For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ….
— 1 Corinthians 12:12
I’m sure you realize that there is nothing accidental about God. He’s very intentional and strategic in what He says to us and how He says it. Today I want to show you a specific example of this that I believe will help you. In First Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul likened the local church body to a physical body. It’s one of those very intentional divine analogies that God uses to help enlighten us to how we are to operate according to His Kingdom, because there really are so many pertinent similarities between the physical human body and the spiritual entity called the Body of Christ.
In particular, I want to draw a comparison to how the human body and the spiritual church body respond to attacks. You see, the human body exhibits distinct symptoms when an infection begins to spread, and the same thing is true in a local church body. A local church will demonstrate many telling signs that a spiritual infection has begun to take root in its midst. It’s so important to be aware of and sensitive to detect these signs so you can stay alert in prayer as a “watchman on the wall” to ward off the enemy’s attacks — not only from your own life, but also from the lives of your pastors and your church family.
*[If you started reading this from your email, begin reading here.]
- So let’s take an in-depth look at the many parallels that exist between a physical infection that has invaded a human body and a spiritual infection that has invaded a local church body.
- Physical infection can be defined as the injurious colonization of a human body by a foreign species that begins to utilize the host’s resources to assist in its own infectious multiplication. Once inside a human body, an infecting organism quickly begins to multiply inside its host. Normally, the human body has multiple systems of defense designed to protect the body from infection. But when the human body is physically weak, malnourished, or exposed to fatigue over a long period of time, the immune system is compromised, and the body becomes susceptible to infection. Ultimately, an infected person becomes contagious to others.
- Persistent infections occur when a body is unable to completely purge the harmful organisms after the initial infection. Such infections may appear to go into remission, but in actuality, the infectious organisms merely remain dormant in the body, fully capable of being reactivated if the immune system is weakened once again. For persistent infections to be eliminated from the body, serious, directed treatment is often required.
- Infection can be transmitted in a variety of ways, but the most common means is horizontal transmission, or the direct or indirect transfer of an infectious organism from one person to another. Transmission through direct contact may occur when a healthy individual comes into physical contact with an infected person’s body or bodily fluids. This can occur in numerous ways, but two very common causes of direct transmission are unprotected sexual contact and breathing air that has been contaminated by an infected person’s cough or sneeze.
- Infections can also be transmitted through indirect contact. This occurs when a person touches a physical object that an infected person has previously handled. Common examples would be actions as simple as touching the same furniture, doorknobs, or toys or sharing foods or liquids. Although a person may not directly contact an infected individual, environment alone can be sufficient to transmit infection in extremely contagious cases. In these instances, the germs can be so robust that they are able to survive outside the human body for long periods of time and still retain their infectious nature. This fact demonstrates the necessity to thoroughly cleanse and sanitize any areas, items, or people that have been exposed to the environment of an infected person.
- The longevity of an infection is dependent on whether the infecting organism is transmitted from one person to the next. If this transmission is stopped, the infection is stopped. Therefore, it is essential to stop that transmission process.
- In order to stop an infection from being transmitted to others, an infected individual must be willing to undergo treatment. Even in the ancient world, medication was used to treat infected individuals. Although the medication may be distasteful and unwanted, it is absolutely necessary to annihilate the infecting organisms in order to stop the spread of disease to others.
- If an infection progresses to a point in a person’s body that medicine alone is no longer sufficient to halt its advance, the infected person may need to submit to a surgical procedure. As unwanted and painful as this step is, it may be the only way to stop the spread of disease to the entire body. Removal or surgical correction is never easy to endure, but this procedure may save the life of a person in that dire condition.
- In most cases, it is relatively simple to avoid an outbreak of infection by making minor adjustments to one’s lifestyle. For instance, germs thrive in unsanitary environments, so regularly cleansing one’s hands and making an effort to live in a clean, sanitary environment are helpful in preventing infection. In addition, it is important to eat food that is well prepared, healthy, and clean since unhealthy, dirty food is often a major contributor to the transmission of infection.
