Because Jesus Loves the Church
by Sharon Betters
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
“There is so much conflict in my church, I hate going. I feel as though church people are meaner than people outside the church.” I feel the pain of this woman who approached me after I spoke on the priceless gift of community. Sadly, too many of us know the grief of church conflict. People stop going to church because they have seen too much mean spirited and hateful behavior inside the church. Before you give up on the local church, consider carefully how much Jesus loves the Church. He gave His life for the Church, His Bride. Push any decisions about giving up on the value of church through the grid of His love for us.
Right before His death, Jesus prayed we would be one, just as His Father and He are one. Jesus loved community. He loved unity. Loving community demonstrates the heart and mind of God. It glorifies God. That in itself should compel us to find a way to cultivate community in our local church. Community and unity do not mean we are all the same, must think the same, or must live the same. We must not miss the keys to community and unity are threaded throughout this Scripture. We will need endurance and encouragement. We will need to follow Jesus with the one goal of glorifying our Father. To do that, we must ACCEPT one another. Accept the one who is different from me, the one who has hurt me or makes choices with which I do not agree. Who is our model? Jesus Himself who accepted each of us in a way that praises God. These are mysteries and yet there are practical directions in this passage that help guide us through the pitfalls of cultivating community.
Paul encouraged the Philippian church to be like minded. How in the world could they or we achieve such a lofty goal when we all have strong opinions that often clash? He goes on to say Christians need to be one in spirit and purpose, to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than themselves. He encourages us to look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:2-4). There is the key to cultivating a spirit of peace and unity in our local churches: recognizing our ultimate purpose must be to glorify God, not ourselves. It’s not about us! We are ONE in Jesus. He is the common denominator. View your local church through the lens of eternity and conflicts through the grid of serving Jesus alone. Such focus helps transform our hearts so out of them will flow springs of living water designed to cultivate life in our community.
Are you an integral part of a local church? If not, why not? If you are, be intentional in the way you persevere in cultivating community. A widow I had never met asked me for counsel in meeting physical and financial needs. She described herself as totally alone, without living parents, no siblings and one adult married child who lived far away. My first question was to ask her to describe her relationship to her local church. Her answer revealed she had neglected to enjoy one of the most precious gifts God gives to us through His Son – community. In her season of greatest need, she was alone. The early Christians understood Paul’s exhortation - it would take endurance and encouragement to protect the unity of their community. They understood God’s promises of strength, wisdom, support and presence would come through their local covenant community. Ask the Lord to show you practical ways you can cultivate the community of your local church so it is a safe place for hurting people. Community happens, one relationship at a time. Who needs you to offer them life-giving encouragement today? Write their name in your journal and how you will reach out.
Oh Lord, I read this passage and I think about how people in my church have hurt me. I don’t love the church the way You do. Yet You command me to accept and love one another, even those who have hurt me. Show me how to do that because I can’t do this by myself. Show me how to view the church as You do.
STORE UP MORE TREASURES
At some point in our lives, we or someone we know will go through great suffering. I encourage you to go the MARKINC website and listen to the audio resource titled “Terminal Illness: An Interview with Vicki Saadeh Mullen” so that you can store up treasures of encouragement for the next rainy day in your life or someone else's. Here is a summary and teaser of this resource:
“You have six months, maybe a year;” explosive words that shatter families’ lives and dreams. . . Such a statement rarely destroys just one person’s future. Loved ones are also broken. How do you face the next minute, let alone the coming months, knowing that each day might be your last with your husband, wife or child? How do you handle daily responsibilities? What about your children? Do you tell them? Do you try to make life normal? Do you tell the sick person how little time they have? How long do you look for a miracle cure? And what about faith, does it help? We asked Vicky Saadeh Mullen these questions and more in this honest dialogue about facing the terminal illness of a loved one. Her husband, David, was only 37 years old when he was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. They quickly realized that they had choices to make as their well-laid plans shattered into a million pieces. This is the story of how a young woman fiercely protected her husband in the darkest places of life and tenderly loved him into Heaven.