter his body because the thoughtful person has awareness of the incumbent dangers from such unthoughtful behavior. To put it more bluntly, a person concerned for the health of his body will not feed himself on continual junk food because he's seen the medical statistics on heart disease. He will choose not to engage in risky behaviors because he does not wish for his body to be harmed, maimed or injured.
By even greater regard, Christ during His earthly ministry was vigilant to oversee both what went in and came out of the known visible church. (In Mt 15:17-19, Christ specifically details this principle.) However, maybe it needs to be said that during Christ's life, the known visible church was comprised of the Jews. All Gentiles were considered pagans. And while in our Bible story knowledge of today, most consider the Pharisees to be an "awful" group, that group of men was actually well-respected, if not feared, for the power they wielded in the Jewish synagogues and as Jewish teachers. The Scribes and Pharisees represented the leadership of the only known denomination of the time.
Which is exactly why Christ repeatedly came down upon these leaders with criticism, meaning judgment and evaluation, for their wrong behavior and erroneous teaching. Christ knew quite well that the Jews looked to this group of men for leadership and would follow their lead because the Pharisees, at that time, were the only group of shepherds the people had prior to His coming (see Mt 9:36; 23:2-3).
All of Matthew 23 is that of Jesus denouncing the Scribes and Pharisees for their sinful actions and heretical teachings. The chapter is even sub-titled in the NIV as the "Seven Woes." Woes indeed because Christ pulled no punches in describing their hypocrisy, "...But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach" (vs3b); their self-exaltation and worldly ambition, "they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi'" (vs7); their false doctrine (vs16-19); their lack of faithfulness, justice and mercy (vs23-24); their greed and self-indulgence (vs25-26); their outward righteousness but inward corruption (vs27-28); and their persecution of His sent prophets who told His truth (vs29-38).
The gospels of Mark, Luke and John all contain similar accounts of Christ calling the visible church leadership and the followers onto the carpet for sin and error in teaching and practice, respectively.
But what about the encouragement part? How does Christ employ encouragement and for what does He encourage? Well, Christ encourages those that demonstrate true saving faith in Himself. See Mt 8:5-13 about the faith of the centurion or Mt 9:22 about the woman with the bleeding disorder or even Mt 15:21-28 about the faith of the Caananite woman.
Christ encourages His disciples in regards to the task He has given them, the work they have done, and the confession they make. See Mt 10:17-20 when He reminds them that even when they are arrested for speaking His truth, the Holy Spirit will give them the words to speak. He encourages John the Baptist just prior to his execution that He, Christ, is indeed the Savior (Mt 11:1-4). Jesus encourages Peter for his right confession of Jesus as the Christ in Mt 16:13-19.
Christ encourages the people in regards to holding to His truth and explanation of the law as powerfully taught in the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7.
Obviously, I'm only taking snatches of examples related both to Jesus' criticism of error and encouragement. Any diligent student of the Bible can find many more related examples. While not the theme of this post, the question begs asking, "Are you, and am I, studying Christ's example of criticism of error and encouragement of believers and the visible church as revealed in Scripture?" If not, why not? I deceive myself if I try to take my examples from feel good popular culture in relationship to how I respond to the teaching of the visible church and other believers, whether in encouragement or criticism of error.
Any believer needing encouragement will only be best encouraged in the same means that Christ encouraged. Likewise, any believer requiring criticism for error will only be best evaluated by the means that Christ used. His gospel alone is the plumb line and measure. A person's words mean nothing either in encouragement or criticism if not invested with the authority that Christ has established in His Word. To take strength from encouragment that is not from Him is to try to nourish yourself with cotton candy. It may taste sweet but has no nutritive or lasting value. In like manner, any evaluation that is not according to His truth is useless for correction or discipline. It has not even the value of a time out by Nanny 911.
This is the second part in this series. Go here to read the first part. Tomorrow, I'm going to look at how Peter modeled Christ in regards to encouragement and criticism of error. I hope you'll bring your Bible.