- In the human body, some infections are easy to detect because they are accompanied by immediate symptoms, whereas others produce no symptoms until the infection has already spread inside its host. Bodily aches, tenderness to the touch, chills, fatigue, inflammation, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, pain, weight loss, and vomiting are all common, easily detectable signs of infection. These symptoms alert a person that a foreign entity has penetrated his body and is now multiplying inside.
So how does all this apply to a case of spiritual infection in a local church?
- When spiritual infection finds its way into a local church, it quickly begins to multiply inside that congregation unless it is quickly addressed and stopped. God has designed the Body of Christ to supernaturally withstand most attacks by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. However, if a particular congregation has undergone a difficult period and become fatigued, spiritually malnourished, and weak, that congregation’s God-given “immune system” may become more susceptible to infection from deceptive doctrines. Ultimately, if these destructive forces are allowed to propagate within a church, they will gain strength and spread to the entire congregation, even though they may have initially been embraced by only a few.
- Persistent spiritual infections occur when a church is unable to clear itself of an initial outbreak. This chronic condition may seem to go into remission — but if true repentance hasn’t occurred, it will only be a matter of time before difficult conditions cause that toxic poison to be reactivated in the congregation. If this situation isn’t dealt with properly — if the infection isn’t eliminated as soon as it first becomes evident within the congregation — the infection will simply go into “sleep mode” — and will be certain to reawaken at a later time. This is why it must be dealt with immediately and directly if it is to be permanently eliminated from the church body.
- In order to stop spiritual infection from metastasizing inside a congregation, the person spreading the disease must be willing to “undergo treatment” by submitting to authority and correction. If the church itself has become diseased due to a long-term toxic condition, the spiritually infected person may also be required to submit to a stricter discipline. In extreme cases, the only way to bring correction to a church may be to remove the person at the source of infection. Although unwanted and painful, this corrective action may prolong the life of the church.
- The prevention of spiritual infection is relatively simple in most cases. Making minor adjustments to one’s lifestyle, avoiding temptations to compromise, refusing to bend on one’s moral positions, spending time daily in prayer and the Word, and keeping one’s heart right toward the local church are all critical elements in preventing outbreaks of spiritual infection. Furthermore, it is very important to be fed a balanced, well-prepared, untainted diet of God’s Word.
- Churches experience distinct symptoms when they have been invaded by a spiritual infection. For instance, just as a physical body might experience a lack of energy or weight loss when it has an infection, a church body can experience a lack of power or a drop in attendance when a spiritual disease has infiltrated the congregation. Or in the same way that a person dealing with infection might experience a loss of appetite, a church usually experiences a diminishing of spiritual hunger when it is infected.
- There are other striking similarities between the symptoms of physical and spiritual infection. Inflamed, infected tissue often produces swelling and becomes hot and painful. The spiritual counterpart to this physical phenomenon would be the tendency for infected churches to experience swelling crowds of uncommitted believers with itching ears because a spiritually contaminated congregation often appeals to others with perhaps different but equally diseased “ideas.” Church attendance may increase in size yet be completely devoid of healthy growth. But in an infected church, “quantity” fails to reflect “quality” as people flock only to what feeds their selfish interests. Eventually the blend of these inflamed, swelling ranks becomes a toxic soup that spills out to infect ever-increasing numbers of people.
- In addition, the tenderness or pain displayed in an infected physical body may manifest as a spiritual infection in a local body of believers as a combination of touchiness, agitation, and anger. This “soreness” is often reflected in the attitude of spiritually infected individuals who become belligerent with anyone who questions their erroneous beliefs. Their touchiness is always on display because they view every conversation as a potential challenge to their perspective. They become insufferable and cantankerous, feeling the need to take on the world to prove their point and producing “dis-ease” and discomfort among all who even slightly bump into them. Their irrational words, attitudes, and actions resemble the disorientation of a fevered person who can make outlandish statements and reflect bizarre behavior because of the way the inflammation has affected his or her brain.
- A local church often views the symptoms described above as demonic attacks. Although this is definitely true in part, the church leadership must still determine how the devil found access into the congregation in the first place. Seeking God in earnest prayer is essential to obtaining an answer to this question. Once the answer is known, repentance is required to rid the local body of whatever is allowing the enemy to poison and destroy from within.
- The most difficult type of spiritual infection to detect and treat is when one or more church leaders within a congregation become infected. False doctrine that finds its way into the heart of one leader, if it is not corrected, will begin to pass to others, just as an infection is passed from one host to the next. If this transmission isn’t stopped, it has the potential to eventually infect an entire congregation.
- A spiritual leader who is infected with false doctrine is only one person — but he is an influential person that touches many lives. If the infection in his soul isn’t eliminated, it is likely that others will be contaminated through his His diseased influence will spread like germs until it infects people who gather to worship. If correction doesn’t come to his life, his words and teachings have the potential to become food that makes others sick. Because his influence is strong, it is likely that those who are close to him will pick up whatever has contaminated him and become infected with the same spiritual problems.
The point is that it doesn’t take too many erring individuals to transmit sickness to a church body when they hold positions of influence.
In cases where spiritual infection is extremely contagious and dangerous, quarantine may even be required to prevent the infection from spreading throughout the rest of the congregation. The person who is the source of infection may not understand the severity of his condition, or he may refuse to put sufficient space between himself and others to prevent the spread of contagion. To avoid putting the entire congregation at risk, the infected individual may have to be removed from the midst of the congregation to stop the destructive poison from spreading further.
It might be difficult to imagine that a congregation with loyalty to Christ would simultaneously be infected with an internal spiritual disease. However, Satan has learned that if he can’t destroy a church with external pressure, he has to attack it from within. Often believers have been so focused on combating the external opposition that they overlooked the greater enemy that had risen up in their midst.
We must be careful to guard against enemies not only from without, but also from infections that grow from within. Those internal infections are harder to deal with, because they come from people we love and who have been with us for a long time. So after we have made sure that we’re not the source of spiritual infection through poisonous attitudes, offense, lack of self-restraint with our words, and so forth — we must stay alert to detect any sign of infection creeping into our midst. And as watchmen on the wall, it’s our responsibility to pray that God’s wisdom prevails in every situation — first, to stop the potential spread of infection within the local body, and, second, to do everything possible to restore those “infected” to wholeness once again.
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I am amazed by the many similarities between the operation of the physical body and the local church body. I ask You to give my pastor and the spiritual leaders of my church the discernment to recognize when a spiritual infection has begun to fester inside the church, as well as the wisdom and insight to know how to deal with it before it becomes a bigger issue. Holy Spirit, You are the Spirit of wisdom, counsel, and might. Thank You for revealing not only to leadership but also to the local body how we are to deal with these issues so that we can walk in spiritual health and wholeness, free from spiritual contamination of any kind.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I am a contributor to wholeness in the Christian community. The Body of Christ is healthier because I am in it. I think with a sound mind; I appreciate sound doctrine; I respect spiritual authority; and I am a contributor to the overall health of the Church. When I see that something is amiss, I bring it to the attention of spiritual leadership, and they have the God-given wisdom to know what to do in every situation. The Holy Spirit is our Leader. He is the great Restorer, and I declare that He brings order and restoration to every place where spiritual infection has tried to take root.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Have you ever seen a spiritual sickness try to spread throughout a local church?
- When that occurred, what did spiritual leadership do to address the situation and to bring healing to the congregation? This is a very difficult question, I know, but what did you learn from the experience?
- What did you learn from reading today’s Sparkling Gem? Is there anything that is particularly relevant to what you are experiencing in your own local church?